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 soul's journey in this world
1. 'And Yakov departed from Beer Sheva and he went to Charon... and
he rested in that place.' (Bereishis* 28.10)
I heard in the name of my father that the Torah* is eternal and it
teaches a person how [he can] go in the paths of tshuva*.
This is the meaning of the verses:
'And Yakov departed from Beer Sheva.' This means that the soul
[Yakov] departs from it's source above [Beer Sheva. The source of all
souls being under the throne of Glory.]
'And he went to Charon.' [The word Charon] is a word indicating
anger. [Heb. Charon af] In this world a person needs a 'good' anger
[to be used] against his Yetzer HaRah* [that seeks to make him sin.
This indicates that the soul comes to this world where it needs to
inspire anger against the Yetzer HaRah.]
'And he encountered the place.' [Heb. makom] [This refers to the
soul's coming into] this world, as there is no 'place' above. [Where
the soul came from is not a physical world, and hence there is no
'And he spent the night [Heb v'yalon] there.' [The word 'yalon']
indicates 'complaints.' [Heb. talunah] The soul has complaints as to
why it was sent into this world from that great and holy place
[above. The soul would rather remain in its abode above.]
'Because the sun had set.' [This refers to] this world, since the
light [of HaShem's* holiness] does not shine here as it does above.
'And he took of the stones of the place.' This means that the cure
for this [pain the soul feels at leaving the world above] is to take
from the stones of the place. The stones refer to the letters of the
Torah. [The Sefer Yitzerah* says that the letters are called stones.
According to Chazal 'place' refers to HaShem who is called 'the place
of the world.' The stones of the place are the Words of the Torah of
'And he placed them around his head.' He should learn Torah for
HaShem's sake in order to bring the letters to 'their head' [i.e.
their source] as they were before. [By learning Torah he brings the
words and letters of the Torah back to their place above.]
'And he rested in the place.' This means that 'if he does this.' He
will see that the 22 letters [of the Hebrew alphabet] will be as they
were before [his soul descended to this world. The remez* to this is
that] 'and he rested' [Heb v'yishkav] spells out 'and there are 22
[Heb v'yesh chof beis] letters. Then he will have all good things.
(p. 16 sefer Razin D'oraysa teachings of Rebbe* Velvele of Zabriz.)
* * *
II. Remembering HaShem
2. 'And Yakov awoke from his sleep.' (Bereishis 28.16)
When a person in on a low level in the service of HaShem he is said
to be on the level of 'Yakov.' When he has corrected himself and his
actions, he rises to the level of 'Yisroel.' As is known [from the
Zohar*.] When a person occupies himself with the affairs of this
world he is said to be on the level of 'sleep'.
This is the meaning of the verse,
'And Yakov awoke from his sleep.' When the person inspires himself to
awake from his sleep. [He awakes himself from the affairs of this
world.] And [then he] desires to do tshuva. [Immediately after he
awakens himself he has the desire to do tshuva.]
And he says, 'Surely HaShem is in this place and I didn't know it.'
The purpose of tshuva is not [to repent] because of a fear of
punishment in Gehennim* or because of the reward he will gain in the
world to come. The purpose is illustrated in the following parable:
A person who stood near to the king said all kinds of denigrating
things about the king. He didn't consider at all that he was standing
next to the king [and that the king heard everything he said.] Later
when he regretted what he had done he said to the king, 'My lord,
king. I greatly regret what I have done. I don't regret it because of
a fear of the punishment you could give me, or because of the loss of
a reward that my actions caused. I regret that I didn't keep in mind
that I am standing next to the king. And that it was proper for me to
feel that I was before the king. The fear of the king should have
been on me. That is the main reason why I regret what I did.' The
parable is easily understood.
The truth is that the whole world is filled with His Presence. And it
is certain that the person who fulfills the verse, 'I have placed
HaShem before me always' will always have the fear of Heaven. And he
will imagine in his mind that he stands before the King, the King of
the World. [Then] he certainly will not come to sin.
However the person who does not have this in mind. He will forget
that His presence fills the world. He will then come to sin (G-d
Forbid.) Therefore his tshuva should be as above [in the parable.] It
should be because he has forgotten [HaShem] and removed the fear of
the King from himself.
That is the meaning of the verse, 'Surely HaShem is in this place and
I didn't know it.' I sinned and I didn't know it. That is the regret
that I have. This idea is well known. It is the purpose of the
service of HaShem. (p. 24 sefer Doduim b'sudah teachings of Rebbe
Reuvain of Djarnovitz)
* * *
III. Order of prayer
3. 'And he encountered the place.' (Bereishis 28.11)
Rashi explains that the word 'encountered' refers to prayer. We can
explain this teaching of Rashi according to what we have learnt in a
Mishnah*. [With regards to sacrifices] Rabbi Yehudah taught, 'If your
thoughts with regards to the place [you are making the sacrifice]
come before your thoughts with regards to the time [you have to make
the sacrifice] then you are not liable to excision. And if your
thoughts with regards to the time come before your thoughts with
regards to the place it is invalid and you are liable...'
We can see a remez in these words. When a person has to pray and he
stands before HaShem. He should know that all of his needs in this
world, and his personal matters are not the main purpose of his
prayers. Even though he has needs for his livelihood and his health,
they are not the main purpose. The main purpose is that His great
Name should be magnified and sanctified.
After that, when he has had [HaShem's name] in mind he is able to
pray for his needs in this world. [He can pray for those things] that
he needs for the service of HaShem, like health and livelihood.
[Since he has already prayed for His name's sake] these needs are not
Chazal* say, the first hour He sits and learns. The second hour He
sits and judges. Then He provides sustenance. So it should be that a
person should first spend his time concentrating on the Honor of
HaShem. Likewise Chazal have ordered [the prayers of Rosh Hashanah*
in this manner.] First comes the order of [HaShem's] Kingship and
then the order of [HaShem's] remembering of Israel. The Honor of
HaShem is first and then he asks for his own needs.
According to this teaching we can explain the teaching of Rabbi
'If your thoughts with regards to the place come before your thoughts
with regards to the time.' This means your thoughts of HaShem who is
called 'the place.' [If these thoughts] are in your prayers before
thoughts for your physical needs in this world, then you are not
liable. 'And if your thoughts with regards to the time come before
your thoughts with regards to the place it is invalid and you are
liable...' [If one has in mind first thoughts of this world and his
needs then he is liable.]
This is the remez of our verse. 'And he encountered the place.' Yakov
first prayed for the Honor of HaShem and for the building of the Beis
HaMikdash* (as the Midrash teaches.) Then he prayed, 'If G-d will be
with me... and give me bread to eat... and I will return in peace.'
(p. 54 sefer Tepheres Shlomoh. Teachings of Rebbe Shlomoh of radomsk.)
* * *
IV. Doing for others
4. 'And He will give me bread to eat and clothes to wear.' (Bereishis
It is well known the question on this verse. Why does the verse add
the words 'to eat' and 'to wear'? [Is there a purpose for bread other
then to eat it? Do we need clothes for any other purpose then to wear
We can answer this question with a mesorah* [where we see that it
says in the Torah twice the word 'lilvosh.' Once here] 'clothes to
wear' [Heb. lilvosh] and [a second time] 'to dress up [Heb. lilvosh]
in the clothes.' (V'yikra* 21.10) [To understand this mesorah] we
need to understand why it is that the Torah commands the Kohen Gadol*
to adorn himself with the 8 types of clothes [on Yom Kippur.] Is it
not the case that the main thing is that ones heart should be pure
However, it is known that through the actions involved in performing
the sacrifices all manner of good things were bestowed on Israel. The
bread placed on the golden table would bring bread; the sacrifices,
meat. And likewise the dressing in the 8 types of clothes was in
order to bring clothes to the Jewish people. The same is the case
with the Tzaddikim* [and their actions.] They bring down into this
world all kinds of good things when they do various actions in this
While Yakov was in the house of his father he was on this level [of
being able to bestow goodness to this world by his actions.] When he
ate he would bestow blessings on the world. However when he had to
flee to Charon he was afraid that he would fall from this level and
he would end up eating for his own desires. Therefore he prayed,
'Give me bread to eat.' In order that others should have to eat. And
'clothes to wear.' So that others would have what to wear.
This is the idea of the mesorah. [A persons's] 'And clothes to wear'
should be on the same level as 'to dress up in the clothes' that is
said with regards to the Kohen Gadol. (p. 15 vol 2 sefer Or P'nei
Yehoshua teachings of Rebbe Yehoshua of Galanta.)
aleph dalit: Two letters of one of the names of G-d, spelled Aleph
Dalit Nun Yod. It is customary not to say these names.
amos: A measurement of length. Approx. 2 feet.
Beis HaMikdash: Heb. The Holy Temple
Bereishis: First book of the Torah. Called Genesis in English
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages
of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud
cholent: A special food eaten on Shabbos. It is similar to a stew.
gehennim: Place where one is punished for one's sins after death.
The Talmud says that except for especially wicked souls, the
normal stay is up to one year.
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
Kohen Gadol: Hebrew for 'High Priest.'
mesorah: Hebrew for tradition. Sometimes refers to the traditional
text of the Tenach, and how many times a particular word appears in
the traditional text.
midah(midos): A character trait, either good or bad.
Mishnah: An ancient Jewish work made of specific laws.
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.
Rosh HaShanah: 1. Heb. New Year Holiday at the beginning of the year.
2. A tractate of the Talmud
Sefer Yitzerah: Hebrew Kabbalistic work.
shul: Yiddish word for synagogue
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.
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
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
Zohar: Hebrew/Aramaic Rabbinical Kabbalistical work that is one of
the most important sources for Kabbalah, and was very influential
Copyright (c) 1997 by Moshe Shulman (email@example.com)
All rights reserved.
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