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The Power of Commitment

Baal Shem Tov Stories: For You & What the Mouth Will (Buber, Tales of the Hasidim,1947, p. 61)

* In the midst of praying, the Baal Shem once said the words in the Song of Songs: “’New and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.’” And he added: “Whatever is in me, everything, new and old, for you alone.”

They asked him about this, saying: “But the rabbi tells words of teaching to us too!” He answered: “As when the barrel overflows.” *

* The Baal Shem said: “When I weld my spirit to God, I let my mouth say what it will, for then all my words are bound to their root in Heaven.” *

The stories Buber includes just prior to these two illustrate the Baal Shem Tov’s burning devotion to God through the visceral imagery of his body literally on fire and trembling with the fear of God. His body unable to contain the holy spirit that fills it, and that spill over deeply impacting not only the individuals but also the inanimate objects around him. His trembling contagious, that a mere touch could cause the Maggid of Mezritch to uncontrollably tremble in turn. His tzitzit, so infused with vitality, that they move on their own, even if he is still, water and grain reverberating in their containers from the mere proximity of his prayer. These stories real or metaphoric illustrate the effect felt by those who met him.

What was the source of this effect? The Baal Shem Tov in his own words tells us that it is on account of the spiritual overflow that the world around him receives what it does. His devekut was so absolute, his entire being devoted to God. He comments on the pasuk חֲדָשִׁ֖ים גַּם־יְשָׁנִ֑ים דּוֹדִ֖י צָפַ֥נְתִּי לָֽךְ, everything he has he offers to God alone. When his spirit is so attached to God, he can trust that his words and actions will come out pure and holy.

The Baal Shem Tov is modelling for us the meaning and outcome of a life of devotion. It is not foreign for us though it may seem to be. We are all drawn in multiple directions, our energies dispersed through myriad channels. What would happen if we were unified within ourselves towards a single goal and purpose? Perhaps we too would resonate like the Baal Shem Tov, reverberating our purpose in the people and objects around us. But we too often allow our energies to leak out in unproductive ways, and with it, our power. The Baal Shem Tov shows us that unity and wholeness is achievable, even though there may be forces within and without acting in opposing directions, as the Sefer Yetzirah says, there is a singular master over all of them and that is where the power lies.


Cover Photo Credit: NASA/GSFC/SOHO

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