Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Sefer in Preparation for Shavuos

As is well known, there is a special connection between gerim (converts) and the coming festival of Shavuos. One of the highlights of the Shavuos service is the reading of Megillas Rus, which tells the story of the legendary convert who was the ancestress of King David. 

In honor of this, we encourage you to pick up a copy of Bnei Avraham Ahuvecha: Gerim in Chassidic Thought which is full of teachings from Breslov literature on this topic. 

Copies can be ordered here on

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Lag B'Omer - Breslov of Boro Park

There will iy"h be a seudah lechavod the 
Hilula of 
Reb Shimon Bar Yochai
On Lag baOmer, this Thursday Evening
Mincha at 7:00pm 
followed by Seudah
5504 16th Ave
Birchas Hamazon 9:30

If you wold like to be mishtatef in the cost of the Seudah:
please email:

Will There Be Direct Flights From Israel To Uman?


Every year, tens of thousands of Jews traveling from Eretz Yisroel to Uman have to land at an airport in Kiev and travel to Uman by bus for several hours.
El Al director David Maimon told Interior Minister Aryeh Deri that he is negotiating with the mayor of Uman to enlarge the local airport and make it capable of accommodating the crowds that arrive for Rosh Hashanah every year.
“Landing El Al planes at Uman itself would make things much easier for masses of people,” Deri said.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Breslov Research Institute - Gala Siyum Dinner

The Breslov Research Institute is proud to announce the completion of the seven-volume translation of Reb Noson's Likutey Tefilot under the title “The Fiftieth Gate.”
On Tuesday, June 21 we will mark this long-awaited achievement with a Siyum Dinner at the Renaissance Hall, 5902 14th Avenue, Brooklyn (Boro Park) honoring Reb Noson and The Fiftieth Gate. If you can't make it in person, we invite you to participate via our live internet stream.
Only through the writings of Reb Noson do we merit to know Rebbe Nachman, whose teachings have enriched our lives. Now we have the opportunity to honor Reb Noson for his accomplishments. Likutey Tefilot is an incredible compilation of Breslov prayers that address every occasion and need. These prayers are so precious and heartfelt that Reb Noson once remarked, “Many People merited entering Gan Eden because of these prayers.”
At the same time, we will launch our next monumental project, Reb Noson’s Likutey Halakhot!

Click here more for information and to reserve your place.

Lag ba-Omer Customs

(c) Dovid Sears

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

Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz writes lavishly about the simchah and hisorerus experienced by those who celebrated Lag ba-Omer in Meron, particularly the Breslover Chasidim who participated in the “hillula de-RASHBI.” He writes: “What can one say? A person should yearn, long, and exert himself all of his days with mesirus nefesh to experience and participate in this. In the inner part of the tomb, people weep and do teshuvah, and their hearts are deeply aroused; even on Yom Kippur, no one ever heard of such a place of teshuvah as this! On the outside [in the courtyard and surrounding areas], rejoicing, gladness, singing, music, and dancing prevail; even at the weddings of kings, no one ever beheld or heard of such ecstasy! Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu, that we were privileged to witness all this!”

(Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz, Yemei Shmuel, vol. I, chap. 56. For more extensive Breslov teachings and historical material on Lag ba-Omer, see Mo’adei Yisrael: Lag ba-Omer, Bnei Brak: Agudas Mayanos ha-Netzach 2003)


On the Shabbos before Lag ba-Omer in the Breslover communities of Yerushalayim, Williamsburg, Monsey, and Borough Park, it is customary to sing “Bar Yochai,” etc., before “Ki-gavna” on Friday night. This is a widespread custom today.

(Heard from Rabbi Nachman Burshteyn and Rabbi Meir Wasilski)


In the Tzefas community, they sing “Bar Yochai” and “Amar Rabbi Akiva” on every Friday night before “Ki-gavna.” (One can see the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai through the windows of the Breslov synagogue in Tzefas.)

(Heard from Rabbi Binyamin Rosenberg)


This is also the custom in Meron.

(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn)


Tachanun is omitted on both Erev Lag ba-Omer and Lag ba-Omer, as stated in Shulchan Arukh. However, it is not our custom to omit Tachanun for the entire week of “hod,” as in some Chassidic communities.

(See Orach Chaim 493:2, with Mishnah Berurah)


In Likutey Halakhos, Reb Noson mentions the minhag to give a child his first haircut on Lag ba-Omer.

(See Likutey Halakhos, Rosh Chodesh 3:11, 9:13; Pesach 7:24; Dam 1:12; Simanei Behemah ve-Chayah Tehorah 4:6; Hekhsher Keilim 4:4; Nezikin 3:3)


In addition to participating in the traditional festivities, many Breslover Chassidim recite Reb Noson's prayer in honor of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai; see Likutey Tefilos II, 47.


It is also a common practice to learn the Rebbe’s lesson “Lekhu Chazu” at the beginning of Likutey Moharan, which discusses Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and the Zohar. This lesson is usually delivered by one of the speakers at the Lag ba-Omer se’udah in the various Breslov communities. 


The Rebbe states that shooting arrows on Lag ba-Omer is a segulah for having children.

(Sefer ha-Midos, “Banim” I, 63)


Members of the Tzefas community visit the grave of Rabbi Shimon in Meron on Lag ba-Omer, together with the many thousands of Jews who come from far and wide in honor of the tzaddik and in order to pray for Hashem’s mercy at this auspicious time.


Reb Avraham Sternhartz used to spend either the Shabbos before or after Lag ba-Omer in Meron.

(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New Class for Women: The Healing Dance of Body and Soul

Series: Relationships with Chaya Rivka Zwolinski
For women only.
How do the eyes, hands, heart, and other body parts reflect your spiritual anatomy?
Does good health or it’s opposite always correspond to the state of your soul?
Is there an original holistic healing modality that is rooted in Jewish mysticism, one that is relevant today?
We’ll explore the answers to these and other essential questions using the fascinating BRI book, Anatomy of the Soul by Chaim Kramer as our guide. Rebbe Nachman’s stories and other Breslov sources will also be referenced.
Most of Rebbe Nachman’s lessons include a discussion of some part of the human anatomy. His approach to our bodily forms and functions is unique in all of Judaism, yet it rests firmly on a foundation of the deepest Torah. As we discuss this intriguing topic, we’ll come to a richer understanding of why God houses our soul in this brilliantly-complex home we call “my body”, the paradoxical interplay between soul and body, and a fresh outlook on health and healing.
  • A Kabbalistic Map of the Body
  • Towards A Definition of Healing
  • Body/Soul Health vs. Body/Soul Dis-ease
  • Spiritual Power of Each Organ and Body Part
  • Digestion: Eating and Food
  • Anatomy of Anger
  • Purity vs. Toxicity
  • Joy as Medicine
And much more…

Enroll here at BreslovCampus.

Monday, May 16, 2016

“Pray for the Welfare of the Government”

From “The Breslov Pirkey Avot,” Chapter 3, Mishnah 2

רַבִּי חֲנִינָא סְגַן הַכֹּהֲנִים אוֹמֵר, הֱוֵי מִתְפַּלֵּל בִּשְׁלוֹמָהּ שֶׁל מַלְכוּת, שֶׁאִלְמָלֵא מוֹרָאָהּ, אִישׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ חַיִּים בָּלָעוּ.

רַבִּי חֲנַנְיָא בֶּן תְּרַדְיוֹן אוֹמֵר, שְׁנַיִם שֶׁיּוֹשְׁבִין וְאֵין בֵּינֵיהֶן דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, הֲרֵי זֶה מוֹשַׁב לֵצִים, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (תהלים א'), וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לֹא יָשָׁב. אֲבָל שְׁנַיִם שֶׁיּוֹשְׁבִין וְיֵשׁ בֵּינֵיהֶם דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, שְׁכִינָה שְׁרוּיָה בֵינֵיהֶם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (מלאכי ג'), אָז נִדְבְּרוּ יִרְאֵי יְיָ אִישׁ אֶל רֵעֵהוּ וַיַּקְשֵׁב יְיָ וַיִּשְׁמָע וַיִּכָּתֵב סֵפֶר זִכָּרוֹן לְפָנָיו לְיִרְאֵי יְיָ וּלְחשְׁבֵי שְׁמוֹ.

אֵין לִי אֶלָּא שְׁנָיִם. מִנַּיִן שֶׁאֲפִלּוּ אֶחָד שֶׁיּוֹשֵׁב וְעוֹסֵק בַּתּוֹרָה, שֶׁהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא קוֹבֵעַ לוֹ שָׂכָר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (איכה ג'), יֵשֵׁב בָּדָד וְיִדֹּם כִּי נָטַל עָלָיו:

Rabbi Chaninah, the Deputy High Priest, said, “Pray for the welfare of the government, because if not for fear of the ruling authorities, people would swallow each other alive.”

Rabbi Chananyah ben Tradyon said, “When two sit together without sharing words of Torah, this is a seat of scoffers, as it is written, ‘And in a seat of scoffers he did not sit’ (Psalms 1:1). But when two sit together and speak words of Torah, the Divine Presence dwells in their midst, as it is written, ‘Then those who feared God spoke with one another, and God listened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who revered God and meditated upon His name’ (Malachi 3:16).

“[From the above,] I may infer that this applies to two [people]. How do we know that even if one person sits and occupies himself with Torah, the Holy One, Blessed be He, sets aside a reward for that one? Because it is written, ‘Let him sit alone and keep silent, for he is repaid for it’” (Lamentations 3:28).

Digest of Commentaries:

Pray for the welfare of the government, including a non-Jewish government, for God has commanded, “And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away in captivity, and pray to the Lord for it – because through its peace, you shall have peace” (Jeremiah 29:7).

If not for fear of the ruling authorities, people would swallow each other alive. This complements the teaching of the Sages, “'And You made man as the fish of the sea' (Habakkuk 1:14) – why are men likened to fish? Just as the bigger fish swallow the smaller ones, so it is among men. Those who are more powerful would destroy the weaker if not for fear of the authorities” (Avodah Zarah 4a).

When two sit together and speak words of Torah, the Divine Presence dwells in their midst, for through their study of Torah they gain a glimpse of God’s glory (Meiri).

Let him sit alone and keep silent, for he is repaid for it. God has set aside a reward for him (Rashi). Alternately: The merit of anyone who studies the Torah is so great that it is as if the Torah was given for his sake alone (Rambam; Bartenura).


Pray for the welfare of the government

Reb Noson: Speech is intrinsically bound up with peace. Thus it is written, “For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will now say, ‘Peace be with you’” (Psalms 122:8).[i] Therefore this teaching urges us to “pray for the welfare (literally, 'peace') of the government (literally, 'kingship').” In Kabbalistic terms, this alludes to Malkhut (“Kingship”), the lowest of the Ten Sefirot, which is associated with the mouth and the faculty of speech. When there is peace, speech attains perfection (Likutey Halakhot, Reshit HaGez 1).


If not for fear of the ruling authorities
Rebbe Nachman: Being the lowest in the order of the Ten Sefirot, Malkhut (“Kingship”) is the receptacle for the spiritual flow from all the other sefirot. Therefore Malkhut on the side of holiness is “the gatherer of all the tribal camps” (Numbers 10:25) – that is, the gatherer of the spiritual lights of the nine sefirot above it.

It is written, “The end of the matter, when all is considered, fear the Lord” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). This corresponds to Malkhut, as our Sages state, “If not for fear of the ruling authorities.” In other words, Malkhut is the receptacle for the spiritual lights of holiness at “the end of the matter” and “the gatherer of all the tribal camps.”

The Ten Tribes of Israel correspond to the Ten Sefirot. Malkhut corresponds to the Tribe of Dan, which is “the gatherer [i.e., the last] of all the tribal camps.” This is also suggested by the Talmudic axiom which uses a form of the word DaN: "DiNa de-malkhuta DiNa" (“The law of the kingdom is the law”) (Gittin 10b). Thus fear and awe of God is the vessel that contains and encompasses all other holy qualities.

But Malkhut of the Other Side (the realm of the unholy) is a “gatherer” too — a gatherer of money (Likutey Moharan I, 56:5).[ii]


Lasting Impression

The following tradition has been preserved by the Breslover Chassidim:

Reb Zushe of Anipoli, a close disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch and a legendary early Chassidic master, once explained, “How could two Jews possibly sit together without sharing words of Torah? We are forced to conclude that the place in which they found themselves had previously been ‘a seat of scoffers,’ and the negative spiritual impression that remained is what caused these two unfortunates to speak empty words” (Siach Sarfey Kodesh V, 494).


[i] See Likutey Moharan I, 239, where Rebbe Nachman points out that when there is a climate of strife, it is impossible for people to speak. He goes on to say that this applies even to the speech of prayer. For this reason, it is customary before each of the daily prayer services to verbally accept upon oneself the mitzvah to "love your fellow Jew as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18), in keeping with the practice of the Ari; see Rabbi Chaim Vital, Sha’ar HaKavanot, Birkhot HaShachar.
[ii] Parparaot LeChokhmah I, 56, note 10, points out that the Tribe of Dan camped on the north side of the Tabernacle; north corresponds to wealth, as in the teaching of our Sages, “Let the one who desires wealth face north” (Bava Batra 25b; also see Zohar I, 26b). This connection suggests that as the embodiment of Malkhut on the side of holiness, Dan spiritually corrects the craving for wealth that is the antithesis of holiness.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Shlissel Challah

From A Simple Jew:

There is a minhag to bake shlissel challah (shlissel means key in Yiddish) for the Shabbos after Pesach. Shlissel challos are best known as a segulah for parnasa, though there are other reasons for it, as we will soon see. Some bake the challah with an actual key inside, some make the challah in the shape of a key and some put sesame seeds on top in the form of a key. There are those who make the challah flat to look like matzos. We will discuss this later on. The Ohev Yisroel says about shlissel challah that “the minhagim of our fathers are most definitely Torah”. There are many reasons given for this minhag of baking shlissel challah; we will go through some of them. (Some of the items written below can also be found in Taamei Minhagim, Nitei Gavriel, Sefer Hatoda’a and Minhag Yisroel Torah)

First of all, the second Mishnah in Rosh Hashanah says on Pesach we are judged on the grains, parnasa. Rabbeinu Nissim asks if we are judged on Rosh Hashana then how are we judged on Pesach? He answers that on Pesach it is determined how much grain there will be in the coming year for the world, but on Rosh Hashanah it is decided how much of that grain each individual receives. The Meiri, however, says that on Rosh Hashanah it is decided if one will live or die, suffer or not and other such things, but on Pesach is when we are judged on the grains. Based on this there are customs in Sephardic communities to do things Motzei Pesach as a sign that we want Hashem to give us livelihood. In Aram Soba (Syria) and Turkey they put wheat kernels in all four corners of the house on Motzei Pesach as a sign of prosperity for the coming year. (Moed L’kol Chai -R’ Chaim Palagi, Beis Habichira). From a Mishnah we already see that there is a connection between Pesach and parnasa.

For more, see the full posting on A Simple Jew here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

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.


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)


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.)


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.)


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!”



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…”


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.