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Baal Shem Tov

Steven Begleiter
Jewish Mysticism Final
5/10/2012

Rabbi Yisrael Ben Eliezer is considered to be the founder of Hasidic Judaism which is a
form of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality and socialization of the Jewish faith. When
it comes to historical facts about Rabbi Eliezer they are intertwined with legends and miracles so
it is hard to determine what actually happened. He also had 12 disciples that allowed his legacy
to live on and this teaching to be passed down from generations. They say that if you believe all
of the miracle stories of the Baal then you are a fool but then if you dont believe in him then you
are a non-believer, which leaves a small grey area in between. He was a man of great power who
did many great things ranging from making amulets for the public to making medications and
cures from plants.
Much is not known about the Baal Shem Tov, even his birth date is still a mystery. He
was born in Ukraine on the polish Russian border and given the name Yisrael Ben Eliezer by his
mother and father Eliezer and Sarah. When he was born his parents were already elderly and
passed away shortly after, leaving him as a young orphan. It is said that the Prophet Elijah came
to the Baal Shem Tov`s father before he was born and promised him a son that would lighten
the eyes of Israel. I am assuming that means that he would be almost like a savior for the Jewish
people. Not a messiah but a miracle worker for Israel and its entire people.
In school the Baal would always be absent from class and would most likely be found in
the nearby woods enjoying the miracle and beauty of nature. He was accepted into a secret
underground group of Jewish Mystics called the Tzaddikim Nistarim and became a leader for the
Jewish poor at the early age of eighteen as well as a teacher`s assistant for the children. Instilling
honor for their parents, a love of God and fellow beings in these children lead him to becoming
an assistant in running the local synagogue in his town. He married young and his wife
unfortunately passed away shortly after the wedding, after serving many years in towns all over
Podolia, he decided to settle down in Zalischyky as a teacher at Tluste.
The Baal had many good characteristics that he tried to instill into the public. He taught
people the importance of Torah in everyday life, and that following Jewish ethics is the life of
the righteous. Here are five examples of his teaching from the thirty-six aphorisms. To love a
fellow Jew is to love G-d. For it is written, "You are children of G-d" (Deuteronomy 14:1); when
one loves the father, one loves his children. G-d's love of each and every Jew is infinitely
greater than the love of elderly parents to their only child born to them in their later years. One
must have total self-sacrifice and dedication for love of one's fellow, even towards a Jew whom
one has never seen. The three loves - the love of G-d, love of Torah, and the love of one's
fellow - are indeed truly one. "Seek peace and pursue it" (Psalms 34:15) - One must seek and
pursue means of making peace and establishing harmony between the material world and the
G-dly life-force that vitalizes it. All of these teachings have the same basic message: love God
and one another which is relevant in order to have equilibrium within one self as well as peace at
mind.
The major opposition of the Baal Shem Tov and his teachings are from the Frankist- the
disciples of Jacob Frank. There was a lot of tension between the Baal and the Frankist because
Frankism was basically a combination of Christianity and Judaism. This was a huge controversy
at this time and many people were very skeptical about who they should follow. The Frankist
tried to push a movement that would destroy Hasidic Judaism also know as mainstream Judaism.
This movement seemed to cause a lot of stress to the Baal Shem Tov and soon after the
movement, a lot of Frankists that were previously Jewish started to convert to Christianity
around the same time the Baal passed away. There is no way to be sure if the two are related but
it is possible since they happened around the same time.
So many people have been influenced by the Baal Shem Tov and his teachings. His
teachings also differed greatly from other rabbis that made him stand out from the rest. One
cannot talk about Hasidic Judaism without mentioning the Baal because he was the founder of it,
even thought Hasidim has branched out into different fields; it is all still derived from his words
and teachings. The Baal Shem Tov directly passed on his teachings to his students, some of
whom founded their own respective Hasidic dynasties. His story, his legacy, and his teachings
lives on within all of us and will forever be passed down from generation to generation.
I would greatly advise someone who wanted to better their life to study the teachings and
wisdom of the Baal Shem Tov. He was a great man that had an enormous respect for God as well
as the Jewish people. Studying the thirty-six aphorisms is a good way to start to follow the path
of life for a good person as well as reading the Keser Shem Tov, a book written by the Baal
Shem Tov himself. I would recommend making the Baal Shem Tov your role model and follow
in his footsteps to the Promised Land.
The Baal Shem Tov was a great man and did many great things in his life. His teaching
should be followed and taught to this day and into the future. Let his Legend live on though Us.

Works cited.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baal_Shem_Tov#In_legend
http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/3073/jewish/36-Aphorisms-of-the-Baal-
Shem-Tov.htm
http://www.hebrewbooks.org/16081