A delegation of sages from a distant town visited the Baal Shem Tov on a matter of great urgency. He listened to their plight and then opened a Chumash (from chamesh, “five”) that was lying on the table before him. He looked at tile text for a moment, closed the book, and then proceeded to tell his visitors not only how to handle their situation but also exactly what would transpire over the next few months to resolve their problem.
Over those months the events transpired just as the Besht had predicted. The sages returned to the Baal Shem Tov to thank him for his insight and counsel. One among them asked, “Tell me, Master, is it by opening the Torah and looking inside it that you can perceive what is to happen and how best to respond to it?”
The Baal Shem Tov said: “We are taught that God created the world with light, and that this light illumined the world from one end to the other. Here and there, yesterday and tomorrow, were all present in the immediacy of that light. And God saw that the world was not worthy of this light, that access to it by the unscrupulous would cause global disaster, so God hid the light for the tzaddikim (literally, “the Righteous Ones”) to come, those few who could use it properly. Where did God hide this light? In the Torah. When a person peers into Torah lishmah for its sake and with no selfish motive, then a path is lit up, and past and future, time and space, are open in the moment. The tzaddik sees the world as God sees the world: a creation of light.”
Chumash (from chamesh, “five”): The Torah, the Five Books of Moses.
Besht: An acronym of Baal Shem Tov, used lovingly to refer to Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer.
Tzaddikim (literally, “the Righteous Ones”): Mystic saints and holy masters.
Torah lishmah: Torah “for its own sake.” Something done lishmah is something done without ulterior motive. Torah lishmah is the study of Torah for no other reason than the pure joy of honoring the text with our loving attention.
Tzaddik: Singular of tzaddikim.
Many people study the Bible, but few do so lishmah. Most people want something from the Bible: rules, truth, meaning, answers, clues to the past, prophecies of the future.
If you take up Torah with some goal in mind, it will reflect only your own desires. But if you look into it without desire, and allow the pure Light of God to penetrate your consciousness, you will see what God sees: a world of love and delight, and a way to live rooted in justice, compassion, humility, and peace.