From the Sources
The Baal Shem Tov
The founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov, considers the inevitable ups and downs in one’s spiritual life.
"To love YKVK your God, to go in all His ways and to cleave to Him” [Deuteronomy 11:22]:—We read regarding this [see Babylonian Talmud Sotah 14a] “Is it possible that one might bind oneself to Him? Is He not a consuming fire? Rather cleave to within His attributes. As He is compassionate, so, you be compassionate.” Indeed one ought always to be able to serve the blessed Name with the enthusiasm of the heart; and this is the true cleaving to Him Whose Name is blessed. However, it is impossible that this be one’s constant state. Rather, one moves toward it and then away, like [the movement of] a flame. And just as with fire, if one breathes oxygen into it, it first becomes nearly extinguished and then the fire becomes greater—and the fire itself is always rising and descending, being always in motion—so too, with one’s enthusiasm. For constant pleasure ceases to be pleasurable. This, then, is the question raised by the Talmud [BT Sotah 14a]: Is he not a consuming fire?”—i.e., Isn’t enthusiasm something that is not constant? Thus the answer given is “cleave to within His attributes”—referring to the letters of the Torah, for it is indeed possible to be always occupied with the letters [of the Torah]; and the Torah is the Divine Garment. Even when talking to people, bear in mind that the 22 letters that constitute the means of common speech are ultimately the substratum of the Torah.
Baal Shem Tov, Amud HaTefilah, #54; Tzava’at HaRivash fol. 5a
In this teaching, the founder of Hasidism, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov, recognizes that one’s passion for prayer and one’s closeness to God cannot be equal at all times. Such is the human condition. But one can always engage in Torah study out of reverence for God, which hopefully re-establishes a sense of the Divine and rekindles one’s enthusiasm for prayer. Rather than dwell in shame for the “failure” to maintain passion for God at all times, which can be paralyzing, one should direct his or her energies in a different, but still God-oriented, way.
Rabbi Mike Comins
Pillar of Prayer
Guidance in Contemplative Prayer, Sacred Study, and the Spiritual Life, from the Baal Shem Tov and his Circle
Translated and annotated by Menachem Kallus
Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2011
Available at Fons Vitae
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