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. Turning evil to good.
1. 'Two shoulder straps shall be attached to it's two ends, and it
shall be attached.' (Shemos* 28.7)
It is known that the word 'straps' [Heb. k'saifos] is a word implying
'a side.' [The verse indicates that] a person has two sides [to his
nature] as the verse says, 'To the second strap.' These are the
Yetzer HaRah* and the Yetzer Tov*. [These sides] are also a remez* to
the nashama* and the body.
A person always needs to wage a war with his enemy the Yetzer HaRah.
The Yetzer HaRah wants to destroy him, and make him lose both this
world and the world to come. We see something that is similar to this
in the physical world. When two people who hate each other are in one
place, they always fight with each other. It is the same thing with
regards to the Yetzer HaRah. He must continually fight against it, to
the absolute limit, in order to have his Yetzer Tov dominate it.
Just like a person [who is sick] needs to take medicines until the
time comes that he has a complete recovery. Likewise he needs to
strengthen his Yetzer Tov over his Yetzer HaRah, and dominate it. [He
needs to do this] until the Yetzer HaRah is subordinated to it and is
forced to be completely good; just like the Yetzer Tov. As is known
[from many seforim*] the Yetzer HaRah was also created for the good
of the Jewish people, just as the Yetzer Tov was.
This is the meaning of the verse:
'Two shoulder straps.' These are the two sides [i.e. the Yetzer Harah
and the Yetzer Tov.]
'Shall be attached.' They shall be made as one, completely good. [His
Yetzer Tov should dominate his Yetzer HaRah to the extent that the
Yetzer HaRah becomes completely good.] Also his nashamah should
strengthen itself over his body and separate it from the cravings for
this world. And it should become completely good.
'To it's two ends, and it shall be attached.' To the absolute limit
he should strive to be completely good. (p. 44 sefer Razin D'oraysa
teachings of Rebbe* Velvele of Zabriz.)
* * *
II. Moshe and the Jewish people
2. 'And you shall command...' (Shemos 27.20)
It is difficult to understand, why does the verse say, 'And you shall
command' and not the usual formula, 'Command to the children of
Israel and they shall take?' Also why does it say, 'And you.' [it
doesn't explicitly say who the 'you' is. Why doesn't it mention
The explanation of the verse is that HaShem* commanded to Moshe that
he should join together the holiness from above with the Jewish
people in this service. The lighting of the lamps [in the mishkan*]
had no work involved with it except for this mitzvah* of lighting the
lamps. How would it be possible for Moshe to join with them [in it?]
All the other sacrifices Moshe was joined to them.
However the mitzvah of the lighting was to show that the Shechina*
rested on the Jewish people as the Talmud* teaches. The menorah* is a
remez for the inspiration of the Jewish people [which burned in them
and] which is an indication of the resting of the Shechina [on them.]
The Midrash* has a parable. There was a person who was able to see
who asked a blind man to light a lamp in order that he [the blind
person] should do a good deed for him. This is [the meaning of the]
parable. The Jewish people [through their desires to serve Hashem]
inspire a great desire above.
This was not possible to be achieved except through Moshe. Because of
his great holiness he caused that they should take, and they should
be inspired below [which causes a strong desire above.]
For this reason the verse says, 'And you shall command.' [Heb.
t'tzavei] Which implies attachment [Arm. Tzvasa] The meaning being
that Moshe should join with them.
'And they should take to me pure olive oil.' [He should cause them]
to have an inspiration, an inspiration from below [which will cause
an increase in desire above.] (p. 26 sefer Divrei Chaim teachings of
Rebbe Chaim of Tzanz.)
* * *
III. A pure livelihood
3. 'And two chains of pure gold make them at edges.' (Shemos 28.14)
Pure gold is a remez for a livelihood that is properly done and pure
[without any violation of the Torah*.] There are two sources of a
1. That he should occupy himself in business with truth and
trustworthiness, as Chazal* say, 'Buy and sell in a trustworthy
2. He is not absorbed in doing his work all day. He should rather
have a limit and set aside time to learn Torah. As Chazal say, 'Set
times for learning Torah.'
This is the remez:
'And two chains.' i.e. the two sources [of obtaining a livelihood.]
'Pure gold.' His livelihood should be proper and pure [without
What are the sources [of this?] 'Make them at edges.' His occupation
with his livelihood should have a limit so that he should not be
absorbed in it all day long. And it should be with truth and trust.
The first letters of the words: 'Make them at edges' [Heb. migbalos
taseh osom] spells out the word 'truth' [Heb. emes] Also the
letters of the word 'them' [Heb. osom] are the same as 'truth' [which
is a remez to what is said above.] (p. 78 sefer Divrei Yisroel
teachings of Rebbe Yisroel of Modzitz.)
* * *
IV. Fear of HaShem
4. 'And you shall command... pressed for illumination.' (Shemos 27.20)
Rashi* explains [that the oil is pressed for illumination] and not
for an offering. [The former being a purer quality of oil then the
later.] We can explain it as follows. The purpose of the creation of
the heavens and the earth was in order that it should be revealed His
This refers to fear [of HaShem.] The midah* of malchos [kingship] is
the level of fear as Chazal say, 'We should pray for the peace of the
kingdom because without the fear [of the king...']
The truth is that for the one who has true fear, the fear comes from
a recognition of His greatness. It comes from fulfilling the verse,
'I have set HaShem before me continually.' As is said in the Rambam*,
and the Rema* in the beginning of Shulchan Aruch*. 'Even more when
you consider in your heart that the King, the King of all kings, is
standing before you. And he gazes at you, and sees your actions.
Immediately you will be gripped with fear. And you will be ashamed.'
The whole world is then filled with his glory. And because of this
Chazal say, 'The world was only created for this command.' This is
the meaning of 'And you shall command the children of Israel.' If you
will be attached to this level.
And the way to reach this level is to remove all those separations,
and the filthy clothes [i.e. sins.] There are two forms of
separation. 1. That caused by a person being in this world. 2. That
caused by the person himself because he has a nefesh bahamos* which
is full of cravings [for this world.]
[However] through self nullification, as it says in Tanya*, by
mesiros nefesh* for the Torah, learning with a strong desire, and
doing the mitzvos, he removes these separations from his nefesh
bahamos. Then the light of his nefesh elokis* will shine in him.
That is the meaning of the verse:
'And they shall take pure olive oil' which is a remez for the nefesh
[This comes through] 'Pressed' i.e. self nullification (as I
explained above.) (p. 110 sefer Mordechai b'Shaar HaMelech teachings
of Rebbe Mordechai of Zavil)
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
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
menorah: Lamp used in the mishkan
mesiros nefesh: Hebrew for self sacrifice
midah(midos): A character trait, either good or bad.
Midrash: Rabbinical work with homiletic interpretations
mishkan: Hebrew for tabernacle
mitzvah(mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
Moshiach: Heb. Messiah
nashama(nashamos): Hebrew word for soul.
nefesh bahamos: lit. Animal soul
nefesh elokis: lit. G-dly soul
Rambam: Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon also called Maimonides
Rashi: The primary commentary on the Tenach.
Rebbe: Leader of a Chassidic group or a teacher
Rema: Acrostic for Rabbi Moshe Isserelis author of part of the
Shulchan Aruch called by that name.
remez: A method of Biblical interpretation based on finding hints
in the Torah for various concepts.
sefer(seforim): A Jewish religious book.
Shabbos Zachor: Shabbos before the holiday of Purim
Shechina: Hebrew word denoting the divine presence.
Shemos: Second book of the Torah. Called Exodus in English
Shulchan Aruch: 15th/16th century book of Jewish law
Talmud: An ancient work of Jewish law.
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
Tzaddik (Tzaddikim): lit. Righteous. Another name for a Chassidic
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
Copyright (c) 1997 by Moshe Shulman (email@example.com)
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