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The Key to Chassidut and Overcoming Confusion

The key to Chassidut and overcoming confusion

Translated from Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book on the stories of the Ba’al Shem Tov: Or Yisra’el: Volume 2


The chassid Reb Gershon Dovber of Fahar told the following story in the name of the pious Rabbi Hillel of Paritch:

When the czar's forces arrested the Alter Rebbe of Chabad, they led him to his interrogation via the city of Nevel. Thirsty for a drink of water, the soldier in charge of the Rebbe entered a Jewish home for a drink and said to the Jew there, ”We are taking your rabbi to Peterburg.”

The man exited his home to see the Rebbe, who said to him, “Bless me, for you are a Cohen.” The word spread throughout the town and the Jewish townspeople gathered around the Alter Rebbe. When he was released from prison and traveled home, the Alter Rebbe once again journeyed through Nevel, where the townspeople held a great celebration in his honor.

The Alter Rebbe asked the townspeople, “What do you prefer to hear? A Chassidic discourse or a story?” The people there understood that the Rebbe would surely tell them a good story. After all, he, himself had suggested it. “I will tell you how Chassidut came to the world,” the Rebbe said.

“Once, it became known to the Ba’al Shem Tov that there was a Holy Name of God in a particular heavenly chamber and that the key to that chamber was in the hands of the satan. (The Chassid Reb Gershon Dovber heard from other chassidim how the key reached the hands of the satan: When the destruction of the Second Temple was supposed to take place, the satan did not want to agree to it, for the exile to Babylon after the destruction of the First Temple had only been for seventy years. He was then told that the Holy Name upon which the redemption was dependent would be in his hands). The Ba’al Shem Tov said that the satan should be sent down to this world and he would take the Name from him.

They told the Ba’al Shem Tov that it was very dangerous to bring the satan down to this world. “I am not afraid,” answered the Ba’al Shem Tov. “My father of blessed memory directed me not to be afraid of any creation, and to fear only God alone.”

The Ba’al Shem Tov brought the satan down to this world.

“How is it that you were not afraid to bring me down?” the satan asked. “From the day that the world was created, I have only been in the world twice!” (At the sin of the Tree of Knowledge and the destruction of the First Temple).

The Ba’al Shem Tov took from his hands the outer dimension of God’s Name, from which came all the teachings of Chassidut.[1] And the inner dimension of the Name remained in the hands of the satan, “…Until he [the Mashiach] comes to Shiloh,” may it be speedily in our days, and he will take it from his hands.”

(Otzar Sippurei Chabad Vol. 14, p. 216)


Satan’s First Two Descents

The satan descended to the world twice of his own volition before the Ba’al Shem Tov brought him down against his will. He will descend one more time in the future—as related at the end of the story. In all, the satan appears four times in reality:

The first two times, he is in control of the situation and the second two times, he is not. We can understand the inner dimension of this order if we contemplate the essential order of the four letters of God’s essential Name, Havayahyud hei vav hei.

The descent of the satan at the sin of the Tree of Knowledge was a blemish in the yud of Havayah, which, according to Kaballah, alludes to the intellect of Abba, the father principle. The actual connection between God and His world was blemished when for the first time, His creations disobeyed His word.

The descent of the satan at the destruction of the First Temple was a blemish in the first hei of Havayah, which alludes to the intellect of Imma, the mother principle. The Temple is like the home that Israel built and adorned, like a wife who prepares and decorates her home for her beloved groom. The intellect of Imma is the meeting place between God and Israel. Its core essence is the manifestation of how we experience and receive God’s light into our reality. With the destruction of the Temple, the experience of this connective meeting was emptied and a gaping hole was carved into the souls of the Nation of Israel.

Why the Ba’al Shem Tov Wanted a Third Descent

The third descent of the satan, which was initiated by the Ba’al Shem Tov against his will, corresponds to the letter vav of God’s Name, which alludes to the six emotional traits (from loving-kindness through foundation). This is where the momentous shift takes place, as there is great significance to the transition between the two parts of  Havayah—between the first two letters and the final two letters.

The first two letters of Havayah, yud and hei, are the inner, concealed part of the Name, cloaking within them the concealed light, which is unknown as it is in the worlds. The final two letters, vav and hei, take the light from the inner part of the Name and bring it down into reality. This is alluded to by the long shape of the vav, which evolves from above to below, drawing down the compact point of the letter yud at the root of the Name.

The satan’s attention is focused mostly at the point of passage between the internal and external dimensions. His goal is not to allow the supernal light to descend and be realized in this world. As long as the light is concealed and sealed in the realm of will and intellect alone (the crown, corresponding to the tip of the yud and the first two letters), he can prevent its actualization, employing many justifications. But, when it finally becomes part of reality, it is impossible to reverse the flow.

The sages expressed this in their famous teaching:[2]

“For there is a hand on the seat of Kah.”[3] Why does the verse not call God by His Name, Havayah, but rather by the shortened form of Kah [which contains only first two letters: yud and hei]? Rabbi Levi in the name of Rabbi Chama Bar Chanina said: As it were, as long as the descendants of Amalek are in the world, the Name is not complete and the throne is not complete. When the descendants of Amalek are obliterated from the world, the Name is complete and the throne is complete.

Amalek’s power is in his ability to separate the head from the body [the name Amalek stems from the root meaning to behead], in order to prevent the light of the intellect from descending into the heart and the behavioral faculties. Once a reality of holiness has been constructed in the lower realms that comprise reality, this means that the light has filtered down so deeply that it has become part and parcel of the world. Amalek has no power to undo this.

Connecting the Two Parts of God’s Name

Thus, satan’s defeat begins at the point of passage between the intellect and the heart. It is precisely at this point that his power is so great. Chassidut illuminates life in this world with concealed, supernal light. It is not willing to allow the light to remain hidden, which is what the satan desires.[4] The light illuminates the six very human traits, comprised of both good and evil, with the light of the essence of the soul—until they change their nature and manifest their Divine essence in its pure state.

The Fourth Descent and Mashiach

Soon, we will merit the time when the satan will be forced to descend to the world for a fourth and final time so that the Mashiach can defeat him and remove his prey from his mouth once and for all: “He has swallowed down riches, and he shall vomit them up again; God shall cast them out of his belly.”[5] This descent will correspond to the final hei in God’s Name, alluding to the sefirah of Kingdom and to the service of God in the actual fulfillment of the Torah and its commandments.

It is specifically physical action in our world that most aptly expresses God’s kingdom and complete presence in this world. In the face of this manifestation, the satan has no choice but to surrender all the control that was in his hands to its source, thus strengthening and solidifying the Mashiach’s rule.

The External and Internal Dimensions of the Holy Name

According to our story, the Ba’al Shem Tov took a holy Name from the satan, which is the key to Chassidut. However, he took only the external aspect of this Name. Its internal dimension is concealed until the end times.

We can explain that the Name from which Chassidut was quarried is the Good Name: alef, hei, vav hei, (אהוה), whose value is “good” (טוב), and which is why the Ba’al Shem Tov literally means, “Master of the Good Name.” This Name unifies the heavens and the earth (את השמים ואת הארץ). Every unification has two aspects: the external unification, in which the limbs of the unification gather from their state of separation and become one, and the inner unification—the manifestation of simple oneness that transcends all separation.

The Ba’al Shem Tov merited to reveal how it is possible to be, “in the world and out of the world” simultaneously; how to unify separate entities and to know that the contraction of God’s Divine light in order to make room for reality is not to be understood literally. In the future, however, there is a secret deeper than that: how there is no contradiction at all between the contraction and the fact that everything is literally one.[6]

Leaping Over Confusion

We can learn an important guiding principle from this explanation. In the more inner dimensions of the soul, despite their purity and refinement, there is much confusion. Therefore, this is where the satan focuses his efforts. He often successfully confuses us and prevents our progress. These obstacles manifest as intellectual doubts, which make it difficult for us to grasp the point of simple faith and serve God with simplicity and earnestness.

We must always keep in mind that if we employ self-sacrifice and leap over the bridge between mind and heart, straight to service of the heart and service of God in reality, a quality above and beyond the intellect will manifest in our service. This is the point of the essence of the soul, where the satan has no foothold. This revelation is an existing fact, and its existence shines reflected light into the soul of the person who effects it, helping him to reject the confusion that the satan attempts to inject within him.

The act of self-sacrifice comes from the power of the singular-one level of the soul (the yechidah), the level that embraces and clings to God’s Divine essence. By employing self-sacrifice, we reveal strengths within us that cannot be overpowered. King David reveals to us that it is specifically the yechidah that the satan robs from us and conceals in his treasures in the verse, “Save my soul (nafshi) from the sword, from the hands of the dog my singular-one [yechidah].”[7] It is specifically the yechidah that can be captured by the dog,[8] a symbol for the satan himself. The satan’s messengers confront the other levels of the soul, but he himself has to face off against the essence of the soul.

Mashiach is considered the all-inclusive singular-one level of all the souls of Israel. He rectifies all of reality in the light of God’s essence, which is the specific source of true healing. In preparation for Mashiach’s arrival, we must all strive to the best of our ability to manifest our individual yechidah—the spark of Mashiach within each of us. From these small flames, a great light will ascend.

Perhaps this is the reason for the saying of the sages about the generation in which Mashiach comes, “The face of the generation is like the face of the dog.”[9] In this generation, it is no longer possible to avoid a direct confrontation with the dog/satan and the imperative to remove the riches that he has swallowed from his mouth.

The Ba’al Shem Tov initiated this new era with a tremendous revelation of the soul’s singular-one. He taught us not to fear anything in the world, not even the satan himself. We should fear only God. If we maintain that approach, no partition can block our way.

[1]. In Likutei Sippurim p. 9 it is added: And the Rabbi Gershon Dovber explained that this is the soul of the Alter Rebbe. The Ba’al Shem Tov took action to allow him to descend to this world, for this is the key to Chassidut. The Ba’al Shem Tov’s special approach to the birth of the Alter Rebbe is known, including the special instructions that he gave to the Alter Rebbe’s mother regarding care for him. We can say that from among all the leaders of Chassidut, there was no one else who established, broadened and fostered Chassidut more than the Alter Rebbe, and this is the core reason that it was all dependent upon him.

[2]. Pesiktah rabbati parashah 12.

[3]. Exodus 17:16.

[4]. Satan employs Torah-based claims, saying, for example, that it is good that this light should be concealed so that it will not be accessible to just anyone, and the like. Many pious scholars have already negated those claims, as explained in many prefaces to the study of the inner dimenson of the Torah.

[5]. Job 20:15.

[6]. This idea is found to be alluded to in the Good Name, אהוה. The backside of the Good Name is written as follows: א אה אהו אהוה and equals 36 or 6 (vav) squared, corresponding to the vav in the Name Havayah and to the sixth day (Friday), the eve of the day that is all Shabbat. The frontside of the Good Name is written as follows: אהוה הוה וה ה and equals 49, or 7 (zayin) squared, corresponding to the seventh day—the day that is all Shabbat and serenity for eternal life.

[7]. Psalms 22:21.

[8]. The dog is the image in which the Satan enclothes himself.

[9]. Sotah 49b.

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