Baal Shem Tov facts for kids
Israel ben Eliezer (born circa 1698, died 22 May 1760), known as the Baal Shem Tov (Hebrew: בעל שם טוב) or as the Besht, was a Jewish mystical rabbi from Poland, who is regarded as the founder of Hasidic Judaism. "Besht" is the acronym for Baal Shem Tov, which means "Master of the Good Name" or "one with a good reputation".
The little biographical information about the Besht comes from oral traditions handed down by his students (Jacob Joseph of Polonne and others) and from the legendary tales about his life and behavior collected in Shivḥei ha-Besht (In Praise of the Ba'al Shem Tov; Kapust and Berdychiv, 1814–15). Hasidim approach these legends with a blend of suspicion and belief. Rebbe Shlomo Rabinowicz of Rodomsk declared, "Whoever believes all the miracle stories about the Baal Shem Tov in Shivhei HaBaal Shem Tov is a fool, but whoever denies that he could have done them is an apikoros [a heretic]". Similarly, the Rebbe Mordechai of Neshkiz explains, "Even if a story about him never actually occurred, and there was no such miracle, it was in the power of the Baal Shem Tov, may his memory be a blessing for the life of the World-to-Come, to perform everything".
A central tenet in the Baal Shem Tov's teaching is the direct connection with the divine, "dvekut", which is infused in every human activity and every waking hour. Prayer is of supreme importance, along with the mystical significance of Hebrew letters and words. His innovation lies in "encouraging worshipers to follow their distracting thoughts to their roots in the divine". Those who follow his teachings regard him as descended from the Davidic line that traces its lineage to the royal house of David.
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