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Baal Shem Tov

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Baal Shem Tov

Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (c. 1698 – 22 May 1760), also known as the Baal Shem Tov ("Great Master of the Name [of God]"), was the founder of Hasidic Judaism. He is also known by the acronym, BeSHT, which stands for “Baal Shem Tov”. He was orphaned as a child, and before his mother died, it is said that she told him, "My sweetest son, I love you with all my heart. I want you to know that before you were born, it was made known to me that God will always be with you because you have one of the innocent souls of Heaven. So fear nothing except God because He is always with you. And love every Jew dearly." This he did, bringing joy and uplift to all who knew him. On his 16th birthday, the prophet Elijah appeared before him and he began his mystical journey. In his youth, he worked as a teacher's assistant, and later said it was the most joyous time of his life, teaching children to pray. He also worked as a kosher butcher, a tavern manager, and an herbalist. During this period, it was expected that every rabbi should have a trade, so that there would be no temptation to impose on the congregation for support.

In Judaism, to know the true name of God is nearly synonymous with the ability to wield the power of God; in other words, to be a miracle worker. While there were many different Baal Shems throughout history, there was only one Baal Shem Tov. The BeSHT was a legendary Kabbalist and magical wonder-worker, a rabbi and mystic who was also a powerful wizard. He is said to have been able to become invisible, to have fought werewolves, and to have protected entire towns from plague. He is also said to have miraculously traversed vast distances in unusually short times, a phenomenon known as kfitzat haderech ("shortening of the way"). His spiritual teachings emphasized personal experience of the divine and the salvation of individual souls as necessary for the redemption of the world. In a vision of the Messiah, he was told the world would not be saved until everyone was as spiritually gifted as the Baal Shem Tov, especially in potent prayer and spiritual ascension. To this end, every act of every day must be performed as worship to God. If this can be even attempted, fasting and asceticism are unnecessary. This also means that physical pleasure can generate spiritual pleasure.

Unlike most well-known rabbis and Jewish mystics, the Baal Shem Tov did not write very much about his experiences. The fantastic, magical, miraculous, and mystical events of his life were catalogued by his students and followers and published as a book, called "In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov." To this day, his devotees among the Hasidic Jews have a saying about him: "He who believes all the stories about the BeSHT is a fool, but he who doubts a single story about the BeSHT is a heretic." On the other hand, they also say that even if these amazing stories did not actually happen, “the Baal Shem Tov was capable of making them happen.” Hoodoo psychic readers, spirit workers, and root doctors who petition spiritual figures within the Jewish tradition on behalf of clients may work with the Baal Shem Tov when there are pending spiritual and magical issues regarding personal power and mastery, protection from disease and persecution, and spiritual guidance.

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