Friday, February 5, 2016

Shaar ha-Kollel: The Universal Gate

(Painting by Jim Dine)
By Dovid Sears
L’illui nishmos avi mori: Leib ben Yitzchak Yaakov (yahrtzeit 30 Shvat, R”CH Adar 1)
Imi morasi: Gittel bas Yitzchak (yahrtzeit 5 Adar)
Dodi: Dov Ber ben Yitzchak Yaakov (yahrtzeit 29 Shvat)

When my wife and I lived in Providence, RI, in the early 1980s, we used to have a Shabbos guest who was an elderly Polish-born Holocaust survivor, a wonderful woman who had lived through many trials and troubles, named Chana Berman, a”h. I remember how frustrated she was by the diversity of nusachos (versions of the Siddur) she encountered: Nusach Ashkenaz, Nusach Sfard, “Nusach Ari” (i.e., Chabad), and others. “Why can’t we all daven the same thing?” she asked. “How did this happen?”

I explained that in general, these variations developed because of the galus (exile) of our people to different faraway lands, and the inevitable development of different customs over the generations. But the core elements of the prayers and the basic structure of the prayer services remain the same.

“But why do the Chassidim daven differently?” she persisted. “We’re all Ashkenazim…” That was a harder question to answer. And it is a question that many people still ask, even today.

The answer is not that this was an “ID Card” for an anti-establishment movement, as some contend (although it might have also served that purpose for those who wanted to identify with a special sect). The underlying issue is the quest for a Nusach Ari for Ashkenazim—a “kabbalistically correct” prayer text based on the views of the great Sefardic mystics, in particular Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (known as the holy Ari), but adapted to the Ashkenazic Siddur. What drove this effort was the primacy of the kabbalistic teachings that lay at the core of the Chassidic movement, which sought to bring its own type of mysticism to the masses of Eastern Europe, and ultimately far beyond.

Nusach Ari
Rav Chaim Vital states that each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel had its own nusach ha-tefillah and its own heavenly gate through which its prayers would ascend. These correspond to the Twelve Gates mentioned at the end of the Book of Ezekiel. (see Pri Eitz Chaim, Shaar ha-Tefillah, beginning; the main section about this was translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan for his anthology on prayer, A Call to the Infinite, p. 85-87).

Nearly two centuries later, the Maggid of Mezeritch added that if someone didn’t know his tribe, there was a thirteenth gate. In terms of the prayer service, this corresponds to the nusach of the holy Ari, which the Maggid called the “Shaar ha-Kollel (Universal Gate).” And since we no longer know our tribe of origin, it is best to pray according to the nusach of the Ari (Maggid Devarav le-Yaakov 141). The Maggid’s teaching is probably what motivated the Baal ha-Tanya to devote himself to creating a nusach that would reflect that of the Arizal, but as tempered by other considerations, halakhic and kabbalistic.

The Baal ha-Tanya didn't create his siddur in a vacuum. Other Chassidic leaders attempted to do the same, including the Baal Shem Tov (and before him, other Ashkenazic kabbalists such as Rav Noson Adler, Rav Yaakov Koppel, etc.). Thus, most groups have their own variation of Nusach Sefard, which is really their own take on Nusach Ari. 

I suspect that the reason why no Chassidic leader seems to have accepted the nusach of the Arizal "lock, stock and barrel" is partly due to confusions created by the conflicting texts available to them. (In recent years, a ground-breaking study and clarification of Nusach Ari was authored by Rabbi Daniel Rimmer, entitled Tefilas Chaim. So now we know what the Arizal actually davenned.) But in addition, the early Rebbes may have wished to include the nusach of Rav Moshe Cordovero (RaMaK) in the mix. I believe the RaMaK’s Siddur Tefillas Moshe was available in Europe (although that should be ascertained). And as modern scholars have shown, the RaMaK was also a major influence on the Chassidic movement.

The Rebbe stated that there is a complete unity between the kabbalah of the RaMaK and that of the Arizal (Chayei Moharan 364). It seems that this is how all the early Chassidic Rebbes felt, and not only about the RaMaK and the Arizal, but very likely about the many different voices in the Kabbalah. They accepted them all. Pnimiyus ha-Torah, the “inner dimension” of Torah, is by definition the realm of unity; so there was a widespread feeling that any disagreements must be minor. Therefore, different Rebbes made different personal choices when trying to decide which nusach to daven, and as in all tribes, the “Indians” simply followed their “chiefs.” 

Enter Breslov
There is an oral tradition (now printed in Siach Sarfey Kodesh, Vol. I, sec. 119) that Rebbe said that he didn't want to "misch" ("mix," but he means "butt into") the matter of nuschos. According to one version I have heard, he added "If I was born into a family that davenned according to Nusach Ashkenaz, I'd daven Nusach Ashkenaz." (in a similar vein, see Siach Sarfey Kodesh, Vol. II, sec. 90; cf. Rabbi Moshe Sofer’s defense of Nusach Ashkenaz in Teshuvos Chasam Sofer, Orach Chaim no. 16, also translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, loc. cit.).

As an aside, in Chayei Moharan 366, Reb Noson cites a mysterious remark the Rebbe once made about "the stage where we're we're holding in the prayers." Later the Rebbe explained that his teachings follow the order of the prayer service. “So far, we are before Baruch she-Amar, but after Hodu…" This is not the main point, of course, but his comment reflects Nusach Sefard (i.e., Nusach Ari)! 

We don’t have any directives in Breslov about davening according to a specific nusach, (other than what we have heard from Breslov elders about was was customary in the past). The only instruction the Rebbe gave us was that the conclusion of “Yishtabach” should be “Melekh Yachid Chay ha-olamim” (Siach Sarfey Kodesh, Vol. I, sec. 119). (Interestingly, this is the same as the nusach of the conclusion of “Yishtabach” in the Baal ha-Tanya’s Siddur, but it differs from Nusach Ari. I have yet to find an earlier source for this variation. These four words reflect the phraseology of Baruch She-amar, with which the Pesukey de-Zimra begins; also see Rav Avraham Dovid Lavut, Shaar ha-Kollel [Chabad], ad loc.) The Rebbe used the Siddur ha-Ari personally, as did several of his followers, but apparently the nusach found there did not receive any special emphasis.

Yet the term "Shaar ha-Kollel (Universal Gate)" does appear in Breslov teachings. In Likutey Moharan I, Torah 9, the Rebbe also discusses this subject. But there, he relates it to davening with hiskashrus (spiritual attachment) to the tzaddik emes, and not to a specific text at all.

Being the “point of truth among the tzaddikim,” the tzaddik emes personifies the unity of all Jewish souls and indeed, all of creation. The soul of the tzaddik emes is variously described as the neshamah haklalis (universal soul), sekhel hakollel (universal intellect), and mo’ach hakollel (universal mind) (see Likutey Moharan I, 61, II, 72, et al.). Therefore, the tzaddik emes is the Shaar ha-Kollel, whichever Siddur one prefers.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Tzaddikim Are One: Part II

(Drawing by Hyman Bloom)
By Dovid Sears
L’ilui nishmas Shulamis Na’ami bas Gedaliah Aryeh (Sochaczewsky), a”h

After writing the first posting, I had a few more thoughts that I’d like to add here.

Rebbe Nachman said some extreme things about his own teachings, which he understood to be nothing less than heavenly revelations. For example, he deemed the publication of Likutey Moharan to be “the beginning of the Redemption” (Chayei Moharan #346). He urged everyone to buy the book and study it, “even if one had to sell the pillow under his head” to do so (Chayei Moharan #349).

On the other hand, the Rebbe encouraged his followers to study “works by the tzadddikim of recent times, who follow the path of the Baal Shem Tov,” specifically mentioning the Toldos Yaakov Yosef and Likutey Amarim of the Maggid (Chayei Moharan #410, as cited in Part I of this posting). I would assume that the countless Chassidic works published subsequently, down until the present day, would similarly merit his endorsement. He did not take the approach of some other Chassidic masters that their followers should avoid studying Chassidic works from other schools, this being comparable to grazing in “fremder felder (foreign fields).”

The above remarks in Chayei Moharan #410 are probably the reason behind the Tcheriner Rov’s authorship of Leshon Chassidim and Derekh Chassidim.

As for Chabad, when the Baal ha-Tanya (en route to his fateful meeting with Reb Boruch of Medzhibuzh) came to Rebbe Nachman to spend Shabbos with him in Breslov, the Rebbe greeted his honored guest with the term “Sar ha-Elef,” “lord of thousands.” According to Breslov oral tradition, this took place on Erev Shabbos parshas Yisro, when in the weekly Torah portion, Yisro advises Moshe Rabbeinu to appoint a hierarchy of judges, the highest category of which is the “sarei alafim,” “lords of thousands.  It is likely that the teaching Rebbe Nachman delivered in his honored guest’s presence that Shabbos day was published as Likutey Moharan II, 72. (In possible support of this oral tradition, this lesson uniquely invokes the term “bilti gvul,” a common usage of the Baal ha-Tanya, as well as the Zohar’s drush on “melekh assur barehatim,” which similarly appears in the first section of the Tanya.)

Although Chabad and Breslov both seem to make absolute claims, historically the two schools of Chassidus were never at loggerheads (as has been too common in Chassidic history between various groups). In fact, according to Rabbi Yaakov Meir Schechter as cited in “Shivcho shel Tzaddik,” upon seeing a volume of Likutey Halakhos, the Tzemach Tzedek once commented (citing the words of Joseph’s brothers in Genesis 41:11), “Kulanu bnei ish echad nachnu … We’re all sons of one man!”

As is known, Rebbe Nachman greatly praised the telling of stories of tzaddikim, and stated that this is what inspired him as a small boy to strive to become a tzaddik (Sichos ha-RaN #138). In Likutey Moharan I, 234, he expounds on the concept that telling (or hearing) the stories of the tzaddikim (“whatever happened to them”) has the spiritual effect of hamtakas ha-dinim (“sweetening heavenly judgments”), and also “purifying the mind” (see there, especially with the commentary of Rabbi Shmuel Moshe Kramer, recently published as Mayim Amukim, Vol. 1; also cf. Chayei Moharan #479).

And the Rebbe “practiced what he preached,” often telling stories of other tzaddikim to his followers. When Reb Noson first had a private audience with him, the Rebbe told him three stories, one about Rabbi Mordechai of Neshchiz, one about Rabbi  Shneur Zalman of Liadi, and one about Rabbi Michel of Zlotchov. (Kokhvey Ohr, 11, 12, as cited in “Until the Mashiach,” pp. 81-82) (Reb Michel was one of the youngest disciples of the Baal Shem Tov and later, a disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch, until he became a Rebbe in his own right. Reb Michel’s nusach ha-tefillah is preserved in the Siddur Tefilah Yesharah, known as the “Berditchover Siddur,” which some Breslover chassidim use [including a tall, thin shaliach tzibbur at the Uman Ritz]. And Breslover chassidim still sing “Reb Michel Zlotchover’s Deveykus Niggun,” just as we sing niggunim attributed to the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid.)

The Rebbe also loaned Reb Noson his copy of Shivchey ha-Arizal, a collection of wondrous stories about the Arizal and his leading disciple, Rav Chaim Vital. This was to serve as a model for their future relationship (Avaneha Barzel, as cited in “Until the Mashiach,” p. 90).

In addition, Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman preserved a number of stories that the Rebbe told about the Maharsha (Kokhvey Ohr, “Ma’asiyos u-Meshalim mi-Rabbeinu zal,” pp. 30-33). Reb Noson also includes several stories that the Rebbe told about Reb Mendel of Vitebsk  (Chayei Moharan #227 [#101 in the English BRI edition]). No doubt, there were many other such instances that have not been preserved.

To return to the subject of the “tzaddik emes (true tzaddik)” and hiskashrus (binding oneself to the tzaddikim), the Rebbe told his followers that it is beneficial to declare before davenning: “I hereby bind myself to all the tzaddikim of the generation” (Likutey Moharan I, 2:6, 9:4; Sichos ha-Ran #296).[i] The Rebbe explained that this is because the tzaddikim elevate the prayers of the entire Jewish people, conveying each prayer to its proper heavenly gate (Likutey Moharan I, 9:3).

Therefore, it is customary for Breslover Chassidim to recite the following verbal formula before each prayer service, as well as before performing any mitzvah or religious practice (such as immersing in a mikveh, studying Torah, lighting the Chanukah Menorah, etc.):

Hareini mekasher atzmi le-khol ha-tzaddikim amitiyim she-be-doreinu, u-lekhol ha-tzaddikim amitiyim shochnei afar, kedoshim asher ba-aretz hemah, u-be-frat Rabbenu ha-Kadosh, ha-Nachal Novea Mekor Chokhmah, Rebbe Nachman ben Feige—zekhusam yagen aleinu ve-al kol Yisrael, amen.

English translation: “I hereby bind myself to all of the true tzaddikim of our generation, and to all true tzaddikim who rest in the dust, ‘holy ones who are interred in the earth’ (Psalms 16:3), and in particular our holy master, the “flowing brook, source of wisdom” (Proverbs 18:4), Rabbi Nachman ben Feige—may their merits shield us, amen.”

(This precise source of this nusach is unknown, at least to me, but it has been published in numerous Breslover texts over the years. The reference to those who “rest in the dust” is based on Likutey Moharan 65:5.)

Note that “Hareini mekasher” includes the phrase “khol ha-tzaddikim amitiyim she-be-doreinu, u-lekhol ha-tzaddikim amitiyim shochnei afar.” It is not exclusive to Rebbe Nachman, but includes all the tzaddikim, past and present—because, as we have said, the tzaddikim are one.

Indeed, I have been told that Reb Avraham Sternhartz (Kokhav Lev) used to recite a longer nusach that also included the five preeminent tzaddikim whom the Rebbe singled out (Chayei Moharan #279).

We also see that Reb Noson often speaks of “tzaddikim” in the plural in Likutey Halakhos and Likutey Tefillos, and occasionally calls other great figures “tzaddik emes” beside the above-mentioned five. (Offhand, I remember that he says this of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Akiva, although I don’t recall the exact sources in Likutey Halakhos.)

Beyond this, the Rebbe states in Sefer Alef-Beis (Sefer ha-Middos) that one should honor anyone to whom Hashem has granted eminence (Sefer Alef-Beis, “Hisnasus” A-44).

May we be mekushar to all of the tzaddikim amitiyyim, not cause them dishonor even unintentionally, and follow in their holy ways, ad biyas goel tzedek, amen.

[i] Although Breslov is best known for the hiskashrus declaration, such declarations (or kavannos / intentions) are not unheard of in other Chassidic circles. For example, see Rabbi Meshullam Feivish of Zabarazh, Yosher Divrei Emes II, 33; Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov, Toras ha-Maggid mi-Zlotchov, Tefillah 3, p. 320; Rabbi Menachem Nochum of Chernobyl, Me’or Einayim, Beshalach [end], in the name of the Baal Shem Tov; ibid. Yismach Lev, Berakhos 2 [end]; Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, Imrei Pinchas [Bnei Brak 2003], Sha’ar Parshiyos u-Moadim, Elul, 424; Rabbi Chaim of Chernowitz, Be’er Mayim Chaim, Vayetzei (s.v. vayachalom); Rabbi Chanokh Henikh of Alesk, Lev Same’ach, Hakdamas ha-Mechaber le-Derekh ha-Tefillah; Rabbi Aryeh Leib Tzintz, Kometz ha-Minchah, Vayikra; Rabbi Yerachmiel Yisrael Yitzchak of Alexander, Yismach Yisrael, Be-ha’alosekha; Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak of Lendov, Emes le-Ya’akov, Bereishis; Rabbi Shaul Brakh of Kashau, Giv’as Shaul, Va-eschanan; Rabbi Eliezer Zusia Portugal of Skulen, Kedushas Eliezer, Tzava’ah 4, Minhagim Tovim; et al.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Tzaddikim Are One

By Dovid Sears

L’ilui nishmas Shulamis Na’ami bas Gedaliah Aryeh (Sochaczewsky), a”h

Most Breslover chassidim (and many “misnagdim”) are familiar with Rebbe Nachman’s hispa’arus—his seeming self-praise. One such remark recorded by Reb Noson is that Rebbe Nachman received his teachings from a “place” from which no other tzaddik had ever received (Chayei Moharan #353, hashmatah). Some take these statements to indicate disrespect for other tzaddikim, or to lead to the conclusion that the Rebbe’s leadership is of an exclusive nature. Both conclusions would be entirely erroneous. And such errors could be extremely damaging.

First of all, Rebbe Nachman did not see himself as the “tzaddik ha-dor” to the exclusion of others, but acknowledged and praised many of his contemporaries, as well as tzaddikim of the recent past.  

In Chayei Moharan #353, Reb Noson relates some of the praises of Rebbe Nachman for his holy great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov (whose spiritual rung he identifies with the sefirah of Binah that is above Chokhmah; see below); the Maggid of Mezeritch (whose spiritual rung he identifies with the sefirah of Chokhmah); and his uncle, Reb Borukh of Medzhibuzh (whose spiritual rung he identifies with the sefirah of Binah that is below Chokhmah). (It seems that “Binah above Chokhmah” is a way of describing the sefirah of Keser, since both are termed “makifin,” or “encompassing lights”—Binah in relation to the seven lower sefiros of ChaGaS-NHYM, and Keser to the entire array of sefiros from Chokhmah to Malkhus. Thus, the Rebbe’s remarks may be understood as saying that the wisdom of the Baal Shem Tov included everything that would subsequently be revealed or developed by the other Chassidic masters. And he implicitly designated the Maggid and Reb Borukh as outstanding figures in the dissemination of the Baal Shem Tov’s “encompassing light.”) 

The Rebbe was born and raised in the Baal Shem Tov’s house in Medzhibuzh, met many of the surviving disciples of both the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid during his childhood, including the elderly Toldos Yaakov Yosef, and he used to pray at length beside his great-grandfather’s grave (Shivchey ha-RaN #19). (For a discussion of the ancient Jewish practice of praying beside the graves of the tzaddikim, see Rabbi Gedaliah Kenig, Chayei Nefesh, sec. 32-36, as found in Shaarey Tzaddik, Vol. III, which cites a number of primary sources.)

In Chayei Moharan #553 (in the editor’s note), Rebbe Nachman’s praises of other Chassidic masters are also enumerated, including a number of his living contemporaries. He described Reb Levi Yitzchok, the Berditchover Rov, as “unique in his generation” (also see Chayei Moharan #270, where he compared the Berditchover Rov to the Tefillin of the Jewish people); regarding the Maggid of Mezeritch, “one may believe anything [said about his spiritual attainments or alleged miracles]”; he extolled the Baal Shem Tov in the highest terms (also see Chayei Moharan #280 re. the uniqueness of the Baal Shem Tov); and he declared that Reb Pinchos of Koretz was at one time the greatest tzaddik on earth, adding, “Happy are the eyes that beheld Reb Pinchos!” As for Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye (author of Toldos Yaakov Yosef and other early Chassidic classics), “All his works are holy and wondrous—but the tzaddik himself was much higher!” He had similar praises for the Rebbe Reb Elimelekh of Lizhensk (author of Noam Elimelekh), and the latter’s brother, Reb Zushe of Annipola.

Other Chassidic masters whom Rebbe lauded are mentioned in Chayei Moharan #553. They include Reb Michel of Zlotchov; Reb Avraham of Kalisk; Reb Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk; Reb Nochum of Chernobyl; the Rav of Neshchiz; the Rav of Alik; the Rav of Kozhnitz; the Rav of Lantz and Lublin; Reb Aharon of Titiev; and the Rebbe’s uncle, Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudylkov.

In Chayei Moharan #410, the Rebbe contrasts philosophical writings with those of tzaddikim: first and foremost, Chazal; the kabbalists (Zohar, Arizal); and specifically, Likutey Amarim (Maggid of Mezeritch), Toldos Yaakov Yosef, and the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov (as found in various early Chassidic works).

In addition, there are well-known Breslov oral traditions about the Rebbe’s friendship with the Baal ha-Tanya and his praises of the older Chassidic leader. Rebbe Nachman and the Baal ha-Tanya each spent a Shabbos with the other, and according to Breslov tradition, the Rebbe took the Baal ha-Tanya to some of his wealthy supporters to solicit donations for Chassidic immigrants in the Holy Land, introducing him as “a true talmid chokhom” (probably in both senses of the term: a master Torah scholar and a “disciple of the wise,” meaning the Maggid of Mezeritch and Reb Mendel of Vitebsk, among others).

In Shivchey ha-RaN #20, it states that after his marriage, when the Rebbe moved away from Medzhibozh, he used to visit the grave of Reb Yeshaya of Yanov, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov buried near his new home.

Much is made of the Rebbe’s remarks that his path went beyond that of his great-grandfather (e.g., Chayei Moharan ##381, 393). However, Breslover friends who were close to Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender, zal, have told me that Reb Levi Yitzchok often pointed out that of all Chassidic groups today, Breslov is closest to the “derekh ha-Baal Shem Tov,” and brought various proofs to support his claim. The Rebbe was very much a product of the Baal Shem Tov’s “cheder,” and his teachings were intimately connected to those of the Baal Shem Tov.

Reb Noson’s illustrious disciple, Reb Nachman Goldstein, the Rov of Tcherin, in addition to his commentaries on Likutey Moharan and other Breslov works, authored two popular anthologies of non-Breslov Chasidic teachings: Leshon Chassidim, which collects teachings of disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, and Derekh Chassidim, which collects teachings from disciples of the Maggid. These teachings are arranged alphabetically by topic and to those knowledgeable in Breslov Chassidus, implicitly show the many resonances between Breslov and the other early Chassidic writings.

When I lived in Borough Park in the 1980s, I once asked the prominent Breslover, Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Vitriol, why the Tcheriner Rov created these two works. Was it so that his fellow Breslovers would realize how connected we are to the other schools of Chassidus, or to show other Chassidim how the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid and his talmidim are kindred to those of Rebbe Nachman? Reb Shlomo Chaim immediately said, “Both are true!”

Beyond this, the Rebbe taught that we should love and revere all of the tzaddikim. He cautions, “Never say ‘this tzaddik is appealing (tzaddik na’eh), but that tzaddik isn’t appealing.’ ” This seems to reflect the concept he discusses in Likutey Moharan I, 64:4 (based on kabbalistic principles), that despite all appearances, the tzaddikim are one. Elsewhere, he states that the seeming strife between the tzaddikim is only due to our pgam (deficiency) (Likutey Moharan I, 5:4; also see Likutey Moharan I, 56:8, which discusses strife (machlokes) and the higher knowledge (da’as), as personified by Moshe, in which contradictory viewpoints coalesce.)

This isn’t merely theoretical. In Chayei Moharan #101 (BRI English translation, #227), Reb Noson preserves one of Rebbe Nachman’s dreams. The soul of a former disciple appears before the Rebbe, complaining that he has gone astray because he lost faith in the Rebbe. “Is there no one besides me to go to?” the Rebbe asks. “If you don’t believe in me, go to one of the other tzaddikim!”

Certainly, Breslover chassidim believe that Rebbe Nachman is the tzaddik emes, from whom all receive, whether they know it or not (Likutey Moharan I, 70). This tzaddik is compared to the yesod ha-pashut, the unitary “primal element” from which the four elements of earth, water, wind and fire derive (Likutey Moharan II, 66, 67). But when understood in the light of Rebbe Nachman’s broader teachings, this belief should unite us, not divide us. Kulam ahuvim, kulam kedoshim, all are beloved, all are holy. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Breslov Campus Winter 2016 Semester

In honor of our exciting Winter 2016 semester, we are thrilled to introduce our brand-new Breslov Campus website!
We have listened to your feedback and are pleased to announce our new website’s great features and additions, including:
  • Daily inspirational videos
  • Easy access to our audio and video library
  • Registration and login no longer necessary to access live courses and archived material
  • Each course page has been simplified to include everything you need to know to access live classes or watch and listen to archived material
And MUCH more…
So click here now to take part in our exciting Winter Semester 2016 starting this Sunday, or to watch a short inspirational Breslov video.
Happy Learning!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Tu B’Shvat and Shabbat Shira

Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir
Rav Natan of Breslav writes: “Tu BiShvat is always adjacent to Shabbat Shira, and sometimes it falls on Shabbat Shira itself” – as it does this year (and 30% of all years). Rav Natan explains this proximity in an involved Chasidic digression (Likutei Halakhot Orla 3), based on a teaching of his Rebbe, Rav Nachman of Breslav (Likutei Moharan II 8). We will attempt to present the main elements of the explanation here, including many illustrations from revealed sources that are not mentioned by these awesome Chasidic masters.
Our prayers are almost always requests for mercy, as the gemara states (Berakhot 20b), that prayer is “mercy”. The natural world has its laws of nature, and the Torah has established laws of punishment “measure for measure”, but in our prayers we ask that these laws be circumvented: We ask HaShem to send rain even if the forecast wouldn’t predict it, or to be lenient with us even if we really did transgress.
Prayers for justice, on the other hand, are extremely rare. The gemara warns, “Anyone who asks the judgment of his fellow man, he is punished first!” (RH 15b.) Rav Nachman writes that such a prayer is usually “eaten up” by the side of evil. It generally does not stem from the uplifting, idealistic side of man that inspires our other prayers, but rather from the small-mindedness and vindictiveness that are the usual fare of the evil impulse. One who would pray for judgment needs extraordinary qualities. First of all, he must have unblemished righteousness; otherwise he will be punished first. Second of all, his request for judgment must itself stem from a recognition that ultimately such judgment is necessary in order for kindness to reign. We find for example, that the blessing asking for judgment on the “minim” could only be composed by Shmuel HaKatan who was known for his extreme self-effacement (see Sanhedrin 11a) and lack of vindictiveness (see Avot 4:19); furthermore, it was only introduced when it was clear that it was an absolute necessity to save the prayer service from malicious informers (Berakhot 28b). (Rav Nachman explains that such a necessity generally arises when mercy is distorted in order to protect and nurture wickedness and cruelty. Judaism reconciles itself to the need to be “cruel to be kind” only with difficulty, when the world considers it “kind to be cruel”.) Rav Nachman states that when such an extraordinary individual does arise and confronts such an extraordinary situa- tion, he has immense power to subdue evil and to awaken to repentance those who have been caught in its grip. In fact, it is this exact trait that gives a person the ability to reprove others in an inspirational way that affirms their basic goodness (as we explained last week). Rav Nachman calls this a “voice” or a “song” which awakens the dormant good in wrongdoers and gives them a beautiful fragrance that nullifies the stench of sin.
Rav Nachman refers here, as he often does, to a “single, double, triple and quadruple song”; he explains that these four levels refer to different levels of Divine providence. The lowest level is completely according to natural law, without any Divine guidance (though of course the laws themselves are of Divine origin!); the highest level is completely according to Divine intervention, as the world will be guided in the time of the complete redemption.
We can explain that someone who has the most profound understanding of HaShem’s ways is able to perceive that sin ultimately is also part of HaShem’s plan. What is considered against HaShem’s will at a lower level of providence is actually part of His greater blueprint at a higher level. A normal person is not capable of such a perspective; if you tell him that evil is part of G-d’s plan, then he will feel no distress in the face of wickedness, whether his own or of others. If he understands that evil is against G-d’s will, then he considers the sinner banished from G-d. Only a few, such as Moshe, are able to encompass all these songs; these individuals are able to fight evil with all their might, yet reprove wrongdoers with a perfect faith that they are still servants of G-d, involved in advancing His plan.
Rav Natan writes that one actual song that gives expression to this supernal song is the Song of the Sea. This song celebrates the judgment of Egypt. Normally this would be highly inappropriate; the Midrash states that the angels were forbidden to sing during the splitting of the sea (Yalkut Shimoni Beshalach). But Moshe, who led Israel in this song, had a perfect apprehension of how this judgment, with its awesome demonstration of HaShem’s sovereignty and His election of Israel, was necessary for the establishment of G-d’s kingdom among mankind. This song refers to natural phenomena; to G-d’s judgment and retribution; and ultimately to the final redemption: “HaShem will reign for ever and ever”. Thus it encompasses all of the four levels of song.
We explained above that prayers for judgment are generally acceptable only for truly extraordinary individuals in truly extraordinary circumstances. Yet there is an exception: Rosh HaShana, the Day of Judgment. On this day, all of us pray for a favorable judgment: while we make pleas for leniency, ultimately we ask judgment to be done. Rav Natan explains that this special quality extends to all the New Years mentioned in the mishna, including Tu BiShvat, the New Year for trees. It seems that on these days all Israel merit a bit of the spiritual might which makes such a prayer acceptable. And on Shabbat Shira, all of us participate in the public recitation of the Song of the Sea; evidently on this day all Israel merit a dim apprehension of the “four levels of song”. Since these two qualities are intimately connected, it is natural that Shabbat Shira and Tu BiShevat are always in close proximity.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Trip to Uman with Rabbi Erez Moshe Doron

בקרוב! נסיעה לאומן עם הרב ארז משה דורון
SOON: Trip to Uman 
Led by Rabbi Erez Moshe Doron
קצר וקולע - הכנה לפורים אצל רבינו הקדוש
Feb. 24-25th
24.2.16 - 25.2.16
מיועד לגברים ולנשים
פרטים נוספים בהמשך 

Or Pnimi Breslov 
אור פנימי ברסלב 08-6640064
(Israel time)