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Displaying items by tag: baal shem tov Riverton Mussar - a wellspring for ethical change. Our vision is to build a physical and virtual community devoted to good character in relationships through the integration of Torah, Besorah(Gospels), and Jewish Tradition. http://rivertonmussar.org Sat, 25 Nov 2017 09:43:51 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb humility as revelation http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/327-humility-as-revelation http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/327-humility-as-revelation

art-shoulderThe Baal Shem Tov once traveled with a group of his disciples to a distant village where there lived a certain parush (ascetic) who was constantly engaged in Torah study, prayer, and other divine service, to the exclusion of everything else. He was totally indifferent to worldly affairs. Whenever he uttered any words of Torah, he added, "So I received it from Elijah the Prophet." He was also an exceptional teacher who possessed a remarkable ability to clarify a complex Torah topic for anyone to whom he spoke, even the simplest person. Who could be more exalted?

In the same village, there dwelt a simple, uneducated laborer, who skinned carcasses for a living, which is the smelliest and dirtiest occupation there is. Who could be more lowly? Yet, this man was sincerely pious and constantly recited psalms, ceasing only when he was working and his hands were unclean (it being forbidden to utter holy words amidst uncleanness).

The Baal Shem Tov took his disciples to visit the one-room home of this simple Jew. It was so small, it was really just a hut. When they entered, he told them to close their eyes and for each one to place his hand on his friend's shoulder, forming a circle. Then, the Besht began to sing a niggun. The disciples were transported into another world by the haunting melody, and a heavenly vision appeared before their eyes: The little hut was filled with divine light, and they were amazed that such a huge crowd of angels could fit into such a tiny room!

Then, the Besht took them to the home of the parush, and again asked them to shut their eyes and place a hand on a comrade's shoulder. Once again, he began to sing a niggun, but this time his disciples saw a hellish vision of countless snakes and scorpions. After they had left, the Baal Shem Tov explained to them what they had seen. "Although it’s written in the holy books that anyone-- even a servant or a maid-- who performs forty consecutive day-time fasts and totally separates himself from worldly affairs, will attain a revelation of Elijah, the sad truth is that someone can have a revelation of Elijah without having a revelation of his own soul. The snakes and scorpions you saw in the ascetic's home were the demonic forces created by his arrogance; they were sparks from the primordial Snake. Having heavenly visions, even of Elijah, is a lower spiritual level than having a revelation of your own soul, meaning that you are totally authentic and live from your deepest self, your divine soul. What could be more contrary to that, and more false, than pride?"

Later, when the Besht and his disciples returned to the home of the skinner and he served them a meal, the Besht told his disciples to listen carefully when their host made a blessing over the food, because his words, uttered with simple faith, split the firmaments and ascended straight to heaven.

After some time had passed and the simple man died, the Besht returned to that village with ten disciples to honor him by taking part in his burial.  -- exerpted from The Light and Fire of The Baal Shem Tov: The Parush and the Skinner by Yitzchak Buxbaum  

This story is quick to show the humility of the skinner and the illusion of humility of the parush. Many times we would like to think that those who are in denial of the world and constantly in prayer are the elite that Hashem regards highly.  Indeed, their prayers and deeds do bear merit.  However, there are many who reach high places and find Hashem and do not serve Hashem in this manner.  In fact, it is quite different. A person who is connected intimately through the land and its produce has a different prayer that rises up to the Creator - it is in the subsistence and abundance of the land that he finds the Divine.

The skinner was able to go about his day, giving psalms to Hashem in all moments possible.  While not formally seated at a table studying or praying, he was in the depths of holy living - infusing Hashem into every corner of his day through speech and deed.  And he did this without fasts and the revelation of Elijah.  His soul, in its glorious humility, sought to find his Creator, exalt him in his living, and passed from this world a tzaddik in his own right.

For us, this story speaks volumes.  While some of us might wish we had all day to study, speak, and rise to great heights, the truth of the matter is that we can all take the example of the skinner and run home with it.  We are sometimes given jobs which are not fantastic or include being immersed in the study of Torah on a daily basis - maybe we even struggle to get in the davenning time that we must as it is.  This story gives us hope because it is not in what we aren't but what we are that is our greatest attribute.  When we come to terms of our place in this world, relish in every moment given to us as an abundant and available moment to reach the Heavens, then we are truly fulfilling our potential  - no matter what our occupation.

Rise above what you aren't and be what you are.  Seek Hashem for the revelation of your own soul and be.

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stories Thu, 04 Nov 2010 23:53:54 +0000
decide to move mountains http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/307-decide-to-move-mountains http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/307-decide-to-move-mountains

art-mountaintopsWhen the Baal Shem Tov was young, he lived in the mountains of southern Russia. From time to time he would walk to the top of a mountain, and lose himself in thought. Lost to the world, lost to himself, but found to God. Deep in this lostness and this foundness, he once began to walk where there was no ground to walk on. As he put his foot down, he was stepping into an abyss. But before he could hurtle downward, a nearby mountain moved, and closed the gap. The Baal Shem, all unknowing, continued on firm ground:  lost to the world, lost to himself, but found to God.  – Chassidic tale

The Baal Shem Tov was able many times to defy nature in his quest to serve the Creator.  His connection to the Divine and his determination to walk out a life of holiness literally moved mountains. This kind of decisiveness is not found in everyone.  But what does it take to have this ability? 

Mashiach Yeshua declares that even the smallest amount of faith is enough to accomplish the greatest feats.  Many times the reigning reason we have difficulty making decisions is that we lack faith.  If we lack faith and determination, we are impaired, for not only are we stuck in our lives, but opportunities pass us by. Our decisions in life must be empowered with faith – faith in what has been given to us in the form of truth and understanding, and faith to believe that somehow by doing we will be given what we need along the way. 

Yeshua said to them, "Because of the lack in your emunah; for amen, I say to you, if you have the emunah of just a mustard seed and you tell this mountain, 'Be moved from here to there,' it will be moved from its place; there is nothing that will be defended from you." – Matthew 17:20, DHE

If we are working on this earth for the sake of Heaven, it is incumbent upon us to take these leaps on a daily basis.  The distances of the leaps may vary, but one thing remains the same: the leap.  If we take time to be lost and found in Hashem through prayer and good deeds, then when the time comes our leaps become more doable.  Once we make the decision to act in whatever we are called to do in life, the gaps will close and we will continue to step on solid ground. 

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stories Thu, 21 Oct 2010 19:29:16 +0000
marked pages of the siddur http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/302-marked-pages-of-the-siddur http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/302-marked-pages-of-the-siddur

art-bridgeAs we consider our prayerbook, the siddur, as a crucial component of an ordered and prayerful life, remember that it is also the simple prayer of a contrite heart and the proper intention that Hashem desires as well. 

Prayer is the concept of binding these two things together. Maybe that’s the reason why the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, loved to pray in the fields and the woods. He didn’t like confining walls; he liked to be out in the open where he could be bound to our ever-present Creator.

Consider this story of the Baal Shem Tov and Reb Yaacov:

And then there was the time that a simple Jewish man, called Reb Yakov, had a life-altering encounter with the Baal Shem Tov.

Reb Yaakov lived in a little village deep in the Carpathian Mountains. Although he was extremely poor and hardly a scholar, Yakov had strong faith in G·d and was happy with his lot in life.

One morning, Yakov was praying in the tiny synagogue of his village. The Minyan had already finished their prayers and had left for work. On this day, Reb Yaakov felt a warm glow fill his heart, as he slowly and softly recited the prayers in the Siddur.

Coincidently, just at that time, Rabbi Yisrael - the Holy Baal Shem Tov - happened to be walking in the countryside and passed the village. Being a mystic, the Baal Shem Tov saw a brilliant, G·dly light streaming out from the window of the tiny village synagogue.

"My L·rd, what is going on in there?" Rabbi Yisrael thought to himself.

He quickly walked over to the Shule and looked in the window. There, he saw what appeared to be a simple Jewish man holding a Siddur and praying. The man, of course, was wearing his Tallis and Tefillin. Rabbi Yisrael went in, sat down, and immersed himself in the study of a Holy Sefer, while he waited for the man to finish his prayers.

Hours passed. It was already early afternoon when Yakov was finally done and removed his Tallis and Tefillin.

"Shalom Aleichem, Aleichem Shalom," they greeted each other.

After speaking briefly, Rabbi Yisrael asked, "Tell me Reb Yakov, why were you praying so long?"

"Rabbi," he answered in a hushed tone. "I don't really know the meaning of the Hebrew words in the Siddur or even the right prayers to say. Usually I just start reading at the beginning of the Siddur and stop when the rest of the minyan finishes. But today, I felt particularly inspired so I didn't stop until I reached the end of the Siddur."

"Reb Yakov, my friend," said Rabbi Yisrael. "Would you like me to teach you which prayers to say, and when to say them?"

"Oh Rabbi! I can't tell you how much that would mean to me. I've always wanted to know which is the right prayer to say. But I don't want to be a bother to you," replied the unassuming Yakov.

"Oh Reb Yakov, it wouldn't be a bother at all," responded the Baal Shem Tov. "In fact, I would be honored to teach you the prayers."

And so the two of them sat together for several hours, while the Baal Shem Tov taught Yakov about the many prayers in the Siddur. They started with the morning blessings, the Shachris prayers and the prayers said before and after eating. Then the Baal Shem Tov showed Yakov the Minchah and Maariv prayers. They moved on to Shabbos and Yom Tov prayers. Rabbi Yisrael marked the separations between the prayers by placing small pieces of paper in the Siddur, with notes written on them to remind Yakov about each of the prayers.

When he completed explaining the entire Siddur, the Baal Shem Tov bid farewell and left. He walked at his usual fast pace down the road leading away from the little village.

Yakov was thrilled. He danced and danced around in circles while hugging his prayer book. Suddenly, he accidentally dropped the Siddur. The pieces of paper with the notes on them were scattered across the floor.

He stood, bewildered and dismayed. "What am I going to do?" he cried out. On one hand, he had always wanted to know the proper prayers and when to say them. On the other hand, he felt extremely embarrassed at the thought of asking Rabbi Yisrael to put the papers back in their proper places.

Finally, he decided. He gathered up the pieces of paper, and clutching his Siddur, started walking as fast as he could down the road after the Rabbi.

He could not see the Baal Shem Tov for quite some time. Then, Yakov reached the top of a hill from which he could just barely make out the Rabbi, far off in the distance. "Whew!" he sighed in relief and started walking even faster. Just then, the Baal Shem Tov disappeared into a forest.

Yakov followed him through the forest and suddenly found himself standing on a cliff, high above a wide, raging river. And there, by the side of the river stood the Baal Shem Tov. "Thank G·d," Yakov thought, "I've got him now."

Just as Yakov started walking down to the river, he saw the Baal Shem Tov remove his gartle (prayer belt wrapped around the waist). Then, the Baal Shem Tov stretched it out, and walked upon it across the raging river. As soon as he reached the other side, he put his gartle back on, and continued walking away without even a backwards glance.

When Yakov reached the edge of the river, he yelled out, "Rabbi! Rabbi!" But the roar of the river drowned out his voice. Without a second thought, Yakov took off his gartle, stretched it out, and walked upon it across the river. As soon as he reached the other side, he started running as fast as he could after the Baal Shem Tov.

"Rabbi! Rabbi! Wait for me!" he yelled.

The Baal Shem Tov turned around and was startled to see Yakov. "Reb Yakov, what are you doing here?"

Yakov held out the Siddur and the pieces of paper. "Rabbi, I'm so sorry. I dropped the Siddur and all the pieces of paper fell out."

"But what are you doing here?" asked the Baal Shem Tov.

"Rabbi, I've come to ask you to please put the pieces of paper back into the prayer book."

"But Reb Yakov, how did you get across the river?"

"Rabbi, I crossed on my gartle just as you did."

"You know," said the Baal Shem Tov, putting his arm around Reb Yakov, "you don't need my pieces of paper. The way that you've been praying is just fine."

And so it was.1

 

May you harmoniously balance order and intention in your moments of prayer and reach greater heights.



1. (original source) Freely adapted by Tzvi Meir HaCohane (Howard M. Cohn, Patent Attorney) from a story in SHIVCHEI HABESHT and translated in IN PRAISE OF THE BAAL SHEM TOV by Mintz and Ben Amos.

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stories Sun, 17 Oct 2010 02:31:22 +0000
fountain of youth http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/203-fountain-of-youth http://rivertonmussar.org/middot-character-traits/truth/item/203-fountain-of-youth

art-coachOnce, the Baal Shem Tov went to spend Shabbat in Polnoye, the hometown of his student, the "Toldot", Rabbi Yaacov Yosef of Polnoye. The Baal Shem Tov was traveling in quite a fancy carriage and a resident of the town, a well known instigator, used the opportunity to disparage the Baal Shem Tov for what he deemed unwarranted opulence.

The Baal Shem Tov however, was unmoved by his taunts. "Let me relate to you a parable", he offered:

A king once searched the world over for the fountain of youth - an elixir that would guarantee him immortality. A wise man came before the king and offered him a remedy. He must absolutely remove from himself any trace of arrogance, and conduct himself with utter humility. The suggestion of the wise man found favor in the king's eyes and he immediately began its implementation.

It wasn't long before the king stopped riding in his royal carriage, and instead, walked behind it on foot. However, the more he took humble behavior upon himself, the more haughty he became. 'Look at me', he would think as he pictured himself in his mind's eye. 'I am a powerful King, yet see how I carry myself. No one is more humble than I!'

The wise man however saw through the sham. 'Your Majesty', he cajoled, 'This is not what I intended. Your Majesty should indeed be riding in the Royal carriage. But in your heart you should feel contrite and humble like the man walking behind the carriage. This kind of humility is acquired with much greater effort and sacrifice. It is however, genuine humility."

(original article)

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stories Thu, 19 Aug 2010 21:16:49 +0000