The concept of love by Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov

The concept of love by Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov

In this previous post, we talked about the rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov and his life. The Rabbi Yisrael (Israel) Baal Shem Tov was born in the year 1698 and passed away in the year 1760. He was separated from his father at a very early age and heard his last words of wisdom and love:  do not be afraid of anything in this world but only fear god. Love is the key and you should love every single person and every single Jew in your life path with all the strength of your heart and soul without taking into account who the person is or what type of behaviour he or she has.

These words were very powerful and shaped the Baal Shem Tov’s personal, religious and professional life. He has hundreds if not thousands of stories where he helped people by giving love and understanding them. But, the real importance of his father´s words were the cornerstones of the movement that he founded called Chassidism.

The idea of loving your partner as you love yourself is not an idea discovered by Baal Shem Tov. In fact, this verse appears in the Torah as part of the Jewish heritage and 1,600 years before the Baal Shem Tov was born, the concept of loving others as yourself had already been stated and given the importance it needed by a Mishnaic sage that made it “a cardinal rule in the Torah.”

The Baal Shem Tov’s did revolutionize the religious ideas but he was more focused on the depth of people´s heart and the fire that every person has within his or her soul and not in the discovery of a universal truth.

Let’s take a look at his concept of love which includes loving your fellow Jew and the love for God.

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Love everybody as you love yourself

This concept is a bit contradictory because this is the proper antithesis of human nature. A very important medieval Jewish thinker said that the humans cannot love others the same way the love themselves and that led to many interpretations and comments on the real applicability of the concept. This concept has more of a practical than emotional realm. The idea is to treat other people with grace and kindness and try to get the best out of them every time it is possible, the same way you would do with yourself.

So Baal Shem Tov explains this concept by saying that a Jew cannot love another person the same way he or she loves him or herself if they see that person as just  “someone else.” But if the person knows and understands that everybody has only but one father, they will understand that they are all brothers. This is the reason why under one god all the people in Israel call each other brothers and they understand that physical bodies are different from one and other.  The Tanya, the fundamental text on Chassidic thought, says that Jews are all children of god and since they come from one father, their soul comes from one common source and it becomes a singular entity.

After this idea, Baal Shem Tov had a very big issue to deal with. Who to love? Of course, he taught his followers to love everybody just because they are god´s children, but there were and are parameters on who we want or have or feel we love. Baal Shem Tov taught his followers that the love is something souls share and not something that can be measured in qualities or attraction. In his own words from this website “One must have total self-sacrifice and dedication for love of one’s fellow, even towards a Jew whom one has never seen.”

The time when Baal Shem Tov lived was very harsh for Jews even cracking the community from within. The concept of love that Baal Shem Tov preached was what the time needed. The era had affected the Jewish community so much that within Jewish communities the people that had the information and that were academics in the Jewish books went apart from the “ignorant ones” and distanced from them in order to control information and knowledge. In some synagogues, the people who were considered ignorant were moved to other rooms.

Baal Shem Tov saw this situation and saw how everybody was in despair and broken and committed to just change this situation and to teach love for each other. He would go from place to place, get Jews together wherever he could find them and lift their spirits with stories and teachings about love and sharing with their fellow brothers.

Did you find these ideas useful? Be sure to also read this amazing post about Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch and some of his insights about life