During 5781, a group of Bayit builders, led by R. Cynthia Hoffman, is studying the writings of the Baal Shem Tov. First and foremost we’re studying “lishma,” for the sake of the learning itself. We’re also keeping an eye out for short teachings that might give rise to practices, tools, and spiritual technologies for our time.
Drawing on the Baal Shem Tov
The blessing that Isaac gives to Jacob in this week’s parsha, Toldot, includes this prayer for abundance: “May God give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, abundance of new grain and wine.” (Genesis 27:28)
Riffing on the idea of abundance, the Baal Shem Tov quotes Brachot 17b, in which a Bat Kol (a divine voice) proclaims, “The whole world is nourished bishvil / for the sake of My son Chanina, and for My son Chanina, a small measure of carob suffices from one Shabbat to the next.” (Chanina ben Dosa was a first-century sage and miracle worker.)
The Baal Shem Tov reads bishvil (for the sake of) creatively as b’shvil, “in the path of.” That shift transforms the Gemara reference: now it’s saying that the whole world is nourished by a path or a conduit, e.g. a conduit for drawing down abundance for the world. This is the role of a tzaddik, says the Baal Shem Tov: to be a sh’vil (path) and conduit for drawing down blessing. With their deeds, a tzaddik can draw down the great flow of abundant blessing for the whole world.
Our job is to seek to be tzaddikim — to act with justice and righteousness — so that we can become conduits for abundance and blessing. The spiritual uplift that we find in this practice can nourish us from one Shabbat to the next, like Chanina ben Dosa finding in his measure of carob enough sweetness to carry him through the week.
#BeALight* Meditative practice for after havdalah:
Sit comfortably with your palms facing up on your lap. Plant your feet on the floor. Feel yourself rooted in the earth.
Bring your attention up your body to the crown of your head. Set the conscious intention of opening your crown, like a faucet turning, opening yourself to the flow of blessing, as though it were coming in through your kippah.
Imagine blessing flowing into you. Feel it filling you up. Feel it now emanating from your feet, sinking into the earth like rain. Feel it now emanating from your hands into the world.
Choose a justice-oriented act you will take in the new week. Resolve to perform that action with this flow of blessing coming through you. Set the intention of finding sweetness in that act, so that in addition to whomever this act helps in the world, it will also enliven you.
When you’re ready, gently close the faucet — not shutting off the flow of blessing, but putting a lid on your own structural integrity so you can return to paying attention to the world.