Enhancing Good and Avoiding Evil
The Ba'al Shem Tov offers a novel interpretation of the verse, “Remove yourself from evil and do good.” He interprets it to mean, “avoid and shun evil,” do not concern yourself with the evil apparent in the world, rather “do good.” Cleanse yourself of any attachment you may have with evil by doing good deeds, for “a little light repels much darkness.” Through such an approach, a person will leave behind all the evil that has already become attached to him, thus revealing the true untainted goodness of his Divine soul. According to this teaching, we must focus on doing good and finding good in every place and in every situation.
The goodness of our Holy Torah is the “essence of good,” whose glow is not diminished by the existence of evil, rather the Torah's goodness banishes and completely nullifies all negativity. Our generation must pay less attention to the existence of evil, for in relation to previous generations we are weak and do not have the ability to contend directly with the forces of evil rife in the world.
Three Stages of Rectification
The Ba'al Shem Tov taught that every process of rectification is characterized by three stages: submission, separation and sweetening. In reference to avodat hayichudim, the “service of unification,” submission (hachna'ah) is the recognition of our human lowliness in contrast to God's greatness. This stage enables a person to stand “empty” and ready for a more Divine consciousness to flow through him. The pinnacle of this level is bitul, “nullification” of self. Separation (havdalah) is the constant activity of beautifying the commandments by carrying them out in the finest way possible. This adornment is the result of our love of God and cherishing His commandments. (It is not identical with particularly stringent observance, which comes from the fear of [the consequences of] transgressing against God.)1 Sweetening (hamtakah) is the constant occupation with the revelation of Divinity in all aspects of reality, an activity initiated by Abraham who traveled from place to place in constant self-sacrifice and revealed God and His Name to the world.
In the “service of unification,” all of one's deeds are carried out “for the sake of unifying the Holy One, Blessed be He, and His Presence,” thus nullifying the illusory distinction between God's Light and the created world. The person's intention while performing a commandment is to “benefit God,” as it were, rather than to gain personal benefit for his soul. This is the definition of the term “Hassid,” as it says, “Who is a Hassid (lit. a benevolent one)? He who is benevolent with his Master and with His nest, to bring the Master to His nest below [His revealed presence in our physical world].”
The aim of avodat haberurim, the “service of clarification,” is to sift out and redeem holy sparks from “exile,” thus revealing and publicizing the good and true parts which are hidden in each and every being in the world. This is similar to the redemption of the holy souls of the Israelites from Egypt, the place of impurity.
In contrast, avodat hayichudim, the “service of unification” is compared to the entrance of the Jews into the Jewish homeland. In this situation, the Jews, purified of all the impurities accumulated in Egypt, felt a natural affinity to the holiness of the Land that suits their character perfectly. The Land of Israel is thus particularly conducive to this form of service, in which one feels a natural affinity to carrying out the commandments in the most aesthetic way possible, without relating to the pull of the impure inclination. Once in the Holy Land, the redeemed sparks become emissaries sent into the world to elevate it and unify it with Divinity. This is the approach of the true and complete redemption to be brought about by our righteous Messiah. The idea of living in constant awareness of God, His Omnipresence and Divine supervision, is the basis of the redemptive service of unification. The development and integration of this awareness was the intention of the Ba'al Shem Tov when he revealed the teachings of Hassidism.
The ultimate redemption is dependent upon all of Israel being able to conduct “unifications” (yichiudim) similar to those carried out by the Ba'al Shem Tov. These are outlined in the Hassidic literature written by the Ba'al Shem Tov and his disciples.
We must clarify here, that acquiring Divine awareness is not merely a mental activity, whose goal is peering into the Divine and understanding it. Rather, the purpose of developing such awareness is connecting and becoming sensitive to God and His desires just as one is sensitive to one's own needs. Such awareness is achieved by refining one's awareness of self through solitary meditation and profound study of Hassidic literature, gradually purifying oneself of the superficial trappings of one's ego, thus reaching the inner spark of Divinity hidden in one's own psyche. This is the point at which one meets the Divine from within, opening his or her self to an influx of Divine inspiration. One can then experience Divinity directly through one's self-awareness, as if actually being able to perceive it, as it says in Psalms, “ From my flesh I shall envision God.” As mentioned earlier, the first stage of the service of unification is the recognition of man's lowliness in relation to the Divine. In other words, the fundamental service of mankind in this world is bitul, “nullification” of the false “sense of one's independent existence” caused by the ego. The apex of this stage is arriving at the recognition that our existence depends exclusively on our relationship with God, Who constantly renews it and at every moment imbibes us with new life.
1 At a higher level, separation is expressed in the yearning of the soul to return to its Creator while still feeling separate from Him.