Yisrael Baal Shem Tov ["Israel, Master of the Good
Name (of G-d)," 1698 -1760], was the founder of the Chassidic
movement. Presented here is the famous letter
the Baal Shem Tov wrote to his brother-in-law in the Holy Land, Rabbi
Gershon of Kitov, in which he describes his encounter with the soul
of the Mashiach, the latter giving him instructions as how to hasten
Certain disciples of the Baal Shem Tov made it a
practice to study this letter very deeply - some even read it daily
- because they realized that it contains the basic elements of the
Baal Shem Tov's teachings, which in turn will lead to the revelation
of the Mashaich.
The translation (in bold face) is based on the one
in R. Aryeh Kaplan's Chassidic Masters, p. 12. The commentary (in
italic) and notes (small font) are based mostly on R. Yitzchak Ginsburgh's
book Sod HaShem Lireiav, pp. 362-3 (Jerusalem, 1985).
On Rosh Hashanah of the year 5507
I performed, by means of oath, an elevation of soul,
as known to you, and saw wondrous things I had never seen before.
That which I saw and learned there is impossible to convey in words,
even face to face.
When I returned to the lower Garden of
I saw innumerable souls, both living and dead, some whom I knew and
others whom I did not. They were fleeting back and forth, going from
one universe to another through the Column
that is known to those who delve in mysteries. Their state of joy
was so great that lips cannot express it, and the physical ear is
too gross to hear it.
There were also many wicked people who
had repented; their sins were forgiven, since this was a special time
of grace. Even to my eyes it was wondrous how many were accepted
as penitents, many of whom you know. There was great joy among them
too, and they also ascended in the above mentioned manner.
All of them beseeched and petitioned
me unceasingly: "Because of the glory of your Torah, G-d granted
you greater understanding to perceive and know these things. Ascend
with us, so that you can be our help and support."
Because of the great joy that I saw among
them, I decided to ascend with them. Due to the great danger involved
in ascending to the supernal universes, I asked my master
to come with me, as I had never before ascended to such a high level.
I ascended from level to level until I entered the chamber of the
where the Mashiach learns Torah with all the sages and tzadikim
and also with the seven Shepherds.
I saw great joy there, but I did not know
the reason for it. At first I thought that the reason for this joy
was because I had passed away from the physical world, heaven forbid.
Later, they told me that my time had not yet come to die, since they
have great pleasure on high when I bring about Unifications through
the holy Torah down below. To this very day, I do not know the reason
for that joy.
I asked the Mashiach: "When will
the Master come?",
and he answered: "By this you shall know:
"In the time when your teaching will
become public and revealed in the world, and your wellsprings will
burst forth to the farthest extremes, that which I have taught you
and you have comprehended, and they also shall be able to perform
unifications and elevations as you, and then all of the kelipot
will cease to exist, and there shall be a time of good will and salvation."
The Mashiach sets five conditions for his coming;
each of these is a step in a cumulative process:
1. "Your teachings will become public and revealed
in the world":
For most mystics and spiritual-focused people becoming
a public figure is a very painful experience. Nonetheless, it is
a challenge that must be faced if one's insights and teachings are
to affect the world.
2. "Your wellsprings will burst forth to the
(Proverbs 5:16): His whole self, his "wellspring,"
must be revealed. If Mashiach is to come, everyone must be able to
experience something of what it is like to be the Baal Shem Tov.
3. "That which I have taught you and what you
have comprehended [yourself]":
Expressible ideas and even those ideas that are inherently
inexpressible must be revealed.
4. "They also shall be able to perform unifications
and elevations as you": The Baal Shem Tov's power of
unification must become public domain. In its simplest sense, this
means that everyone must subscribe to the Baal Shem Tov's doctrine
of the equality-of-soul of all Jewish people, the basis of his infinite
love of all Jews (see Tanya ch. 32).
5. "All the kelipot will cease to exist
and there shall be a time of good will and salvation":
Evil can be eradicated and the transcendent light
of G-d can shine. The eradication of evil on this level can be understood
as seeing it as ultimately good. This, however, cannot be successfully
accomplished without first attaining the previous four levels.
I stood in wonder and great distress as
to the length of time necessary for this, when can this be?! But
from that which I learned there - three potent practices and three
Holy Names, easy to learn and explain - my mind settled, and I thought
that possibly by means of these, men of my nature will be able to
achieve levels similar to mine. They would then be able to ascend,
learn and perceive, just like myself. But I was not given permission
all the days of my life to reveal this.
Nonetheless, according to Rabbi Mordechai of Neshchiz
(1748-1800), the Baal Shem Tov alluded to these practices in the continuation
of his letter (Imrei Kodesh 40; Sefer Baal Shem Tov p. 122, end of
For your sake, I made a request that I
might be allowed to teach this to you, but permission was denied.
I am still bound by this oath, but this may I inform you and may G-d
help you, your way shall ever be in the presence of G-d and never
leave your consciousness in the time of your prayer and study. And
every word of your lips intend to unite:
for in every letter there are Worlds and Souls and Divinity,
and they ascend and connect and unify with each other, and afterward
the letters connect and unify to become a word, and [then] unify in
true unification in Divinity.
Here, only two verbs are used: "connect and
unify." In the following phrase, "And [then] unify in true
unification in Divinity," only one verb, "unify," appears.
From this we learn that, in particular, there are three stages of
meditation: meditation of the secrets of individual letters; meditation
on the dynamic process of letters combining to form meaningful words;
and, in the terminology of Tanya (II, ch.12 [89b]), meditation on
the "light above all" which spontaneously appears around
the total structure of a finished word.
Include your soul with them in each and
every state. All the worlds unify as one and ascend to produce an
infinitely great joy and pleasure, as you can understand from the
joy of groom and bride in miniature and physicalityyt: in the physical
microcosm, how much more so in such an exalted level as this. Surely
G-d will be your aid and wherever you turn you will succeed and reach
greater awareness. "Give to the wise and he will become ever
wiser." (Proverbs 9:9)
 One of the levels of the abode of departed
That rises from the Lower to the Higher Garden of Eden
(see Tanya, ch. 39 [52a]).
Achiya the Shilonite.
Achiya is mentioned in Kings I 11:29, 14:2, is said to be from the
generation of the Exodus, and was the mentor of the prophet Elijah.
See Toldot Yaakov Yosef, Balak (p. 575), Keter Shem Tov
Referred to in the Zohar
as "the bird's nest", described in detail at the end of
As listed in Talmud
Sukka 52b: Adam, Seth, Methuselah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses and
David. In the Zohar (3:103b): Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses,
Aaron, Joseph, and David.
This question had already been posed to the Mashiach
in Talmudic times by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi (Talmud Sanhedrin
98a). Then, the answer was: "Today", which was interpreted
by the prophet Elijah as meaning: "Today - if you would only
listen to G-d's voice" (Psalms 95:7). According to Rabbi Yosef
Yitzchak of Lubavitch (Likutei Dibburim, Simchat Torah 5690,
#30 [p. 618ff]), the Baal Shem Tov was in effect saying to the Mashiach:
"We have already listened to His voice, even to the extent of
giving up our lives in order to do so. Why, then, have you not come?"
I.e., be aware of and meditate upon each word.
These are the "three
potent practices" alluded to earlier in the letter, and are among
the basic teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. For a detailed description
of this technique, see The Hebrew Letters by Rabbi Yitzchak