Day 20 of the Omer

רַבֵּנוּ הַזָּקֵן קִבֵּל מֵרַבִּי מָרְדְּכַי הַצַּדִּיק שֶׁשָּׁמַע מֵהַבַּעַל שֵׁם טוֹב: עֶס קוּמט אַראָפּ אַ נְשָׁמָה אוֹיף דעֶר וועֶלט אוּן לעֶבְּט אָפּ זִיבּעֶצִיג אַכצִיג יאָהר, צוּלִיבּ טאָן אַ אִידעֶן אַ טוֹבָה בְּגַשְׁמִיּוּת וּבִפְרָט אִין רוּחָנִיּוּת.

The Alter Rebbe received the following teaching from the saintlyR. Mordechai, who heard it from the Baal Shem Tov: “A soul can descend into This World and live its seventy or eighty years — just in order to do a favor for a fellow Jew in material matters, and how much more so, in spiritual matters.”1

To Fill In the Background

The Rebbe Rayatz relates2 that the Baal Shem Tov introduced this teaching by the following words:3 “One must have mesirus nefesh (‘self-sacrifice’) to do a favor for even one Jew.”

When one of the Baal Shem Tov’s followers, R. Mordechai Bayever, heard this teaching, he became inspired and began to think about two of his old friends, R. Yissachar Ber and R. Chaim, with whom he had studied in his youth. He pitied them. Although they were refined scholars, they had never been exposed to the new path of Divine service opened up by the Baal Shem Tov and he felt that they were missing so much.

Since he did not know where his friends were living, he realized that to find them, he would have to wander for months through the villages around Mohilev. But hadn’t the Baal Shem Tov said that mesirus nefesh was called for?

However, to search for them, he would have to leave the Baal Shem Tov. Still: the Baal Shem Tov had called for mesirus nefesh. And leaving him would be true mesirus nefesh.

R. Mordechai was torn by this inner tug-of-war for weeks before he set off on his mission, but in due course he succeeded in finding his old friends and convincing them to visit the Baal Shem Tov. Ultimately, these three friends were the first to plant the teachings of Chassidus in the four White Russian provinces of Minsk, Mohilev, Vitebsk, and Chernigov. Thus, this one teaching of the Baal Shem Tov had a snowball effect, ultimately uplifting thousands of people and setting them on his exalted path of Torah and Divine service.