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Born in 1698 (5458) in a small village Okop in the Ukraine, to poor but pious parents, the young Yisrael Ben Eliezer, lost his father at the age of five. Before his father passed on, he drew his young son close to him and said “Yisrael, my son, do not fear anyone or anything in this world – except for God. Love every single Jew with your whole heart and with the flame of your soul – regardless of who or what he, or she is”.

His devoted mother Sarah, knowing her son was a very special soul, who had a great love for Hashem and His Torah, sent him to a holy melamed, to teach him. In return, the young Ba’al Shem Tov worked in his school and helped the melamed with the other children – who felt very loved and cared for by him.

A short while later his mother died, leaving him an orphan. In the months before her passing she had the merit of seeing Elihayu Hanovi, “the Prophet who never died” come, on a regular basis, to teach her son the secrets of the Torah. As his spirit and knowledge grew, he would spend long periods of time deep in the forest, studying and communing with his Maker. There he met a tzaddik, a holy Jew, who studied with him for three years..

One day the tzaddik brought me to the home of Reb Meir, on the edge of the forest. I stayed and studied with Reb Meir for four years. Everyone thought he was a simple laborer. While I was with him I joined the “Tzaddikim Nistorim” – unknown holy men, who wished their identity be kept secret. At the age of sixteen I had already acquired an extensive knowledge of Kabbalah and I would pray, from time to time, using the Holy Names that they had taught me.

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Remaining humble, without revealing a trace of his knowledge and heavenly wisdom, he worked as a synagogue caretaker and an assistant teacher of children. His learning continued under another hidden Tzaddik – Rabbi Adam Ba’al Shem, who left him his holy writings.

Settling in the town of Brody, he become engaged to Leah Rochel, whose father Rabbi Ephraim of Brody recognized that there was something far deeper and substantive to the young man, than the simple ignorant peasant that he appeared to be. After the wedding the young couple moved to the Carpathian Mountains There the Ba’al Shem Tov worked as a laborer and continued his studies.

In 1734, at the age of 36, he was “instructed by Heaven” to reveal himself. His fear of Heaven, remarkable love for his fellow Jews, deeds and knowledge began to precede him. People started to call him the “Ba’al Shem Tov” – Master of the Good Name. The words “Ba’al Shem” were reserved for holy men that used the power of the Name of God to invoke Heaven to perform miracles.

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At that time, in the 1700’s, Torah was mainly studied by a minority of educated Jews. The masses of Eastern European Jewry were engulfed in a world of ignorance, oppression and poverty. Spreading the message of joy, praise of God and love of ones’ fellow Jews, the Ba’al Shem Tov brought the healing and inspirational light of Torah into their daily lives. His teachings, mainly based on the revealed Kabbalah of the Arizal, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534-1572), introduced the concept of Chassidus – Piety and Kindness, into the world of darkness that surrounded him.

Despite opposition from some traditionalists, The Ba’al Shem Tov attracted many devoted followers, and the light of Chassidus began to spread – making living a Torah life accessible, and coming close to God possible – even for the most simple Jew. By the time his pure soul had returned to its Maker, in 1760, the joy of Chassidus had enlightened and empowered a dedicated and knowledgeable group of tzaddikim – who continued to pass on its message and the wisdom of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s Torah to future generations.