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Created for Me

The upcoming Monday, the 18th of Elul, will mark the birth of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism. On the same date, 47 years later, the founder of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalmen of Liadi, was born.

When the term "Chassidism" is used, it usually refers to the new path in Divine service developed by the Baal Shem Tov, or to the teachings of the Chassidic masters who succeeded him. But what exactly was the Baal Shem Tov's innovation? What was lacking in the Divine service of the Jewish people until the Baal Shem Tov came along?

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The change that the Baal Shem Tov wrought was to bring a new perspective on man's very purpose in descending to this universe. Before the birth of Chassidism, it was widely accepted that people were born in order to perfect themselves. The path to doing so was through studying Torah and fulfilling mitzvot, according to the will of the Creator. The Torah was considered to be a repository of Divine wisdom, written for man as a guidebook for living a satisfying and productive life here in this world.

This perspective placed the individual at the center of his own world. The saying of our sages, "A man is obligated to say, 'The world was created for my sake,'" was accepted at face value. The world and all its contents were created to enable the individual to perfect himself and to rise, level upon level, as described in Torah.

The Baal Shem Tov appeared on the scene and began a revolution. We are not here for our own sakes, but for the glory of G-d. Following the Torah will indeed bring us to a state of perfection--but that is not the reason why the Torah was given. The Torah is the will and desire of G-d, and by following the Torah we become part of the mission to complete the world the way G-d intended it. In this way, we become His partners in creation. Our lives do not belong to us but to our Creator. "The world was created for my sake" was given a new interpretation: The world was created to be perfected by me, through my service of G-d.

The goal of Chassidism is to instill humility, to lessen the sense of self-importance and instead to take a broader, more encompassing perspective of the world and its needs. I am not here to serve my own needs; I am here to ask, “What is needed of me? What lack is there in the world that I can fill?” As a matter of course, this perspective will lead us to improve our character, for when we are not focused on our own needs and desires, there is less room for anger, selfishness and other negative traits.

The teachings of the Baal Shem Tov opened up the channel of light, illuminating our purpose in this world. The teachings of Chabad, founded by Rabbi Schneur Zalmen of Liadi, gave us the spiritual and practical tools to achieve our goals.

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Moshiach revealed to the Baal Shem Tov that Moshiach will come when "Your wellsprings will spread outward." The central teaching of the Baal Shem Tov was to place G-d rather than ourselves at the center of our lives. When this concept reaches every corner of the universe, this is the most fitting preparation for the Redemption, when G-d's overwhelming presence will no longer be in any doubt.

 

 


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