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.
I. Being judged
1. 'You are standing...' (Devorim* 29.9)
When a person has a bad or sinful thought that is contrary to the
true belief in HaShem*. In the second he is having the thought either
his or one of his family's nashamos* are being judged above.
[At that time] he should strengthen himself in order to nullify this
bad thought. He should bind himself with faith in the everlasting
G-d, with a simple faith. He should believe and know that there is no
place which is free of Him. As we have been taught by the Baal Shem
Tov and all the other Tzaddikim*: HaShem gives life to all, He gives
sustenance to all, His guidance is on all things, and He judges all
people on every action and every word.
Therefore a person should always do tshuva* with joy, and a good
heart. He should serve his creator. Every morning he should proclaim
that if his Yetzer HaRah* will come to him to try and take him from
the correct path, and if he should have some [evil] thought that
comes from his Yetzer*, then with his whole heart he truthfully
desires that it should be considered nullified. (p. 590 sefer Baal
Shem Tov teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.)
* * *
II. Levels of service to HaShem
2. 'If you should be cast out to the outermost parts of heaven, from
there HaShem your G-d will gather you, and from there he will bring
you.' (Devorim 30.4)
I heard in the name of the man of G-d Rebbe* Yisroel Baal Shem Tov of
Mezbuz an explanation of the verse, 'And there shall come the lost
ones [Heb. ovdim] from the land of Asher and those cast out [Heb.
neduchim] in the land of Egypt [Heb. Mitzrayim]' (Yeshaya* 27.13).
The man who thinks that he has fulfilled his responsibilities to
Heaven, and his ways are approved of [Heb. oshir] by HaShem and his
service is not lacking. This person is lost (G-d forbid) forever,
and for his whole life there will be no help [for him]. He certainly
has not even begun to serve HaShem, and does not know the truth. He
will die without wisdom, and will live in falsehood his whole life.
This is not the case with the man who is a Tzaddik, and he knows the
truth, and the greatness of the Blessed One. The more he serves
HaShem [the more] he rises to higher levels [of service]. He then
understands more of the greatness of HaShem and he sees that until
now his service has not been good.
Who is greater then Moshe Rabbeinu* O'H* who said just before he
died, 'You have begun to reveal to your servant...'. He felt that all
of the service to HaShem he did until then was only a beginning. [He
had only just begun to have HaShem revealed to himself.] He thought
that he was cast off (G-d forbid) from HaShem and he had yet to reach
the level of a Tzaddik.
This is then what the verse says, 'And there shall come the lost ones
from the land of Asher'. Those in the land of Asher, who think that
they are approved of [Heb. osherim] in their service by HaShem.
These are called 'lost'. 'And those cast out', the ones who think
they are in the land of Egypt [Heb. Mitzrayim] , i.e. in the straits.
[Heb. metzer yom, meaning that they are on a small level.] They have
yet to begin to have any honor. These are called 'cast off' but not
'lost'. [The verse therefore means that those who are on a level of
being 'cast off' will be gathered by HaShem.] (p. 593 sefer Baal
Shem Tov, teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.)
* * *
III. The effect above
3. 'And HaShem your G-d will return [you from] your captivity and he
will have mercy on you.' (Devorim 30.3)
When a person does tshuva and he regrets the wicked deeds that he has
done until this day [this will have an effect above. The reason is
that] it is known that everything that a person does here below has
an effect in the worlds above. An inspiration below causes an
As it is explained on the verse, 'HaShem is your shadow on your right
hand.' Just like a shadow, whatever the person does, the shadow will
likewise do. So it is that with every action done in this world there
is an effect above.
This idea is used by the Tzaddikim to explain the following teaching
by Chazal*. 'Know what is above you.' [Heb. mimchah lit. from you]
>From yourself you are able to tell what is above. This is because
everything depends on the person, who HaShem has given the power that
his actions will have an effect above. Therefore when a person does
tshuva he causes tshuva above and HaShem regrets his creating of the
This can be understood with a parable. A father once gave to his
beloved son a knife to play with. The son had great enjoyment from
playing with the knife. However due to the foolishness of the child
he did not close the knife and he cut his hand with it. He then had a
lot of pain. When his father saw the pain that his son had, he was
also pained. Besides the pain he had from his son cutting himself,
he also was pained from his having given his son the knife. Even
though the father's intention in giving his son the knife to play
with was a good one, he still regretted that he had given his son
something that could cause him pain.
For the same reason HaShem created the Yetzer HaRah, for the good of
people, as is known. However it is necessary for people to close
themselves to the desires and the power that comes from the Yetzer
HaRah. Then the Yetzer HaRah will be for their good.
If the person doesn't do that and the Yetzer HaRah strengthens itself
over him, HaShem regrets that he created the Yetzer HaRah. When
HaShem sees that the person is suffering very much due to his sins,
that the Yetzer HaRah convinced him to do, HaShem says, 'Why have I
created this thing which causes such suffering to my son [Israel.] He
is made to have such regret and cause suffering to himself due to his
tshuva and his regret of his actions. He [Israel] is almost consumed
because of the great pain caused by his sins.'
When HaShem says this and he regrets creating the Yetzer HaRah. This
causes the power of the Yetzer HaRah to be nullified and it is
eliminated from the world. From the regret that a person has [for his
sins] the sins are wiped out. Since he regrets them and feels that it
would have been better if he had not done them, the Yetzer HaRah is
wiped out. And HaShem says that it would have been better had he not
created the Yetzer Harah.
This is the meaning of the verse: 'And HaShem your G-d will return
[Heb v'shav] [you from] your captivity.' [Heb. shevesachah] By your
doing tshuva HaShem also does tshuva. And he will rescue you
immediately from the Yetzer HaRah. (p. 146 sefer Zerah Kodesh
teachings of Rebbe Naftuli Tzvi of Ropshitz.)
* * *
4. 'And HaShem your G-d will turn your captivity' (Devorim 30.3)
It appears to me that we can explain this verse according to what I
heard from Admor* Rebbe Yakov Yitzchok ZT'L* [the Chozeh of Lublin]
who heard it from his Rebbe, the Holy Rabbi Elimeilech ZT'L [the
Rebbe Reb* Elimeilech of Lizensk], who said that today everyone is
called a Baal Tshuva*. And HaShem because of His great mercy accepts
all of us in repentance.
However for the person [who has sinned] it is very bitter at first
when he starts to repent. That is because he starts with fear [of
HaShem and of the punishment he is deserving of.] But after that
HaShem gives him love and joy so that he could be 'redeemed with
This is the meaning of the verse, 'And HaShem your G-d will turn your
captivity'. Your repentance will be turned over by HaShem to love
and joy. That is the meaning [of what it says after that] 'and he
will have compassion'. He will turn and gather you from amongst all
the nations, and from this you will merit speedily to the ingathering
of the exile. (p. 216 sefer Or LaShamayim teachings of Rebbe Meir of
Apt talmid of the Chozeh of Lublin.)
* * *
5. 'And your stranger who is in your camp.' (Devorim 29.10)
We can explain it according to what it says in the Zohar* on the
verse, "'and your camp shall be holy'. These are the 248 limbs of the
man." A man needs to make holy all 248 of his limbs for [the service
of] HaShem. This is the meaning of the 'stranger who is in your
camp', you should consider what rests in your 248 limbs the whole
year [i.e. your holy soul.] And if you set your heart to make them
pure and holy, [you will be on the] level of 'and your camp shall be
Also one needs to consider that he is only on the level of a
'stranger' in this world, and not a 'citizen'. This is because a
person does not live forever. And by making holy his 248 limbs by
performing the 248 positive commandments, he purifies his body and
physical self, and causes the light of his soul to shine in it. He
then acquires perfection, and eternal life in his body and soul.
This is what King David O'H said, 'I am a stranger in the land don't
hide from me your mitzvos*.' By doing the mitzvos of the Torah* he
will also acquire eternal life for his body.
Through this 'you will enter a covenant with HaShem your G-d.' If you
take the numerical value of the last letters of these three words
[covenant, HaShem, your G-d] add to them the number of letters in the
three words you get 428 which is the value of the name of the angel
who is the messenger to bring sustenance. [This signifies] that there
should be for us this Rosh HaShanah* (may it be His will) a writing
and sealing for life for all of Israel spiritually and physically.
[The verse says after this:] 'And in an oath'. An oath is the level
of truth. This is hinted at in the words of oath [Heb. olaso], which
has the numerical value of 'emes' [truth]. And truth is the seal of
HaShem, [as Chazal say] 'his seal is truth'.
This is 'and the oath which HaShem your G-d makes with you this day.'
[This day means Rosh HaShanah.] In Rosh HaShanah HaShem makes a
covenant with each and very Jew. By accepting upon himself to become
accustomed from now on to go in the proper and good way, he will be
written and sealed to life. This is the level of 'who apportions life
for all the living.' HaShem will bestow life and sustenance in
plenty. And he will renew a good and blessed year with all kinds of
good for all Israel, to [Israel] in general and to each individual
[specifically], spiritually and physically, with children, health,
and livelihood in plenty, speedily in our times, amen. (p. 181 sefer
Magen Avraham teachings of Rebbe Avraham the Trisker Maggid*, son of
Rebbe Mordechai Maggid of Chernobel.)
* * *
VI. Strengthening Yourself
6. 'You are standing today...' (Devorim 29.9)
I have many times stated that a person should be strong in his
understanding. As I have said in the name of my Rebbe the Holy Rav*
of Ropshitz [Rebbe Naftuli Tzvi of Ropshitz.] On the verse, 'You
should relate in order that you be vindicated.' This means that he
should relate and talk together with HaShem in order that he be
vindicated in judgement. (Until here his words.) [through his
understanding he can talk with HaShem and vindicate his actions.]
Therefore I have said that the word 'standing' [Heb. Nitzavim] is a
language that denotes strength as the verse says, 'Dasan and Aviram
went out standing.' Rashi* comments on this verse that they stood
upright [in an arrogant manner.]
The word 'today' refers to Rosh HaShanah as is well known. Therefore
the verse 'You are standing today' means that each one should go with
strength and they will then vindicate themself. [As he said above.]
'All men of Israel.' This means every Jew. Even if he is lowly in his
own eyes. He should come with strength. And be strong in his own
eyes. He should praise and bless himself that he is a Jew. i.e. that
he comes of the children of Jews, who were separated from those who
err. As I have explained the verse in Esther, 'Because they told him
[Haman] that he was a Jew.' The meaning being that the servants of
the king had asked why he did not follow the commands of the King of
the world [HaShem.] And he answered that he is still a Jew.
Blessed is our G-d, who created us to honor Him, and separated us
from those who err, and did not place our portion with them. In this
way now before Rosh HaShanah every Jew is aware of his lowliness. He
should rejoice in his portion, that he is a Jew. That is the meaning
of 'All men of Israel.' He should be strong in his own eyes that he
is a Jew. (p. 72 sefer Ravid HaZahav teachings of Rebbe Yisroel Dov
* * *
VII. Asking for the right things.
7. The Holy Rebbe of Tzanz used to tell parables during the third
meal of Shabbos during the month of Elul which proceeds Rosh
HaShanah. One of them was:
'There was once a son of a King who sinned against his father who
then drove his son from his house. The son then wandered around. As
long as the son was close to the palace of the king he was given
honor by the people and his friends gave him to eat and to drink.
Since they knew that he was the son of the king they honored him.
However when he went far from the lands of his father they didn't
recognize him so he didn't have what to eat.
Then he started to sell his clothes in order to buy food to eat. When
he no longer had what to sell, he became a shepherd and then he did
not lack anything since he didn't need so much. He wore simple
clothes, and also ate simple things. He stayed always with his sheep
on the mountains in order to herd them. He would sing like the other
shepherds, and he forgot that he was the son of a king. He felt no
loss for those things he was used to having when he was in his
The custom of the shepherds was that they would make for themselves a
small hut of straw to protect themselves from the rain and the sun.
The king's son also wanted to make one of these for himself but he
was unable to since he lacked the straw etc. This caused him a lot
of anguish that he could not make this hut.
It so happened that at that time a king came to that country and the
custom was that anyone who had something that he needed from the king
would write it upon a piece of paper and throw it into the kings
carriage. The king's son came together with the other people coming
to make their requests, and threw his into the carriage. In his
request he asked for the king to make for him a small hut like the
custom of shepherds was. When the king opened the request and he
recognized the handwriting of his son, whom he had exiled, he was
deeply pained to see to what low level his son had fallen. His son
had forgotten that he was the king's son, and he felt the only thing
he needed was a small hut like the other shepherds.'
The Rebbe ended and said, 'So it is today with the people here. They
have completely forgotten that they are each sons of a king. And what
do they feel is lacking? One cries out for livelihood, another cries
for children. But that which we are lacking: all of the precious
things that we had before [we went into exile] everyone has
completely forgotten.' (p. 267 sefer Otzar HaChaim customs of the
Holy Rebbe Chaim of Tzanz.)
Zechisom Yugan Aleini v'Al Kol Yisroel
Admor: Hebrew initials for: Adonenu Morenu VeRabenu (Our master, Our
teacher our Rabbi). This is a title commonly used with Chassidic
Rebbes. Admor of Ger, Admor of Satmer etc.
Baal Tshuva (Baalei Tshuva): Hebrew for someone who is a repentant
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages
of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
Devorim: Fifth book of the Torah. Called in English 'Deuteronomy'.
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
Maggid: In Europe this was a person who would give sermons on moral
subjects. Many of the first Rebbes was Maggidim (pl. of Maggid).
mitzvah(mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
Moshe Rabbeinu: Hebrew for Moses our teacher. A common Jewish way of
referring to Moses.
nashama(nashamos): Hebrew word for soul.
O'H: Hebrew initials for the words: Olav HaShalom (may he rest in
Rashi: The primary commentary on the Tenach.
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.
Rosh HaShanah: 1. Heb. New Year Holiday at the beginning of the year.
2. A tractate of the Talmud
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
Tzaddik (Tzaddikim): lit. Righteous. Another name for a Chassidic
Yeshaya: Hebrew name for book of Isaiah
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
ZT'L: Hebrew initials of the words: Zechor Tzaddik LeVaracha (The
memory of a Tzaddik - Righteous person is a blessing.)
Copyright (c) 1997 by Moshe Shulman (email@example.com)
All rights reserved.
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