Thursday, July 13, 2017

Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig's Yahrtzeit

The 23rd of Tammuz is the yahrtzeit of Rav Gedaliah Aharon Kenig (sometimes spelled "Koenig"). Reb Gedaliah was the foremost disciple of Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz and founder of the Breslov community in Tzefat, Israel.

For a brief biography, see here:

An essay on the Breslov mesorah in general, which explains the places of leaders such as Reb Gedaliah, Reb Avraham, and others, appears here:

The kehillah that Reb Gedaliah and his sons and talmidim worked so hard to build is now led by his son, Rabbi Elazar Mordechai Kenig.

The Tzefat Breslov website is linked on the sidebar of this blog.

May Reb Gedaliah intercede above on behalf of Klal Yisrael, and may the seed he planted in the mountains of Galil HaElyon flourish and grow!

Mysteries of Memory

An excerpt from a letter by Rabbi Gedaliah Kenig, in honor of his yahrtzeit, 23 Tammuz
(Shaarey Tzaddik, Vol. I, Letter 3, sec. 1, pp. 30-31)

Translated by Dovid Sears

The truth is that memory only belongs in the category of "beyond time" and "beyond nature." For the greater the power of memory, the more time diminishes. "Go and see what people say" [Reb Gedaliah invokes a familiar phrase of the Gemara] -- when people are conversing about their memories of events that happened long ago, you will sometimes hear them say, "It seems to me as if this happened today. It is as if I see it before my eyes right now!" Even though the event took place long ago, nevertheless, due to the "sparkling" of his memory, the matter "lights up" for him as if it happened today. For the light of memory obliterates the boundaries of time.  

There are many, many aspects of memory, one higher than the next, until there is an aspect of memory where time is utterly non-existent; for [this profound memory] transcends time. This is openly discussed in Likutey Moharan I, 7 ("Vi-eileh ha-mishpatim -- emunah"), in the formerly deleted portions (hashmatos) related to what is written there: that prayer is spiritually beneficial (mesugal) for one's memory. This is because prayer is an aspect of faith and the miraculous. They are all aspects of Divine Providence and the dimension beyond nature and beyond time.

(This is also discussed in Likutey Halakhos, Laws of Washing the Hands in the Morning 2:6; see there. Study further Likutey Moharan I, 37:2 ["Dirshu Hashem vi-uzo"); and this is clearly understood from Likutey Moharan I, 54 ["Vayehi miketz -- zikaron"]; study well what is written there.)

In a similar vein, the gist of life is an aspect of drawing nearer [to Hashem], attaining unity and nullifying time, as discussed in Likutey Moharan I, 79, in the summary concepts (rashey perakim) that begin, "The voice is the voice of Yaakov." [There, the Rebbe states that] teshuvah (repentance, or return to Hashem) transcends time. And teshuvah is life, as is explained (ibid.) in Lesson 72 ("Chayim nitzchiyim"), s.v. "vi-al yeday zeh na'aseh teshuvah"; see there. For life such as this, which is in the category of "today" and "tomorrow," is not true life -- because one no longer lives in the moment that has passed. Rather, one lives constantly in a different time, and the hour and instant that has passed has "died" and departed.

Therefore, all true life -- which is eternal life, the aspect of "long life" concerning which the Blind Beggar praises himself (see Rebbe Nachman's story, "The Seven Beggars," First Day) -- is only associated with Hashem, Who transcends time (as discussed in Likutey Moharan I, 61) -- and whoever is incorporated into Divinity (as discussed in Lesson 21, "Atika temir u-setim," sec. 11).

This concept is further explained in the comment of the "gaon of our strength," our master, Rabbi Noson, of blessed memory, which begins (ibid.): "Immortality is associated with Hashem alone; for Hashem lives forever. And one who is incorporated into his Source -- that is, within the Blessed One -- lives forever, like Hashem"; see there.

And study in addition Likutey Moharan I, 179, as well as Likutey Moharan II, 4:8 ("Es ha-orvim tzivisi likalkilekha"), which further clarifies [these concepts from] Lesson 21.

Reb Gedaliah passed away in 1980 (5740), some 37 years ago. But from his words in this letter, we may understand that now, as during his physical lifetime, he lives the "true life" of the tzaddikim which is untainted by death. May Reb Gedaliah intercede above for all Klal Yisrael and all living creatures in this forgetful realm of "today and tomorrow," and in the merit of the tzaddikim, may we too come to "taste and see that Hashem is good" (Tehillim 34:9), amen. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender

The yahrtzeit of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender, zal, the central figure in the Breslov Kehillah of Me'ah She'arim after WWII, will be on 22 Tammuz.

For a brief biography of Reb Levi Yitzchok, see here.

A rare video of one of his shmuessen in Yiddish is also available online here.

May Reb Levi Yitzchok intercede above on behalf of all Klal Yisrael.

A Sichah From Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender, zatzal

Translation by Rabbi Perets Auerbach

In honor of the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender, zatzal, 22 Tammuz, we are posting a sichah (talk) he once gave, as published in Ish Chasidekha.

Talk 65:

No Good Desire Is Lost - How Much More So a Good Word!

One who is close to a true tsaddik for many days and years and who stands and serves him and hears his words, even though he may hear many talks and stories from which he cannot derive any personal benefit and advice – nevertheless, if he merits, in the course of time, he will understand retroactively how to take out of what he already heard tremendous advice in serving Hashem. Every single word that he heard many years ago will be of great benefit to him, and they will invigorate him.

For afterwards he will merit to understand and say, “This is what my Master hinted to me at that time!” And often wondrous hints and great advice will sprout in his mind from all that he heard previously – if he pays careful attention to the past lessons.

In the home of a certain renowned tsaddik there was a completely simple person, whom we may call a ‘prostok.’ He always stood and served this tsaddik, and he heard many words from him. He did not understand anything or benefit from these words at all. But he had great faith in the tsaddik and his holy words, even though he did not properly grasp them. He still stood and attended the tsaddik in truth.

After many years, the tsaddik passed away. Then this simple person began to remember. Whenever he came to some matter, he recalled the words of the tsaddik and said to himself, “This is something that the tsaddik had in mind and hinted to me at that time, and so many times.” He retroactively grasped the intent of the tsaddik and the allusions that he hinted to him in his words many years ago.

Thus, he understood and became a kosher, God-fearing person. He was very prominent in his city and became a head and leader for all of those good Jews who wanted to fear Hashem – all who were in the city of that tsaddik. They all submitted themselves to him.[1]

Every Word Makes an Impression!

Initially the simple man did not understand what was being said. Only as time passed did he begin to fathom what each word meant.

This also applies to each individual, relative to himself. You may speak words in hisbodedus. You may talk and talk, but not experience any benefit in speaking. Words repeat themselves without any vitality and feeling. Nevertheless, do not desist. Continue to talk. In the end, when you wake up, you will delve and see how each word made an impression.

How is the Heart of Stone Broken?

There is a well-known analogy about water dripping on a stone for many years. It was hard rock, but in the end the water made a hole in it.[2]

To the observer, it appears that the hole was made in one day. Because yesterday it was not, and today it is here. Due to this, one who is not perceptive thinks that this is a sign that the whole thing was made today.

But an intelligent person knows that a hole in a stone is not made in one day or one night. For years water dripped on this stone. And every single day it made some impression on the stone. Although it was a very slight impression that was not at all apparent to the eye, that water made some change in the stone. But when in the end the stone is opened and a hole breaks out in it, one realizes that all of the days that the water dripped on the stone combined. Only together were they successful in penetrating the stone.

The heart of a person is like a stone. It is hard like a rock. It is necessary to lift the heart to the brain and soften it. But one does not feel any movement. He talks and talks and feels nothing. The heart is left a “heart of stone,” despite all of the words that he poured forth day by day. But, as time goes on – if he does not let up, he does not get weary and does not despair, but continues to pour forth speech – it will turn into a “heart of flesh.”[3]

Certainly in one day the heart of hard stone is not transformed into a soft heart of flesh. When it does happen, one who is not smart thinks that it is made through recent words which were said with inspiration. The proof being that yesterday no change had yet happened to him and suddenly today he sees and feels that something happened. He makes it dependent upon his last words.

But it is not so – not at all! In one day a heart of stone does not become a heart of flesh. Rather, all of the words got together – no word was for naught. When the heart is opened this was only because all of the words bubbled and did their job.

Every Bit of Want and Longing Accrues!

This concept does not only apply to words – that there is no word that goes lost, and every single one makes an impression. There is also no desire and ratson that goes for naught. As it says in the holy Zohar, “There is no ratson that is lost.” Even a good desire is not for nothing.

But this needs support. Behold, one may think, I am not actually doing anything. What do I have from merely wanting? But this is not so. Even just a good ratson, some good desire for something holy, endures. No desire is hidden and gone. Rather, it make some impression. In the end, all desires and longings gather and accumulate and accomplish what they have to, when the day comes.[4]

How much more so a word brought out of the mouth. It certainly is not for naught! They gather and act for a person’s good when the time comes.

“I Believe That Hashem Hears Everything!”

But all this requires great faith. Powerful and strong faith, to know clearly that there nothing good is lost. Everything is heard on High. Everything remains forever! All of the great tsaddikim came to their level because of this faith. They believed that each word that one speaks before Hashem – no word at any time and period, whenever it may have been, is lost. No good desire that one had for holiness and spirituality is ever gone. The Rebbe once said, “Even though I have not yet been saved, this is my salvation: that at least Hashem hears my voice when I pray to Him.”

“I Held Him and Let Him Not Go”[5]

This is a great and amazing hischazkus (encouragement). A person should not let up and get tired or despair of seeking. Rather, he should continue to supplicate even if he sees no benefit. He must remain firm in his faith and not give up. He must know surely that not only no word is ever lost, but also no good desire is ever lost. However, to move this heart of stone and elevate it to the brain requires many words. And it certainly does not happen at once. Rather, much time may have to pass until the heart of stone will actually be penetrated. But every single word makes an impression.

Do Not Despair

It could also be that a person not only feels no progress, but on the contrary, he feels more estranged. His heart is cold and frozen. Why continue to speak and try to appease if he doesn’t see improvement, and even instead sees regression. And those same confusions and illusions continue to flood his brain like yesterday and the day before. At times they prevail all the more, and he falls back completely.

The Rebbe writes that it is necessary to add holiness and knowledge for the fallen days. What holiness and knowledge? What did I add today more than yesterday? Who adds today more than yesterday? Even after a year – it is better than last year?

But really, indeed it is so – there is improvement, even if I don’t notice it. In the end, at some time this will apparent to the naked eye, in a revealed, clear, shining manner. The blessed fruit of of his good yearning and words. Then it will be clear and visible that not even one was for naught, chas v’shalom. Rather, he accomplished great things.

The Test of “I Said That I Worked for Nothing”

We find in Chazal about the holy Amora Rabbi Abahu, that when he left this world, they showed him thirteen rivers of pure balsam oil.[6] Upon this huge reward he was astonished and said: “All this for Abahu? And I said that I am working for nothing?!”

There are those who are not shown what they accomplished for a whole lifetime until the end.  Even though there are those who are shown right away, for others this is there entire test: that they never see any change. But one must believe that there is nothing that goes for naught, despite the fact that he doesn’t see any progress until the last day. Even after all of the mitsvos and good deeds and good desires and words of his entire life. This is the test of his lifetime. It is a difficult test that requires mesirus nefesh to withstand.

On the contrary, sometimes the yetser hara sees that a person is sincere and serves Hashem even though he doesn’t feel anything. Then the yetser hara leaves the world aside and turns only to him. He deprives him of any taste and feeling in devotion and confuses his mind, saying that all of his words, desires, and doings are not worth anything. Through this, he is prone to make him fall completely, chas v’shalom.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon a person to know and to carve into his heart that a big part of serving Hashem is standing steadfast and constantly advancing, even if one does not feel any satisfaction, any feeling, or any vigor in his service.

A Shoe of Honey and Sugar

In the Rebbe’s story of “The Chacham and the Tam,” the Clever Son and the Simple Son, the quality of the Tam was that he always remained strong and happy in his portion. He showed signs of extraordinary joy over everything his hands made – even if it wasn’t done properly. Over the crooked shoe of three corners that he made, the Tam exclaimed, “What a sweet shoe, a shoe of honey and sugar!”

How is it possible to say such expressions about a shoe? Especially since the shoe was not made properly?

But this is understood based on what is known, that the three-cornered shoe hints to Tefilah – the three daily prayers. These exaggerated expressions of sweetness and delight were said about Tefilah.

The holy Tam enlivened himself in his prayer. Despite that it was imperfect, he was bubbling with intense delight, pleasure, and sweetness from it. He did not stop loving it until he said that it is “sweet like honey and sugar.”

Through Hischazkus There is Ascent and Uplifting

What do we need to learn from the practice of the Tam?

How is this relevent to us?

This is how one merits to attain all of the good that the holy Tam accomplished. Only so – when there is chizuk and vitality, even if our service is incomplete.

The Rebbe said that he heard from tsaddikim who testified about themselves that they did not reach their level except through hischazkus.

What comes out is that every word and good deed is important and excellent – just that it is necessary to believe this. We must know well that indeed, speech accomplishes wonders above, and there is no word that goes for naught. Even if at first it seems ineffectual, in the end all of the words gather together and accomplish great and precious things. Then a person will merit to see with his very eyes that he did not toil for nothing.

[1] Based on Chayei Moharan 544.
[2] Sichos HaRan 234; cf. Avos deRabbi Nasan 6:2 regarding Rabbi Akiva’s beginnings.
[3] Based on “I will remove form you the heart of stone and give you a lev basar [heart of flesh]” (Yechezkel). The letters of LB BSR/lev basar form BRSLB/Breslov.
[4] See Likutey Moharan II, 48.
[5] Shir HaShirim 3:4.
[6] Bereshit Rabbah 62:1.

Three Weeks

From “Breslov Eikh she-Hu: Customs and Good Practices” compiled by Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears

Many Breslover Chassidim study Likutey Moharan II, 67, during the Three Weeks and recite the corresponding prayer, Likutey Tefillos II, 33. Some also recite this prayer on Tisha be-Av, but only after chatzos, since it contains words of consolation.
(Cf. Si'ach Sarfey Kodesh VI, 499)


Breslover Chassidim dance after davenning even during the Three Weeks, until Rosh Chodesh Av. The melody usually sung at this time is "Nicham HaShem Tzion." However, beginning on Rosh Chodesh, dancing is curtailed until after Tisha be-Av.
(Si'ach Sarfey Kodesh IV, 191)


During the Three Weeks, some Breslover Chasidim are accustomed to sit on the floor every weekday at noon to recite Tikkun Chatzos, including on Erev Shabbos, as mentioned in Shulchan Arukh. This was Reb Gedaliah’s practice. Reb Elazar informed us that his father would have liked his talmidim to do so be-tzibbur, but this was not feasible at the time. 


Like all Chassidim, Breslovers follow the shittah in halakhah that there is no public display of mourning on Shabbos Chazon.

Heh Av

This is the yahrtzeit of the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria Ashkenazi) of Tzefas, universally recognized as the foremost master of Kabbalah by all Chassidic, Lithuanian, and Sefardic kabbalists. His teachings were written down by his talmid muvhak, Rabbi Chaim Vital (Calabrese), and primarily consists of “Eight Gates,” including the bedrock of his teachings, the Eitz Chaim.

In Tzefas, the hillulah of the Arizal attracts thousands of visitors from all over the world, who recite Tehillim and pray at his gravesite. It is also a widespread custom to immerse in the natural spring where he was accustomed to immerse, not far from his kever in the old Beis ha-Chaim. The Arizal stated that whoever did so would succeed in doing teshuvah for all his sins before he died.

(“Chayey ha-Arizal, a Hebrew biography of the Arizal culled from Shivchey Arizal and other classic sources was compiled and annotated by Rabbi Avraham Abish Tzeinvirt, and published by Makhon Da’as Yosef, Yerushalayim 1990. Rav Ya’akov Hillel of Machon Ahavat Shalom also has published an annotated critical edition of Shivchey Arizal.)

Tisha be-Av

Tisha be-Av  is one of the five times that Breslover Chassidim daven together ki-vasikin. The avodah of reciting Kinnos is taken very seriously and lasts until the late morning.


Reb Levi Yitzchak Bender stated that on Tisha be-Av, it is our minhag to recite the berakhah "she'asah li kol tzorkhi" in its proper place in Birkhos ha-Shachar.
(Si'ach Sarfey Kodesh VI, 497. Similarly, cf. Darkei Chaim ve-Shalom [Munkatch] 675. Some communities omit this berakhah because the Gemara associates it with donning the shoes, and on Tish Be-Av it is forbidden to wear leather shoes or sandals. However, it is permissible to wear shoes made from other materials, such as canvas or plastic.)


The fast is broken immediately after Ma'ariv in the synagogue, prior to Kiddush Levanah. It is customary to dance after reciting Kiddush Levanah upon the conclusion of Tisha be-Av, despite the fact that most restrictions are maintained until noon of the following day.
(Cf. Si'ach Sarfey Kodesh IV, 270)


Soon after Tisha be-Av, Reb Elazar Kenig usually begins studying the lesson from Likutey Moharan that he will publicly deliver on the second night of Rosh Hashanah, together with its related teachings from Likutey Halakhos, etc. On some years he has started learning his Rosh Hashanah lesson even earlier. 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Who Knows the Secrets of the World? - Part II

Painting of Job by William Blake

By Rabbi Yaakov Meir Schechter of Jerusalem

Translated and edited by Rabbi Eliezer Shore

To read Part 1 of this two-part posting, click here.

That’s His Story, This is My Story

Rabbi Nachman alludes to this truth in his tale, “The Wise One and the Simple One.” In this story, the simple man is an unskilled shoemaker. “Why can’t you be as successful as all the other cobblers?” his wife nags him. He replies, “That’s their story, this is my story.” Meaning to say, “What do I have to do with them. Those are their deeds and these are mine, and we have nothing in common.” Rabbi Nachman’s words, here, are very precise. “This is my story,” said the cobbler. That is, since every person has a completely unique story, a personal history that spans generations and lifetimes, what possible reason could there be for anyone to be jealous?

Where Were You When I Laid the Foundations of the Earth?

At the end of the Book of Job, God answers Job out of the whirlwind. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” He demands (Job 38:4). According to the Midrash, while Adam still lay unconscious, God showed him all the tzaddikim that would be born from him. Some were derived from his head, some from his hair, some from his forehead, from his eyes, his nostrils, his mouth, his ears, and so on.

The Arizal explains that Adam had within him all the souls that would ever be born. When he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge, the good within him became mixed with the evil of Samael, the male aspect of the evil husks, and the good in Chava became mixed with the evil of Lilit and the poison of the Serpent. This is the source of the evil inclination in man.[1]

Each person is affected by the poison of the Serpent differently, depending on the root of his soul in Adam. This determines his desires and inclinations. All that happens to him in life, whether physically or spiritually, is in accordance with this root. Additional lifetimes, with their good and bad deeds, only complicate the matter further.

This was God’s argument with Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Do you have any comprehension of the mysteries of creation and the unfolding of the universe? How can you make any assumptions, complain or make demands of other people, when you know nothing of the root and nature of their souls?”[2]

This is the inner meaning of the Mishna in Pirkei Avos: “Do not judge your friend until you reach his place,”[3] that is, until you understand the place and root of his soul; but that is something known only to God, and to a few special tzaddikim throughout the generations to whom the Holy One reveals some of the secrets and mysteries of creation.

Do Not Judge Your Friend

On the matter of judging one’s friend, I saw an explanation by Rabbi Meir of Premishlan of the following Talmudic tale: “It happened that Rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Shimon was returning from Migdal Gedur, the home of his Rebbe. He was riding a donkey and was feeling rather proud that he had learned so much Torah. Along the way, he encountered a particularly ugly man. ‘How ugly is this individual,’ he remarked. The man replied, ‘If you don’t like my looks, go and tell the Artisan who made me: How ugly is this vessel You made!’ Rabbi Elazar realized his mistake, descended from his donkey and prostrated himself before the man, begging his forgiveness.” In the end, the man only forgave Rabbi Elazar after publicly admonishing him.”[4]

Now, isn’t it a little strange that the great Tanna, Rabbi Elazar ben Shimon, should concern himself with mere physical appearances? And isn’t it even stranger that he should insult a person for it? Rather, explains Rabbi Meir, this man was really a devout servant of God. Yet all his actions, his prayers, his Torah study, his performance of mitzvos, were done with bizarre movements of his head and his body. When Rabbi Elazar saw this, he was very displeased. Avodas HaShem should be done in a refined way, he thought, with beauty and grace as if standing before a King. How ugly is this man, he remarked. He even asked him, “Are all the people of your city so ugly?” That is, have they all learned this mode of worship, which is so inappropriate? The man replied, “Go and tell the Artisan who made me,” meaning to say: “Have you considered where I come from and the root of my soul? Your source may be high and exalted, for you are the son of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. You are holy, your family is holy, and your entire life has been lived in holiness. But I am the son of a simple, earthy man. With every effort I make towards holiness, be it Torah study, prayer or mitzvos, the most devious thoughts ensnare me. Sinful desires, depression, despair, even questions of faith attack me like hornets. If you had thought for a moment how difficult every act towards holiness is for me, you would have judged me favorably.” (In fact, this man was Elijah the Prophet, who appeared in this guise to teach Rabbi Elazar a lesson.[5])

Eventually, he forgave Rabbi Elazar, but only in public, that it should be a lesson for future generations—to view each person favorably, and never to judge another person until you reach his place.[6]

You’re Here for Only One Shabbos

I heard another story that illustrates this point. A certain non‑observant Jew was spending several days at the home of an Orthodox friend. On Shabbos morning, he joined his host in the local synagogue. On their way home, the host asked him what he thought of the service. “Everything was beautiful,” he replied, “but I have one complaint. The gabbai was very unthoughtful when it came to calling people up to the Torah. Instead of calling upon them according to their seating order, he chose them completely at random.”

“Can you actually understand the order he uses by coming here only once?” his host replied. “This gabbai has an excellent memory and weighs his every move. He knows how to work with each member of the congregation without offending anyone. Last Shabbos, certain members were called up to the Torah. Next Shabbos there will be a bridegroom in the synagogue, and all his relatives will also need to be called up. So on this Shabbos, the gabbai had to make sure that those who received last week, and those who will receive next week, did not receive today. You need a bit of insight to follow this process. Only the regular members see it clearly.”

From all that we have said so far, we can understand why there is never any reason to become jealous. “God is just in all His ways, and generous in all His deeds” (Psalms 145:17). Everything is accounted for. “The Rock, His deeds are pure, He is a faithful God, in Whom there is no injustice. He is righteous and just” (Deuteronomy 32:4). Happy is the man who toils at Torah and fulfills God’s holy mitzvos; who prays and praises Him. Through this, he will repair whatever happened to him and turn everything to the good, to blessing, joy and gladness. “He who goes simply, goes with certainty” (Proverbs 10:9).

[1] See Sefer HaGilgulim chapter 1.
[2] Shemos Rabbah 40:3.
[3] Pirkei Avos 2:5.
[4] Ta’anis 20b.
[5] Tosefos, Mesechta Derech Eretz.
[6] Retold from the book Divrei Meir.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Who Knows the Secrets of the World?

By Rabbi Yaakov Meir Schechter of Jerusalem
Part I

Translated and edited by Rabbi Eliezer Shore

This two-part selection from “In All Your Ways” (Yesod 1994), is posted is in memory of Rabbi Shore’s beloved father, Mr. Sidney Shore, alav ha-shalom, who passed away on the second day of Shavuos. We extend our condolences to Rabbi Shore, his mother, his sisters and the entire extended family. May we all share only joyous events in the future.

Rabbi Yitzchok said, “No two figs, or even grains of wheat are alike.”
Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:9

“Not even the leaves of a tree are alike.”
Rabbi Nachman’s Stories

It is known that scientists, having examined thousands of snowflakes, concluded that no two of them are exactly the same. Of the millions that fall upon the earth, each one has its own remarkable design. Thus God said to Job: “Have you entered into the treasuries of snow, did you see the storehouses of hail? Who has divided a watercourse for the overflow of waters?” (Job 38:22). Chazal comment on this: “I created many raindrops,” said God. “Each has it’s own distinct shape, yet I do not mistake one drop for another.”[1] If this is true of snowflakes, that melt away in an instant, how much truer is it of human beings. As Chazal said: “Just as their faces are different, so are their attitudes different.”[2] Each person is a world unto himself, unlike any other.

This becomes even clearer when we study the secrets of reincarnation. We can begin to see how the differences between people are derived from the roots of their souls, or from the influence of past lives. We learn how each person is led upon a specific path of rectification and, through this path, can attach himself to God and Torah. Then a special type of satisfaction rises to Heaven, which never existed before.

Why Should Jealousy Exist?

With this in mind, it becomes obvious that there is never any reason to become jealous, even when another person seems much more successful than ourselves. Every person’s life is directed by God, from the root of his soul in the higher worlds, down to the minutest details of this mundane one; and all that happens, even the smallest occurrence, is actually part of a larger plan, either as payment for a past deed, or as compensation towards the future. A person cannot lift a finger in this world without some profound accounting taking place above, specifically related to his life and actions.

I once saw a commentary of the Chida on the verse: “And it came to pass after two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed” (Genesis 41:1). Pharaoh, he explained, is a reference to all humanity, for a person is always in a state of pera’on—repayment—either over some past debt, or towards some future tally. For instance, a person who is successful in a particular venture may be being repaid for some good deed he has done, or for some pain that he experienced in this or a previous life. Whereas the wicked, who apparently prosper, are merely awaiting retribution. God is patient and long suffering, but if the wicked do not repent, in the end, they will be appropriately punished. If a person suffers in life, and especially if he takes pains to fulfill a mitzvah, he will eventually be repaid. God does not withhold His reward from any creature.[3] He knows the secret workings of creation and, to Him, everything is just and clear. There is simply no reason to be jealous. Whatever happens, even a person’s strong points, stems from the very root of the soul, or from previous lives.

Former Abilities

Rabbi Yosef Vital, the father of Rabbi Chaim Vital, was one of the outstanding scribes of his generation. The Arizal declared that half the world was sustained by the merit of the perfect tefillin that he wrote. Sefer HaGilgulim states that Rabbi Yosef’s soul was derived from the soul of the holy Tanna, Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess, who was also a great scribe of his time. It further states that the soul of Rabbi Shmuel Vital, the son of Rabbi Chaim Vital, came from that of his grandfather.[4] He too had a gift for writing, and almost all the works of the Arizal were actually transcribed by R. Shmuel Vital, at his father’s dictation.

Kabbalistic texts identify many such examples of talents recurring in successive lives. In general, when a person. studies the teachings of reincarnation, many apparently bewildering statements of Chazal become clear. Likewise, processes in creation that would otherwise be completely incomprehensible are clarified.[5] The study of reincarnation is one of the fundamental tools for answering difficult problems in the Torah.

Success in Your Father’s Trade

With this, we can understand a puzzling statement of the Talmud: that a person should take up his father’s trade.[6] Yet, many times, the son’s success obviously lies in a different profession. According to the Zohar, “Father” actually refers to one’s first incarnation, while all subsequent incarnations are called “sons.”[7] When the Talmud says that a person’s success lies in his father’s trade, it means that one’s greatest achievements will come when one acts in accordance with one’s previous lives.

An Amazing Story about Rav Yehuda of Modenah

The Chida wrote the following tale about Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh of Modenah, one of the rabbis of Venice, a grammarian, poet and speaker, and author of HaBoneh, a commentary on Ein Yaakov.

“Rav Yehuda wrote that, at first, he did not believe in reincarnation (for the writings of the Arizal had not yet reached his part of the world). It happened that his neighbor had a son. Within a month of the birth, the child became seriously ill and, five months later, neared his end. The neighbor called Rav Yehuda to come and recite the necessary verses as the child’s soul departed (as was the custom in Italy). Rav Yehuda saw that the child was indeed dying and read a few verses of Psalms. Suddenly, the child opened his eyes and said, “Shema Yisroel—Hear 0 Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One,” and passed away on the word “Echod‑One.” It was an amazing thing! From that moment on, Rav Yehuda believed in reincarnation. With his own eyes, he saw a child of six months recite the Shema with the clarity and pronunciation of an adult. [The Chida continues] I saw these words in his own handwriting.”[8]

Until that moment, it was difficult for Rav Yehuda to understand why the child had to suffer. In fact, without the knowledge of reincarnation, there was no explanation. But heaven saved him from error, and arranged for him to be there when the child cried out. Then everyone realized that no simple matter was going on here. Hidden things were being worked out from previous lives.

Memory of Past Lives

Sometimes a person learns a foreign language or a particular skill with such speed and retention that he soon surpasses his teacher. Meanwhile, his friend proves successful in a completely different area. Again, this is related to past lives. Perhaps he already spoke this language or worked in this field once before, and is only now remembering what he already knew. This is also true in Torah study. One person may learn the entire Talmud easily, while his friend, apparently equal in his ability and desire to learn, progresses only with the greatest difficulty. The first person may have already toiled at the Talmud in a past life until he broke the “learning barrier.” Now his job is to study ten times harder. The second person, on the other hand, is studying the material for the first time.

The Arizal said that his contemporary, the great Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Beis Yosef and the Shulchan Oruch, had a soul derived from that of Rabbi Yehuda bar Iloy, one of the major Tannaim of the Mishnah.[9] I saw an interesting commentary on this (from the Chida, I believe). The Talmud says: “On all occasions, Rabbi Yehuda bar Iloy was the first to voice his opinion.”[10] Even today, whenever a question of halacha arises, the first place a person loks is the Shulchan Oruch—by Rabbi Yosef Karo! Only afterwards does one consider other authorities.

If we understand the secrets of reincarnation, then jealousy and selfishness could not exist. We would realize that each person’s life is as different from another’s as day is from night.

[1] Bava Basra 16a.
[2] Talmud Yerushalmi, Brochos 9:1.
[3] Bava Kama 38b; Nazir 23b; Pesachim 118a.
[4] Sefer HaGilgulim, Hakdamah 39, p. 59a
[5] See the introduction to Seder HaDoros.
[6] Archin 16b.
[7] As the Zohar explains the verse: “He visits the sins of the fathers on the children until the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 20:5); Zohar 2:91b. See also Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Hakdamah 4 and 5.
[8] Shem HaGedolim, section 10.
[9] Quoted in Shem HaGedolim by the Chida, section 10:165, in the name of Rabbi Chaim Vital. Rav Yehuda was a student of Rabbi Akiva, as explained above.
[10] Brochos 63b.

Sivan and Tammuz

From “Breslov Eikh she-Hu: Customs and Good Practices” compiled by Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears 

Khof Sivan

It was customary throughout the Ukraine and Russia to recite selichos on the twentieth of Sivan, including in the Breslover community. This commemoration of the 6,000 martyrs of the Nemirov massacre of 1648 persisted in Eretz Yisrael and chutz la-aretz until recent years, when it began to fall into neglect. However, Reb Noson mentions it in Likutey Halakhos.
(See Likutey Halakhos, Shluchin 5:36; Chovel Be-chavero 3:7, 9. The selichos for Khof Sivan are printed in the Siddur Tefillah Yesharah-Berditchev and elsewhere.)


Reb Avraham Sternhartz used to fast on Khof Sivan.
(Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn, in the name of Rabbi Moshe Burshteyn)

Ches Tammuz

In Uman, selichos were also recited on the eighth of Tammuz, when many thousands of Jewish men, women, and children were slaughtered during the Haidamak uprisings of the same period. However, this minhag has also fallen into disuse.


Reb Avraham Sternhartz used to fast on Ches Tammuz.
(Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn, in the name of Rabbi Moshe Burshteyn)

Khof-Beis Tammuz

The yahrtzeit of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender, the central figure in the Breslov Kehillah of Yerushalayim after WWII, is 22 Tammuz. For a brief biography of Reb Levi Yitzchok, see hereA rare video of one of his shmuessen in Yiddish is also available online here. Together with his lifelong friend, Reb Elyah Chaim Rosen, Reb Levi Yitzchok rebuilt the Breslov community and devoted himself to preserving and passing on the Breslov mesorah from Uman. Much of this material has been transcribed from audio tapes and published as "Siach Sarfey Kodesh" in eight volumes. 

Khof-Gimmel Tammuz

This is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig, talmid muvhak of Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz and founder of Mosdos Nachal Novea Mekor Chochma, the umbrella organization of the Tsfat Breslov community. Reb Gedaliah was a reknowned for his ahavas Yisrael, arichas apayim, and great wisdom both in understanding people and in all areas of Torah, particularly pnimiyus ha-Torah. He edited and published several seforim written by other Breslover Chassidim, including his teacher Reb Avraham’s Tovos Zikhronos and Reb Ephraim ben Naftali’s Likutey Even / Tefillas ha-Boker, as well as one original work, Chayei Nefesh, on the nature and role of the tzaddik. His other writings remain in manuscript.

Khof-Gimel Tammuz is also the yahrtzeit of sixteenth century kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero of Tzefas, author of Pardes Rimonim, Tomer Devorah, Ohr Ne’erav, and other important mystical works—a tzaddik with whom Reb Gedaliah felt a deep lifelong affinity. Reb Elazar, his brothers, and other chaveirim usually visit Reb Gedaliah’s kever on Har ha-Zeisim in Yerushalayim on the yahrtzeit, where they recite Tehillim and pray for Klal Yisrael in his merit.

An English translation of the first half of Reb Gedaliah’s “Chayei Nefesh” is available on the sidebar of this website. It is hoped that his other works, which include original commentaries on Likutey Moharan and Tikuney Zohar, as well as his letters and an encyclopedia of terms in Rebbe Nachman’s writings, will be published in the near future, be-ezras Hashem.