Monday, March 30, 2020

Customs for Chodesh Nisan (Prior to Pesach)

Customs for Chodesh Nisan (Prior to Pesach)
From “Breslov Eikh Shehu: Breslov the Way It Is”
Customs and Practices, Past and Present
Work-in-progress by Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears

The Rebbe taught that the days of Nisan are days of teshuvah, like the days of Tishrei.
(Likutey Moharan I, 49)


The Rebbe was born on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, which is the Mishnah designates as the "Rosh Hashanah shel malakhim," the day on which the reign of a Jewish king officially begins. Today many Breslover Chassidim travel to Uman to pray near the Rebbe's tziyun on Rosh Chodesh Nisan because it, too, is a “Rosh Hashanah,” and perhaps to some extent possesses the segulos of Rosh Hashanah.


In a letter to Rabbi Avraham Jacobovitch, Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz mentions that Nisan is the head of all months, and is a time of simchah in all the worlds; each day is comparable to a Rosh Chodesh and a Yom Tov; and through this simchah, one can attain tikkun and shemiras ha-bris, as discussed in Likutey Moharan I, 49.
(Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz, Michtevey Shmuel [Jerusalem: Keren R’ Yisrael Dov Odesser, first edition], Letter 26, p. 103)


Beginning on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the minhag in the Ukraine was for each person to recite the parshas ha-nasi followed by the “yehi ratzon” after Shacharis, not to read it from the Sefer Torah in public. This was also the Breslover minhag.
(Heard from Rabbi Michel Dorfman. Those who read the nasi privately include the communities of Chernobyl-Skver, Boyan, Karlin-Stolin, Chabad, etc. Reading it from a Sefer Torah was the minhag of Rabbi Chaim of Tzanz, also mentioned in Darkei Chaim ve-Shalom [Munkatch])


However, in recent years it became the minhag in the Tzefas Breslov community to read the nasi from the Sefer Torah. This change was made out of concern that people not forget to do so.


Reb Elazar and a group of talmidim from Tzefas usually go to Uman immediately after Pesach to spend the last days of Nisan at the Rebbe's tziyun. The chaburah spends one day visiting the kivrei tzaddikim in Berditchev, Medzhibuzh, and Breslov. While in Uman, Reb Elazar teaches Sippurey Ma’asiyos and Likutey Moharan every day, and the chaburah recites Tikkun ha-Klalli be-tzibbur.


Reb Gedaliah and his talmidim used to go to Tzefas in order to pray there on Erev Rosh Chodesh Iyar. When asked about this, Reb Gedaliah said that this was the date that Mosdos Nachal Novea Mekor Chochma had purchased its first property in Tzefas.
(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Shapiro)

Mekhiras Chometz / Sale of Chometz
Reb Gedaliah stated that the mekhirah is a complete sale, and chas ve-shalom that one should think otherwise. Therefore, one may sell any quantity of chometz gamur.
(Heard from Rabbi Yaakov Klein)


Reb Gedaliah did not instruct his talmidim to sell their chometz through a Rov who used an arev kablan. Therefore, it seems he was not particular about this.
(Heard from Rabbi Yaakov Klein. The Baal ha-Tanya advocated the use of an arev kablan, a Jew who acts as the agent of the non-Jew who buys the chametz. )

Shabbos Ha-Gadol
After Minchah, it is customary to recite the Haggadah, beginning with “Avadim hayinu” until “le-khaper al kol avonoseinu.” One does so even if Shabbos ha-Gadol falls on Erev Pesach.
(RaMA, Orach Chaim 430:1; Mishnah Berurah, ad loc.)


The Rebbe darshans on the custom that once prevailed in Eastern Europe to turn over the tables after Shabbos HaGadol.
(Sichos ha-Ran 88)


The tables were commonly made so that the top rested on the legs. Therefore, by turning over the top, one was provided with a new, “chometz-free” surface.
(Heard from Rabbi Leibel Berger)

Erev Pesach
Reb Avraham Sternhartz told Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz that Reb Noson used to say: “As soon as one recites the berakhah for bedikas chometz, it is already a shtick Pesach (i.e., one is already connected to Pesach).”
(Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz, editor of Rabbi Avraham b’Reb Nachman, Yemei T’la’os [Jerusalem 1982, fifth edition] p. 41)


Reb Avraham described how after the bedikah, Reb Noson would speak words of mussar to his sons: they should strive to remove the chometz from their hearts, etc. This was the only time he spoke mussar at such length the entire year. He did so order to awaken the paradigm of “yom nakam bi-libi . . . the day of retribution is in My heart, and the year of My Redemption has come” (Isaiah 63:4). This mood lasted until the burning of the chometz the following morning, when one must also destroy the chometz from one’s heart. Reb Noson’s allusion to the verse “yom nakam bi-libi” alludes to Likutey Moharan I, 83, which speaks of searching for chometz with the “light of the eyes” (see there), destroying the chometz in one’s heart, and other awesome tikkunim that are bound up with the Redemption and Beis ha-Mikdash.
(Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz, editor of Rabbi Avraham b’Reb Nachman’s Yemei T’la’os [Jerusalem 1982, fifth edition] p. 41)


Reb Gedaliah had a large family and an extremely small dirah. Yet despite the challenges of operating within such circumstances, he remained calm and patient throughout the Pesach preparations, with tzelilus ha-da’as. 
(Heard from Rabbi Elazar Kenig)


Reb Gedaliah showed great zehirus in all mitzvos de-rabbanan. Thus, he would not even drink water before bedikas chometz, even though this is halakhically permissible.
(Heard from Rabbi Elazar Kenig and Rabbi Yaakov Klein)


Reb Gedaliah did not use a feather and wooden spoon during bedikas chometz, but only a candle and a sheet of paper made into a cone to collect the ten pieces of chometz, etc. One year one of his children came back from kindergarten and gave him a wooden spoon for the bedikah. However, he put it aside and did not use it, commenting, “Ich fier zach vie der Tate . . . I conduct myself like my father.”
(Heard from Rabbi Yossel Sofer citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)


Reb Gedaliah’s wife would place each of the ten small pieces of chometz on a piece of paper, and put them on the floor. Reb Gedaliah would collect them during the bedikah and put them in the paper cone together with the candle to be burned in the morning.
(Heard from Rabbi Yossel Sofer citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)


Reb Gedaliah was not extreme in his manner of performing the bedikah. For example, if a drawer were not normally used for chometz, he would just open it and quickly look inside. He told his children to clean out the pockets of their clothes during the day, and he did not inspect them at night.
(Heard from Rabbi Yossel Sofer citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)


Reb Avraham Sternhartz used to fast all day on Erev Pesach and did not avail himself of the heter to make a siyum or attend one. This also had been the practice of his zeide, the Tcheriner Rov.
(Heard from Rabbi Elazar Kenig and Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn)


Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn remembered hearing that Reb Avraham had had an older sister who died young, and therefore he was not obligated to fast on Ta’anis Bekhorim; yet he did so anyway. Another possible reason for this stringency, he speculated, was that Reb Avraham wished exempt his bekhor, Reb Noson, during the latter’s childhood, and he simply continued to do so after Reb Noson came of age.


The Rav of Tcherin writes that there is no special inyan in Breslov to bake Erev Pesach matzos, which entails many halakhic risks if conditions are not optimal. "However," he adds, "if one can do so properly and without great difficulty, mah tov u-mah na'im."
(See Si'ach Sarfei Kodesh IV, 257. However, Reb Elazar has a copy of an unpublished letter from Reb Noson asking for wheat in order to make Erev Pesach matzos. This was a custom of the Baal Shem Tov still observed in many circles; see Shivchey Baal Shem Tov [Avraham Rubenstein, ed.] 199; Siddur ARI Rav Shabbsai, Seder Erev Pesach, et al.)


Reb Gedaliah did not bake Erev Pesach matzos. Moreover, he was particular not to use them, due to the halakhic problems surrounding them.
(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Kenig, Rabbi Chaim Man, and Rabbi Moshe Grinberger)


Sometime after chatzos, Reb Gedaliah would recite the letter of Rabbi Shimshon Ostropolier, printed in many editions of the Haggadah. He encouraged his talmidim to do so, as well.
(Heard from Rabbi Moshe Grinberger)


After Minchah, he would read recite the account of the Korban Pesach. This is the common minhag. It is possible that the nusach he followed was that of Rabbi Yaakov Emden’s Siddur. This was one of his favorite seforim, which he often reviewed at different times of the year.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)

Shabbos HaGadol Thoughts

From Sichot HaRan 88 
Translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom (Breslov Research Institute), pp. 205-206
It is customary to turn the tables over on Shabbos HaGadol, the Great Sabbath just before Pesach.

Speech remains in exile until Pesach.

Pesach is Pe Sach — “ a mouth speaking” (Rabbi Chaim Vital, Shaar HaKavannos, Inyan Pesach #6).

On Pesach speech emerges from Exile. This is the main idea of the Exodus.

It is written (Ezekiel 41:22), “ And He spoke to me, this is the Table that is before G-d.”

The table is speech.

“And He spoke to me— regarding my food and sustenance. This is the Table that is derived from the category of Speech.

Thus it is written (Deuteronomy 8:3), “On all that emanates from G-d’s mouth will man live.”

When Speech is not in exile, then the Table is turned toward us in an aspect of Face. “And He spoke to me, this is the Table that is before G-d.”

“Before” is lifney — literally “ to the face of.”

When “He spoke,” then the Table is in an aspect of Face.

Speech remains in exile until Pesach.

It is in Egypt until the Exodus.

The Tables are therefore turned over, showing that Speech is not yet in an aspect of Face.

Speech emerges from exile only on Pesach —Pe Sach — “The mouth speaking.”

Friday, March 6, 2020


The Rebbe taught: “Rejoicing and dancing on Purim makes us worthy of receiving the Torah anew, in both its revealed and hidden aspects.” He also discusses how clapping the hands and dancing mitigates harsh judgments.
(Likkutei Moharan I, 10:8)


Purim is one of the five times during the year that Breslover Chassidim are particular to daven together ki-vasikin, following the custom of the Baal Shem Tov.

BRI Announcement: The American Breslov Pioneer

From BRI:

Dear Friends and Students of Rabbi Rosenfeld z"l, 

It is our great pleasure to announce that the Breslov Research Institute has nearly completed the biography of Rabbi Rosenfeld z"l.

This work is a product of many years of research and interviews and it contains a full history of his life, insights into other Torah leaders he was in contact with, hundreds of great quips and stories as well as his precious Divrei Torah.

It is truly an incredible tribute to the Rabbi that was the ultimate Rebbe and a best friend to so many.

Attached is a small sample for you to enjoy.

We need your support to bring the story of this legendary, modern day tzaddik to the Jewish world.

Please click here now to show your support and help publicize the life of an unmatched Torah Scholar, lover of Jews and pioneer in his time.

Thank you, Purim Sameach!
Bobby Rosenberg (Senior Editor)
Yossi Katz (Executive Director, BRI USA)

Breslov Teachings On Purim

From the anthology Oztar HaYirah (Likutei Eitzos HaMeshulosh), Purim.

These selections are, in turn, from Reb Noson’s Likkutei Halakhos.
Translated by Dovid Sears

The Sitra D’Mosa [“Side of Death,” meaning the state of estrangement from God, Who is the source of life] is primarily derived from self-importance. This is the root of the klippah (“husk”)—the spiritual force that seeks to obstruct the light of holiness, associated with Haman and Amalek, the archenemies of the Jewish people. (4)


The main strategy of the klippah of Amalek is to attack the weak by convincing them that there is no hope, God forbid. [1] However, by finding the good point within yourself, even when you seem to be in a state of spiritual decline, you conquer Amalek. (1)


Through the simcha (joy) of Purim, it is possible to gain lofty perceptions— to attain "the ultimate knowledge, which is not-knowing." The seemingly opposite paradigms of "knowing" and "not knowing" coalesce and become one. Every trace of evil disappears, for at this exalted level, all is one, and all is good. (9)


When the holiness of Shabbos enters the world, the klippah of Amalek is subjugated. The Wine of Drunkenness, from which we refrain, is supplanted by the Wine of Joy. When we recite the Kiddush over wine, a spirit of holiness encompasses all the souls and holy sparks that were extricated from the realm of the klippos during the six days of the week, and now, with the advent of Shabbos, they ascend to their place of rest.

Their main path of ascent is through simchah (joy) and the Kiddush that we recite over the wine, which is an aspect of the Wine of Joy. Through this, our "hot blood" is tempered, and we can serve God with a heart inflamed with devotion.

This is why on Purim, which celebrates the extirpation of the seed of Amalek, it is a great mitzvah to drink wine to the point of intoxication. On Purim the wine is an aspect of the Wine of Joy, which destroys the klippah of Amalek; for the main downfall of Amalek is accomplished through simchah. (20)


The klippah of Amalek, which manifests itself as false wisdoms and heretical philosophies, derives from the Chalal HaPanui—the Vacated Space that precedes all creation.[2] Because of this precedence, it is axiomatic that on all levels of reality, “the klippah precedes the fruit.”

Thus Amalek is called reishis (the "first")— "Amalek was the first of nations" (Numbers 24:20); its power derives from the Vacated Space that precedes creation altogether. Analogously, Esau was born before his twin brother, Jacob, and was considered to be the firstborn son.

However, in truth, the holy transcends everything; God is the primordial reality, and God created the Vacated Space. Therefore, Israel, by power of their simple faith that God transcends and precedes everything, can ascend beyond all the wisdoms and heretical philosophies that come from the Vacated Space. This is why Israel is called the "firstborn," as the verse states, "My child, my firstborn, Israel" (Exodus 4:22), and why Jacob took the right of the firstborn from his brother, Esau, from whom Amalek descends.

This faith destroys the klippah of Haman and Amalek, and reveals the Song of the Future World. [3] (3)


On Purim a great and wondrous light shines forth that reaches the very depths of this lowly World of Action: the spiritual light of Mordechai and Esther. Just as gazing upon the face of the true tzaddik is spiritually transforming, [4] so is the experience of this lofty light. Through it, we attain humility and nullify our self-importance, which is the klippah of Haman and Amalek.

The reading of the Megillah in particular reflects this, for the light of the holy faces of Mordechai and Esther is hidden within the Megillah, the scroll that they composed. When we read their words in the Megillah, the light of their faces shines upon us, and it is as if we gazed upon them in person. Our higher consciousness becomes charged, as it were; our self-importance falls away, and we attain true humility. This is the eternal life of the World to Come.

Lowliness and the "pride" that derives from the side of holiness become as one, in keeping with the verse, "In the place you find His greatness, there you find His humility." [5] This fusion is the ultimate perfection of humility. Thus, on Purim our sages command us [6] to drink wine "until you do not know the difference between: Arur Haman (Cursed is Haman)," which corresponds to nullifying the ego," and “Baruch Mordechai (Blessed is Mordechai)," which corresponds to holy pride. This leads to true joy, the simchah of Purim. (5)


[1] The nation of Amalek attacked the weary and enfeebled Israelites on their journey through the wilderness, sexually abusing and dismembering their captives; see Rashi citing Midrash Tanchumah on Deuteronomy 25:17-19. Amalek is a symbol of human cruelty throughout rabbinic literature, much like the Nazis in the contemporary experience. On a deeper level, the Kabbalists point out that word Amalek bears the same gematria (numerical value) as sofek, meaning "doubt." Thus, the klippah of Amalek is the voice within us all that denies God and the true tzaddikim and simple emunah (faith).

[2] The Sefer Eitz Chaim of the Ari z"l begins with an abstruse account of the mysteries of creation: In the beginning, the Infinite Divine Light was omnipresent. When it arose within His will to create the universe, God constricted the light to the “sides” in all directions, leaving a Vacanted Space (Chalal HaPanui). Into this Vacated Space, God "beamed" a thread of the light that had been constricted; and from this thread of light all things, spiritual and physical, derive their existence. For a practical application of this teaching in divine service, see Likkutei Moharan I, 49.

[3] Likkutei Moharan I, 64.

[4] Likkutei Moharan I, 4.

[5] Megillah 31a.

[6] Megillah 7a. See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 695:2 for the halachic parameters of this law, which are quite lenient in the case of a person who is weak, or otherwise incapable of drinking to the point of intoxication. This obligation does not apply to women.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Just Released from BRI - Likutey Halakhot - Volume 1

Likutey Halakhot (Collected Discourses) by Reb Noson of Breslov is a masterful work that explores Jewish law through the prism of the teachings of Rebbe Nachman.
Following the order of the Shulchan Arukh, Reb Noson highlights a particular halakhah, presents an overview of the relevant concepts found in Rebbe Nachman’s lessons, and then creates an original discourse showing how the Rebbe’s insights illuminate the deeper meaning of the halakhah.
This elucidated edition, the first of its kind in English, is designed for the serious student who wishes to understand Reb Noson’s words and thought processes. Each discourse features the complete Hebrew text, a clear English translation, and notes and background material explaining key points. As a companion work to the English Likutey Moharan published by the Breslov Research Institute, the English Likutey Halakhot inspires us to embrace Rebbe Nachman’s vision of living with faith and devotion to HaShem.

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!