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Introduction

Introduction

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Many people think of Judaism as a religion, concerned mainly with the divine and the mystical, belonging in the synagogue. It may therefore be surprising for some to discover that Jewish teaching addresses the mundane and practical, finding meaning in all areas of everyday life. This idea is clearly expressed in King Solomon’s well-known adage from the Book of Proverbs:1 “In all your ways know Him.”

Simply put, the life of every Jew is an organic whole. His practice is not peripheral, or limited to isolated situations; rather, it encompasses the spectrum of everyday life with its multitude of experiences. Spirituality, defined in Jewish terms, is a garment woven from a person’s thoughts, speech and actions. It is expressed as a cohesive and homogeneous lifestyle, without the personal fragmentation so prevalent in modern society.

These beliefs were first expounded in an approach to Judaism known as Chassidism, a doctrine revealed by the saintly Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov in the 18th Century. Besides seeing the presence of the Divine Hand in everything, Chassidism emphasizes serving the Creator with joy and simple piety. This approach brought the mystical dimensions of Judaism within reach of common folk, invigorating a people oppressed by poverty and persecution. The Baal Shem Tov empowered the masses by validating their less sophisticated but sincere service of G‑d.

According to the Baal Shem Tov, 2 everything a person sees or hears in his lifetime is to be taken as a lesson in serving the Creator. No circumstance or event occurs at random: all the seeming variables of our lives are in fact an intricately choreographed set of circumstances presented to us only so we may use their potential to create a world in which G‑dliness can dwell and abound.

If all our life experiences are intended to give us opportunities for self-mastery and growth, this is especially true regarding a person’s career. We often spend more time in the pursuit of our profession than in any other single activity. Obviously, one’s work represents much more than simple livelihood. It presents each individual with a unique vehicle to interact with the world around him and apply his special interests and talents to affect the world.

The Baal Shem Tov’s philosophy holds that, in each profession, a model can be found which offers a fundamental lesson to guide the practitioner in his spiritual service and relationship to G‑d.

As occupations become more abstract and complex, people tend to feel alienated from the work they perform. By pointing to the spiritual messages encoded in that work, this little book can help one create cohesion between his professional activities and other aspects of his personal life.

Furthermore, according to Chassidic teaching, people involved in worldly matters such as business and commerce have an advantage over secluded scholars. The scholar is often insulated from events outside the hall of study, whereas the merchant actually sees the hand of G‑d in the opportunities and the fortunes which come his way each day.

We now see how King Solomon’s dictum takes on a deeper meaning. “In all your ways know Him:” a person’s “mundane” livelihood becomes more than just a means to secure physical sustenance, but rather an activity inherently replete with possibilities for spiritual transcendence.

Even more: a Jew can take advantage of his opportunities for daily interaction with the material world to gain awareness of the G‑dly nature of all existence, and especially the portion of the universe which it is his unique task to use and illuminate. When he thereby clarifies the underlying matrix of meaning in his own mind (and also in the mind of others), he fulfills the sublime purpose of his existence. By bringing out the truly G‑dly nature of the world, we transform the world into a dwelling place for G‑d. Indeed, we become partners in its creation.

For the most part, this book is a compilation of writings by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson though a few ideas have been included from the works of the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn and from the founder of Chabad Chassidus, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. The Rebbes of Chabad expounded upon the fundamentals of the Baal Shem Tov and molded them into a cohesive body of thought. Over the course of more than 40 years, these ideas were articulated in the Rebbe’s personal correspondence and in his public discourses. The Rebbe translates mundane activity into a metaphor for spiritual practice. The reader should note that the Rebbe’s writings have been translated freely.

A famous parable is told by the Alter Rebbe3 about a great and powerful king who had an only son. The boy was sent to a faraway place to attain wisdom. While studying there, he came down with a severe illness that even the greatest medical experts could not cure. Finally, the king was informed that only one remedy could restore his son’s health.

The proposed cure consisted of a powder that would be made by grinding up the most precious jewel in the king’s crown. The powder was then to be mixed with an elixir, offering the prince his only chance for recovery.

The king did not hesitate for an instant. He was prepared to sacrifice his greatest treasure so his son might live. For what use was his glory if he did not have his beloved son to survive him?

The elixir alludes to the dissemination of Chassidus, the crown jewel of the Torah. The King’s son in the story represents the Jewish people. Suffering from a long and difficult exile that has degraded their spiritual state, Jews today are surely in great need of the reviving effects of the precious “crown jewel,” namely the inner aspects of Torah as illuminated by the light of Chassidus. These teachings are bound up with the soul of every Jew. For this reason, hundreds and thousands of Jews have been attracted to the G‑dly truth resonating from these ideas.

This book contains a few doses of the lifesaving powder derived from the king’s jewel, profound ideas which have been diffused and filtered down to a practical level.

This work is by no means complete. I am sure that many individuals may have heard of or seen additional material from the Rebbe similar to the ideas in this collection. I hope that the readers will send in their recollections to us for inclusion in a future edition.

The path of the Baal Shem Tov is the one that leads directly to the coming of Mashiach4 (may it be speedily in our times). The collective efforts of the Jewish people are preparing this world for the ultimate revelation of divinity that will take place in the Messianic era, which the Rebbe has told us is now about to unfold. When this comes about, in the words of the prophet Isaiah,5 “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.”

Rabbi Dovid Shraga Polter

Rosh Chodesh Shevat 5757

Footnotes
1.
.3:6.
2.
Keser Shem Tov, Addendum, sec. 127ff.
3.
.Igros Kodesh of the Previous Rebbe, Vol. 3, p. 326ff.
4.
Mashiach and asked Mashiach, “When will the master come?” to which Mashiach responded, “when your wellsprings will spread to the outside.”
5.
.11:9; Rambam end of Hilchos Melachim.
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory; adapted by Dovid Shraga Polter.
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