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Thirty-Six Aphorisms of the Baal Shem Tov

Thirty-Six Aphorisms of the Baal Shem Tov

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A manuscript written by the Baal Shem Tov
A manuscript written by the Baal Shem Tov
  1. Everything is by Divine Providence. If a leaf is turned over by a breeze, it is only because this has been specifically ordained by G‑d to serve a particular function within the purpose of creation.

  2. Every single thing that a person sees or hears, is an instruction to him in his conduct in the service of G‑d.

  3. "Love your fellow as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) is an interpretation of and commentary on "Love the L-rd, your G‑d" (Deuteronomy 6:5). He who loves a fellow Jew loves G‑d, because the Jew has within himself a "part of G‑d Above" (Job 31:2; see Tanya ch. 2). When one loves a fellow Jew, he loves the Jew's inner essence, and thereby loves G‑d.

  4. To love a fellow Jew is to love G‑d. For it is written, "You are children of G‑d" (Deuteronomy 14:1); when one loves the father, one loves his children.

  5. G‑d's love of each and every Jew is infinitely greater than the love of elderly parents to their only child born to them in their later years.

  6. A sigh emitted because of a fellow's pain, breaks all the impenetrable barriers of the heavenly "accusers". And when a person rejoices in the joy of his fellow and blesses him, it is as dear to G‑d and accepted by Him as the prayers of Rabbi Yishmael the High Priest in the Holy of Holies.

  7. The love G‑d has for every Jew extends not only to the Jew's soul but also to his body. G‑d loves all Jews without distinction; the greatest Torah genius and scholar and the most simple Jew are loved equally by G‑d.

  8. One must have total self-sacrifice and dedication for love of one's fellow, even towards a Jew whom one has never seen.

  9. "Torah that is unaccompanied by labor will ultimately cease" (Ethics of the Fathers 2:2). The "labor" of which the Mishnah speaks is the labor of loving one's fellow Jew.

  10. The three loves - the love of G‑d, love of Torah, and the love of one's fellow - are indeed truly one.

  11. The Baal Shem Tov was orphaned from his father, the hidden tzaddik Rabbi Eliezer, at the age of five. The last words spoken to him by his holy father before his passing were: "Yisrolik, fear nothing but G‑d alone. Love every single Jew, without exception, with the full depth of your heart and with the fire of your soul, no matter who he is or how he behaves."

  12. The Baal Shem Tov's love of a fellow Jew was beyond imagination. His successor, the Maggid of Mezeritch, said: If only we could kiss a Torah-scroll with the same love that my Master kissed the children when he took them to school as a teacher's assistant.

  13. A soul may descend to this world and live seventy or eighty years just in order to do a Jew a material favor, and certainly a spiritual one.

  14. It is written, "For you (the people of Israel) shall be a desirable land, says G‑d" (Malachi 3:12). Just as the greatest explorers will never uncover the limits of the great and valuable resources which the Almighty has placed within the earth, neither will anyone ever discover the limits of the great treasures which lie buried within a Jew - G‑d's "desirable land."

  15. Your fellow is your mirror. If your own face is clean, so will be the image you perceive. But should you look upon your fellow and see a blemish, it is your own imperfection that you are encountering - you are being shown what it is that you must correct within yourself.

  16. Our Sages have said that "Slander kills all three" - the subject of the slander, the one who relates it, and the listener. This is all in spiritual terms, which is more severe than physical murder.

  17. The wholesome simplicity of the simple Jew touches on the utterly simple essence of G‑d.

  18. Cleaving to G‑d is the master-key that opens all locks. Every Jew, including the most simple, possesses the ability to cleave to the words of Torah and prayer, thereby achieving the highest degrees of unity with G‑d.

  19. The simple true faith of a Jewish man or woman that finds expression in their recitation of Psalms is the highest level of attachment to G‑d. It arouses G‑d's Divine mercies and provides succor to the one who recites these holy words in a spirit of oneness with G‑d.

  20. "An angel of G‑d appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire amidst the thorn-bush; and he saw that, behold, and the bush burned with fire, but was not consumed" (Exodus 3:2). It is in the simple folk - the "lowly" thorn-bush - that this insatiable Divine flame is found, for theirs is an unquenchable thirst for G‑dliness, Torah and its commandments.

  21. "And Moses said: Let me move from here..." (ibid. 3:3). Even a completely righteous individual such as Moses is not to be content with his spiritual achievements; he, too, must constantly ascend from "here" to "there."

  22. There are two levels in the study of Torah, Torah of the mind and Torah of the heart. The mind cogitates, comprehends and understands; the heart feels. I have come to reveal Torah as it extends to the heart as well.

  23. G‑d commanded Noah to "Enter into the teivah" (literally "ark", but also "word"). One should enter into and cleave to the letters and words of Torah and prayer. This will protect the person and his entire extended family, enabling them to receive from G‑d all their necessities.

  24. The Baal Shem Tov was very fond of light, and said, "Or (light) is the numerical equivalent of raz ('secret'). Whoever knows the 'secret' in every thing can bring illumination."

  25. "Conceal shall I conceal My face on that day" (Deuteronomy 31:18). Galut (the Exile) is a twofold concealment, wherein the concealment itself is concealed. So great is this concealment, that one is not even aware of the concealment; one may even come to think of the darkness as light.

  26. "Shall a man conceal himself in hidden places and I will not to see him?" (Jeremiah 23:24). The Baal Shem Tov interpreted this verse thus: Should "a man conceal himself in hidden places and I" - i.e., he retains his ego, his "I" - then, says G‑d, "I will not see him."

  27. "G‑d is your shadow" (Psalms 121:5) - Just as a person's shadow entirely mimics his actions, so does G‑d, as it were, entirely reciprocate our deeds.

  28. "Who alone performs great wonders" (Psalms 136:4) - All that G‑d does is "great wonders." Most wondrous of all these wonders are those of which He alone is cognizant.

  29. It is written: "When you will see the donkey of your enemy collapsing under its burden, and you are inclined to refrain from aiding him, you shall nevertheless aid him" (Exodus 23:5). The Baal Shem Tov applied this instruction to the body and the material self (chamor, "donkey", also means "materiality"). Initially - the Torah is saying - you may see your body as your enemy, resisting your soul's objectives, collapsing under the "burden" of the mitzvot. You may therefore be inclined to fight the body by denying its needs and mortifying it. Says the Torah: You must aid your soul's "enemy". Purify the body, refine it, do not break it.

  30. "Seek peace and pursue it" (Psalms 34:15) - One must seek and pursue means of making peace and establishing harmony between the material world and the G‑dly life-force that vitalizes it.

  31. "The earth shall rest a sabbath to G‑d" (Leviticus 25:2) - Give earthiness a rest; permeate it with the sabbath of spirituality and holiness.

  32. "Your beginning shall be small, and your end shall flourish exceedingly" (Job 8:7) - Small and inauspicious beginnings are often crucial for the person to flourish exceedingly in the end.

  33. The Torah (Numbers 33) enumerates the 42 encampments in "the journeys of the Children of Israel who came out of Egypt." Each and every one of us goes through our own personal forty-two journeys in life, beginning with our "exodus," our birth, passing through the many way-stations in our lives, and concluding upon reaching the promised celestial "Land of Life."

  34. Tishrei, the month of the new year, is blessed by G‑d Himself, on the Shabbat of Blessing, the last Shabbat in the previous month of Elul. With this power, the people of Israel bless the other months eleven times a year.

  35. It is written, "You stand upright this day before the L-rd your G‑d" (Deuteronomy 29:9). "This day" refers to Rosh Hashanah which is the day of judgment. Yet you remain standing firmly upright, meaning you will be vindicated in judgment.

  36. I asked the Moshiach, "When will you come?" and he said to me: "When your wellsprings shall spread to the outside."

Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov [“Master of the Good Name”], 1698–1760. A unique and seminal figure in Jewish history, revealed the chassidic movement, and his own identity as an exceptionally holy person, on his 36th birthday, 18 Elul 1734. He passed away on the festival of Shavuot in 1760. He wrote no books, although many contain his teachings. (Also referred to as “the BeShT,” from an acronym of Baal Shem Tov.)
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Matthew Brown Yerushalayim February 25, 2016

Thanks! What are the textual sources / source for these aphorisms? Reply

Malya Pittsburgh December 11, 2013

Thanks, this is really helpful for a project I need to do. Where I can I find the Hebrew words for #18 and #19? Reply

Grandmama Janet Dallas, Texas May 18, 2011

Just want to comment that the beauty of these writings are all a blessing to my heart and soul. I t resonates like poetry of the soul which sends out reverberations to all the world. They have lifted my spirit and my heart to new levels. I carry their images in my mind's eye and heart as they create warmth and deidication to believe and trust more deeply than I ever have.
Reply

Elisha Benjamin Ankri AKA:Benjilini Brooklyn, NY March 12, 2010

It is clear to me the Bal Shem Tov knew that by loving or seeing everything in a positive light, meaning of G-D's essence, he could always see the positive traits of one's personality. It taught him to be self-reflective and continue to self-improve. I want to do the same, as I believe the end will be much better than the beginning of this journey which is full of much pain, trials, and tribulations. I will ALWAYS pray to G-d to make things better and I in turn to make it happen!!! Reply

DHF Chicago, IL February 14, 2010

His example shows the way ordinary folks blessed by the Divine can express that which matters most regardless of circumstances.

It's a matter of belief and consciousness. If people stop at how things appear, that's where they'll end.

If we extend ourselves knowing G-d's great Light proceeds us, who can tell what might be achieved. Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem, Israel June 9, 2009

Beautiful. Also, just as our shadow is that close to us, moving everywhere with us, even though we often do not realize it, so is G-d. We have an intrinsic connection, as stated in #10 that the three loves are truly ONE; love of G-d, love of Torah and love o a fellow Jew. Reply

Anonymous West Hartford, CT/USA April 21, 2009

Thanks a lot for posting the aphorisms. It really helped me on my project. Is there anywhere that I can find Rabbinical commentary on these? Reply

Anonymous April 7, 2009

when Chassidus moves to the far reaching Jews --- when the Baal Shem Tov's Torah of Heart reaches outward, get my drift? Reply

simpleton April 4, 2009

What does the last one mean? "the wellsprings shall spread?" very vague Reply

Eliezer Posner, Chabad.org Brooklyn, NY February 26, 2009

Check out this link--You'll find a bunch of interesting lashon hara-related articles there. Reply

Maxine Orlando, FL February 23, 2009

Surely the most insightful and blessed nation - the Jewish people. I have heard there are volumns on the subject of 'LaShon Hara", Where can I get more information on the subject. Reply

Melech IL September 18, 2008

This made my day.
Chai Elul! Reply

Rabbi Lawrence Wohl September 10, 2008

Thank you for posting this wonderful thing. Their are many souls longing for an outside life. Reply

Thore Oslo, Norway November 14, 2007

I like this quotation very much. I have tried to find it in books about Besht, but without success. Please help me to find the source of those words. Reply

Anonymous November 18, 2006

I have a history of self-injury stemming from mental illness. Thankfully the condition is under control now, and I have not hurt myself in years. But I still remember the rage I felt toward my body.

I had never considered a dual meaning to donkey before. Reading it that way gives me permission to be kind to my body, to purify it rather than fight it. It feels like healing water to my soul. Reply

Anonymous Sydney, Australia January 23, 2005

"When your wellsprings shall spread to the outside." It seems that your wellsprings HAVE spread to the outside... how much longer do we have to wait? Reply

Learn about the life and teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the 18th century mystic who permanently changed the Jewish landscape.
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