Thursday, April 23, 2015

“Hinei Rakevet”: The Train From Lublin

Otzar Nachmani, sec. 169
From the collected talks of Rabbi Nachman Burstein
Translated by Dovid Sears, unedited

[Rabbi Nachman Burstein relates about the Breslover Chassidim in Poland before World War II:]

I heard from Rabbi Itche Meir Korman that after Rosh Hashanah, when the Breslover Chassidim would returned home from the kibbutz (gathering) in Lublin, they traveled by train, each disembarking at his own home town.  Various groups of other Chassidim were on this train, as well, and once a debate took place as to which group was bigger. One said that his group had so many Chassidim, while another claimed that his group had so many Chassidim, etc. Finally, one Chassid exclaimed, “What are these numbers you’re bragging about? For us, there were so many Chassidim pressed together that it was mamash sakonas nefoshos, actual mortal danger!”

When the debate began to wind down, they turned to the group of Breslover Chassidim, and asked them provocatively, “And how was it for you? What could have happened without a Rebbe?”

One of the Breslovers (probably Reb Mordechai Sokolover, zal) replied, “Vos zogt ir, az bie eikh iz gevvezn mamash sakanas nefashos? What are you saying, that for you there was ‘mortal danger?’ Bie inz iz gevvezn mamash mechayeh nefoshos! For us, it was actual new life!”

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Breslov Campus - Spring Semester Starts Thursday!’s Spring Semester is Starting Thursday, April 21st

7 New and Thought-Provoking Courses, 2 New Teachers, &; Even More Classes for the Introductory-level Student.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Shloshim Seudah for Rabbi Dovid Zeitlin, zal

Received by e-mail from Mordechai Zeitlin

סעודת שלושים וסיום משניות לכבוד אבינו מורינו הרה״ח ר׳ אליעזר דוד בן ר׳ יוסף צייטלין ז״ל 
יתקיים ביום ראשון לסדר אחרי-קדושים, ז׳ אייר תשע״ה בשעה 5:00 בערב
The Shloshim for our dear father Eliezer Dovid ben Yosef Zeitlin will take place at:

Yeshiva Chaim Berlin Elementary School
911 East 13th St., Brooklyn NY.
Sunday, April 26th 2017 at 5:00 pm

Men and women are invited.

Rav Elazar Kenig of Tsfat shlit"a plans to attend and share some of his memories of Reb Dovid, zal.

New Movie: Rebbe Nachman's Stories!

Here's a "first": A group of professional movie-makers and actors are creating a movie of the Rebbe's stories. Two versions are planned, one in Hebrew and one in English. Please watch the trailer. It will definitely leave you wanting to see the rest!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A “Treasure Trove” of Wonder

Otzar Nachmani, sec. 182
Collected talks of Rabbi Nachman Burstein
Translated by Dovid Sears
[The Hebrew word “yirah” may be translated as wonder, fear or awe.]

[Rabbi Nachman Burstein relates:]

I heard from Reb Levi Yitzchok [Bender] that the chassid, Reb Moshe Shmuel of Uman (one of the anshei ma’amad, those appointed to oversee the Breslov Kloyz), often attended Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman Halevi Chazan during his last years. [Reb Moshe Shmuel] used to accompany him wherever he needed to go, and he used to escort him to the Rebbe’s holy tziyyun (grave site). Reb Moshe Shmuel told how once when he prostrated himself at the tziyyun, he overheard [the saintly Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman] entreating with deveykus, “Ribono shel Olam! Master of the Universe! Have pity on me! Help me, that I should love You, and that I should fear You!” He repeated these words again and again.

[Reb Nachman Burstein adds:]

In Likutey Moharan I, 17, it states that holy love and fear cannot be received except through the tzaddik ha-dor, who reveals love and fear; see wondrous things there. The Rebbe once said, “I’m a treasure trove of yiras shomayim [fear of heaven; wonder or awe]” (Chayei Moharan 294). And it is brought in the Zohar (Tikkuney Zohar, Tikkun 10): “Torah without fear and love does not ascend above.” And the directive is brought in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Berakhos, end): “Act out of love, act out of fear”—on which the commentaries explain that love is the source of the 248 positive commandments, while fear is the source of the 365 negative commandments. From all this, it may be understood that the Rebbe’s tziyyun is the place to entreat Hashem for holy love and fear, in the merit of the tzaddik ha-dor who lies there; for he reveals love and fear.  

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Melaveh Malkah in Moscow

Otzar Nachmani, sec. 167
From the collected talks of Rabbi Nachman Burstein
Translated by Dovid Sears, unedited

[Rabbi Nachman Burstein relates:]
Rabbi Hirsh Leib Lippel, zal, told me that many times he was required [by the Soviet authorities] to travel to Moscow regarding his application to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael. While there, he usually stayed with [a fellow Breslover chassid], Reb Moshe “Moskover” (whose family name was Yeruslavsky). According to the Communist regulations, it was forbidden to take into one’s home a stranger who was not a resident of Moscow. The punishment for doing so was harsh—exile to Siberia. However, Reb Moshe endangered himself with mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice) for the mitzvah of receiving guests, and did not heed the prohibition.

Reb Hirsh Leib told how on Motza’ei Shabbos, he often longed to sing the zemiros [of Melaveh Malkah, songs to bid farewell to the holy day] loudly, as was his way. However, this could not be done in Reb Moshe’s home, for fear of arousing the suspicions of the neighbors, [in particular] the Bolsheviks, who were on the lookout for strangers. Therefore, he came up with a strategy. He would go out to the street and pretend to be drunk—like the other drunks who could be found in the streets, according to their custom.

Thus, he started singing the zemiros vigorously, at the top of his lungs, to his heart’s content. Sometimes during his wanderings, he would stumble into some passerby in order to make him go away from him—because according to the law, it was forbidden to touch a drunk. Then he could sing unhampered.

Reb Hirsh Leib attested that the joy, enthusiasm and spiritual arousal he felt at that time, while singing the zemiros—especially “Adir Ayom vi-Norah”—was more precious than gold. And when he came to “Eliyahu ha-Novi,” which includes the words, “the man following whom they declared, ‘Hashem hu ha-Elokim!”—he screamed thunderously, with all his might, repeating seven times: “Hashem hu ha-Elokim! Hashem is G-d!”

He contemplated that Eliyahu was Hashem’s solitary prophet in the midst of nine hundred prophets of Baal and the Asheira [a tree dedicated to idolatry]. And now he too found himself in a street full of drunks and their drunken songs, while he alone directed his heart toward heaven, in singing songs and praises to Hashem…

[Reb Nachman Burstein adds:]
See “Yemey Moharnat” (Reb Noson’s diary), Part II, where Reb Noson describes how he and his disciple, Reb Yehudah Eliezer, while aboard the ship [bound for Eretz Yisrael], once danced along with the sailors. However, the latter celebrated with no thought as to the reason for their festivity—“whereas we, thank G-d, danced and rejoiced because of the privilege of going up to the Land of Israel, thus to recognize ‘the One who spoke and the universe came into existence.’ ” Reb Noson brings a parable from the “Toldos” [Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye], in the name of the Baal Shem Tov: “They danced out of drunken abandon…” see there.

A Good Beginning

Otzar Nachmani, sec. 177
From the collected talks of Rabbi Nachman Burstein
Translated by Dovid Sears

[Reb Nachman Burstein relates:]

I heard from [Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender] that Rabbi Avraham b’Reb Nachman once said: “When one begins the day by studying the Rebbe’s teachings, this instills in him holy desire and enthusiasm for all the Torah study of the rest of the day.”

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Barukh Dayan ha-Emes: Rabbi Dovid Zeitlin, zal

With a heavy heart, we announce the passing of Rabbi Dovid Zeitlin—Eliezer Dovid ben Perel and Yosef—on Erev Pesach, 14 Nissan, in the early hours before dawn at Brooklyn Hospital.

Shortly before Shavuos last year Reb Dovid was diagnosed with an inoperable malignant brain tumor (GBM). When informed of the test results, he thanked the doctor and told his family at his bedside, “Whatever Hashem wants, I accept.” His emunah was unshakable, and as always, he never complained.

A descendent of the Baal ha-Tanya on his father’s side, and Rabbi Yechiel Schlessinger, a talmid muvhak of the Chasam Sofer and father of the Lev Ivri, on his mother’s side, Reb Dovid was born in New York in 1950. His parents, Reb Yosef, zal, and Perel (may Hashem give her strength at this time of grief), survived the Holocaust and settled in America after World War II. He attended the Viener Yeshiva as a boy, during the years when the melamdim were all Holocaust survivors, and often broken, traumatized men; lacking funds, the yeshiva was often forced to move from place to place, and its facilities consisted of the bare necessities. However, one of the highlights of his youth was his relationship with Rabbi Yonah Forst, zatzal, Rosh Yeshiva of Nitra, renowned for his shiurim in Chovos ha-Levavos, which had a profound effect on Reb Dovid. A spiritual seeker, Reb Dovid also became close with the old Skulener Rebbe and Reb Herschel of Spinka, and also felt a connection with the Satmar Rov, Shoproner Rov, Rav Moshe Bick, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zikhron tzaddikim levrakha. Throughout his teenage years, he assiduously studied the classics of Chassidus, such as Be’er Mayim Chaim, Maor va-Shemesh, Yosher Divrei Emes, Likkutim Yekarim, Tanya and the Chabad teachings. Then one day his father came home with a dozen seforim for him—which Reb Dovid later noted was the only time in his life that his father did such a thing—telling him that they were being sold in shul for very little money, and he thought that his intellectual son might be interested in them. These were the Breslov seforim that he would spend the rest of his life exploring, and whose teachings he would follow with exemplary devotion.

His main teachers in Breslov were Rabbi Gedaliah Kenig, zatzal, and his son Rav Elazar Kenig, shlit”a, the mara de-asra of the Tsfas Breslov community, whom he attended devotedly during the latter’s many visits to America, particularly before and after Rav Kenig’s lung transplant surgery some ten years ago. He was also one of the founders of the New York Breslov Center, and author of a still-unpublished translation of Rabbi Gedaliah Kenig’s Chayei Nefesh, and in more recent years, Breslov Eikh she-Hu on Breslov minhagim and hanhagos tovos (both co-authored with Dovid Sears). He first went to the Rebbe’s tziyyun in Uman with several friends during the early 1980s, during the Soviet years. During that period, he would travel to Meron for Rosh Hashanah to join the Breslover gathering near the tziyyun of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. After it became possible to attend “the Rebbe’s Rosh Hashanah” in Uman, beginning in 1989, he traveled there every year with mesirus nefesh until the last year of his life. He fully intended to go to Uman for Rosh Hashanah, even when he could no longer walk or feed himself, and traveling was impossible.

Reb Dovid was a talmid chokhom who learned bi-hasmadah throughout his life, even while working in various clerical positions, but who finally achieved his goal of studying full-time in kollel more than fifteen years ago. He was highly knowledgeable in both nigleh and nistar, and, although he held no formal rabbinic position, was fluent in halakhah. For most of his life he faithfully attended the Shabbos morning Shulchan Arukh shiur of Rabbi Ben Zion Strasser, shlit”a, Nitra Rov of Borough Park, who was his lifelong mentor and friend, as well as a relative through marriage. Ironically, another relative through marriage of Reb Dovid, the esteemed Rav Shmuel Wosner (author of the halakhic responsa Shevet HaLevi and Rosh Yeshiva of Chachmei Lublin in Bnei Brak), zatzal, passed away at age 101 on the same day.

According to Chazal, petirah on Erev Shabbos is an auspicious sign. Surely Reb Dovid Zeitlin’s neshamah tehorah went straight to gan eden.

May Hashem comfort and give strength to his mother, Mrs. Perel Zeitlin; his brother Hillel Zeitlin in Los Angeles and sister Mrs. Sheindel Vider in Brooklyn; his devoted wife, Mrs. Malka Zeitlin; his daughters Mrs. Gitty Brown and Mrs. Hindy Hecht; his sons Ben Zion, Yissachar Dov, Mordechai and Shmuel; his many grandchildren, as well as his extended family, friends and neighbors. May he be a meilitz yosher for them and for Klal Yisrael. Yehi zikhro barukh, may his memory be a blessing, amen.

Barukh Dayan ha-Emes: Rabbi Mayer Wasilski, zal

We are sad to announce the petirah of Rabbi Mayer Yitzchok Ben Tzvi Yosef Wasilski, zal, on Pesach. Reb Mayer was the Gabbai of the Breslov Shtiebel on 16th Ave and 55TH St in Borough Park for many years and worked on behalf of the Lakewood Yeshivah. A son of the prominent Breslov leader, Rabbi Herschel Wasilski, zatzal, he was born and raised in Breslov Chassidus. After attending Yeshivah Torah Vodaath, where his father was a respected melamed and maggid shiur, he attended the Breslov Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. He was a talmid of Rav Bergstein, the Rosh Yeshiva there, and had close relationships with Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender and Rabbi Elya Chaim Rosen, zatzal, since his childhood. As this unhappy news came to us unexpectedly, we don’t have enough information to write a fitting obituary yet. But Reb Meir was one of the key figures in the New York Breslov kehillah, and his loss will be keenly felt by all. May Hashem comfort his rebbetzin, children, brothers, sisters, extended family and friends, and may we soon see the day when Hashem will “wipe away the tears from all faces.” 

The Baal Shem Tov’s Nesia to Eretz Yisrael

Breslover Chassidim are accustomed to retell this story during the “Baal Shem Tov Se’udah,” which is the last meal of Acharon shel Pesach (AKA “ne’ilas ha-chag”). This was a common custom among many Chassidim in Europe, and a few such as the Skolye Chassidim still tell the story. This version is based on the Breslov mesorah.

Dovid Sears

Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender, the central figure in the Meah Shearim Breslov kehillah after World War II until his passing in 1989, used to retell the story every year on Acharon shel Pesach. He always said that he retold the story the way he received it personally from Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Uman, a grandson of Rebbe Nachman and a leading mashpiya during the late late 1800s-early 1900s. However, Reb Levi Yitzchok also said that once someone asked his teacher Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman if Reb Shimshon’s version was accurate. He answered, “S’iz doh nuschos ... There are many versions!” (Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn). Like all oral traditions, there are a few differences over this detail or that. Yet these differences are relatively minor.

We have put together this brief outline so that at least something will be available in English for those who wish to tell the story during the final hours of Acharon shel Pesach. This is not an “official” version, but we hope it will be good for starters.

Beginning the Journey
The Baal Shem Tov experienced intense gagu’im to travel to Eretz Yisrael—until at last the time came. (This mystical understanding of traveling to Eretz Yisrael is echoed by Rebbe Nachman’s statement, “With every step, I’m going to Eretz Yisrael,” and his teaching that “all tefillos and avodahs ascend through Eretz Yisrael.” Just as Eretz Yisrael was the goal of the Exodus from Egypt, so in a mystical sense it represents the goal of the spiritual quest of each individual and the Jewish people collectively. See the Breslov teachings in the Tcheriner Rov’s anthology, Otzar HaYirah, “Eretz Yisrael.”)

The Baal Shem Tov took his only daughter, the tzaddekes Udel, and his chassid Reb Hirsch Sofer, as companions for the journey.

It was very unusual to go to Eretz Yisrael in those days, and extremely difficult—unlike today. But he trusted in Hashem and left home with only enough money to reach the next town. (It is well-known that the Baal Shem did not keep even a small coin overnight, but lived from day to day, trusting completely in Hashem.) He was confident that Hashem would make a way for him.

(When Rabbi Shmuel Breines tells the story in the Breslov Shtibel of Borough Park, he often stresses the importance of bitachon, total reliance upon Hashem. Two sources of inspiring teachings about bitachon are Rabbi Avraham ben HaRambam’s Sefer HaMaspik: Shaar HaBitachon, or Rabbenu Bachya Ibn Paquda’s Chovos HaLevavos: Shaar HaBitachon. A quote or two from such sources can help make the story more meaningful.)

Day by day and week by week the threesome traveled from one town to the next, heading toward the port city of Istanbul on the Black Sea. Somehow the Baal Shem Tov received enough money to keep traveling, until they arrived in Istanbul on Erev Pesach.

They had neither provisions nor money for lodgings. But the Baal Shem Tov was sure that everything would work out satisfactorily. They found an inn in the Jewish quarter of the city and took lodgings on the ground floor, where the horses were stabled. Udel went to shore to wash clothes for Yom Tov, while her father and Reb Hirsch went to a nearby Beis HaMidrash.

At the same time, a wealthy childless couple from Germany arrived in Istanbul. This couple had been following the Baal Shem Tov from town to town in order to obtain his brochah, and only caught up to him now. Bi-hashgochah pratis, they wound up at the same inn, where they rented a large suite of rooms, and bought matzos, wine and food for Pesach. Then they went in search of the Baal Shem Tov. They found a Jewish girl washing clothes at the sea-shore—Udel, of course—asked her if she knew the whereabouts of the Baal Shem Tov, and learned that the Baal Shem Tov was none other than her father. Overjoyed, they took Udel back to the inn and instructed the servants to bring the possessions of the tzaddik and his daughter and disciple from the stables to their rooms upstairs.

Knowing nothing about this, the Baal Shem Tov and Reb Hirsch davened, and came back after Maariv to find everything prepared for the sedorim and for Yom Tov. The Baal Shem Tov displayed no surprise at this, but proceeded to conduct the Seder without indicating that anything unusual had happened. Only after he had completed the Seder, did the Baal Shem Tov turn to their host and hostess and declare, “I know why you came here. Know that your wish has been fulfilled, and you will have a child this year!”

However, no sooner had the words escaped his lips than the Baal Shem Tov’s face clouded over, and he closed his eyes; he was experiencing aliyas ha-neshamah, an ascent of the soul to the upper worlds. His daughter Udel had seen this before, but now she was terrified—her father seemed to be in a state of gesisah mamash, his life seemed to be hanging by a thread. In heaven, the Evil Accuser demanded: This couple had been fated to remain childless. By what right did the Baal Shem force the Ribono shel Olam to change all of creation for the sake of this man and woman? The Gemara states, “The tzaddik decrees and Hashem fulfills” (Shabbos 59b), and the Baal Shem Tov’s blessing would surely bear fruit. However, in such matters there is a price to be paid. The heavenly court ruled that in exchange, the Baal Shem Tov would lose his Olam Haboh, his place in the Afterlife.

Then Baal Shem Tov suddenly opened his eyes, the color returned to his face, and with great simchah declared, “Now I will be able to serve Hashem without any p’nia, without any thought of future reward!”

At this, the Evil Accuser insisted that the heavenly court restore his Olam Haboh—to let the Baal Shem Tov serve Hashem with such absolute selflessness was too much!

Disaster AvertedAt this point, Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman would roll up his sleeves and say, “Un in di ma’aseh iz doh noch a ma’aseh . . . And in this story there is still another story...” (Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn, in the name of Rabbi Itche Meyer Korman).

Although Baal Shem Tov’s purpose was to go to Eretz Yisrael, his journey, like all of his actions, contained many other mysteries and purposes. (See Likutey Moharan I, 42. Reb Noson adds that this is not only true of the tzaddikim, but even of ordinary Jews. Everything we do reflects Hashem’s hidden plan for creation. See Avaneha Barzel, p. 88, which is translated in “The Tree That Stands Beyond Space,” p. 57.)

The Sultan of Istanbul was a tyrant who had a special enmity toward the Jewish people. Yet the Jews had influence and power in the city, and the Sultan had to resort to underhanded means to hurt them.

On that Erev Pesach he called together his royal ministers for a secret meeting. He proposed that a pogrom be carried out the next morning, in which the mobs would be incited to kill every Jewish man, woman and child in Istanbul. His ministers were sworn to secrecy about this plan on penalty of death.

Yet one of the royal ministers was a righteous gentile and friend of the Jews. Risking his life, he hastened to warn the leaders of the Jewish community of their great peril. After discussing the matter, they decided to send emissaries to the Sultana, the widow of the previous Sultan who had treated his Jewish subjects with kindness and respect. Perhaps she could intervene. In the cover of night, the emissaries made their way through the city’s streets toward the palace of the Sultana.

Their long trek took them past the very inn where the Baal Shem Tov and his companions were concluding the Seder. Through an opened window, they could hear the Baal Shem Tov singing with fervor “Le-oseh nifla’os gedolos levado … To the One Who alone performs wonderous miracles!” One of the emissaries remarked wryly to his friend, “If that Jew only knew what we know, he wouldn’t sing those words so sweetly!”

(A contemporary Breslover, Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Bnei Brak, remembered an interesting detail here. When his father Rabbi Noson Barsky told the story, according to the version of his grandfather and namesake, Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Uman, and he described how the Baal Shem Tov sang “Le-oseh nifla’os gedolos levado,” he used to sing the well-known niggun of the Baal Shem Tov—thus demonstrating how the Baal Shem Tov actually sang these words. He did so when mentioning the song both while the emissaries were on their way to the Sultana and on their return.)

Arriving at the palace, the emissaries begged the guards for permission to obtain an audience with the Sultana, but were refused admission. Yet they persisted until the Sultana heard the racket at the door and asked who wanted to see her at such a late hour. Learning that they were representatives of the Jewish community on an urgent mission, the good-hearted Sultana admitted them and listened to their tale of impending destruction.

Given the urgency of the situation, she asked the emissaries to remain in her home while she set out in the night to intercede with her son. Arriving at the royal palace, she woke up the Sultan and announced, “Tonight your father came to me in a dream! And he revealed to me that tomorrow our family will be utterly wiped out! My heart palpitated with dread—that’s why I hurried here. We must consult the royal chronicles to see if we can find a reason for this evil fate…”

The Sultan sent for the royal record book and in his mother’s presence saw inscribed therein the slaughter of the Jewish community scheduled for the next morning. “Now, my son, I know why I had this terrible dream!” the Sultana said. “Don’t you know what happens to all those who start up with the Jews? Don’t you know what happened to Pharaoh and Haman and the rest of their enemies? You must call off this pogram, or my dream will surely come true!”

Thus, the Sultan tore up his cruel decree and only then did his mother return home to inform the emissaries of her success. As they made their way through the Jewish quarter, they passed the same inn and were surprised to hear the same man repeating the words “Le-oseh nifla’os gedolos levado.” But now he did so with the greatest merriment.

After the morning prayers, the community leaders informed the kehillah that a great miracle had occurred. Because of Hashem’s mercy, the Jews of Istanbul had been saved from certain death. In recounting the highlights of the story, they didn’t fail to mention the Jew who sang of Hashem’s miracles at the end of the Seder, and how if he had known what was going on, he wouldn’t have been able to sing.

At this, the Baal Shem Tov (still incognito) remarked, “Mir dacht zokh az der Yid mit zein zingen 'le-oseh nifla’os gedolos levado,' hott ehr mevatel geven di gezerah . . . It seems to me that by singing ‘Who alone performs wondrous miracles,’ this Jew nullified the heavenly decree.”

The Sea Voyage
On the first day of Chol HaMoed, the couple from Germany bade farewell to the Baal Shem Tov. They wished to lavish upon him various gifts in their gratitude for his brochah, but the Baal Shem Tov refused to accept anything beyond the kindness they had already shown him. Only one thing did he request—that they provide him and his companions with tickets for the next ship to Eretz Yisrael. They happily did so. And the next ship was leaving that day.

Before boarding the ship, the Baal Shem Tov told his daughter and Reb Hirsch that he had the power to go to the Holy Land in a more expedient way: he could toss his gartel on the waves of the sea, and they could walk across it to their destination. The only condition was that they would have to focus their minds on a certain Holy Name without breaking their concentration for even a second. The tzaddekes Udel answered that she was willing to do so. However, Reb Hirsch feared that he would not be able to maintain his concentration; so they traveled by ship.

The Great Storm
The ship quickly traversed the peaceful waters, among its passengers the Baal Shem Tov and his daughter and disciple. However, in the middle of their voyage, the sky suddenly darkened and a mighty storm struck. The powerful winds cast the ship on the turbulent waves, until it seemed that they were about to either capsize or be dashed to bits.

The Baal Shem Tov said, “The sea will be stilled only if I cast my writings overboard—or if my daughter is willing to take their place. Only then will the storm subside.”

There are different versions of what happened at this point. Reb Levi Yitzchak’s mesorah from Reb Shimshon Barsky was to preface this part of the story with the words: “Anderer zoggen..." ("Some say…”). Then he would go on to state that Udel agreed and was actually cast into the sea. However, with this act of mesirus nefesh, she received a heavenly communication: she was destined to have a grandson who would write “shennerer ksavim,” i.e., even greater writings than those of her father. She lifted up her hands and called to the Baal Shem Tov and told him this. Udel was immediately retrieved, and the precious manuscripts were cast into the waters.

(As a humorous aside, I heard from Rabbi Avraham Moshe Wasilski of Williamsburg that whenever Reb Levi Yitzchok told the story and described how Udel was cast into the sea, Rabbi Nochum Yitzchok Frank would interrupt the story to protest, shouting “Sheker! S’iz nisht shayakh! Es kennisht zein! Lies! It isn’t possible! It can’t be!”)

Another version states that she merely considered jumping into the sea, either mentally or even verbally, but did not actually do so. Suddenly she had a heavenly communication about her grandson, and told her father that they could cast the manuscripts into the sea after all. Immediately they did so, and the storm stopped as suddenly as it had began.

The Cannibals
After this ordeal, everyone on the ship was worn out, physically and emotionally. So they headed for next island they sighted, and anchored offshore in order to set their feet on dry land again for a little while. The passengers disembarked and began to stroll along the shore and among the verdant trees, to recover from their distress.

The Baal Shem Tov and his companions walked until they found a nice shady spot to rest. However, they soon discovered that they had company. Out of the forest emerged a group of cannibals brandishing knives and spears. In a few moments, the cannibals had tied up the threesome and cast them on the ground.

Reb Hirsch, quaking in terror, asked the Baal Shem Tov, “Rebbe, please do something and save us from these savages!”

However, the Baal Shem Tov was silent.

“Why don’t you answer me?” Reb Hirch exclaimed.

“Because right now, I don’t know anything!” the Baal Shem Tov replied. “Do you know anything?”

“Nothing at all,” Reb Hirsch stammered. “Just the alef-beis…”

The cannibals surrounded them, grinning malevolently. In a moment they would start getting ready for dinner…

“If you know the alef-beis, say it!”

Reb Hirsch began: “Alef!” And the Baal Shem Tov answered, “Alef!”



As they prounced the names of the holy letters, the Baal Shem Tov suddenly regained his supernatural powers. In the distance, a bell began ringing, the sound coming closer and closer. Alarmed, the cannibals hastily fled. Soon a carriage came into view, and the people inside freed the prisoners.

Reb Gedaliah Kenig mentioned that Reb Avraham Sternhartz’s mesorah included the detail that as the cannibals were preparing to kill the Baal Shem Tov and his companions, suddenly they heard the ringing of the ship’s bell, and this is why they fled.

Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Bnei Brak, however, remembered that according to his grandfather’s version of the story, the bells that scared off the cannibals were those of the carriage, and the “people” in the carriage were actually malakhim, angels send by Hashem to save the Baal Shem Tov, Udel, and Reb Hirsch.

(When Rabbi Shmuel Breines of Borough Park tells the story, he often digresses here to remark on the power of “temimus u-peshitus,” simple whole-heartedness and faith in Rebbe Nachman’s teachings. See Otzar HaYirah, “Temimus”)

In any case, those in the carriage transported them back to the shore, where they joined the other passengers returning to the ship. The wind filled their sails and the began to travel rapidly—straight back to Istanbul, in time for Acharon shel Pesach.

The Secret of Success
Rebbe Nachman once discussed how his great-grandfather the Baal Shem Tov and the saintly Rabbi Naftali Katz, author of “Semikhas Chakhomim,” both attempted to reach Eretz Yisrael, without success. Yet Rebbe Nachman managed to overcome all obstacles and reach the Holy Land. Why did he succeed where these great figures did not?

Rebbe Nachman explained: “Eretz Yisrael is the aspect of ‘gadlus de-gadlus’ (a sublime level of expanded consciousness). And it is known that every spiritual ascent must be preceded by a decent. Since Eretz Yisrael is ‘gadlus de-gadlus,’ it must be preceded by ‘katnus de-katnus,’ a most extreme descent. Those who came before me were unable to cast themselves down to such depths…”


In the merit of the tzaddikim, who sacrificed themselves on behalf of the entire Jewish people, may we too be worthy of reaching the ultimate spiritual goal.

Other Versions of the Baal Shem Tov’s Nesia

About ten years ago, Rabbi Yehoshua Yosef Kornblit of Yerushalayim published a “
Baal Shem Tov Haggadah” with excerpts of various teachings relating to the text. I have often used this Haggadah, along with Rabbi Alter Tepliker’s Breslov Haggadah “Ohr Zarei’ach,” but didn’t notice that at the very end, he includes a few variations of the story of the Baal Shem Tov’s attempted journey to Eretz Yisrael.

If you can’t find a copy of this excellent Haggadah, you could try contacting Rabbi Kornblit, who lives at 15 Batey Varsha. The phone number given in my edition of the sefer is 02 (or just 2 from chutz la’aretz) 371-059. However, you probably need to add another digit before the 3, since Israeli telephone company switched to seven digit phone numbers in the interim. I’d suggest adding a 5, although I’m not sure.

The basic story as found in the sefer “Adas Tzaddikim” is much the same as our Breslov version (although not surprisingly, it doesn’t include the part about the Baal Shem Tov’s daughter Udel’s rescue in the merit of her future grandson Rebbe Nachman‘s writings). In that version, the cannibals are called “Haidamaks,” which is probably a just a loose usage of the term, and they seem to be pirates rather than man-eating natives. After Reb Hirsh Sofer and the Baal Shem Tov call out responsively the letters of the alef-beis, a bell starts ringing and a mysterious elderly captain comes to the rescue with a group of soldiers, and they scare off the pirates. In this account, the ship makes it back to Istanbul on the Seventh Day of Pesach. As for the old captain—he was none other than Elijah the Prophet.

Another retelling of the story in the sefer “Ginzey Yisrael” similarly ascribes the rescue of the Jewish community of Istanbul to the Baal Shem Tov’s singing “Le-she nifla’os gedolos levado,” but neglects to mention the emissaries and the intervention of the Sultan’s mother.

Zera Baruch” describes how Reb Baruch of Medzibuzh would honor the Baal Shem Tov’s deliverance with a communal meal on Acharon shel Pesach and retell the story of his grandfather’s life from the day of his birth until his sea journey. There, he emphasizes that the underlying purpose of this journey was the final redemption of the Jewish people. For the Baal Shem Tov possessed the “nefesh” of Dovid HaMelekh, while the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh possessed the “ruach” of Dovid HaMelekh. And if the two tzaddikim had finally met, the Baal Shem Tov would have received the “neshamah” of Dovid HaMelekh and thus been empowered to bring about the ge’ulah sheleimah.

Rabbi Kornblit also cites the sefer “Ohev Yisrael” to the effect that the Apter Rov, who lived in Medzibuzh after the passing of Reb Baruch, would also conclude Pesach with a tisch that extended into the night in honor of the Baal Shem Tov’s miraculous rescue.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Happy Pesach from Tsfat

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Chad Gadya: “One Kid Goat”

Reb Noson Sternhartz, Likutey Halakhos, Rosh Chodesh 6:19
Translated by Dovid Sears
From The Breslov Pirkey Avot, Breslov Research Institute

The singing of Chad Gadya (“One Kid Goat”) at the conclusion of the Passover Seder is a most amazing thing. The song’s basic theme is the perversion of justice. Each creature acted unjustly: the cat ate the kid goat unjustly; then along came the dog that ate the cat, and although the cat unquestionably deserved this, the dog had no right to bite the cat—for who appointed the dog to pass judgment on the cat? Similarly, the water, fire, etc., took vengeance on one another. All this was brought about by God, for each [as a victim] deserved its fate; yet each [as an aggressor], when considered alone, acted unjustly. Thus, each was subject to retribution afterward.

In truth, the nature of cosmic justice is beyond mortal understanding, for “God’s designs are profound” (Psalms 92:6) and it is forbidden to question them at all. This paradox is addressed by the Mishnah: He saw a skull floating on the surface of the water. He said to it: “Because you drowned others, they have drowned you— and those who drowned you in the end will be drowned.” No doubt [the victim] deserved to drown according to divine justice; nevertheless, the [murderer] behaved wrongfully. Therefore, those who drowned you in the end will be drowned.

This is why we mention this theme of Chad Gadya on Passover. Since the first Passover preceded the Giving of the Torah, we had not yet received the perfection of judgment. Chad Gadya teaches us that as long as judgment remains imperfect, it is impossible to fathom divine justice. Therefore, we are forbidden to harm anyone else, although according to his deeds he deserves it. We may not carry out this judgment, for “judgment belongs to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 1:17), and the ultimate perfection of justice is brought about only by God directly.

As we say at the conclusion, Along came the Holy One, blessed be He, and slaughtered the Angel of Death… which teaches us that the perfection of justice will be revealed in the end, when God slaughters the Angel of Death, and “the spirit of impurity will be removed from the earth” (Zechariah 13:2). However, at present it is impossible to understand the ways of divine justice, and it is forbidden to question them when we are confronted with such enigmas. Rather, we must believe that God’s reasons are profound, that it is impossible to understand them at all, and that everything reflects great kindness.

© Breslov Research Institute

The Bitter Herbs

The Bitter Herbs
adapted by Rabbi Gedaliah Fleer
from the stories of Rebbe Nachman

A Jew and a German were travelling together. Since Passover was drawing near, the Jew began to describe the sumptuous feast customarily eaten in honour of the holiday. "Wine is served in abundance and the specially prepared delicacies are out of this world." But the German, who had never been to a Seder, could hardly share his companion's enthusiasm.

"It's something you've simply got to experience," said the Jew, "perhaps I can teach you to pretend you're Jewish. Then on Passover eve, you can accompany me to the synagogue where the good-natured members of the congregation will surely invite us to their homes for the feast."

It sounded like a good idea and the German quickly learned to pose as a Jew. He even learned the Yiddish language which was quite similar to his native tongue. Shortly before the holiday his friend briefly explained the traditional Seder customs. "There's the Kiddush, recited over a glass of wine, the washing of the hands and the eating of some cucumber. Then the Haggadah which explains about the exodus from Egypt is read and discussed. Everything happens in a particular order, but eventually there's that delicious meal with all those luscious Jewish delicacies." Quite by accident however, the Jew forgot to tell his friend about the eating of bitter herbs.

On the eve of Passover, before going to the synagogue, the German fasted all day. He wanted to be prepared with an appetite worthy of the forthcoming feast. When the synagogue service was completed the two friends were invited to separate homes to partake in the Seder. The aroma of exquisite foods filled the air. The German was shown to a comfortable chair near the head of a beautifully set dining room table. His mouth watered, as his host began the Seder by reciting the Kiddush. Everyone drank an entire glass of wine. "What a really nice custom," thought the German, "a good meal should always begin with wine."

Shortly thereafter water was brought and people took turns washing their hands with an oversized goblet. "Quaint, very quaint," mused the German, "they're washing up for the meal." Then each person was given a small piece of cucumber dipped into salt water. "These Jews have some pretty strange ideas about hors d'oeuvres," he thought, "but the food I smell will surely be more substantial than this."

After a while the German found himself growing impatient. He had not eaten all day and his stomach was beginning to complain. The wine and cucumber were making him ill. Everyone around him however, seemed quite content. The last two hours had been spent discussing the exodus from Egypt. "How much longer will this continue," thought the German, "don't they ever get hungry?"

Finally matzo was brought to the table. Another glass of wine was consumed and people began to wash their hands for a second time. The German looked at the matzo and forced himself to remain calm. Some real food would soon be had. The matzo was hard and tasteless but at least it was something of substance. He ate his fill and anxiously awaited the rest of the meal. His Jewish friend had prepared him for the events of the evening. He had been told about the wine, and matzo. He had even been forewarned about the peculiar washing of the hands. But now, for the first time all evening, the German didn't recognize the food being served. "This must be the beginning of the real meal," he thought, as a dish piled high with grated horse radish was placed before him. "Take as much as you please," said his host, kindness radiating in his manner. Needing no further encouragement, the German heaped a brimming tablespoon of horse radish into his mouth and began to choke. His eyes bulged and began to tear. Thinking that this was what the entire meal consisted of, he ran from the house, back to the synagogue where he and his friend had agreed to meet. "Cursed Jews," he thought, "after all that ceremony they serve horse radish for their meal."

Shortly afterward, his friend arrived, fully satisfied and content. "How did it go with you?" he asked.

"You Jews are crazy," said the German, "absolutely out of your minds." He then angrily proceeded to relate the events of the evening and how he had eventually fled from the Seder.

"How foolish of you," said the Jew. "Had you been patient for just a moment longer you could have eaten the best of foods to your heart's content. Didn't you know that the real meal is always served after the bitter herbs?"

Copyright © 1997 Gedaliah Fleer


On behalf of the Breslov Center, we wish everyone a chag kasher vi-sameakh, a joyous holiday with all the wondrous segulos of the matzah, the retelling of the Exodus story, and the other mitzvos of Pesach. As Reb Noson mentions in his prayers, these mitzvos of Pesach in particular confer upon us all holy perceptions, great and small, ultimately bringing about our inner liberation.