There is one radical teaching of the Baal Shem Tov that may also be the most traditional: He believed in a G‑d that is here now.

In the pirouettes of a nondescript leaf falling from some lonely tree, in the puff of a sudden breeze on a summer's day, in every sight that could be seen or sound that could be heard, the Baal Shem Tov perceived the Infinite, the Unknowable. "G‑dliness is everything," he taught, "and everything is G‑dliness."1

Many a scholarly mind of his day found the notion absurd. That G‑d cared about the righteous deeds of those who feared Him and did His will, that they understood. That He could be found in the synagogue and the study hall, yes, this was certainly true. But why on earth would a great and mighty G‑d care about the mundane details of the scholar's life, never mind of a simple person, and who could speak of a fallen leaf in some forsaken forest?

G‑d knows all, this no one argued. He creates all things and sustains them continually, that too was accepted. But He must do it from afar, they said, and so too, His providence is from afar. For He is the Ohr Ein Sof, the Infinite Light, transcendent of even the most spiritual realms. To place Him within the creation itself, within any worldly activity, is to equate Him with the finitude of His own creation.

The Baal Shem Tov was not denigrating G‑d, but lifting Him far beyond our petty anthropomorphismsAnd yet, the Baal Shem Tov had the sacred texts on his side. Such as the psalms of David: "He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, causes the mountains to sprout grass. He provides the animal its food, to the fledgling ravens that for which they cry."2

Or clear statements of the Talmud, such as: "Rabbi Yochanan, upon seeing a pelican would recite the verse, 'Your judgements are over the great depths!'" ("For you prepared a pelican to carry out your justice upon the fish of the sea, to kill those that are meant to die."—Rashi)3

Or, as explicit as one could possibly be, from the prophet Jeremiah: "Says G‑d: Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?"4

In truth, the Baal Shem Tov was not denigrating G‑d, but quite the contrary, he was lifting Him far beyond our petty anthropomorphisms. We human beings are defined by that in which we invest ourselves. Engaged in little things, we become little; engaged in greater things, we become great. We ponder mathematics and we are mathematicians; give us a garden to supervise, we are now gardeners.

But He Who is Infinite in the most absolute sense, He is capable of transcending all bounds—including those of transcendence itself. He can be found within the finely measured movements of a wind-blown blade of grass, within the hungry cry of the fledgling raven, within the sudden swoop and catch of the pelican, within the chaotic pattering of rain upon a roof, within even the free choice of human beings—and yet remain entirely transcendent and undefined by any of these, the Infinite pulsating within a finite world.

"He grasps all," the Zohar says, "but nothing grasps Him."5 The Baal Shem Tov would elaborate: "He encompasses the nature of each thing, yet nothing encompasses and defines Him."