Paradoxes and the Three Stages of Baal Shem Tov

Xus Casal

The basic problem of non-Hassidic people is the inability to understand paradoxes. They tend to think in terms of “something white cannot be black”. Something “evil” cannot be “good”.

With that mentality we cannot get even closer to understand what does Messiah mean.

All the idea of redemption (Geulah) is to be able to put together two opposites and make peace between those opposites in the world [for instance, in Purim there’s no difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai’; and in Messianic era ‘the wolf shall dwell with the lamb’ (Is 11:6)… etc].

Both, good and evil have their root in holiness [Everything created comes from the higher worlds and come from God Himself who is the Ultimate Good. Since there’s no ‘evil’ in God, the existence of ‘evil’ must be good too].

The big deal is that people should be open to understand that our universe is made of paradoxes, and more concretely that there are paradoxes in the Torah.

The Three Levels of Understanding

There’s a story from Baal Shem Tov (the one who awakened the Hassidic movement) which he wrote privately in a letter to his brother-in-law (cf. Ben Poras Yosef; cf. Mikhtavim mehaBaal Shem Tov veTalmidav).

He wrote that in a holy moment he ascended to the Messiah’s nest (the heavenly heart where the soul of Messiah is), and he asked: When will you come?

Messiah replied with a verse from Proverbs: “Yafutzu Maainotekha khutzah” – “your wellsprings will be disseminated far afield” (Prov 5:16); since waters represent the wisdom of Torah (cf. Is 55:1), what Messiah is saying is: By this you must know [when]: it will be a time when your teachings become publicly revealed to the world.

Baal Shem Tov was very troubled with this answer, because he thought: this is going to take more than a lifetime. And then Messiah revealed him three Holy Names which are easy to learn and explain, and taught him how to use them. He felt joy with this, and thought that with those teachings the people of his own generation might attain the same spiritual level and state as his, but Messiah didn’t give him permission to reveal those names during his lifetime.

Instead of the three names, Messiah allowed him to share with people the following revelation: That everything has three levels of understanding. He said: “with every utterance of your lips – intend to bring about the unification of the Divine Name. For every letter contains worlds (Olamot) and souls (Neshamot) and G-dliness (Elokut), and they ascend and combine and unite with one another”.

Messiah taught him that every aspect of the Torah contains three levels of understanding: the level of Worlds, the level of Souls, and of the Divinity. So one of the basic teachings of Baal Shem Tov is that everything has three different levels of Divine Development (which also applies to the levels of Biblical understanding):

(1) Hakhnaa – submission or humility

(2) Havdalah separation or discrimination

(3) Hamtakah – sweetening or conciliation

הכנעה – הבדלה – והמתקה

This is the very same concept found in the Sefer Yetzirah. “He created his world with three Sefarim: with Sefer, with Sefar and with Sippur” (Yetzirah 1:1).

• Hakhnaa corresponds to “Worlds”. In the first level (submission) you know nothing; it’s the level of a newborn, the level of a seed in an empty field, and the level of establishing basic principles. Everything is there in potential but you see nothing. You are just told what to see. The Gemara teaches of this level with an anecdote of Hillel the sage: Once a gentile came to him and told him he wanted to learn only written Torah (not oral). So the first thing Hillel did was to teach him the Hebrew alphabet. Next day he taught him the alphabet in a different manner and that person wondered: that’s not what you taught me yesterday! And with this Hillel taught him the importance of relying on the teachers.

In the first level of understanding you learn the concept of “Nakhash” (Snake). Here you learn is an animal, is poisonous, dangerous… etc. In this level, when you ask any Christian student or any first level apprentice of Judaism what does the Snake represent they will automatically say: “Something evil”, “Satan”… etc.

In this level we learn that Isaac had twins, and they, Esav and Yakov both were born circumcised under Abraham’s covenant.

We could probably learn that Esav was ‘the bad guy’ (so to say).

• Havdalah corresponds to “Souls”. It’s the level of the tree taking root. The seed gets divided in parts: roots, branches, leaves… etc. So it’s the level of separation of different aspects of the same thing.

Here we learn that there’s a Snake that tempted Eve, so it represents evil forces. But also that the tribe of Dan is called “Snake” and that when fiery snakes were biting people, Moses raised a pole serpent which God used as a protection. In this second level we, therefore, differentiate between “Evil Snake” and “Holy Snake”, according to their characteristics.

We thus learn that “evil forces” can serve “good purposes”; so “Esav” not necessarily means something bad.

• Hamtakah corresponds to “Divinity”. In the third level, all is holy. It’s the level of the sweetest part of the developed seed; the fruit. This is a completely different dimension of understanding in which we enjoy internalizing and personalizing everything we have learned until then. It’s the moment to show Godliness from every aspect of creation. According to our sages the whole Torah is a long name of the Blessed Holy One; so even the evil things mentioned there are part of God’s name. In this level, the Word ‘Snake’ (Nakhash) equals: “Messiah” through Gematria. So ‘Snake’ = ‘Messiah’. The most evil force of the Torah suddenly represents the loftiest of the holy forces of Redemption.

In this level Evil is not evil as we know it, and Esav is not the same Esav we are familiar with.

נחש = משיח = 358

The Secret of Messiah

The secret of Messiah is a paradox. It cannot be revealed because people are not ready.

They might say like Hillel’s student: ‘Yesterday you taught me differently!’ First you told me the Snake is evil and that we must destroy the snake and later you tell me the Snake is Messiah!  So confusing!’. This is how the paradox comes to play, especially in those minds that are like seeds growing with preconceived ideas and don’t let the roots go deeper. What we have to understand is that there are different levels of understanding as well as different levels of interpretation, and they do not contradict each other. Each level has its role to play, and generally we cannot go further to the next level without passing the previous ones.

You just need to enter in one of those discussions between the group that argues: “Isaiah 53 is only about Israel” and the group that says: “Isaiah 53 is only about Messiah” to realize how far they are from being “Ready”. Truth is: although it sounds as a paradox for those who never heard of these concepts, both groups are right, and they should not waste their time trying to “defeat” those who have different opinions. Our sages taught the Torah has 70 faces. If we cannot see all the aspects of a verse it doesn’t mean they are not there; it simply means we are unable or unwilling to see.

Yimakh – ימח

As we know, there’s a medieval satyr called: “Toldot Yeshu” which is about the name ‘Yeshu’. This name appears many times in the Talmud attached to different people who became heretics, and also is the name with which is commonly known Yeshua of Nazareth. The book puts all these characters together as if they were one, and apply everything to Yeshua of Nazareth. This story says that ‘Yeshu’ is the acronym of: “Yimakh Shmo Vezikhro” (may his name and memory be blotted out). Although that satyr has no validity whatsoever, truth must be told, in modern Judaism quite often Yeshua is linked to the curse: ‘Yimakh Shmo’ (cursed be his name).

Ariel Cohen Alloro said: “I called my book after a curse, ‘Yimakh Shmo’ (cursed be his name), but of course, in my level of understanding there’s nothing evil with the curse. On the contrary: the word Yimakh is the acronym of three names” (Remember the three holy names of Baal Shem Tov?).

The Yod of ‘Yimakh’ stands for: Yitshak (Isaac).

The Mem of ‘Yimakh’ stands for Mashiakh (Messiah).

The Khet of ‘Yimakh’ stands for Hen (grace, favor).

Let’s take a look to the numerical value of these words:

Yitshak = 208

Messiah = 358

Hen = 58

If you notice, Yitshak is the middle point between the other two.

‘Yitshak’ is the hero, ‘Messiah’ the goal, and ‘Hen’ is the means to achieve the goal.

Interestingly, the phrase which Messiah quoted from Proverbs to Baal Shem Tov – “Yafutzu Maainotekha khutzah” – forms the acronym of Yimakh (cursed be).

The Ark of Noah and Grace

Yimakh in Gematria equals: ‘hen’ (grace, favor)”.

‘Hen’ is the symmetry (the reverse) of ‘Noah’. As it is said: “And Noah found Hen [in the eyes of HaShem]” (Gn 6:8).

Hen is Noah [in symmetry] (cf. Zohar 1:58b).

As Noah was reflected in the Eyes of HaShem, he was found as Hen.

In the pupil of the eye, the image one sees appears inverted, then the brain puts it right (cf. David Kimchi, Sefer haShorashim s.v. Ish). That is how in God’s eyes ‘Noah’ becomes ‘Hen’.

This verse: “Noah found grace in the eyes of HaShem” is the last verse in the portion of Bereshit. This parasha speaks from the world’s creation to the world’s destruction. The verse “Noah found grace” indicates this is the goal of creation.

The word “Goal” or “Purpose” (Takhlit) equals: “the ark of Noah” (Tevat Noah).

תכלית = תבת נח = 860

And the word: Tevah – which means Ark or box – also means: “Word” (Word is a vessel that travels between the mouth and the ear). It can be broken into “Tav bah” (since the Tav is the last letter it can be interpreted to mean: ‘the end is in it’ ת בה).

So, since Tevah also means: Word, and Noah in symmetry is Grace, the “Ark of Noah” becomes “the word grace”.

“The goal of creation” – (Takhlit briat haOlam) has the acronym of Tevah (Ark).

תחלית בריאת העולם = תבה