Sefer Baal Shem Tov

 

Sefer Baal Shem Tov

The Baal Shem Tov Times

The Baal Shem Tov’s Teachings on the Torah

“You must then appoint the King whom G-d your L-d shall choose; from among your brothers you shall set King over yourself.” (Devarim 17:15)

The King of Israel is the heart of Israel. This explains the verse: “How can I go, for Saul will hear and kill me?” (I Samuel 16:2).1 Why was he scared to go? He could have gone in secret. What he should have said was: “How can I return, after I have anointed someone else as King? Saul will kill me.”

The reason is because the King is the heart of Israel, and the heart hears,2 that is, it understands.3 This is what Samuel meant: “How can I go, for Saul will hear?” Since he was still the King of Israel before David’s anointment, “he will hear.” That is, he will understand the purpose of my going, “and he will kill me.” However, he was not afraid to return, because by then David had been appointed King, and Saul would not understand or hear,4 for certainly Samuel acted in secret.
Degel Machane Ephraim, Va’eschanan

1When G-d told the Prophet Samuel to go to Bethlehem and anoint David as King instead of Saul, Samuel expressed fear that Saul would hear of his trip and try to kill him.
2Based upon I Kings 3:9, where King Solomon prays: “And now, O’ L-rd my G-d, You have made Your servant King instead of David my father; and I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in..Give, then, Your servant a listening heart, to judge your people..”
3In a related teaching, the Teshuos Chen writes in the name of the Baal Shem Tov: “The king is the aspect of the head of the world, and is able to know the thoughts of people.”
4The Teshuos Chen writes: “Since he anointed David, so that he would be the head, Saul immediately lost the power to know people’s thoughts.”

Translation and commentary by Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Shore.

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Sefer Baal Shem Tov 30th Av, 5769

 

Sefer Baal Shem Tov

The Baal Shem Tov Times

The Baal Shem Tov’s Teachings on the Torah

“Behold, I have taught you rules and laws, as the L-rd G-d has commanded me, that you should keep them, in the land to which you are coming to possess. You shall observe them and do them.” (Devarim 4:60)

“Observe them” – this is Mishnah.1 “And do them” as it implies. Rashi

You should be pure-hearted in your service of G-d. The main thing is not to forget [the essential] things, to study a certain amount of mussar every day2, and to see that you are always attached to good character traits and proper behavior. Do not let a day go by without doing a mitzvah, whether it is easy or difficult to perform. This is alluded to in [the Mishnah]: Be as careful (zahir) in the performance of a minor mitzvah as of a major one.”3 “Zahir” as in the words:”And the wise shall shine (yaZhiRu) as the brightness of the firmament.”(Daniel 12:3) That is, the soul should shine and radiate [in the performance] of a minor mitzvah just as it does with a major one. For G-d desires the heart.4
Tzivos HaRivash, p. 2a

1I.e. the study of the Oral Torah, so as not to forget it.
2A general term for inspirational and ethical literature, such as Sha¡arei Teshuva or Reishis Chochmah. (The Baal Shem Tov predated the mussar movement of R. Yisroel Salant by about a hundred years.)
3Pirkei Avos 2:1.
4Sanhedrin 105b.

Translation and commentary by Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Shore.

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Sefer Baal Shem Tov

 

Sefer Baal Shem Tov

The Baal Shem Tov Times

The Baal Shem Tov’s Teachings on the Torah

“All the commandments which I command you this day shall you observe to do.” (Devarim 8:1)

There is one great principle – that a person must attach himself to the inner dimension of the Torah and the commandments. One must bind one’s thoughts and soul to the root of the Torah and the mitzvos that one fulfills. If not, one cuts and separates the “shoots.”1

I received this from my Master, and I also found it in the book Chesed l’Avraham, nahar 14.
Ben Poras Yosef, p. 21a

1A Talmudic term implying that one posits a division between G-d and creation. In this case, the Baal Shem Tov applies it to a separation between the soul of the Torah and its outer manifestation. The Talmud states that the Elisha ben Abuya “uprooted the shoots” when he became an apostate.

Translation and commentary by Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Shore.

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Sefer Baal Shem Tov

 

Sefer Baal Shem Tov

The Baal Shem Tov Times

The Baal Shem Tov’s Teachings on the Torah

“And you will say, I will eat flesh.” (Re’eh 12:20)

The Talmud says: “Love compresses the flesh.”1 Meaning to say, love of G-d compresses and purifies the flesh, which is the body. It can also be said that love compresses and sweetens the flesh, which is Harsh Judgment; for the flesh comes from the side of Judgment, as is known.
Likutey Yikarim, p. 5c

1Bava Metziah 84a. The context of this statement is a discussion in the Talmud between a Roman matron and Rabbi Yishmael bar Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi Elazar bar Rabbi Shimon, both of whom the Talmud describes as being extremely fat. The matron said to them, “Your children are not your own.” They answered, “Our wive’s stomachs are bigger than ours!” “All the more so!” she replied. “Love compresses the flesh,” they answered her.

Translation and commentary by Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Shore.

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Sefer Baal Shem Tov 20th Av, 5769

 

Sefer Baal Shem Tov

The Baal Shem Tov Times

The Baal Shem Tov’s Teachings on the Torah

“All the commandments which I command you this day shall you observe to do.” (Devarim 8:1)

There is one great principle – that a person must attach himself to the inner dimension of the Torah and the commandments. One must bind one’s thoughts and soul to the root of the Torah and the mitzvos that one fulfills. If not, one cuts and separates the “shoots.”1

I received this from my Master, and I also found it in the book Chesed l’Avraham, nahar 14.
Ben Poras Yosef, p. 21a

1A Talmudic term implying that one posits a division between G-d and creation. In this case, the Baal Shem Tov applies it to a separation between the soul of the Torah and its outer manifestation. The Talmud states that the Elisha ben Abuya “uprooted the shoots” when he became an apostate.

Translation and commentary by Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Shore.

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I will greatly appreciate your donations to the Baal Shem Tov Foundation. All of the money they receive is used to operate their websites (www.BaalShemTov.com and www.Mezuzah.net), produce and distribute the weekly Baal Shem Tov Times, and translate original sources of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov including, Keser Shem Tov and Sefer Baal Shem Tov. Their future plans include rebuilding the Baal Shem Tov website, promoting the World Wide Mezuzah Campaign and offering a number of tele-classes about the life and teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.

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Sefer Baal Shem Tov 28th Tammuz, 5769

 

Sefer Baal Shem Tov

The Baal Shem Tov Times

The Baal Shem Tov’s Teachings on the Torah

“And Moses spoke to the tribal heads of the Israelites, saying: This is what G-d has commanded. (Concerning the principle that) when a person makes a vow to G-d, or makes an oath to prohibit himself (something the Torah permits), he must not break his word and must do all that he expressed verbally.” (Numbers 30:2-3)

This is what is written: “Better not to make a vow, than to make a vow and not complete it.” (Ecclesiastes 5:4). The Holy One says, be careful making vows, and do not break them, for all who breaks vows will eventually transgress oath.1 And one who transgresses oaths is considered to have denied G-d. There is no forgiveness for him, as it says: “You shall not take the name of the L-rd your G-d in vain; for G-d will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain.” (Exodus 20:6). And it is written: “If you will return to me, O Israel and will swear, ‘As the L-rd lives’..” (Jeremiah 4:1-3) . The Holy One said to Israel, “Do not think that it is permissible for you to swear, even in truth. You are not permitted to swear by My Name..”2

Our Sages enjoined us to say before each mitzvah: “For the sake of the union of the Holy One and His Shechinah..” This is alluded to in the verse: “This is the thing that G-d has commanded.” The matter is as follows.

King Solomon said: “Better not to make a vow.” But what type of individual is he addressing? If it is a person who does not plan on fulfilling his vow, it is obvious that he is forbidden to make it, for he transgresses a negative commandment and a positive one, as the Talmud says.3 And if it is a person who wants to fulfill his vow, why is it better for him not to make it? The Sages said: “How do we know that a person can vow to fulfill a mitzvah? From the verse: “I have sworn and I have fulfilled it, to observe Your righteous ordinances.” (Psalms 119:106). King David also said: “My vows to G-d I will fulfill.” (Psalms 116:14). And would David transgress this, G-d forbid?

Rather, with every mitzvah that a person performs, he fixes all the aspects of nefesh, ruach, and neshama, up until the highest point – the tip of the yud,4 which is hidden and concealed. If the commandment requires action, making that the lowest level of the commandment, a person must still fix speech and thought. If it involves speech, then that is the lowest aspect of the mitzvah, and he still must fix voice and thought.5

Now, when a person thinks about performing a mitzvah, he still has no fear of the accusation of the “shells,”6 for they have no attachment to thought. However, when he verbalizes [his intention] to do a mitzvah, then there are Accusing Forces to hinder the mitzvah, for the “shells” draw sustenance from the place of speech.7

Therefore, when a person wants to perform a mitzvah and must speak about doing it, making him concerned about the Accusers, our Sages enjoined him to say: “For the sake of the union of the Holy One and His Shechinah, in fear and in love, in love and in fear, to unite the Name Y-H and V-H by means of He who is hidden and concealed in the name of all Israel.” Then, he has created the Unification of the mitzvah on [the level of] speech, voice and thought, up above, to He who is hidden and concealed.8 Then he will not be afraid of the Accusers or obstacles to the mitzvah, nor from any selfish motivations [on his part], since he has uplifted all the vitality of the mitzvah, and lacks only the mitzvah’s performance, which is the last level. Consequently, the Accusers will lack all ability to stop him.

This is what the verse says: “When shall make a vow to the L-rd your G-d, you shall not be late in fulfilling it..” (Deuteronomy 23:22). This verse guarantees that when a person makes a Unification before performing a mitzvah (that is, “to the L-rd your G-d”9) he can be absolutely sure that he will not delay in fulfilling it since he did the Unification completely. This is why the verse says: “This is the thing..” alluding to the Unification. For “this” is Yesod and “the thing” (hadavar) is Malchus. “That G-d has commanded” means that G-d commands each person to say the Unification completely before performing a mitzvah. Therefore, “If a man makes a vow to G-d,” to do a mitzvah, he shouldn’t just say that he will do it, he should make the complete unification.

This explains what the Midrash said: “Better not to make a vow than to make a vow and not complete it.” That is, not to complete the Unification, but merely to state that one will do the mitzvah. Because then concern exists about the Accuser, and it would be better not to have vowed, not to say anything, only to think about doing the mitzvah, so that there is no worry about the Accusers. However, if a person can complete the Unification perfectly, it is certainly better. He will not have any fear of Accusers, and in fact, will receive help and support to complete the mitzvah.

This is what David said: “My vows to G-d I will fulfill.” This means that the vow will be with a complete Unification. For when the Unification is incomplete, it is called “breaking the vow,” which will lead him to transgress an oath. This in turn is an impediment to the mitzvah, which is a rectification of the seven attributes called “oaths.” Therefore, one must be careful to complete the Unification.
Devorim Nechmadim, Ginzei Yosef

1Taking an oath involves swearing on G-d’s Name. Thus, transgressing it is a more serious offense than breaking a vow.
2Yalkut Shimoni, Matos #284.
3Nedarim 3b.
4Although the Baal Shem Tov explicitly names the three lowest levels of the soul – nefesh, ruach, and neshama – he alludes here to still higher levels – the chaya and yechida. These five levels are alluded to in the four letters of the Tetragrammaton. The nefesh corresponds to the final hey, the ruach to the vav, the neshama to the first hey, the chaya to the yud, and the yechida to the small point at the top left of the yud.
5The Baal Shem Tov divides each mitzvah into three components. When the mitzvah is performed with speech, such as prayer or Torah study, then that is the lowest level. The two higher levels would then be voice (kol – undifferentiated sound) and thought.
6Kelipot – forces of impurity and evil that oppose the performance of a mitzvah, by claiming that a person is not worthy to do it.
7See Likutey Moharan I:38,2, on the verse: “Sin couches at the door” (Genesis 4:7), alluding to the “door” of the mouth.
8Apparently, by reciting this prayer, one unifies even a physical mitzvah on three upper levels. The actual performance of the mitzvah that follows is almost secondary, and can proceed with obstruction.
9The conjunction of the Divine Names “L- rd your G-d” – Y-H-V-H Elo-hecha – corresponds to the union of G-d and the Shechinah, described above.

Translation and commentary by Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Shore.

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Sefer Baal Shem Tov – 20th Tammuz, 5769

 

Sefer Baal Shem Tov

The Baal Shem Tov Times

The Baal Shem Tov’s Teachings on the Torah

‘Therefore say: Behold, I give him My covenant of peace.” (Numbers 25:12)

According to the Zohar and Likutey Torah, Nadav and Avihu were “two halves of a body.”1 Therefore, Pinchas took both their souls, so that they are considered as one. Thus, it is written: “Behold, I give him My covenant of peace,” for when two things are united, it is called peace. Thus, Yesod is called Peace, etc.,2 and “From my flesh, I will behold G-d.”3

Likewise, when there is division among people, the one who can unite them is called “a pursuer of peace.” The reason Nadav and Avihu sinned was because they did not ask each other’s advice [before entering the Holy of Holies]. As it says: “And Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer. . .” (Leviticus 10:1)4 There was no peace between them. But Pinchas rectified this when he was given the covenant of peace, in order to unite the souls of Nadav and Avihu in one body.
Toldos Yaakov Yosef, Acharei, p. 96d

1See Zohar 3:57b; Likutey Torah, parashas Vayikra, by the Arizal. Nadav and Avihu never married, thus the Zohar considers them as only half a person. When Pinchas smote Zimri and Kosbi during their illicit act, the souls of Nadav and Avihu united with his own.
2Yesod is the ninth Sefirah, from Keter down, and serves to unite the upper Sefiros with the tenth Sefirah of Malchus. Thus, it is called “Peace.”
3Job 19:26. Chasidic writings cite this verse often, to support the idea that the physical, emotional and mental constituents of a human being parallel and reflect the workings of the supernal Sefiros, through which G d directs the world. The Sefirah of Yesod corresponds to the male member, which is the organ of union. Yesod also corresponds to the Tzaddik, whose consciousness unites heaven and earth.
4 I.e. each one took it alone, without consulting the other.

Translation and commentary by Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Shore.

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