Devekut & Leadership

Devekut, 'attachment to God'

I heard from the rabbi of the holy community of Polonnoye that the Ba'al Shem Tov (1700-1760) was unable to speak with people because of his devekut. His words would come out of order. Then his well known teacher (Ahijah the Shilonite, cf. I Kings 11:29) taught him to recite the (following) chapter every day: 'Happy are those who are perfect in the way....' (Psalm 119:1), plus other specified psalms. And he showed him a form of wisdom, by which he could begin to speak with people, without vitiating his devekut. So every day, he would recite those Psalms.

Dov Baer ben Samuel, Shivchei HaBesht (Hebrew ed. by Benjamin Mintz) (Jerusalem: Yad Binyamin, 1969), p.98.

The Tzaddik, the 'righteous man'

'Even though these forbid and these permit' (Mishnah, Yevamot 1:4), that is, 'the spark of darkness' of the Impatient One (Ze'eir 'Anpin), but higher, in Binah which is called 'the Living God', all is one unity. Hence, the saying 'These and these are the words of the Living God' (Talmud, 'Eruvin 13b). One must understand that the Holy Blessed One's 'Glory fills the entire universe' (Isaiah 6:3), that 'there is no where empty of [God]' (Tikkunei HaZohar §7), and that wherever a person is, there is the Blessed One's Glory found. In that case, why is prayer accepted by the angels who go from palace to palace [instead of by God directly]? One must say that the Holy Blessed One did this so that it should appear to human beings that [God] is far away; then people will strive mightily to come closer, as the Ba'al Shem Tov of blessed memory said [in] a parable before the blowing of the Shofar: A great and wise king built walls, towers, and gates by illusion, and commanded [his subjects] to come to him through the gates and towers. And he gave orders to dispense goods from his treasuries at every gate. Some people would come to one gate, take the goods, and go home, and so on. Finally the king's beloved son decides to go to his father the king. Then he sees that there is nothing separating him from his father--for it is all an illusion. Similarly, the Holy Blessed One is hidden within many garments and barriers, and yet, as is well known, God fills the whole world. So every action and thought, everything comes from [God], and thus all the angels, and the heavenly palaces, all were created and made, as it were, from the divine essence, like a snail whose garment (shell) is part of itself. Thus there is no barrier at all between God and humanity, according to this view. And by this means 'shall all those who do evil be scattered' (Psalm 92:10).

Israel ben Eliezer, Ba'al Shem Tov (1700-1760) Keter Shem Tov (Brooklyn: Kehot Publication Society, 1972), pt.1, §51, p.8a.

The Tzaddik & His Hasidim

'And you, command the Israelites that they should bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, [to make the lamp burn always].'

Exodus 27:20
We must scrutinize the word 'to you' ('elecha). It is superfluous, for he could have written [simply]: 'they should bring [pure beaten] olive oil....' We must expound this [as meaning] that the Torah is bringing us a hint of the benefits of the company of the tzaddikim ('righteous'). For there is a benefit to the tzaddik when God-fearing people associate themselves with him, and there is also a benefit to the people who associate themselves with the tzaddik.

The benefit to the tzaddik is as follows: When a company of people travel to the tzaddik because some [spiritual] awakening has entered their hearts--that is, that they want to serve GOD in truth, but they are unable to advise themselves about how to serve GOD in truth. They [then] come to the tzaddik in this awakened state to hear GOD's Torah from the tzaddik, as well as advice on how to serve the blessed GOD.

And through this awakened state, they cause great holiness from the blessed Creator to come to the tzaddik: new insights for interpretive innovations in the Torah, good advice, and beneficial behaviour patterns (hanhagot) for serving GOD in truth, each according to his intellect. This is the tzaddik's benefit: that the Holy Blessed One bestows new insights in the Torah and on worship on their behalf. Then, obviously, the benefit they derive becomes clear, for they receive from the tzaddik holy and ascetic practices and good advice for the service of GOD.

Now let us return to the exposition of the verse mentioned above: 'And you, command the Israelites'--i.e. that the Torah tells the greatest tzaddik of the generation what to command the Israelites [about] how to serve GOD according to the holy Torah. Moreover, 'command' (tetzaveh) is an expression [denoting] 'associating together,' that is to say that the tzaddik associates himself with the Israelites to be with them in this association and company. Then there is a great benefit for the tzaddik, for 'they bring to you pure beaten olive oil'--i.e. they cause the Holy Blessed One to bestow great insights upon the tzaddik, analogous to oil, because oil alludes to the supernal Wisdom (Hochmah). Hence, 'they should bring to you'--that is to say, through their [spiritual] awakening, they cause you to receive that pure olive oil that alludes to wisdom....

R. Kalonymos Kalman HaLevi Epstein (d.1823), Ma'or VaShemesh (Jerusalem: Levin-Epstein, 1970).

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