April 22, 2009


The following translations are excerpts from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, “Chassidic Masters” (Moznaim), Chapter 4: “A Bear in the Forest,” which presents a sampling of the teachings of Rabbi Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezeritch (1704-1772). The Maggid explained and transmitted the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov to his disciples, who became the future leaders of the Chassidic movement. We have taken the liberty of adding a few explanations in brackets.

The Maggid of Mezeritch On Prayer

A person praying in a place where there are idle words can elevate them if they are words of joy. Their elevation results in great joy on high, giving rise to much enthusiasm. But if they are words of sadness they are very difficult to uplift (Maggid Devarav L’Yaakov / Likutey Amarim #51).


Place all your thoughts into the power of your words, until you see the light of the words. You can then see how one word shines into another, and how many lights are brought forth in their midst.

This is the meaning of the verse, "Light is sown to the righteous, and joy to the upright in heart." (Psalms 97:11).

The lights in the letters are God's chambers, into which He transmits His emanations (ibid. #52).

Separate your soul from your body. Your soul can then be dressed in the thought contained in the words you speak, and you will be able to perceive many universes on high.

You have many powers, one required for one universe, and another for the next. When your soul ascends to all the worlds that you must elevate, it is examined in each universe to see if it is fit to go higher. If it is not, it is cast outside.

When an extraneous thought comes to you, this is a sign that you are being cast out. But if you are wise, you can use that thought itself to bind yourself to God all the more. The thought consists of letters that are part of the Divine Presence's body, but they fell as a result of the Breaking [of the Primordial Vessels]. The combination of these letters therefore becomes bad, intermingled with the Husks.

This is like sweetmeats intermingled with other things. Each thing is good by itself, but mixed together they are vile and disgusting. This [combination of letters] likewise becomes evil.

But when you understand the idea of the thought [that falls into your mind, you can then elevate it]. If it involves desire and lust, it has fallen from the Universe of Love [Ahavah, which is related to the sefirah of Chesed] ; if it is a debilitating phobia, it is from the Universe of Fear [Yirah, which is related to the sefirah of Gevurah); and if it involves pride, it is from the Universe of Beauty [Tiferet, which is etymologically related to hitpa’arut, meaning pride]. The same is true of all other such thoughts, since [the attributes paralleling] all seven days of creation have fallen.

When you bind these thoughts to God through love and fear of the Creator, you then return them to their Root. The same is true of other attributes and each thought can be elevated to the Attribute from which it fell. You can once again bind it to that Attribute, and transform the Husks that fell from it into a good combination.

God has great delight when you do this. It is like a royal prince who is kidnapped. The king has great delight when he is returned, even more than from a son who has never left his side (ibid. #53).


The supernal universes are really very great, but because the soul is clothed in the body, they seem very small. However, when a person divests himself of his physical bodily nature, then with his mind he can see that these universes are very great (ibid. #67).


The wise man is not like others who only ask that the king should fulfill their needs. Instead, the wise man requests that the king should instruct his servants to open the gates, and allow him access to the king. He realizes that being worthy of speaking to the king is more significant and valuable than anything else in the world. Besides this, when the king sees that he is more important to this person than all the goods and delights that the world has to offer, then the king also becomes very fond of him.

This is the meaning of the verse, “A poor man's prayer, when he binds himself, [he pours out his words before God].” Even though this individual is very poor and needy, he binds himself and delays the request for his needs. He binds up his needs, and does not speak of them in detail. Instead, he cries out, begging and urging that all the gates of prayer should be open for him, so that he should be able to “pour out his words before God.” This is more precious to him than anything the world can offer.

It is actually very surprising that a mortal human being should be able to attach himself to God. Besides his physical body, many Husks separate him from God. Even though, “the whole earth is filled with His glory” (Isaiah 6:3), God is still hidden behind many barriers.

But all the barriers that separate and restrain can be torn down by the word that you utter. Your words should therefore be attached to God. This means that you must intimately feel that you are actually speaking to God.

If we could speak just one line, or even two or three words to God in each service in the above mentioned manner, it would be sufficient (ibid. #22).


Expanded and constricted consciousness can be explained in the following manner. When a person learns something but does not understand it in depth, this is a state of constricted consciousness, since his mental picture is not complete. But when he grasps something with enthusiasm and full understanding, then he is on the level of expanded consciousness, bound to the highest levels. Similarly, there are states of expanded and constricted consciousness in prayer and all other observances (ibid. #74).