The students of the Baal Shem Tov were deeply moved by what they had just learned. The Baal Shem had explained that everything in this world is b'hashgachah protis
. Everything a person sees or hears, everything that happens, is not by chance; it is all planned by HaShem
If HaShem sees fit to make a thing happen, the Baal Shem Tov had explained, then we should try our best to learn something from it. If we see or hear something, we should know that there is a lesson in it, teaching us how to serve HaShem.
The Baal Shem Tov's students left the Beis Medrash and were discussing these ideas enthusiastically as they walked down the road.
Today, many people know about hashgachah protis; even children have heard about it before they get to kindergarten! That's because, ever since the Baal Shem Tov explained these ideas, they have spread far and wide. But in the Baal Shem Tov's time, this was a new and different way of thinking.
As the students walked, they passed a frozen pond. They noticed a non-Jewish peasant carving something out of the ice. Looking closer, they realized that the peasant was carving a cross.
The students were dismayed. "We've just learned how everything is b'hashgachah protis. Everything a person sees or hears is there to teach him a lesson in serving HaShem. Now what could we possibly learn from what we have just seen?"
They decided to return to the Baal Shem Tov and ask him.
"We have a crystal-clear lesson here," explained the Baal Shem Tov. "The Torah is compared to water. A Jew must always be filled with lebedikeit - warm enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvos. When there is no warmth and excitement in doing HaShem's will, it's like taking water and cooling it. Very cold water turns to ice. And look what can be carved in ice...."
The Baal Shem Tov's disciple and successor, the Maggid of Mezeritch, also taught about how important it is to study the Torah and keep the mitzvos with warmth and enthusiasm. He connected this to a pasuk in this week's parshah. Aish tamid tukad al hamizbeach - lo tichbeh. "An everlasting fire should always be burning on the mizbeach - it should never be extinguished."
The Maggid explained: A Jew must have a constant fiery desire to fulfill HaShem's will. That fire will supply the energy needed to burn away anything that is lo - not good in the eyes of HaShem.
(Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, Parshas Tzav)