The Baal Shem Tov’s Birthplace Marks a Philosophy

The Baal Shem Tov’s birthplace serves as an ongoing lesson in a Jew’s life.

The philosophy of the Baal Shem Tov is to steadily increase in one’s service of G‑d. One must never be spiritually content. His life-long journey is to strive to become more intimately connected with his Maker.

The saintly Baal Shem Tov would at times sign his name … “from Ukoop” and other times, “from Teloost.”

Teloost was a bordering town which housed fortified (war zone) trenches. The Baal Shem Tov’s parents were impoverished and could not afford a home in the city proper. They lived, instead, in one of these trenches and it is there that the Baal Shem Tov was born. For this reason, he signed his birthplace “from Ukoop” (also meaning trench) — from the part of Ukoop that was within the city of Teloost.

The Baal Shem Tov’s birthplace reminds us of an important and recurring theme in his saintly teachings.

One should always strive to be in a state of Ukoop; i.e., in a “trench,” ready and prepared to wage war against the enemy — one’s negative impulse. Throughout one’s life, taught the Baal Shem Tov, one should battle to come steadily closer to one’s Maker and realize the ultimate purpose of our creation.

Sefer HaSichos, Pesach, 5696, p. 5

A Method by Which to Draw Lessons

Chassidus teaches that just as one requires a practitioner to prescribe a given remedy for healing, so too in spiritual life, a Jew must seek step-by-step guidance toward enhancing his life. The following is one such example.

Those lessons that stand out and are more evident are of greater importance. A human being has five basic necessities in life: lodging, clothing, food, drink, and air [to breathe]; yet not all are equally necessary, nor are they equally attainable. Ironically, the greater the need, the lesser its market value and the easier to obtain. While clothing is needed more than lodging, a house is far more costly than the shirt on one’s back. One could not survive very long without eating, yet food is considerably less expensive than clothing. Water must be consumed more regularly than food, though it is obtained with relatively greater ease. The single, most essential of all requirements, of course, is oxygen, as the need to breathe exists for every individual at every moment. Unlike the first four necessities, air is freely available to all, and is inhaled with minimum effort.

Thus, the spiritual application to this must follow the same pattern. One only probes and searches for deeper lessons after he has exhausted lessons from basic and readily apparent life experiences.

Toras Menachem 5745, Vol. 4, p. 2313