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. 'These are the reckonings of the Mishkan*, the Mishkan...'
We can explain the repetition of the word 'Mishkan' as follows: The
word 'Mishkan' is similar to the word 'bring down.' [Heb. hemshacha]
When you wish to make a reckoning of the Mishkan, this means that you
wish to bring down upon yourself again [what you had previously had.]
As is known there is a great segulah* [to bring holiness on a
person.] He should attach himself to learning the Torah*. Immediately
after he has prayed he should learn Torah, even if it is only a
This is the meaning of the verse:
'The reckonings of the Mishkan.' The [holiness] that you brought down
'The Mishkan of testimony.' You should attach yourself to the Torah,
which is called 'testimony.' He should not immediately go to mundane
affairs [but concentrate on spiritual things first.] This is because
he will be close to sin (G-d forbid.) (p. 86 sefer Degel Machnah
Ephraim teachings of Rebbe* Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sedelkov)
* * *
II. Recognizing the greatness of HaShem*
2. 'These are the reckonings of the Mishkan' (Shemos 38.21)
There are two levels with regards to the service of HaShem. The first
is that one sees the miracles and wonders that HaShem does. Where He
changes the nature of the world. And from that he recognizes that He
is the one who rules over the world and does everything according to
what He wishes. For this reason everyone is required to serve Him
with fear. The second level is where he recognizes His greatness. [He
serves HaShem] just because He is the creator of the world, and hence
He is worthy of being served. [Even without there being any other
miracles at all.]
The difference between these two ways is as follows. If one only
recognizes the greatness of HaShem based on His actions and wonders,
like those which were done in Egypt or at the crossing of the sea,
these wonders are [what is] great in his eyes. However he only
recognizes His greatness because of them. However if he recognizes
His greatness and knows the truth that He is the creator of all, then
the miracles are not so great in his eyes. That's because it is not a
wonder that the One who created all can do with his creation what he
wishes since he created them. However the miracle does have an
importance to him because it shows HaShem's love for the Jewish
When the Jewish people went out of Egypt they were on a very low
level and were only able to recognize HaShem's greatness due to the
miracles. However by the time they received the Torah [on Mount
Sinai] they had been purified and could recognize the greatness of
HaShem on the second level, because he is the creator of the world.
They then understood that all the miracles and wonders that HaShem
had done in Egypt and by the sea were not a wonder at all. They only
showed his great love of the Jewish people.
With this idea we can understand why it is that on Pesach* we are
commanded to eat Matzoh. Also with the sacrifice in the Temple we are
to bring matzoh. However on Shevous* there are specifically two
breads make of leavened bread (and not matzoh), and the offering of
thanksgiving was from both matzoh and leavened bread.
The reason is that matzoh is a remez* of those who serve HaShem based
on the miracles that He has done. The simple meaning of why we eat
matzoh is to remind us that the Egyptians rushed the Jewish people
out of Egypt [because of miraculous plagues.] Therefore what we eat
on Pesach is to remind us of this.
However by the giving of the Torah [which was on Shevous], they
recognized the truth, and didn't acknowledge the miracles as miracles
in and of themselves. But they understood that they were a part of
everything that He alone made through his speech. Therefore they did
not need to serve Him because of the miracles. And for that reason on
Shevous they were not commanded to bring matzoh, because that would
refer to the miracles, and on Shevous they do not need to serve
HaShem on that level.
The thanksgiving offering [that is brought on Shevous and at other
times] was brought because of a miracle that was done [to the person
bringing it.] When HaShem does a miracle one reaches the first level
of service. However after that, because of the miracle, he becomes
more diligent in his service of HaShem, and he rises to the second
level, which is like the giving of the Torah. He rises up to this
level because of his understanding based on what has already happened
at Sinai [where the Torah was given.] For that reason [on Shevous] he
brings BOTH matzoh [which is the first level] and leavened bread
[which is the second higher level.] One before the miracle, and one
after the miracle.
When the Jewish people made the golden calf, they lost these two
levels of service. However when they made the mishkan, they received
the first one, which is based on miracles, again. However the second
level did not return. It returns only if they serve HaShem with
mesiras nefesh*. And then only little by little as they perfect their
service of HaShem.
The word 'reckoning' indicates something that is lacking in some way.
And this is what the verse is saying, 'these are the reckonings of
the mishkan.' This means these are the things that are lacking in the
mishkan. That is, even though they have returned to the first level
which is based on perceiving miracles, they are still lacking the
second one based on their recognition that HaShem is the creator.
Their service is still not complete.
The verse explains what is lacking. It says, 'the mishkan of
testimony.' Their service is one that is only a testimony (i.e. of
the miracles] but it is not a service that is based on their
recognition of the truth that HaShem is the creator of all as it was
at Sinai. (p. 58b sefer Kedushas Levi teachings of Rebbe Levi
Yitzchok of Berditchev)
* * *
III. Coming together on Shabbos
3. 'And Moshe assembled the entire congregation of the children of
Israel, and he said to them, "These are the things that HaShem has
commanded to do them. Six days you shall work and the seventh day
shall be holy for you.' (Shemos 35.1-2)
Rashi* says that the language of this verse implies that he didn't
physically gather them, but that they were gathered by what he said.
We can ask a number of questions about these verses.
[1.] What is the meaning of the words, "These are the 'words' that
HaShem has commanded to do them." [The Hebrew word for 'words' and
'things' is the same.] Is there any relationship between words and
'doing'? ['Words' refers to speech and 'doing' to some type of an
action. Speech is not generally considered an action.]
[2.] It should have said, 'These are the mitzvos that Hashem has
commanded' or 'These are the actions that HaShem has commanded.'
[3.] Also what is the relationship between the observance of Shabbos
and the building of the mishkan, which appears in the verses that
[4.] Chazal* say that this teaches that the building of the mishkan
[even though it is a mitzvah*] does not allow one to violate the
Shabbos. [However] this was already stated above in the parsha* of Ki
Sisa on the verses 'See I have called by name Betzalal...'
[5.] Even more it is difficult to understand why it says here 'To do
them.' All of the mitzvos of Shabbos involve NOT doing things, as is
known. All the prohibitions of the Shabbos are negative commands
[i.e. ones referring to actions one must refrain from doing.]
[6.] Also the language of Rashi is difficult to understand. 'He did
not gather them with his hands [i.e. physically] but with his words.'
This is difficult. [Does he mean] that Moshe called each and every
one of the Jewish people to come to the gathering. Even though we
could say he meant that he commanded that it should be announced
through other people, he should have said that if that was his
intention. In a later verse, 'And Moshe commanded, and the word went
out in the camp' he does this. Here the verse says, 'And Moshe
gathered' which implies that Moshe by himself gathered them. This is
difficult to understand how he could have gathered them by himself
with his words.
It seems that we can explain the simple meaning of these verses as
follows: We find in every generation, including this generation,
that there is a Tzaddik in that generation who makes himself holy,
and purifies himself in all manners of holiness. He constantly learns
Torah, prays and does mitzvos and good deeds. All for the sake of
HaShem alone. To this person is gathered in every generation many
people to hear from him the Torah of HaShem, good advice to serve
HaShem, and prayer.
Also, this Tzaddik enlightens them in various aspects of the service
of HaShem with truth and enthusiasm. They are inspired to do tshuva*
completely [for all their sins.] In this manner they acted in the
time of the Tannaim* and Amoraim*, when they had very large
yeshivos*. The time when they would gather together was on Shabbos,
when they would usually talk to them in Torah and how to truthfully
serve HaShem, as is known from the words of Chazal in the Talmud* in
many places in Bava Metzia* and Bava Basra*.
The main time they would gather together was on Shabbos. This was
because on the Shabbos the Tzaddik has a greater holiness and a
deeper understanding of Torah and musar*. [For this reason] he is
able to instruct the people in the proper way of serving HaShem.
For this reason almost every Shabbos this Tzaddik has a number of
people and groups gathered to him. This is because Shabbos is called
the 'Queen Shabbos' and 'Royalty' is compared [in the Zohar] to the
mouth, and the Oral Torah. This means, as I said above, the Tzaddik,
who purifies his mouth with Torah and prayer, has the power on
Shabbos in his mouth to explain the Oral Torah according to the
This is the meaning of the above verses:
'And Moshe assembled the entire congregation of the children of
Israel.' This occurred on the day after Yom Kippur* [as is stated in
Chazal.] Moshe descended from the mountain with a great measure of
holiness that he received while he was there for 40 days. Therefore
all the Jewish people gathered themselves to him since they
understood that they would hear holy words from him. New words of
Torah that they had never been heard in the world until then. That is
what Rashi means when he says 'With his words they were gathered.'
Because he had holy words [to relate] they gathered by themselves to
him to hear from him words of Torah and advice in the service of
'And he said to them, "These are the things that HaShem has commanded
to do them.' The meaning is just as you are gathered to me [Moshe]
because you are hearing from me holy words and new teachings of the
Torah, so you shall do. You should also make yourselves holy in all
manner of holiness in order that you should also have holy words. And
you shall be able to gather around yourself groups of men to receive
from you Torah, holiness and advice in the service of HaShem.
That is why these words are near, 'Six days you shall work and the
seventh day shall be holy for you.' This means that you should have
an extra holiness on the Shabbos. From that you will have the power
to gather people [to yourself] to instruct them in the way to serve
HaShem. (p. 109b sefer M'Or V'Shamash teachings of Rebbe Kolonymus
Kalman of Krakow.)
* * *
IV. Holy thoughts
4. 'Every wise hearted man among you shall come and make...' (Shemos
The words in this verse 'among you' appear to be extra. However it
seems to be a remez to an idea that we have learned before. When it
comes to the performance of the mitzvos the important thing is what
you have in your heart and the holy thoughts that you have when doing
each specific mitzvah. Even though this is the case, it is still not
possible to do the mitzvah with your thought alone [without any
action] as thoughts are continually moving from one idea to another.
This one comes and quickly another one takes it's place.
Therefore the thought alone is not good without the actual action of
the mitzvah, and by this action you will fulfil your requirement of
intention. Not only that but the action will cause you to have the
thoughts that apply to this action. When you have finished this
action then there remains with you an impression of that good
thought, and so a part of the action will remain forever.
This is the meaning of what we say before performing any of the
mitzvos 'you have made us holy with your mitzvos.' Through your
command to do the action of the mitzvah you cause us to become holy.
This action causes holy thoughts [that apply to this mitzvah] and
they establish themselves with a greater strength and power. All this
is because this world is the world of action. [Action is the main
purpose of this world, as Chazal say, 'the learning is not the
important thing, the action is.']
This is what it says in the Megilah*, 'These days should be
remembered and kept.' The command applies to both the action [i.e.
kept] and the remembrance, because it is not sufficient that it
should be remembered alone, i.e. in thought. Without any action
[since thoughts disappear quickly.]
That is the meaning of the verse, 'Every wise hearted man.' 'Wise'
'Heart' refers to wisdom and understanding. This means everyone who
HaShem has bestowed from above with good thoughts of wisdom and
understanding in his mind. 'He should bring', he should do the
mitzvos in action and not just thought. He will go out from there to
the light and HaShem's word will be established forever. (p. 145
sefer Tepheres Shlomoh teachings of Rebbe Shlomoh of Radomsk.)
* * *
V. Parshas Porah
5. The sefer M'or V'Shamash asked on the verse, 'And Moshe gathered
all the congregation of Israel and he said to them, these are the
things that HaShem commanded you to do.': what does it mean by 'these
are the things that HaShem commanded you to do?' There are no
positive commandments with regards to Shabbos except to remember the
Shabbos and to make Kiddish. And from the Torah the remembrance alone
is sufficient. The Rabbis later added that one has to make Kiddish on
wine [as a remembrance.] All the mitzvos of Shabbos are negative
ones, [that tell us things we should not do. How can the verse say
that Moshe was teaching them the things to 'do' as if there were some
action that was required when there are none?]
He answers that Moshe Rabbeinu gathered them together every Shabbos
and taught them the Torah, and gave them moral instruction on how
they should act. This is [being said] to show for later generations
how they should act in every generation. That they should gather
themselves around the Tzaddik that is in their generation to hear
from him words of Torah. This is the meaning 'to do', i.e. in every
generation they should gather together with the Tzaddik to hear his
words. [See #3 above where this teaching is brought.]
It is well known that the Hebrew word 'and he gathered' [Heb.
V'yakel] is the same gematria* as mikvah*. This is because the words
of Torah that are heard from a Tzaddik purify the soul of the person
who hears them [the same as if he had immersed himself in a mikvah.]
He is able to immerse himself in these words of Torah and they are
like the water of a mikva which purify him.
The Yeitiv Lev says on the verse, 'The priest's lip should keep
knowledge and they should seek Torah from his mouth [for he is a
messenger [Heb. malach] of HaShem of hosts.]' Chazal say, if your
Rav* is like an angel [Heb. malach] of Hashem you should seek Torah
from his mouth, and if not you should not seek Torah from his mouth.
The question is why does the verse use the word 'seek'? [It should
have said 'listen to', or 'learn from'.]
The Yeitiv Lev explains that in the Talmud it says that 'the common
speech of a Talmud Chocham must be studied' because within their
common speech is to be found words of Torah. And that is the meaning
of 'if your Rav is like an angel of HaShem' then you need to seek
Torah from him, i.e. that Torah that is hidden within his common
However if someone else says over words of Torah, even if he is not
like an angel of HaShem one should not care. He should accept what he
says as it says in Pirkei Avos, 'Who is wise? He who learns from
every person.' But to seek for words of Torah in his common speech,
that you should not do unless he is a Rav who is like an angel of
This is the virtue of words of Torah that they are able to purify
those who hear them no matter who is the one saying them. This is
because the Torah is eternal and relates to each and every
generation. One should not search out to see if the one saying the
words of Torah is like an angel or not. One needs to accept from
every person and from that he will be able to purify himself.
With this we can understand what it says in Parshas Porah, 'And
HaShem said to Moshe and Aharon saying, this is the decree of the
Torah that HaShem commands to say. Speak to the Children of Israel
and tell them they should take to you...' It would appear that the
words 'This is the decree of the Torah' is extra. Also there is a
well known question. The verse should have said, 'This is the decree
of the Porah.'
The explanation is that HaShem wanted to show the Jewish people that
even after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash*, when they would
not have the ashes of the Red Heifer, they would still be able to
purify themselves through the Torah. The meaning is that when the
Jewish people will gather themselves together around a holy Tzaddik
who will teach words of Torah, through that it is as if they were
immersing in a mikvah and becoming pure.
HaShem was telling Moshe beforehand what they should do when there
would no longer be the ashes of the Red Heifer.. Then it will be
'This is the decree of the Torah that HaShem commands you to say.'
Through the saying of words of Torah it will be as if they fulfilled
the laws of the Red Heifer and they will be purified. (Heard from
Mori* HaRav Shmuel Kraus Z'L* on the last Shabbos I was with him,
Parshas Porah 5748)
Amora(Amoraim): Rabbis of the period of the Mishnah
Bava Basra: Tractate of the Talmud
Bava Metzia: Tractate of the Talmud
Beis HaMikdash: Heb. The Holy Temple
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages
of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
Chesed: Hebrew word meaning acts of mercy
gematria: Numerical value of the letters of the Hebrew words
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
Megillas Esther: Hebrew for the book of Esther
mesiros nefesh: Hebrew for self sacrifice
midah(midos): A character trait, either good or bad.
mikvah: Hebrew word referring to a ritual bath used for purification
mishkan: Hebrew for tabernacle
mitzvah(mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
Mori: Hebrew for my teacher.
musar: Hebrew for moral instruction.
Parsha (Parshos): lit. 'portion' refers to the portion of the Torah
read each week.
Parshas Porah: Special Parsha of the Torah read the Shabbos after
Pesach: Hebrew for Passover
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
remez: A method of Biblical interpretation based on finding hints
in the Torah for various concepts.
segulah: Something which has a virtue to it that it can cause
something good to happen.
Shemos: Second book of the Torah. Called Exodus in English
Shevous: Jewish holiday 50 days after Pesach
Talmud: An ancient work of Jewish law.
Tanna(Tannaim): Rabbis 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
Yeshiva(yeshivos): School for older boys
Yom Kippur: The Day of Atonement, the most holy day of the Jewish
Z'L: Hebrew initials of the words: Zechorono LeVaracha (His memory is
Copyright (c) 1997 by Moshe Shulman (email@example.com)
All rights reserved.
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