Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Iyar 9 - A Teaching of the Baal Shem Tov - Learn from Everything!



"Our teacher the Besht (the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chassidus, lived from 1698-1760, but continues to live in all the teachings of Chassidut to this day) said, 'Every single thing that a person sees or hears is a teaching for his/her conduct in his/her service of G-d. This is the idea of 'service' to understand and to comprehend from everything a way to serve G-d'"

The Baal Shem Tov turned Torah the right side up!

It seemed in those days over 300 years ago that there was something missing in serving G-d. The Baal Shem Tov came not to create any sort of new Torah - G-d forbid - but rather to simply shine the light onto the Torah that was already there. To bring out of the darkness those parts of Torah that seemed to be truly hidden away - perhaps even disregarded for man's own selfish purposes, or perhaps because man simply wanted a Torah of his own - even if it would mean burning in the depths of the most lowest worlds. All, of course, in the name of G-d and purifying the world and more so oneself.

But the Baal Shem Tov - a soul far greater than most of us can even begin to understand, brought the Torah back into the realms of beauty, kindness, goodness and happiness! He did not set out to change anything in Torah, to add or subtract. He did not set out to make the simple people great, or even to lower the great. Rather he set out to bring G-dliness into this world - the Torah - in the way it was given at Har Sinai - the Mountain of Sinai.

A beautiful story is told of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe - Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson (1880-1950.) He was once at an important meeting which was held in an auditorium with a dome-like ceiling. In fact, the ceiling was a most beautiful one, only for the fact that the lighting wasn't as good as it is today. As a result the beautiful art on the dome could not be seen.

It turned out that the person seated next to the Rebbe felt most uncomfortable. Being seated next to a Rebbe could probably make most people feel a little uncomfortable, but usually on account of the vast difference in levels of holiness between the Rebbe and ourselves. But for this person, this discomfort came from his uneasiness about being seated next to someone who continued in the teachings of the holy Baal Shem Tov - something most foreign to him. Perhaps the word foreign would be an understatement - and the feelings were one of contempt and disdain at a person - a man of flesh and blood - who would choose to follow an "innovator" of Torah. What kind of teachings can a man provide that the Torah did not already say - and why did one have to follow such teachings? While the flames of the Mitnagdim (those who are against the teachings of Chassidut) have died down tremendously, there is nevertheless a great amount of them still flickering around the world. In fact, so much so, that many today will sacrifice joining a Chassid on his journey to spreading the wellsprings of Torah out - simply because he has chosen to follow a Chassidic Rebbe!

This person expressed his disdain towards Chassidut as he spoke to the Rebbe. Naturally the Rebbe was not offended by his uncouth remarks, but instead told the man off gently - and beautifully! The Rebbe replied to him with a parable. He happened to have a torch on him, and after switching it on, briskly tilted the torch towards the beautiful ceiling, revealing the exquisite art.

This, he said, is what the Baal Shem Tov came to do in the world - to do for the Torah. While the ceiling had been above their heads all the time - filled with the extraordinary artwork in a variety of colors, it was all hidden, simply because there was a lack of light upon it! With a swift movement and a shining of just a small light, the entire dome and it's beauty became revealed!

The Baal Shem Tov did not come to invent anything new in Torah - not even one of his teachings are new! Rather, he came - with his teachings and words, to reveal what the Torah had been speaking of all the time. His pupil and Rebbe to follow in his footsteps, the Maggid of Mezritch continued that path too. So too did his pupil - the Alter Rebbe. And in a successive lineage that followed the Alter Rebbe, a total of 7 Chabad Rebbes took over the helms of the holy Baal Shem Tov, revealing nothing more of the Torah than what was already there!

As King Solomon - the wisest of all men - said, "There is nothing new under the sun... what is, already was!" And so, while it may seem externally and visibly that there are new Torah inventions of all varieties due to certain events having taken place, in fact, these teachings are rooted in the original Torah itself. Sometimes, one will find the truth from the Bible - the Chumash. Sometimes one will find the truth in the Prophets, the Writings, sometimes in the Mishna, the Gemorrah or the Midrashim. And sometimes, one may need to plumb a little deeper into the teachings of Kabbalah - and especially as they come through the teachings of Chassidus.

But the most important thing to realize is the sheer volume and infinity of Torah. What seems to us as something that cannot be - may well be. But it may take a full time of learning before we understand it. Meanwhile, we can rest easy each day and night, knowing well that great souls such as the holy Baal Shem Tov have already understood these things, paving the way to make our understanding clearer and easier to deal with!

One can almost imagine this... if indeed I would have already traveled through EVERY area of Torah and still imagine myself to know the truth - and that it does not correspond to some of the ideas I have heard - especially in the teachings of Chassidus, then perhaps - just maybe - I may have something to rely upon. But, perhaps, without the full knowledge of the entire corpus of Torah, maybe there is still something to be humble about, to realize that there well may be more to this world than my own mind can conceive.


In our teaching for today, the Baal Shem Tov speaks about getting by in life, and knowing how to serve G-d correctly.

Our days are so filled with so many things that we barely have time to think about G-d altogether. There's attending to earning a living, taking care of the family, eating, attending to bodily needs and so on, one can forget about G-d altogether!

How are we to remind ourselves about G-d, and how are we to know what to do? Why are we experiencing the things we are experiencing today - and with the people who we encounter? Why do we have to see the crazy things - we sometimes see? And of course, the beautiful images too! Why do we have to hear the nonsense we so often hear? Or is it?!

Torah - truth - G-dliness - is about realizing that G-d fills everything and encompasses everything. There is nothing devoid of Him at all. No space, no time, no person, no item, no nothing... G-d is everything and everything is G-d. People, animals, plants, stones, nature. It is all G-d! Words, sounds, pictures... it is all G-d. There is nothing but G-d!

If so, we have an awesome lesson to learn. If everything is G-d, we can learn from everything. No matter what we see, or what we hear. There is something to learn from everything. In some things, we may learn to stay away from things - and in others, we may learn to gravitate towards them. There is nothing "bad" in this world - for everything is G-d. There is only that that we must learn from in order to serve G-d better - correctly! Each of us needs to grow, just as a tree that never stops growing. Naturally even a tree goes through spring, summer, fall and winter.... but it remains a tree nonetheless. At times it's fruit is beautiful and tasty, and at other times, it's leaves wither and fall off. But there is nothing bad about a tree.

So too in our lives, there will always be seasons - 28 of them according to King Solomon (Kohelet Chapter 2.) And each person we encounter will be working through their own seasons too... different from our own. And life will be filled with it's own seasons too... different from our own. And just when we feel we understand it all and are on the path to perfection, we find something in our way yet again...

But the Baal Shem Tov reassures us - learn from everything you see or hear. No matter what it is, it can and must be used in one's service towards G-d.

How?! How does one know how to learn from all this infinite array of sights and sounds?! For this one must set oneself a program - to spend time each day involved in learning. One must find for oneself a Rebbe - a teacher and guide - who will look objectively at those times when we ourselves cannot - and guide us through helping us achieve what we need to. To learn from everything in the right way, so that we ourselves can grow to become the artistic souls hidden engraved upon the dome of that ceiling - waiting for a light to illuminate us and show us that we are there and we are beautiful.

It is no coincidence then
The Jewish people, G-d and the Torah are all one! (Zohar III 73a)

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