Friday, May 24, 2019

Wearing Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin Today

From Shaarey Tzaddik, Vol. 2
Excerpts from Letters 45 and 49
By Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig, zatzal
L’ilui nishmas our dear friend, a pillar of the Breslov community in Monsey, R’ Nachman ben Yaakov Halevi (Dov), zikhrono liverakha
Translated by Dovid Sears

The four parchments contained in the box of the Tefilah shel Rosh—the box placed on the head—are arranged differently according to the view of Rabbeinu Tam than the order of his grandfather, Rashi. The halakhah follows the view of Rashi; however it is a custom of the pious to wear those of Rabbeinu Tam, as well (either at the same time, or after donning those of Rashi). (See Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 34:1-2; Rabbi Chaim Vital, Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar ha-Tefillin, 9. The differences between the views of Rashi and Rabbenu Tam, as well as Shemusha Raba and Ra’avad, are presented with diagrams in Rabbi Avraham Yitzchok Sperling’s Ta’amei ha-Mitzvos, p. 19)

Rebbe Nachman instructed his followers to don both the Tefillin of Rashi and Tefillin of Rabbenu Tam every day. (Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh IV, 194; Likkutei Halakhos, Tefillin 5:27-32; ibid. 6:16).

Letter 45

Sec. 2:

You asked if you should wear Rabbenu Tam Tefillin. Know, my dear friend, that in these times, when we all long with all our heart and soul for the Final Redemption and our true spiritual liberation, through the arrival of our righteous Mashiach, may he come speedily in our days—we must strive with all of our ability to don the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam, just as we don the Tefillin of Rashi.

The Redemption essentially depends on drawing into the world a higher consciousness; [it is this higher consciousness] to which the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam allude. Therefore, it is necessary in these times to be all the more diligent to don the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam, thus to hasten the Redemption, collectively and individually; every person should merit to experience his own spiritual redemption, to be delivered from the bitter exile in the vanities of this world, in which each person is trapped in his own way, and to bear the “birth pangs” [of the Redemption]… particularly at the beginning… All this is explained at length in Likutey Halakhos, Orach Chaim, Hilkhos Tefillin, Halakhah 5, sec. 32 (see excerpt below).

Letter 49

Sec. 1:

Concerning your question as to what age one should begin to don the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam, according to the view of our master, the Arizal, may his merits protect us, who states that both [those of Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam] are true—know: we may assume that it is proper to wear them on the very day that one begins to don the Tefillin of Rashi, which is the day that one becomes a Bar Mitzvah, when he becomes responsible for performing the mitzvos. Since both viewpoints are true, why should one be considered superior to the other? This is our practice, with no debate about it whatever, according to the directive of our master, the Gaon, Chassid, and truly humble one, Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz (Kokhav Lev), zatzal. However, to avoid attracting attention to this, I instructed my sons to do so privately at home, before going to the synagogue and praying Shacharis, except when attending our synagogue which bears the name of our Rebbe [Rebbe Nachman of Breslov], may his merits protect us, where doing so is not unusual.

Sec. 2

As for your question about the meaning of wearing the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam, the esoteric meaning (sod) of this matter is beyond measure, “deep, deep, who can fathom it?” (Ecclesiastes 7:24)—for it is the knowledge of the Infinite One, blessed be He and blessed be His will, which applies to all of the holy mitzvos. However, a small glimpse of its meaning may be seen in the awesome and wondrous explanation found in Likutey Halakhos, Orach Chaim, Hilkhos Tefillin, Halakhah 5, at length. And because I know that at this time you certainly can’t contemplate this entire discussion, I will cite for you a few points that can be put into practice.

In section 28, [Reb Noson] states: “Therefore, whoever wishes to come closer to Hashem, to draw upon himself an additional degree of holiness, must don the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam, as our Rebbe [Rebbe Nachman] adjured his followers to don the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam… Thus, the main holiness that a person draws upon himself is related to the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam… through this, all those who are estranged elicit the power to break and nullify the Evil Urge…”

In section 29, he writes: “Therefore, now, during [this period known as] the “heels of the Mashiach,” at the end of the Exile, it is necessary to be diligent to wear the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam, as all of the true tzaddikim of our day have urged us. For now, the Evil One has strengthened itself greatly against us, seeing that its end is near. And the main strengthening of the Exile that threatens us now, G-d forbid, is the mighty effort of the Evil One to distance the souls of Israel from the Blessed One, which is the main exile and affliction of the soul… And the affliction of the soul is due to the effort of the Evil One to introduce heresy and disbelief into the world, G-d forbid; and as our master [Rebbe Nachman] predicted, great atheism is coming to the world (Sichos HaRan 35). We see plainly that never before was such atheism prevalent among the Jewish people, due to our many sins, as that which has broken out among us… Therefore, each person must be careful to don the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam, which reflect the higher consciousness of our great tzaddikim… Thus, we may be empowered to break the Evil Urge that musters its strength against us so intensely at this time.”

Additionally, in section 32, he writes: “Therefore, at the present time, at the end of the Exile, when the Evil One musters all of its strength … it is necessary to be careful to wear the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam … Our primary hope at the present time to go out from this bitter Exile … is through the power of the tzaddikim … who are the paradigm of the higher consciousness (mochin) of the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam, which are extremely lofty. Therefore, we must be most diligent now to wear the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam, thus to hasten the Redemption, collectively and individually, speedily in our days. May every individual merit to attain the liberation of the soul, to redeem his soul from the bitter exile of worldly vanities, within which each person is trapped in one way or another... Thus, we will collectively merit to the Final Redemption, speedily in our days.” These are the holy words of [Reb Noson, zatzal].

Reb Gedaliah continues to address the questions of his young correspondent:

Sec. 3

You asked me to explain to you at length the reasoning of the one who opines that whoever does not wear the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam is deemed a “skull that has never borne Tefillin” (a phrase of Chazal; see Rosh Hashanah 17a). I will tell you the truth—the one who says this stands his ground, but we do not wish to take a position on this issue, or to explain [this dispute] even in brief, since we do not consider ourselves worthy of doing so. For how can we be so brazen as to adjudicate and render a decision in this matter, and also explain it, since it is known that the Light of the Diaspora, our master, HaGaon Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, may his merits shield us, did not wear the Tefillin of Rebbeinu Tam; and perish the thought that [he might be deemed as not having worn Tefillin], may Hashem protect us.  Even though “all the worlds turn over” concerning this matter, no place is given within our hearts for us to think this way, even though we do not share his view, and the majority of Torah scholars in many lands used to wear the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam in their day, as is discussed in Shaarey Teshuvah, siman 34, in the name of the Birkey Yosef of the Gaon, the Chida [Rabbi Chaim David Yosef Azoulay), zatzal; and may this be enough.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Lag ba-Omer Customs

(c) Dovid Sears

From “Breslov Eikh she-Hu: Breslov Customs and Practices, Past and Present” compiled by Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears.

Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz writes lavishly about the simchah and hisorerus experienced by those who celebrated Lag ba-Omer in Meron, particularly the Breslover Chasidim who participated in the “hillula de-RASHBI.” He writes: “What can one say? A person should yearn, long, and exert himself all of his days with mesirus nefesh to experience and participate in this. In the inner part of the tomb, people weep and do teshuvah, and their hearts are deeply aroused; even on Yom Kippur, no one ever heard of such a place of teshuvah as this! On the outside [in the courtyard and surrounding areas], rejoicing, gladness, singing, music, and dancing prevail; even at the weddings of kings, no one ever beheld or heard of such ecstasy! Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu, that we were privileged to witness all this!”

(Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz, Yemei Shmuel, vol. I, chap. 56. For more extensive Breslov teachings and historical material on Lag ba-Omer, see Mo’adei Yisrael: Lag ba-Omer, Bnei Brak: Agudas Mayanos ha-Netzach 2003)


On the Shabbos before Lag ba-Omer in the Breslover communities of Yerushalayim, Williamsburg, Monsey, and Borough Park, it is customary to sing “Bar Yochai,” etc., before “Ki-gavna” on Friday night. This is a widespread custom today.

(Heard from Rabbi Nachman Burshteyn and Rabbi Meir Wasilski)


In the Tzefas community, they sing “Bar Yochai” and “Amar Rabbi Akiva” on every Friday night before “Ki-gavna.” (One can see the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai through the windows of the Breslov synagogue in Tzefas.)

(Heard from Rabbi Binyamin Rosenberg)


This is also the custom in Meron.

(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn)


Tachanun is omitted on both Erev Lag ba-Omer and Lag ba-Omer, as stated in Shulchan Arukh. However, it is not our custom to omit Tachanun for the entire week of “hod,” as in some Chassidic communities.

(See Orach Chaim 493:2, with Mishnah Berurah)


In Likutey Halakhos, Reb Noson mentions the minhag to give a child his first haircut on Lag ba-Omer.

(See Likutey Halakhos, Rosh Chodesh 3:11, 9:13; Pesach 7:24; Dam 1:12; Simanei Behemah ve-Chayah Tehorah 4:6; Hekhsher Keilim 4:4; Nezikin 3:3)


In addition to participating in the traditional festivities, many Breslover Chassidim recite Reb Noson's prayer in honor of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai; see Likutey Tefilos II, 47.


It is also a common practice to learn the Rebbe’s lesson “Lekhu Chazu” at the beginning of Likutey Moharan, which discusses Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and the Zohar. This lesson is usually delivered by one of the speakers at the Lag ba-Omer se’udah in the various Breslov communities. 


The Rebbe states that shooting arrows on Lag ba-Omer is a segulah for having children.

(Sefer ha-Midos, “Banim” I, 63)


Members of the Tzefas community visit the grave of Rabbi Shimon in Meron on Lag ba-Omer, together with the many thousands of Jews who come from far and wide in honor of the tzaddik and in order to pray for Hashem’s mercy at this auspicious time.


Reb Avraham Sternhartz used to spend either the Shabbos before or after Lag ba-Omer in Meron.

(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn)

Friday, May 17, 2019

Lessons from the Holy Simpleton

From “Shaarey Tzaddik” By Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig, zatzal
Vol. 2, Letter 46

Concluding remarks, related to Rebbe Nachman’s story of the Sophisticate and the Simpleton (Chokhom va-Tam)

Translation by Dovid Sears

[Reb Gedaliah presents the following summary of the points addressed by the body of this letter to a young yeshiva student:]

1.       It is extremely precious in Hashem’s sight when one serves Him with wholehearted simplicity (temimus u-peshitus).

2.       It is especially precious to Hashem when that service of wholehearted simplicity is founded on the “holy mountains,” which are higher consciousness and knowledge (ha-mochin vi-ha-da’as). That is, after all the lofty insights and exalted wisdom one may have attained in divine service, one merits to fulfill the mitzvos with wholehearted simplicity, like that of a nursing infant, and casts away all sophistication (chokhmos) when actually performing them.

3.       Divine service through performance of the holy mitzvos achieves perfection when informed by the [knowledge and] resolution [of the diverse views] of the halakhic authorities.

4.       Through this, all the entirely simple acts of divine service are spiritually elevated and accepted, both those performed when one was in the actual condition of a simple person [i.e., lacking da’as] and those performed after one had reached a high spiritual rung. This is hinted to in the inner depths (sod) of the holy story of “The Sophisticate and the Simpleton.”

It is explained in the Rebbe’s remarks, which he made after telling the story, that the entire narrative revolves around the theme of divine service. As printed at the end of the story: “And if a prayer is not as it should be, it is a ‘shoe with three corners’”; see there. And we have already written that this does not only apply to prayer specifically, but to all aspects of divine service—for the Rebbe’s words are all-encompassing principles.

1.       We also see that in the beginning of the story, when the Simpleton was an entirely simple man, he engaged in the trade of shoe-making. He was not expert in his craft, and when he would finish a shoe that had three corners, since he had not fully mastered his craft—then, too, he found favor in the King’s eyes, and [the King] appointed him governor.

2.       After he is made governor and travels to the King at the latter’s behest, when the King begins to discuss matters of wisdom with him and to speak with him in various languages, the Simpleton answers appropriately. This pleases the King even more, and he says, “I see that you are such as sage as this, and yet you conduct yourself with utter simplicity!” And this is so good in the King’s sight that he appoints him chief minister over all the royal ministers.

3.       The Simpleton governed the country with truth, justice and simplicity. When two disputants appeared before him to adjudicate their case, he would say, “You are innocent, and you are guilty!” This represents the paradigm of attaining deep understanding of the Torah, to the point that one is capable of rendering correct decisions in halakhah.

4.       As for the Rebbe’s explanation that the shoe represents prayer, although it alludes to all forms of divine service—this shows that even such a [defective] prayer will ultimately be elevated [i.e., by virtue of a subsequent prayer that is said with proper kavanah (intention), a subject that Reb Gedaliah mentions earlier in the letter].

The end of the matter is to fear Hashem (Ecclesiastes 12:13), the Glorious and Blessed One, and to fulfill his mitzvos to the fullest, with simplicity and joy, constantly. And one should awaken holy joy, particularly through harmless jokes and by fooling around, as long as one watches out that this does not turn into improper behavior (holelus), G-d forbid. This is indicated in the story by the Simpleton always remaining happy; and when people come to converse with him in order to make fun of him, he would converse with them, although he seemed to them like a madman. He would say to them, “Just as long as you’re not joking…”—understand this well.

However, it is impossible to merit to attain all this except through attachment (hiskashrus) to and faith in the true tzaddik. As elucidated in the abovementioned lesson, “Chadi Rabbi Shimon” [Likutey Moharan I, 61), through emunas chakhomim, faith in the sages, we are able to render correct judgments; see there. Even someone on an extremely high spiritual rung needs to attach himself to and have faith in the true tzaddik, who is greater than himself.

This is discussed in the story when the holy Simpleton, even after attaining his lofty status, after the King has appointed him chief minister over the other royal ministers, still remained attached to the true “Baal Shem,” and asked the latter for his advice in all matters. And this is discussed in many, many other places in the Rebbe’s teachings.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Pirkey Avos, Chapter 3

This sample from the Breslov Pirkey Avot corresponds to the chapter to be studied this coming Shabbos, Acharey Mos-Kedoshim. (Unlike most postings on this website, transliterations from Hebrew in this book reflect the Sefardic pronunciation.)

רַבִּי חֲנִינָא בֶּן חֲכִינַאי אוֹמֵר, הַנֵּעוֹר בַּלַּיִלָה וְהַמְהַלֵּךְ בַּדֶּרֶךְ יְחִידִי וְהַמְפַנֶּה לִבּוֹ לְבַטָּלָה, הֲרֵי זֶה מִתְחַיֵּב בְּנַפְשׁוֹ:

Rabbi Chanina ben Chakhinai said, “He who stays awake at night, and who walks the road alone, and who turns his heart to naught – he is responsible for his soul.” (3:4) 

Digest of Commentaries:
Rabbi Chanina ben Chakhinai was a prominent disciple of Rabbi Akiva, from whom he received instruction in both the revealed and concealed aspects of the Torah.

He who stays awake at night, and who walks the road alone, and who turns his heart to naught—he is responsible for his soul. According to one view, each of these three behaviors endangers a person either physically or spiritually. According to another view, the night is a time of danger, and traveling alone is also dangerous. But if a person in either situation were to occupy his thoughts with Torah, the Torah would protect him from harm (Bartenura).


He who stays awake at night, and who walks the road alone, and who turns his heart to naught – he is responsible for his soul

Rebbe Nachman: The words of this teaching allude to the power of hitbodedut.

He who stays awake at night” refers to the person who stays awake at night, secluding himself with God and expressing his thoughts and feelings to his Creator. “And who walks the road alone” means he selects an isolated path in a place that people do not frequent. These are the ideal preconditions for hitbodedut and are conducive to attaining bitul ("nullification of the ego"). “And who turns his heart to naught (leVaTaLah)” means he empties his heart of all mundane concerns for the sake of BiTuL, letting his soul be subsumed within Godliness. “He is responsible (mitChaYeV) for his soul.” Indeed, the entire world, together with his soul, is absorbed into its source in God, Who is the Necessary Existent (MeChuYaV HaMetziyut).

Through hitbodedut, a person attains nullification of the ego, at which point his soul becomes reunited with God, along with the entire world which was created as the necessary arena for his free will (based on Likutey Moharan I, 52).

Reb Noson: The most basic method for coping with all forms of suffering—whether those experienced by the Jewish people collectively or by each Jew individually—is self-nullification. One should close his eyes and completely nullify all sensory awareness until his very sense of self dissolves into the Infinite Light of God.

Anyone can do this, as I heard from the Rebbe’s holy mouth. Even though one may not be able to attain nullification of the ego to perfection like the great tzaddikim, nevertheless, anyone can do so for a limited time if he is truly determined (Likutey Halakhot, Netilat Yadayim Shacharit 4:4).

Devotion of the Ovdim

Many of the Breslover Chassidim who lived in Uman in the twentieth century were meticulous about practicing hitbodedut in the fields and forests at night in fulfillment of the Rebbe’s advice.

Led by Reb Elyakim Getzel, a descendent of Rebbe Nachman, a group of ovdim (“devotees”) would gather at midnight (chatzot) and go down to the river to immerse, breaking the ice to use the river as a mikvah. Their greatest worry was finding the hole in the broken ice again in order to re-emerge from the water. They would take along bundles of straw and make fires on the riverbank so they would not freeze when wet. Afterward they would spend many hours in hitbodedut in the forest before returning to town in time for the morning prayers.

One icy night, when the temperature dropped even below the sub-zero Ukrainian temperatures, nearly everyone in the group was unwilling to go out to the forest. Only Reb Elyakim Getzel and Reb Hirsch Leib Lippel ventured forth. With gusting winds piling the snow several feet high, Reb Hirsch Leib eventually could no longer keep pace and retreated. Reb Elyakim was the only one to forge ahead, performing his devotions alone in the forest (heard from Reb Hirsch Leib Lippel).

Real Danger

As a young Chassid, Reb Naftali Zvi Dubinsky (d. 1993) became a close follower of Reb Yaakov of Zhitomir (d. 1938), one of the Breslover ovdim, who explained to him the practice of going into the forest at night for hitbodedut and crying out to God in order to draw close to Him.

The first night that Reb Naftali went into the forest with his mentor, he heard screams that frightened him so much that he feared Reb Yaakov had been attacked by murderers. Running swiftly toward his teacher, he soon saw that Reb Yaakov was safe. “What danger made you scream so terribly?” Reb Naftali asked.

Reb Yaakov replied, “That’s the way you, too, would scream if you really felt the danger of the evil inclination, and how it keeps trying to snuff out the spiritual life of a person!” (heard from Reb Naftali Zvi Dubinski).

Monday, May 6, 2019

Breslov Insights on Pirkey Avot, Chapter 2

From “The Breslov Pirkey Avot,” Chapter 2, Mishnah 4

הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה רְצוֹנוֹ כִּרְצוֹנֶךָ, כְּדֵי שֶׁיַּעֲשֶׂה רְצוֹנְךָ כִּרְצוֹנוֹ. בַּטֵּל רְצוֹנְךָ מִפְּנֵי רְצוֹנוֹ, כְּדֵי שֶׁיְּבַטֵּל רְצוֹן אֲחֵרִים מִפְּנֵי רְצוֹנֶךָ.
הִלֵּל אוֹמֵר, אַל תִּפְרוֹשׁ מִן הַצִּבּוּר, וְאַל תַּאֲמֵן בְּעַצְמָךְ עַד יוֹם מוֹתָךְ, וְאַל תָּדִין אֶת חֲבֵרָךְ עַד שֶׁתַּגִּיעַ לִמְקוֹמוֹ, וְאַל תֹּאמַר דָּבָר שֶׁאִי אֶפְשָׁר לִשְׁמוֹעַ שֶׁסּוֹפוֹ לְהִשָּׁמַע. וְאַל תֹּאמַר לִכְשֶׁאֶפָּנֶה אֶשְׁנֶה, שֶׁמָּא לֹא תִפָּנֶה:

He [Rabban Gamliel] used to say, “Do His will as if it were your own will, so that He may do your will as if it were His will. Nullify your will before His will, so that He may nullify the will of others before your will.”

Hillel said, “Do not separate from the community; do not trust yourself until the day of your death; do not judge your friend until you have reached his place; do not say something that cannot be understood, assuming that eventually it will be understood; and do not say, ‘When I have spare time I will study,’ for you may never have spare time.”

Digest of Commentaries:

This teaching continues with sayings of Rabban Gamliel and then turns to Hillel the Elder, from whom Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai received the tradition (Tosefot Yom Tov).

Do His will as if it were your own will – that is, fulfill God’s will with eagerness and devotion – so that He may do your will as if it were His will, in fulfillment of His true desire to benefit His creatures. Another interpretation: Meiri translates this teaching as, "So that He may render your will as if it were His will" - and thus enable you to create harmony between the Divine will and your will (Bet HaBechirah, ad loc.). The reward for doing God's will as if it were your own is a profound spiritual transformation: You will be transformed from an ego-centered person to a God-centered person.

Nullify your will before His will, so that He may nullify the will of others before your will. The previous statement refers to the positive commandments, whereas this statement refers to the negative commandments (Tosefot Yom Tov).

Do not separate from the community. Rather, share in the sorrows of the community. As the Sages say, “When the community dwells in sorrow, let no one say, ‘I shall go home and eat and drink … and all will be well with me.’ Instead, he should should grieve with the community. … For whoever shares the sorrows of others will be privileged to witness their consolation” (Ta’anit 11a).

Do not trust yourself until the day of your death. Do not rely on your righteousness and think that you cannot stumble, for Yochanan the High Priest served for eighty years, yet in the end he became a Sadducee who denied the Oral Law (Berakhot 29a).

Do not say something that cannot be understood, assuming that eventually it will be understood. Rather, strive to express your thoughts clearly so your words need no further clarification.

Do not say, “When I have spare time I will study,” for you may never have spare time. As Shammai taught (Pirkey Avot 1:15), you must set aside fixed times for Torah study or else you may come to the end of your life without having studied the Torah (Rambam; Rabbenu Yonah). Even communal leaders and busy people who can spare only fifteen minutes here and there in the course of their day should know that such modest efforts are meaningful and add up to something of worth; for the optimal time for Torah study may never arrive (Tiferet Yisrael).


Nullify your will before His will

Reb Noson: The Torah and its commandments collectively embody the Divine will.[i] By actively fulfilling the mitzvot of the Torah, we bind all our wills (that is, our desires) to the source of will, which is God’s will. This is the paradigm of “Nullify your will before His will,” which is the underlying principle behind our fulfillment of all the commandments.

For example, we might wish to eat right away in the morning, but we nullify our will before the Divine will and wait until we complete our prayers. Some people might even prolong their hunger by studying Torah and reciting Psalms after they pray. Similarly, when we sit down to eat, we do not partake of foods which the Torah prohibits, and we wait until we have washed our hands before reciting the blessing over bread.

This restraint applies to all the commandments of the Torah. In this way all who are God-fearing continually sanctify themselves, even in matters which are permissible.[ii] The underlying principle of the Torah calls for us to bind all our wills (desires) to God’s will (Likutey Halakhot, Birkhot HaShachar 5:28).


Reb Noson: The foundation of the entire Torah is that we follow the pathways of our forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Moses our teacher, as well as the pathways of all the tzaddikim who came after them. Even if we do not succeed in overcoming all our physical desires as they did, we can attain the ultimate spiritual goal by yearning to draw close to them and emulating their holy ways. Thus, over the course of time, we can use our free will for its highest purpose, aligning it with God’s will.

The power of the true tzaddikim is so great that by virtue of the tremendous holiness they attain, they can nullify the laws of nature through their prayers. In this way they reveal that everything is determined by God’s will. For they nullify their will to God’s will to such an extent that God nullifies His will to theirs.

This is exceedingly wondrous. By truly wanting only what God wants, the tzaddikim cause God’s will to shine forth so everyone can see that God rules His world according to His will. Then, when they pray and God answers their prayer, they demonstrate that their will conforms to – and is none other than – His will (Likutey Halakhot, Birkhot HaShachar 5:75, abridged).


Reb Noson: The Torah teaches us how to fulfill God’s will and thereby bind all our desires to God’s will. The tzaddikim exemplify this principle. When a tzaddik overcomes his physical desires and nullifies his will before the will of God, he is able to draw down a life force from the highest source. He can do this by overcoming all discord within himself (between his soul and his body), which enables him to binds himself to the Divine Oneness that transcends all distinctions. By connecting to the Divine Oneness, he is able to perform miracles and wonders. Because he has overcome his own physical nature, he is able to overturn the laws of nature (Likutey Halakhot, Birkhot HaRe’iyah VeSha’ar Berakhot Pratiyot 4:3, abridged).

Reb Noson: You can nullify all conflict by fasting– be it actual conflict caused by your adversaries and enemies, or inner conflict caused by your evil inclination.[iii] By definition, conflict is that which contradicts your will. You desire a certain thing but your enemies desire something else, and therefore they oppose you. According to the Zohar, fasting subjugates the will of the heart (i.e., all desires) to God.[iv] In this way you can nullify all conflict, as Pirkey Avot states, "Nullify your will before His will, so that He may nullify the will of others before your will" (Likutey Halakhot, Birkhot HaRe’iyah VeSha’ar Berakhot Pratiyot 4, Introduction).


The Tireless Foe

Reb Noson: A person never knows what will become of him in life, for the evil inclination lies in wait every day and at every moment. This is what our Sages meant when they said, “Do not trust yourself until the day of your death” (Likutey Halakhot, Shabbat 6:12).


Do not trust yourself until the day of your death

Reb Noson: The incident of the Golden Calf is a great enigma. How could the Jewish people commit such a sin after receiving the Torah? Having collectively attained such a high spiritual level, experiencing prophecy “face to face” with God, how could they fall so low?

The answer lies in Rebbe Nachman’s explanation (see Likutey Moharan I, 25) that whenever we strive to ascend from one level to the next, the power of delusion – which is an instrument of the kelipot that trap and conceal the good – attacks anew. When we fail to destroy all the delusions on one level, we become particularly vulnerable when we attempt to ascend to the next level, and then we may fall. Pirkey Avot refers to this when it states, "Do not trust yourself until the day of your death." This is why the Jewish people came to misfortune at the end of the forty-day period [v] in which they sought to ascend to a lofty plane. They did not exert themselves sufficiently to rectify their imagination and consequently, they fell into sin.

When, through the intercession of Moses, God forgave them, God ordered the construction of the Tabernacle (Mishkan). In doing so, He revealed to Moses the secret of how to destroy the kelipot and rectify their delusions on every level: through building the Tabernacle, which is an embodiment of charity and a giving heart. Charity and the spirit of giving destroy the kelipot at every turn.

For the same reason, the Tabernacle had to be taken apart and rebuilt again and again throughout the journeys of the Jewish people in the desert. The supernal lights that shone from the Tabernacle, created by acts of charity and altruism, drove away the kelipot surrounding every spiritual level that the people aspired to attain (Likutey Halakhot, Geviyat Chov MeKarkaot VeHilkhot Apotoki 3:6, abridged).


Reb Noson: The word emet (“truth”) contains the first, middle and final letters of the Hebrew alphabet (aleph, mem, tav). This teaches us that truth attains perfection when it is consistent from beginning to end.[vi] For example, someone might begin a discussion by stating a certain truth, but in the end this very point may lead him to a completely false conclusion. The small amount of truth with which he began makes the false conclusion possible. As our Sages state, “Any lie that does not begin with the truth cannot endure.”[vii] Something is really true only when it is completely consistent from beginning to end.

This rule applies to individuals as well. A person may be upright at the beginning, but this doesn’t insure that the evil inclination won’t trick him and cause him to stumble and fall into falsehood.

This is why our Sages state, "Do not trust yourself until the day of your death." The truth that is bound up with the end of things is the truth that matters most. This corresponds to the aspect of the "feet," corresponding to “the feet of the Mashiach” through whom the entire world will be rectified. As it is written, “On that day, his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives” (Zechariah 14:4). According to the Zohar and the writings of the Ari, this involves the mystery of the descent of the Shekhinah down into the "feet" [i.e., the deepest depths] of the kelipot in order to retrieve holy souls.[viii]

This is why the truth that will be revealed through the Mashiach is described as “the truth [that] shall sprout from the earth” (Psalms 85:12). [Earth represents the lowest level, and is closest to the feet.] Through the Mashiach, truth will attain perfection, for it will incorporate all levels from beginning to end in one encompassing whole. This is the ultimate tikkun (Likutey Halakhot, Ribit 5:15).


Do not judge your friend until you have reached his place

Rebbe Nachman: Conflict can arise if your friend is more advanced than you and, because you have not attained his spiritual level, you oppose him. In such a case, you must strive to achieve his level so that the two of you can be equal.

However, at times the roles reverse. You may be more advanced than your friend. Strife arises because he is jealous of you, since he has not attained your spiritual level. In such a case, you should judge him favorably. By doing so, you elevate him onto the scale of merit, and you can both stand in the same place.

Conflict exists only because people are different. Either your friend is more advanced than you, or you are more advanced than your friend. But if you could both stand in one place and occupy the same level, there certainly would be no strife. For when there is unity, there is no conflict.[iv]

This is the meaning of, "Do not judge your friend until you have reached his place." That is, you should strive to be with him in one place. If he is greater than you, strive to reach his level; and if you are greater than him, judge him favorably and soon he will catch up to you. Then surely there will be no conflict (Likutey Moharan I, 136).


Reb Noson: When God commanded Abraham to bring his son, Isaac, to Mount Moriah and offer him up as a sacrifice, Abraham overcame his natural fatherly compassion and hurried to fulfill God's will. Arriving at Mount Moriah, he bound Isaac, placed him on the stone altar, and was about to place the knife to his throat when God ordered him to stop: “Do not stretch your hand forth against the lad! Do not do anything to him!” (Genesis 22:12). This may be explained as follows.

Isaac represents Gevurah (harsh judgment). Harsh judgment exists “within space” and can be mitigated only by that which is “beyond space” – God’s infinite light which surrounds and encompasses all worlds.[x] This is the basis of the saying of our Sages, “The Holy One is the Place of the World, but the world is not His place.”[xi] At that level of “beyond space,” all judgment is mitigated and sweetened.

This is why it was necessary to bring Isaac to the altar atop Mount Moriah – the future site of the Holy Temple and the Holy of Holies. Mount Moriah was the unique channel for all spiritual ascent to the dimension "beyond space," which is the paradigm of the “Place of the World.” As soon as Isaac reached the summit, God rescinded His original command, for the harsh judgment was nullified by the ascent alone.

Through the paradigm of the “Place of the World,” everyone is judged as meritorious and the root of harsh judgment, represented by Isaac, is sweetened. Pirkey Avot reflects this principle when it states, "Do not judge your friend until you have reached his place" (based on Likutey Halakhot, Shluchin 4:8)


In God's Place

Rebbe Nachman: Who can know and reach his friend’s place, but God? Since “He is the Place of the World, but the world is not His place,” everyone has a “place” with Him. Therefore only God can judge a person (Likutey Moharan II, 1:14).


Reb Noson: When we recite the third paragraph of the Shma each morning, we gather together the four corners of our tzitzit and kiss them. Through this action, we participate in bringing about the final ingathering of the exiles [including all the sparks of holiness] that are scattered to the “four corners” of the earth.

[The four corners represent the limitations of “place.”] It is often the case that a person falls because of his “place” and circumstances; his “place” has influenced him. For this reason, Pirkey Avot warns, "Do not judge your friend until you have reached his place."

God is the “Place of the World.” Being above the limitations of “place,” He understands the “place” of every individual soul and therefore can judge each one favorably. When God wishes to extend His mercies toward someone, He elevates that person from a constricted place to His Place, which is the paradigm of the "Place of the World.” At that level, all harsh judgments are sweetened and rectified [and each person finds he has another chance] (Likutey Halakhot, Tzitzit 3:9).

[i] Thus we find in numerous places throughout Tanakh that when God is pleased with an action on our part, it is described as “a fragrance that is pleasing to God” (see Genesis 8:21; Exodus 29:18, 29:41; et al.). According to the Sages, this is God’s way of saying, “I am pleased when I command that something be done and My command is fulfilled” (see Rashi on Exodus 29:18, Leviticus 1:9, Numbers 28:8; Siftey Chakhamim on Exodus 29:18, ot tet; Ramban on Leviticus 1:9; Yalkut Shimoni 1:746 on Numbers 15; ibid., 1:755 on Numbers 18; ibid., 1:781 on Numbers 28; Sifri, Shelach, 1; Sifri, Korach, 3; Sifri, Pinchas, 12). At the same time God has no true need of any service, and utterly transcends His creation.
[ii] See Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 231.
[iii] This passage is basically a summary of Likutey Moharan I, 179.
[iv] Zohar Chadash, Ruth 97b states: “A person’s fast may have many aspects, but the Holy One takes from them all only the will of the heart.” See also Zohar (Raya Mehemna) III, 101a.
[v] Reb Noson refers to the forty-day period after the Giving of the Torah, when Moses ascended to Heaven to receive the First Tablets while the Jewish people awaited his return.
[vi] This insight appears in several early Chassidic texts; e.g., Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Behar, s.v. ode yirmuz; ibid., Bechukotai, s.v. u-vi-Yaakov ketiv; Kedushat Levi, Purim: Kedushah II, s.v. nimtza ha-otiyot, et al.
[vii] Rashi on Numbers 13:27; Sotah 35a; Zohar I, 2b.
[viii] Zohar II, 258a; Rabbi Chaim Vital, Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Hakdamah 5, s.v. inyan matmiya; Etz Chaim 39:1; Mevo She’arim 2:3:8 (end).
[ix] In anything that is truly one, the concept of strife does not apply. Even where there are many parts, if they operate together in unison there is no conflict. Indeed, the only reason a person feels conflicted within himself is because the elements of his personality are not at one with each other; he is not a single unity (Likutey Moharan I, 136, note 6).
[x] Zohar (Raya Mehemna) III, 225a.
[xii] Rav Huna said in the name of Rav Ami, “Why is God called HaMakom (‘The Place’)? It is because He is the Place of the World, as opposed to the world being His place. This is clear from what God said to Moses on Mount Sinai, ‘Behold, the place is with Me’ (Exodus 33:21). Truly, the Holy One is the Place of the World, but the world is not His place!” (Bereshit Rabbah 68:9; see Shemot Rabbah 45:6; Pesikta Rabbati 21, 104b; Yalkut Shimoni 2:841; Midrash Tehilim 90; Rashi on Exodus 33:21; Nefesh HaChaim 3:1-3).

Friday, May 3, 2019

Letting in the Light, Part I

(c) Dovid Sears

Letting in the Light, Part I
A Shiur on Likutey Moharan I, 172
Dovid Sears

It is told that when the notoriously acerbic Chasidic master Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1789-1859) was a little boy, his schoolteacher once jestingly remarked, "I'll give you a penny (or whatever a small coin was called in Poland back then) if you can tell me where G-d is!"

            "I'll give you two," the child shot back, "if you can tell me where He isn't!"

G-d is absolutely transcendent - infinite, omnipotent, above all change, all limitations; an absolute unity and not a compound. Yet at the same time, He is right here with us, for "His Glory fills all of the world."[i] G-d is also immanent.

In Likutey Moharan II, 7 ("For a Compassionate One Shall Lead Them"), Rebbe Nachman relates these two ways of thinking about G-d to a passage from the Shabbos and Yom Tov prayer service.[ii] The congregation quotes the words of the Ministering Angels, who ask: "Where is the place of His Glory (i.e., G-d's Revelation)?" - which is a rhetorical question meaning that G-d is unknowable. Yet in the next breath, the worshippers declare "His glory fills all of the world!" How these two perceptions fit together is a paradox that the rational mind cannot grasp; but in truth, they are two sides of the same coin. G-d's essential nature is a total mystery; the kabbalists call Him "E-l Mistater . . . G-d Who Conceals Himself."[iii] Nevertheless, solve this riddle we must - for the very purpose of creation is, in the Zohar's phrase "bi-gin de-ishtimodin lei . . . in order to know Him."[iv] Certainly this can’t mean intellectual knowledge, for it is utterly above our heads. It is mystical knowledge.

Another story is told of Rabbi Barukh of Medzhibuzh (1757-1810). Once his grandson and a few friends were playing a game of hide and seek. After awhile the little boy came out of his hiding place, and realized that his companions had run away without even bothering to look for him. Crying, he ran to his grandfather and complained about his uncaring friends. Rabbi Barukh's eyes, too, filled with tears. "G-d says the same thing,” he explained. “He hides, but no one bothers to seek Him!”

The first thing we must realize is that encountering G-d's hiddenness is not the end of the story, but only marks the beginning of our quest - even if we must begin anew again and again, even if we must do so seemingly ad infinitum.

The Chasidic Way
The Baal Shem Tov paved a unique path for seekers of G-d, a way not only to understand something of G-d conceptually, but also to experience Divinity.[v] To understand Rebbe Nachman's teachings, we must have at least an inkling of the approach of his illustrious great-grandfather, which he imbibed in his very mother's milk.

The Baal Shem Tov wanted us to realize that the world and the self are no more than a mask for G-dliness. Thus, he taught:

"Shema Yisrael . . . Hear, O Israel, the Lord, our G-d, the Lord is One" (Deuteronomy 6:6). When you recite the word "One," you should contemplate that the Holy One, blessed be He, is all that truly exists. A person must realize that he is nothing - for the essence of a human being is the soul, and the soul is but a "portion of G-d Above." Therefore, nothing truly exists except the Holy One, blessed be He.[vi]

This particularly applies to those times when G-d seems to be completely hidden from us:

It is written, "And I will surely hide (haster astir) My face" (Deuteronomy 31:18). As soon as you realize that the Holy One, blessed be He, is hidden, there is no longer any concealment, and all negativity disappears. Thus, the verse uses a double expression of concealment - haster astir. There are times when G-d will also hide the knowledge that He is present in the midst of His hiddenness.[vii]

That is, G-d is only concealed when we let the world fool us. In truth, “no place is empty of Him.”[viii] G-d is right here, because there is nowhere else for the universe to exist but within G-d. Anything less than this would contradict the basic belief that G-d is infinite and absolutely one. The Baal Shem Tov also insists that perception of G-d's omnipresence is not only attainable through "peak experiences," but can illuminate our most ordinary activities:

When you realize that the Master of the Universe is actually present in your every word and gesture, however great or small, all confusions disperse that eclipse the light of the Mind.[ix]

This is the solution to the problem of suffering, which is only possible when a person becomes alienated from G-d. As the Baal Shem Tov states:

It is written, "I, I am the One Who consoles you" (Isaiah 51:12) [repeating the word "I"]. When you realize that the true "I" is G-d, and nothing exists aside from Him - then [the divine assurance is fulfilled that] "I am the One Who consoles you."[x]

Thus, the Baal Shem Tov paved a path illuminated by and directed toward this perception of G-d's Oneness. The only catch was how to open our eyes so that we, too, might share it. As we shall see in the following teaching, this was Rebbe Nachman's concern, no less than that of his holy great-grandfather.

Light and Shadow

In this brief lesson, Rebbe Nachman further develops what scholars of religion term the Baal Shem Tov's panentheism - the belief that G-d is present within all things, despite His ultimate transcendence. And he zeros in on our most practical concern, namely how one can penetrate the illusion of the world and glimpse the Divine Essence within all things. Rebbe Nachman explains:

Whatever one lacks - whether concerning children, livelihood, or health - everything is from the side of the person himself. For the light of G-d flows upon one continuously; however, through evil deeds, each person makes a shadow for himself, so that the divine light does not reach him.[xi] According to one's actions, a shadow is cast which obstructs the light of G-d. The deficiency is commensurate with the deed that created the shadow.

Now, a shadow is produced by a physical thing that stands before a spiritual thing [i.e., something of a more subtle nature] - just as a physical stick or stone placed opposite the light of the moon or sun will cast a shadow. Likewise, a solar or lunar eclipse is due to the shadow of the earth.[xii] Moreover, the sun itself is physical in relation to that which is above it, and casts a shadow against it.[xiii]

Therefore, according to one's materialistic attachments and actions, one creates a shadow within him that prevents G-d's light and bounty from reaching him. However, if a person nullifies himself and no longer exists in this [illusory] world at all, he no longer casts a shadow, and receives the light of G-d, may He be blessed.

The essence of the divine light is glory; for "all that the Holy One, blessed be He, created, He created for His glory, as it is written: 'For My glory I created it…' (Isaiah 43:7)."[xiv] 

This is the meaning of "The entire world is full (mi-lo kol ha'aretz) of His glory" (ibid. 6:3). That is, if one is "not of the world altogether [mi-lo kol ha'aretz, a play on words]" and has no part in this world at all - then he receives the light of G-d, which is the divine glory.

This, too, is the meaning of "The wise will inherit glory" (Proverbs 3:35), for "wisdom comes forth from nothingness" (Job 28:12).[xv] Therefore, the wise, who are "nothing," are granted a perception of glory. Having overcome all materialism, they do not create an obstructing shadow.

            The concluding paragraph of this lesson introduces the idea that mystical perception also depends on one's emotional state:

When G-d, may He be blessed, displays a joyous face (panim), this brings life and good to the world; and the opposite is also true, G-d forbid. Similarly, when the tzaddik displays a joyous face, it is good - and vice-versa.[xvi] This is the meaning of the verse "See, today I have placed before you [lifneykhem, which is etymologically related to the word panim, meaning 'face'] life and good, as well as death…" (Deuteronomy 11:26) - that is, lifneykhem, according to your face.

At a glance, this may seem to have a somewhat tenuous connection to the previous theme. The lynch pin is Rebbe Nachman's reference at the beginning of his teaching to both a solar and lunar eclipse and the cosmic hierarchy. Let’s take a closer look at his words: “Likewise, a solar or lunar eclipse is due to the shadow of the earth. Moreover, the sun itself is physical in relation to that which is above it, and casts a shadow against it.” In kabbalistic terms, the sun and moon correspond to mashpi'a, the "giver" or source of influence, and mekabel, the receiver. On the one hand, the tzaddik is like the moon, being a receiver in relation to G-d. On the other, he is like the sun, being a giver in relation to the world, particularly to those on lower spiritual levels. Only a perfect tzaddik can attain total bittul - absolute nullification of ego that eliminates every trace of the shadow. Thus, in order to fulfill our potential, we who occupy lower levels must receive illumination from the tzaddikim.[xvii]
With his last remarks, Rebbe Nachman lets us know that this illumination is conditioned by our approach, the "face" we display. G-d's "face," or manner of revelation, depends on our "face," meaning our spiritual state.[xviii] If we wallow in coarse materialism, we block the light. If we detach ourselves from worldly vanities and let go of our all-consuming self-interest, we immediately become receptors for G-dliness - and, by implication, the light of the tzaddik, who transmits the divine light to us, just as the sun illuminates the moon.[xix]


Elsewhere, Reb Noson adds that he heard a slightly different version of this teaching from another disciple of Rebbe Nachman. This version is even more lucid:

You must nullify each of your negative traits until you have annihilated the ego completely, as if it were utterly non-existent.

Begin with one negative trait and nullify it completely, until not a trace remains. Then work on your other negative traits, one at a time, until they no longer exist. As you nullify the ego, G-d's glory will begin to shine through and be revealed. G-d's glory is like light, as the verse states, "And the earth is illuminated with His glory" (Ezekiel 43:2).

After reiterating the analogy of the physical object placed before the sunlight that casts a shadow, this second version of the teaching concludes:

Thus, it is written, "The entire world is full (mi-lo kol ha'aretz) of His glory" (Isaiah 6:3). When there is nothing to cast a shadow and thereby obstruct the light, His glory is revealed through all the earth.[xx]

This corresponds to the path of hisbodedus Rebbe Nachman outlines in Likutey Moharan I, 52 ("HaNe'or baLaylah / One Who Awakens in the Night"). Through hisbodedus - going out alone at night to a secluded place where people do not commonly go even by day, and speaking to G-d in one's own words - one may systematically nullify all negative personality traits until one attains bittul, total self-effacement. Rebbe Nachman's descriptions of this process in both lessons are almost identical. By removing these negative traits, we remove the shadow, allowing the light of G-d, Who is the “Imperative Existent,” to shine forth. (We should add that bittul is not to be confused with low self-esteem or self-hatred, traits that are merely the "flip side" of self-importance. We are supposed to hate our evil traits, but not become morbidly obsessed with ourselves in so doing. Rather, bittul denotes transcendence of the ego - seeing through the illusion of the self as something that exists apart from G-d.) Thus, it seems that the most basic way to put this teaching into practice is through hisbodedus.

[i] Siddur, based on Isaiah 6:3.
[ii] Musaf, Kedushah.
[iii] Rabbi Avraham Maimon, a disciple of 16th century kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, composed a mystical song paraphrasing Isaiah 45:15 ("For You are a Self-Concealing G-d") that is still widely sung today during the Third Sabbath Meal.
[iv] Zohar II, 42b. This concept is often cited by the Chasidic masters, e.g. Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, Me'or Einayim, Chayei Sarah, Ma'amar "Vi-Avraham Zaken."
[v] Thus, when Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch, first visited the Baal Shem Tov, his future mentor challenged his understanding of a passage in the Arizal’s Eitz Chaim that discussed the names of various angels. When the Maggid countered by asking the Baal Shem Tov to offer a better explanation, if indeed he knew one, the Baal Shem Tov began to speak. The room immediately became suffused with light, and the Maggid actually beheld the awe-inspiring angels in question. Later, the Baal Shem Tov explained, "Your interpretation was not incorrect - but it had no soul!" (Keter Shem Tov, Kehot 1982 ed., sec. 424).
[vi] Likkutim Yekarim 161; in the Breslov literature, cf. Rabbi Nachman Goldstein of Tcherin, Otzar haYirah, Emes vaTzedek, "Bittul el Ohr Ein Sof,” sec. 9 (citing Likutey Halakhos).
[vii] Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye, Toldos Ya'akov Yosef, Bereshis.
[viii] Hakdamah, Tikuney Zohar.
[ix] Rabbi Yitzchak Eizik Yehudah Yechiel Safrin of Komarno, Nesiv Mitzvotekha, cited in Sefer haBaal Shem Tov, Vayelekh, note 6.
[x] Rabbi Gedaliah of Linitz, Teshu'os Chen, Tzav.
[xx] Also cf. Rabbi Menachem Nachum of Chernobyl, Me'or Einayim, Noach, s.v. va-tishaches ha'aretz (New Square 1997 ed., vol. I, p. 30).
[xii]It is almost certain that Rebbe Nachman was familiar with Rabbi Pinchas Eliyahu Horowitz of Vilna's Sefer haBris (Brunn, 1793), the first half of which attempts to integrate 18th century science with rabbinic and kabbalistic thought; see Mendel Piekarz, Chasidut Breslov (Jerusalem 1972), p. 193ff. In Sefer haBris I, 4:12-13, Rabbi Pinchas Eliyahu states that a lunar eclipse is caused by the shadow of the earth, while a solar eclipse is caused by the shadow of the moon. Therefore, it is unclear if Rebbe Nachman disputed this, or if there is an error in the text. Perhaps significantly, a similar version of this teaching appears in Sichos HaRan 136 that does not mention this point.
[xiii] That is, the terms "physical" and "spiritual" are relative. This is implied by the Midrash, which states, "The light of the sun is dark when compared to the light that G-d created on the first day of creation" (Bereishis Rabbah 3:6). Similarly, the Zohar declares, "Even the Supernal Crown (Keser Elyon) is considered 'black' before the Cause of Causes" (Tikuney Zohar, Tikkun 70, 135b).
[xiv] Avot 6:11.
[xv] We have translated the verse in keeping with its context. More literally, it should be rendered "Wisdom - from whence (me-ayin) does it come forth?"
[xvi] This is because "tzaddikim resemble their Creator" (Likutey Moharan II, 52); also see Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig, Chayei Nefesh, chap. 18, passim.
[xvii] I am grateful to Rabbi Symcha Bergman for this insight.
[xviiii] Rebbe Nachman interprets the verse "And Hezekiah turned his face to the wall" (Isaiah 38:2) to mean that he turned his awareness within, "for one's true 'face' is one's state of mind" (Sichos HaRan 39).
[xix] Thus, Abraham interceded on behalf of Sodom (Genesis, chap. 18), and Moses interceded on behalf of Israel (Exodus 32:1-14), as did the subsequent prophets. Another testimony to the role of the tzaddik as intermediary is the tradition of the Talmudic sages that the Children of Israel heard the last eight of the Ten Commandments as if uttered by Moses; see Rashi, Exodus 19:19, citing the Mekhilta. The prophets repeatedly intercede for Israel. However, this does not mean that we do not have a direct relationship with G-d. The tzaddik is an intermediary only in the sense that a prayer leader serves as an intermediary: he represents the congregation, yet each member must pray to G-d directly on his own. In the Breslov literature, see e.g. Rabbi Nachman Goldstein of Tcherin, Zimras Ha'aretz I, 52; Rabbi Avraham ben Nachman Chazan, Biur haLikkutim 10:17.
[xx] Sichos HaRan 136 (abridged).