Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev: 25 Tishrei

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (1740–1809), also known as the Berdichever Rov, was a leading disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch and an outstanding figure in the early Chassidic movement. He served as rabbi of several cities, including Ritchvol (Ryczywół), Zhelichov, Pinsk and most famously, Berditchev. He was also a disciple of Chassidic leader Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg, whom he succeeded as rabbi of Ritchvol. Among his own disciples was the young Reb Noson of Nemirov (later Breslov) before he met Rabbi Nachman.

The Berditchover Rov was known as the "defense attorney" for the Jewish people, because he constantly sought to intercede on their behalf before God. He was also known as Der Baremdiger, the “Merciful,” due to his boundless compassion. Due to this, many consider it to be beneficial to recite his name and mother’s name in times of trouble: “Levi Yitzchak ben Sarah Sasha."

His mystical teachings were later published as Kedushas Levi, which is arranged according to the weekly Torah portion, and which almost immediately became a Chassidic classic. (Selections from this work were translated to English by Rabbi Arye Kaplan in his anthology, Chassidic Masters (Chapter 6). There are now other translations, as well.)

Reb Levi Yitzchok also penned a haskamah (approbation) to the commentary Keser Nehora, which was eventually combined with the Nusach of the Zlotchover Maggid and published in Berditchev as Siddur Tefillah Yesharah (the “Berditchever Siddur”). This Siddur was widely used by countless tzaddikim, chassidim vi-anshei ma’aseh.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was close with another prominent disciple of the Great Maggid, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, author of the Tanya and founder of the Chabad school of Chassidism. Later they became machatanim, relatives through marriage.

He also defended Rabbi Nachman of Breslov against the denunciations of Chassidic elder Rabbi Arye Leib of Shpola, known as the “Shpoler Zeide.” (See Chayei Moharan, #122). He even declared, “If I thought people would listen to me, I’d cry out with a voice that could be heard from one end of the world to the other, ‘Whoever wants to be pure and saintly and serve G-d should attach himself to Rabbi Nachman!’ “

This admiration was mutual. Rabbi Nachman called Reb Levi Yitzchok the “Pe’er (glory) of Israel,” a term the Gemara associates with the Tefillin (Berakhos 11a). Accordingly, when Reb Levi Yitzchok undertook a difficult journey (I seem to remember that this journey was to raise charity for pidyon sh’vuyim, but I haven’t located a source for this), Rabbi Nachman asked to have his Tefillin checked. (See Chayei Moharan, #270; also see ##533 and 599 re. Rabbi Nachman’s great esteem for the Berditchover Rov.)

Reb Noson writes that Lesson 67 in the second half of Likutey Moharan alludes to the Berditchever Rov’s passing – of which Rabbi Nachman was aware b’ruach hakodesh before the sad news came to Breslov. (See Chayei Moharan, # 45; Sichos HaRan #196.)

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok passed away on the 25th of Tishrei, 5570 (1809), a year before Rabbi Nachman’s passing, and is buried in the old Jewish cemetery in Berditchev. At that time, it was reported that a pillar of fire was seen accompanying his bier. Upon hearing this, Rabbi Nachman remarked, “Whoever has eyes in his head will see that on the day Rabbi Levi Yitzchok died, a great darkness descended upon the world…” (Sichos HaRan #197). His holy grave site is still visited by thousands of Jewish pilgrims throughout the year. Zekhuso yagen aleinu v’al kol Yisrael, amen.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Time to Rejoice: A Teaching from Reb Noson on Sukkos, Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah

Free translation of an excerpt from Likutey Halakhos, Chezkas Karka’os, Halakhah 3
As found in Otzar HaYirah, “Teshuvas HaShanah,” sec. 164 and 165

By Dovid Sears

The ritual of taking the Four Species on Sukkos, the “season of our rejoicing,” is meant to imbue the heart with simchah shel mitzvah, the joy of the mitzvah, as the verse states, “You gave joy to my heart” (Psalms 4:8).

This is an aspect of the World to Come. For a person contains within himself all of the worlds; each of us contains an aspect of the “World to Come” and “This World.” That is, the head and higher consciousness (da’as) of a person is an aspect of the World to Come, which represents the culmination of higher perception. The body is the aspect of This World.

The key factor is the heart, which possesses two chambers that house the two basic inclinations: the Yetzer Tov (good urge) and Yetzer HaRa (evil urge). This makes it possible for a person to possess free choice, which is the great challenge of this world. Accordingly, it is possible for one to mentally sense the aspect of the World to Come. However, the main thing is to draw down this perception to the heart, which alludes to This World, the world of free choice.

This is the drawing down of the joy and delight of the World to Come to very midst of This World, in keeping with the verse, “And you shall know (da’as) today and place it in your heart…” (Deut. 11:2). And we accomplish this through the ritual of the Four Species—thus transmitting the joy of the World to Come from the brain to the heart, so that we may feel the joy of the World to Come right here in this world and in the heart, which is the main locus of joy.

Thus it is written, “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day [of the Sukkos festival] a fruit of the Eytz Hadar [‘beautiful tree,’ which Chazal understand to denote the Esrog] and rejoice before Hashem, your G-d” (Leviticus 22:40).

For in this way, we draw down the complete joy of the mitzvah to this world—to such a degree that we will merit to perform all mitzvot, constantly, throughout the year, with inherent joy of the mitzvah, free of any desire for reward in the World to Come. Rather, our entire joy will be in the experience of performing the mitzvah itself.

This is why “hiddur” (beauty) is especially associated with the Esrog, which represents the heart, as our Sages state; and the taste of this tree and the fruit are the same. [Our Sages infer from the Torah’s language that the Creator’s initially commanded this to all trees, but only the Esrog tree properly fulfilled that command.]

For the tree itself alludes to This World, where ordinarily we don’t experience the “taste” of holiness so much. Rather, this is a world of action. Yet from this tree grow wondrous fruits which we may merit to eat and enjoy in in the World to Come, at the time of receiving divine reward. However, the ideal is to experience the taste and the pleasantness of the fruit in the tree, as well. This is the experience of the World to Come when we perform the mitzvah [in this world]—the aspect of the tree and the fruit tasting the same.

Throughout the seven days of Sukkos we merit to elicit this happiness and to rejoice in G-d. This corresponds to “Israel will rejoice in its Maker.” This is the aspect of our joy in performing the mitzvos themselves. For the mitzvos are one with G-d who commanded them. 

This too is the meaning of the Simchas Beis Hasho’evah [i.e., the rejoicing in drawing water from the Shiloach stream for a special Water Libation in the Holy Temple. This celebration took place on the first night of Sukkos, and lasted until dawn, when the water was drawn, amid great festivity and song. However, even today it is customary to celebrate on the nights of Sukkos. These festivities are also called “Simchas Beis HaSho’evah.”]

Afterward, on Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, G-d rejoices (so to speak) in the Jewish people. As our Sages state, it is as if G-d asks, “Please remain with Me one more day…” This corresponds to “G-d will rejoice in His works.”  Then joy is complete; for both joys become one.

At this time we hold the Torah scroll and rejoice with her. This shows that all of our joy is derived from the Torah alone—which is one with G-d. And reciprocally, G-d rejoices with us. Thus the two aspects of joy become one. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Rabbi Nachman’s Yahrzeit

On the second day of Chol ha-Moed Sukkos (18th of Tishrei), Breslover Chassidim and others commemorate the yahrtzeit of our holy teacher, Rabbi Nachman ben Feige of Breslov, zatzal, by lighting a 24-hour candle and gathering with others in the Sukkah to share divrei Torah, sing niggunim, and participate in a se’udah / festive meal. In larger Breslov communities, this event is usually held in the Sukkah of the local Breslov synagogue. Various speakers discuss the Rebbe’s life and spiritual legacy, and say divrei hischazkus, words of encouragement based on Rabbi Nachman's teachings. The event concludes with a lively rikkud. It is also proper to study the Rebbe’s teachings more than usual on his yahrtzeit.

Reb Noson’s account of the Rebbe’s final months in Uman and his histalkus may be found in Chayei Moharan, sec. 185-229. In Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum’s English translation, “Tzaddik: A Portrait of Rabbi Nachman” (Breslov Research Institute), this material is presented in pp. 87-125. (Concerning the Yahrtzeit of a tzaddik, cf. Rabbi Chaim Vital, Likkutei ha-Shas, Berakhos 11.) The late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan also compiled “Until the Mashiach,” Breslov Research Institute 1985, a biography of Rabbi Nachman in English organized in the form of a dateline. After Rabbi Kaplan’s death, Rabbi Dovid Shapiro of Yerushalayim completed this work.

In Greater New York:

This year the yahrtzeit falls on Wednesday night October 19 through Thursday Oct. 20. Breslov shuls in Flatbush, Monroe, Borough Park, Williamsburg and elsewhere will host public events. (For more information, see the list of contacts on the "Breslov Shuls" page of this website, listed on the right sidebar.) However, be prepared: all these events will be conducted in Yiddish.

Breslov Customs and Practices for Sukkos

Compiled by Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears

We have included a number of personal customs of various Breslover gedolim, in particular Rabbi Gedaliah Ahron Kenig, as well as a few general Breslov customs.

Esrog/Arba’ah Minim

The Rebbe greatly praised those who exert themselves to buy a beautiful esrog, adding that there are profound mystical reasons for this custom.

(Sichot ha-Ran 125. Reb Noson was mehader in this mitzvah, as mentioned in Yemey Moharnat, Letters 91, 269, 322, 437, and 472)


Nevertheless, Reb Gedaliah Kenig cautioned that a poor person should not spend beyond his means for an esrog. Often he would wait until Erev Yom Tov in order to buy an esrog after the prices had dropped.

(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Kenig)


Reb Gedaliah considered the beauty of an esrog to be more important than its yichus, since in any case there is no such thing as a vaday bilti murkav (ungrafted plant beyond any question), but only be-chezkas bilti murkav (presumably ungrafted plant) This was not an unusual attitude, but reflected the prevailing view of Yerushalayimer Poskim. Accordingly, one should look for a clean esrog with as many hiddurim as possible, even if it does not have a special yichus.

(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Shapiro. From a historical perspective, the issue of grafting became hotly debated in the mid-1800s in connection with esrogim from Corfu. Those from Eretz Yisrael were generally relied upon as bilti murkav and were praised by such luminaries as the Arukh HaShulchan and the Sdei Chemed. In the early 1900s, Rav Kook established the “Atzey Hadar” union to develop and promote esrogim mehudarim in Eretz Yisrael, which met with great success.)


Reb Gedaliah was more stringent about hadassim, and would often go to great lengths to buy the finest hadassim, which conformed to one of the larger shiurim of meshuloshim.
(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Kenig)


The minhag of the ARI zal for the Arba’ah Minim is to place one aravah (willow branch) on each side of the lulav with the three hadassim (myrtle branches) covering them, and to bind them together with leaves of the lulav. Rabbi Moshe Burshteyn of Yerushalayim remembered that Reb Avraham Sternhartz bound the Arba’ah Minim together according to the minhag of the ARI zal. Rabbi Michel Dorfman concurred.

(Heard from Rabbi Moshe Burshteyn and Rabbi Michel Dorfman)


Rabbi Noson Barsky, son of Rabbi Shimon Barsky, also bound the Arba’ah Minim like the ARI zal. His father probably did so, too, but this is not certain.

(Heard from Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Bnei Brak. The Barskys are direct descendents of Rabbi Nachman.)


Nevertheless, most Breslover Chassidim follow the more common custom of placing the three hadassim on the right of the lulav and the two aravos on the left. Reb Elazar Kenig remembered that his father Reb Gedaliah used to tie the Arba’ah Minim with leaves of the lulav, simply tying knots, not making the leaves into rings; however, Reb Gedaliah did not arrange them according to the minhag of the ARI zal. Reb Elazar said that this probably reflected the general rule of avoiding doing things in public that are conspicuously different than the common practice.

(Re. the common custom, see Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, Kitzur SHeLaH, Masekhes Sukkah [Ashdod 1998 ed. p. 322. Although the latter is a major early source of kabbalistic customs and hanhagos, it nevertheless instructs the reader to arrange the arba’ah minim according to the common minhag, not according to that of the ARI.)


Reb Elazar Kenig also pointed out that that in Likkutei Halakhos, Reb Noson sometimes darshans on minhagim of the ARI zal, while at other times he cites the local Ukrainian minhagim of his day. Thus, it is apparent that Reb Noson did not do everything according to the ARI zal.


Reb Avraham Sternhartz tied the top ring one tefach below the tip of the lulav itself -- not from the end of the shedra, as stated in Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav, which is quoted in the Mishnah Berurah. Reb Avraham tied a total of three rings on the lulav, and two on the entire bundle. These were also Reb Gedaliah’s personal customs.

(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Shapiro and Rabbi Yitzchok Kenig)


Reb Gedaliah was particular to recite the berakhah over the Arba’ah Minim in the Sukkah, following the view of the ARI zal. Reb Noson also mentions this custom.

(Likkutei Halakhos , Rosh Hashanah 4:8; Umnin 4:18)


Reb Gedaliah performed the nanuim according to the minhag of the ARI zal. This is the common custom in most Chassidic communities. That is, while facing east, one waves the arba’ah minim to the right, left, front, up, down, and over one’s shoulder, over one’s back. Some turn while doing so. When waving the minim in the down position, one should nevertheless keep the lulav upright and not point the tip toward the ground. (These directions correspond to the six sefiros of Ze’er Anpin; see Likkutei Moharan I, 33, end.)


Reb Avraham Sternhartz used to perform the nanuim according to the minhag of the ARI.
(Heard from Rabbi Nachman Burshteyn)


In Reb Gedaliah’s family, the women were accustomed recite the berakhah over the arba’ah minim and perform the nanuim every day.

No’i Sukkah (Sukkah Decorations)

It is common for Breslover Chassidim to decorate the Sukkah, like the majority of Jewish communities. Most hang various fruits and other objects from the s’khakh, according to their family minhagim. There does not seem to be any kepeidah to refrain from hanging things from the s’khakh due to chumros.

(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn)


Reb Gedaliah used to hang a pomegranate from the s’khakh, which he would save in the refrigerator until Pesach, and if it was still good, he’d use it in the charoses. (Pomegranates were not usually available in Eretz Yisrael at Pesach-time during those years.)

He also had a family minhag to take an onion and put a few feathers into it and hang it from the s’khakh, as a remez to the posuk: “Be-tzeyl kenafekhah yechesoyun . . . In the shadow of Your wings I take refuge.” (“Bet-zeyl” is similar to the word “batzel,” meaning “onion.”)

Another family minhag was to hang a magen Dovid from the s’khakh. (This predates the secular state of Israel and its choice of the magen Dovid as its symbol.)

(Heard from Rabbi Elazar Kenig)


It is customary to invite the Ushpizin (“Holy Guests”) to the Sukkah before each meal, both by night and by day. There does not seem to have been any special nusach for inviting the Ushpizin, just what is stated in the nusach Sefard machzor.

(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn. The first part of the commonly used zimun is derived from Zohar III, 103b.)


Like other Chassidim, Breslovers follow the order according to which the seven Ushpizin correspond to the seven lower sefiros: Avraham-Chesed, Yitzchak-Gevurah, Ya’akov-Tiferes, Moshe-Netzach, Aharon-Hod, Yosef-Yesod, and Dovid-Malkhus. This assumption is supported by Rabbi Avraham b’Reb Nachman’s remarks connecting the day of the Rebbe’s histalkus, which is the fourth day of Sukkos, to Moshe Rabbeinu, the fourth of the Ushpizin.

(See Kokhvei Ohr, Chokhmah u-Binah 35, with note 43, ad loc. Neither Siddur ARI Rav Asher nor Siddur ARI Rav Shabsai specifies the order of the Ushpizin. However, Siddur ARI Kol Yaakov redacts the Ashkenazic order, which mentions Yosef fourth instead of Moshe. Siddur Tefillah Yesharah-Berditchev and Siddur Ohr le-Yisrael, both of which were popular in the Ukraine, similarly follow the Ashkenazic order. Nevertheless, virtually all Chassidim today mention Moshe as the fourth of the Ushpizin. This reflects the view of the ARI zal and Siddur SheLaH, as cited in Likkutei MaHaRICH, vol. III, Seder Chag ha-Sukkos, p. 684.)

Two Teachings About the Sukkah

Two Teachings About the Sukkah
From the unpublished "Breslov Tehillim" (BRI)

Psalm 27

“Indeed, He will hide me in His shelter (sukkah) on a day of evil.” The sukkah shields a person on a day of evil. That is, when one falls away from Divine service, if he will only strengthen himself and not give up, he will find himself shielded and sheltered by an extremely lofty level of holiness: the aspect of the sukkah, which corresponds to the Supernal Mother.[1] This holiness will encompass him like a protective mother so that he does not fall, God forbid, when he comes to a place of danger. It is also understood from the words of [Rebbe Nachman] that when a person finds himself in a spiritual tailspin, in the very place he has fallen, the greatest holiness is concealed.[2] When he supplicates God and finds Him there, at that very hour he will attain the loftiest sanctity (LH, Rosh Hashanah 4:7).

Psalm 35

“All of my bones shall declare, ‘God, who is like You?’ ” The sefirah of Binah is the archetype of the mother; it is where the embryo is formed, as in the verse, “If (IM) you call to understanding (binah)” (Proverbs 2:3). [The word Im is homiletically related to EiM, meaning “mother.”] Binah is also an aspect of the mitzvah of Sukkah, as it is written, “You sheltered me (teSuKeini) in the womb of my mother (IMi)” (Psalms 139:13). When a person prays with intense concentration, and he puts all his force into the letters of prayer, this is an aspect of “All of my bones shall declare, ‘God, who is like You?’ ” This is analogous to the Sukkah, as it is written, “You encompassed me (teSoKhekheini) with bones and sinews” (Job 10:1). The letters of the prayers which one utters with all his might (KoaCh, which has the numerical value of twenty-eight) become the twenty-eight letters of the act of creation (i.e., the number of letters in the first verse of Genesis). Thus, his words are the very words of the Holy One, blessed be He, as in the verse, “I put My words in your mouth” (Isaiah 51:16). [Thus by virtue of prayer with intense concentration, one who prays becomes a “spiritual Sukkah” and an instrument of the Divine speech of creation] (LM I, 48).

[1] I.e., the sefirah of Binah/Understanding, which is the “mother” of the lower seven sefirot. Associated with the upper letter heh in the Divine Name YHVH, Binah also alludes to the ohr makif, or trancendent plane.
[2] Rebbe Nachman discusses this concept in Likutey Moharan I, 56. This is also related to the widely-discussed issue of the yeridah le-tzorekh aliyah, “descent for the sake of an ascent.” 

Chol ha-Mo’ed

Breslover Chassidim follow the view of the ARI zal and Baal Shem Tov, based on the Zohar and many Rishonim, not to wear Tefillin on Chol ha-Mo’ed. Reb Noson expounds upon this in Likkutei Halakhos.
(Re. the Baal Shem Tov, see Imrei Pinchos 751; Shivchei Baal Shem Tov 6; Shulchan ha-Tahor [Komarno], Hilchos Tefillin 31:1. Re. the Zohar, see Zohar Chadash, Shir ha-Shirim, 64b; also note Rabbi Chaim Vital, Sha’ar ha-Kavannos, Drushei Chazoras ha-’Amidah, Drush 2, 38b. Rishonim who take this position include: Tosefos on Menachos 36b; Teshuvos ha-Rashba and Ra’avad, as cited in Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 31:2. Cf. Likkutei Halakhos, Tefillin 6:4; ibid. Chol ha-Moed 1:3.)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Rosh Hashanah

The Rebbe once declared: “Gohr mein zach is Rosh Hashanah . . . My entire mission is Rosh Hashanah.” He was particularly emphatic about his followers coming to him for Rosh Hashanah, and indicated on his last Rosh Hashanah in Uman that we should continue to do so even after his death.
(Chayei Moharan 403-406; Likkutei Moharan I, 211; ibid. II, 94; Kuntres “Ha-Rosh Hashanah Sheli,” citing numerous additional sources.)


The Rebbe once told his followers: “Whether you eat or you don’t eat, whether you sleep or you don’t sleep, whether you daven or you don’t daven [i.e., with proper concentration]—just make sure that you are with me for Rosh Hashanah!”
(Chayei Moharan 404)


The Rebbe taught that by traveling to the tzaddik for Rosh Hashanah, the “head of the year,” one attains purification of thought. This, too, mitigates harsh judgments. However, he added, we must use wisdom on Rosh Hashanah and think positive thoughts—for what we think about on Rosh Hashanah is potent.
(Likkutei Moharan I, 211; Sichos ha-Ran 21)


Reb Noson established the custom of reciting Tikkun ha-Klalli on Erev Rosh Hashanah beside Rabbi Nachman’s grave. Breslover Chassidim have been accustomed to do so even if they were not zokheh to be in Uman for Rosh Hashanah.
(Oral Tradition)


The Rebbe stated that on Erev Rosh Hashanah, one should give a pidyon nefesh, an unspecified amount of tzedakah appropriate to the individual’s financial circumstances.
(Sichos ha-Ran 214. The rule in determining how much to give is that it should be an amount that one feels is significant—that is, one should feel the “pinch.” For one person, this may be $5, for another, $5,000. It is also proper to write a kvittel with one’s name and mother’s name, as well as those of family members and others. In the Rebbe’s day, the pidyon nefesh was given to him personally. Today it is given to a Breslover elder or teacher.)


The Rebbe taught that one should limit one’s speech on Rosh Hashanah. Therefore, it is proper to refrain from small talk, and concentrate on words of Torah and tefillah, each person according to his ability. Many Breslover Chassidim do not engage in any casual speech at all on the first night, when the heavenly judgment is most severe. Some maintain silence until the second day after Musaf. Others restrict themselves until the end of Rosh Hashanah. In any case, one should be extremely careful in matters of speech on Rosh Hashanah.
(See Sichos ha-Ran 21)

Thursday, September 22, 2016


Otzar Nachmani, sec. 102
Collected Talks of Rabbi Nachman Burstein, zatzal
Translated by Dovid Sears (unedited)

The holy Breslover Chassid Rabbi Yitzchak Breiter, [a key figure in the Breslov movement in Poland who perished in Treblinka,] Hy”d, once said: When [on Rosh Hashanah] we cry out “HaMelekh!” [at the end of Pesukey de-Zimra]—the congregation also declares and takes to heart that which the Rebbe states [in Likutery Moharan I, 4], “When a person knows that all that happens to him is for his good, this perception is a forestaste of the World to Come.”

Thus, the initials of the words “kol me’or’osav haim le-tovaso [‘all that happens to him is for his good’]” spell “HaMelekh [heh-mem-lamed-khof]!”

[That is, this perception is a basic component of our recognizing the absolute sovereignty of the Creator throughout creation, and particularly in the life of every individual—in every respect, and at every moment. (Translator)]

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Inn Uman - Rosh Hashana 5777 Update

Received via e-mail from Breslev Israel:


We still have a few beds left, if your interested email immediately before they are gone. We can be reached at: innuman@yahoo.com

Reb Avraham’s Passing

From Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig’s Shaarey Tzaddik, Vol. I, Letter 8 (sec. 2)
Translated by Dovid Sears (unedited)

Rabbi Gedaliah Kenig, zatzal, was asked in a letter from one of his talmidim about the histalkus (ascent to the world above) of Reb Gedaliah’s revered teacher, Moreinu ha-Rav Avraham Sternhartz, zatzal – who was widely considered the preeminent Breslov teacher of his generation. (For a brief biography of Reb Avraham, see here.) After confessing his pain in contemplating his profound loss as well as his feelings of inadequacy in describing these events, Reb Gedaliah wrote:

Many weeks before his histalkus [Reb Avraham] was extremely weak. He bemoaned his plight and repeatedly said, “Vi azoy brengt men aza guf tzu Reb Shimon al Rosh Hashanah! How can I bring such a [broken] body to Reb Shimon [Bar Yochai in Meron] on Rosh Hashanah!”—for it was close to Rosh Hashanah. We tried to console him that Hashem would yet help him to be with the tzaddik emes (“true tzaddik”), the G-dly Tanna [sage of the Mishnah] RaSHBI [an acronym for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai], may his merits shield us, together with us.
[All this occurred during the years when it was impossible to travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah Therefore, at Reb Avraham’s behest, many Breslover chassidim in Eretz Yisrael went to the pray near the grave site of RaSHBI in Meron. Reb Avraham’s views on this issue are presented in “Amaros Tehoros” (published together with some of his Breslov oral histories, “Tovos Zikhronos”) and in Rabbi Shmuel Moshe Kramer’s polemical essay, “Chadi Rabbi Shimon.” A large Breslov Rosh Hashanah gathering still takes place in Meron for those who cannot travel to Uman every year. DS]

We told him that it was possible to make the journey a little at a time. We could hire a private taxi and accompany him and attend to his needs; and it seemed to us that he was amenable to this suggestion. But from various hints that he gave, it was possible to understand that he felt that his end was near. The main intent of his words to us was that we must fortify ourselves with all our souls to travel to RaSHBI for the holy days of Rosh Hashanah—until one day we would merit to be at the tziyyun of our holy Rebbe, the “flowing brook, source of wisdom” (Proverbs 18:4, the Hebrew initials of which spell “Nachman”), in Uman. He explicitly assured us, declaring, “Our Rosh Hashanah beside the G-dly Tanna RaSHBI in Meron will endure…” And he added, “Know and believe with perfect faith that traveling to RaSHBI is [the same as] traveling to the Rebbe!” He repeated this countless times, with the intent of imbuing this faith deeply in our hearts forever, for our eternal benefit. Fortunate is whoever heeds him!

All that last year, and particularly during those final weeks, he reviewed from memory Likutey Moharan and Likutey Halakhos, as well as the works of his grandfather, the Rav of Tcherin, zatzal. That is, after the effort of sitting at the table for his fixed daily study of the Gemara, Poskim, and the holy Zohar, etc., he was sometimes compelled to lie down for several hours; due to his great weakness, it was impossible for him to hold any book in his holy hands. Then he would review from memory the lessons [from Rebbe Nachman] that he used to teach publicly when he lived in the Diaspora, in the same style that he had delivered them, with even greater vigor and strength, whether silently in thought or aloud, to the greatest extent possible. Many times when I visited him, he told me, “Tonight I reviewed the lesson ‘Tiku-Emunah’… Tonight I reviewed the lesson ‘Viyehi Na Pi Sh’nayim Bi-ruchakha Eilai’…’ and other such lengthy teachings from Likutey Moharan, together with their related sections of Likutey Halakhos. Similarly, he greatly increased his recitation of Psalms, especially during his last days.

The day before his passing I was with him alone for many hours and was privileged to attend him. I wanted to remain there beside him at night, as well, in order to serve him; for I saw that the G-dly light was about to be extinguished, and who knew what the night would bring? It seems that he read my thoughts, for he turned to me, saying, “You can go home.” I didn’t wish to burden him with further discussion, given his infirmity. So I placed my trust in Hashem, may His Name be blessed, that tomorrow I would yet find [my teacher] alive.

So it was that I went home with a broken heart. And the next afternoon I came to him and found him sitting on his bed beside the table. He washed his hands with a copious amount of water and then lay down on the bed. He told me that many of our fellow Breslover Chassidim had come to visit him. They had learned with him a bit, and after about an hour went their way. He mentioned their names to me, and began to recall his conversation with them. However, I was unable to hear all of his words; even when I leaned closer to his holy mouth, I could only make out a few words here and there.

While he was lying thus, I busied myself with bringing water to cleanse the room. While doing so, I glanced at him and saw that he was close to death, and my heart was rent within me. Yet Hashem gave me the strength not to break down and cry out loud. But secretly my soul wept over the bitter day that drew near—and I began to pray to Hashem to have pity on us and grant him a speedy and complete healing.

In the midst of this, [Reb Avraham] sat up again and said to me, with a cheerful face, “I’d like to eat part of a roll.” I was overjoyed that he had such a desire. While I prepared it for him, though, he changed his mind and said, “Let me have some cake instead.” So I broke up the cake into small pieces and placed them in his holy mouth. I also fed him a few spoonfuls of chicken soup that I had made for him, so that it would be easier for him to chew and swallow the cake. While doing so, he again lay down on the bed, and I finished feeding him the cake and the rest of the soup while he reclined. He was able to swallow well, in the normal way—blessed be Hashem and blessed be His Name forever, in that He granted me the eternal merit of feeding such a holy body to satisfaction, so close to death. And I saw that [Reb Avraham] ate with a wondrous ratzon [i.e., the innermost will and desire of the soul for unification with Hashem, as discussed in Likutey Moharan I, 7; DS].

Afterward, I wanted him to eat an egg, as well, but he said to leave this for “afterwards…” because he wished to rest a bit. I heard him recite the berakhah achronah (blessing after eating), and when he finished his blessing, his lips began to move, and I didn’t know what he was saying. He placed his left hand under his head and slept thus for a quarter of an hour, dozing lightly. And I stood over him and intently watched every movement he made. Suddenly I saw that the gesisah (signs of imminent death) had begun; I was extremely frightened and began to weep in a whisper. (I didn’t want to raise my voice, since in the next room sat the daughter of our friend, Rav Moshe Burstein and his Rebbetzin—and his daughter was pregnant at that time, and I was concerned that she not be upset by my cries. Therefore, I forced myself with all my strength to contain my emotions.) [Reb Avraham lived with the Burstein family in the Katamon section of Yerushalayim during his last years, after his wife passed away. DS]

I saw that he closed his holy eyes and began to breathe abnormally long breaths. I was alone in the room with him and repeated many times the verse “Shema Yisrael…” in a loud voice. And I understood that he recited the verse after me, word by word.

Suddenly he opened his holy eyes wide and looked around the room at all sides, and he fixed his gaze upon me, for I stood facing him. Intentionally I peered into his holy eyes so that he would see me clearly this last time, and thus remember me always and intercede above for me.

Then he began to shut his eyelids slowly, until he closed his holy and pure eyes which had shone with heavenly radiance and which were brighter than jewels—which he had merited to attain through his profuse prayers and holy tears beyond measure, and by driving sleep from his eyes to labor in Torah study and prayer. Day and night, he didn’t rest or desist throughout his holy and untainted life; fortunate is he!

And so his soul departed in sanctity and purity, and his inner being (tzurah) cleaved to her Maker with the “Divine Kiss” [neshikin, as described in Berakhos 8a], without any contortions or convulsions. Rather, everything took place in great tranquility and wondrous presence of mind (yishuv ha-daas), the like of which we never saw. I continued to repeat aloud the verse “Shema Yisrael” until the family members in the adjoining room heard, and they went to summon others to enter [Reb Avraham’s bedroom]. When they came in, they observed him and said that he had already passed on to the next world, to reside in eternal life, leaving all Israel bereft [of his holy presence in our midst].

Then I rent my garment, according to the law [see Yoreh Deah 340:5, 8; DS], and the tears flowed from my eyes. I lingered beside him until a number of other Breslover chassidim arrived. I then traveled [into the Old City] to inform the chevra kaddisha (burial society) and the Breslover chassidim of the Old City to come and attend to the deceased and to pay their respects. May his merits shield us, and may we follow in his footsteps constantly, from this world to the next world, amen netzach sela va’ed.     

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Rosh Hashanah in Uman With Reb Avraham Sternhartz

Otzar Nachmani # 226
Collected Talks of Rabbi Nachman Burstein, zatzal
Translated by Dovid Sears (unedited)

Posted in honor of Reb Avraham Sternhartz’s yahrtzeit, 20 Elul.

[Reb Nachman Burstein writes:]

I heard many times from the Breslover elder (“chassid ha-vasik”), Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender, zal, about the awesome power of our master, Reb Avraham “Sofer” Sternhartz, zal, during the days of Rosh Hashanah in Uman—whether concerning his leading of the prayers, his public teaching of Torah, or other matters. Reb Levi Yitzchok described to us the astonishing strength of our teacher, who was already seventy years old; for he left Uman for Eretz Yisrael in 1936 at age 74—and he gave a mnemonic for this from the verse, “bitchu ba-Shem adey ad … trust in Hashem forever,” which can also be read “until 74 (ayin-dalet)” [when his patient trust in Hashem’s deliverence was at last fulfilled].

This avodah began at the holy tziyyun of the Rebbe, zal, at chatzos (midnight) on the last night before Rosh Hashanah—the night of the “Zekhor Brisselichos (petitional prayers), which is the last night of the year. (See Sippurey Ma’asiyos, Ma’aseh 13, in the story of the Fourth Day, which states that that when night fell, the people would weep.)

After spending about an hour reciting Tikkun Chatzos, [Reb Avraham] went [from the Rebbe’s tziyyun] to the Kloyz, there to imploringly lead the selichos of “Zekhor Bris” amidst the throngs of chassidim. As soon as he intoned the opening words, “Ashrei yoshvei veisekho,” intense feelings of awe would grip the holy congregation. “Es is shoyn gevven a shtick Rosh Hashanah, “It was already ‘of a piece’ with Rosh Hashanah,” [as Reb Noson used to say of the Erev Rosh Hashanah selichos].

A large group of Breslover chassidim still remained at the Rebbe’s tziyyun. They were awe-struck to hear the sound of [Reb Avraham’s] voice like a mighty shofar, as if summoning them. They immediately hastened to the Kloyz, as if in a single breath, while the voice of our master began to echo through the interior of the Kloyz and spread to the outside with the concluding words of each section of the selichos—especially the end of “K-el horeisa lonu sh’losh esrei…” when his voice waxed louder, sweetly and lingeringly, as he wept in supplication, the tears flowing down his cheeks, as he poured out his heart like water. And all those present answered him, the entire holy congregation assembled in the Kloyz, “like one man with one heart,” aroused with deep emotion, crying out in prayer with tears and entreaty, with broken-hearted sighs and groans that rent the very heavens!

[As Reb Levi Yitzchok said,] “Di kolos hobb’n … mamash es kekht zikh a kes’l! The sounds had [such an emotional effect]… It was like a boiling kettle!” The entire Kloyz became one spiritual conflagration. Amidst these holy flames, the chassidim stood for more than three hours, until the end of selichos.

Reb Levi Yitzchok remembered the first time he came to Uman in Elul 5674/1914, and heard our master [Reb Avraham ] lead the selichos of “Zekhor Bris”: “Hott mir di selichos gekling’n in di oyr’n a gantzeh Erev Rosh Hashanah. Ich hobb nit gevist oyf velkhe ich bin… The selichos resounded in my ears the entire Erev Rosh Hashanah. I didn’t know where I was! I had never heard anything like this before in the world. I actually experienced what the Rebbe said: ‘Other [tzaddikim] long for a Rosh Hashanah like my Erev Rosh Hashanah!’ The prayers were like a fire! The sounds emanating from the Kloyz reverberated through the surrounding area. Faces were enflamed; hearts burned; the synagogue was engulfed by a spiritual inferno. It is impossible to describe the heart’s passion for G-d at that time—it was truly an experience of nullification to the Ohr Ein Sof (Infinite Light), a transcendence of physicality [as mentioned in Tur-Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 98]. It is impossible to describe how they could stand in the middle of such a blaze, with such heartfelt cries, almost to the point of expiry of the soul, for so many hours…”

It is self-understood that this fervor and spiritual arousal affected the entire avodah of Erev Rosh Hashanah—particularly the hishtatchus (prostration), outpouring of the soul, and earnest recitation of the ten psalms of Tikkun ha-Klalli at the Rebbe’s tziyyun.

In addition, the magnanimous giving of tzedakah (charity) was beyond all bounds. For they made no calculations, but simply gave profusely, with flames of love, from a special fund they had set aside for that purpose throughout the past year. It was a beautiful sight to behold the wondrous generosity of our brothers, the like of which was not to be found anywhere else.  (It is brought in Sefer ha-Middos that one should give tzedakah “with both hands,” in the merit of which one’s prayers will be heard.) And this was aside from the money given as a pidyon nefesh (“redemption of the soul”) to prominent Breslover chassidim, as is customary, in fulfillment of the Rebbe’s words in Sichos ha-Ran (sec. 214): “On Erev Rosh Hashanah, one should give a pidyon.” (And I heard that during the previous generation, they used to give a pidyon to the eminent chassid, Reb Abale, zal, in keeping with Likutey Moharan I, 200 [end]; see there.)

The giving of tzedakah at the Rebbe’s tziyyun prior to reciting Tikkun ha-Klalli was a distinct avodah. For this tzedakah was in honor of the neshamah of the “light of our life,” the Rebbe, zal, who had said, “And give a coin (perutah) to tzedakah for my sake,” at the time he revealed the awesome secret of Tikkun ha-Klalli: the ten psalms designation for tikkun ha-bris [“repair of the covenant,” spiritual correction of nocturnal emissions, which Reb Noson understood to extend to the correction of all sins; also see Likutey Moharan I, 200 [end]; see there.)
All day long the holy tziyyun was resonant with the sounds of hundreds of people coming and going from the ohel (shelter) that covered the Rebbe’s grave, which embodied the “small that contains the great” [see the Rebbe’s story, “The Seven Beggars,” Fifth Day (“The Hunchback”); this concept is found in the Midrash—DS]. For the ohel was too small to hold even a minyan; yet miraculously on Erev Rosh Hashanah, tens of people entered its holy interior, defying all comprehension.   

What took place there at that time is beyond words, given the great spiritual arousal, outpouring of the soul, prayers, supplications, confessions, tears and screams, sighs and moans, which reached unto the heart of heaven! It was as if one could feel with his very hands the teshuvah, remorse and new inner resolve of each person.