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. 'This is the law of the metzorah' (V'yikra* 14.1)
A person should not say in his heart that he is greater then another
or that he serves HaShem* and is closer to Him then someone else.
This is because he, like every other creature, was created to serve
HaShem. HaShem gave to other people understanding just as he gave to
him understanding. [Each was given a certain degree of understanding
according to what HaShem wanted to require of him.] Why should he
consider himself more important then a worm? The worm serves HaShem
with all it's understanding and strength. [We see that] men are also
compared to a worm as the verse says, 'I am a worm and not a man.'
If HaShem had not given to him understanding he would not be able to
serve Him. He would be like a worm [serving HaShem without the
understanding of a man.] Since that is the case, he is not more
important in heaven then a worm, and certainly not more important
then any other man. He should consider himself on the level of a
worm, and that all other small creatures are his friends in this
world. All of them were created [by HaShem], and they do not have any
power by themself [without Him.] They can only do what HaShem has
given them the strength and understanding to do. This should always
be in your thoughts. (p. 414 sefer Baal Shem Tov, teachings of the
Baal Shem Tov.)
* * *
II. Day to day
2. 'When a women conceives and gives birth to a boy...' (V'yikra
It says in the verse, 'Day to day utters speech.' The meaning is that
for those people who follow after the way of their heart's desires,
and other foolish things, there is no difference from one day to the
next. The way they acted yesterday and they act today, they will act
tomorrow. It is all the same. They do not gain any understanding or
knowledge [that they should be improving their ways.]
However that is not the case with the Tzaddikim* who go in the way of
HaShem and His service. Everyday they understand more then they did
on the previous day. Each day their mouths will utter new gems of
wisdom and G-dly knowledge. And they will further praise Him.
This is the meaning of 'Day to Day utters [Heb y'beya] speech.' It is
compared to water that covers over [Heb t'vua] fire, like a boil [Heb
avabuos] that rises up [above the skin.] The same is with Tzaddikim.
Each day their sweet words rise higher and higher above what they
were yesterday. This is because the holiness they achieved yesterday
influences them to higher levels today, and for the day after today.
It is necessary for every person to progress from level to level. He
must start by correcting his bad midos* and the sins of his youth.
This is called the 'female' principle. Then he will achieve the
higher levels of holiness which is called the 'male' principle. He
then becomes a complete vessel full of holiness.
This is the meaning of the verse 'When a women conceives.' First he
starts from the lowest levels to fix those sins he has done. Then she
'gives birth to a boy.' [i.e. he achieves a higher level of
'And she shall be impure for seven days.' This means he should
correct his failings in the seven midos. [These failings] are
referred to as 'impure'. He should look at those things that he has
done to cause impurity to come on him.
'And on the eighth day.' Then he shall go into the level of holiness
which is the eighth level. 'And they shall circumcise his flesh.' [He
will separate from impurity.] He shall have holy thoughts and be
attached to HaShem. (p. 57 sefer Noam Elimeilech teachings of the
Rebbe Reb* Elimeilech of Lizensk.)
* * *
III. Who is first?
3. 'When a women conceives and gives birth to a boy...' (V'yikra
Rashi* says in the name of Rabbi Simlai, 'Just like the creation of
man comes after that of all the animals and birds [i.e. man was the
last thing created during the six days], so the laws that relate to
him come after that of the animals and birds.' [At the end of the
previous parsha* we learned the laws of which animals are kosher and
which not, here we learn what makes a person pure or impure.]
There is a question on this. What kind of an answer is this? Don't
the laws with regards to kosher animals really apply to men? Also
haven't we already learned many laws that apply to men, for example,
in the parsha of Mishpatim?
We can understand it this way. Chazal* teach us, "Why was man created
before Shabbos? So that if 'he should begin to have thoughts of his
own greatness you can say to him that a flea was created before
you.'" The question is how will this help to humble his heart? We
find many times that something which comes later is actually MORE
important. For example: Shabbos comes after all the other days. Also
it says, 'the tenth shall be holy.' Many times we find [stated in
Chazal that], 'the last is more important.'
To understand this we have to examine this idea. Many times we find
the first is more important. The firstborn child inherits a double
portion, and before the sin of the golden calf it was the firstborn
who would bring sacrifices. [After the sin it was given to the tribe
The idea is this. The Tzaddik who has never sinned his merit comes
from 'the beginning.' But the Baal Tshuva* is the opposite. His merit
comes from the 'end' because he has done tshuva*. Therefore before
the sin of the golden calf the sacrificial service was given to the
firstborn, whose merit comes to them at birth. However after they
sinned, they lost their merit. Then the 'later' became more important
because they did tshuva. Therefore the merit was taken from the
firstborn, since they didn't have this merit [from 'first'] anymore.
It is well known that tshuva was created before the world. This was
because HaShem knew that a man formed from dust would sin. Therefore
he created the cure of tshuva [before he made man who would sin.]
With this we can understand what it says, if 'he should begin to have
thoughts of his own greatness.' If he begins to think he is a perfect
Tzaddik. You can say to him that it is not true. The proof is 'a flea
was created before you.' Therefore there is no person who does not do
some sin. Therefore the 'end' is more important.
This is the meaning of what Rabbi Simlai said. 'Just like the
creation of man comes after that of all the animals and birds, so the
laws that relate to him come after that of the animals and birds.'
This means he should be humble. If he should not be humble then he is
after all the animals and birds. (p. 96 sefer Divrei Tzaddikim
teachings of Rebbe* Berish of Ashpetzeen.)
* * *
IV. Tshuva and joy
4. 'And the Kohen* shall go outside of the camp and the kohen shall
see, behold, it is healed.' (V'yikra 12.3)
The word 'behold' in this verse appears to be an extra word. The
verse could have said, 'the kohen shall see that it is healed.' [What
is the meaning of this extra word?] We can explain this according to
the simple meaning of the text as we find explained in many sources,
such as the Or HaChaim.
[The Or HaChaim explains that] the healing of the Metzorah depends on
his being secluded and sitting outside of the camp. This is to show
him that his healing has nothing to do with the natural order of
things. The natural order is that this sickness comes to one who is
depressed and in a 'black mood'. It would then be natural that his
cure should be like all others. He should take various medicines that
will cheer him up, and he should sit together with other people who
are cheerful. But sitting alone causes people to be more depressed.
(You should examine what he says there.) [In this case instead of
being cured by being given medicines that make him 'joyful' he is
sent to a place to be alone. Instead of this making him worse, as
would be natural, he is, in fact healed.]
It seems I can give a little more support to his words. It is certain
that the cure for the metzorah comes from his doing tshuva
completely, and forsaking all his previous sins. Certainly from
following in the way of tshuva his heart will be broken from the
bitterness [from his recognition] of his sins. This person will
contemplate by himself and examine carefully his actions. He will
come to break his heart from true humility. This is his purification.
However there is a problem with this. By breaking his heart [as I
mentioned above] and bringing himself to feel broken from his sins he
will cause the sickness to become greater. That is the natural order
of things. But the truth is that the one who breaks his heart
completely with humility before HaShem will certainly come to
complete joy from this 'depression' as is known from the holy Zohar*
on the verse 'serve HaShem with joy.'
This level of service cannot be understood by the person alone or by
any other person. Only the great Tzaddikim [can understand this].
Also if he should follow this way for a long time he will come to
feel the joy from doing tshuva.
This is the explanation of the verse: 'And the Kohen shall go outside
of the camp and the kohen shall see, behold.' The word 'behold' only
refers to something joyful as the Midrash say on the verse, 'behold
your brother Aharon... and you will have joy in your heart.' The
meaning is that he shall see the kohen and behold, i.e. the metzorah
shall break his heart with humility to the point that he will have
joy from doing tshuva. Then 'and the affliction is healed'. Then
certainly it will be a sign that HaShem has forgiven him of his sins,
and that he has done tshuva in the correct manner. (p. 126 sefer M'Or
V'Shamash teachings of Rebbe Kolonymus Kalman of Krakow)
* * *
5. 'On the eighth day you shall circumcise his flesh.' (V'yikra 12.3)
We can understand this verse as teach a moral lesson as follows. The
word 'eighth' [Heb Shemini] has the same gematria* as the word humble
[Heb. shufel 410]. This is to show us that with humility one can
circumcise ones heart. (p. 94 sefer Sefas Emes teachings of Rebbe
Meshulim Feivish of Brazan)
* * *
VI. Good News
6. 'When you will enter the land of Canaan...and I will place the
plague of tzaraas in your house..' (V'yikra 14.34)
Rashi says that HaShem is giving them the news that this plague is
going to afflict their houses [and that this is really good news for
them.] The reason is that the Amorites had hidden their money in the
walls of their houses and when they will have to remove the stones
they will find this treasure.
We need to understand a few things with regards to this teaching of
Rashi. Why would they have to close up the house for seven days and
then after that remove the stones and find the treasure? Since they
would see the plague they would know that there was this treasure
hidden. [They should be able to immediately pull the stones and get
the treasure.] This is even more the case since in the seforim* of my
father ZT'L* he quotes from the Ramban* that the plague here
mentioned was not something natural. It was only in order that the
hidden treasures be revealed to them. [It should then have been
obvious the cause of the plague and the reason for it.] So why was
there the need to close up the house for seven days?
With regards to the deeper purpose of the Torah* and the Mitzvos* we
can have no understanding. However it is possible to have some
understand of the Torah when it gives us a remez* as to it's purpose.
We know and believe that all of what HaShem does to us, even if He
should (G-d forbid) strike us [with afflictions] it is for our own
good. However when we see a time like now [Warsaw ghetto 1940] when
the afflictions are not just physical ones. They effect those things
that distance us from HaShem. There is no Cheder* for children or a
Yeshiva*. There is no shul* to pray together in or a mikvah*. It is
then possible that we can have a doubt. Is it possible that this is
also for our own good? If it is good then he should afflict us only
with things that effect our bodies, and not those that make it harder
for us to be close to Him. Is it possible that these afflictions are
those of 'And I will cast you away...'
Therefore the Torah shows us that in the plague on the houses, where
they became unclean [and they were forced to close them for seven
days.] Even here it was sent for their own good. First it was unclean
for seven days and then they found the hidden treasure.
For this reason the Torah says that the one who sees this plague has
to say, 'it appears LIKE a plague to me.' [Not that it is a plague.]
Even if the person is a scholar, and he knows the signs and that it
is a plague, he also has to say the same thing. This is because a
person by himself is not able to know if it is truly a plague, only
that it appears to him as if it were a plague. But the truth is that
it is really good for Israel and that HaShem wants to do good for us.
(p. 40 sefer Aish Kodesh teachings from the Warsaw ghetto by Rebbe
Kolonymus Kalman of Pistzina)
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
Cheder: School for young Jewish children
gematria: The numerical value of the Hebrew letters.
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
Kohen(Kohanim): Hebrew for 'the Priest' refers to someone who is a direct
paternal descendant from Aaron in the Torah
mikvah:Hebrew word referring to a ritual bath used for purification
midah(midos): A character trait, either good or bad.
mitzvah(mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
Parsha (Parshos): A portion of the Torah read each week.
Ramban: Rabbi Nachman ben Moshe, also called Nachmanides
Rashi: The primary commentary on the Tenach.
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.
remez: A method of Biblical interpretation based on finding hints
in the Torah for various concepts.
sefer(seforim): A Jewish religious book.
shul: Yiddish word for synagogue
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
V'yikra: Hebrew for the book of Leviticus
Yeshiva: School for older boys
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.
Issur Hasugas Givil