Monday, September 9, 2019

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.

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. 

Reb Avraham’s Passing

From Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig’s Shaarey Tzaddik, Vol. I, Letter 8 (sec. 2)
Translated by Dovid Sears (unedited)

Rabbi Gedaliah Kenig, zatzal, was asked in a letter from one of his talmidim about the histalkus (ascent to the world above) of Reb Gedaliah’s revered teacher, Moreinu ha-Rav Avraham Sternhartz, zatzal – who was widely considered the preeminent Breslov teacher of his generation. (For a brief biography of Reb Avraham, see here.) After confessing his pain in contemplating his profound loss as well as his feelings of inadequacy in describing these events, Reb Gedaliah wrote:

Many weeks before his histalkus [Reb Avraham] was extremely weak. He bemoaned his plight and repeatedly said, “Vi azoy brengt men aza guf tzu Reb Shimon al Rosh Hashanah! How can I bring such a [broken] body to Reb Shimon [Bar Yochai in Meron] on Rosh Hashanah!”—for it was close to Rosh Hashanah. We tried to console him that Hashem would yet help him to be with the tzaddik emes (“true tzaddik”), the G-dly Tanna [sage of the Mishnah] RaSHBI [an acronym for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai], may his merits shield us, together with us.
[All this occurred during the years when it was impossible to travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah Therefore, at Reb Avraham’s behest, many Breslover chassidim in Eretz Yisrael went to the pray near the grave site of RaSHBI in Meron. Reb Avraham’s views on this issue are presented in “Amaros Tehoros” (published together with some of his Breslov oral histories, “Tovos Zikhronos”) and in Rabbi Shmuel Moshe Kramer’s polemical essay, “Chadi Rabbi Shimon.” A large Breslov Rosh Hashanah gathering still takes place in Meron for those who cannot travel to Uman every year. DS]

We told him that it was possible to make the journey a little at a time. We could hire a private taxi and accompany him and attend to his needs; and it seemed to us that he was amenable to this suggestion. But from various hints that he gave, it was possible to understand that he felt that his end was near. The main intent of his words to us was that we must fortify ourselves with all our souls to travel to RaSHBI for the holy days of Rosh Hashanah—until one day we would merit to be at the tziyyun of our holy Rebbe, the “flowing brook, source of wisdom” (Proverbs 18:4, the Hebrew initials of which spell “Nachman”), in Uman. He explicitly assured us, declaring, “Our Rosh Hashanah beside the G-dly Tanna RaSHBI in Meron will endure…” And he added, “Know and believe with perfect faith that traveling to RaSHBI is [the same as] traveling to the Rebbe!” He repeated this countless times, with the intent of imbuing this faith deeply in our hearts forever, for our eternal benefit. Fortunate is whoever heeds him!

All that last year, and particularly during those final weeks, he reviewed from memory Likutey Moharan and Likutey Halakhos, as well as the works of his grandfather, the Rav of Tcherin, zatzal. That is, after the effort of sitting at the table for his fixed daily study of the Gemara, Poskim, and the holy Zohar, etc., he was sometimes compelled to lie down for several hours; due to his great weakness, it was impossible for him to hold any book in his holy hands. Then he would review from memory the lessons [from Rebbe Nachman] that he used to teach publicly when he lived in the Diaspora, in the same style that he had delivered them, with even greater vigor and strength, whether silently in thought or aloud, to the greatest extent possible. Many times when I visited him, he told me, “Tonight I reviewed the lesson ‘Tiku-Emunah’… Tonight I reviewed the lesson ‘Viyehi Na Pi Sh’nayim Bi-ruchakha Eilai’…’ and other such lengthy teachings from Likutey Moharan, together with their related sections of Likutey Halakhos. Similarly, he greatly increased his recitation of Psalms, especially during his last days.

The day before his passing I was with him alone for many hours and was privileged to attend him. I wanted to remain there beside him at night, as well, in order to serve him; for I saw that the G-dly light was about to be extinguished, and who knew what the night would bring? It seems that he read my thoughts, for he turned to me, saying, “You can go home.” I didn’t wish to burden him with further discussion, given his infirmity. So I placed my trust in Hashem, may His Name be blessed, that tomorrow I would yet find [my teacher] alive.

So it was that I went home with a broken heart. And the next afternoon I came to him and found him sitting on his bed beside the table. He washed his hands with a copious amount of water and then lay down on the bed. He told me that many of our fellow Breslover Chassidim had come to visit him. They had learned with him a bit, and after about an hour went their way. He mentioned their names to me, and began to recall his conversation with them. However, I was unable to hear all of his words; even when I leaned closer to his holy mouth, I could only make out a few words here and there.

While he was lying thus, I busied myself with bringing water to cleanse the room. While doing so, I glanced at him and saw that he was close to death, and my heart was rent within me. Yet Hashem gave me the strength not to break down and cry out loud. But secretly my soul wept over the bitter day that drew near—and I began to pray to Hashem to have pity on us and grant him a speedy and complete healing.

In the midst of this, [Reb Avraham] sat up again and said to me, with a cheerful face, “I’d like to eat part of a roll.” I was overjoyed that he had such a desire. While I prepared it for him, though, he changed his mind and said, “Let me have some cake instead.” So I broke up the cake into small pieces and placed them in his holy mouth. I also fed him a few spoonfuls of chicken soup that I had made for him, so that it would be easier for him to chew and swallow the cake. While doing so, he again lay down on the bed, and I finished feeding him the cake and the rest of the soup while he reclined. He was able to swallow well, in the normal way—blessed be Hashem and blessed be His Name forever, in that He granted me the eternal merit of feeding such a holy body to satisfaction, so close to death. And I saw that [Reb Avraham] ate with a wondrous ratzon [i.e., the innermost will and desire of the soul for unification with Hashem, as discussed in Likutey Moharan I, 7; DS].

Afterward, I wanted him to eat an egg, as well, but he said to leave this for “afterwards…” because he wished to rest a bit. I heard him recite the berakhah achronah (blessing after eating), and when he finished his blessing, his lips began to move, and I didn’t know what he was saying. He placed his left hand under his head and slept thus for a quarter of an hour, dozing lightly. And I stood over him and intently watched every movement he made. Suddenly I saw that the gesisah (signs of imminent death) had begun; I was extremely frightened and began to weep in a whisper. (I didn’t want to raise my voice, since in the next room sat the daughter of our friend, Rav Moshe Burstein and his Rebbetzin—and his daughter was pregnant at that time, and I was concerned that she not be upset by my cries. Therefore, I forced myself with all my strength to contain my emotions.) [Reb Avraham lived with the Burstein family in the Katamon section of Yerushalayim during his last years, after his wife passed away. DS]

I saw that he closed his holy eyes and began to breathe abnormally long breaths. I was alone in the room with him and repeated many times the verse “Shema Yisrael…” in a loud voice. And I understood that he recited the verse after me, word by word.

Suddenly he opened his holy eyes wide and looked around the room at all sides, and he fixed his gaze upon me, for I stood facing him. Intentionally I peered into his holy eyes so that he would see me clearly this last time, and thus remember me always and intercede above for me.

Then he began to shut his eyelids slowly, until he closed his holy and pure eyes which had shone with heavenly radiance and which were brighter than jewels—which he had merited to attain through his profuse prayers and holy tears beyond measure, and by driving sleep from his eyes to labor in Torah study and prayer. Day and night, he didn’t rest or desist throughout his holy and untainted life; fortunate is he!

And so his soul departed in sanctity and purity, and his inner being (tzurah) cleaved to her Maker with the “Divine Kiss” [neshikin, as described in Berakhos 8a], without any contortions or convulsions. Rather, everything took place in great tranquility and wondrous presence of mind (yishuv ha-daas), the like of which we never saw. I continued to repeat aloud the verse “Shema Yisrael” until the family members in the adjoining room heard, and they went to summon others to enter [Reb Avraham’s bedroom]. When they came in, they observed him and said that he had already passed on to the next world, to reside in eternal life, leaving all Israel bereft [of his holy presence in our midst].

Then I rent my garment, according to the law [see Yoreh Deah 340:5, 8; DS], and the tears flowed from my eyes. I lingered beside him until a number of other Breslover chassidim arrived. I then traveled [into the Old City] to inform the chevra kaddisha (burial society) and the Breslover chassidim of the Old City to come and attend to the deceased and to pay their respects. May his merits shield us, and may we follow in his footsteps constantly, from this world to the next world, amen netzach sela va’ed.     

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Tisha BeAv

Tisha be-Av is one of the five times during the year that Breslover Chassidim daven together ki-vasikin. The Kinnos are recited with kavannah until the late morning. The recitation of Kinnos is taken seriously, as are all the laws of Tisha B’Av.

A Prayer for Moshiach

By Rabbi Noson Sternhartz
Likutey Tefillos I, 142
Translated by Dovid Sears, “Entering the Light” (Breslov Research Institute)

Our God and God of our fathers: have mercy upon us, and confer merit upon us, and speedily send us our righteous Moshiach. He will fix this broken world, as well as all of the worlds from the highest to the lowest, for they all depend upon this lowest World of Action (Olam ha-Asiyah). Have pity on him and on us, and send him speedily and in peace, that he may bring everything to perfection, with the most awesome and wondrous tikkun (rectification).

Enlighten us with true perception, and open our eyes and hearts to Your Torah. Thus, may we be privileged to understand all the words of the Torah lucidly, according to their truth, so that no question or doubt will remain in our minds concerning any law or path among the laws and paths of the Torah. Rather, may everything be clarified beyond any shadow of a doubt, even those questions and doubts about which the great tzaddikim of former times declared "teiku." The Moshiach will straighten out them all, untangle them and make them understandable to us, and rectify the paradigm of "teiku" that includes all of the uncertainties in the world—both those that perplexed the great sages of Israel concerning the laws and paths of the Torah, and those that have perplexed everyone, from the greatest of the great to the smallest of the small.

So many of us yearn with all of our hearts to return to You! However, the paths of return and the paths of Torah are hidden from us, and our hearts are torn by doubts and deep uncertainties about which course of action to take. This is especially true of me, as I stand before You today. You know all that I have been through, and how many doubts and conflicts have bothered me about so many things. These confusions are greater than ever today, in so many areas of my life and in so many ways. My soul is so disturbed that sometimes it seems more than I can bear.

Master of the Universe, Master of the Universe! Almighty God of truth, "great in advice, and mighty in deed!" (Jeremiah 32:19). Have compassion on the Jewish people and upon me, and send a wondrous illumination from the World of Rectification (Olam ha-Tikkun), for which our righteous Moshiach will serve as the spiritual channel. Then "teiku" will be transformed to the most wondrous tikkun, and all questions will be resolved and all doubts clarified, even the subtlest "doubts of doubts"—and we will constantly receive perfect, good, and true advice about everything in the world.

In Your compassion, teach us the proper way to mourn and lament over the destruction of the Holy Temple at all times, particularly every night at the exact moment of chatzos, and during the three summer weeks known as "between the straits (bein ha-metzarim)." On the Ninth of Av, the bitter day when both Holy Temples were destroyed, may we recite the Book of Lamentations and kinnos (elegies) sincerely, with a broken and humble spirit, and pour out our hearts like water before You. Let us "put our mouths to the dust—perhaps there is hope" (Lamentation 3:29), and strike our heads against the walls of our hearts, due to our suffering and travail, as a nation and as individuals. How many years have passed since the devastation of our holy city and Holy Temple! How has the glory of the "House of Our Life" been removed! The trouble of each day is worse than the day before, especially now, when harsh and cruel decrees have been issued against our people, beyond our ability to endure. Our lives hang in the balance; our hearts are filled with dread at the thought of the harsh decrees that those that hate us wish to carry out against us, God forbid.

God of mercy, give us the emotional strength to empathize with the plight of the Jewish people, as well as to face our own spiritual dilemma. Give us the courage to break our hearts before You, and pour forth our supplication like water before You in complete sincerity, admitting the greatness of our sins and transgressions, and the “stiff-necked” behavior (Exodus 32:9) that has prolonged our exile and caused all of our grief.

"Let us raise our hearts to our hands unto God in heaven" (Lamentations 3:41). Let us resort to the art of our holy ancestors, and cry and wail bitterly; let us wander the streets and alleys and market places, supplicating the One Above "until He looks down upon us from heaven" (Lamentations 3:50), until He awakens His mercy upon us, and speedily consoles us, and delivers us from our afflictions and sufferings, collectively and individually.

May God enlighten us, even now, with a ray of the light of our righteous Moshiach, thus to mitigate all harsh decrees, and end all of our grief and travail. May He constantly shine upon us the light of truth, and constantly heal us with new and wondrous tikkunim, and answer and elucidate for us all doubts and questions and quandaries. May we constantly receive the right advice, according to the highest truth, so that we will return to You in truth, speedily and with a whole heart, thus to engage in Torah and prayer and the performance of commandments and good deeds, all the days of our lives. Guard us and save us from all sin and transgression, so that we never veer aside from Your will, neither to the right nor the left (cf. Deuteronomy 5:29). May Your compassion be aroused on behalf of Your children, and may You speedily bring us our righteous Moshiach, and redeem us completely, with the final and eternal redemption.

Then the paradigm of "teiku" will be transformed to "tikkun" to the ultimate degree of perfection; that is, the letter nun from the word kinnos (elegies) will be transferred to the end of the word teiku, thus to convert "teiku" to "tikkun." All lamentations will cease throughout the world, and be remade into vessels of divine perception.

O Merciful One, Master of Deliverance, Master of Consolation! We beg You, console us from all of our afflictions, and help us to accomplish our work in this world. Spread forth upon us Your "Tent of Peace"; prepare for us good advice, and save us speedily for the sake of Your Name. Grant us the knowledge of absolute truth. Save us from the many doubts and confusions and uncertainties that interfere with our ability to serve You. Confer upon us perfect and true advice at all times, so that we may return to You in truth, and become the people You want us to be, now and forever, amen sela.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Thirteen Lessons in Mercy

Shaarey Tzaddik, Vol. II
By Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig, zatzal
Excerpt from Letter 57
Translation with explanatory remarks by Dovid Sears
In memory of our dear friend Rabbi Yehudah (ben Avraham) Lichter, zal, a devoted talmid of Reb Gedaliah and a founding member of the Monsey Breslov community, who was niftar on 20 Shevat, 5779 / 2019.  May he be a Melitz Yosher for his family and for Klal Yisrael.

It is known that the Thirteen Principles of Torah Interpretation correspond to the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy that are written in the Torah.

Those Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy were revealed to Moshe Rabbeinu after the Sin of the Golden Cal; see Exodus 34:6-7.

And each principle in the order presented in the Beraisa of Rabbi Yishmael is more wondrous and novel than its predecessor.

A Beraisa is a Tannaitic teaching outside the canon of the Mishnah. It is customary to recite this particular Beraisa at the conclusion of the Korbonos / Sacrifices at the beginning of the Shacharis prayer.

Similarly, this is the case with the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy: whichever attribute is written later in the Torah instructs us regarding a greater and loftier degree of mercy than its predecessor. The last of the Thirteen Principles of Torah Interpretation, which is the most profound and wondrous [of the series], hints to the last of the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy—“vi-nakeh… and He purifies.” This denotes an even greater expression of mercy, which is extremely lofty, of the highest order, as we shall explain with G-d’s help.

The first of the Thirteen Principles of Torah Interpretation is “kal vi-chomer” (extrapolating from a minor to a major issue). This is a great and wondrous concept, to infer something from one’s study and then apply it from one case to another, despite the fact that this was not explicitly stated. Nevertheless, every intelligent person plainly understands that we must ascribe to the major case what is true of the minor case. If a ruling applies in a minor case, surely it does in a more serious matter.

This principle corresponds to the first of the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy, which is simple mercy, as readily understood by all. That is, if one has pity on someone who is devoid of Torah, mitzvos and good deeds—how much more should one have pity on someone who does possess Torah, mitzvos and good deeds.

The second of the Thirteen Principles is “gezerah shavah,” which means extrapolating from a verse that has a certain word to a related verse with the same word. This principle is even more profound and innovative than the first. For this teaches us how it is possible to link two subjects when the principle of kal vi-chomer does not apply; rather, they are equivalent due to one word alone, according to the principle of gezerah shavah.

Therefore, this corresponds to an even greater degree of mercy, namely, that it is fitting to confer mercy upon another, even when he lacks the level of the first, but is merely similar to him; i.e., just as one shows mercy to the former for a given reason, so should one show mercy to the latter, whose case shares that reason.

The following paragraph in parentheses is that of Reb Gedaliah:

(And perhaps this is why a person may not make a gezerah shavah of his own accord, but only if he received [that specific gezerah shavah] from his teacher, as Chazal state (Pesachim 66a, Niddah 19b), and as the Rebbe discusses in Likutey Moharan I, 54. [Rebbe Nachman teaches that] the Master and the Disciple are aspects of Chokhmah Ila’ah (Higher Wisdom) and Chokhmah Tata’ah (Lower Wisdom), as explained in Likutey Moharan II, 91. Therefore, a person may make a kal vi-chomer on his own, for kal vi-chomer is an aspect of Chokhmah Tata’ah (Lower Wisdom), the aspect of the Disciple. However, a gezerah shavah represents a loftier level of intellect, being an aspect of Chokhmah Ila’ah (Higher Wisdom), the aspect of the Master. So a person may not formulate a gezera shavah on his own, but must receive it from his teacher.)

Thus may the Thirteen Principles of Torah Interpretation be explained one by one, to find their precise correspondences to the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy as written in the Torah; study this until we reach the thirteenth rule by which the Torah is interpreted, which is “two verses that contradict one another…” This is a most wondrous matter, containing a most profound and lofty perception. This teaches us that there is such wisdom as this, through which one may resolve and reconcile two opposites, represented by the two verses that contradict one another; through [this principle], both are upheld, and not only this alone, that [we come to understand] they don’t contradict each other, but they support each other. And it is necessary that both are written as they are written, for each one teaches us a new and unique halakhah, which is not found in its counterpart, and that which one lacks, the other discloses.

Therefore, this principle corresponds to the thirteenth Divine Attribute of Mercy, which is “vi-nakeh…” which attests to an extremely great and lofty degree of mercy. With recourse to this, one can show mercy to a friend or fellow with whom one disagrees, even when one’s viewpoint seems entirely contrary to that of the other. Despite all this, it is possible to reconcile and preserve both points of view—that each, in its own way, points to the truth, and through both viewpoints the [truth of] matter is upheld. Accordingly, both are equally deserving of mercy, and there is no [essential] conflict between them whatever. Thus, the thirteenth Attribute of Mercy is “vi-nakeh…”—because this is an expression of innocence (nikayon), since this attribute reconciles both viewpoints, showing that both are innocent and deserving of mercy.

In keeping with this, we may understand why “vi-nakeh…” alone is listed as one of the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy. Doesn’t the Torah write “vi-nakeh lo yinakeh…” (“and cleanses [but] does not cleanse”)? This is because the thirteenth Attribute of Divine Mercy instructs us regarding the arousal of the outflow (shefa) of an extremely great and lofty degree of mercy bestowed upon those for whom simple mercy would be not suffice—those who appear to be unclean and unworthy of mercy. They are in the category of “lo yinakeh” (i.e., unworthy of being cleansed). Nevertheless, there are hidden, sublime levels of mercy such as these, which confer mercy upon them, as well. This is the meaning of “vi-nakeh lo yinakeh…”—as if to say, “vi-nakeh” (“and cleanses”) also those who are in the category of “lo yinakeh” (“unworthy of being cleansed”). Therefore, we only mention the word “vi-nakeh” [when enumerating the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy during prayer] to allude to the bestowal of those extremely high levels of mercy.

In addition, according to this, there is reason to esteem the fact that Chazal refer to the Torah as “Rachmana” [Aramaic for “Merciful” or the “Merciful One”]—because the perfection of the Torah is achieved through the holy teachings that the true sages of every generation taught us, following the Thirteen Principles, this being the core of the Oral Torah. And those Thirteen Principles correspond to the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy written in the Torah.

It follows from the implications of our words that upon this depends the differences in the spiritual levels of the tzaddikim and sages of the generation: each individual, according to his having merited to engage in, clarify and be expert in the Thirteen Principles of Torah Interpretation, is worthy of arousing a corresponding degree of mercy from the Thirteen Attributes of Divine Mercy. And he is worthy of becoming a vessel to receive an out flowing of sublime mercy, which descends from the heavens in the merit of his Torah—and to confer mercy upon the entire world.

Therefore, in truth, our holy Rebbe teaches that one should draw close to a true tzaddik of this kind, who is genuinely a great man of mercy, in an aspect of Moshe Rabbenu, a”h, according to the secret of “For a merciful one shall lead them,” as explained in Likutey Moharan II, 7; see there; and also see Sefer HaMidos (Sefer Alef-Beis), Chelek I, “Tzaddik,” sec. 39.

Likewise, whoever contemplates his ultimate eternal destiny in truth, and examines himself honestly, will be able to evaluate how close he is to the Torah, or, Heaven forbid, the opposite—all according to the arousal and effect of the traits of mercy that he possesses in truth; and this is sufficient for the wise.

I have already presented these matters before many eminent scholars, giants in Torah and fear of Hashem, here in the holy city, may it be rebuilt and established, and they praised [my words] as being correct.

Moreover, we can learn an important Mussar lesson from this: that one should not dismiss the words of any person with whom one disagrees, and not upset him or be vengeful toward him, directly or indirectly, or seek his harm for this reason; nor should one let himself be confused or tricked by the machinations of the Evil Urge (which seeks to kill us), seducing one to think that on the contrary, it is a great mitzvah to repulse him and persecute him. Rather, one should always awaken even higher mercy on behalf of the other person, so that through such sublime mercy, which depends on higher knowledge and consciousness, you will understand that he too is truly as deserving of mercy as you are. Understand our words well, so that you will put them into practice.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig's Yahrtzeit

The 23rd of Tammuz is the yahrtzeit of Rav Gedaliah Aharon Kenig (sometimes spelled "Koenig"). Reb Gedaliah was the foremost disciple of Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz and founder of the Breslov community in Tzefat, Israel.

For a brief biography, see here:

An essay on the Breslov mesorah in general, which explains the places of leaders such as Reb Gedaliah, Reb Avraham, and others, appears here:

The Tzefat Breslov website is linked on the sidebar of this blog.

May Reb Gedaliah intercede above on behalf of Klal Yisrael, and may the seed he planted in the mountains of Galil HaElyon flourish and grow!

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

A Sichah From Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender, zatzal

Translation by Rabbi Perets Auerbach

In honor of the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender, zatzal, 22 Tammuz, we are posting a sichah (talk) he once gave, as published in Ish Chasidekha.

Talk 65:

No Good Desire Is Lost - How Much More So a Good Word!

One who is close to a true tsaddik for many days and years and who stands and serves him and hears his words, even though he may hear many talks and stories from which he cannot derive any personal benefit and advice – nevertheless, if he merits, in the course of time, he will understand retroactively how to take out of what he already heard tremendous advice in serving Hashem. Every single word that he heard many years ago will be of great benefit to him, and they will invigorate him.

For afterwards he will merit to understand and say, “This is what my Master hinted to me at that time!” And often wondrous hints and great advice will sprout in his mind from all that he heard previously – if he pays careful attention to the past lessons.

In the home of a certain renowned tsaddik there was a completely simple person, whom we may call a ‘prostok.’ He always stood and served this tsaddik, and he heard many words from him. He did not understand anything or benefit from these words at all. But he had great faith in the tsaddik and his holy words, even though he did not properly grasp them. He still stood and attended the tsaddik in truth.

After many years, the tsaddik passed away. Then this simple person began to remember. Whenever he came to some matter, he recalled the words of the tsaddik and said to himself, “This is something that the tsaddik had in mind and hinted to me at that time, and so many times.” He retroactively grasped the intent of the tsaddik and the allusions that he hinted to him in his words many years ago.

Thus, he understood and became a kosher, God-fearing person. He was very prominent in his city and became a head and leader for all of those good Jews who wanted to fear Hashem – all who were in the city of that tsaddik. They all submitted themselves to him.[1]

Every Word Makes an Impression!

Initially the simple man did not understand what was being said. Only as time passed did he begin to fathom what each word meant.

This also applies to each individual, relative to himself. You may speak words in hisbodedus. You may talk and talk, but not experience any benefit in speaking. Words repeat themselves without any vitality and feeling. Nevertheless, do not desist. Continue to talk. In the end, when you wake up, you will delve and see how each word made an impression.

How is the Heart of Stone Broken?

There is a well-known analogy about water dripping on a stone for many years. It was hard rock, but in the end the water made a hole in it.[2]

To the observer, it appears that the hole was made in one day. Because yesterday it was not, and today it is here. Due to this, one who is not perceptive thinks that this is a sign that the whole thing was made today.

But an intelligent person knows that a hole in a stone is not made in one day or one night. For years water dripped on this stone. And every single day it made some impression on the stone. Although it was a very slight impression that was not at all apparent to the eye, that water made some change in the stone. But when in the end the stone is opened and a hole breaks out in it, one realizes that all of the days that the water dripped on the stone combined. Only together were they successful in penetrating the stone.

The heart of a person is like a stone. It is hard like a rock. It is necessary to lift the heart to the brain and soften it. But one does not feel any movement. He talks and talks and feels nothing. The heart is left a “heart of stone,” despite all of the words that he poured forth day by day. But, as time goes on – if he does not let up, he does not get weary and does not despair, but continues to pour forth speech – it will turn into a “heart of flesh.”[3]

Certainly in one day the heart of hard stone is not transformed into a soft heart of flesh. When it does happen, one who is not smart thinks that it is made through recent words which were said with inspiration. The proof being that yesterday no change had yet happened to him and suddenly today he sees and feels that something happened. He makes it dependent upon his last words.

But it is not so – not at all! In one day a heart of stone does not become a heart of flesh. Rather, all of the words got together – no word was for naught. When the heart is opened this was only because all of the words bubbled and did their job.

Every Bit of Want and Longing Accrues!

This concept does not only apply to words – that there is no word that goes lost, and every single one makes an impression. There is also no desire and ratson that goes for naught. As it says in the holy Zohar, “There is no ratson that is lost.” Even a good desire is not for nothing.

But this needs support. Behold, one may think, I am not actually doing anything. What do I have from merely wanting? But this is not so. Even just a good ratson, some good desire for something holy, endures. No desire is hidden and gone. Rather, it make some impression. In the end, all desires and longings gather and accumulate and accomplish what they have to, when the day comes.[4]

How much more so a word brought out of the mouth. It certainly is not for naught! They gather and act for a person’s good when the time comes.

“I Believe That Hashem Hears Everything!”

But all this requires great faith. Powerful and strong faith, to know clearly that there nothing good is lost. Everything is heard on High. Everything remains forever! All of the great tsaddikim came to their level because of this faith. They believed that each word that one speaks before Hashem – no word at any time and period, whenever it may have been, is lost. No good desire that one had for holiness and spirituality is ever gone. The Rebbe once said, “Even though I have not yet been saved, this is my salvation: that at least Hashem hears my voice when I pray to Him.”

“I Held Him and Let Him Not Go”[5]

This is a great and amazing hischazkus (encouragement). A person should not let up and get tired or despair of seeking. Rather, he should continue to supplicate even if he sees no benefit. He must remain firm in his faith and not give up. He must know surely that not only no word is ever lost, but also no good desire is ever lost. However, to move this heart of stone and elevate it to the brain requires many words. And it certainly does not happen at once. Rather, much time may have to pass until the heart of stone will actually be penetrated. But every single word makes an impression.

Do Not Despair

It could also be that a person not only feels no progress, but on the contrary, he feels more estranged. His heart is cold and frozen. Why continue to speak and try to appease if he doesn’t see improvement, and even instead sees regression. And those same confusions and illusions continue to flood his brain like yesterday and the day before. At times they prevail all the more, and he falls back completely.

The Rebbe writes that it is necessary to add holiness and knowledge for the fallen days. What holiness and knowledge? What did I add today more than yesterday? Who adds today more than yesterday? Even after a year – it is better than last year?

But really, indeed it is so – there is improvement, even if I don’t notice it. In the end, at some time this will apparent to the naked eye, in a revealed, clear, shining manner. The blessed fruit of of his good yearning and words. Then it will be clear and visible that not even one was for naught, chas v’shalom. Rather, he accomplished great things.

The Test of “I Said That I Worked for Nothing”

We find in Chazal about the holy Amora Rabbi Abahu, that when he left this world, they showed him thirteen rivers of pure balsam oil.[6] Upon this huge reward he was astonished and said: “All this for Abahu? And I said that I am working for nothing?!”

There are those who are not shown what they accomplished for a whole lifetime until the end.  Even though there are those who are shown right away, for others this is there entire test: that they never see any change. But one must believe that there is nothing that goes for naught, despite the fact that he doesn’t see any progress until the last day. Even after all of the mitsvos and good deeds and good desires and words of his entire life. This is the test of his lifetime. It is a difficult test that requires mesirus nefesh to withstand.

On the contrary, sometimes the yetser hara sees that a person is sincere and serves Hashem even though he doesn’t feel anything. Then the yetser hara leaves the world aside and turns only to him. He deprives him of any taste and feeling in devotion and confuses his mind, saying that all of his words, desires, and doings are not worth anything. Through this, he is prone to make him fall completely, chas v’shalom.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon a person to know and to carve into his heart that a big part of serving Hashem is standing steadfast and constantly advancing, even if one does not feel any satisfaction, any feeling, or any vigor in his service.

A Shoe of Honey and Sugar

In the Rebbe’s story of “The Chacham and the Tam,” the Clever Son and the Simple Son, the quality of the Tam was that he always remained strong and happy in his portion. He showed signs of extraordinary joy over everything his hands made – even if it wasn’t done properly. Over the crooked shoe of three corners that he made, the Tam exclaimed, “What a sweet shoe, a shoe of honey and sugar!”

How is it possible to say such expressions about a shoe? Especially since the shoe was not made properly?

But this is understood based on what is known, that the three-cornered shoe hints to Tefilah – the three daily prayers. These exaggerated expressions of sweetness and delight were said about Tefilah.

The holy Tam enlivened himself in his prayer. Despite that it was imperfect, he was bubbling with intense delight, pleasure, and sweetness from it. He did not stop loving it until he said that it is “sweet like honey and sugar.”

Through Hischazkus There is Ascent and Uplifting

What do we need to learn from the practice of the Tam?

How is this relevent to us?

This is how one merits to attain all of the good that the holy Tam accomplished. Only so – when there is chizuk and vitality, even if our service is incomplete.

The Rebbe said that he heard from tsaddikim who testified about themselves that they did not reach their level except through hischazkus.

What comes out is that every word and good deed is important and excellent – just that it is necessary to believe this. We must know well that indeed, speech accomplishes wonders above, and there is no word that goes for naught. Even if at first it seems ineffectual, in the end all of the words gather together and accomplish great and precious things. Then a person will merit to see with his very eyes that he did not toil for nothing.

[1] Based on Chayei Moharan 544.
[2] Sichos HaRan 234; cf. Avos deRabbi Nasan 6:2 regarding Rabbi Akiva’s beginnings.
[3] Based on “I will remove form you the heart of stone and give you a lev basar [heart of flesh]” (Yechezkel). The letters of LB BSR/lev basar form BRSLB/Breslov.
[4] See Likutey Moharan II, 48.
[5] Shir HaShirim 3:4.
[6] Bereshit Rabbah 62:1.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Fight Fire with Water

Shaarey Tzaddik, Vol. 2
By Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig, zatzal
Excerpt from Letter 54
Translated by Dovid Sears
L’ilui nishmas Shlomo ben Binyamin Ze’ev Cheshin, zal

At the time when opposition [toward the early Breslever Chasidim] was raging, and the dreadful persecutions of our master, Reb Noson, may his merits shield us, and his righteous followers, reached their peak, many [Breslever chasidim] complained and wept before Reb Noson, because what they were going through was beyond endurance. They begged him: “Our master and teacher! We know that it is surely within your holy power to do something so that our adversaries will receive the heavenly punishment that is coming to them. Why does our master remain silent, while the holy is devoured [by the unholy], G-d forbid? Please do whatever you can with your holy power, and put an end to the strife against you and against us!”

Our master Reb Noson replied, “Listen to me, my children and my disciples, and know, my friends: it is not our way to afflict anyone, whoever he may be! This is not [the path] we received from our holy Rebbe [Rabbi Nachman], may his merits shield us. Rather, this is what we received from him: to conquer the whole world through prayer, and Hashem will do what is good in His sight.

“On the contrary, we need to exert ourselves with the greatest effort to create sanctified vessels that can contain holiness and wisdom for the sake of our adversaries and opponents, as well. We must concern ourselves with them, so that in the end, they too will come to their proper tikkun (healing of the soul). For they are our fellow Jews, [who are called] ‘holy seed,’ a ‘beloved nation,’ a ‘nation faithful to G-d,’ children of those He has tested, children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”

Even if this [conflict] has persisted for so long, due to the power of free choice, which has cast aside and uprooted so many from their proper places, which is the cause of all our hardships and sufferings and persecutions, and the confusions that threaten to disturb our relationship to Hashem, G-d forbid—we will not lose our strong faith and hope, with the help of Hashem. We have no recourse but to the words of our forefathers and holy rabbis, who urged us to raise our eyes above always, and to supplicate constantly before Hashem, that He have mercy upon on his people Israel, a holy nation, and pray and pray again. As it is written, “Hope unto Hashem (kavei el Hashem)…” and go back again and hope, [as the verse continues, “…be resolute and strengthen your heart, and hope unto Hashem” (Psalms 27:14)], as our Sages state (Rabbi Chama son of Rabbi Chanina in Berakhos 32b), and as we received from our master, King Chizkiyahu, peace be upon him.

King Chizkiyahu declared that he possessed a tradition from his ancestor King David that “even is a sharp sword is against one’s neck, he should not desist from praying for mercy,” Berakhos 10a.).

[We must persist] until Hashem’s mercy prevails upon us and upon all Israel, “and again you pity us and suppress our transgressions, and according to the days You afflicted us, you cause us to rejoice,” speedily in our days, amen!