DERECH HaBAAL SHEM TOV
Ahavas HaShem, Ahavas Yisroel, Ahavas HaTorah
THE WAY OF THE BAAL SHEM TOV
Love of G-d, Love of fellow Jews, Love of the Torah
Note: A '*' next to a word indicates that it is translated/explained
in the glossary at the end. Three '*' (* * *) in the text indicates a
break between two sections. A single '*' (*) indicates a separation
between different teachings on the same subject. Anything found
between '[' and ']' are my comments and do not appear in the source
material. Everything else is from the original as is cited at the end
of the article.
1. 'And HaShem* spoke to Moshe face to face.' (Shemos* 33.11)
The verse says, 'As water reflects a face back to a face, so is the
heart of a man to a man.' The Baal Shem Tov explained that when a man
stands near the water his shadow is spread far out over the water.
When he bends over to the water, his shadow gets smaller. The more he
bends closer to the water the smaller the shadow of his face is.
[This continues] until the shadow approaches the size of his own
The same is with the heart of a man. When a person thinks he is
great, then his friend will consider himself great. The more he makes
himself smaller then his friend, his friend will make himself smaller
before him. This will continue until he cannot make himself smaller.
His friend will likewise do the same, and they will be equal.
That is what was said about Moshe. 'And HaShem spoke to Moshe face to
face as a person speaks to his friend.' This means that just like one
person makes himself small before his friend, likewise his friend
will make himself small before him. Their faces will become equal.
Likewise Moshe, after he made himself small before HaShem, then
HaShem as it were, made himself small and spoke to Moshe face to
face. From this we see that the face of HaShem was like a shadow that
was made according to the face of Moshe. This is a level that no
person outside of Moshe could comprehend. (p. 383 sefer Baal Shem Tov
teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.)
* * *
II. Learning Torah*
2. 'Carve [Heb. p'sal] for yourself.' (Shemos 34.1)
Rashi says, 'The chips [Heb. p'solos] are yours. From them Moshe
became rich.' [The stones used for the tablets were of a type that
every piece of them was very valuable. The chips of the stone were so
valuable that from them alone Moshe could become rich.] It is certain
that the simple meaning is not that Moshe had a business in precious
stones. And he certainly did not make earrings. Also the whole
incident of the breaking of the tablets cannot be understood simply.
Precious stones of this size cannot break so easily. And perhaps he
shouldn't have broken them, but he should have hid them away
These verses are a remez* for a great sod*. Moshe saw that Israel
made the golden calf. He understood that because of this they were no
longer on a level that they could receive the Torah as it had been
given. The only way would be if he would introduce a 'breaking' into
the Torah. This is the level of ['learning Torah] not for His name's
sake in order to come [to learning Torah] for His name's sake.' These
are the 'chips' of the tablets. 'Carve for yourself' [meaning] 'the
chips are yours.' With his wisdom he introduced this idea into the
This is the meaning of the verse, 'Length of days is in her right
hand.' This refers to learning Torah for His name's sake, which is
the right hand. The reward for this is 'length of days' just as it
was on the mountain where they were made 'free from the angel of
death' [as Chazal* teach us.]
'And in the left hand wealth and honor.' This refers to one who
learns Torah not for the sake of His name. The reward for doing so in
this world is riches and honor.
Had it not been for the sin of the golden calf there would not have
been the level of 'broken' in the tablets. [Hence there could not
have been the possibility of learning Torah not for HaShem's sake.]
Now because of our sins it is not possible to reach the level of
learning for HaShem's sake without first learning on the level of
'not for HaShem's sake'.
This is what [Rashi] meant when he said, 'From the chips of the
tablets Moshe became rich.' This refers to the idea of 'broken' that
Moshe introduced into the Torah. The idea of learning not for
HaShem's sake. Through this Moshe made Israel rich because by their
learning not for the sake of HaShem they will come to have riches and
honor. However Moshe was a holy man and he had no need for riches or
to have enjoyment of this world. (p. 160 sefer Or Yitzchok teachings
of Rebbe* Yitzchok of Radvil)
* * *
III. To the best of your ability.
3. 'Sacred Shekel... The rich man should not add and the poor man
should not give less.' (Shemos 30.15)
It appears to me that this is a remez to what Chazal teach with
regards to Krias Shema*, 'You should say it in any language that you
understand.' Chazal teach that 'All that is within your power to do,
you should do.' The reason for this is because HaShem does not come
to trip up people [and cause them to sin.] Everyone should act for
HaShem's sake according to his abilities. [It will then be
acceptable to HaShem.] It is the same with accepting HaShem's
kingship. Everyone should accept it according to his abilities.
That is the meaning of what they said, 'You should say it in any
language that you understand.' [However you are able to accept His
kingship you should do so.]
There is also a remez for this here. The word 'With a shekel' [Heb.
b'shekel] has the first letters of the words 'Krias Shema in any
language that you can.' The intention of this is that a Jew is
required to do according to his understanding whatever he is able to
do. That is the main foundation of holiness. Therefore it is called
the 'sacred shekel.' And with regards to that it says, 'The rich man
should not do more and the poor man less.' Then it will be acceptable
to HaShem. (p.88 sefer Sefas Emes teachings of Rebbe Meshulim Feivish
* * *
IV. Whose fault?
4. 'Carve [Heb. p'sal] for yourself.' (Shemos 34.1)
Rashi says, 'The chips [Heb. p'solos] are yours. And from them Moshe
became very rich.' It says in the musar* seforim* that if you wish to
say something denigrating about someone, you should first say it
about yourself. That is the meaning of 'Carve for yourself.' You
should denigrate [Heb. tifsil] yourself. Likewise anything you see to
denigrate someone else is something that is in you.
We can further explain this according to what it says in the sefer of
my grandfather the Rebbe of Komarna ZY'A*. Once it happened that the
Baal Shem Tov saw someone violate the Shabbos. He wondered to
himself. Had he violated the Shabbos? [The reason he thought this way
was because] when a person sins and he is not aware of it, then from
heaven they remind him of the sin so that he can do tshuva*. They
show him someone who does the same exact sin that he did. [Since he
hadn't violated Shabbos, it caused him to wonder.] From heaven they
revealed to the Baal Shem Tov that he had at one time heard someone
denigrate a talmud chocham*. The Zohar* states that a talmud chocham
is on the level of Shabbos. [Therefore he was shown someone who
violated the Shabbos so that he should realize that he sinned when he
did nothing after he heard the remarks made about the talmud
With this we can understand what Chazal say, 'Everyone who denigrates
another does so with his own faults.' This is because when he sees
someone doing a sin it is likely that he has also done something like
that. Therefore if he sees someone else sin he should do tshuva and
correct his actions.
This is the meaning of 'The chips are yours.' i.e. those things that
you see in another person that makes you denigrate him, they are
yours. That means that you have the same faults. (p. 5 Kintros Lekach
Tov a collection of teachings from the Kaliver Rebbes. This is from
the Kaliver Rebbe Shlita from Israel.)
Beis HaMedrash: Jewish house of study
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages
of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
Krias Shema: Recitation of the main Jewish prayer of the confession
of faith. Contains 3 parshas. Devorim 6.5-9; 11.13-21 and Bamidbar
Maggid: In Europe this was a person who would give sermons on moral
subjects. Many of the first Rebbes was Maggidim (pl. of Maggid).
midah(midos): A character trait, either good or bad.
mikvah: Hebrew word referring to a ritual bath used for purification
musar: Hebrew for moral instruction.
Rav: An official rabbi who renders legal decisions. Many of the
Rebbes were both a Rebbe of Chasidim, and the Rov of the city in
which they lived.
Rebbe: Leader of a Chassidic group or a teacher
Rebbe Reb: A title added to a few special Rebbes as a sign of their
higher spiritual stature.
remez: A method of Biblical interpretation based on finding hints
in the Torah for various concepts.
sefer(seforim): A Jewish religious book.
Shemos: Second book of the Torah. Called Exodus in English
sod: A method of Biblical interpretation based on describing secret
teachings in the Torah.
Talmid (Talmidim): Disciples of a Rebbe.
Talmud Chocham(Talmidei Chochomim): Hebrew for Talmud sage, refers to
one who is learned in Jewish legal texts.
Tanya: Important chassidic work By Rebbe Shneur Zalman of Liadi.
Torah: a. First 5 books of the Jewish Bible
b. Also refers to the whole of Jewish law
c. also common term for a chassidic teaching
Tshuva: Hebrew word for repentance
Yetzer: lit. Inclination. It is Jewish belief that every Jew has both
an evil and good inclination within him, that are at 'war' to see
which of them the person will follow.
Yetzer HaRah: Heb. Evil Inclination.
Yetzer Tov: Heb. Good Inclination
Zohar: Hebrew/Aramaic Rabbinical Kabbalistical work that is one of
the most important sources for Kabbalah, and was very influential
ZY'A: Hebrew initials for Zechiso Yugan Aleini, His merit should
Copyright (c) 1997 by Moshe Shulman
All rights reserved.
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