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Ẓava'at Ribash


ẒAVA'AT RIBASH , ḥasidic work; full title, Ẓava'at Ribash ve-Hanhagot Yesharot ("The Testimony of Ribash [Rabbi Israel Ba'al Shem] and Upright Rules of Conduct"), published in Zolkiew in 1793. (Another Zolkiew edition, which may be earlier, is undated.) The title page ambiguously states that the manuscript was in the possession of the editor, Isaiah of Yanov. Although, on the basis of the title, it was widely believed that the work is the ethical will of Israel Ba'al Shem Tov, Shneur Zalman of Lyady writes: "The truth is that this is not his ethical will and that he made no such will before he departed this life. It is rather a collection of his sayings compiled by others. Although these were insufficiently skilled in translation, the authentic meaning is conveyed" (Tanya, Iggeret ha-Kodesh, No. 25). The title of the work is derived from the opening sentences: "It is a command (ẓava'ah) of the Ba'al Shem that one must be wholehearted in the service of God." The editor remarks that he has included in the anthology some teachings of Dov *Baer, the Maggid of Mezhirech. In fact, the majority of the teachings recorded are from the school of the Maggid. The work bears a strong resemblance to other collections of ḥasidic material, such as Likkutei Yekarim and Maggid Devarav le-Yaakov, the same sayings appearing in all these works, though not in the same order or with exactly the same wording.

The work contains the basic ideas of Hasidism, stressing in particular the idea of devekut, attachment to God in the mind at all times. Man should cultivate an attitude of equanimity, being indifferent to both the praise and blame of others, and be so devoid of any desire for physical pleasure that it makes no difference to him whether he eats delicacies or coarse, unpalatable food (Nos. 2 and 10). God wishes to be served in many different ways. Even when a man converses with others, his mind can be on God and perform "unifications" (yiḥudim) (No. 3). Weeping is an evil. God must always be served in joy. To weep is only advantageous when it is the result of joy in man's attachment to God (No. 45). The fear of God without the love of God is tantamount to melancholy. It is wrong to be overscrupulous in considering how best to serve God. One should be so full of joy at the very opportunity of serving Him that one has neither time nor inclination to ponder over the "how" and "what" of worship (No. 110).

The accusation by the Mitnaggedim that Ẓava'at Ribash discourages the study of the Talmud is unfounded. However, it is true that devekut is the book's ultimate ideal, to which even Torah study is subordinate. The work not only demands of the student of the Torah that he pause frequently during his studies to engage in devekut, but states explicitly that the study of the Torah is not an aim in itself but is for the purpose of attaining devekut (No. 29). Moreover, prayer is held to be superior to Torah study, a reversal of the traditional scale of values: "The soul declared to the Rabbi [the Ba'al Shem Tov] that the reason the things on high were revealed to him was not because he had studied much Talmud and the Codes, but because of his prayers, which he recited with powerful concentration. That is why he attained such a high rank" (No. 41).

As one of the earliest printed ḥasidic works, Ẓava'at Ribash especially aroused the ire of the Mitnaggedim. The book was publicly burnt in Vilna at the instigation of Elijah ben Solomon *Zalman, the Vilna Gaon and, according to a ḥasidic tradition, in Prague, by order of Ezekiel *Landau. A ban on the book was declared in Cracow, together with other ḥasidic bikhlekh ("booklets"). The work is one of the most popular of ḥasidic writings. The anthology Sefer Ba'al Shem Tov (Lodz, 1938), which quotes ḥasidic teachings in the form of a running commentary to the Pentateuch, manages in the course of the book to quote the whole of Ẓava'at Ribash. Schochet lists 34 separate editions prior to his own.


J.I. Schochet (ed.), Ẓava'at ha-Ribash (1975), with an Introduction (numbers in the text refer to this edition); S. Dubnow, Toledot ha-Ḥasidut (1967), 53–58; 116; 387–88, 455–56; A.M. Habermann, in: Sefer ha-Besht (1960); M. Wilensky, Ḥasidim u-Mitnaggedim (1970), i, 42–43; ii, 92–93.

[Louis Jacobs]

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