A clever mind produces clever thoughts for clever people. A great luminary brings profound light even to the simplest soul.

The Baal Shem Tov, in his earlier years, was known to dress as a simple shepherd and preach from the top of a barrel in the marketplace. He captured his audience with enrapturing tales and parables, and then drove the message home with practical lessons in their daily life. Always the emphasis was on the positive—on how close G‑d is to every one of us, how much we are loved, and how much can be accomplished by the simplest person in this life on earth.

The Baal Shem Tov left behind no written renditions of his teachings or his parables. His disciples, in particular Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye, wrote many of them down and expounded on them. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Efraim of Sudikov, transmitted much that he had heard firsthand, as the oldest grandson. Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac of Komarna labored over the hidden kabbalistic meanings of many of these parables. The Magid of Mezritch repeated many of the parables to his students, many of whom wrote them down with further elucidation. Within the tradition of Chabad, certain parables became cornerstones of thought, embellished with insight into their fine nuances.

The parables presented here are reconstructed using some of that commentary. The project was made possible through the publication of a revised edition of Keter Shem Tov, including many references and commentary, by Kehot Publication Society in 2016.