Every work of art has a body and a soul. The soul is that which the artist wishes to express; the body is the forms he chooses to express that soul. The master artist is a master both in expression of his soul, and in crafting the forms for that expression. The success of any work of art depends upon the harmony of those forms with the soul that they express.

So too, the entire cosmos is composed of this interplay of intense, G‑dly light expressed through restricting channels and forms. In the microcosmos that is man, the soul expresses the boundless light of G‑d; the body provides a tightly bounded mass through which that soul must be expressed.

Pain and suffering occur when soul and body become dissonant, when the body fails to allow the soul expression, or the soul rejects the limitations of the body. It is obvious then, that anger over that pain only exacerbates the problem by tearing the two yet further apart. The Baal Shem Tov teaches here that one must embrace pain with joy. One must have faith that these tight restrictions of the body and of the world that appear to obstruct the light are nothing less than the masterful strokes of the Master Artist. That we cannot fathom their meaning or purpose is only further evidence of their depth of beauty—such a depth that it lies beyond the scope of the human mind until it has completely unfolded. In the meantime, we have faith, powerful faith.

הקשה מורי ע"פ ואהבת את ה' מה זה לו ית' לתועלת שנאהבנו, יתוש כמונו, אם יאהב למלך גדול ונורא מה זה נחשב לכלום. ושמעתי ממנו פירוש נפלא על קושיא זו, כי בריאת העולם היה ע"י דין, שהוא סוד הצמצום כנודע, לכך דיני ויסורי האדם הם גוף אל הנשמה וחיות הרוחניות, וכשאדם מקבל היסורין באהבה ובשמחה שהוא בחינת החיות והרוחניות, הוא מקרב ומקשר ומדבק הגוף אל הנשמה, שהוא החיות והרוחניות, ונתבטל הדין. וח"ו בהיפך דוחה הגוף שלו מן החיות. לכך אמר עצה היעוצה לאדם ואהבת את ה' אלהיך, שהוא בחינת דין, לקבלו בשמחה ולקשרו אל הוי"ה שהוא הנשמה, ע"י ואהבת, והבן ודפח"ח.

My master, the Baal Shem Tov, posed to us the following question:

G‑d commands us in His Torah to love Him. What benefit does He gain from our love for Him, us tiny creatures? If you would have love for a great and mighty king, what difference would that make to the king?

Then I heard from him this wondrous explanation: The reason there is suffering and tribulation in this world is because the world was created through strict judgment—meaning through a restriction of light that is called tzimtzum. These troubles are therefore like a body to the soul and to the spiritual life within them, restricting the expression of that light as the body restricts the soul.

When you accept that suffering with the spiritual energy of love and joy, you draw close, tie and bond the body to the soul—meaning the physical affliction to that inner spirituality—and in this way, the ordeal vanishes.

On the other hand, if, G‑d forbid, you do the opposite, you push the body away from that spiritual energy, causing yet greater restriction.

Therefore, the Torah provides us good advice: Love the L‑rd your G‑d. The name for L‑rd [YHVH] is a name of compassion, while the name for G‑d [Elokim] is one of strict judgment. So the statement means that through your act of love, accepting suffering with joy, you draw close G‑d’s name of judgment to His name of compassion, as the body is drawn close to the soul, allowing its light to shine.

Meditate on this. How delightful are the words of the wise!

Keter Shem Tov 412; from Toldot Yaakov Yosef, p. 630b