Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Guest Posting By Rabbi Dovid Sears: Follow-Up On The Baal Shem Tov’s Way Of Meditation

(Picture by Jeremy Wallis)

Question: The sources you quoted sound intriguing. But how can you actually learn to practice this kind of meditation? There don’t seem to be any shiurim offered in this kind of thing at the local Orthodox synagogue.

Answer: A Chassidic scholar in Jerusalem who prefers to remain anonymous has devoted most of his life to searching for the elusive "inner point" of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings, as well as the roots of "Toras HaBaal Shem Tov" in earlier Jewish mystical writings. His ongoing series of source-books on this subject is entitled "Shiva Einayim (Seven Springs)," and now numbers five volumes. Sometimes these books are available in the U.S. through Moznaim Publishing, 4304 Twelfth Ave., Brooklyn, NY (718-853-0525).

He also teaches people, I have been told. But if you don’t live in Yerushalayim, that won’t help too much.

In Brooklyn, I don’t know who is adept in this aspect of Chassidus, which has widely fallen into disuse. Maybe Rabbi Mordechai Zilber, the Stutchiner Rebbe on 54th St. or Rabbi Yosef Borukh Pinchos Rabinowitz, the Skolye Rebbe of 48th St., have some mesorahs about it. Both are both scholars and masters of Chassidus (although representing different traditions), whose knowledge is from the "inside" and not just the "outside." However, be forewarned: people tend to be very secretive about this kind of thing in the Chassidic world today.

I never heard of any special techniques related to how one should sit or breathe, etc., as in some forms of meditation developed by Far Eastern schools, which in any case are bound up with other religions. (Like most Chassidim, I am not in the right physical shape to spend much time in the lotus position!) In Breslov, the form of hisbodedus we practice doesn’t involve any special physical preparations or techniques, aside from finding a nice secluded place that is free from distractions, and standing or sitting there until the words start to come. Sometimes the silent part of hisbodedus just happens spontaneously. However, if one wants to focus on silent meditation, I would say that a chair and the inner resolve are all you need.

Question: Where can you read more about the Baal Shem Tov’s formal teachings?

Answer: For those who have never studied the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings before, three good anthologies are: Keser Shem Tov (gleaned from the works of Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye); Sefer Baal Shem Tov Al Ha-Torah (Two Volumes); and a more recent collection, Me’ir Eynei Yisrael. These books, too, should be available from Moznaim in Brooklyn.

I translated some of this material in The Path of the Baal Shem Tov about ten years ago; and Rabbi Immanuel Schochet of Chabad translated Tzava’at HaRivash, one of the first collections of sayings and short lessons from the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezeritch, with scholarly annotations.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan devoted an entire section to the Baal Shem Tov and early Chassidic teachings in his ground-breaking study, Meditation and the Kabbalah, as well as in Chassidic Masters (both published by Moznaim).

Another address is Rabbi Menachem Nochum of Chernobyl’s Ma’or Einayim. Although the Chernobyler Maggid, as he is also known, became a Chassidic master in his own right, he was one of the younger talmidim of the Baal Shem Tov and later the Maggid, and his explanations of the original teachings of Chassidism are widely considered to be among the most cogent. Samples of these works are available online at


At July 4, 2007 at 3:24:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Yerushalaim and have been looking for someone like this for a long time! Could I find out who this person is?

At July 4, 2007 at 3:44:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

His name in Reb Yitzchok Moyshe Erlanger, he isn't really hiding his name (it is printed on his other sforim, which mention his Shivo Einaim). He is a Rachmistrivker chosid from Yerusholaim, and also belongs to the circle of Shaar haShomaim (see here).
The "Shivo Einaim" was recently republished again, and is also available in Bigelaizen sforim store as well as in Moznaim.

There is a companion seyfer to Shivo Eynaim, called "Chakikey Leyv". It pas published in last few years and consists already of two volumes (there are promised more to come, be"H).

At July 4, 2007 at 4:01:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rabbi Dovid Sears: In the posting before, you mentioned about correlation of two types of hisboydedus - the silent one (shtiko) which involves the thought alone, and the verbal one (dibur) which involves speech. The general impression is, that they aren't really contradictory, and they supplement each other. The statement that speech interrupts the dveykus is related to the silent method, while the verbal one also requires dveykus in the speech, however it is harder to achieve and it is on the different level (oylom hadibur, while the first one is - oylom hamakhshovo).

There is a quote in Seyfer Baal Shem Tov, in notes there (Mekoyr Maim Chaim) from the unpublished part of "Oyr haGonuz leTzadikim" from Reb Ahrn haKohen miZelichov ztz"l (whom you mentioned before), which the publishers of Seyfer Baal Shem Tov had, which sais in the name of Baal Shem Tov, that there is a yichud in dibur (speach) and there is a yichud in makhshovo (thought) and these both are necessary. So we see, that the Baal Shem Tov himself utilized both aspects of hisboydedus - the silent as well as the verbal one. It fits well with the Rebe in Likutey Moharan.

Also a very important insight into the this subject in the Breslov sforim can be found in Reb Gedalya Kenig's "Chayey Nefesh", where he looks at the statement of the Rebbe (about putting all one's strength into the oysies of one's speach in tfilo [and as can be understood - hisboydedus] exactly in this light).

At July 4, 2007 at 10:32:00 PM EDT, Blogger Mottel said...

Hi, I am tagging you with a meme--should you decide to accept it:

Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

At July 5, 2007 at 8:04:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Memes in blogs seem to combine aspects of chain letters and party games. I don't know what they do to advance Yiddishkeit.

Here we are on a serious topic, and this diversion comes along. Why?

At July 5, 2007 at 1:17:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob Miller - somehow the oylem isn't interested in discussion, that's why these "memes" come in.

At July 5, 2007 at 4:36:00 PM EDT, Blogger Unknown said...

Umm, I have a minor question. Somewhere in the answer to the first question was written
"Like most Chassidim, I am not in the right physical shape to spend much time in the lotus position!"
Why should one pretty much automatically exclude the other? As in "if A, then not B"?
Been thinking about it for an hour now, but I can't come up with an answer.

At July 5, 2007 at 4:54:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kathrin: Surely, goof physical shape isn't a contradiction to chasidim. Just not everyone is keeping it up.

At July 5, 2007 at 7:20:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I was just joking. I am not a young man anymore (being a grandfather several times over) and need to get more exercise!

At July 5, 2007 at 9:50:00 PM EDT, Blogger Mottel said...

I don't see a meme as a technically bad thing . . . it may be light hearted, but -while ASJ's posts have been on a deeper note as of late- I don't see any harm in asking.

What is more, I happen to follow his blog regularly and have contributed several questions and answers in the past . . .
While I feel that blog's like ASJ's are the true tachlis of blogging, as they are almost entirely devoted for spreading divrei chassidus, there are many blogs out there of a more personal tone -mine for one- that combines both.
I chose to post the offer here seeing that ASJ and I are blogging friends as it were, and felt that he would be relatively receptive to the idea and thus, if he chose not to follow up on it (an understandable decision) he would respond kindly. Apparently others that come here are not on such a level . . .


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