The Baal Shem Tov,
by Shoshannah Brombacher.
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, is a little sampler of sayings by Israel ben Eliezer, known as the Baal Shem Tov or as the Besht. Our selection is excerpted from ‘Pillar of Prayer’, translated and annotated by Menachem Kallus, published by Fons Vitae in 2011, & Baal Shem Tov, ’Testament Hassidique’, translation and annotated by Laurent Cohen, published by Bibliophane, Daniel Radford in 2004-the later translated from the French into English by Via-HYGEIA. More selections to come soon.
A little introduction
Israel ben Eliezer (1698– 22 May 1760), known as the Baal Shem Tov or as the Besht, was a Jewish mystic and healer who is regarded as the founder of Hasidic Judaism. “Besht” is the acronym for Baal Shem Tov, which means “Master of the Good Name,” a term for a magician who wields the secret name of God. (Wikipedia).
61. I hear from my teacher, the Besht, whether it be in one’s learning or in one’s prayer, if one is understanding the meaning of the words being recited while one is praying or the plain meaning of the law that one is studying at that time, one is binding the Divine attribute of kingship, Malkhut, which is the realm of Speech, to the attribute of Understanding, which is thought. And ‘ The words from the mouth of the wise are gracious’ (Eccl. 10:12).
62. The essence of prayer is that the realm of the judgment, Malkhut, be sweetened in its root, which is Binah, understanding.
63. The secret of the Electrum (Chashmal) (Ezek.1.4): The Talmudic sages explain this word as meaning ’ at the time they, the angels are silent (chash) and at times they speak (mal)’. One needs to be silent (chash) until one ‘cuts’ through the obscuring shells, and the one can speak (mal) the words of prayer and cleave to divine consciousness, so as to sweeten the judgements in their roots.
78. When a person speaks with love and awe, the Sh’kinah longs for these words, like a mother who longs for her child to speak intelligently so that to be considered worthy in her husband’s eyes. So too, when such words arrive on high due to human efforts, they become adornments, and by their power great beauty is born, and all the angels proclaim, ‘ Who is like Your people Israel, a unique nation’ (Chronicles 27:21). Therefore it is best that a person say at least one word of prayer with love and awe, for through this, one arouses all the angels to praise the blessed Holy One in song, and such a one arouses all the worlds, for when one serves the blessed Holy One, all the worlds serve Him.
79. ‘ He shall hear my voice from His chamber’ (Ps.18). The term chamber (Hekhal) refers to the spoken word. One need to pray only in order that one may bring the word back to His blessed Name. When one prays thus, all the heavenly guardians let the person be. This may be compared to a person arriving to the palace from the outlying provinces, who would otherwise not be deemed fit to see the king; but if she or he is in possession of the king’s special seal, the palace guards let the person through because the king longs to be in possession of his special seal. The guard hurry the individual along so to hasten the arrival of the time of pleasure for the king. So too does the Holy One long for the authentic speech. This is the meaning of ‘ He shall hear my voice from His chamber’ for the sake of the word.
80-2. ‘And God created the human in his image’ (gen.1.26). Every human being is a microcosm, who manifests the Ten Divine Attributes as follows: The Father and Mother (Wisdom and Understanding), when they operate together, give birth to a new idea in one’s understanding of the Divine Torah. The initial experience of the new idea is Grace (Hesed), that spreads forth in one’s state of inspiration, without limitations. Then what is needed is Strength (Geburah), the secret of contraction, so that one be able to convey the idea to others, in a precise way. This process is enabled by the Mediating Path (Tipheret). Then one needs faith, as our our sages have stated: ‘ Havaquq came and reduced the principles of the Torah to one essential principle-the righteous one shall live by faith.’ These are the two thighs, the pillars of true confidence, Netzah and Hod-Eternal-Victory and Reverberating-Glory. Following this comes the pleasure one derives from the new idea, and this is called Yesod, corresponding to the organ of physical pleasure. And the idea is revealed through speech, which is the attribute of Kingship (Malkhut).’
80-3. ‘ And God created the human being in his image’. To understand the meaning of the term ‘constricted consciousness’ and ‘expanded consciousness’, we may use the following example: When you are studying Torah without understanding, this is ‘constricted consciousness’, because your mind is not functioning at its full capacity. But when you study with understanding and inspiration, then you are in a state of ‘expanded consciousness’ and are bound with higher levels.
1.14. ‘At the beginning, when he will wish to pray, man must penetrate himself with apprehension. As it is the door that leads to Him. And there the heart of man will whisper:
To who do i want to unite my being?
to Him the word created all the universes,
gave them substance and sustainability.
Man will then meditate on the Might
and Immensity of the Divine Work.
It is only then that he may venture
into superior worlds.’
1.1. ‘Prayer is an intercourse (coit) with the Divine Presence. Alike the movement (of the bodies) that define the love making act, it is about to initiate one’s prayer by a growing sway; it is only later that the praying being will be able to stand in a pure stillness, in absolute union with the Divine Presence.
The energy that this bodily expression (at the time of prayer) may initiate in man a huge spiritual awakening. Until he will think: It is because Divine Presence is so close to me that my entire being quivers – and it is the strength of this quivering that leads the soul to a great yearning and sparkling.
1-15. Man will unite, by his though, to ‘ He who is above’. He will not drink or eat but just what is needed for the preservation of the body. He will not look upon the affairs of this world. He will think of them never. This so that to dissociate his self from the realm of materiality; because by observing the world, Man ‘materialises’. The Wise said: ‘ Vision induce suggestion that lead then to temptation.’ As we read this in the Book of Genesis (2-9*), about the Tree of Science: ‘A splendor for the eye and sweet for the tasting’. Therefore the things of the world are splendid only in function of the (human) vision (they induce and not because of their very own essence). * ‘And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground–trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.’
2-11. ‘When someone will talk to his kinsman, he must before, and by thoughts, link his being to the Creator. In that way, the soul of his kinsman will be in his turn linked to the Creator – Because man only lives thanks to the divine flux that is flowing on every creatures.’
2-12. ‘It is in speech that lies man’s vitality and it is from God Himself that proceed any vitality. So, when a man formulate a good word, it is propelled towards the Crown of all things, where it awakes the Superior Word. Thus, the speaker receives an overflow of celestial vitality. But as soon as a man pronounces a negative word, his vitality is spilled out of him and his speech does not elevates itself to the Crown. Some time, it is even possible that it halts in him all sorts of energy. As the saying tells: ‘ He liquidated himself speaking’.