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. Finding a little Chometz
1. The custom is to place 10 pieces of Chometz* in places where the
person who is searching will find it. It seems to me that the reason
for this holy custom is that the main removal of chometz refers to
that of the Yetzer HaRah*. For that reason we place these pieces of
chometz to show that there is still in each person some chometz, i.e.
the Yetzer HaRah, as the verse says 'there is no Tzaddik who does not
If a person will consider himself as if he has already corrected
himself from everything, that is a sure sign that he has yet to begin
in the service of HaShem*. (This I explained elsewhere with regards
to the red heifer that was to be without any blemish, and which had
never had a yoke placed upon it. This means that the one who thinks
he is without blemish, it is a clear sign that he has not as yet
accepted the yoke of heaven upon himself.)
Likewise it says in the Chovos HaLavavos* that if one says that he
has not sinned, it is certain that he has sinned more. For this
reason we place the chometz to show that we have yet to rectify
everything. (p. 136 sefer Avodos Yisroel teachings of Rebbe* Yisroel
* * *
II. Teachings on the Haggadah*
2. 'It is a mitzvah* for us to relate the story of the going out from
Egypt.' The retelling of the stories in the Torah concerning the
great and wondrous things HaShem has done for Israel has a virtue in
them for each and every Jew who relates them when he is in need of
help from HaShem. We see this from the verse which says, 'in order to
place my signs [wonders] amongst them, and in order that you should
tell them to your children... and they shall know that I am HaShem.'
When the story is related there will be a remembrance and there shall
again be a redemption in the land [as there was then. The telling of
the story of HaShem's wonders causes that wonders be done to the one
relating the story.] As it is said in Koheles*, 'What was will be.'
The [relating of the] story of what was [in the past] is a
preparation for what shall be. There shall be, once again, a
redemption [from exile] in the land. (p. 37 Haggadah Bar Mayim
Chaim Haggadah with teachings of Rebbe Chaim of Charnovitz.)
* * *
3. 'And he, who stood up for our ancestors and us... not just one
[time] alone...' We can understand this according to what it says in
Pirkei Avos, 'Every disagreement that is not for the sake of heaven
will not endure. This refers to the disagreement of Korach and his
assembly.' In the holy sefer Noam Elimeilech he asks, why does it say
'Korach and his assembly' and not Korach and Moshe? The reason is
that the wicked come from the source of separation, and they can
never join themselves together in oneness and unity. For that reason
the disagreement will not last, because in the end the wicked will
turn against each other, and will strike each other. Because of this
they will not be able to do anything bad to Israel.
This is the meaning of 'And he, who stood up for our ancestors and
us...' Why is this? [Because] not just one [time] alone...' i.e they
had no oneness, no unity amongst themselves that they should be able
to stand against us. As we have seen the verse refers to Israel as
'seventy soul' [singular and not souls plural] to show that they are
as one. However this is not the case with the gentile nations, as we
see that the children of Esav are called 'souls',plural, showing that
they come from a place of separation [and not of oneness.]
This is the meaning of what is said after this, 'But in every
generation they stand', plural, because they have no unity with them.
For that reason, 'The Holy One Blessed is He saved us from them.' (p.
71 Haggadah Ropshitz, Haggadah with teachings of Rebbe Naftuli of
Ropshitz and his descendants. This was from Rebbe Meir of Dzikov
author of the sefer Imrei Noam, the grandson of the Ropshitzer Rov.)
* * *
4. 'Blessed is The Place' [A term used to refer to HaShem in
Rabbinical works and also here in the Haggadah.] We need to
understand why we refer to HaShem here as 'The Place' and in other
places in the reciting of the Haggadah he is referred to explicitly
by his name? Also why is it that here specifically it changes and
calls HaShem, 'The Place'? We also need to understand why it says,
'The Torah speaks about [lit. against] four [types] of sons?
It appears to me that we can explain it this way. We find that
Chazal* teach 'HaShem is called the place of the world, but the world
is not His place.' The reason is that this whole world is as nothing
before him. HaShem creates this world, and sustains its existence.
And the whole world is literally like nothingness. It is only that it
exists due to His strength and His sustaining of the world. For that
reason he is called 'Place.' Without Him there could be nothing, and
there would be no 'place' for the world.
The purpose of creation is the people Israel. Because of them the
world was created. The Torah is the bridge between HaShem and Israel.
Just like HaShem is the 'place' of the world, so the Torah is the
source of everything, and [as Chazal say] the world was created with
the Torah. For this reason just as it is the case that there is
nothing that can effect HaShem [from the actions of this world] as it
says in Eyov*, 'If I sin what can it do to You?.' The same is with
regards to the Torah that was emanated from HaShem it also has no set
place. Sometimes there is the idea of a 'sin for HaShem's sake' [as
we see with regards to the fast Esther decreed that came out on
Pesach.]. Also with the Torah anything and any sin can be rectified.
Even completely wicked people are able to do tshuva* and turn their
sins to merits. For that reason the Torah speaks about all types of
people, since through the Torah everything can be rectified. The
Torah can bring a general rectification for all types of people [and
their sins.] (p. 17 Haggadah Divrei Chaim Haggadah with teachings of
Rebbe Chaim of Tzanz.)
* * *
5. 'In order that you should remember the day that you went out of
Egypt.' The idea is this. When the Jewish people went out of Egypt
there was no difference between them and the Egyptians. As the verse
says, 'one nation from another nation.' These were uncircumcised and
these were uncircumcised. These grew long hair and these grew long
hair. It was only that HaShem desired them, and had promised to
redeem them. Only because of his great mercy he brought into their
hearts from His holiness without any preparation on their part until
they were on the level that he could take them out of Egypt.
For that reason we are commanded to remember the Exodus from Egypt.
This is not a remembrance with our mouths only. It should be
impressed on the hearts of every Jew. If he should find himself tied
to some desires, and he has no idea how to remove himself from them,
he should not give up hope. He should have faith and wait for HaShem
to take him out of his trouble. He should strengthen himself that he
is not worse then Israel was when they were in Egypt where they were
in the depths of uncleanliness. And there HaShem drew them out
without any action of their own. [He should feel that] also for him
HaShem will help. And for that reason we are commanded to remember.
(p. 117 Haggadah Rebbe Tzadok HaKohen Haggadah with teachings of
Rebbe Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin.)
* * *
6. 'Kadash [make Kiddush] Erchatz' [wash the hands]. We can explain
this according to what I have heard from my father ZT'L* when he
explained the following teaching. Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel
disagreed with regards to the lights of Channukah. Beis Hillel said
that we add more and more [one the first night, then two etc] and
Beis Shammai said we decrease less and less [eight the first night
then seven etc.] He explained it this way. The verse says, 'go away
from evil and do good.' It is better for a person to first turn from
the evil that he has done and watch over his heart and soul that he
should not violate any sin whether from the Torah or the Rabbis.
Whether in action, speech or thought. Then he should grasp onto the
good. He should learn Torah, serve HaShem, do the mitzvos and good
However it says in the holy seforim that in our days where people are
weak of heart and of understanding due to the many afflictions and
sufferings that we have. If he was to wait to start doing good until
he could turn from the evil he has done, he would pass all the years
of his life. Therefore he should learn Torah, serve HaShem, do
mitzvos and good deeds. He should be on the level of 'adding more and
more' then he will eventually come to the 'go away from evil.' He
will come to recognize the greatness of HaShem, and will come to fear
him and fear to do any sin.
This was the argument of Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai. Beis Shammai
held that they should do 'less and less', i.e. they should first 'go
away from evil.' Then they should 'do good.' That way they would
become holy and purify themselves, and they will come to have a
strong desire to learn Torah, serve HaShem, do mitzvos and good
deeds. Beis Hillel said they should 'add more and more'. This is a
remez* that they should add more and more to their service of HaShem,
their learning of Torah, doing mitzvos and good deeds. Through this
they will recognize the greatness of HaShem and will be ashamed to
do any sin.
With this we can understand what Chazal have made as a sign of the
order of the Seder on the night of Pesach: Kadash, Erchatz. When we
reach this night where there are so many mitzvos to do who can say in
his heart that he has merited to purify his heart from his sins and
he is on the level of 'go away from evil'? Therefore Chazal teach us
the halacha is like Beis Hillel. First we have to make ourselves holy
[Heb. kadash] with the holy mitzvos that we do this night. Then
through them we can 'erchatz', we will be able to wash ourselves from
any stain of a sin that we might have. (p. 34 Haggadah Spinka
Haggadah with teachings from the Rebbes of Spinka. This was from
Rebbe Yitzchok Isaac of Spinka.)
* * *
III. Pesach customs
7. Rebbe Yisroel of Hosyatin related once to Rabbi Yakov Rimlover the
author of 'Kochav M'Yakov' that he heard from his father: 'The
[author of] Degel [Machnah Ephraim the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov]
said, "in Russia they have many extra stringencies for the holiday of
Pesach. However they don't really please me. However one stringency
seems very good to me. They prepare a barrel of water from the day
before Pesach to use during the whole holiday. If you would ask me
why I don't do that also. The reason is that I never saw this done by
my grandfather [the Baal Shem Tov.]"'
Rebbe Yisroel saw that he wished to ask him a question about the
story. So he said, 'Nu?'
Rabbi Yakov answered, 'It is easy to understand that if someone
followed a stringency that he ONLY saw by his ancestor, but he
himself didn't see any reason for it, I could understand this. [i.e.
that he would do it.] However, if he saw that his ancestors were
lenient in something, and he wished to be more stringent. Why
shouldn't he?' [How can we say that he should refrain from being more
stringent with himself?]
Rebbe Yisroel answered, 'We see in the Talmud* (tractate Betza* 36b)
that on Shabbos water dripped on a small millstone of Abbaya. He went
to his Rebbe, Rabbah, and asked him what to do. [So as to avoid the
stone being destroyed.] Rabbah told him, that since it would become
something abhorrent to him [because of the smell while breaking up]
he would be able to remove it. Abbaya objected that we cannot
consider an object 'abhorrent' in this manner. In the end the
millstone was destroyed, and Abbaya said that it happened because he
didn't listen to his Rebbe.' From this we see that one should not be
more stringent in something that his Rebbe was lenient in. (p. 28
vol. 2 sefer Ner Yisroel teachings from Yisroel of Rizhin and his
Zechisom Yugan Aleini v'Al Kol Yisroel
Betza: Tractate of the Talmud
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages
of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
Chometz: Hebrew for leavening
Chovos HaLavavos: a moralistic and philosophical sefer
Eyov: The Hebrew name for the book of Job
Haggadah: Sefer that relates the story of the Exodus from Egypt and
other things related to the night of Pesach.
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
Koheles: One of the books of the Tenach, called in English
mitzvah(mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
Rebbe: Leader of a Chassidic group or a teacher
remez: A method of Biblical interpretation based on finding hints
in the Torah for various concepts.
Talmud: An ancient work of Jewish law.
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
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.
Issur Hasugas Givil