"These are the generations of Noah; Noah was a righteous man…" (Gen. 6:9)
Some need preparation, but do not require thought, some require thought and preparation, some thought without preparation, and some no preparation and no thought. (Mishnah, Uktzin 3:1)
In the laws of ritual purity, all foodstuffs can become impure. Some however, such as those intended for human consumption, need to first come in contact with one of seven types of liquid (water, dew, oil, wine, milk, blood, or bee honey). This is called "heksher", meaning "preparation". Other foods do not require preparation to become impure, such as the carcass of an impure animal. Furthermore, some foods require "thought" or "intention" to contact types of impurity. That is, food not initially intended for human consumption (such as animal fodder), needs to be intended for human use in order to contact impurity through contact with liquid. The Baal Shem Tov uses these categories homiletically.
I heard from my friend, the famous rabbi and chasid, our teacher Shlomo of Dalina, in the name of the holy Rabbi Moshe ben Rabbi Dan, a question raised on this Mishnah from the Baal Shem Tov. Why was it written out of order: [it should have been written] "preparation without thought, thought without preparation, thought and preparation, no thought and no preparation"?
The Baal Shem Tov explained that the main form of worship - in which vitality, devekut [bonding] and joy, and the divine light and radiance of the Divine Presence pour down - depends upon a person completely purifying himself. He then enters into a single bond with the Holy One (Zohar III:288a) and with no need for preparation or exertion to attain it.
This is "preparation and thought". First, the person prepares himself, and then he experiences the light of the Divine Presence.
A person who is not yet pure must prepare himself through the performance of many good deeds….
But a person who is not yet pure must prepare himself through the performance of many good deeds and by subduing his lower inclination. Even then, there is no guarantee that he will merit to "see his world."
Thus, there are those who must rectify their soul by subduing their inner evil, so that they come to pure actions, to fulfill the commandments, study Torah and pray. This is what their soul needs, and they must push themselves to achieve it. They do not need to experience the love and fear of G‑d, and the radiance of the pleasantness of the Divine Presence, and the burning longing of the soul. Rather, they pray according to the simple meaning of the word and don tefillin, without feeling the divine life-force and the delight of His radiance, His splendor, and the holy consciousness.
They study Torah with only a little love, and without its honey-sweet pleasantness. Often, it is because their souls are not fit for this, or because they did not yet purify themselves enough. Yet, G‑d considers it as if they had all the supernal visions, for they did as much as they were able.
This would be considered "preparation without thought". The person prepares himself, but does not have a spiritual experience.
The practice of making Unifications is much greater than studying Torah….
However, thought without preparation is nothing, leaving a person with neither thought nor preparation. For even though the main thing really is the thought [i.e. bonding with G‑d], for the practice of making Unifications is much greater than studying Torah, in that one actually draws down the light of the Infinite to enliven all the worlds, and gives satisfaction to one's Creator, and sustains the holy Divine Presence, who is in exile. Still, this is only for lofty and holy souls. For the upper worlds are not moved by the thoughts of man, unless he is fit to draw upon them supernal light, and enliven them with new vitality from the Ayin, with the light of the Infinite. Then, in that joy, the same light will also be drawn upon him, until he is actually bound and attached to the light of the Infinite and the pleasantness of the glow of the Divine Presence. Then his soul goes out in his words (see Songs 5:6), and he loses his power of speech in the powerful light, radiance and pleasantness.
The Arizal…claimed to have grasped so much only due to the joy and light of the mitzvot….
However, if he is unable to draw upon himself the supernal light of the Infinite, the supernal forces do not pay attention to him at all. They do not desire to draw near to him, nor to help him or to draw his thoughts above. For his thoughts are empty, inefficacious and of no import. Therefore, the thoughts of a simple person who has not completely purified himself are vacuous and of no consequence. If he wastes his life on thoughts without first preparing himself through Torah and mitzvot, G‑d considers it as if he has neither preparation nor thought. He returns naked to his source. Furthermore, he exposes himself to the dangerous heresy of that uncouth heathen Aristotle, may his name be erased, who defamed the Torah and mitzvot.
The Baal Shem Tov seems to be addressing those people who wish to study and meditate on the mysteries of Torah without purifying themselves through Torah study and mitzvah observance. In the end, they have neither preparation nor thought, i.e. connection to G‑d.
However, the Torah is not addressing those who are as dead. Rather, it is necessary to admonish the remnant of our people, so that they realize the importance of preparation through Torah and mitzvot. Even the Arizal, whose mind ascended to the Infinite, claimed to have grasped so much only due to the joy and light of the mitzvot. For one must focus on the preparation of Torah and mitzvot.
These are the holy words of our teacher, Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, with added commentary. (Maaseh Oreg, on tractate Uktzin)
[translation and commentary by Rabbi Eliezer Shore from Sefer Baal Shem Tov;
Reprinted with permission from www.baalshemtov.org]