Tuesday, August 25, 2015

20 Elul: Yahrtzeit of Reb Avraham Sternhartz

The twentieth of Elul is the yahrtzeit of Reb Avraham Sternhartz (1862‐1955), grandson of the Tcheriner Rav, great‐grandson of Reb Noson, and teacher of Reb Gedaliah Kenig and numerous other Breslover Gedolim.

An orphan, Reb Avraham was raised by the Tcheriner Rov, and during his youth met all of the living talmidim of Reb Noson, including Reb Moshe Breslover. He was Ba’al Mussaf and Ba’al Tokei’a for many decades in Uman, and served as Rav of Kremenchug and later in Uman until he escaped the U.S.S.R. at the height of the Stalinist purges, arriving in Yerushalayim in 1936. Reb Avraham immediately became a key figure in the Yerushalayim community, attracting many talmidim (disciples), and soon established the Rosh Hashanah kibbutz in Meron. After Reb Avraham’s histalkus (passing) in 1955, Reb Gedaliah devoted himself to carrying on his revered teacher’s legacy.

In Eretz Yisrael, se’udos are held in Reb Avraham’s honor on the evening of Khof Elul. During the afternoon, Reb Elazar and a group from the Tzefas Breslov community travel to Har Menuchos in Yerushalayim to recite Tehillim and pray beside Reb Avraham’s grave. Many Breslover Chassidim also light a candle, give tzedakah, share a se’udoh in his honor, and learn some of his teachings from Tovos Zichronos, etc.

After Reb Avraham’s histalkus, Reb Gedaliah published his teacher’s Tovos Zichronos, Breslover mesorahs / oral traditions related to the first ten lessons in Likkutei Moharan, together with the Tcheriner Rov’s Yerach ha‐Eisanim, chiddushim on Likkutei Moharan related to Rosh Hashanah, and Reb Avraham’s Imros Tehoros on the importance of traveling to tzaddikim, particularly Rabbi Nachman, for Rosh Hashanah. Some of Reb Avraham’s letters were published by Reb Noson Zvi Kenig of Bnei Brak as Rinas Tzion. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Rabbi Elazar Mordechai Kenig on "The Rebbe's Rosh Hashanah"



Translated and summarized by Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears

Rosh Hashanah and Purifying the Mind

In elaborating on this issue, Reb Elazar connected two lessons from Likkutei Moharan. First we will present these teachings, followed by Rav Kenig’s explanations and remarks.

Likkutei Moharan I, 61:7:
This is why people travel for Rosh Hashanah to the tzaddikim. Rosh Hashanah is the day of judgment for the entire year. Each person comes with his holiness and his tzimtzumim (constrictions) to the tzaddik of the generation. He is the paradigm of the Holy of Holies, the paradigm of the Foundation Stone. This reflects the verse, "For unto God are the pillars of the earth; He has founded the world upon them" (I Samuel 2:8). These are the tzaddikim, upon whom the world was founded (Yoma 38b). Through this [i.e. by traveling to the tzaddikim], all harsh judgments are mitigated − through the aspect of the Foundation Stone, mentioned above [i.e., through the Sekhel HaKollel, the Universal or Collective Mind; see the original discourse at length].

Likkutei Moharan II, 94:
As for the reason why people travel to the tzaddikim for Rosh Hashanah, this is because the main “sweetening” of harsh judgments is accomplished only by the sanctification and purification of one's thoughts, for this is their source. "Everything is rectified in thought" (Zohar II, 254b). However, it is only possible to attain a pure mind through hiskashrus, that is, by spiritually binding oneself to the tzaddikim. Citing the verse "Then Moshe took the bones of Yosef" (Exodus 13:19), the Zohar explains that Moshe is the aspect of the mind, while Yosef is the aspect of tzaddik. That is, there can be no perfection of the mind except through hiskashrus to the tzaddikim. Rosh Hashanah is the source of judgments (dinim) for the entire year. A person must purify his thoughts in order to mitigate these judgments. This is why people travel to the tzaddikim: in order to attain purity of thought.

Rav Kenig explains:

The mitigating of all harsh judgments comes through chokhmah (wisdom) or sekhel (intellect / mind / consciousness). Thus, implicitly the avodah of Rosh Hashanah is that everyone should "come with his mind" (the terminology of Likkutei Moharan II, 94)—that is, one must guard the mind, and mitigate harsh judgments by purifying and sanctifying one's thoughts. A person should have holy thoughts, and be careful not to dwell upon unholy thoughts (see Sichos ha-Ran 21). The Rebbe says that one should think "good thoughts," in general and in particular: that Hashem will be good to Klal Yisrael, and that Hashem will be good to us. Meh darf zehn Rosh Hashanah tzu trachten gutt − gutteh machshovos − be-klalliyus u-bi-fratiyus. For purely spiritual reasons, we should have holy thoughts on Rosh Hashanah, and guard ourselves against dwelling upon evil thoughts. However, even regarding material concerns, we should think good thoughts: that Hashem wants to show us kindness in these areas of our lives. This is what the Rebbe means by everyone "coming with his mind."

In Likkutei Moharan I, 61, section six, the Rebbe quotes the Zohar to the effect that "everything is rectified in thought." He explains that the sekhel is the source of all judgments, and there, all judgments are "sweetened," because "din (judgment) is only 'sweetened' in its source" (see Rabbi Chaim Vital, Eitz Chaim, Heikhal ha-Ketarim 13:11). Every din reflects a certain tzimtzum (constriction); every din has a corresponding sekhel that sweetens this tzimtzum. The sekhel . . . this is the main thing. This is the fundamental task: to bind one's mind to the mind of the tzaddik. The Rebbe discusses this in Likkutei Moharan I, 211, citing the verse, "And Moshe took with him the bones of Yosef," a teaching that also has a connection to Likkutei Moharan I, 61. The "perfection of daas" is attained when one comes to the tzaddik ha-emes, particularly on Rosh Hashanah, which is the day of judgment. One comes with holy thoughts, good thoughts, spiritually and materially.

[The person who had asked for clarification mentioned to Rav Kenig that that on another occasion, he had said that one must also come to the tzaddik with "yishuv ha-daas." Reb Elazar commented: "Not to be mevulbal, unfocussed and confused." Then
he added: "Vos men tutt, tutt men . . . We do what we can do. But one doesn't need to
become obsessed with this..."]

Rosh Hashanah is the time of dinim. And the sweetening of the dinim is accomplished by coming to the tzaddik, the "head of the Children of Israel," on Rosh Hashanah, in order to purify one's mind. Because "everything is rectified in thought." Thought is the highest of the three garments of the soul: thought, speech, and action. Therefore, the faculty of thought needs the greatest shemirah (guarding). As the Rambam states, sometimes a person doesn't realize that he has damaged his mind by allowing his thoughts to stray. He may think, "After all, what did I do?" However, one must know that thought is extremely potent.

Rosh Hashanah and the Combination of Souls
[Rav Kenig was asked to repeat an insight he had shared a few years previously about the combinations of letters / souls, etc., which the Rebbe discusses in Likkutei Moharan II, 8.]

We spoke about the interconnectedness of those who come to the Rebbe on Rosh Hashanah, how everyone is bound to everyone else in multiple ways. We discussed the permutations of letters and souls. These permutations and combinations represent an awesome and profound unification, beyond order and hierarchy. For example, when these permutations occur in the form of letters, the tav [which is the last of the twentytwo Hebrew letters, symbolizing the lowest level] may precede the alef [which is the first letter, symbolizing the highest level], and may even infuse the rest of the letters of the alphabet with vitality. Likewise, at the level of souls, the smallest may energize the loftiest souls, in keeping with the verse, "And they receive from one another…" (Siddur; Targum Yonasan on Isaiah 6:3).

True, there is a hierarchy of souls, as we see from Likkutei Moharan I, 13 ("souls great and small"), and various other lessons. However, these new configurations become possible due to the intense love and unification of the souls that come to the tzaddik – to the point that the distinction between the alef and the tav, "greater souls" and "lesser souls," is entirely forgotten and disappears.

Leaving Eretz Yisrael to Go to the Tzaddik
Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz writes in his Amaros Tehoros: "According to what we may understand from Likkutei Moharan II, 67, the holiness of the Beis ha-Mikdash depends upon the tzaddik, whose light shines into it. Therefore, we must mourn the passing of the tzaddik all the more sorrowfully. Concerning this, my grandfather, the Rav of Tcherin, of blessed memory, states in his Zimras ha-Aretz that in these times, after the destruction of the Holy Temple, and especially after the passing of the tzaddikim, the entire holiness of Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim is damaged and concealed. Although they are aspects of the tzaddik − even the Western Wall, which is an aspect of the Foundation Stone [being a remnant of the Beis ha-Mikdash] − nevertheless, as long as they remain in a state of destruction, their entire holiness is damaged and hidden. This holiness devolves from the paradigm of the 'beginning of the year,' as the verse states: 'The watchful eyes of Hashem are there from the beginning of the year until the end of the year…' (Deuteronomy 11:12). − 'eyes' specifically; for [the 'eyes'] are the tzaddikim."

[Translator: The Rebbe, ad loc., relates the tzaddikim to the "eyes of the congregation" (Numbers 15:24). He also relates the eyes to the Beis ha-Mikdash, which is called "the desire of your eyes" (Ezekiel 24:16). The verse from Deuteronomy connects Rosh Hashanah and Eretz Yisrael. Thus, the holiness of Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim is contingent on the Rosh Hashanah of the tzaddik.]

Rav Kenig explains:

That we are still in a state of exile is readily apparent from the words of the Shemoneh Esreh ("VeYerushalaim Irkha") and Birkhas ha-Mazon ("U’venei Yerushalayim"), as well as the nusach of "Nachem," which we recite on Tisha be-Av. The holiness of Eretz Yisrael is still hidden and concealed. Therefore, to rectify this, we must go to the tzaddik for Rosh Hashanah, even if we live in Eretz Yisrael. This is because the tzaddik shines the light of holiness into the Holy Temple, from which the holiness of all Eretz Yisrael emanates, as the Rebbe states. Therefore, those who argue that it is unnecessary or even wrong to leave Eretz Yisrael in order to go to Uman for Rosh Hashanah are in error. The opposite is true. Our love of Eretz Yisrael and yearning for its rebirth mandates that we travel to the tzaddik for Rosh Hashanah.

"In the Merit of Righteous Women"It is a great sacrifice for those women who make it possible for their husbands and sons to leave home and travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah − especially since this is a Yom Tov, and many of them take upon themselves the extra burden of caring for the rest of their children alone. These women have a major share in all of the tikkunim of the tzaddik, and their merit is very great. They can be assured that when their husbands return home, they will bring back with them abundant shefa', both materially and spiritually.

"Le'eilah, Le'eilah / Beyond, Beyond"
It is customary to engage in various spiritual preparations before Rosh Hashanah, and to make good resolutions for the coming year. These things are most praiseworthy. However, the main tikkunim of Rosh Hashanah are those that the tzaddik uniquely accomplishes. These are on a completely different plane than our efforts—incomparably so. In fact, it is the power of the tzaddik that enables us to do whatever we do. Similarly, one may experience a great his'orerus (awakening) when one goes to the Rebbe's tziyun, or participates in the prayer services with thousands of others. These are surely experiences that we should treasure. However, we should know that the level on which the tikkunim of the tzaddik take place are far, far beyond what we can experience—even those experiences that we take to be the spiritual highpoints of our lives.

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Few Rosh Hashanah Teachings


We are posting the first few Rosh Hashanah teachings included in the BRI "user's guide" to the annual Breslov kibbutz (gathering) in Uman, "Uman, Uman, Rosh Hashanah." The book may be purchased online here

These translations were gleaned from Rabbi Nachman Goldstein of Tcherin's anthology "Otzar HaYirah."

Building the House of Prayer
Reb Noson explains why we spend so much time engaged in prayer at the beginning of the year, basing his ideas on certain profound kabbalistic concepts. The sefirah of Tiferet (Beauty), corresponds to the partzuf, or interrelated group of sefirot, known as Z’er Anpin (Small Face), and represents the masculine-creative principle; while the sefirah of Malkhut(Kingship) represents the feminine-receptive principle. These two principles also correspond to Adam and Eve. When out of harmony with each other,Z’er Anpin and Malkhut are like Adam and Eve when they were first created as Siamese twins. When Z’er and Malkhut in accord with one another, they are like Adam and Eve after they were separated and subsequently reunited in marriage. The perfection of Malkhut is the goal of creation. Then we will all perceive the Creator “face to face,” and the spirit of love and peace will fill the universe.

All of our efforts during these days, from Rosh Hashanah until Shemini Atzeret, are for the sake of Malkhut (Kingship) – to “build” Malkhut into a complete partzuf (“face,” or structure) and bring about her coupling with Z’er Anpin, as described in the mystical kavannot (intentions) of the ARI. That is, all of our intentions during these days is to “build” the edifice of prayer, to lift her up from her fallen state.

For at present, prayer, which corresponds to King David and Malkhut, has fallen from her proper station. As our Sages state: “K’rum zulut liv’nei adam . . . when vileness (zulut) is exalted by mankind (Psalms 12:9) – these are matters that stand in the heights of the universe, yet people belittle them (mezalzelin, a word-play on zulut). And what is this? Prayer” (Berakhot 6b).

This is the focal point of all our exertions during these days: to elevate prayer, which is the aspect of Malkhut, and build a complete spiritual structure. (52)

Marriage of the Sun and Moon
In this teaching, Reb Noson alludes to Rebbe Nachman’s instruction that we should turn the Torah we have studied into prayers, especially duringhisbodedus (secluded meditation) (Likutey Moharan I, 25). This practice becomes a “min-Rosh Hashanah,” whenever we engage in it during the year.

The sun and moon correspond to Moses and David, which in turn correspond to the sefirot of Tiferet (Beauty) and Malkhut (Kingship), as well as Torah and prayer. Years are counted according to the sun, while months are counted according to the moon. Therefore, Rosh Hashanah, which falls on Rosh Chodesh, the first day of the month, represents the fusion of the sun and moon. That is, they become equivalent to one another, in keeping with the principle that “the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun” (Siddur, Kiddush Levanah; cf. Sanhedrin 42a). This is accomplished by our building the edifice of prayer to completion – through turning the Torah we have learned into prayers, and by praying that our lives be wholly devoted to fulfilling the Torah. (55)

Cutting Off Falsehood
Underlying this teaching is the concept that God is the source of truth (see Shabbat 55a; Likutey Moharan I, 51). By our coronation of the Supreme King of Kings on Rosh Hashanah, we prevent falsehood from insinuating itself into our lives, and thus create a climate of peace. 

On Rosh Hashanah, which is the first of the year, we strive to nullify the paradigm of falsehood at its very source. This is accomplished by our revealing the “head of truth (rosh ha-emet)” which is manifest on Rosh Hashanah. This nullifies all strife; for most conflicts and dissenting opinions are over the truth. Each person asserts his viewpoint and says, “This is the truth!” The reason for all this is that we have not cut off falsehood at its root. Thus, it is possible to fall into grave error afterwards, and exchange falsehood for truth and truth for falsehood; as the verse states, “Woe unto those who say unto evil that it is good…” (Isaiah 5:20). All the conflicts in the world come from this.

Therefore, on Rosh Hashanah and the Ten Days of Penitence when we engage in cutting off falsehood at its root, we nullify all strife, and peace and unity prevail. Everything returns to the state of “Before Creation” [when all existed within the Infinite One]. On that plane, everything is entirely good and entirely one.

This is why we must forgive one another before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – so that abounding peace and unity should extend to the entire Jewish people. (114)

The Shofar of Liberation
This teaching reflects Rebbe Nachman’s tale, “The Seven Beggars”; in particularly, the section that presents the story of the Fourth Day, concerning the Beggar with the Crooked Neck. His deficiency, like those of the other holy beggars, is actually the indicator of his greatest spiritual quality – in this case his breath. The Beggar with the Crooked Neck refuses to exhale and thus add to the impure air of the “This World,” but directs his breath exclusively to the “World to Come.” This denotes not only the life of the hereafter, but the transcendent realm, which may be experienced here and now.

The shofar is an aspect of the World to Come. For it is necessary to twist one’s neck away from the vapors of this lowly world, and to direct all of one’s breath into the shofar, which is an aspect of the World to Come. That is, one must not exhale as much as a single breath into this world. Rather, all of one’s breath must enter the shofar, which is an aspect of the World to Come, so that everything will be bound solely to the ultimate goal and incorporated into the World to Come. In practical terms: the main thing is to separate oneself entirely from the vanities [havalim, which also can mean “breaths”] of this world; rather, all of one’s breaths should be those of Torah and prayer, bound to the World to Come.

This applies especially to Rosh Hashanah, which is the first of the Ten Days of Penitence. For this is the essence of repentance – that through the mitzvah of sounding the shofar we may imbue ourselves with the power of the true tzaddikim. They attained such lofty levels that they could praise themselves for never having breathed a single breath into this world. And in their power, we, too, can succeed in desisting from all mundane breaths and bind all of our breaths to the World to Come, which is the aspect of the shofar. (125)

Uniting the Two Songbirds
In the above-mentioned tale of the Seven Beggars, the Beggar with the Crooked Neck asserts that he has the most wondrous voice, for which claim he has the approbation of the Land of Music. He challenges the sages of this land to mimic the voices of two songbirds, and thus bring them together – but only the Beggar with the Crooked Neck can succeed. These songbirds corresponds to the two winged Keruvim (angels) that hover over the Ark in the Holy Temple, and which are the channel for prophecy. The unification of the Holy One, blessed be He, and the Shekhinah, which Reb Noson mentions below, corresponds to the unification of the sefirot ofTiferet and Malkhut.

The shofar is the aspect of the holy spirit of enlightenment (ruach ha-kodesh), which comes forth from the space between the two Keruvim (i.e., the winged angelic forms that sheltered the Holy Ark). This is the source of all holy sounds; as the verse states, “And he heard the sound… between theKeruvim” (Numbers 7:89). Therefore, by of the sound of the shofar -- [which is the very essence of all sounds] -- we elicit the sound that unites the twoKeruvim.

This is the unification of the Holy One, blessed be He, and the Shekhinah, which is the gist of the mystical intentions for sounding the shofar. We must separate the sefirah of Malkhut in order for her to become united with her beloved. This is symbolized by the two Keruvim.

Thus, the shofar is the means by which all exiles are gathered together, this being the aspect of the Final Redemption. It all depends upon the twoKeruvim; for concerning exile the verse states, “Like a bird wandering from its nest, so is a man who wanders from his place” (Proverbs 27:8). However, through the shofar, this rift is healed. (126)

Love Song
In the story of the Beggar with the Crooked Neck, the unification of the two songbirds depends upon knowing how to “throw” the voice of each bird to the other. This leads to their finding one another and reuniting. All this is brought about by the Jewish people through the shofar. For the shofar is composed of all the sounds in the world, those elicited from “above to below” and “below to above.” Through it, we awaken God’s mercies, that He will have pity uponKnesset Yisrael (i.e., the collectivity of Jewish souls); and similarly, we awaken the heart of the Jewish people, so that we will return to God in truth. (127)

Making a New Start
The holy resting-places of the tzaddikim are channels for the “Throne of Glory,” for this is their inheritance. As the verse indicates, “And He endows them with a throne of glory” (I Samuel 2:8). [The souls of Israel are described as being stored up beneath the “Throne of Glory” (Zohar: Midrash Ne’elam, Chayei Sarah 125b).] Therefore, all the “places” that each of us occupies are included in these holy places, and every person can find his “place” at the graves of the tzaddikim and return to God. The light of the Omnipresent One – the “Place of the World,” which includes all places -- radiates there, making it possible for each person to find his spiritual point of origin. From there, one may begin to return to God. This is why we visit the graves of the tzaddikim on the day before Rosh Hashanah. (138)

“Head” of the Year
The beginning point is Rosh Hashanah – and from Rosh Hashanah, new life and healing issues forth to the rest of the year in its entirety. This is why Rosh Hashanah is called “rosh” (“head” or “beginning”). For there are three structures: world, year, and soul [i.e., space, time, and being]. The structure of the soul corresponds to the human form, and imbues it with life. The life-force primarily depends upon the head, which houses the brain, and the brain enlivens the entire body, right down to the toenails. For the brain is the dwelling-place of the soul, which distributes life to the rest of the body, according to the requirements of each organ. Analogously, the awesome and holy day of Rosh Hashanah is called the “head,” because it is the seat of consciousness and vitality for the entire structure of the year. It is the point at which all tikkunim (rectifications) begin, and it transmits life to all days of the year -- just as the head serves this function in the human body, and there is no organ that does not depend upon the brain. Thus, Rosh Hashanah is not only the beginning point of the year, but its animating principle which enlivens the entire structure. (145)

The Secret of Selichot-Night
In Likutey Halakhot, Hilkhot Matanah 5:18-20, Reb Noson expounds upon the subject of the “lost crowns” of each Jew, corresponding to the declaration, “We will do, and we will hear [or ‘understand’]” (Exodus 24:7). These crowns represent the transcendent spiritual perceptions that we were granted at Mount Sinai, and which will be restored to us in the Messianic Era.

It is customary to recite Selichot upon the conclusion of Shabbos – as we say, “After the departure of the Day of Rest, we first approach You…” – because we could never approach God to ask for forgiveness, given our many sins, were it not for the power of the holy Shabbat.

On Shabbat, the “crowns” we lost are transferred to the true tzaddik, who is an aspect of Moses. These are the two crowns of spiritual perception every Jew received when we declared: “Na’aseh v’nishma, we shall do and we shall hear” (Exodus 24:7). Due to the sin of the Golden Calf, we lost these crowns and they were given to Moses (Shabbat 88a).

However, the true tzaddik reveals to us the “secret” of God’s love: that God wishes to return these crowns to us as a gratuitous gift. The way this is made known to us is through the Shabbat, which similarly is called a “good gift” (Shabbat 10a). Knowing that in truth we have not been rejected, we will renew our love and yearning for God, thus eliciting further expressions of divine love; which in turn elicits increased love and yearning from our side, etc.

As a result, the most wondrous sublime loving-kindness is transmitted anew from one year to the next, for God’s loving-kindness, being gratuitous, is the essence of the “good gift.” Through this, God’s forgiveness becomes manifest, as the verse indicates, “Please forgive . . . according to the abundance of Your loving-kindness” (Numbers 14:19). (178)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rosh Hashanah

The Rebbe once declared: “Gohr mein zach is Rosh Hashanah . . . My entire mission is Rosh Hashanah.” He was particularly emphatic about his followers coming to him for Rosh Hashanah, and indicated on his last Rosh Hashanah in Uman that we should continue to do so even after his death.
(Chayei Moharan 403-406; Likkutei Moharan I, 211; ibid. II, 94; Kuntres “Ha-Rosh Hashanah Sheli,” citing numerous additional sources.)

*

The Rebbe once told his followers: “Whether you eat or you don’t eat, whether you sleep or you don’t sleep, whether you daven or you don’t daven [i.e., with proper concentration]—just make sure that you are with me for Rosh Hashanah!”
(Chayei Moharan 404)

*

The Rebbe taught that by traveling to the tzaddik for Rosh Hashanah, the “head of the year,” one attains purification of thought. This, too, mitigates harsh judgments. However, he added, we must use wisdom on Rosh Hashanah and think positive thoughts—for what we think about on Rosh Hashanah is potent.
(Likkutei Moharan I, 211; Sichos ha-Ran 21)

*

Reb Noson established the custom of reciting Tikkun ha-Klalli on Erev Rosh Hashanah beside Rabbi Nachman’s grave. Breslover Chassidim have been accustomed to do so even if they were not zokheh to be in Uman for Rosh Hashanah.
(Oral Tradition)

*

The Rebbe stated that on Erev Rosh Hashanah, one should give a pidyon nefesh, an unspecified amount of tzedakah appropriate to the individual’s financial circumstances.
(Sichos ha-Ran 214. The rule in determining how much to give is that it should be an amount that one feels is significant—that is, one should feel the “pinch.” For one person, this may be $5, for another, $5,000. It is also proper to write a kvittel with one’s name and mother’s name, as well as those of family members and others. In the Rebbe’s day, the pidyon nefesh was given to him personally. Today it is given to a Breslover elder or teacher.)

*

The Rebbe taught that one should limit one’s speech on Rosh Hashanah. Therefore, it is proper to refrain from small talk, and concentrate on words of Torah and tefillah, each person according to his ability. Many Breslover Chassidim do not engage in any casual speech at all on the first night, when the heavenly judgment is most severe. Some maintain silence until the second day after Musaf. Others restrict themselves until the end of Rosh Hashanah. In any case, one should be extremely careful in matters of speech on Rosh Hashanah.
(See Sichos ha-Ran 21)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Road to Uman


Translated by Dovid Sears

As the summer days pass, Breslover Chassidim and others who heed Rabbi Nachman’s clarion call are making preparations for the annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to Uman, Ukraine, where Rabbi Nachman is buried. However, many people wonder why this event is such a “big deal.” How do we even know that this is what Rabbi Nachman wanted?

This classic story from Tovos Zichronos, oral histories preserved by Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz – a great-grandson of Reb Noson, grandson of the Rav of Tcherin, and one of the foremost Breslover gedolim of the twentieth century – sheds light on these issues, while lending chizuk and inspiration to those who aspire to undertake the long and sometimes arduous journey.


This unedited translation belongs to the Breslov Research Institute, which commissioned me to do a collection of such translations for the new revised edition of “Uman, Uman, Rosh Hashanah,” a practical guide for travelers to the Breslover Rosh Hashanah Gathering in Uman.


That winter [in 1811, following Rebbe Nachman’s passing], as the month of Shevat approached, Reb Noson began to yearn to travel with at least a minyan to the Rebbe’s tziyun (grave site) in order to pray there on Erev Rosh Chodesh. This month is one of the four “Rosh Hashanahs” mentioned in the Mishnah, and the Rebbe had declared, “Gohr mein zakh is Rosh Hashanah . . . My entire mission is Rosh Hashanah.” Therefore, Reb Noson wanted to use this opportunity to encourage the other Breslover Chassidim to start thinking about traveling to Uman for Rosh Hashanah the coming Tishrei, concerning which the Rebbe had spoken so urgently prior to the last Rosh Hashanah of his life.

Reb Noson succeeded in persuading a few fellow Chassidim in the town of Breslov to join him on the journey. There were no trains to take in those days; so he hired a coach and horses and arranged to pay the driver by the day. The driver agreed to go wherever he was told, even if Reb Noson wished to go to Uman in a roundabout way, or to spend the night in one of the villages. When they had travelled only a mile or so from Breslov, Reb Noson instructed the driver to turn toward the village of Sidkovitz, and not take the usual route through Heisen. No one in the coach understood what Reb Noson had in mind, including the driver, but the latter had to oblige in keeping with their agreement. They arrived in Sidkovitz when it was almost time for the Minchah prayer.

A Breslover Chassid lived in this village, a follower of Rabbi Shmuel Isaac of Dashev, who had come to Uman to be with Rebbe Nachman on his last Rosh Hashanah. Reb Noson told the group that there they could daven Minchah. When they came to this man and he saw Reb Noson and the other Breslovers at his door, he was so happy that he immediately covered the dining table with his best tablecloth and lit candles as on the Shabbos in honor of his distinguished guests, particularly Reb Noson. Full of joy, he placed a bottle of spirits and a bottle of wine on the table, as well as cakes and sweets.

After they concluded the Minchah prayer, they saw that it was still possible to continue on to the next village and spend the night there. However, Reb Noson told the Chassidim, “We have a ‘business partner’ here in the inheritance that was left to us. We really must talk things over with him, so that he’ll know what a lucrative business this is!”

The host begged everyone to sit and partake of the refreshments he had served in their honor. However, the time to daven Ma’ariv had already arrived. Reb Noson said that it was prohibited to eat a meal before praying. So they prayed Ma’ariv together then and there. The host was greatly inspired by the prayers of Reb Noson and the Chassidim, who davened with fiery enthusiasm and clapped their hands, but he still did not understand why they had suddenly appeared. He thought to himself, “Just seeing and hearing how my fellow Chassidim pray Ma’ariv this way, despite their weariness from the journey, when even in the town’s synagogue the worshippers don’t pray with such intensity – that would be enough!”

After Ma’ariv, they all sat down, and the host invited Reb Noson to taste the good food and drink he had served. However, Reb Noson said, “Before we eat, there is something that I would like to say.”

He arose from his seat and addressed his host. “You were present at the last Rosh Hashanah of the Rebbe’s life, together with the holy assembly. And many of us heard from the Rebbe’s mouth on that Erev Rosh Hashanah that he wanted each one of his followers, wherever they resided, to cry out that whoever wants to be a truly good Jew, an ‘ehrlicher Yid,’ should come to him for Rosh Hashanah in Uman. He once said, ‘I myself had a mind to pick myself up and go away…’ [However, he decided not to do so because he looked forward so much to Rosh Hashanah . . . He told his followers, “I want to remain among you – and you should come to my grave” (Tzaddik #94)].

“At that time, he also said, ‘To me, the main thing is Rosh Hashanah. What can I say? There is nothing greater!’

“In the final lesson he delivered on that Rosh Hashanah (Likutey Moharan II, 8), just before he passed away, he spoke about how one must pray to God to be worthy of drawing close to a true leader in order to attain perfect faith. Similarly, in the lesson on the subject of the prostok (‘simple peasant,’ see Likutey Moharan II, 78), he stated that one must beg God to bring one close to the true tzaddik – and this was on Shabbat Nachamu, when the Rebbe was already gravely ill and knew that he was about to die. Nevertheless, he spoke this way. Plainly, all of these statements and urgings were about our continuing to come to him for Rosh Hashanah, even after his passing, until the arrival of our righteous redeemer! The Rebbe warned us that the Evil One in his deviousness established false leaders in the world, so that one doesn’t know where Moses can be found, or where Aaron can be found, namely the true leaders. For this reason, my beloved friend, we came here to forge a mighty, lifelong bond among ourselves concerning this good inheritance that remains with us!”

Then Reb Noson asked the Chassidim who had come with him to sing “Ashreinu, mah tov chelkeinu, how fortunate are we, how good is our portion (yerushaseinu)!” For the Torah is our inheritance (yerushah), as it is written, “An inheritance (morashah) of the congregation of Yaakov” (Deuteronomy 33:4) – and their host’s name was Yaakov.

They danced and danced to this song, and then returned to their seats at the table. The host filled a schnapps glasses for Reb Noson, and then Reb Noson shook his hand and drank a “l’chaim” to him. Then he told him, “With this handshake you agree to travel every year for the rest of your life to the Rebbe’s holy tziyun for Rosh Hashanah and be numbered among those who participate in the holy Rosh Hashanah gathering in Uman!” And the host replied, “Amen, may this be God’s will!”

Reb Avraham Sternhartz [who preserved this story] added that during his youth, he met the grandson of this man, who also used to travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah. He told how his grandfather had written in his will that every year his son should come together with his sons to Uman for Rosh Hashanah. (Tovos Zikhronos, pp. 129-130)

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May Hashem provide all of the travelers to Uman this year and every year with all of their needs, materially and spiritually; protect them all both coming and going; inspire them and enable them to make a new start in avodas Hashem; and bless them, their families, and all Israel to be “written and sealed for the good, amen!”

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Rosh Hashanah in Uman With Reb Avraham Sternhartz


Otzar Nachmani # 226
Collected Talks of Rabbi Nachman Burstein, zatzal
Translated by Dovid Sears (unedited)

Posted in honor of Reb Avraham Sternhartz’s yahrtzeit, 20 Elul.

[Reb Nachman Burstein writes:]

I heard many times from the Breslover elder (“chassid ha-vasik”), Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender, zal, about the awesome power of our master, Reb Avraham “Sofer” Sternhartz, zal, during the days of Rosh Hashanah in Uman—whether concerning his leading of the prayers, his public teaching of Torah, or other matters. Reb Levi Yitzchok described to us the astonishing strength of our teacher, who was already seventy years old; for he left Uman for Eretz Yisrael in 1936 at age 74—and he gave a mnemonic for this from the verse, “bitchu ba-Shem adey ad … trust in Hashem forever,” which can also be read “until 74 (ayin-dalet)” [when his patient trust in Hashem’s deliverence was at last fulfilled].

This avodah began at the holy tziyyun of the Rebbe, zal, at chatzos (midnight) on the last night before Rosh Hashanah—the night of the “Zekhor Brisselichos (petitional prayers), which is the last night of the year. (See Sippurey Ma’asiyos, Ma’aseh 13, in the story of the Fourth Day, which states that that when night fell, the people would weep.)

After spending about an hour reciting Tikkun Chatzos, [Reb Avraham] went [from the Rebbe’s tziyyun] to the Kloyz, there to imploringly lead the selichos of “Zekhor Bris” amidst the throngs of chassidim. As soon as he intoned the opening words, “Ashrei yoshvei veisekho,” intense feelings of awe would grip the holy congregation. “Es is shoyn gevven a shtick Rosh Hashanah, “It was already ‘of a piece’ with Rosh Hashanah,” [as Reb Noson used to say of the Erev Rosh Hashanah selichos].

A large group of Breslover chassidim still remained at the Rebbe’s tziyyun. They were awe-struck to hear the sound of [Reb Avraham’s] voice like a mighty shofar, as if summoning them. They immediately hastened to the Kloyz, as if in a single breath, while the voice of our master began to echo through the interior of the Kloyz and spread to the outside with the concluding words of each section of the selichos—especially the end of “K-el horeisa lonu sh’losh esrei…” when his voice waxed louder, sweetly and lingeringly, as he wept in supplication, the tears flowing down his cheeks, as he poured out his heart like water. And all those present answered him, the entire holy congregation assembled in the Kloyz, “like one man with one heart,” aroused with deep emotion, crying out in prayer with tears and entreaty, with broken-hearted sighs and groans that rent the very heavens!

[As Reb Levi Yitzchok said,] “Di kolos hobb’n … mamash es kekht zikh a kes’l! The sounds had [such an emotional effect]… It was like a boiling kettle!” The entire Kloyz became one spiritual conflagration. Amidst these holy flames, the chassidim stood for more than three hours, until the end of selichos.

Reb Levi Yitzchok remembered the first time he came to Uman in Elul 5674/1914, and heard our master [Reb Avraham ] lead the selichos of “Zekhor Bris”: “Hott mir di selichos gekling’n in di oyr’n a gantzeh Erev Rosh Hashanah. Ich hobb nit gevist oyf velkhe ich bin… The selichos resounded in my ears the entire Erev Rosh Hashanah. I didn’t know where I was! I had never heard anything like this before in the world. I actually experienced what the Rebbe said: ‘Other [tzaddikim] long for a Rosh Hashanah like my Erev Rosh Hashanah!’ The prayers were like a fire! The sounds emanating from the Kloyz reverberated through the surrounding area. Faces were enflamed; hearts burned; the synagogue was engulfed by a spiritual inferno. It is impossible to describe the heart’s passion for G-d at that time—it was truly an experience of nullification to the Ohr Ein Sof (Infinite Light), a transcendence of physicality [as mentioned in Tur-Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 98]. It is impossible to describe how they could stand in the middle of such a blaze, with such heartfelt cries, almost to the point of expiry of the soul, for so many hours…”

It is self-understood that this fervor and spiritual arousal affected the entire avodah of Erev Rosh Hashanah—particularly the hishtatchus (prostration), outpouring of the soul, and earnest recitation of the ten psalms of Tikkun ha-Klalli at the Rebbe’s tziyyun.

In addition, the magnanimous giving of tzedakah (charity) was beyond all bounds. For they made no calculations, but simply gave profusely, with flames of love, from a special fund they had set aside for that purpose throughout the past year. It was a beautiful sight to behold the wondrous generosity of our brothers, the like of which was not to be found anywhere else.  (It is brought in Sefer ha-Middos that one should give tzedakah “with both hands,” in the merit of which one’s prayers will be heard.) And this was aside from the money given as a pidyon nefesh (“redemption of the soul”) to prominent Breslover chassidim, as is customary, in fulfillment of the Rebbe’s words in Sichos ha-Ran (sec. 214): “On Erev Rosh Hashanah, one should give a pidyon.” (And I heard that during the previous generation, they used to give a pidyon to the eminent chassid, Reb Abale, zal, in keeping with Likutey Moharan I, 200 [end]; see there.)

The giving of tzedakah at the Rebbe’s tziyyun prior to reciting Tikkun ha-Klalli was a distinct avodah. For this tzedakah was in honor of the neshamah of the “light of our life,” the Rebbe, zal, who had said, “And give a coin (perutah) to tzedakah for my sake,” at the time he revealed the awesome secret of Tikkun ha-Klalli: the ten psalms designation for tikkun ha-bris [“repair of the covenant,” spiritual correction of nocturnal emissions, which Reb Noson understood to extend to the correction of all sins; also see Likutey Moharan I, 200 [end]; see there.)
 
All day long the holy tziyyun was resonant with the sounds of hundreds of people coming and going from the ohel (shelter) that covered the Rebbe’s grave, which embodied the “small that contains the great” [see the Rebbe’s story, “The Seven Beggars,” Fifth Day (“The Hunchback”); this concept is found in the Midrash—DS]. For the ohel was too small to hold even a minyan; yet miraculously on Erev Rosh Hashanah, tens of people entered its holy interior, defying all comprehension.   

What took place there at that time is beyond words, given the great spiritual arousal, outpouring of the soul, prayers, supplications, confessions, tears and screams, sighs and moans, which reached unto the heart of heaven! It was as if one could feel with his very hands the teshuvah, remorse and new inner resolve of each person.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Reb Avraham’s Arrival in Eretz Yisrael


Otzar Nachmani # 224
Collected Talks of Rabbi Nachman Burstein, zatzal
Translated by Dovid Sears (unedited)

Posted in honor of Reb Avraham Sternhartz’s yahrtzeit, 20 Elul.

I heard the following from the chassid [of our community] in Jerusalem, Reb Shmuel Shapiro, zatzal. It is known that our master, Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz, zatzal, arrived in Eretz Yisrael on Rosh Chodesh Adar 5696 (1936), and this was the occasion of great rejoicing for all Breslover chassidim. They had already heard of his reputation long before, and knew that he was a towering figure, an expert Rav (halakhist), Chazan (prayer leader) and Sofer (scribe).

On Zayin Adar, the yahrtzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu, the “Raya Mehemna (faithful shepherd),” it was customary [for Breslover chassidim and others] to travel to Meron, the site of the “holy of holies,” the burial place of the G-dly Tanna Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, may his merits shield us. Therefore, they impored our master [Reb Avraham] to lead the journey to this holy place. The Breslover chassidim were aroused to travel with him and also to spend Shabbos there; even those who were not accustomed to travel, as well as many others, came along.

This is what Reb Shmuel [Shapiro] told me: “It was a radiant Shabbos! Reb Avraham davened sweetly and stirringly, with a strong voice, leading almost all the Shabbos prayer services inn the cave near the holy tziyyun (grave site). He presided over Shaloshudes (the third meal), which was held in the old age home (now the site of the yeshivah overlooking the tziyyun), and Reb Avraham taught a lesson [from Likutey Moharan] that was astounding—it was a marvel to hear!

“This was the first time in my life that I heard such deep Torah delivered with such sweetness. His teaching was extraordinary (“oiser-geveintlakh”). Everyone there was deeply moved by his davening and learning; he infused us all with new life and a new spiritual awakening. His smiling face as he spoke such sweet words with the chassidim made a profound impression on us all. Everyone kept speaking about that Shabbos. In short, it was a radiant Shabbos, and the feelings we experienced are impossible to communicate. But it was a radiant Shabbos!”

Thus did Reb Shmuel describe that Shabbos, repeating his conclusion again and again.

Otzar Nachmani # 224

I also heard from Reb Shmuel Shapiro, zal, and also from my father and teacher [Rabbi Moshe Burstein, zal], that when [Reb Avraham Sternhartz] was in Meron at that time, he spoke of how fitting it would be for us to gather there for Rosh Hashanah, due to the great holiness of the place and the inspiration experienced there, which was akin to the Rebbe’s holy tziyyun in Uman.

Moreover, [in the synagogue and courtyard beside the tziyyun of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai] there was enough space for all of the Breslover chassidim in Eretz Yisrael to gather together. And when all of our brothers would pray together at this sacred site, binding ourselves to the Rebbe, there surely would be a great hisorerus (awakening), far beyond what would be the case elsewhere. For Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was an “awakened holy one” (Daniel 4:20), as the Rebbe revealed [in in the lesson “Lekhu Chazu” at the beginning of Likutey Moharan]. And the power and merit of Rabbi Shimon would prompt the fervor, deveykus (cleaving to Hashem) and purification of the mind necessary on the Yom ha-Din [“Day of Judgement,” which is Rosh Hashanah]. [Reb Avraham] cited various allusions to this (as already has been published in his treatise, “Amaros Tehoros”). 

However, this was not fulfilled until Rosh Hashanah 5701 (1940), due to the Arab pogroms that broke out at that time, beginning on Chol ha-Moed Pesach that year [5696 / 1936]  and continuing until 5700 [1939-1940]. It would have been mortally dangerous to gather in Meron, which was in a predominantly Arab region.

Similarly, the chassid Reb Yonah Lebel, zal, told how our master [Reb Avraham], soon after his arrival in Eretz Yisrael, spoke at length about [our praying in Meron on Rosh Hashanah], since we were unable to travel to Uman for the holy Rosh Hashanah gathering. And there [at the tziyyun of Rabbi Shimon] he sensed something like the aura of Uman.