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. I was asked in the land of Lithuania [where he had been Rabbi of
Pinsk] why it is that the holiday of Shevuos is called 'Atzeres'. In
the Torah* the word 'Atzeres' is only used with regards to the last
day of Sukkos, Shemini Atzeres. I answered in three different ways.
The first way is the simple answer. We see by the other holidays
[Sukkos and Pesach] that they have two types of service for HaShem*.
The first is a specific mitzvah* that is required to be done on that
holiday, like eating matzoh on Pesach. The second is to refrain from
doing any type of work. Shevuos is not like the other holidays as
there is only one mitzvah involved, that of refraining [Heb.
n'atzrin] from doing work. For that reason we call it 'Atzeres [which
signifies holding back from doing forbidden work.]
The second reason is: We see that all the other holidays are called
names that have some relation to them. [For example Sukkos has that
name because we eat in a Sukkah.] This is not the case with Shevuos
which is not given the name for something that happened on it but
with it's relationship to the days of Seferah* which occur before
it.] We need to understand why it is that the holiday is called on
the name of a mitzvah that has ended.
The reason is that it is the completion of the mitzvah. This is
similar to when people finish learning a tractate of the Talmud* they
have great joy from this. [Because of this joy] they make a big meal
(as we have seen done by many people who are careful in the mitzvos
and their life is devoted to the learning of Torah.)
We really need to understand why it is that they have such joy. The
mitzvah has already been completed. [There should be more joy when
doing the mitzvah and not when it is completed and they are no longer
doing it.] However [we can understand this according to what] Rashi*
says with regards to Shemini Atzeres. [Chazal tell us that HaShem
says,] 'it is difficult for Me to take leave of you [the Jewish
people]. This is like a king who made a big meal for all of the
lords of his realm. After the meal when the king wanted to leave,
they said to him that his leaving was hard on them, and they asked
him to stay.' Since on the days of Sukkos the Jewish people bring
sacrifices daily, they make the day of Shemini Atzeres in order to
hold the joy of the holiday with them for another day.
This is the reason [for the meal] after the completion of a tractate
of the Talmud and likewise it is the reason why the holiday of
Shevous is called 'Atzeres.' We make it a holiday because we have
completed the mitzvah of Seferah, in which HaShem has purified us.
For that reason [like Shemini Atzeres] it is called Atzeres.
The third reason is based on a teaching from the Ramban*. He says
that when a person gets any type of inspiration of fear or love for
HaShem [he shouldn't let it disappear, rather] he should take it and
make a vessel for it [i.e. apply it to something else.] He should
immediately do some type of mitzvah like giving Tzaddakah* or sitting
and learning Torah. He should realize that this type of inspiration
is a holy light from above that is called the level of 'neshama'*
[Heb. lit. soul], and he should make for it a 'body' in order for it
to be strengthened and have endurance.
At the time of the giving of the Torah [which was on Shevuos] there
certainly was a great inspiration from above that came upon the
Jewish people. However they didn't have any mitzvah yet to use as a
'vessel' for this inspiration. [The Torah had not been given yet.]
At that time they were busy performing the mitzvah of making a
protective fence around the mountain [so that they should not by
mistake come to touch it.] Moshe Rabbenu* had commanded them[, from
HaShem,] that they should not touch the mountain at all. They were
then holding themselves back [Heb. n'atzrin] from touching [the
mountain.] From this mitzvah they made a vessel for the inspiration
they had. And from this we have the name of 'Atzeres' [which reminds
us of that.] (p. 71 sefer Kedushas Levi from Rebbe* Levi Yitzchok of
* * *
2. It is taught in the Talmud, 'Everywhere you find the greatness of
HaShem, there you will find his humility. This is written in the
Torah, the Neviium* and the Kesuvim*...' This teaching would appear
to be difficult to understand. First it says 'Everywhere' which would
include the Torah, then it specifies three places. [If it is
everywhere then it is in the three places mentioned also. And if it
is only there, then it is not everywhere.]
We can explain it this way. [When He was giving the Torah to the
Jewish people] HaShem made His Presence appear on Mount Sinai, which
is the smallest of the mountains. [Why did he do it specifically
there?] Because the Shechina*, which is His greatness, does not rest
on a place that was not previously on the level of humility. As the
verse says, 'I dwell with the one who is broken.'
The primary action which brings one to the level of humility is the
learning of the Torah, Neviium and Kesuvim. They are a 'threefold
strand which is not easily broken.' In fact the opposite is true,
[not only can it not be broken] but they strengthen the person so
that he can come to attachment to HaShem. This is because the
learning causes him to acquire the midah* of humility, and from this
he will come to have the Shechina rest on him, which is the
'greatness of HaShem.'
This is the meaning of what Chazal* teach in the Talmud, 'Everywhere
you find His greatness.' Where you find 'His greatness' refers to
where the Shechina is to be found, which is the 'greatness of
HaShem'. It is certain that from beforehand 'His Humility is to be
found', i.e. [you will find there the levels of] humility and
lowliness. That is what it means by 'you will find His humility.'
[It will be a place or a person of humility.]
This is not able to come [to a person or a place] except through the
written Torah, the Neviium and the Kesuvim. Therefore we need to
learn on the night of Shevuos Tenach* in order to acquire the level
of humility. From this we can proceed to attachment to HaShem, which
is the level of the Shechina resting on the person. My it be His will
that we shall merit this. (p. 201 sefer Bas Ayin teachings of Rebbe
Avraham Dov of Veritch)
* * *
III. Service of Men
3. The verse says, 'You speak for us, and we shall hear. Let G-d not
speak to us [directly] as perhaps we shall die.' Rebbe Moshe of
Kobrin was very disturbed over this verse where it says, 'perhaps we
shall die.' [He wondered] why were they so worried that they would
die when they were on such a high level of desire for HaShem [at the
time of the giving of the Torah.] Isn't that the purpose and the
desire of every Jew to reach the level [that his soul leaves him from
such a high and close attachment to HaShem?] He then fainted, and
they needed to take him to his room.
Later during the next tisch* he answered that question. HaShem has
many angels who sing songs to him every day [as part of their service
to Him.] They do this once and all of their strength is spent, and
they become completely nullified, and become unified with the Light
of HaShem. [And as the Kabbalistic works teach] from the sweat of
these angels comes the River Dinar which is of fire. And even with
this, [i.e. the angels who serve Him on such a high level] it was
still His desire to create this world in order that His kingship
should be apparent in this lowly place through the service to Him
that the Jewish people perform.
This was their fear. 'Perhaps we shall die' and then we shall no
longer be able to perform His mitzvos and serve HaShem. And this is
not the desire of HaShem [that they should die. Because] even though
he has many angels who are serving Him on a high level [still His
desire was to create this world.] (p. 97 sefer Toras Avos teachings
of the Rebbes of Lechovitz, Kobrin and Solonim.)
* * *
4. The verse says, 'And Israel encamped opposite the mountain.' To
which Chazal comment, 'As one person with one heart.' [i.e. they were
united in purpose as if they were only a single person.] The meaning
of this teaching is as follows: When a person is physically a
complete body, all of the individual limbs are apparent. [It is then
clear that] the head is the part that controls the rest of the body.
The same was when all of Israel was united together, 'as one person
with one heart.' Then it was apparent who was the 'head'. i.e. who
was in control of them. That was [as the verse say], 'I am HaShem you
G-d.' Therefore there was no specific command [given by HaShem] when
it says 'I am' as there was by the other [ten] commandments. This was
because this command was already apparent from their resting before
the mountain 'as one person with a single heart'. Then it was
apparent that 'I am HaShem your G-d' and there was no way that one
could make any error in that. Therefore there was no need to command
that [they believe that HaShem is their G-d.] (p. 6 sefer HaZamanim
teachings on the Yom Tov* of Shevuos by Rebbe Yakov of
* * *
5. The verse says, 'Do not call me Naomi [Heb. lit. pleasant], call
me bitter.... Why do you call me Naomi when HaShem has testified
against me, the Almighty has brought evil upon me.' We need to
understand something here. If it was so difficult for her to have
them continue to call her Naomi, why is it that they did not listen
to her? They continued to call her Naomi, as we see in the next
We can explain it this way. Her intention was not that they should
refrain from using her name and calling her Naomi. She had something
else in mind. It is well known that if suffering comes to a person
(G-d forbid), and the hand of HaShem [appears] to be against him, if
it comes before he has strengthened himself with his faith [in
HaShem] the actions of Hashem will cause him to feel bitter and he
will have great suffering. [This is because he does not recognize
that the true cause is HaShem.]
This is not the case for the person who has come to the level of
complete faith in Hashem. He understands that everything is under His
supervision. 'Like a father punishes his son, so HaShem punishes
them.' He will then remove any negative feelings from his heart. This
is because he understand that the Creator only desires to do good.
'From Him will not proceed any evil thing', only good.
For that reason she said, 'don't call my name Naomi.' She meant by
that to say that it would be correct to refrain from calling her
Naomi, because [what had happened to her made her] very bitter.
[She then continued and said,] 'Why do you call me Naomi.' She didn't
say here, 'Don't call me Naomi', but 'Why do you call me Naomi.'
[This was not a comment but] she was informing them that they should
call her Naomi even at this time. The reason was because it was
righteous of HaShem to act that way.
'HaShem has testified against me, the Almighty has brought evil upon
me.' I [Naomi] know that all the suffering that I experienced was
under the supervision of HaShem. And it was the work of HaShem that
did this. Therefore it is proper that you should still call me Naomi,
because [these sufferings] are really sweet to me, and I accept them
with love. (p. 71b sefer Ateres Yeshuah teachings of Rebbe Yehoshua
* * *
VI. Accepting the Torah
6. The Midrash* teaches, "'You are a G-d who does wonders you make
known your strength to the nations.' HaShem wanted the nations to
accept the Torah but they did not want to."
We can understand this teaching from what was taught by the Tzaddik
from Liska in his sefer* Ach Pri Tevuah on the Yom Tov of Shevous, on
the verse, 'HaShem came from Sinai.' [He explained] that HaShem did
this in order to do good for Israel so that the Yetzer HaRah* should
not be able to complain that they were not worthy of receiving the
Specifically it should not be able to complain that they had done so
many sins, and for this reason there should be no hope for them. For
that reason HaShem appeared so that if the gentile nations had
wanted, even they could have been given the Torah [as the Midrash
above says.] Even more so the Jewish people [could accept the Torah.]
The reason [why they could accept it] is that the Torah was given to
the world as a Torah of chesed*, and as such there is no difference
[with regards to the Torah] between those who are worthy and those
who are not worthy. (see what he says there.)
For this reason the Midrash teaches what it does. When the Jewish
people were in Egypt they had sunk down so low, into many sins they
were at the point that HaShem had to take them out by force. [They
could not do it on their own.] It may have been that they would not
be worthy of receiving the Torah. Therefore the verse says, 'You make
known Your strength [i.e. Your Torah] to the nations.' [The Jewish
people could also receive the Torah, since there is no difference
between those who are worthy and not worthy as he said above.]
With this we can understand why in the commandments it doesn't say,
'who created you', [but 'who took you out of the land of Egypt.'] The
reason is that men are created pure without any uncleanliness or
defects. Whoever wishes to do tshuva* can do it and receive the
Torah, just as the Jewish people did when they went out of Egypt.
For this reason we read the book of Rus* [on Shevous]. Even though
she was born outside of the holiness [of the Jewish people she was
later able to become part of them.] One should not let his heart
become fallen in him when he sees that he has not prepared himself to
receive the Torah. And he has not counted Seferah as he should have
[with all the kavonos*] and purified himself. He should not give up
since the light of the Torah that he will receive on the Yom Tov of
Shevous will return him to the good way and to a complete tshuva.
Zechisom Yugan Aleini v'Al Kol Yisroel
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
Kavanah(Kavanos): Hebrew word for 'intention'.
Kesuvim: Third part of the Tenach. Lit. Writings
midah(midos): A character trait, either good or bad.
Midrash: Rabbinical work with homiletic interpretations
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: Hebrew word for soul.
Neviium: Second part of the Tenach. Lit. Prophets
Ramban: Rabbi Nachman ben Moshe, also called Nachmanides
Rashi: The primary commentary on the Tenach.
Rebbe: Leader of a Chassidic group or a teacher
Rus: Hebrew name the book of Ruth
sefer(seforim): A Jewish religious book.
Seferah: The mitzvah of counting the days from Pesach to Shevous
Shechina: Hebrew word denoting the divine presence.
Talmud: An ancient work of Jewish law.
Tenach: First letters from the three Hebrew words: Torah, Neviium
Kesuvim, which are the divisions of the jewish Bible. Torah is the
first five books, Neviium are the prophetic works and Kesuvim are
the other books.
tisch: Yiddish for 'table' Refers to a meal eaten by a Rebbe with his
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
Tzaddakah: Hebrew for charity
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
Yom Tov: Hebrew name for 'holiday'
Copyright (c) 1997 by Moshe Shulman (email@example.com)
All rights reserved.
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