The author writes: "Chasidim often call their approach to Divine service 'the path of the Baal Shem Tov.' Perhaps there is an instructive concept contained in this choice of words. Judaism is often presented as a belief system or a body of laws and rituals to be observed by a certain group of people. It is true that the rabbis go to great lengths to clarify these beliefs and practices. But such a description still misses the point. Judaism is dynamic, not static. It is not such a dogma, rather as a path that leads to the supreme purpose: knowledge of God. One of the symptoms of our exile is that this perception of Judaism as a path often has been forgotten. Thus, the condition of exile is compared to sleep. When one sleeps, not only is one's consciousness diminished, but it is impossible to move or progress. The ge'ulah (Messianic Redemption) is compared to an awakening from sleep, from spiritual unconsciousness and inertia. It is difficult to adequately portray the Baal Shem Tov's path in an anthology such as this. Spontaneous and inspired revelations of the soul, these teachings resist the formalism of the written word. If the Baal Shem Tov did compose written works, aside from a handful of letters, none of them has survived. (According to one tradition, all his manuscripts were lost during his attempted voyage to the Holy Land.) In any case, the full import of what the Baal Shem Tov wished to communicate could only be grasped in the master's presence. Nevertheless, disciples such as Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye and Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudylkov did preserve many of the Baal Shem Tov's teachings. Thus, although we no longer can hear from the Master's lips 'words like coals of fire,' it is still possible to reconstruct the channels through which he imparted his lofty perceptions."
by David Sears
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