Friday, April 18, 2014

Acharon shel Pesach / Last Day of Pesach


From “Breslov Eikh she-Hu: Breslov Customs and Practices, Past and Present”

Like other Chassidim, Breslover Chassidim traditionally do not eat gebrokhts (matzah cooked or soaked in liquids containing water) on Pesach. However, in chutz la'aretz, gebrokhts are prepared and eaten on Acharon Shel Pesach, even in the vessels and dishes used for non-gebrokhts. Although this does not apply to Eretz Yisrael, where Shevi’i shel Pesach is the last day, something similar is observed during a leap year when Shabbos falls on Motza’ei Yom Tov. Then gebrokhts are eaten in the regular Pesach vessels and dishes, even by those who live in Eretz Yisrael.

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The Rebbe used to go to his daughter Udel for the se’udah on Acharon shel Pesach, during which the family ate soup with kneidlakh. Once Udel served her father two kneidlakh, and he blessed her that in their merit she should have two children. This berakhah came to pass—and Udel regretted that she had not served her father more kneidlakh.
(Avanehah Barzel, sec. 43, p. 33)

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The last meal of Acharon Shel Pesach is called the "Baal Shem Tov Se'udah," during which it is customary for a member of the group to retell the story of the Baal Shem Tov's attempted journey to the Holy Land. There is a special Breslover mesorah concerning the details of this story, preserved by oral tradition.
(Most Chassidim used to call this meal the “Baal Shem Tov Se’udah.” In the communities of Skver-Chernobyl, Skolye, and others, they still do. The Breslov nusach of the story of the Baal Shem Tov’s journey may be found in Eretz ha-Kodesh / Masa’ ha-Kodesh, Jerusalem: Toras ha-Netzach, 5758/1998; and in Yiddish in Der Otzar Fun Yiras Shomayim, Hotza’as Ben Adam, Aharon Weinstock, ed. 1992, pp. 71-87. The story was also published many years ago in Mabu’ey HaNachal. Other nus’chos of the story preserved by various Chassidic communities are presented and discussed by Rabbi Shlomo Abish, “Koros Chayav haMekoriyyim shel Rabban Shel Yisrael haBaal Shem Tov ha-Kadosh, zy ‘a,” #4, Kuntres Heichal haBaal Shem Tov, Nisan 5764 / 2004, pp. 145-152.)

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On the Shabbos after Pesach, some are accustomed to bake a challah with the form of a key on the loaf. Some engrave this shape by pressing a key into the dough; some attach a piece of dough in this shape; and some bake an actual key in the challah. (Reb Elazar Kenig’s family attaches a piece of dough shaped like a key.)
(Erkhei Yehoshua, Perach Shoshanim 156, mentions that the Manistritcher minhag was to engrave this shape. A reason for the minhag of baking a “shlissel challoh” is offered by the Apter Rov in Ohev Yisrael, “Le-Shabbos Achar Pesach,” pp. 282-283, 330-331.)

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Someone once complained to the Tcheriner Rov, “Purim is over, Pesach is over…” The Tcheriner Rov corrected him, replying, “Mer hobben areingenumen a Purim un a Pesach . . . We have internalized Purim and Pesach!”
(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn)

*

In this spirit, Reb Avraham Sternhartz would learn Likutey Moharan I, 135 (“Ki Ekakh Mo’ed”), saying, “I am taking the Yom Tov into myself!” He also used to mention that the number of this lesson (135) is be-gematria “matzah.”
(Mabu’i ha-Nachal, Kovetz 53, Nisan 5782, p. 37)

The Baal Shem Tov’s Nesia to Eretz Yisrael

Breslover Chassidim are accustomed to retell this story during the “Baal Shem Tov Se’udah,” which is the last meal of Acharon shel Pesach (AKA “ne’ilas ha-chag”). This was a common custom among many Chassidim in Europe, and a few such as the Skolye Chassidim still tell the story. This version is based on the Breslov mesorah.

Dovid Sears


Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender, the central figure in the Meah Shearim Breslov kehillah after World War II until his passing in 1989, used to retell the story every year on Acharon shel Pesach. He always said that he retold the story the way he received it personally from Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Uman, a grandson of Rebbe Nachman and a leading mashpiya during the late late 1800s-early 1900s. However, Reb Levi Yitzchok also said that once someone asked his teacher Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman if Reb Shimshon’s version was accurate. He answered, “S’iz doh nuschos ... There are many versions!” (Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn). Like all oral traditions, there are a few differences over this detail or that. Yet these differences are relatively minor.

We have put together this brief outline so that at least something will be available in English for those who wish to tell the story during the final hours of Acharon shel Pesach. This is not an “official” version, but we hope it will be good for starters.

Beginning the Journey
The Baal Shem Tov experienced intense gagu’im to travel to Eretz Yisrael—until at last the time came. (This mystical understanding of traveling to Eretz Yisrael is echoed by Rebbe Nachman’s statement, “With every step, I’m going to Eretz Yisrael,” and his teaching that “all tefillos and avodahs ascend through Eretz Yisrael.” Just as Eretz Yisrael was the goal of the Exodus from Egypt, so in a mystical sense it represents the goal of the spiritual quest of each individual and the Jewish people collectively. See the Breslov teachings in the Tcheriner Rov’s anthology, Otzar HaYirah, “Eretz Yisrael.”)

The Baal Shem Tov took his only daughter, the tzaddekes Udel, and his chassid Reb Hirsch Sofer, as companions for the journey.

It was very unusual to go to Eretz Yisrael in those days, and extremely difficult—unlike today. But he trusted in Hashem and left home with only enough money to reach the next town. (It is well-known that the Baal Shem did not keep even a small coin overnight, but lived from day to day, trusting completely in Hashem.) He was confident that Hashem would make a way for him.

(When Rabbi Shmuel Breines tells the story in the Breslov Shtibel of Borough Park, he often stresses the importance of bitachon, total reliance upon Hashem. Two sources of inspiring teachings about bitachon are Rabbi Avraham ben HaRambam’s Sefer HaMaspik: Shaar HaBitachon, or Rabbenu Bachya Ibn Paquda’s Chovos HaLevavos: Shaar HaBitachon. A quote or two from such sources can help make the story more meaningful.)

Day by day and week by week the threesome traveled from one town to the next, heading toward the port city of Istanbul on the Black Sea. Somehow the Baal Shem Tov received enough money to keep traveling, until they arrived in Istanbul on Erev Pesach.

They had neither provisions nor money for lodgings. But the Baal Shem Tov was sure that everything would work out satisfactorily. They found an inn in the Jewish quarter of the city and took lodgings on the ground floor, where the horses were stabled. Udel went to shore to wash clothes for Yom Tov, while her father and Reb Hirsch went to a nearby Beis HaMidrash.

At the same time, a wealthy childless couple from Germany arrived in Istanbul. This couple had been following the Baal Shem Tov from town to town in order to obtain his brochah, and only caught up to him now. Bi-hashgochah pratis, they wound up at the same inn, where they rented a large suite of rooms, and bought matzos, wine and food for Pesach. Then they went in search of the Baal Shem Tov. They found a Jewish girl washing clothes at the sea-shore—Udel, of course—asked her if she knew the whereabouts of the Baal Shem Tov, and learned that the Baal Shem Tov was none other than her father. Overjoyed, they took Udel back to the inn and instructed the servants to bring the possessions of the tzaddik and his daughter and disciple from the stables to their rooms upstairs.

Knowing nothing about this, the Baal Shem Tov and Reb Hirsch davened, and came back after Maariv to find everything prepared for the sedorim and for Yom Tov. The Baal Shem Tov displayed no surprise at this, but proceeded to conduct the Seder without indicating that anything unusual had happened. Only after he had completed the Seder, did the Baal Shem Tov turn to their host and hostess and declare, “I know why you came here. Know that your wish has been fulfilled, and you will have a child this year!”

However, no sooner had the words escaped his lips than the Baal Shem Tov’s face clouded over, and he closed his eyes; he was experiencing aliyas ha-neshamah, an ascent of the soul to the upper worlds. His daughter Udel had seen this before, but now she was terrified—her father seemed to be in a state of gesisah mamash, his life seemed to be hanging by a thread. In heaven, the Evil Accuser demanded: This couple had been fated to remain childless. By what right did the Baal Shem force the Ribono shel Olam to change all of creation for the sake of this man and woman? The Gemara states, “The tzaddik decrees and Hashem fulfills” (Shabbos 59b), and the Baal Shem Tov’s blessing would surely bear fruit. However, in such matters there is a price to be paid. The heavenly court ruled that in exchange, the Baal Shem Tov would lose his Olam Haboh, his place in the Afterlife.

Then Baal Shem Tov suddenly opened his eyes, the color returned to his face, and with great simchah declared, “Now I will be able to serve Hashem without any p’nia, without any thought of future reward!”

At this, the Evil Accuser insisted that the heavenly court restore his Olam Haboh—to let the Baal Shem Tov serve Hashem with such absolute selflessness was too much!

Disaster AvertedAt this point, Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman would roll up his sleeves and say, “Un in di ma’aseh iz doh noch a ma’aseh . . . And in this story there is still another story...” (Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn, in the name of Rabbi Itche Meyer Korman).

Although Baal Shem Tov’s purpose was to go to Eretz Yisrael, his journey, like all of his actions, contained many other mysteries and purposes. (See Likutey Moharan I, 42. Reb Noson adds that this is not only true of the tzaddikim, but even of ordinary Jews. Everything we do reflects Hashem’s hidden plan for creation. See Avaneha Barzel, p. 88, which is translated in “The Tree That Stands Beyond Space,” p. 57.)

The Sultan of Istanbul was a tyrant who had a special enmity toward the Jewish people. Yet the Jews had influence and power in the city, and the Sultan had to resort to underhanded means to hurt them.

On that Erev Pesach he called together his royal ministers for a secret meeting. He proposed that a pogrom be carried out the next morning, in which the mobs would be incited to kill every Jewish man, woman and child in Istanbul. His ministers were sworn to secrecy about this plan on penalty of death.

Yet one of the royal ministers was a righteous gentile and friend of the Jews. Risking his life, he hastened to warn the leaders of the Jewish community of their great peril. After discussing the matter, they decided to send emissaries to the Sultana, the widow of the previous Sultan who had treated his Jewish subjects with kindness and respect. Perhaps she could intervene. In the cover of night, the emissaries made their way through the city’s streets toward the palace of the Sultana.

Their long trek took them past the very inn where the Baal Shem Tov and his companions were concluding the Seder. Through an opened window, they could hear the Baal Shem Tov singing with fervor “Le-oseh nifla’os gedolos levado … To the One Who alone performs wonderous miracles!” One of the emissaries remarked wryly to his friend, “If that Jew only knew what we know, he wouldn’t sing those words so sweetly!”

(A contemporary Breslover, Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Bnei Brak, remembered an interesting detail here. When his father Rabbi Noson Barsky told the story, according to the version of his grandfather and namesake, Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Uman, and he described how the Baal Shem Tov sang “Le-oseh nifla’os gedolos levado,” he used to sing the well-known niggun of the Baal Shem Tov—thus demonstrating how the Baal Shem Tov actually sang these words. He did so when mentioning the song both while the emissaries were on their way to the Sultana and on their return.)

Arriving at the palace, the emissaries begged the guards for permission to obtain an audience with the Sultana, but were refused admission. Yet they persisted until the Sultana heard the racket at the door and asked who wanted to see her at such a late hour. Learning that they were representatives of the Jewish community on an urgent mission, the good-hearted Sultana admitted them and listened to their tale of impending destruction.

Given the urgency of the situation, she asked the emissaries to remain in her home while she set out in the night to intercede with her son. Arriving at the royal palace, she woke up the Sultan and announced, “Tonight your father came to me in a dream! And he revealed to me that tomorrow our family will be utterly wiped out! My heart palpitated with dread—that’s why I hurried here. We must consult the royal chronicles to see if we can find a reason for this evil fate…”

The Sultan sent for the royal record book and in his mother’s presence saw inscribed therein the slaughter of the Jewish community scheduled for the next morning. “Now, my son, I know why I had this terrible dream!” the Sultana said. “Don’t you know what happens to all those who start up with the Jews? Don’t you know what happened to Pharaoh and Haman and the rest of their enemies? You must call off this pogram, or my dream will surely come true!”

Thus, the Sultan tore up his cruel decree and only then did his mother return home to inform the emissaries of her success. As they made their way through the Jewish quarter, they passed the same inn and were surprised to hear the same man repeating the words “Le-oseh nifla’os gedolos levado.” But now he did so with the greatest merriment.

After the morning prayers, the community leaders informed the kehillah that a great miracle had occurred. Because of Hashem’s mercy, the Jews of Istanbul had been saved from certain death. In recounting the highlights of the story, they didn’t fail to mention the Jew who sang of Hashem’s miracles at the end of the Seder, and how if he had known what was going on, he wouldn’t have been able to sing.

At this, the Baal Shem Tov (still incognito) remarked, “Mir dacht zokh az der Yid mit zein zingen 'le-oseh nifla’os gedolos levado,' hott ehr mevatel geven di gezerah . . . It seems to me that by singing ‘Who alone performs wondrous miracles,’ this Jew nullified the heavenly decree.”

The Sea Voyage
On the first day of Chol HaMoed, the couple from Germany bade farewell to the Baal Shem Tov. They wished to lavish upon him various gifts in their gratitude for his brochah, but the Baal Shem Tov refused to accept anything beyond the kindness they had already shown him. Only one thing did he request—that they provide him and his companions with tickets for the next ship to Eretz Yisrael. They happily did so. And the next ship was leaving that day.

Before boarding the ship, the Baal Shem Tov told his daughter and Reb Hirsch that he had the power to go to the Holy Land in a more expedient way: he could toss his gartel on the waves of the sea, and they could walk across it to their destination. The only condition was that they would have to focus their minds on a certain Holy Name without breaking their concentration for even a second. The tzaddekes Udel answered that she was willing to do so. However, Reb Hirsch feared that he would not be able to maintain his concentration; so they traveled by ship.

The Great Storm
The ship quickly traversed the peaceful waters, among its passengers the Baal Shem Tov and his daughter and disciple. However, in the middle of their voyage, the sky suddenly darkened and a mighty storm struck. The powerful winds cast the ship on the turbulent waves, until it seemed that they were about to either capsize or be dashed to bits.

The Baal Shem Tov said, “The sea will be stilled only if I cast my writings overboard—or if my daughter is willing to take their place. Only then will the storm subside.”

There are different versions of what happened at this point. Reb Levi Yitzchak’s mesorah from Reb Shimshon Barsky was to preface this part of the story with the words: “Anderer zoggen..." ("Some say…”). Then he would go on to state that Udel agreed and was actually cast into the sea. However, with this act of mesirus nefesh, she received a heavenly communication: she was destined to have a grandson who would write “shennerer ksavim,” i.e., even greater writings than those of her father. She lifted up her hands and called to the Baal Shem Tov and told him this. Udel was immediately retrieved, and the precious manuscripts were cast into the waters.

(As a humorous aside, I heard from Rabbi Avraham Moshe Wasilski of Williamsburg that whenever Reb Levi Yitzchok told the story and described how Udel was cast into the sea, Rabbi Nochum Yitzchok Frank would interrupt the story to protest, shouting “Sheker! S’iz nisht shayakh! Es kennisht zein! Lies! It isn’t possible! It can’t be!”)

Another version states that she merely considered jumping into the sea, either mentally or even verbally, but did not actually do so. Suddenly she had a heavenly communication about her grandson, and told her father that they could cast the manuscripts into the sea after all. Immediately they did so, and the storm stopped as suddenly as it had began.

The Cannibals
After this ordeal, everyone on the ship was worn out, physically and emotionally. So they headed for next island they sighted, and anchored offshore in order to set their feet on dry land again for a little while. The passengers disembarked and began to stroll along the shore and among the verdant trees, to recover from their distress.

The Baal Shem Tov and his companions walked until they found a nice shady spot to rest. However, they soon discovered that they had company. Out of the forest emerged a group of cannibals brandishing knives and spears. In a few moments, the cannibals had tied up the threesome and cast them on the ground.

Reb Hirsch, quaking in terror, asked the Baal Shem Tov, “Rebbe, please do something and save us from these savages!”

However, the Baal Shem Tov was silent.

“Why don’t you answer me?” Reb Hirch exclaimed.

“Because right now, I don’t know anything!” the Baal Shem Tov replied. “Do you know anything?”

“Nothing at all,” Reb Hirsch stammered. “Just the alef-beis…”

The cannibals surrounded them, grinning malevolently. In a moment they would start getting ready for dinner…

“If you know the alef-beis, say it!”

Reb Hirsch began: “Alef!” And the Baal Shem Tov answered, “Alef!”

Beis!”—“Beis!”

Gimmel!”—“Gimmel!”

As they prounced the names of the holy letters, the Baal Shem Tov suddenly regained his supernatural powers. In the distance, a bell began ringing, the sound coming closer and closer. Alarmed, the cannibals hastily fled. Soon a carriage came into view, and the people inside freed the prisoners.

Reb Gedaliah Kenig mentioned that Reb Avraham Sternhartz’s mesorah included the detail that as the cannibals were preparing to kill the Baal Shem Tov and his companions, suddenly they heard the ringing of the ship’s bell, and this is why they fled.

Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Bnei Brak, however, remembered that according to his grandfather’s version of the story, the bells that scared off the cannibals were those of the carriage, and the “people” in the carriage were actually malakhim, angels send by Hashem to save the Baal Shem Tov, Udel, and Reb Hirsch.

(When Rabbi Shmuel Breines of Borough Park tells the story, he often digresses here to remark on the power of “temimus u-peshitus,” simple whole-heartedness and faith in Rebbe Nachman’s teachings. See Otzar HaYirah, “Temimus”)

In any case, those in the carriage transported them back to the shore, where they joined the other passengers returning to the ship. The wind filled their sails and the began to travel rapidly—straight back to Istanbul, in time for Acharon shel Pesach.

The Secret of Success
Rebbe Nachman once discussed how his great-grandfather the Baal Shem Tov and the saintly Rabbi Naftali Katz, author of “Semikhas Chakhomim,” both attempted to reach Eretz Yisrael, without success. Yet Rebbe Nachman managed to overcome all obstacles and reach the Holy Land. Why did he succeed where these great figures did not?

Rebbe Nachman explained: “Eretz Yisrael is the aspect of ‘gadlus de-gadlus’ (a sublime level of expanded consciousness). And it is known that every spiritual ascent must be preceded by a decent. Since Eretz Yisrael is ‘gadlus de-gadlus,’ it must be preceded by ‘katnus de-katnus,’ a most extreme descent. Those who came before me were unable to cast themselves down to such depths…”

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In the merit of the tzaddikim, who sacrificed themselves on behalf of the entire Jewish people, may we too be worthy of reaching the ultimate spiritual goal.

Other Versions of the Baal Shem Tov’s Nesia


About ten years ago, Rabbi Yehoshua Yosef Kornblit of Yerushalayim published a “
Baal Shem Tov Haggadah” with excerpts of various teachings relating to the text. I have often used this Haggadah, along with Rabbi Alter Tepliker’s Breslov Haggadah “Ohr Zarei’ach,” but didn’t notice that at the very end, he includes a few variations of the story of the Baal Shem Tov’s attempted journey to Eretz Yisrael.

If you can’t find a copy of this excellent Haggadah, you could try contacting Rabbi Kornblit, who lives at 15 Batey Varsha. The phone number given in my edition of the sefer is 02 (or just 2 from chutz la’aretz) 371-059. However, you probably need to add another digit before the 3, since Israeli telephone company switched to seven digit phone numbers in the interim. I’d suggest adding a 5, although I’m not sure.

The basic story as found in the sefer “Adas Tzaddikim” is much the same as our Breslov version (although not surprisingly, it doesn’t include the part about the Baal Shem Tov’s daughter Udel’s rescue in the merit of her future grandson Rebbe Nachman‘s writings). In that version, the cannibals are called “Haidamaks,” which is probably a just a loose usage of the term, and they seem to be pirates rather than man-eating natives. After Reb Hirsh Sofer and the Baal Shem Tov call out responsively the letters of the alef-beis, a bell starts ringing and a mysterious elderly captain comes to the rescue with a group of soldiers, and they scare off the pirates. In this account, the ship makes it back to Istanbul on the Seventh Day of Pesach. As for the old captain—he was none other than Elijah the Prophet.

Another retelling of the story in the sefer “Ginzey Yisrael” similarly ascribes the rescue of the Jewish community of Istanbul to the Baal Shem Tov’s singing “Le-she nifla’os gedolos levado,” but neglects to mention the emissaries and the intervention of the Sultan’s mother.

Zera Baruch” describes how Reb Baruch of Medzibuzh would honor the Baal Shem Tov’s deliverance with a communal meal on Acharon shel Pesach and retell the story of his grandfather’s life from the day of his birth until his sea journey. There, he emphasizes that the underlying purpose of this journey was the final redemption of the Jewish people. For the Baal Shem Tov possessed the “nefesh” of Dovid HaMelekh, while the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh possessed the “ruach” of Dovid HaMelekh. And if the two tzaddikim had finally met, the Baal Shem Tov would have received the “neshamah” of Dovid HaMelekh and thus been empowered to bring about the ge’ulah sheleimah.

Rabbi Kornblit also cites the sefer “Ohev Yisrael” to the effect that the Apter Rov, who lived in Medzibuzh after the passing of Reb Baruch, would also conclude Pesach with a tisch that extended into the night in honor of the Baal Shem Tov’s miraculous rescue.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Rabbi Herschel Wasilski’s Pesach Customs

Photo by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Rabbi Herschel Wasilski’s Pesach Cutoms
From “Breslov Eikh she-Hu: Breslov Customs and Practices, Past and Present,” a work-in-progress compiled by Dovid Sears and Dovid Zeitlin.

Rabbi Zvi Yosef (“Herschel”) Wasilski (1922-1981) was the central figure in the New York Breslov community. There is a Breslover shtiebel in his name on Lee Avenue in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, which he founded, and which is led today by his son Rabbi Avraham Moshe Wasilski. Reb Avraham Moshe kindly provided the information posted here.

A descendent of many distinguished talmidei chakhomim, Rabbi Herschel Wasilski was born in Vilna, Lithuania, raised in Oszmiana on the outskirts of the city. At age thirteen his parents sent him to learn in Rabbi Elchonan Wasserman’s famous yeshivah in Baranovitch. Many talmidim in Baranovitch were Breslover Chassidim, and Reb Herschel soon became a Breslover, too. With the invasion of the Nazis, the yeshivah was forced to disband and reestablish itself in Vilna. When Vilna came under attack, Reb Herschel was forced to flee. Captured by the Russian army, he spent the rest of the war in Siberia and then in Samarkand. There, he became a close and lifelong friend of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender, who also survived the war and went on to lead the Breslov kehillah in Yerushalayim. Reb Herschel emigrated to New York in 1946, soon entering the Torah Vodaath Yeshivah in Williamsburg, where he later served as a maggid shiur, melamed and menahel. Reb Herschel was a devoted Breslover Chassid who worked tirelessly for the Breslov chaburah in New York and on behalf of the Breslover shul and yeshivah in Yerushalayim and the Breslover Chassidim in Eretz Yisrael.

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Rabbi Avraham Moshe recalled that his father, zikhrono liv’rakha, had many personal chumros which reflected his deep yiras Shomayim—but not hakpodos. His Pesach hanhagos were all conducted in a pleasant spirit.

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He came from a Litvishe family that basically followed the minhagey ha-GRA. However, unlike his family, Reb Herschel did not eat gebrokhts on Pesach. There were no gebrochts in his home, even on Acharon shel Pesach. Even the children were not allowed to eat gebrokhts.

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Reb Herschel did not “mish” (eat food prepared in other people’s homes, or in restaurants or at public events) all year long—but his hatznei’a leches (modest conduct) was so thorough that no one ever noticed. This certainly included Pesach. But on Acharon shel Pesach, for the Baal Shem Tov Seudah (Ne’ilas HaChag), it is customary for everyone to bring some food to shul (usually matzos, hard-boiled eggs, and fruit) which the entire chaburah shares. This was the one time that Reb Herschel did “mish,” as an expression of achdus.

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He refrained from commercial food products all year long, with a few exceptions such as bakery bread, rolls, and cake; milk and cottage cheese; and selzer. On Pesach he used only staples such as salt and sugar (with the hekhsher of the Hisachdus HaRabbonim), and wine. Mrs. Wasilski and later her older daughters did all the cooking. Mrs. Wasilski made her own non-gebrokhts lokhshen. She made her own shmaltz rather than use commercial oil, and she ground her own fish for gefilte fish. On Pesach, she squeezed her own orange juice and grape juice, and they didn’t even use selzer.

Yet, Reb Avraham Moshe added, his father never made an issue about these hanhagos; nobody thought that this was anything special, or that Reb Herschel was “extra frum.” Everything was done with temimus u-pshitus and with simchah. 

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Reb Herschel used handmade shmurah matzos from the Poilisher Matzoh Bakery on the Lower East Side, which he participated in baking with a special chaburah. The chaburah included his brother-in-law Rabbi Tuvia Kaplan, his younger brother Rabbi Boruch Kaplan (founder of Beis Yaakov Seminary in America), and Rabbi Dovid Bender (Menahel of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and father of Rabbi Yaakov Bender). They were particular to use razeveh (whole wheat) matzos, as a hiddur in halakhah. (The whole wheat flour was only sifted once, leaving less chance for error.)

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Reb Herschel used these handmade shmurah matzos, not machine matzos, throughout Pesach. Mrs. Wasilski and the children also used only these handmade shmurah matzos.

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He used to leave some matzos on a tray in the middle of the dining table throughout the entire Pesach, in case anyone wanted to wash and make “hamotzi.

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Bedikas chometz: The bedikah was a serious avodah for Reb Herschel. He did not speak the entire time, and all the lights in his home were turned off. They would put out ten small pieces of bread, as is the common minhag. Reb Herschel used a long wax candle, which one of his young children would hold for him. He would sweep any crumbs with a feather into a white cloth. He also used a wooden spoon. Yet he did not perform an unusually long bedikah. It took 15-20 minutes to search their seven and a half room apartment.

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In those years, bedikas chometz kits were not common. Reb Herschel would get a feather from the local butcher.

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He used to say the tefillah after bedikas chometz from the Rabbi Yaakov Emden Siddur (“Dinei Erev Pesach,” p. 226, Lemberg ed.).

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After the bedikah, he would tie up the the white cloth and its contents, including the feather and spoon, with string. Then he would hang it from the light fixture in the front hall of the apartment until the morning.

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He would recite the tefillah after bi’ur chometz from the Rabbi Yaakov Emden Siddur. Alluding to Yechezkel 36:26, this tefillah asks that Hashem grant us a “lev bosor” (heart of flesh). In Chayei Moharan (sec. 339), Reb Noson mentions that the Rebbe related “lev bosor” to “Breslov” (since they have the same letters). Therefore, Reb Herschel would always tell his children and all those nearby after reciting the tefillah, “So we’re asking to become Breslover Chassidim!”

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Hadlokas HaNeiros: The women would light the candles before the zman on the first night, as on Erev Shabbos. The second night they would light after tzes ha-kokhavim. Reb Avraham Moshe assumed that the women recited their own “Shehechiyanu” after lighting, although he wasn’t absolutely sure.

*

Reb Avraham Moshe remembered that when his father came to the Seder, he had an aura of malkhus. His face would be radiantanpin nehirin.” Reb Herschel wore a white yarmulke and white kittel. He used his regular armchair covered with a white cloth, to the left of which was another chair covered in white with several pillows on which he would recline when drinking the wine or eating the matzoh, etc. But he did not lay down, nor did he recline during the meal.

*

His sons did not use pillows, but just leaned at the required times. The guests did not have their own pillows, either—and there were always guests.

*

Reb Herschel did not bentch the children before the Seder (although he did so before the Shabbos meal on Friday nights).

*

Reb Herschel himself picked out the matzos for “Kohen, Levi, Yisroel” (arranging them in that order—“Kohen” on top, “Levi” in the middle, and “Yisroel” on the bottom), and then set up the Ka’arah.

*

Ka’arah / Seder Plate: They used one ka’arah, set up according to the minhag of the Arizal (which is the common minhag in Breslov). However, each guest had his own lechem mishneh. The children did not have their own matzos, though, even Reb Herschel’s grown sons.

Simanei HaKa’arah:

Karpas: Reb Herschel used both potato and onion for karpas. Although he preferred potato, he always served onion as well, since this was his father’s minhag (as it was throughout Lithuania). So the onion was on the table, even though he didn’t use it. (This probably reflected the Rebbe’s caution not to eat raw onions in Sichos HaRan 265).

Whenever Mrs. Wasilski’s father Rabbi Yaakov Mordechai Gordon joined them for Pesach, they also served raddish for karpas, since that was his family minhag. (This was customary in the region of Kobrin, where his family came from.)

Chazeres: He used the head (keppel) of the horseradish root.

Moror: He used the end (i.e., the root, not the tip) of a romaine lettuce stalk. 

Beitzah: He used a boiled egg, not roasted.

Zeroah: He used the neck of a chicken (gorgel). But in later years, he used the wing (fliegel).

Charoses: Like most Eastern Eurpean Jews, he used a mixture of grated apples, wine, chopped nuts and maybe cinnamon. He would mix them together himself in the late afternoon on Erev Pesach.

*

Kadesh, Urchatz, etc.: Reb Herschel led the entire Seder, and everyone else followed along. He alone recited “Kadesh, Urchatz, Karpas, Yachatz…” (If anyone wished to say it for themselves, they would do so quietly.) He also announced each of these simanim individually as the Seder progressed, and often would comment on it.

*

Kiddush: According to the common Litvishe custom, Reb Herschel alone made Kiddush on Shabbos and Yom Tov for his family. However, on Pesach every son made his own Kiddush one after the other, in the order of their ages.

He drank the entire kos for each of the four cups of wine—even though in those days only Tokay, Malaga or Concord wine were available. He usually used Concord wine.

He used an 8 or 9 oz. glass kos on Shabbos and Yom Tov and also at the Pesach Seder. Yet he would drink the contents all at once. However, the women and children over bar mitzvah didn’t use such large glasses; they were probably 6 oz. glasses.

Every child also had his own Kiddush cup, even if it was a small shiur. This included even the younger children, beginning when they were as young as three or four.

Everyone stood for Kiddush. The women held their glasses and quietly recited the Kiddush at the same time as Reb Herschel. Then the male guests and his sons would recite Kiddush, one after another. No one left the table during Kiddush, but everyone listened to everyone one else. There was no hefkerus.

*

Maggid: With Reb Herschel leading, everyone would recite the text of the Haggadah together, section by section. He would frequently add chiddushei Torah based on Breslov teachings. These chiddushim were new every year. Occasionally one of the guests would add a vertl, but this was infrequent.

Reb Herschel recited the Haggadah with a certain niggun or nusach that he probably heard from his father.

*

He always used Reb Alter Tepliker’s Ohr Zareich Haggadah, which includes various excerpts from the Breslover seforim. Reb Avrohom Moshe recalled that his father had an old edition, probably from the 1940s.

*

Karpas: He did not recline for karpas.

*

Yachatz: He would set aside the Afikoman in a cloth bag nearby, and during the Seder one of the children would “steal” it and then bargain with him at the end of the meal, as is common.

*

He followed the common nusachHoh lachma anya” (with a kometz-heh for “hoh”), not “hey lachma anya” or “ki-hoh lachma anya”—although he was well aware of these variant nuschos. This probably reflected his father’s custom.

*

Mah Nishtanah: The younger boys and girls would recite the “Fee’ir Kashas,” and Reb Herschel alone would repeat them when they were through. (He would often preface this by saying, “I was the youngest child in my family.”) He would then say, “Der teretz iz… (the answer is)…” followed by “Avodim hoyinu.”

They said the “Mah Nishtanah” in the order of the Bavli, as found in most Haggadahs, and not according to the Yerushalmi and Arizal (even though most of the other Breslover hanhagos conform to those of the Arizal).

*

In addition to commenting on the Haggadah, he would sing at various points, particularly in Hallel, and then at length after the conclusion of the Seder. Everyone would enthusiastically join in the singing. There were years when some of his talmidim and other local yeshivah bochurim stopped by just to witness Reb Herschel’s Seder (which was much longer than most).

*

Mitzvas Moror: He would use only the stalks of romaine lettuce, removing the rest of the leaves and then rinsing the stalks thoroughly with water.

He would add some white chrein on top of a few lettuce stalks, with a very small amount of charoses. However, he distributed large shiurim, six or seven stalks.

For his personal use, he would prepare slices of the ends of the lettuce (i.e., the lower part from which the leaves grow) and add white chrein to those slices. This too may have been his father’s minhag.

*

Korekh: Reb Herschel would add a little charoses to the chrein and lettuce stalks. Despite his carefulness to avoid gebrokhts, he was not concerned with the charoses touching the matzohs for korekh.

*

Beitzah: At the beginning of the meal itself, he would serve hard-boiled eggs. For himself, he would slice an egg and put the slices in a small dish of salt water. This was his father’s minhag. (In Eastern Europe, many families only ate slices of the egg; they could not give each person a whole egg, due to poverty.)

*

By the time he got to the fourth kos, which was after 4:00 AM—or sometimes after finishing the Seder—he often would go to the kitchen sink and dampen his forehead with cold water to wake himself up in order to continue his avodah. Reb Avrohom Moshe speculated that he might have even done so for the sake of the children, whom he encouraged to do the same thing.

*

Afikoman: Reb Herschel was never makpid about the zman of chatzos. Reb Avraham Moshe does not remember his father even mentioning it. He just did his avodah in its own time. And in fact there were many Gedolei Yisrael who were not makpid about the zman chatzos on the Seder nights.

*

After completing the Seder, he would lead the singing of the various songs at the end, some of which he sang in Yiddish or Russian, as well as in Hebrew. Then he would recite aloud the entire “Shir HaShirim.” After this, he would go to wake up those who asked him to do so for Shacharis, go to the mikveh and then to shul. (He did not daven ki-vasikin but a little after 7:00 AM.) Thus, he would be awake all night long on both of the first two nights of Pesach.

*

Reb Avrohom Moshe added that one should remember that his father and his peers were strong people, and they were capable of doing these avodahs with simchah shel mitzvah and without becoming overstressed. Reb Herschel himself would always tell people that if they would not be able to function the next day, they surely should finish the Seder earlier.

Reb Avrohom Moshe added a vort of his own about this issue. The Haggadah mentions how five chakhomim stayed up all night discussing yetziyas Mitzrayim, until their talmidim came and announced that the time had arrived for kriyas Shema shel Shacharis. Did the sages need their talmidim to tell them this? Maybe we can infer from this that the talmidim wanted to inform their teachers that they couldn’t stay up all night like their masters and function properly the next day!

*

After Pesach:

Shlissel Challoh: At first, the Wasilskis did not bake a “shlissel challoh” for the Shabbos after Pesach. But in the later years, Mrs. Wasilski would bake a challoh with the form of a key on top of the loaf, not an actual key. (There are a number of different customs for baking shlissel challoh.)

*


Because they didn’t eat kneidlach on Acharon shel Pesach, for many years Mrs. Wasilski made kneidlach for the Shabbos after Pesach. They were prepared from a half-pound of matzoh meal which Reb Herschel bought before Pesach, ground by the bakery from the matzoh baked by his chaburah. However, it seems that this was done for the sake of the children. After they grew up, Mrs. Wasilski stopped making kneidlach for this Shabbos.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Reb Gedaliah’s Seder Customs


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


Before going to shul on Seder night, Reb Gedaliah selected the three matzos for the ka’arah, and made other preparations, as well, such as arranging the chairs, etc. Thus, he could begin the Seder without unnecessary delay as soon as he came home from shul. However, he did not actually place the matzos on the table until he came home from shul. (Heard from Rabbi Yossel Sofer, citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)

*

During his early years, he used to check all of the matzos for kefulos before Pesach and separate the whole matzos from the broken ones in order to expedite things at the Seder. However, it seems that during his later years he did not always do so, and if he found kefulos, he broke them off and put them aside. (Heard from Rabbi Yosef Sofer, citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)

*

Like most communities today, Breslover Chassidim arrange the ka’arah (Seder plate) according to the custom of the Arizal as presented in the Mishnas Chasidim. That is, the three matzos (Chokhmah-Binah-Da’as) are placed under the six simanim, with the zero’a/bone (Chesed) to the upper right, beitzah/egg (Gevurah) to the upper left, morror/bitter herbs (Tiferes) in the middle, charoses/chopped fruit and nuts with grape juice or wine (Netzach) to the lower right, karpas/celery, parsley, or another vegetable that grows from the ground (Hod) to the lower left, and chazeres/second portion of bitter herbs (Yesod) between them, under the morror. The ka’arah itself corresponds to Malkhus. (See Mishnas Chassidim, Seder Leyl Pesach 2; Siddur ARI Rav Shabbsai, et al. This is also cited in Be’er Heitiv, Orach Chaim 473:8. Arukh haShulchan, Orach Chaim 473:11, states that this is the prevailing Ashkenazic custom today. However, the RaSHaSH and other Sefardic mekuballim do not place the matzos underneath the six simanim, but on the ka’arah at its upper point (i.e., “twelve o’clock” if it were the face of a clock). This is because traditionally the Sefardic matzos are smaller and made somewhat like pita breads. An interesting exchange on this subject between Rav Asher Zelig Margolios and the Minchas Elazar appears as an appendix in Kocho deRaSHBY, pp. 18-23.)

*

Reb Avraham Sternhartz also arranged the ka’arah in this manner (i.e., as presented in the Mishnas Chassidim). (Heard from Rabbi Michel Dorfman)

*

The matzos may be placed in a cloth bag with three sections; or between napkins; or in a special unit with three metal racks and a ka’arah on top. Reb Gedaliah did not own a special holder, but used to rest a plate containing the simanim in small vessels directly on top of the covered matzos. Reb Elazar explained that this was another example of his father’s extraordinary histapkus—contentment with his modest material circumstances and shunning of luxuries, even when it came to the performance of certain mitzvos.

*

Mrs. Mirel Sofer remembered that Reb Gedaliah used napkins between the matzos.
(Heard from Rabbi Yosef Sofer)

*

Reb Gedaliah’s minhag was to use romaine lettuce for morror, and he took the “kepel,” the part from which the leaves grow, for chazeres on the ka’arah. (That is, the bottom point of the upper segol was the leaf of the romaine lettuce, while the bottom point of the lower segol was the “kepel” of the romaine lettuce.) Once he tried to use chrein (horseradish) for the mitzvah of morror, but found that it made him ill.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig. Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 473:5 states that romaine lettuce is the preferred type of morror. This is based on Pesachim 39a. However, cleaning these leaves to remove insects may be a difficult and time-consuming task. Therefore, some just use lettuce stalks. Special insect-free lettuce with rabbinic supervision is also available today.)

*

However, Reb Avraham Sternhartz used chrein for morror.
(Heard from Rabbi Michel Dorfman)

*

Since insect-free romaine lettuce was then unavailable, Reb Gedaliah advised his talmidim to put the lettuce in the coldest part of the refrigerator overnight. This would cause the insects to loosen their grip, so that cleaning would be easier the next day.
(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Shapiro)

*

For karpas, Reb Gedaliah at first used potatoes, and then changed to a raw celery root (not the stalks or leaves), in keeping with the view of the Arizal. However, he also continued to serve cooked potatoes, which some people prefer. Many Sefardic kabbalists also use celery root for karpas.
(Heard from Rabbi Elazar Kenig and Rabbi Ephraim Kenig. This is supported by Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 118:2, Teshuvos Chasam Sofer, Orach Chaim, no. 132. See Rabbi Chaim Vital, Sha’ar ha-Kavannos, ‘Inyan Pesach, Drush 6, that the ARI was particular to use karpas and not any other vegetable. Sefardic authorities understand this to mean the celery root. Darkei Chaim ve-Shalom 589 states that the Minchas Elazar used a small amount of parsley leaves (petrizeil), which he held to be the karpas mentioned in the Gemara and Kisvei ARI zal. Some use the parsley root. The Hornestiepler Rebbe of Flatbush, Rabbi Mordekhai Twersky, told us that his family minhag is to use radishes. Bobover Chassidim use cucumbers. However, most Eastern European Jews used potatoes.)

*

In any case, Breslover Chassidim do not use raw onions for karpas, in keeping with the Rebbe’s family mesorah that the Baal Shem Tov said not to eat raw onions.
(See Sichos haRan 265)

*

However, Reb Gedaliah did not consider raw scallions to be the same as onions. When he spent Pesach in Brooklyn, at the home of Reb Moshe Grinberger, he considered using raw scallions for karpas.
(Heard from Rabbi Moshe Grinberger)

*

Reb Gedaliah would eat the karpas without reclining.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig. This follows the view of Shevilei Leket, 64; Matteh Moshe 626; Birkhei Yosef 474:14; Siddur ARI Rav Shabsai; Darkei Chaim ve-Shalom [Munkatch] 590; Minhagei Chabad; et al. Those who recline follow the shittah of Abudarham.)

*

For zero’a, Reb Gedaliah used a roasted chicken wing.
(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Kenig, Rabbi Ephraim Kenig, and Rabbi Yossel Sofer)

*

For beitzah, Reb Gedaliah used a hard-boiled egg, but did not roast it. (Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)


Reciting the Haggadah
Many Breslover Chassidim use the Haggadah Ohr Zarei’ach compiled by Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Beziliansky (better known as Reb Alter Tepliker). This work is a digest of Breslover teachings related to the text of the Haggadah. However, there is nothing special about the nusach of this Haggadah.

*

The women in Reb Gedaliah’s family used to light the Yom Tov candles after the men came home from shul. They recited the berakhahShehechiyanu” immediately afterward, and did not wait to do so until Kiddush. (Heard from Rabbi Yosef Sofer, citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)

*

Reb Gedaliah said “Ha lachma ‘anya,” with a kametz under the heh, as in most versions of the Haggadah, not “Heh lachma ‘anya,” with a tzeyre under the heh—although the latter is the nusach of the Arizal. (The common nusach of “hah” with a kametz is mentioned in Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 473:6. For the nusach of the ARI zal, see Rabbi Chaim Vital, Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chag haMatzos, 7; Mishnas Chassidim, Masechtas Seder Leyl Pesach, 5:2, et al. This is based on several pesukim: Bereishis 47:23, Yechezkel 16:43, and Daniel 2:43.)


*

Reb Gedaliah followed the more common order of “Mah nishtanah” (Matzah, Maror, Matbilin, Mesubin), not that of the Yerushalmi (Matbilin, Matzah, Maror, Mesubin), although the Arizal preferred the latter.
(The common nusach is that of the Talmud Bavli, and is cited in the Machzor Vitry. It also appears in all of the Slavita siddurim. The ARI zal follows nusach of the Yerushalmi, as redacted by the RIF, RaMBaM, Rosh, and Baal haRoke’ach; see Rabbi Chaim Vital, Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chag haMatzos 7. Chassidic sources that follow the minhag ARI include Siddur Baal ha-Tanya; Darkei Chaim veShalom [Munkatch] 599; Erkhei Yehoshua [Manistritch], Perach Shoshanim 121; Siddur Tzelosa deShlomo [Bobov]; et al. The Arizal explains that the Four Questions parallel the Four Worlds, in ascending order.)

*

Reb Gedaliah and his family recited the “Mah nishtanahs” in unison, not the children first, followed by the adults.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)

*

After the “Mah nishtanahs,” Reb Gedaliah used to exclaim, “Oo-ah! Azoyne shtarkeh kashas . . . Such strong questions!” Then he would say “Der teretz is . . . The answer is…” and recite “Avodim hoyinu.” (Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)

*

Sometimes after reciting the section “ ‘Avodim hoyinu,” he would add: “Me darf es noch fahrenferen. Tzorekh biur … We need to give more of an answer. This needs explanation…” (Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)

*

Reb Elazar has told his family members and talmidim that when we mention the ben sho’el during the Haggadah, this is an “es ratzon.” Therefore, one should quietly daven for whatever one needs. (Heard from Mrs. Hindy Hecht)

*

Reb Avraham Sternhartz knew all of Reb Noson’s children. He heard from them, and particularly from Reb Noson’s daughter Chanah Tzirel, “az Pesach banacht is geven zeyr a shverrer tzeit . . . Pesach night was an extremely difficult time . . . ‘Es is geven fun di shverster tzeiten fun a gantz yohr … It was one of the hardest times of the entire year.” Reb Avraham explained that first, there were all of the hakhanos, physical and spiritual, and later during the Seder, Reb Noson was enflamed with emotion. Reb Noson used to recite the Haggadah loudly and with great fervor. His deveykus was so intense that once—and possibly more than once—when he came to the words “U-ve-morah gadol—zeh gilu’i Shekhinah,” he actually fainted. His family was therefore extremely nervous about what would happen at the Seder. They were afraid that he might suddenly expire.
(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn)

*

Reb Gedaliah recited the Haggadah like a “flamm fier,” with intense passion. He conducted the Seder with awe and yiras Shomayim, creating a rarified atmosphere that affected everyone present. He did not allow the emotional climate to degenerate, notwithstanding all the children and the lateness of the hour, but maintained this exalted mood from beginning to end.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)

*

Reb Ephraim Kenig once remarked that the way his father recited the Haggadah, intensely probing the meaning of its words, was “a perish af der gantzeh Haggadah.”


*
Reb Gedaliah would place the Kos shel Eliyahu on the table at the beginning of the Seder and fill it after bentching. Thus, it was visible throughout the Seder. He used a slightly larger kos than the rest, made of glass, not silver.
(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Kenig and Rabbi Yosef Sofer, citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)

*

The wine from the kos shel Eliyahu was used the next morning for Kiddush.
(Heard from Rabbi Yosef Sofer, citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)

*

Reb Gedaliah sometimes spoke briefly after “‘Avodim hoyinu,” and perhaps two or three times during “Maggid.” However, he and his sons and guests did not say vertlach, or engage in lengthy discussion of the Haggadah.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)

*

Reb Gedaliah would spill a drop of wine while reciting each of the Ten Plagues, and not remove the wine with his finger.


(Heard from Rabbi Yossel Sofer, citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer. Rabbi Chaim Vital, Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chag haMatzos 7, with glosses of Rabbi Yaakov Tzemach, hagahah 1; cf. Shulchan Arukh haRav 473:51, s.v. “ve-yesh nohagin”; Kaf haChaim, ad loc. 166. The custom of using one’s finger is also mentioned by these sources, as well as by the RaMA, Orach Chaim 473:74.)

*

The spilled wine would be collected and poured into an unglazed earthenware container, and later disposed of.
(Heard from Rabbi Yossel Sofer, citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)

*

Reb Elazar Kenig continues his father’s minhag of personally making the charoses for the Seder, with the help of one or two of his daughters. His recipe is: 10 apples, peeled and cored; 10 pears, peeled and cored; 10 bananas, peeled and sliced. The entire mixture is put through a food processor. Then Reb Elazar adds the juice of one pomegranate, strained through a cloth; three cups of home made sweet red wine; plus ground walnuts, ground almonds, ground cinnamon, ground ginger. He divides the batch into a number of separate bags for his married children who will not be with him for the Seder. The rest is used at his table.
(Heard from Mrs. Hindy Hecht)

*

Reb Gedaliah would dip the morror in charoses for both morror and korekh, and immediately shake it off. He did not eat charoses together with the matzah and morror for korekh.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig. According to Erkhei Yehoshua, Perach Shoshanim 131, the Manistritcher minhag was to include charoses in the korekh/sandwich. Sefer Minhagim-Chabad similarly states that one dips the romaine lettuce in charoses and then shakes it off, as prior to eating the marror.)


*

He added a little grated horseradish to the lettuce for korekh, but did not do so for morror.
(Heard from Rabbi Yossel Sofer, citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)

*

When Reb Avraham Sternhartz ate the morror, he would exclaim again and again, “Ot azoy is gevezen bitter di Yidden… Just like this, it was bitter for the Jews!” Reb Gedaliah used to repeat Reb Avraham’s words when he ate the marror, as well. (Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)

*

During the meal, Reb Gedaliah would use a bed in order to recline while eating. However, he would sit in the usual manner while eating the soup, or if it became difficult for him at some point.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig. This reflects the view of the Rama, Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 472:7, end; also cf. Mishnah Berurah, ad loc., that this is only le-chatchilah. Some say that this is entirely not applicable today.)

*

In Reb Gedaliah’s home, it was customary to eat the egg after the fish, not immediately at the beginning of the meal. He used the egg on his ka’arah (unlike those who leave all the minim on the ka’arah for the entire Seder).
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)

*

However, Reb Elazar did not remember his father waiting to eat the egg.

*

Reb Gedaliah would slice the egg into sections, dip the sections in salt water, and give them to everyone with a spoon. If he needed more slices, he would use a second egg, in addition to the one from the ka’arah. Before eating the egg, he would announce, “Zekher le-chagigah.”
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)

*

However, Mrs. Mirel Sofer remembered that when she was a young girl, Reb Gedaliah did not use the egg from the ka’arah, but took eggs from a separate bowl, dipped them into salt water, and distributed them. The egg from the ka’arah was eaten during the day meal, and Reb Gedaliah would distribute slices to those present.
(Heard from Rabbi Yosef Sofer)

*

In Reb Gedaliah’s house, sour pickles, chrein mixed with beets, and other sharp-tasting foods and condiments were not served during the Seder meal. It seems that this was because the Haggadah, in the second of the Four Questions, states: “ba-laylah ha-zeh, marror.” This is an old hanhagah, which is mentioned in various seforim.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)