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. The proper way of learning Torah
1. "And you shall teach them to your children" (Devorim* 6.7)
I heard that it once happened that the Baal Shem Tov came to a Beis
HaMedrash* and stood by the door and didn't want to go inside. They
asked him why it was that he didn't want to enter the building. He
answered that he was not able to enter because the place was so
filled up with prayers and Torah learning. This caused even more
wonder to the people standing there. They said to him, the opposite
should be the case. In a house so holy as this that is filled with
Torah and prayers it should be even more fitting to enter.
He then opened their eyes and revealed to them his meaning. It is not
an advantage for a house of prayer to be filled with Torah and
prayers. This happens only because the prayers and the learning of
Torah that the people are learning and praying is not done with fear
and love of G-d. Therefore they do not rise up to heaven, and they
remain here below. So every corner of this place is filled with
them, and there is no room to enter.
However if those who were learning and praying would do so with fear
and love of HaShem*, as is proper, the prayers and Torah learning
would rise up to heaven. None of them would remain below. Then this
holy house would be empty and there would be room to enter. (p. 624
Sefer HaBaal Shem Tov teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. This came from
the sefer* Bar Moshe, from Rebbe* Moshe Elyakim Beriah of Koznitz
ZT'L* son of Rebbe Yisroel the Koznitzer Maggid* ZT'L)
* * *
2. "I stood between HaShem and you." (Devorim 5.5)
I have heard from the holy Maggid Rabbi Yechiel Mechel of Zlotchov an
explanation of the verse, 'I stood between HaShem and you.' If a
person considers himself to be on a high spiritual level, that
creates a barrier of separation between him and HaShem.
That is the 'I' [Heb anochi] The meaning being that because of his
haughtiness, and his saying 'I' am on a high spiritual level and have
many good midos*.
This 'stood between HaShem and you.' This is what stands between
HaShem and you. It is through this that there is a barrier of
A person has to know that he is worthless and nothing. It is only
that HaShem gives him the power to do either great or small things.
He gives life to all things. Therefore it is not worthy for any
creature to say 'I'. It is only worthy for HaShem to say 'I' since he
is the one who gives life to all things. But a man if he uses the
word 'I' is saying that he considers himself someone on a spiritual
level. One who gets used to this and continues in this midah he
becomes separated from HaShem. [This separation will continue] until
he will fall into heresy and deny HaShem (G-d forbid). (p. 77 sefer
Malchi b'Kodesh teachings of Rebbe Yechiel Mechel, the maggid of
* * *
III. The redemption from exile
3. 'Ascend to the top of the mount and look to the west, the north,
the south and the east, and see with your own eyes that you shall
not cross this Jordan.' (Devorim 3.27)
[To explain this] I will first bring the explanation of the verse,
'Raise up the heads of the sons of Gershon, also them, according to
their father's house, to their families.
The word, 'Gershon', refers to those people who have lost their way,
and strayed from the correct way due to their close attachment to
HaShem. As the verse says, 'They have driven me away [Heb. Gershoni]
today from attaching myself to the heritage of HaShem.'
'Head' [Heb. Rosh] is a language that refers to bitterness, as the
verse says, 'a root flourishing with gall [Heb. pareh rosh] and
This is the meaning of the verse:
'Raise up.' Even if it will be difficult for you to raise up the
common people, you need to strengthen yourself for this and do it.
Everyone needs to be raised up to HaShem [to perform His service] and
to be attached to Him. This is the meaning of 'Raise up the heads of
the sons of Gershon.' This is the bitterness of the sons of Gershon,
who are those who were driven away from the heritage of HaShem.
These you should also raise and bring them to attachment to HaShem.
This is 'according to their father's house, to their families' which
also refers to attachment to HaShem.
Because of what I said above, it shouldn't bother you all the
difficulties that you have [in bringing these people close,] because
it is necessary to bring everything to attachment to its source
Above. It is known that before Moshiach* comes it is necessary for
everything to be rectified. [When Moshiach comes there will no
longer be a chance to correct what was not corrected before his
This is the meaning of the verse:
'Ascend to the top [Heb. rosh] of the mount.' This refers to those
who go in a way that is not correct. They are in a bitter place and
need to be raised from there.
'And look to the west.' [West refers to wisdom.] With your wisdom
you should raise all that is in the west, north, south and east.
'And see with your own eyes.' [You shall see] the permanent
redemption from the exile. This is because it is not possible to see
the eternal redemption if our smaller brothers [i.e. those who are
not going in the right way] are not with us. [By raising them up you
will be able to see the redemption from exile.]
This is the meaning of 'You shall not cross.' You shall not be able
to cross over to the eternal redemption.
'This Jordan.' This refers to those people who are called 'Jordan'
[Heb Yordan] who are on a level of falling [Heb yeridah].
Even if you have already corrected yourself, since they have not yet
been corrected [by doing tshuva*] you will not be able to see the
eternal redemption. Therefore you should raise these people up so
that you will merit to see the eternal redemption. (p. 123 sefer
Mevasar Tzedek teachings of Rebbe Yissachar Ber of Zlotchov.)
* * *
IV. Last Words
4. 'And I implored of HaShem at that time saying, HaShem G-d.'
Rebbe Meir said, 'At that time' refers to when one needs to go into
the world to come.
[His prayer was that when he would leave this world] he will be able
to say, 'HaShem [is] G-d.' (p. 70 sefer Divrei Meir teachings of
Rebbe Meir of Premishlan.)
* * *
V. Divine Guidance
5. 'You will serve there gods made by the hand of man, of wood and
stone... And you will seek HaShem your G-d and you will find him
because you searched for him with all your heart and all your soul.'
Maybe we can explain this according to the teaching of the Baal Shem
Tov. He taught that even when one sins, (G-d forbid) there is also
divine guidance. Only at that time it is hidden. Later when the
person does tshuva then it is revealed that His guidance was hidden
This is what the verse means:
'You will serve there gods made by the hand of man, of wood and
stone... And you will seek HaShem your G-d.' The meaning is that even
when they are doing a sin (G-d forbid) they are still able to seek
there for 'HaShem your G-d'.
However this is only when they 'Search with all your heart and all
your soul.' What I have said is sufficient to those who can
understand a remez*. (p. 63 sefer Panim M'orim teachings of Rebbe
Meir of Premishlan and his relatives. This is from Rebbe Yechiel
Mechel of Galina, the son-in-law of Rebbe Meir.)
* * *
VI. Serving HaShem
6. "You should watch yourself, and watch carefully your soul, perhaps
you will forget those things which your eyes have seen" (Devorim 4.6)
A man should always be attached to HaShem, and consider in his
thoughts the greatness of G-d, may he be blessed. He should consider
the many miracles that he sees constantly. The wonders and miracles
of His creation [that he sees].
The beginning step to ascend to this level of service is to consider
that portion of G-d that was given to him i.e. his soul. What it is,
and how many miracles are done through it as the Talmud says, 'the
soul is like the Holy One Blessed is He in 5 ways ...' However if you
are not aware of yourself [i.e. your own holy soul] you are also
missing knowledge of HaShem since even your own self you don't
understand. [How can you understand HaShem when you lack self
And this is the meaning, "You should watch yourself, and watch
carefully your soul" [i.e. examine your own soul and the miracles
done through it]. Because if you don't do that "perhaps you will
forget those things which your eyes have seen", i.e. the greatness of
HaShem that a person sees all the time with his own eyes. The
miracles and the wonders that He does. Therefore a person has to
watch himself always. (p. 90 Noam Elimeilech teachings of the Rebbe
Reb* Elimeilech of Lizensk a talmid* of the Rebbe Reb Ber, Maggid of
* * *
VII. Searching for HaSHem
7. 'And you will seek HaShem your G-d and you will find him because
you searched for him with all your heart and all your soul.' (Devorim
I have many times explained this [verse in this manner.] 'And you
will seek HaShem your G-d.' Even if you are only seeking to serve
HaShem [but you have not yet begun to do so.] And you are waiting
[saying,] 'When shall I serve HaShem?'
'And you will find him.' This [seeking] is sufficient for you to find
'Because you searched for him with all your heart and all your soul.'
[This is because] you have truthfully searched to serve HaShem with a
complete desire. (p. 6 sefer Or Yesha teachings of Rebbe Asher
Yeshaya of Ropshitz.)
* * *
8. 'And I implored of HaShem...' (Devorim 3.23)
Look at the commentary of the Baal HaTurim* who notes that the word
'implored' [Heb. v'eschanan] has the same gematria* as the word
'song.' [Heb shira] He explains that this teaches us that Moshe sang
before HaShem in order that his prayer should be accepted.
We can explain this idea by a teaching that appears in many of the
holy seforim. Every simple prayer will at times have some complaint
against it [that it should not be accepted. The reason it should not
be accepted is] that this person was not worthy that this particular
prayer should be heard (G-d forbid.) However if this prayer is made
with song and praise [of HaShem] then it will be accepted and there
is nothing that can be brought as a complaint against it. Therefore
it is necessary that the person who is praying should sing some of
the prayer, or add some type of special praise to HaShem, and he
should have in mind that his help should come to him because of this
song or praise.
For example: In the blessing we say, 'Because You are G-d, King, the
Faithful Healer, and Compassionate One. Blessed are You HaShem the
healer of the sick of His people Israel.' With this prayer we are
praising HaShem because he usually acts in a way that [shows him to
be] a 'faithful healer and compassionate.' It is not possible for any
type of complaint to nullify this prayer. Also every general prayer
that is made with song and praise to HaShem, [and which relates] that
He customarily acts in a certain way, [is heard] even if we are not
worthy of it.
This is the meaning of the verse, 'By day HaShem will command his
mercy and by night my people sing their prayer...' Through their
making their prayer a song (therefore 'song' is also the same
gematria as 'prayer') HaShem commands his mercy and help is sent to
With this we can also understand what Chazal* have said, 'A person
should always prepare his praise for HaShem and then pray.' This is
because prayer is a connection [to HaShem] as is well known.
Therefore he should first prepare his praises of HaShem. [Relating]
that HaShem customarily acts in such and such a manner. Then he
should join this intention to his prayer, so that he has both song
With this we can understand what the Midrash* says, '"Leah went
out...." She took with her praises, therefore there descended from
her masters of praise. [Heb hoda'a] Yehuda said... And David [who was
descended from Yehuda and hence Leah] said "Praise [Heb. Hodu] HaShem
because he is good." ' She was the cause that they should all be
aware of the wonderful secret of prayer [and how it] will be
protected from any type of complaint. (p. 120 sefer Sefas Emes
teachings of Rebbe Fivel of Zabriz)
Zechisom Yugan Aleini v'Al Kol Yisroel
Baal HaTurim: Commentary on the Torah
Beis HaMedrash: Jewish house of study
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages
of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
Devorim: Fifth book of the Torah. Called in English 'Deuteronomy'.
gematria: Numerical value of the letters of the Hebrew words
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
Maggid: In Europe this was a person who would give sermons on moral
subjects. Many of the first Rebbes was Maggidim (pl. of Maggid).
midah(midos): A character trait, either good or bad.
Midrash: Rabbinical work with homiletic interpretations
Moshiach: Heb. Messiah
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.
Talmid (Talmidim): Disciples of a Rebbe.
Tshuva: Hebrew word for repentance
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.
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