Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Rav Kenig’s Pidyon Nefesh

In commemoration of my revered teacher Rav Elazar Mordechai Kenig zatzal’s first yahrtzeit, which is 23 Teves, we are posting this story. The greatest “wonders” associated with Rav Kenig are his wisdom and kindness and spiritual refinement. But a story like this is easier to tell. If I made any factual mistakes, I apologize in advance. This is how I remember what took place.

On the last day of Passover in 1989, in the early hours of the morning, our friend Rabbi Moshe Grinberger’s wife woke up to the crying of their infant son. “Moshe,” she called, “I’m so tired! Would you please take care of the baby?” He immediately washed his hands and went to the baby’s room.

There he witnessed a scene that we pray Hashem should spare us all. The baby was shrieking hysterically, flailing his tiny arms, as a giant rat sat on top of him, ripping away the flesh of one arm with his teeth. Reb Moshe immediately chased away the rat, wrapped up his injured child, and called Hatzolah, the Orthodox Jewish volunteer ambulance service. Within minutes, Shauli Pearlstein, an old friend of the family and Hatzolah EMT, was at the door; he packed the Grinbergers and their child into his car, and sped off to Maimonides Hospital less than a mile away.

On Motza’ei Yom Tov, as soon as the time when it is permissible to perform weekday work arrived, Reb Moshe called Rabbi Elazar Kenig zatzal in Tsfat to ask him to make a pidyon nefesh (a kabbalistic method of heavenly intercession) on behalf of his son. The baby had nine deep bites, and the arm did not respond to stimuli. He also could not move his fingers. The doctors tried to be encouraging but feared that the baby would never regain use of the limb. Yet Reb Moshe, who had hosted Rabbi Gedaliah Kenig zatzal in his home for many months, had seen Reb Gedaliah perform miracles by making a pidyon nefesh, and Reb Moshe knew that he had given over his traditions to his son, Reb Elazar. His faith in the tzaddikim did not falter. He immediately made the phone call to Tsfas.

“I suppose that you have not heard the news from Eretz Yisrael,” Reb Elazar replied. “Reb Shmuel Shapira zatzal (one of the prominent figures in the Jerusalem Breslov community) passed away on the Seventh Day of Passover, and the funeral is tonight in Jerusalem. I am just leaving the house and must be there in three hours, or it will appear disrespectful. Please call me at my Mother’s house in five hours.”

Reb Moshe agreed. In exactly five hours he made the call to Reb Gedaliah’s widow, Rebbetzin Esther Yehudis Kenig. However, she said that her son had never arrived.

What should I do?” asked Reb Moshe.

“Try calling him in Tsfat!”

Reb Moshe did so and was surprised to hear the Rav’s voice on the other end. “Reb Elazar!” he exclaimed. “How did you go to Jerusalem and back so fast?”

“I never went,” he replied. “I decided that it was more important to make a pidyon for your baby.”

“And what did they say [meaning the Heavenly Court]?” asked Reb Moshe.          

“They said that the baby is going to have a refuah sheleimah, a complete healing—so quickly that the doctors will call it a miracle. He will start moving his fingers soon, and the arm will be completely usable within two weeks. Not only that. The scars will heal completely and not even a trace of any injury will remain…”

 Reb Moshe thanked the Rav profusely and sped back to the hospital to tell his wife the good news. As he walked down the corridor and neared the intensive care unit, he suddenly heard loud voices from the baby’s room. “Look! Look! He’s moving his fingers!” Everyone clustered around the baby’s bed to view the happy sight.

Just as Rav Kenig had predicted, during the next two weeks the baby’s condition rapidly improved. Soon his arm was fully usable, and the memory of the nightmare began to fade. A year or so later, Mrs. Malkie Zeitlin, wife our mutual friend Reb Dovid Zeitlin, began to supplement the family’s income by babysitting in her home. One of the children she cared for was this Grinberger baby. Reb Dovid told me that one day his wife was changing the child, when she remembered the story of the rat and observed the formerly injured arm. Not one scar remained.

May the merit of the tzaddikim shield us, and may their neshamos continue to reach ever greater heights in the world above. 

Remembering my teacher Rabbi Elazar Mordechai Kenig, zatzal

Monday, January 6, 2020

Reb Noson’s Yahrtzeit

This year, Reb Noson’s yahrtzeit, Asarah be-Teves, falls on Tuesday, January 7. It is customary to light a 24-hour candle and give tzedakah in his memory, as well as to learn some of his teachings. In many Breslov shuls, including those in Borough Park, Williamsburg and Monsey, there will be public Melaveh Malkas in honor of Reb Noson’s yahrtzeit. (Since Asarah be-Teves is a fast day, the yahrtzeit seudah is usually held on the evening before the fast.)

The following biographical sketch was written by Rabbi Chaim Kramer and published as an appendix to his now-classic introduction to Breslov Chassidus, “Crossing the Narrow Bridge” (Breslov Research Institute), pp. 434-436.

The Life of Reb Noson
Reb Noson Sternhartz was born in Nemirov, on 15 Shevat, 5540 (January 22, 1780). At thirteen, he married Esther Shaindel, the daughter of the prominent Rabbi Dovid Zvi Orbach, a renowned halakhic authority in Poland and the Ukraine. Reb Noson was twenty‑two when Rebbe Nachman moved to Breslov, and Reb Noson promptly became his leading follower. He also developed into the Rebbe’s scribe, writing down all of the Rebbe’s teachings and conversations. Rebbe Nachman himself said: “Were it not for Reb Noson, not a page of my writings would have remained” (see Tzaddik #367).

After Rebbe Nachman passed away, Reb Noson moved to Breslov (1811). He printed all of Rebbe Nachman’s writings, and wrote his own original discourses and teachings, some of which were published during his lifetime. He also traveled throughout the Ukraine, visiting Rebbe Nachman’s followers and continuing to spread the Rebbe’s teachings. In 1822 he made his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a trip that in many ways rivaled Rebbe Nachman’s in adventure and suspense. During those years, Reb Naftali Hertz’s business failed and Reb Noson became subjected to poverty. He once said that when he began eating from wooden utensils, he felt no taste in the food. Around 1830, with the pronounced increase in the number of those coming to Uman for Rosh HaShanah, Reb Noson initiated the construction of a large Breslov synagogue (until then, they had rented a place in the city for the kibutz gathering.)

In late 1834, Rabbi Moshe Zvi of Savran, the Savraner Rebbe, instigated fierce and fanatical opposition to Reb Noson and the Breslover Chassidim. This opposition led to Reb Noson’s temporary imprisonment by the authorities. After his release, Reb Noson fled from city to city in the Ukraine, only returning to Breslov in the spring of 1835. Shortly afterwards he was banished from Breslov, and was under court order to remain in the city of his birth. Though he obtained permission to travel to Uman for Rosh HaShanah and for other special occasions, he was virtually a prisoner in Nemirov. His confinement also put him at the mercy of his opponents, who seized every opportunity to torment him. With the Savraner’s sudden death in 1838, the relentless opposition waned and Reb Noson returned to Breslov later that year.

Reb Noson had five sons and one daughter, all of whom survived him. Reb Shachneh (b. 1802) and Reb Yitzchok (b. 1808) were born during Rebbe Nachman’s lifetime. Reb Noson’s only daughter Chana Tzirel (b. 1820) and his third son, Reb Dovid Zvi (b. 1822) were also born to him by his first wife, Esther Shaindel (d. 1826). Reb Noson then married Dishel, who bore him two sons, Reb Nachman (b. 1827) and Reb Yosef Yonah (b. 1829).

Despite great personal suffering from both poverty and opposition, Reb Noson was single-handedly responsible for shaping the Breslov movement into the vibrant force it is today. This, in spite of the fact that there is no “living” rebbe. On the morning of his passing, 10 Tevet, 5605 (December 20, 1844), Reb Noson had the first two stories of Rabbi Nachman’s Stories read to him. The second story ends, “...let us go home!” Hearing these words, Reb Noson nodded his head as if to say, “Yes, it is my time to go home.” He passed away later that day in his home in Breslov, just before the onset of Shabbat. Reb Naftali, with whom Reb Noson had been very close ever since childhood, was then living in Uman. The next morning he said that he was certain that “Reb Noson passed away last night.” When asked how he knew this, he replied, “I had a dream in which I saw Reb Noson. He was running. I asked him, ‘Reb Noson, where are you running?’ ‘Me?’ he answered. ‘Straight to the Rebbe!’” (oral tradition).

Monday, December 16, 2019

19 Kislev: Yahrtzeit of the Maggid of Mezeritch

19 Kislev: Yahrtzeit of the Maggid of Mezeritch
Based on Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, “Chassidic Masters,” Chapter 4, and “Until the Mashiach.”

This year “Yud-Tes Kislev,” the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Dov Ber ben Avraham (1704-1772), better known as the Maggid of Mezeritch, falls on Tuesday, November 27.

On the yahrtzeit of a tzaddik, it  is customary to light a 24-hour candle, give a few coins to tzedakah and learn something from the tzaddik’s teachings or tell a story or two about him. A few translations from this great and awesome Chassidic master’s teachings can be found in a separate posting here.

According to tradition, the Maggid of Mezeritch was a leading student of the celebrated Talmudist known as the “Pnei Yehoshua” (Rabbi Yehoshua Falk, 1680-1756) in Lemberg (Lvov), at whose behest he later traveled to the Baal Shem Tov in search of a cure for his lameness. The Maggid was already a master of the Kabbalah by this time—but upon encountering the Baal Shem Tov, that mastery was forever transformed from intellectual knowledge to the most profound experiential knowledge of these mysteries.

After the Baal Shem Tov’s passing in 1760, some eight years later, the Maggid emerged as the unique disciple who would succeed in transmitting the Master’s teachings to a core of elite students, who in turn disseminated them throughout the Jewish world. Several collections of the Maggid’s oral teachings were published after the latter’s death by his disciples. These included Likutey Amarim (1780); Likutim Yekarim (1792); Ohr HaEmes (1799); and Ohr Torah (1804).

Although Rebbe Nachman was not a disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch (his formative years having been spent in the family circle of the Baal Shem Tov), he nevertheless had the highest praise for him. Reb Noson writes that once a group of people were discussing the greatness of the tzaddikim. One mentioned the testimony of a certain tzaddik that with wherever he set his eyes, the Maggid of Mezeritch could see all “Seven Shepherds” (i.e., Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David). Rebbe Nachman commented, “About the holy Maggid, one may believe everything.” Reb Noson adds that the Rebbe spoke many other praises of the Maggid and his inner circle of followers (Chayei Moharan #553).

Another great event that took place on Yud-Tes Kislev was the release of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad school of Chassidism, from the Czar’s prison. This liberation is still celebrated all over the world by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

In this connection, there is an interesting observation from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in his biography of Rebbe Nachman, “Until the Mashiach” (Breslov Research Institute), p. 40. In describing Rebbe Nachman’s journey to Israel, he writes:

“Thursday, 24 Tishrei 5559 (October 4, 1798):  The day after the holiday [of Shemini Atzeres-Simchas Torah] the Rebbe wanted to return home immediately. His attendant, however, again refused to go, since he wanted to visit Tiberias. The Rebbe agreed (Shivchey HaRan).

On this day, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was taken to prison. He had been denounced to the Prosecutor-General in S. Petersburg as a political agitator (Tanya, Toldos Rabbenu HaZaken, p. 207; HaTamim, 214a). [Rabbi Kaplan adds:] This might have been why the Rebbe was so brokenhearted [during the preceding holy days].”

The “coincidence” of these events—Rebbe Nachman’s mysterious grief and the accusation and then arrest of the Baal HaTanya—is remarkable.

Upon his return to Russia from his momentous journey to the Holy Land, Rebbe Nachman went straight to the Baal HaTanya in Liozna, attempting (unfortunately, without success) to make peace between him and Rabbi Avraham Kalisker in Eretz Yisrael. And when the Baal HaTanya later traveled through the Ukraine on his way to meet with Rabbi Baruch of Medzhibuzh, he stopped to spend Shabbos Yisro with Rebbe Nachman in Breslov (“Until the Mashiach,” pp. 178-179)—but that’s another story…

Zekhusam yagein aleinu!

Friday, October 25, 2019

True Joy

(Painting by Zvi Malnovitzer)

Shaarey Tzaddik, Vol. 3,
Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig, zatzal
Excerpt from Letter 74
Translation by Dovid Sears

In memory of my dear friend Reb Yaacov Matisyahu ben Zvi (Sternbach), zal, who was niftar last summer (2019)

Yahrtzeit: 13 Tammuz

The last time that I spoke over the phone with Reb Yaacov, he was already in the advanced stages of prostate cancer. I asked him how he was coping emotionally, and he replied, “I’m b’simchah!” I was amazed. I asked him, “How do you do it?” Reb Yaacov explained, “In the Rebbe’s story of the Seven Beggars, the king who gives over the rulership of his kingdom to his son during his lifetime tells the prince that his spiritual test will be whether or not he can remain b’simchah even when he loses his throne. I understood from this that always being b’simchah must be a very important thing. So I am always b’simchah!”

During the shiva, I heard from one of his sons that Reb Yaacov was in good spirits until two hours before his passing, when he lost consciousness.

May he intercede above for his family and for Klal Yisrael, and have a “lechtigeh gan eden,” amen.

[Reb Gedaliah writes:]

The first thing [one needs] to open the gate through which the tzaddikim pass, and thus to enter the “holy palace,” is to acquire true simchah (joy), and to banish depression, which is utterly worthless (pasul). In this context, the entire Jewish people are deemed tzaddikim. By means of true simchah, whose source is in the heart (as our Rebbe repeatedly states), the understanding of the mind is prepared, and the heart is opened to grasp each matter clearly and without error. And through the banishment of depression, one attains the perception that “Hashem is the Lord, there is none other than Him,”[i] and “His kingship extends over all.”

One can open [the gate of] the “palace” of simchah only by heeding the fitting advice of Lesson 282 in Likutey Moharan, “Azamra… I will sing unto my G-d b’odi”—[according to Rebbe Nachman’s reading of the verse, “with the little bit of good that I still can find”].” One must always search for each good point in whatever one merits to do, time after time, and to enliven oneself with this. Thus, one will come to rejoice in G-d with true simchah.

No good point should ever seem insignificant in one’s sight, even if it may seem to be infinitesimally small. For we do not have permission, nor do we possess the ability to measure any good point, whatever it may be, or assess the height of its spiritual status. For our mortal minds are too poor and small to measure it, and we don’t know [the nature of these mysteries]. Thus, it is self-understood that each good point in one’s divine service is bound up with Eternity—which is the Infinite One, may He be blessed. If so, how can one give [this good point] any measurement? Who can be so presumptuous as to say that this point is great and that point is minute, this one is lofty and that one is lowly?

This is as our Sages state: “Be as careful with a minor mitzvah as with a major mitzvah—for you do not know the [heavenly] reward of the mitzvos” (Avos 2:1). For in truth, Hashem esteems and delights in every good point in one’s divine service, whether in Torah or Tefillah or good deeds, which ascends above from this physical world through the actions of the holy nation of Israel. This is all precious “merchandise” to Hashem; it is all stored up in His treasure trove of goodness, and not one of these [good points] is missing.

Look and see what our Rebbe writes (L”M I, 17, in the lesson “And it was when they emptied their sacks...”, section 1) that all of the higher and lower worlds, and all that they contain, in general and in particular, receive their effluence of the divine life-force only from the pride and delight that Hashem derives from the divine service of the Jewish people, His holy nation, in this lower realm, which is the central point of physicality and materiality. See there, where he states: “It sometimes happens that some ordinary Jew gives his peyos (sidelocks) a shake, and the Blessed One takes great pride even in this!” Understand and consider how far these matters reach, and you will derive life from them.

According to these words and this truth, Hashem has helped me to explain the praise of the Omnipresent One that we recite in the first blessing of the Shemoneh Esreh prayer, [where we refer to the Creator as] “Owner (koneh) of all.” [Koneh can also mean “purchaser.”] That is, Hashem possesses every good point that is inherent in the divine service of Israel, His Holy Nation, because He derives pleasure and delight from them all; and through this, He sustains all the worlds entirely and confers upon them all goodness. This is comparable (l’havdil) in physical terms to a great merchant who purchases the finest merchandise, paying for it the price it deserves. Now, the Blessed One does not forsake anything, but possesses everything, for every good point that ascends from this world is most precious in Hashem’s eyes. Only Hashem knows how to measure in truth the value every good point, whatever it may be. All of them are “good merchandise,” and He pays for them a high price—which is the divine effluence of goodness to all the worlds, quite apart from the reward that is stored away in the World to Come for [that individual who has thus served Hashem]. This is the meaning of “Owner (koneh) of all.” That is, Hashem acquires each good point, and for this reason is called the “Owner of all”—because for the sake of His receiving this pleasure and delight, Hashem created all of His “possessions,” which are the [various] worlds and all they contain, and He sustains and confers upon them all goodness.

Through the deep contemplation of this holy advice, you will come to true and complete simchah, with the help of Hashem, in all your endeavors. For it is impossible that there not be in all of one’s efforts in divine service some point which is good in Hashem’s sight. This is the path one should follow until one reaches the zenith of true simchah in Hashem, in cultivating the knowledge of His ways, may He be blessed, which are embedded in our holy Torah and in the fulfillment of her holy mitzvos, in all their details, with the desire of a pure heart and spirit, according to the Blessed One’s will.

These words of encouragement came to my mind when I was standing and praying the morning Shemoneh Esreh on the Seventh Day of Passover this year (5724 / 1964).

[i] The Chasidic understanding of this verse, based on earlier sources such as the Shnei Luchos HaBris and the Maharal, and as is implicit in the kabbalistic works of Rav Moshe Cordovero, is that Hashem is not only the one true God, but the Ultimate Reality, within which everything is subsumed. I have enumerated some of these sources elsewhere, including in “The Water Castle” (BRI), Overview of Hilkhot Tola’im 4, pp. 31-32, notes 6-8 (see references there).

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.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

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.

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.)

Monday, October 7, 2019

Reb Noson’s Yom Kippur

From “Otzar Nachmani,” Vol. I, sec. 61-62
Translated by Dovid Sears

The first volume of a collection of transcribed “sichos” – Chassidic teachings in the form of anecdotes and oral histories – has been published by the sons of the late Rabbi Nachman Burstein, zatzal. Reb Nachman was a “chad bi-doro,” a unique figure in the Breslov community of Yerushalayim. A master story-teller, baal menagen and singer, baal tefillah and respected talmid chokhom, Reb Nachman brought a special warmth and “chassidishkeit” into Breslov. This wonderful little book is a tribute to the memory of this great teacher and friend to several generations of Breslover Chasidim. He is sorely missed.

Reb Noson’s Yom Kippur
Reb Noson used to say, “The Rebbe’s zakh (mission, task) is Rosh Hashanah—and mine is Yom Kippur.” Concerning this, the Breslover Chassidim explain that the culmination of the Rebbe’s tikkunim comes about through Reb Noson, for without him we would have no way to receive the Rebbe’s light, or his tikkunim and spiritual advice. As the Rebbe attested of Reb Noson, “If not for him, you wouldn’t have even a page of my book” (Chayei Moharan 370). 

The entire matter of the Rosh Hashanah gathering in Uman that has endured from generation to generation, following the ascent of the Rebbe, of blessed memory, from the body was due to the great effort and self-sacrifice of Reb Noson, as described in various sources. Therefore, he declared, “My task is Yom Kippur”—since what was decreed on Rosh Hashanah is sealed on Yom Kippur.
Moreover, it is a day of beseeching forgiveness (selichah). Thus, just before his death Reb Noson was heard to repeat again and again the phrase “chanun hamarbeh lis’lo’ach (gracious One, abundant in forgiveness”)—the gematria (numerical value) of which is “Noson.” (See Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman, “Chokhmah u-Binah”: Chanun=114, hamarbeh=252, lis’lo’ach=134; Total=500. Noson=500) For his mission was Yom Kippur—to increase in supplication, defending and finding merit in others and interceding for their good, as well as in encouragement and restoring the soul, even of those who had fallen to the lowest levels, as he stated. Therefore, Reb Noson greatly desired that his disciples come to him for Yom Kippur, when he would undertake what he would undertake… (Reb Nachman states that he heard this from Reb Itche Meir Korman, Reb Levi Yitzchak Bender, and Reb Elyah Chaim Rosen). 


Once before Yom Kippur, Reb Noson urged the wealthy philanthropist Reb Abaleh of Tcherin to spend the holy day with him, as well as to attend the seudah hamafsekes, the last meal before the commencement of the fast, with him and other guests. For it was known that during this meal, Reb Noson was accustomed to speak with all those present at his table and deliver the most profound teachings, expressed with fiery intensity and passion, regarding the holiness and awe of the holy Day of Judgment. (See the Introduction to “Yemey ha-Tla’os.”) Knowing that the food served by the wealthy included various delicacies, Reb Noson added, “Aye, you serve large fish and I serve small fish—but that’s nothing (nisht geferlach). The main thing is that you should come to me for the holy day!” (Reb Nachman Burstein states that he heard this from Reb Itche Meir Korman and Reb Levi Yitzchak Bender.)

 (And the Breslover Chassidim point out that Reb Noson mentioned fish specifically because it is customary to serve fish on Erev Yom Kippur, as mentioned in the Tur, Orach Chaim.)
 This is an appropriate place to quote the manuscript of Rabbi Moshe Glidman, of blessed memory (also known as Reb Moshe Chenstekhover—who attended Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman, particularly during the latter’s final months, with great self-sacrifice, as described elsewhere). He writes the following sichah in his notes, which is relevant to our subject: Once someone mentioned in Reb Noson’s presence the words of the Rav of Berditchev, “When the holy Days of Awe approach, one’s shoulders tingle from terror and fear of the Day of Judgment.” Reb Noson commented on this, “This is how we already must tingle [from awe], to the point that we won’t notice any difference when this tingling comes.”

[Reb Moshe] adds that the Rav of Berditchev further remarked, “When the night of Erev Yom Kippur arrives, even the fish in the sea tremble in fear of the Day of Judgment!”
 We also read: Once Rabbi Avraham b’Reb Nachman of Tulchin sat together with the local Breslover Chassidim on Erev Yom Kippur at the seudas ha-mafsekes. When they finished the meal, he told them the above story with dread and fear of Heaven, and a great awe fell upon them all. They recited the Grace After Meals with intense concentration and reverence.