On chabad.org, Rabbi Tzvi Freeman writes about the joyous teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, the great 18th century mystical rabbi who is considered the founder of the Hasidic Movement.
For this installment of short, accessible blogs on the wisdom of great Jewish sages, here’s an abridged version of Freeman’s account of these magnificent teachings.
Should you want to to read the full article, it is here:
One: Trust and Celebrate
Envision that the Creator, whose glory fills the earth, He and His presence are continually with you…
Rejoice constantly. Ponder and believe with complete faith that the Divine Presence is with you and protecting you… —Tzava’at Harivash 137
Two: Sincerity and Joy
Above all, always ensure that you serve your Creator with no ulterior motives…Stay far away from depression. Let your heart rejoice in G‑d. —Tzava’at Harivash 15
Three: Rescue By Celebration
By celebrating that G‑d will come to your rescue, you have already provided the remedy. —Keter Shem Tov, Appendix, #234.
Four: Joyous Studies
Study with energy and great joy. That will reduce disturbing thoughts. —Tzava’at Harivash 51
Five: Reverence and Happiness
Serve G‑d with reverence and with happiness. They are two companions, complementing one another… —Tzava’at Harivash 110.
Six: The Ultimate Reward
In the Teachings of the Fathers, we learn, “The reward of a mitzvah (living true to G-d’s expectation) is a mitzvah.” Meaning that there is no greater reward than the delight you get out of doing a mitzvah happily… —Keter Shem Tov 129.
Seven: 7. The Happy Ascetic
Let’s say a fantasy falls into your mind, a craving for something of this world. Take your mind far away from it. Despise this craving until it is hateful and repugnant to you. Enrage your urge for good against the urge for bad and against this craving, and conquer it in that way.
Celebrate that you are privileged to subdue your desires for the honor of the Creator, blessed be He! —Tzava’at Harivash 9.
Eight: Better Happy Than Strict
Don’t get carried away with excessive details in everything you do. This is your evil impulse working against you. —Tzava’at Harivash 46.
Nine: Better Smart Than Sad
Sometimes the evil impulse will deceive you, blaming you for a major transgression when really all you’ve done is neglect an extra detail, or perhaps not committed any transgression at all. Its intent? To make you miserable, and in your misery you will desist from serving your Creator.
…Be as wary of sadness as possible. —Tzava’at Harivash 44.
Ten: Bad Tears, Good Tears
Crying is very bad; one must serve G‑d with joy. The only exception is when you cry from joy and bonding with G‑d. Then it is very good. —Tzava’at Harivash 45.
Eleven: In All Ways
Serve G‑d, may He be blessed, with every facet of your being. Everything is for the sake of the One Above, for G‑d desires to be served in all ways… —Tzava’at Harivash 3.
Twelve: Ask With Joy
Prayer with much joy is certainly better received by G‑d than prayer with sorrow and tears… —Tzava’at Harivash 107.
Thirteen: G‑d In Your Words
When you pray, visualize that G‑d is invested within the letters of the prayers…
You see, words are clothing for thoughts. Put all your strength into those words, for this way you will attain oneness with Him… Since your energy is in your articulations of each letter, and in each letter G‑d dwells, in this way you have become one with Him. —Tzava’at Harivash 108.
Fourteen: Pray With Joy
Noah was told, “Make a tzohar for the ark.” The word ark in Hebrew is teivah, which also means “a word.” A tzohar is something that shines. So the verse could mean, “Make each word you say shine.”…The words come out shining because you say them to provide pleasure to your Creator… —Tzava’at Harivash 75.
Fifteen: The Two Jesters
The Talmud tells the story of Rabbi Beroka, who stood with Elijah the prophet in the market and asked, “Is there anyone here who belongs in the World to Come?” Elijah pointed out two brothers. So Rabbi Beroka ran after the two brothers and asked them what their business was.
They replied, “We are jesters. We make sad people laugh. And when we see two people in a quarrel, we use some humor to make peace between them.” —Keter Shem Tov 272.
Sixteen: Joy Sweetens Judgment
…This is the power of love and joy: When they prevail, they cause anger and fury to ascend upward toward their root. This is part of the secret knowledge, that these forces of anger and strict judgment are mollified only when they reach their origin, since at its origin, all is pure goodness. It comes out that anger and fury are healed and mollified through love and joy. —Tzava’at Harivash 132.
Seventeen: Embracing Pain With Joy
The reason there is suffering and tribulation in this world is because the world was created through…a restriction of light that is called tzimtzum. These troubles are therefore like a body to the soul and to the spiritual life within them, restricting the expression of that light as the body restricts the soul.
When you accept that suffering with the spiritual energy of love and joy, you draw close, tie and bond the body to the soul—meaning the physical affliction to that inner spirituality—and in this way, the ordeal vanishes.
If…you do the opposite, you push the body away from that spiritual energy, causing yet greater restriction… —Keter Shem Tov 412; from Toldot Yaakov Yosef, p. 630b.
Eighteen: Medicine As Sweet As Honey
The Baal Shem Tov taught that in every word you speak, you should intend to subdue, distinguish and sweeten…
The key is to abandon sadness and embrace joy. Our master, R’ Nachman of Horodenka, told me about the dream he had…He was told that although there are many doctors who medicate their patients with bitter potions, yet the better doctor heals through medicine as sweet as honey…
…where even as you notice the faults of another, you realize that this is for your own self-improvement. This is healing as sweet as honey, awakening compassion for the world and for every person… —Keter Shem Tov 302; from Toldot Yaakov Yosef, p. 731b.