A few centuries ago, there was a society that was rigidly tiered and class-stratified. Then, along came a man who preached that all people are created equal and endowed with unalienable Divine rights. His revolution changed the world.

This wasn’t the Civil Rights Revolution of 1954. Nor the American Revolution of 1783. This was the Chassidic Revolution of 1734 and the preacher was the Founding Father of the Chassidic movement, Rabbi Yisrael “Baal Shem Tov” (literally, “Master of the Good Name”).

Jewish society had been demoralized by the devastating Khmelnytskyi pogroms, which had massacred as much as half of Ashkenazic Jewry, and the crushing exposure of Shabbatai Zevi as a Messianic fraud. (His cultish popularity had grown so great that in 1666, much of world Jewry had succumbed to the eschatological belief that Shabbatai Zevi was the long-awaited Moshiach).

In the aftermath of these demoralizing events, the socioeconomic health of shtetl life deteriorated rapidly. Few could afford a proper Torah education for their children, creating an antagonizing hierarchy between the academic elite and their unschooled proletariat brethren. Separate synagogues were created. Intermarriage was verboten. Discrimination was rife.

In this spiritually stupefied state, the Baal Shem Tov breathed new life into the soul of his people through the teachings of Kabbalah and Torah mysticism. Although his leadership was met with initial opposition, today his followers—known as Chassidim (lit. “pious ones”)—are amongst the fastest-growing Jewish demographic in North America (and, possibly, the world).

Below are 10 teachings gleaned from centuries of Chassidic wisdom that will reveal your “inner chassid” and make you into a better person. If you let them.

1. Live With Fearless Love

Art by Rivka Korf Studio
Art by Rivka Korf Studio

The Baal Shem Tov was orphaned as a five-year-old child. His father, on his deathbed, turned to him and said, “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.”

The Baal Shem Tov once quoted the verse “You are children of G‑d,”1 and explained that when one loves the Father, one loves His children. So much so, said the Baal Shem Tov, that “a soul may descend to this world and live for seventy or eighty years, just in order to do [your fellow] Jew a material favor, and certainly a spiritual one.”2

Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin was wont to say, “I wish that I could love the righteous as much as the Blessed Holy One loves the sinner.”

Indeed, one time a father complained to the Baal Shem Tov that his son had forsaken G‑d. “Rabbi, what shall I do,” he asked. “Love him more than ever.”

2. It’s All About You

The Maggid of Mezeritch quoted the Talmudic teaching da mah lemaalah mimach, “know what is above you,”3 and said, “Know that everything above—all that transpires in the spiritual realms—is mimach, from you, i.e., dependent on your conduct.” Each of us has the potential to influence the most elevated spiritual realms.” In Kabbalistic terms, this is known as an “Awakening from below which causes an awakening Above.”

Rabi Pinchas of Koretz taught that every person possesses one valuable trait that cannot be found in anyone else.

Upon being asked what he expected after his passing, Reb Zusha of Anipoli once said: “I am not afraid of being asked why I was not Moses. After all, G‑d already has a Moses. I am afraid, however, of being asked, ‘Zusha, why weren’t you Zusha?’”

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once wrote [in reference to World War II], “One individual had brought the world to the brink of destruction, but for the mercies of the Master of the Universe, who ordained that ‘the earth shall stand firm and not fall.’ Such is the power of a single human to do evil. A thousand times over is the power of each one of us to do good.”4

3. It’s Not About You At All

A fundamental Kabbalistic idea is that the world was created “from nothing into something” so that we, as human beings, would create “something into nothing.” This is called bitul hayesh or “nullification of the self.”

Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa taught that every person has to have two pockets, and carry a separate note in each. In one pocket, “the universe was created for me,”5 and in the other pocket, “I am mere dust and ashes.”6

Often, the path to nullifying the self is through focusing on the other, as the Alter Rebbe told a student who was complaining about his financial troubles, “You are speaking about what you need, but you have not given a thought to what you are needed for.”

The Seer of Lublin once said, “Two pious people in one town are too many. One pious person in a town is not enough. It is best to have one-and-a-half pious people. How so? Everyone should see oneself as half of a pious person, and see their neighbor as a complete pious person.”

4. Embrace the Power of Joy

The Baal Shem Tov once said, “The source of all sadness is pride, since the proud person thinks he is entitled to everything.” He taught that even the simplest soul can bond to the Infinite Creator with joy, song, and dance.

Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov said, “There are two things it is forbidden to worry about: that which it is possible to fix, and that which it is impossible to fix. What is possible to fix—fix it, and why worry? What is impossible to fix—how will worrying help?”

Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn quipped that “joy breaks all boundaries.”

The power of positive thinking is an oft-referenced Chassidic teaching, evidenced by the Tzemach Tzedek’s famous epigram, “Think good and it will be good.”

Click here for more teachings on this topic.

5. Focus on Your Inner Game

Art by Rivka Korf Studio
Art by Rivka Korf Studio

A wealth of Chassidic teachings focus on the importance of gaining mastery over and revealing the depths of our souls. A penimi (“inner one”) is someone who is fully self-aware and consistently developing their inner beliefs and character traits.

The inner struggle is real and may be the very purpose of our creation. As Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev told a scoffer, “The god that you don’t believe in, I also don’t believe in.” See the foundational Chassidic text, the Tanya, to discover how focusing on your inner Divine game is truly the “longer, shorter road.”

“The wholesome simplicity of the simple Jew touches on the utterly simple essence of G‑d,” taught the Baal Shem Tov. Divine simplicity refers to the essential and quintessential of the Divine, unencumbered by the complexities and external constructs of reality.

The work on this inner game is often accomplished through meditative and introspective prayer. A well-known Chassidic story tells of a young boy who, not knowing how to pray, instead crowed like a rooster. His sincerity was so great, his inner game so in tune with the Divine, that his prayers became legendary.

6. Words Create Worlds

In preparation for the Great Flood, G‑d told Noah to “Make a tzohar for the ark.”7 The Baal Shem Tov taught that the word “ark” in Hebrew is teivah, which also means “word.” A tzohar is something that shines, so the verse could also mean, “Make each word you say shine.”

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 or her entire extended family, enabling them to receive from G‑d all their necessities.8

7. Self Restraint Is Self Expression

Art by Rivka Korf Studio
Art by Rivka Korf Studio

A famous aphorism of the Alter Rebbe advises: “What is forbidden is forbidden and what is permitted is unnecessary.”

On one occasion, the Berditchever Rebbe and Alter Rebbe were walking together. Approaching a narrow doorway, each insisted that the other walk ahead. When it became clear that neither would dishonor the other by taking the lead, the chassidim broke the walls on either side, widening the doorway so they could pass through together. Said the Berditchever Rebbe, “Why break the wall? We have the power to simply walk through it!” Responded the Alter Rebbe, “Not everything that is within one’s ability does one need to act on.”

8. Action Is Holy

The Rebbe would often say that hamaaseh hu ha’ikar, “action is the main [holiness]”. The spiritual significance of the physical world (the Realm of Action) is elucidated in many Chassidic texts.

The Baal Shem Tov emphasized the need to work with the body, rather than break the body, in order to achieve Divine enlightenment.

Reb Shlomo of Karlin once said, “If you want to pull someone out of the mire, it is not enough to stand above them with an outstretched hand. You yourself have to climb into the muck, immersing yourself fully in the mud. Only then can you grasp them with both hands and pull them out with you.”

9. Within Nature Is Divinity

The Kabbalah talks about “sparks” of “Divine Light” that are trapped in the natural world all around us.

“Every single thing that a person sees or hears is an instruction to him in his conduct in the service of G‑d.” This may be the most oft-quoted teaching of the Baal Shem Tov. A core tenet of Chassidic philosophy is that “there is no place empty of Him.” G‑d is everywhere, and Divinity exists in everything.

Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk said, “Whoever does not see G‑d in every place, does not see G‑d in any place.”

10. Everything Is Orchestrated by Divine Providence

The intense intricacy of Divine Providence may be best summarized by the following teaching of the Baal Shem Tov: “The Master of the World knows exactly how many times a leaf will turn over in the wind before it falls to the ground.”

If G‑d placed you in a specific set of circumstances it is because there is something special that only you can accomplish where you are right now.

Now, don’t just sit there and read another article. Go and implement these teachings with your family, friends, and even those outside your sphere of influence. As the Baal Shem Tov taught, “When will Moshiach come? When [these teachings] burst forth to the outside.” It is my hope that these teachings help you on your quest to become a better person, starting today.