main postsSpiritual MastersThe Ba'al Shem Tov

The Ba’al Shem Tov: Your Soul will Teach You

Translated and excerpted from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book on the Ba’al Shem Tov, Or Yisrael vol.II, p.188.


Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe related:

The Ba’al Shem Tov taught his disciples that the true path for a person to tread is that whatever he hears or sees, he understands that it is no coincidence, but rather, an instruction from Heaven. One must arouse the compassion of Heaven to merit understanding what one sees.

He also said that the true service of God is to see the truth. Every Jew is an emissary on a mission to reveal Godliness. Simple Jews, in their sincerity, are true servants of God. The Ba’al Shem Tov instructed his disciples to contemplate the figure of Reb Pesach, the water carrier when he enters the synagogue to pray.

The Ba’al Shem Tov’s disciples studied Reb Pesach when he entered the synagogue for the afternoon prayer. They saw how he ritually washed his hands and dried them before entering, and how when he opened the door to the synagogue and entered, his faced changed, and reflected awe. And when he looked at the Ark and said the verse, “I set God before me always” (Psalms 16:8) his faced turned colors.

The Ba’al Shem Tov was the masterful guide. He knew what to show his holy disciples and they had eyes of truth with which to see.

(Sefer Hasichot 5700, p. 133)

Be Simply Sincere

In the story about the Ba’al Shem Tov, No Such Thing As A Coincidence,[1] it was explained that there are different ways for a person to contemplate the hints that are sent to him from Heaven and to understand what they mean. His motivation for understanding these hints should be his will to do good and to fulfill God’s will at any moment and in any situation.

The Ba’al Shem Tov teaches us an important foundation of Judaism:

The Ba’al Shem Tov related that anything that a person sees and hears is an instruction and commandment from Heaven in his service of God. But we must understand what we are seeing and hearing and not err in its significance, God forbid.  The correct understanding can be attained when one merits to reach the level of, “A person’s soul will teach him”[2] (נִשְׁמַת אָדָם תְּלַמְּדֶנּוּ).

“A person’s soul will teach him” takes place when his intellect shines and different perceptions enter the mind with insight into what one has seen or heard and how it applies to one’s service of God.

The Ba’al Shem Tov said that the surest way to achieve, “A person’s soul will teach him” is to recite a chapter of Psalms with a burning heart, perform an act of kindness with one’s physical body and not just with his money, and love one’s fellow Jew with self-sacrifice. “A person’s soul will teach him” manifests in the simple person who recites Psalms more than in Torah scholars who innovate new and intricate Torah teachings.

In our story, the Ba’al Shem Tov instructs his disciples to focus on the simple Jews. By doing so, they can restore the attribute of truth that is required to understand the word of God, which is knocking on every person’s door.

The simplicity of a simple Jew reveals Godliness. If we do not distort and twist the sincerity and truth of the soul that God has given us, it will reveal God’s will in the clearest manner.

“A person’s soul will teach him” is not a talent of which a simple Jew is conscious. Presumably, he does not think he has to interpret hints and receive direction from the occurrences of his daily life. Nonetheless, it happens to him all the time, completely naturally.

Actually, it is the Torah scholars, who are used to developing their talents and ascending to loftier levels by means of those talents, who may find this internal service of God difficult. It is completely based on essential simple sincerity. Sharp-minded Torah analysis adds nothing to it. Within every Torah scholar, however, there is also a simple Jew. There is hope, then, for everybody!

[1]. Printed in Wonders, Issue 13 (Vayakhel 5782).

[2]. This was a phrase heard many times from the Ba’al Shem Tov. It is based on the verse (Job 32:8), “The soul of Shakai shall instruct them” (וְנִשְׁמַת שַׁ-דַּי תְּבִינֵם). Whereas Kabbalah is based on “a true teaching from Elijah the prophet,” Chasidut teaches that the yechidah, the highest level of the soul, when it is revealed in a person, is an even more accurate source of understanding the Torah.


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