Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rabbi Shmuel Moshe Kramer, shlit"a, following the Megillah reading with two grandsons.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017


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.

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.


Esther: A Breslov Commentary on the Megillah (BRI), Chapter 1, pp. 10-12

He was the ACH ash ve ROSH—(Ach means brother or kinsman; rosh means head or the one in charge)—the brother of the grandiose one (Megillah 11a). He was the Achashverosh who reigned from Hodu (India) to Kush (Ethiopia)—over the entire world (ibid.).

But we still don’t see it.
The ultimate insanity!
But we have yet to look.

In fact, we consider it “normal”—the way things are. The idea—the delusion—that one of us is “better” than the other, or the very idea that we can be compared. Can we say that an adult is better than a child, or that one person’s God given talents should be compared to another’s? It’s like comparing two colors or two fruits—is blue better than beige, are plums better than pears?

But in our distance from God, in our feeling apart from Him, we feel an inner vacuum, a loss of true self. So the inner question “Who am I”‘ is answered: “I’m better than he is,” or “I’m not like that.” And we never stop to wonder how out of touch we are if we think and espouse insanity like that.

Now, Haman was a nothing, a real nobody. He had been a village barber and a bathhouse attendant (Megillah 16a). But, over-inflated by ACH ash ve ROSH to grandiose proportions, he tried to allay his feelings of no self.

The “Haman” of the soul comes from the Vacuum—the realm of existence “vacated” by God. So whenever we enter the Vacuum, we feel like nothing and feel compelled to compensate by aggrandizing our selves. And sometimes we fill the inner Vacuum with vicarious pride by “bowing to Haman,” by idolizing the misperceived “betterness” of someone else’s self (Likutey Halakhot, Tefillin 6:23).

So ACH ash ve ROSH’s airs are all permeating. He reigns not only from India to Ethiopia, but from Hodu, the majestic, to Kush, the lowly. [1] Because when we “live” in Hodu we are externally “better”—by virtue of our talents or possessions. And when we “live” in Kush we are externally “lesser”—by virtue of our lack of talent or possessions. Yet, wherever we “live,” we are unequalled—by virtue of simply being our very own selves. And to see one another as “better” or “lesser” is insanity and a negation of our own selves (Likutey Halakhot, Orlah 5:16).

But to let go of this madness and leave the Vacuum, we need a “Mordekhai the Tzaddik” to show us the way. Because Mordekhai the Tzaddik personified greatness, not an external greatness, but a greatness which stemmed from a humble self Since he knew the secret of true humility, he was not compelled to aggrandize himself (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #140). And he shows us how to let God in, leave the Vacuum and find our true selves.

Then we have no need to compare ourselves with others. We are even humbled before our own selves (Likutey Moharan I, 14:5; ibid. 79). Because we then know that our self is not our’s to compare with another’s—it is our essence, our Eternal Spark, our Godly self (ibid. 22:5; see Crossing The Narrow Bridge, Chapter 17).

So on Purim we exchange courses of food with one another to show that we are all equal. To those who have nothing we also give, so that they too should know they are equal.


[1] The Purim story took place in the Persian Achaemenid Empire. At that time, "Hodu," or India, was an enormous conglomerate and a relatively advanced ancient civilization, while Kush, although wealthy in resources and fiercely nationalistic, was a small vassal state to the south of Egypt.

Purim Mysteries

Rabbi Dovid Sears
Based on a discussion from asimplejew.blogspot.com

Q. While I was reviewing books on the subject of Purim, I ran across this teaching from Likutey Moharan II, 74: “Purim is a preparation for Pesach. Through the mitzvah of Purim we are protected from chometz on Pesach.”

In my own slow-paced learning of Likutey Moharan, I have not yet reached this lesson. I can’t say that I fully comprehend what Rebbe Nachman of Breslov is trying to teach us. I know that joy is the main aspect of Purim and that chometz symbolizes the character trait of arrogance. I don’t yet understand how the joy we experience on Purim helps protect us from arrogance.

A. Like most of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, this lesson is full of mysteries. This reflects Reb Noson’s words in his Introduction to Likutey Moharan, citing the Gemara (Chagigah 13a) that in mystical matters, one must simultaneously reveal and conceal. This is particularly true of Rebbe Nachman’s teaching style. So whatever we say must be understood as speculation only.

1) On a basic level, the Rebbe is expounding on the “coincidence” that in the Jewish calendar, Purim is followed by parshas Parah and then by Pesach, and he finds profound meaning in these connections. Even though the miracle of Purim took place more than one thousand years after the Exodus, the paradigm it represents “paves the way” for Pesach.

Rebbe Nachman states: “Through Purim, we are protected from chometz on Pesach.” Purim represents hidden miracles; Pesach represents open miracles. Purim shows us that what appears to be natural is truly supernatural. It elevates us above nature, above ego, and destroys Amalek, which represents sexual immorality (symbolized by the fact that the Amalekites sexually mutilated their victims) and disbelief (the word “Amalek” = gematria “sofek,” or doubt). Thus, Purim protects us from chometz, which variously represents ego, lust, and the illusion of nature as autonomous—the antithesis of Pesach.

2) Rabbi Borukh Ephraim of Homel, a student of the Tcheriner Rov and author of Be’ibey haNachal on Likutey Moharan, looks at this teaching from another angle. First let’s recap the original lesson in Likutey Moharan:

After Purim, we read parshas Parah, which is a preparation for Pesach. This is customary because when the Beis haMikdash still stood, we were required to eat the Korban Pesach in a state of taharah, purity from tumas mes (ritual defilement that comes from contact with the dead). This is attained through the ashes of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer. Today, lacking the Beis haMikdash and the ashes of the Parah Adumah, we cannot do so. However, in a spiritual sense we reenact this process every year beginning on Purim, when we commemorate the “pur” (pey-vav-reish), the lot that was cast concerning the fate of the Jews, after which Purim is named. Then a little later we read parshas Parah. Thus, the “pur” of Purim turns into the aspect of “Parah” (pey-reish, the root letters of “pur,” plus the letter “heh”), the Red Heifer. (Rebbe Nachman takes this connection of “pur” and “parah” from a teaching of the ARI zal in Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Purim 6, which is too complex for us to discuss here.)

The Rebbe finds an allusion to this idea in Shir haShirim: “Sifsosav shoshanim notfos mor ‘oveir … His lips are roses overflowing with myrrh.” “His lips” refer to Pesach, which the ARI interprets as “peh-sach,” a mouth that speaks (Sha’ar haKavannos, Inyan Pesach, Drush 3; Pri Etz Chaim, Sha’ar Chag haMatzos, Chap. 7. In other words, on Pesach we can now speak HaShem’s praises openly, as free men.) “Shoshanah” has the same gematria as “Esther,” thus it hints to the Purim story. And “mor” hints to Mordechai, whom the Gemara homiletically connects with the biblical phrase “mor d’ror,” flowing myrrh (Chullin 139b). The word “d’ror,” which literally means “free,” also alludes to Pesach, the Festival of Freedom.

This Purim-Pesach connection is further borne out by the verse: “Shivas yamim tokhal matzos ka’asher tzivisikha le-mo’ed chodesh ha-aviv ki vo yatzasa mimitzrayim ve-lo yeira’u fana’i reikam . . . Seven days you shall eat matzos as I have commanded you at the season of the month of Aviv [“springtime,” the biblical name for Nisan], for then you came out of Egypt; and you shall not appear before Me empty-handed” (Exodus 23:15). The initials of the five words “mi-mitzrayim velo yeira’u fana’i reikam” spell the word “Purim.” For Purim is the way to Pesach. Through it, one can be protected from chometz on Pesach…

Reb Noson, the editor of Likutey Moharan, mentions that at this point, the Rebbe paused and did not finish explaining this idea. Then the Rebbe added another cryptic remark: “At first, all beginnings were from Pesach; thus, all mitzvos are zekher le-yetziyas Mitzrayim, in commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. Ve-’achshav, and now…”

He stopped again, and did not finish.

The author of Be’ibey haNachal detects in the Rebbe’s words some amazing hints as to how the derekh of Breslov works today, after the Rebbe’s histalkus (ascent from the body). To sum up the gist of his remarks:

Nachman” is numerically equivalent to “Pesach” (148) – “ve-’achshav,” and now, we can all make a new beginning by going to the Rebbe’s holy burial place on Rosh Hashanah, which is so called because it is the “head” (rosh) and beginning of the year. Pesach is also a new beginning. Thus the lesson states that Purim is named after the “pur,” and subsequently turns into “parah,” which is spelled pey-reish-heh. These letters are the initials of Pesach (pey) and Rosh Hashanah (reish-heh), which together include all spiritual rectifications (tikkunim) (see Likutey Moharan I, 49). This is the aspect of the Parah Adumah, which “purified the impure, and contaminated the pure” (Rashi, Numbers 19:22, end). That is, when one comes to the cemetery, where the dead are buried, one contracts tumah. However, by reciting Tehillim and praying to Hashem from the depths of one’s heart – especially by reciting the ten psalms of the Rebbe’s awesome Tikkun haKlalli – one “purifies the impure.” This is accomplished by teshuvah, and by rectifying the spiritual damage one has caused, through the merit and power of the tzaddik who is buried there. Thus, one may make a new start in serving G-d, which is the aspect of Pesach and the Exodus, leaving one’s state of impurity and receiving the Torah anew. All this is accomplished through the holy grave of the Rebbe, whose name has the same gematria as “Pesach.”

This leads to our personal ge’ulah, our inner exodus from spiritual alienation, which is true slavery, to freedom from the ego and self-serving desires. This freedom is gained through the Torah.

3) Breslov tradition includes still another interpretation of this lesson from a different vantage point. According to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender (Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh VI, 233), the Breslover Chassidim of old used to say that the Rebbe gave us a precious piece of spiritual advice by concluding “ve-’achshav / and now…” That is, one can only serve Hashem in the present moment -- for the past is gone, and the future has not yet come, as the Rebbe states (Sichos haRan 288). Therefore, the present moment is all that truly exists.

Purim Teaching From the Izhbitzer

From The Path of the Baal Shem Tov, pp. 112-13

This teaching comes from Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner, the Rebbe of Izhbitz (Izbica), from his classic “Mei HaShiloach,” in the section “Likutey HaShas: Megillah,” 12. We have adapted it slightly to make it less cryptic.

Megillas Esther describes the feast of King Achashverosh and the refusal of Queen Vashti to appear before him unclothed. Therefore, the King sought the advice of his royal ministers, who are mentioned by name: “And those close (vi-hakarov) to him: Carshena, Sheisar, Admasa...” (Esther 1:14).

Rabbi Levi said: This entire verse alludes to the sacrificial offerings (korbanos). [Taking the term “royal minister” as an allusion to the ministering angels, R. Levi rendered the names in the verse interpretively, using various word-plays.] “‘Carshena’’—the Ministering Angels declared before the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Master of the Universe! Did any other nation offer before You yearling lambs (karim bnei shanah) as the Jews have offered before You? “Sheisar—Did any other nation offer before You two turtledoves (shtey torim) as have the Jews? ‘Admasa’—Did any other nation build before You an altar of earth (adamah) as have the Jews?” (Megillah 12b).

The relationship between this Talmudic passage and the incident of Vashti may be derived from a teaching of the Baal Shem Tov. Vashti was asked to appear before the King naked, but did not come. Concerning this, the Baal Shem Tov remarked, “The aspect of nakedness still has not come.”

Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of lzhbitz explained this as follows:
God gave the Jewish people the Torah and mitzvos, which are garments by means of which His Essence may be grasped. In this world it is impossible for a human being to apprehend God’s Essence except by means of garments. Thus, Godliness is concealed within physicality—to the extent that whatever we perceive is through the intermediacy of garments.

In the present state of reality, God pours forth shefa (bounty) by way of the Four Worlds [parallel to the four letters of the Divine Name YHVH], using whichever sefirah is necessary at a given time until the shefa reaches this world. All this is so the influx of shefa is graspable. Also, the nations of the world are able to receive some of this, for they, too, can grasp the outer garment. However, they misuse this shefa when they perform all sorts of abominations.

When the Men of the Great Assembly saw that Achashverosh had commanded Vashti to appear before him naked, they understood that God wanted to confer upon the Jewish People a true revelation without any garment, as will be the case in the Ultimate Future. Then the Holy One, blessed be He, will reveal His light without any garment. However, as long as man is attached to his lower nature, such a revelation can only reinforce his physical passions.

Therefore, at this time the Men of the Great Assembly endeavored to uproot the desire for sexual immorality from the heart of humanity (Yoma 69b). This would have made this direct revelation equally available to those who had struggled against immoral desires and those who had pursued them without restraint. That is why the Ministering Angels protested, “How can the nations of the world be permitted to grasp the aspect of nakedness? Did any other nation offer before You...” For even when the light was concealed from them, the Jewish People exerted themselves with all their strength to bring sacrificial offerings and to serve God in order to come closer to the light. Throughout history, they worked through the barriers of physicality, symbolized by the sacrificial offerings, by striving to live according to the Torah. Thus, it is fitting that in the Ultimate Future God will reveal His light to them completely, without any intermediary.

It is written, “My soul longs and even expires for the courtyards of God; my heart and my flesh will sing unto the Living God” (Psalms 84:3). That is, in the present state of reality, since garments are necessary, “my soul longs and even expires for the courtyards of God,” for the physical Holy Temple and the various forms of Divine Service, which are garments of His light. However, “my heart and my flesh will sing unto the Living God.” My waiting and hoping is for the revelation of light which will take place in the future, without any garments—a ¬revelation of life in its very simplicity. This is suggested by the term “Living God.” But those nations that did not exert themselves in Divine service nor endeavor to draw closer to the Divine light, why should they deserve to share this revelation when, at last, struggle and garments will not exist?[1]

[1] However, rightous non-Jews will also receive a portion in the World to Come; see Sanhedrin 105b; Yerushalmi Berakhos 9; Bereishis Rabbah 26:2; Zohar, Pekudey; Pirkey Rabbi Eliezer 34; Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Melakhim 8:10-1. The Kabbalists frequently cite the teaching from Tanna D’vei Eliyahu 9:1: “I call heaven and earth to witness than anyone—Jew or non-Jew, man or woman, slave or bondmaid—can attain Ruach ha-Kodesh (Divine Inspiration). Everything is in accordance with one’s deeds.”

Monday, February 13, 2017

BRI Event for Women - February 26

Dear Women,

You asked and we listened!

You’re invited to a special Breslov event just for women on Sunday, February 26th at the JCC of Manhattan.

Azamra: Hearing the Song of Your Soul
An Afternoon of Self-Discovery with Healing Chassidic Meditation, Art and Music

Date: Sunday, February 26th  Time: 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm

Place: The JCC of Manhattan at 334 Amsterdam Ave. at 76th St, New York City 

Come for a creative afternoon of Chassidic workshops based on the joyful wisdom of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Experience the power of Chassidic meditation, art, and song. Uncover unique healing insights you can build on. Gain self-knowledge. Take home doable ideas for a personal spiritual practice that will work in your life.

Save money and reserve online now.

Online registration is $40 per person. Price at the door will be $50.

Beginners through advanced participants are welcome. Kosher snacks served.

Workshops will be led by popular Breslov teachers including:

Chaya Rivka Zwolinski, of the Breslov Research Institute and BreslovCampus.org, is a teacher, coach, and writer. She’s dedicated to helping women connect with their individual soul-potential and living with more joy. She’s  the co-author of Therapy Revolution (HCI) and The Parent-Child Dance (Feldheim), and contributes to PsychCentral.com and BreslovWoman.org.

Atara Grenadir, art therapist and chair of the art department at Touro College, known for her contemplative, spiritually charged paintings. Atara helps students understand more about themselves through the use of line and color. She is the author of a cookbook, Breslov Naturally, which is illustrated with her paintings.

Fraidy Katz, Experienced educator and head of musical productions for children and adults. Fraidy teaches a traditional challah-baking workshop. She will be singing and teaching us heartwarming Chassidic songs and explaining their deeper meaning.

Co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan & Breslov Research Institute

For questions, please email or call 732-534-7263.

Rabbi Ozer Bergman in NYC - February 16

Please join us for an informal discussion by 
Rabbi Ozer Bergman 
(noted author and lecturer from Jerusalem)
as he shares with us the warmth and wisdom 
of Rebbe Nachman and Breslov chasidus
and grapples the question of what to do 
when prayers seemingly go unanswered.
"Davening for a Shidduch: 
Already a Decade (or Two) Behind Schedule -- Now What?"
309 West 89th Street, Manhattan
(Congregation Ahavas Chesed)
Thursday evening, February 16th 
Light Refreshments
Suggested donation: $10
Rabbi Bergman is the author of the ever popular guide to doing hitbodedut,
"Where Earth and Heaven Kiss", a translator for Breslov Research Institute and teaches privately.
For questions or more information, contact:
Andy Bloom (purevanill@aol.com)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Mysterious Guest

Painting by Francisco de Goya

The Mysterious Guest
Chayey Moharan, Sippurim Chadashim (“New Stories”) 85
Translation and Commentary by Dovid Sears

On the first day of Chanukah 5569/1808, in the evening after lighting the first candle. Rabbi Nachman told this story:

A visitor came into a house and asked the head of the house, “From where do you obtain a living?”

"I don’t have a steady livelihood at home,” his host replied. “However, the world provides me with what I need to live.”

The guest asked him, “What do you study?”

The host answered him.

They continued conversing, until soon they were engaged in a true heart to heart discussion. 

The host began to feel an intense longing and yearning to reach a certain level of holiness. “I will teach you,” said the guest.

The host was surprised. He began to wonder, “Maybe this isn’t a human being at all!” However, he looked again, and saw that the guest was talking to him like a human being.

Immediately afterward he had a strong sense of faith, and he resolved to believe in him. He started calling him “my teacher,” and said to him, “First of all, I would like to ask you to teach me how to conduct myself with due respect toward you. Not, I scarcely need add, that I could actually detract from your true honor, God forbid; but even so, it is hard for human beings to be as meticulous as they should be in these matters. That is why I would like you to teach me how to behave with due respect.”

“For the moment, I don’t have the time,” he replied. “Another time I will come and teach you this. Right now I must go away from here.”

“I also need to learn from you about this,” said the host. “How far must I go when I accompany you on your way, as a host is obligated to do when his guests depart?”[I]

“Until just beyond the entrance,” he replied.

The host began to think to himself, “How can I go out with him? Right now I am with him among other people. But if I go out with him alone—who knows who he is?” He questioned him and then told him, “I’m afraid to go out with you.”

“If I can learn with you like this,” the visitor retorted, “then now, too, if I wanted to do something to you, who would stop me?”

The host went with him beyond the entrance. All of a sudden, the visitor seized him and began to fly with him!

It was cold for the host, so the other took a garment and gave it to him. “Take this garment,” he said, “and it will be good for you. You will have food and drink and everything will be good, and you will live in your house.” And he flew with him.

In the midst of this, the host gazed, and suddenly he was in his house. He couldn’t believe his own eyes that he was in his house; but he looked, and there he was, speaking with people, and eating and drinking in a normal manner. Then he looked back, and lo and behold, he was flying, as before. Then he looked back and he was in his house. This went on for a long time.

After awhile, he flew down to a valley between two mountains. There, he found a book which contained various combinations of letters: alef, zayin, chet, which is dalet, etc. Vessels were depicted in this book, and inside the vessels were letters. Moreover, inside the vessels were the letters of the vessels, by which one could create such vessels. He felt an intense desire to study this book. 

In the midst of this, he gazed, and lo and behold, he was in his house. Then he gazed, and there he was, in the valley.

He made up his mind to climb the mountain; perhaps he would find an inhabited place there. When he came to the mountain, he saw a golden tree with golden branches standing there. Hanging from the branches were vessels like those depicted in the book, and within those vessels were other vessels by which one could create such vessels. He wanted to take some of the vessels away from there, but he was unable to do so, for they were inextricably entangled in the branches.

In the midst of this, he gazed - and lo and behold, he was in his house. This was most amazing to him. How was this possible? How could he be both here and there at the same time? He wanted to discuss this with other human beings, but how could one speak about such an astounding phenomenon to other people, something that they surely would not believe?

In the midst of this, he looked out the window and saw the same guest. He started begging him to come to him. However, the guest replied, “I don’t have time, because I am on my way to you!”

“This itself is a wonder in my eyes!” he cried. “Look, I am right here—what do you mean, that you are on your way to me?”

The guest explained, “The moment you decided to come with me, to accompany me beyond the doorway, I took the neshamah (higher soul) from you and gave you a garment from the Lower Garden of Eden.[II] The nefesh (vital spirit) and ru’ach (lower soul) remain with you. Therefore, whenever you attach your thoughts to that place, you are there, and you draw an illumination from that place to yourself. And when you return here—you are here!”

I do not know which world he is from, but this much is certain: it is a world of good.

So far, it is not over, it is not finished.


Before we start skating on thin ice, it must be said that there are no classical commentaries on this story in the Breslov literature. Therefore, all of our remarks are speculative. No doubt, the story lends itself to many other lines of interpretation, as well.

Guest and Host/Ohr Makif and Ohr Pnimi

The “mysterious guest” has at least two levels of meaning: most obviously, he represents the tzaddik. He also represents the ohr makif, or “encompassing light,” which in general alludes to the sefirah of Binah.[III] This is the level of perception or being that is perpetually beyond one’s grasp - for as soon as it is internalized, another ohr makif takes its place.[IV] Thus, Binah is in a constant state of flux.

The Baal Shem Tov relates Binah to orei’ach, the Hebrew word for guest.[V} Orei’ach (spelled alef-vav-resh-chet) can be divided into ohr-chet, meaning “light of eight.” This alludes to the eighth sefirah in ascending order, which is Binah. Whenever one shows hospitality, this creates a channel for internalizing the light of Binah:

The Baal Shem Tov, taught: When a guest arrives, he brings his host Torah insights - for the Torah insights the host receives from Above correspond to the nature of his guests.[VI]

The guest is a vehicle for the ohr makif. However, every level of perception is an ohr makif in relation to the level below it, which is called ohr pnimi, the “inner” or “manifest light.” The ohr pnimi corresponds to the host.

Sixteenth century kabbalist Rabbi Chaim Vital explains that the light of the Chanukah lamp represents Binah, the transcendent level, as it illuminates Z’er Anpin, or “Small Face,” the structure comprising the six lower sefirot that animate the natural order.[VII] In less technical language, a ray of the limitless “shines” into the finite. Rebbe Nachman’s allegory of the guest and the head of the house alludes to this kabbalistic model, as well.

“From where do you obtain a living?”

The guest inquires as to the host’s source of livelihood. This is because the tzaddik is the parnes, provider of sustenance. Thus the guest, who represents the tzaddik, is entitled to ask his host this question.

Only two biblical figures are explicitly called “tzaddik”: Noah and Joseph. The Midrash explains that both deserved this title because they provided others with food.[VIII] In Noah’s case, he fed the entire world in his ark until the floodwaters subsided; in Joseph’s case, he provided grain to all Egypt and surrounding lands. Similarly, the Talmudic tzaddik Rabbi Chanina confered his great spiritual merit upon the world so that all creatures might receive sustenance, even those deemed completely unworthy.[IX]

Rebbe Nachman deals with this concept of the tzaddik as provider in many teachings, especially Likutey Moharan II, 7 (“For a Compassionate One Shall Lead Them”). There he states that the world receives livelihood by virtue of the tzaddik, albeit through the fusion of two levels inherent within him. The higher is represented by the tzaddik’s “son”; the lower is represented by the tzaddik’s “disciple.” However, these terms are mean to be taken more symbolically than literally. The perception of the son is expressed by the Ministering Angels who ask: “Where is the place of His glory?”—indicating the transcendent level, the aspect of “not knowing,” the ohr makif/encompassing light. The perception of the disciple is related to the antithetical declaration, “His glory fills the world” - indicating the immanent level, “knowledge of God,” the ohr pnimi/inner light.

In truth, these two perceptions are one, and each completes the other. Those in the category of the “son,” who have attained the higher level (“Where is the place of His glory?”), must be protected from total self-nullification in God’s transcendent aspect. They are like holy moths that would readily self-destruct in their desire to reach the light. The knowledge that “His glory fills the world” grounds them, creating the possibility of a perception of God. Thus, they may experience the mystic’s awe before the infinite mystery of the Divine.

Those in the category of the “disciple,” who occupy the lower level (“His glory fills the world”), are protected from total self-nullification in God’s immanence. They are like people who immerse in the mikveh (ritual bath) and stay under the water too long. These “disciples,” too, must experience awe of God, because the trace of wonderment they are granted—the admixture of “Where is the place of His glory?”—creates the existential distance needed for their perception. Otherwise, everything becomes “white on white,” lacking all contrast.

Thus, process and spiritual growth are made possible through this fusion of the perceptions of God’s transcendence and immanence; and livelihood is drawn forth to the world from the tzaddik who has grasped the secret of this dualism, and as such, serves as the channel for God’s will to continually create and sustain the world. This is the concept of “tzaddik yesod olam . . . the tzaddik is the foundation of the universe” (Proverbs 10:25).

“The world provides me with what I need to live”

Because the ohr pnimi derives its life force from the ohr makif, the host actually receives his livelihood from the guest. However, the host remains unaware of this. All he knows is that somehow his needs are fulfilled. Thus, he replies, “I don’t have a steady livelihood at home, but the world provides me with what I need to live.”

This answer suggests that either the host lacks initiative, or he fails to appreciate the true source of his sustenance, or both. In Likutey Moharan II, 7, the lesson cited above, Rebbe Nachman says that to be a provider, one must have a certain malkhut, a certain authority (although he seems to use the term in more than one sense), adding “one can’t be a shlimazal”—an incompetant person, or a “loser.” If so, what is our host? What is he telling us about himself with his vague reply? At this point in his life, at least, he seems to be a passive sort of fellow. 

This alludes to the paradigm of how the world was sustained prior to the Giving of the Torah. Rebbe Nachman states in Likutey Moharan II, 78, that before the Torah was given, humanity was involved only in derech eretz, mundane pursuits. From this, the Midrash infers, “Derekh eretz (which can also mean simple human decency) preceded the Torah.”[X] Since the Torah is the source of life—as it is written, “For they [i.e., the commandments] are your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:20)— from whence did the world derive its sustenance? The answer: from God’s gratuitous kindness.

The Talmud states that the twenty-six generations prior to the Giving of the Torah correspond to the twenty-six repetitions of the refrain “for His kindness is everlasting” in Psalm 136.[XI] However, the Torah certainly existed prior to its revelation; indeed, the Midrash tells us that all things came into being through the Torah, which preceded creation.[XII] The Torah was merely hidden. And where was it hidden? In the Ten Creative Statements recounted in the first chapter of Genesis, with which God continually animates the universe.[XIII] Thus, our host says that he is sustained “by the world,” that is, by the Torah that is hidden in the world, although he does not yet perceive it.

In this lesson, Rebbe Nachman also identifies the tzaddik as the channel for sustenance. He is the holy “prustok” (peasant or simpleton) who at times must desist from studying or fulfilling the commandments of the Torah in order to engage in worldly activities. At such times he receives vitality from what the Midrash calls the “Treasury of Unearned Gifts,” the gratuitous kindness with which God sustained the world prior to the Giving of the Torah.[xiv] Then he, in turn, can confer this gratuitous kindness upon the true simpletons—the rest of us in our present unenlightened state, enabling us to survive until we, too, become worthy of receiving life directly from the holiness of the Torah.

Perhaps the guest in our Chanukah story is the holy prustok, and the host represents the spiritually benighted masses that unwittingly receive life and sustenance through him. This is what gives the guest the “right” to inquire as to his host’s means of livelihood. The guest wants him to realize that he is being sustained by the tzaddik who is privy to God’s Treasury of Unearned Gifts.

“What do you study?”
Torah study, too, is the guest’s business, inasmuch as it reflects the influence of Binah/Understanding. The first letter of the Written Torah is the bet of Bereshit (“In the Beginning”); the last letter is the lamed of Yisrael (“Israel”). Together, they spell lev (heart), which the Zohar designates as the seat of Binah/Understanding.[xv]

A heart-to-heart discussion
It is said: “Words that come from the heart, enter the heart.”[xvi] Because the guest/tzaddik personifies the heart, he can reach the heart of the other. He channels the ohr makif into the heart of the host, who reciprocates by expressing his longing for greater levels of illumination. This is one of the main benefits of our attachment to tzaddikim.

Rebbe Nachman once observed, “I have three types of followers: those who come for my shirayim (leftovers);[xvii] those who come to hear my Torah teachings; and those who are ‘baked’ in my heart.”[xviii] Of course, every aspiring follower wants to be in the last category. But how can this be accomplished? Say the Breslover Chasidim, “When the Rebbe is ‘baked’ in our hearts!” This is implied by the “heart-to-heart discussion” in our story.

The host began to feel an intense longing and yearning to reach a certain level of holiness

This arousal is due to influence of the guest, who has put the host in touch with the deepest will of the heart: longing and yearning for the holy.

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[i] Sota 46b. Tanna D’vei Eliyahu Zuta 16:43 states that a disciple who escorts his Torah teacher receives divine blessing. The same text adds (16:46) that when one escorts a traveler embarking on a journey, the traveler will be protected from harm.
[ii] The Zohar (I, 138a) describes the Garden of Eden as having a higher level for the neshamah, which is the seat of thought, and a lower level for the ru’ach, the seat of the emotions.
[iii] See Rabbi Avraham ben Nachman, Kokhvei Ohr, Chokhmah u-Binah, who associates Rebbe Nachman’s teachings with the sefirah of Binah.
[iv] Likutey Moharan II, 7:6.
[v] Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Vayeira, 4, citing Toldot Yitzchak, Likutey ha-Shas.
[vi] Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudylkov, Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Vayeira.
[vii] Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chanukah, 4. The three “upper” sefirot are Chokhmah / Wisdom, Binah / Understanding, and Da’at / Knowledge, corresponding to three aspects of the mind. The six “lower” sefirot are: Chesed/Kindness; Gevurah/Strength; Tiferet/Beauty or Harmony; Netzach/Eternity or Victory; Hod/Splendor; and Yesod/Foundation; corresponding to the two arms, torso, genitals, and two legs. The seventh and last sefirah is Malkhut / Kingship, which is a partzuf unto itself, corresponding to the feminine archetype. 
[viii] Tanchuma, Noach, 5.
[ix] Ta’anit 24b; cf. Rabbi Yisrael of Koznitz, Avodat Yisrael, Likkutim, Ta’anit.
[x] Leviticus Rabbah, 9:3.
[xi] Pesachim 118a.
[xii] Genesis Rabbah 1:2, 8:2; Zohar I, 134a, II, 161a‑b.
[xiii] This idea echoes a fundamental Chasidic teaching. On the verse, “Forever, O God, Your word stands in the heavens” (Psalms 119:89), the Baal Shem Tov explains that “Your word” alludes to the Ten Creative Statements that bring the universe and all it contains into existence. If the “letters” of these divine statements were to depart for even a moment, everything would revert to nothingness; see Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Sefer ha-Tanya, Sha’ar ha-Yichud vi-ha-Emunah, chap. 1; Rabbi Chaim of Chernowitz, Be’er Mayim Chaim, Bereshit, s.v. bereshit bara, 7.
[xiv] Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:1; Tanchuma, Va’eschanan, 3; cf. Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Ohr Yakar, Vayelekh, 1:15 (p. 27), who relates the “Treasury of Unearned Gifts” to the sefirah of Keter.
[xv] Tikkuney Zohar, Hakdamah, “Patach Eliyahu.”
[xvi] A rabbinic maxim quoted by Rabbi Moshe Ibn Ezra, Shirat Yisrael, p. 156.
[xvii] Based on earlier rabbinic precedents, it is customary for a Chasidic Rebbe to distribute to his followers portions of the foods from which he has partaken. These leftovers are known as “shirayim.” This communal eating creates a spiritual bond among the participants, causing the holiness of the tzaddik to extend to all, bringing healing and blessing; see Rabbis Mordechai Scharf and Yisrael Menachem Mendel Brecher, Yesod Olam, 11:5-7, citing various sources.
[xviii] Oral tradition cited by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender, Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh, vol. II, 1-102.