Contact Us

Tzava'at Harivash 1

Tzava'at Harivash 1


Testament 1 of R. Israel Baal Shem, peace be upon him -

Be complete in the worship [of God], blessed be He, [that it be] a “complete service.” 2

It is essential not to forget the matters [of Torah and Mitzvot]. 3

It is essential to study mussar 4 every day, whether much or little.

Strive continuously to cleave to good traits and upright practices.

Do not allow a single day to pass without performing a mitzvah, whether it be a “minor” or “major” mitzvah. 5 This is indicated in “Be zahir (careful; scrupulous) with a ‘minor’ mitzvah as with a ‘major’ one” (Avot 2:1). For [the word] zahir is an expression of “They that are wise yaz'hiru (shall shine) . . .” (Daniel 12:3). This implies that the soul will shine and glow from a “minor” mitzvah even as it does from a “major” one, for “The Merciful seeks the heart” (Zohar II:162b; Sanhedrin 106b). 6

This is not the Baal Shem Tov’s testament in the sense of “last will.” He did not leave a “last will” in writing or in words. Tzava'ah here means “instruction,” i.e., instructions and guidelines taught by the Baal Shem Tov for the ideal religious conduct.
Avodah tamah is a Talmudic expression (Yoma 24a) denoting a form of service that is complete in itself without any further action required for its completion.
The sentence is not very clear. The wording is reminiscent of the Biblical phrase “[But take heed and watch yourself greatly lest] you forget the matters [that your eyes saw…]” (Deuteronomy 4:9-10), and perhaps alludes to it. It does not appear at all in Keter Shem Tov (p. 1b). In Likkutim Yekarim (no. 198) it is combined with the next sentence, reading: “It is essential not to forget to study mussar every day…” Our rendition, with the bracketed words, follows the interpretation in Be'urim Betzava'at Harivash, no. 2.
Works of moral guidance and inspiration. This would refer to texts like R. Bachya Ibn Pakuda’s Chovot Halevovot, R. Eliahu de Vidas’ Reishit Chochmah, R. Isaiah Horowitz’s Shenei Luchot Haberit, and so forth, and no less so the pervasive mussar found in the Zohar. On the importance of studying mussar, see also below, sect. 117.
The emphasis is on daily acts. Every single day is an important entity on its own. Thus it requires something concrete to show for itself, a light or illumination of its own that is effected by the performance of a mitzvah. To perform many mitzvot on one day cannot make up for the lost opportunity of another day. Cf. Zohar I:129a and 224a on the significance of each individual day.
“The Merciful seeks the heart, i.e., that man’s heart should seek the Merciful.” (Likkutim Yekarim, no. 106) To the seeker of God there is no difference between “major” and “minor” mitzvot: both are commands of God and effect refinement and illumination of the soul. Cf. below, sect. 122.
Note: this paragraph has an explanatory sequel below, sect. 17[a]; see there.
Related Topics