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Tzava'at Harivash 17-19

Tzava'at Harivash 17-19

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a. Do not allow a single day to pass without performing a mitzvah, whether it be a “minor” or “major” mitzvah, as our sages said, “Be zahir (careful; scrupulous) with a ‘minor’ mitzvah [as with a ‘major’ one]” (Avot 2:1): the word zahir is an idiom of “They that are wise yaz'hiru (shall shine).” (Daniel 12:3). This means that the soul will shine and glow from a “minor” mitzvah even as it does from a “major” one, for “The Merciful requires the heart” (Zohar II:162b; Sanhedrin 106b). 1 This is a very significant matter, for then you know that you achieved something that day: you created an angel, 2 and “if there be for him an angel, an intercessor…” (Job 33:23) 3

This is indicated [in the verse] “shomer mitzvah (he who guards the mitzvah will know no evil” (Ecclesiastes 8:5). That is, when you undertake the instruction stated, you must stand on guard from morning to evening for the opportunity to perform a mitzvah that may come your way. This is the implication of the word shomer, as in “his father shamar (guarded; awaited and looked forward to) the matter” (Genesis 37:11). It is the remedy [to attain] “he will know no evil,” i.e., precluding nocturnal emissions which are referred to as “evil.” 4

[This general principle] is indicated [in the verse], “The kindness of God is kol hayom (“all day long”; or: “every day”) (Psalms 52:3); that is, one needs perform kindness with God, blessed is He, 5 every single day.

b. Guard the Shabbat properly, with all its details and nuances. This is indicated in [the verse] “Tashev enosh-You turn man back until he is crushed” (Psalms 90:3): tashev is the same letters as Shabbat, 6 and enosh alludes to “[he is forgiven] even if he served idolatry like the generation of Enosh.” (Shabbat 118b) 7

c. At the very least be careful with the reading of the Shema, recited twice daily, to do so without any alien thought, Heaven forbid. 8 To do so is something inestimably great. This is indicated [in the saying], “Whosoever reads the Shema . . . those that cause harm keep away from him.” (Berachot 5a) “Those that cause harm” refers to all harms in the world, whether they relate to the body or the soul. 9

You may find it impossible to pray without alien thought; nonetheless, train yourself to commence [reading the Shema] without alien thoughts. 10

Footnotes
1.
Up to here is a repetition of the third paragraph in sect. 1; see there notes 5-6.
2.
“When anyone performs good deeds, i.e., the commandments, each mitzvah he did ascends on high, stands before the Holy One, blessed is He, and says: ‘I am from so-and-so who did me.’ The Holy One, blessed is He, then provides that person with an angel that will help him.. Likewise, the Holy One, blessed is He, provides him with an angel for every word of Torah that he listens to.” (Zohar Chadash, Acharei:47a)
See also Avot 4:11: “He who does even a single mitzvah gains himself an advocate; and he who commits a single sin acquires an accuser.”
3.
“Even if 999 [accusers] argue for his guilt, and one [advocate] argues in his favor, he is saved, as it is said, ‘If there be with him an angel, an intercessor, one among a thousand . . . He is gracious to him.’” (Shabbat 32a)
4.
To be mindful of mitzvot, and to heed their performance, protects man from sin.
5.
To mind God’s will by observing His commandments is regarded as “performing kindness with God” (see Zohar III:281a, and Reishit Chochmah, Sha’ar Ha’ahavah, ch. 8).
6.
The Kabbalah teaches that all realms ascend to their spiritual source on the Shabbat: they return (teshuvah) to their source to be absorbed in higher sanctity (Eitz Chayim 40:5 and 8, and 50:6). Shabbat, therefore, signifies teshuvah on its highest level, and its proper observance, in both the letter and the spirit of the law, effects atonement. This is alluded in the fact that the letters of the word Shabbat are the same as of “tashev-you turn back; you return.”-See also Keter Shem Tov, Addenda, no. 118.
7.
In the days of Enosh, the grandson of Adam and Eve, “to call in the name of God became profaned” (Genesis 4:26); that is, his generation introduced idolatry (see Maimonides, Hilchot Avodah Zara, ch. 1) Proper observance of the Shabbat, however, demonstrates teshuvah, a return to God, which effects forgiveness even for the grave sin of idolatry.
8.
The Shema must be read with kavanah (concentration on the meaning of the text) and awe. This applies especially to the first two verses (“Hear, O Israel...” and “Blessed is the Name...”); for if these were said without kavanah, the duty of the Shema has not been fulfilled and it must be read again. (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim, sect. 60 and 63)
9.
The Shema has 248 words (including the three concluding words repeated aloud by the cantor), corresponding to the 248 limbs of the body. With proper recital of the Shema, each word effects protection and healing for the limb to which it corresponds. Tanchuma, Kedoshim: 6; Zohar I:101a; Zohar Chadash, Acharei, 48a.
10.
In Likkutim Yekarim, sect. 198, and other parallel sources, sect. 17-19 appear (with slight variations) as one segment under the heading of “Tzavaah (Testament) of R. Israel Baal Shem Tov.”
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