Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Father of Chassidus

The Baal Shem Tov's House in Medzhibozh

A number of years ago Miriam Shaw created a flash movie about the life and teachings of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, based on the anthology "The Path of the Baal Shem Tov," compiled and translated by Dovid Sears and published by Jason Aronson (now an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield). The soundtrack is from a powerful rendition of a Chassidic melody by clarinet virtuoso Andy Statman. To view Miriam Shaw's audio-visual presentation of this great Jewish mystic's legacy, click here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Hisbodedus: The Divine Conversation

Photo © Dovid Sears

Selections From “Rabbi Nachman's Advice” (Likutei Eitzot)
Translator: Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum
Breslov Research Institute

To taste the hidden light of Torah, the secrets which will be revealed in time to come, you should seclude yourself as much as you can to pray and speak to God. Take a good look at yourself and make a reckoning. What are you doing with your life? How is your time spent? Is this the right way to spend your life - to behave as you do before the Holy One, blessed be He, who bestows goodness upon you every moment of the day? Weigh all the different aspects of your life very carefully. If you make yourself the judge over everything you are doing, you will be able to rid yourself of all fears and worries. You will never be afraid of earthly powers - princes or rulers, wild beasts, robbers or the like. Nothing in the world will frighten you. Only before God will you stand in fear and reverence. This is the way to elevate the fear that is within you to its true root, which is in Da'at,understanding. You will attain perfect knowledge, because you will know before Whom to stand in awe: God alone, in His greatness and glory. Then you will be able to understand the revealed Torah and you will attain genuine humility. You will learn how to put your whole soul into your prayers. All sense of self and physical being will be totally nullified as you pray, and you will be able to pray without any thought of personal gain. When you reach the point where your sense of self and physicality totally disappear, as if you were simply not in the world at all, then you will discover the hidden secrets of the Torah. This is the concealed light that is destined to be revealed in time to come. All this you can achieve through hisbodedus, secluded prayer (15).


When a person meditates and speaks to God, the very words he speaks are ruach hakodesh, the holy spirit. As soon as a person makes this meditation a regular practice and prepares himself, indeed forces himself to speak to God, then God Himself sends the words to his mouth.

Make sure that the words you say are always new and fresh. Search out new ways to appeal to God. Always choose words that will find favor. Purify your heart by devoting your mind to thoughts of Torah and holiness, and then you will find the right way to meditate and speak to God (21, 156).


Letters of Torah are present throughout the Creation. By expressing your yearning and desire in words, you invest these letters with strength for good. You give new life and strength to everything, drawing goodness and blessing into all the worlds. Numberless souls are stirred to make their own return to God, all through the words of the prayer you utter before your Maker. How precious are the longing and yearning which you express before God. The main thing is actually to pronounce the words. Make a regular practice of this and spend a lot of time each day working on it. It will help the whole world (31:8,9).


Everyone must strive to be totally merged with the Source of his being. To achieve this requires bittul, self nullification. The only way to attain bittul is through secluded prayer with God. When a person goes aside to converse with God, he nullifies everything else and attaches himself only to God. In this way he becomes merged with his Source (52).


The best time to seclude yourself to pray is at night, when everyone is asleep. Ideally you should go to a place outside the city and follow a solitary path, somewhere that people don't go even in the day time. Empty your heart and your whole consciousness of all your involvements in the everyday world. Then work to nullify all of your character traits, one after the other, until in the end you nullify all sense of self completely. First work on one character trait, then another and another, until you reach the point where you are free of any self-centeredness and any sense of independent existence. You must be as nothing in your own eyes. Then you will be worthy of attaining true bittul, and your soul will be merged with its root. The whole universe will be merged with you in your Source. You and everything with you will be merged in the Unity of God (Ibid.).


The ideal time for hisbodedus is at night: seclude yourself and express yourself before God. Speak with all your heart and search out the goodness of your soul. Find the good points which are within you and cleanse them of all the evil in the soul until you pour out your heart like water before God. This is the way to attain true joy and to subdue the power of fantasy, which is the source of all lust and desire. Through this you can acquire a good memory - which means always to remember the World to Come and never to lose sight of the end purpose of this life and its ultimate destiny. This is how you can return to God (54).


A person may be praying with great intensity or at the height of meditation, when suddenly he falls from his level. This is because somewhere there is a flaw in his faith. He should feel heartbroken and ashamed. How could he fall from heaven to earth? He should arouse tender pity for himself because of his plight. He should literally sigh! This sigh will bring him back to his level (108).


When a person speaks to God and uses every kind of argument and appeal to "conquer" God, then God Himself has great joy and pleasure. He Himself sends words to this person's mouth so that he will be able to "conquer" Him. How else could flesh and blood win a victory against God? It is only because God Himself helps him (124).


When a person speaks to God and pours out his pain and anguish, confessing his sins and grieving at the enormity of what he has done, the Shechinah (i.e., the immanent Divine Presence) herself rises before God and pours out her pain and sorrow. Because every flaw in the soul of man is also a "flaw" in the Shechinah. And the Shechinah will seek to bring him comfort and devise ways and means of repairing the damage (259).


How good it is to pray to God and meditate in the meadows amidst the grass and the trees. When a man goes out to the meadows to pray, every blade of grass, every plant and flower enter his prayers and help him, putting strength and force into his words (Ibid. II, 11).


It has already been explained how important it is to seclude yourself and pray, and how powerful a method this is. It is the path by which we can come close to God. Everybody should set aside fixed periods every day and express himself before God in his own native language. It is much easier to say what you need to say when you are using your own language. You should set forth whatever is in your heart. Use every kind of appeal and argument. Use words that will endear you to God and win His favor. Plead with Him to draw you closer. Every individual knows his own personal pain and sorrow and the distance that separates him from God. It is impossible to convey the true greatness of this method. It is superior to all others. It is the way of serving God, and through following it everyone can attain the ultimate good in this world and in the World to Come. There is nothing that cannot be accomplished by prayer and entreaty. The greatest of the Tzaddikim achieved what they did only through this practice. Think about it carefully, and you will see the greatness of this path. Set aside one hour every day for this, and the rest of the day, be happy. Then you will be truly blessed (25).


It is good to turn the Torah that you learn into prayers (Ibid.).


It is true that weeping and crying are good when you plead and entreat before God. But don't fall into the trap of saying psalms and prayers with the constant thought and expectation that you are going to burst into tears and cry. It will only confuse you and prevent you from concentrating. The most important thing is to say what you are saying honestly and with all your heart. Let your ears hear and your heart attend to the words which your lips are uttering. If you are moved to cry, good. If not, don't be distracted because of this (95).


All the tzaddikim and all of the truly righteous attained what they did only through secluded prayer and meditation. This practice has never been more necessary than in our age, situated as we are at the end of the period of the exile, subject to the full force of the evil inclination and the forces of the Sitra Achra, the Other Side. People are weak, spiritually and physically. The only way to escape from the power of the evil inclination and all the other obstacles holding us back from God is to follow this practice determinedly and make a fixed time every day to talk to God in our own native language. Be totally honest and open your heart before God, whether to beg for forgiveness for what happened in the past or to appeal to God to help you in the future by releasing you from the traps you are caught in and drawing you closer to Him. Even if you find you are unable to express yourself before God, even if you can say no more than a single word, this is still good. Even if you can say nothing except "Master of the Universe" it is also good. The mere fact that you make an effort, that you prepare yourself to speak, that you feel a longing to speak - even if you find you can say nothing – all this is very precious in God's eyes. If you are determined and persistent and you make yourself speak before God, in time God will help you and then you will be able to express yourself with words filled with vitality, freshness and grace. Your words will bring blessings down from the Heavens and you will attain' true and enduring good. This is the path to serving God, because all the different ways of serving God require prayers and appeals to God if we are to accomplish them well. If you remain firm in 'following this path you will be blessed indeed. Small or great, no one can serve God honestly and truthfully except through hisbodedus, secluded prayer (25, 100).


Even when you feel your heart is not in what you are saying, don't let this discourage you. Persevere, and you will usually find that in the end your heart will be aroused and the words will flow from you with genuine fervor. Speech has tremendous power to arouse a person's heart. And even if the days and years pass by and you think that all your words and meditation have accomplished 'nothing, don't let yourself be thrown off course. "Me words have left their mark. There is no doubt about it. It is the same as when water is dripping on to a stone. It may seem as though mere water is incapable of having any effect at all on the hard stone. Certainly the effects of the water are not visible. But if the water continues dripping for a long time without interruption you can see for yourself that it will wear a hollow in the stone. The same is true of the heart, even when the heart is as hard as stone. The words and the prayers may all appear to have no effect. But with the passing of many days and years the heart will be worn away by the words.

When a person is meditating, it is a good thing to say: "Today I am justbeginning to attach myself to You." You should always make a fresh start, because every activity is greatly influenced by the way you start it. In the words of the popular saying: "Starting is half the battle" and this way you can never lose. If things were going well before, now they will go even better. And if God forbid they were not going well before, then in any case you would have had to make a new start! (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom 234).


When you speak to God you should arouse your heart to the point where your soul all but flies out of you. This is true prayer (Likutey Moharan 11, 99).


When God helps you to pray you will be able to express yourself before Him in the same way that a person speaks to a friend. You should get into the habit of talking to God like this - as if you were speaking to your teacher or your friend. For God is close by. He can be found everywhere. The whole earth is full of His glory (Ibid.).


How good it is if you can pour out your prayer before God like a child complaining and pestering his father. And it is good if you can stir your heart so much with your words that the tears literally pour down your cheeks, like a child crying to his father (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom 7).


It is possible for you to scream in a "still small voice" (Kings 19:12) without anyone in the world hearing you. Not a sound emerges from your lips. You just imagine in detail exactly how you would scream (Ibid. 16).


A broken heart is precious indeed. You should understand that a broken heart has nothing to do with depression. When a person is depressed it is a form of anger and irritation. But someone with a broken heart is like a child nagging his father or a baby crying and screaming because his father is far away. A broken heart is precious in God's eyes. It would be good if one could go through the whole day with a broken heart. But this would easily lead the majority of people to fall into depression, and depression is very destructive. Therefore, the best thing is to set aside a certain period each day to pray with a broken heart and then spend the rest of the day in joy.

© Breslov Research Institute

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Guest Speaker in Borough Park

Men's shiur in Yiddish tonight, Thursday Dec. 23, parshas Shemos

Speaker will be a special guest from Eretz Yisrael

HaRav HaChossid R' Shiya Ber Rubenstein, shlit"a

Subject: "Sippurim Nifla'im Mi-Zikney ANA"SH"

(Stories and Oral Traditions Heard From Breslov Elders)

Time: 8:00 PM

Place: Breslov Shtibel, 5504 Sixteenth Ave.

Canfei Nesharim Annual Appeal

We recently received this message from Evonne Marzouk of Cafnei Nesharim.

As we come to the end of 2010, I am filled with gratitude for your continued support and friendship. It’s been a busy and challenging year, and for Canfei Nesharim, a truly amazing year. Many of you remember the earliest stages of Canfei Nesharim: camping trips in Frederick, MD; late-night international conference calls; our first organizing meeting in Passaic, NJ. So much has changed since that time, both locally and globally. As for Canfei Nesharim, we’ve been called “the little engine that could” – and in the last eight years we’ve grown from a simple idea into an international organization.

This year, with the support of the ROI Innovation Fund, we’ve been able to offer unique and important contributions to the Jewish-environmental field. We’ve launched, the new social media website for Jewish environmentalists, and we’ll be organizing new leadership trainings in three cities in the first half of 2011. We’re entering the third year of our Communities Program, with synagogues participating from all across the United States. And we continue to create deep Torah learning resources about the environment, which are used across the Jewish community and around the world.

As we come to the end of the year, I am writing to request your financial support for Canfei Nesharim. Environmental challenges are among the most important concerns we must face as we consider the future for our children. Canfei Nesharim helps Jews apply the wisdom of our tradition to these challenges, in a way that is inspiring, practical, and hopeful for the future. Please invest in that future by making a tax-deductible donation to Canfei Nesharim today. Your support will keep the “little engine” running strong.

You can donate directly on our partner site, Razoo, at

With best wishes for a bright 2011,

Evonne Marzouk

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Among Breslover Chassidim: From a Visit to Berditchev, 1910

By Hillel Zeitlin
Translated by Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears

If a visitor to Berditchev wishes to hear a typical Jewish melody, let him listen to Reb Nisson Belzer's protégé. If it is Berditchever Chassidic song he desires, he should go to the Karliner shteibel (small synagogue).

When the holy Shabbos departs, and the Berditchever week arrives with its barrenness, darkness and destitution, the Karliner Chassidim are still aflame. Their ecstasy has just begun, and they don't even dream of bidding farewell to the Shabbos Queen. I heard their singing from afar one Motza'ei Shabbos and couldn't detect even a hint of sorrow. Now they are sitting in the palace of the Divine Presence -- how can they bother themselves with hunger and pain, poverty and gloom? To be sure, each one of them has his own bundle of suffering at home. To be sure these burdens are difficult to bear. To be sure, many have aging daughters to marry off, bills and rent and tuition to pay, and an empty money-box to cover all expenses. If G-d so decrees, he must attempt to heal wife and children -- and one is himself a bit sick. Old age encroaches, one's strength begins to fade, the world is stricken, there is no sustenance. Tear yourself apart, but what will you accomplish? One sits at the King's table, and when the Holy One, blessed be He, is present, there is no room for worry. We Jews have a God who lives forever. The merit of Shabbos will stand by us. The old Karliner Rebbe is surely a good advocate over there. Besides, why worry when we know that everything our Father does is for the good? " Even when I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for Thou art with me ..."

However, if he would like to hear an altogether different sort of melody, if he would like to hear a melody born of the deepest and most difficult sorrow, if one would like to see ecstasy which is not the result of emotionalism or fervor but only of the most profound, lucid knowledge, if one would like to to see how men can actually walk upon the earth and yet not be here, let him forbear to traverse the muddy Berditchever streets, let him cling to the crooked alleyways, let him pass by the ancient cemetery, the broad desolate field where the night-shadows fall on orphaned hills, and where one lonely, leafless tree at the edge of the meadow can bring one to tears. Afterwards, let him also pass the so-called "Lebedige (Lively) Shul" -- the shul nearest the old graveyard. Let him pass by many other such shuls, let him absorb the Jewish dejection and the special melancholy which can be felt in Jewish settlements. When the divinity of Shabbos is about to depart from her children, and dark reality peers out with her lackluster eyes, let him then betake himself to the shtibel of the Breslover Chassidim.

Let him bring along his own broken spirit. Let him prop himself up in a dark comer and hear sigh after sigh from the Breslover Chassidim. who sit around the table, listening to their Rebbe's teachings. Let him feel in their sighs an expression of the speaker's words, "Such a yearning for God that it is unbearable." Let him listen well to what is being said. Let him not trouble himself that this or that interpretation of Scripture is not so smooth or tidy or may be open to various objections.

Let him hear the main point. Let him hear the tenor of the words, the greatest of simplicity that emerges with the greatest wisdom, the most profound insights mentioned in passing without any indication that here whole worlds have been laid bare, gradually touching upon everything that exists on earth and raising it up to the heavens.

Let him feel here the cosmic pathos which after the moment of inner liberation must be transformed to cosmic joy. Let him feel that here hovers the spirit of the great rebbe, Reb Nachman of Breslov, who lifts men up from the darkest depths of hell to the highest everlasting light. Let him later observe how silently, one by one, the Chassidim leave the table, join hands, form a circle and begin to dance. In this dance not one awkward move can be detected, for every turn, every gesture, every inclination has been refined, ennobled, sanctified to the loftiest level.

You look, but you cannot believe your eyes. They seem to be ordinary people, simple Jews, not great scholars, perhaps not scholars at all. They look like common laborers and porters, yet such inwardness, depth of feeling, and clarity of insight, such spirituality in every gesture, every footstep, and every note of song is impossible to find elsewhere.

All the days of my childhood were spent among Chassidim, and in my life I have had occasion to hear and to see various kinds of Chassidic singing and dancing, including some exceptional melodies from the old Chabad Chassidim. But I never heard or saw anything equal to what I experienced in that poorly lit, forlorn shteibel of the Breslover Chassidim in Berditchev. Their joy is a true joy, and their song is a song of redemption. They are free men. Say what you will, these people, particularly when among themselves, are no longer in exile. They are always at home -- in Godliness. Outwardly, they may seem less impressive than other Chassidim. But one who has an eye to glimpse what is going on within the next fellow to G-d- must be astounded by the honest, wholesome rejoicing of these people when through their dance, they talk. As we approach the Breslover shul, my companion, whose sympathies do not lie with the Chassidim, whispers, "Here we must walk more quietly." His observation is appropriate. A certain quiet holiness rests upon this shteibel. Quiet is the sigh, yet is splits the heavens. Quiet is the discourse, yet it penetrates to the depths. Quiet is the dance, but through it you seem to be carried away, in spite of yourself, to other worlds. Quiet is the melody which suffuses your very being. Everything is quiet, everywhere.

Aside from the Chassidim, a number of Jews come here from off the street. They come by chance or out of curiosity, not always innocent of a penchant for laughter or scorn -- yet all remains quiet here. Everyone must listen. By his own choice or otherwise, the scoffer will be a scoffer no more. He must become sincere. This in itself testifies to the power of the spirit: that which is noble and strong must overcome that which is base and inferior.

During his exposition the speaker remarks, "The Jewish people must teach all the nations that there is a G-d in the world."

One of the scoffers comes over to me and murmurs, "He means that gentiles should attend his sermons..."

A little later, I see that very same scoffer watching everything with an expression of utter seriousness. He doesn't care to laugh anymore.

As the dance becomes especially beautiful and joyous, I observe a fourteen year old boy, one of the curious, tell his friend, "It would be so good if all Jews could be this happy with their faith!"

Indeed, it would be so good, my child, so good...

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Good Point - Part I

Chapter 9 from "In All Your Ways"
Translated and Adapted by Rabbi Eliezer Shore
From “Leket Amarim,” a collection of talks by contemporary Breslov teacher, Rabbi Yaakov Meir Schechter, shlita, of Jerusalem

"I rule over the entire world," says God, "yet who rules over Me? The tzaddik!" For a tzaddik decrees, and God fulfills.'[1] As the verse says: "Israel, His dominion" (Psalms 114:2).[2] Likutey Moharan 1:34

"Every single Jew has within him an aspect of this tzaddik," taught Rabbi Nachman, "as the verse says, 'Your people are all tzaddikim' (Isaiah 60:21). Everyone has some good point that his friend does not share, and it is precisely with that attribute that he can inspire his friend's heart."[3]

The Talmud tells the story of Abba Umanah. Every day a heavenly voice would greet Abba Umanah, a doctor, with "Shalom aleichem." However, his contemporary, the great Amora, Abaye, only received such a greeting once a week, on the eve of Shabbos. "This is because you don't do what Abba Umanah does," Abaye was told. Abba Umanah had several noteworthy traits. He would separate the men and the women before treating them, and give the women a special robe that allowed them to remain modest during the procedure. If a person couldn't afford the treatment, he wouldn't charge them, and he never took money from a Torah scholar.[4] These were virtues unique to Abba Umanah that even Abaye did not share.

In Sefer HaMidos it states that every tzaddik has a particular form of worship that another tzaddik, even greater than him, cannot achieve on his own.[5] So, even though Abaye's greatness was incomparable, as was the greatness of all the Tannaim and Amoraim, when the special point of Abba Umanah shone with all its might, there was none like him in the whole world. For this reason, he merited a heavenly greeting each day. When a person's good point is revealed, he can reach levels of greatness unattainable to anyone else.

This same truth applies to each of us. If a person could realize his special potential, no other being in the entire universe could equal him in that area; it is here that he is considered a tzaddik in relation to his friend.[6] Furthermore, embedded in this point is his pure love of God.

The Arizal writes that from the beginning of creation to its end, no two days, or even two hours, ever will be alike. One minute is different from the next! A person, born one minute will be completely different from someone born a moment later, and each one enters the world for his own special purpose. This idea in hinted at in the incense offering of the Beis HaMikdash. The chelb'na (galbanum), which gave off a repugnant smell, brought about supernal rectifications that even the levonah (frankincense), with its sweet smell, could not. Each one served its one unique function.

How can a person discover his own special point? If one's heart is drawn to a certain mitzvah more than to another. If a certain style of Torah study is more appealing. If one recognizes within oneself some special ability or sensitivity that others do not share. These signs are not accidental; they are clear indications as to where that special point might lie, and to the area in which one can best serve the Almighty.

However, one cannot simply depend upon Heaven to make this point shine; one must also work on it from below. Through prayer and Torah study a person comes to recognize his own unique potential. Then one must work hard on it, giving it time and attention, developing and guarding it.

A Lamb From the Flock

The Torah relates King David's words when, as a young man, he rose to challenge Goliath, the Philistine: "And David said to Saul, 'Your servant was a shepherd to his father, and a lion and a bear came and carried away a lamb from the flock. And I went out after them, and beat them, and delivered it from their mouths, and they rose against me, and I grabbed them by the beard and struck them until they died. Your servant struck both the lion and the bear, and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he cursed the hosts of the Living God'" (I Samuel 17:34-36).[7]

The Vilna Gaon points out that in this verse, the word "lamb" is written differently than it is read. We read it as seh - a lamb, but tradition tells us to write it as zeh - this. The Gaon cites a Midrash to explain this difference. After David delivered the lamb from the lion and the bear, he slaughtered it and made a garment from its fleece, so that he should always remember the occasion when God saved him from the beasts. When he said to Saul, "And they took a lamb from the flock," he showed him the garment that he was then wearing. "The lion and bear took this from the flock" (I Samuel 17:34). There is no such a thing as coincidence. King David's greatness lay in his total faith in God, and in his conviction that God directed his every move.[8] When David saw the attack on the flock, which Chazal tell us actually consisted of four lions and three bears, and how he miraculously managed to kill them all, he reflected on this wondrous achievement[9] God was obviously showing him something. "Am I so important that I could kill all these wild animals?" David asked himself. "Perhaps one day something will happen to Israel, and I will deliver them, as well."[10]

David meditated upon this incident and realized that it had not occurred simply by chance. God was revealing to him his great strength and the extent of his courage. He also realized that this potential must be used for the sake of God and for the benefit of His holy nation, Israel. So he made a sheepskin garment from that very lamb, and wore it constantly in order to remember God's message. Instead of allowing the incident to remain a mere testimony to his skill as a shepherd, he waited for the moment when he could use his strength for the sake of God's honor. God brought him Goliath, the Philistine, who cursed the troops of Israel. And David, with his pure faith, avenged God's desecrated honor with a courage and holy glory such as never had been seen before.

[1] Moed Katan l6b.
[2] The words “Yisroel mamshilosav” can either be read, "Israel, His dominion," or "Israel, who rules over Him."
[3] Likutey Moharan 1:34A.
[4] Ta'aanis 21b.
[5] Sefer HaMidos: “Tzaddik” 127.
[6] See Eitz Chaim, Sha'ar 1, chapter 5, and Sha'ar 4, chapter 2.
[7] Toldos Adam, Chapter 9.
[8] Chazal say, "Israel was not exiled until they denied the kingship of the House of David," Zohar II, 175b; III, 69b. See Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Lech Lecha, 31.
[9] Midrash Shmuel, Chapter 20.
[10] Mechilta, B'shalach, 5:2.

The Good Point - Part II

The Fruit is Beneath the Shell

Another way to discover one's special potential is by means of its very opposite. Sometimes a person recognizes in himself an unusually bad quality: exceeding pride or anger, excessive jealousy, a begrudging attitude towards others, powerful illicit desires. If his parents, his teachers, his wife, friends or neighbors, annoy him, this is also not accidental.[11] In this very flaw lies his unique point; only he must work on it, cleanse it, purify it, and divorce himself from its negative aspects. Then he will redeem it and raise it up, until it shines with its true value. The bad character trait is like a shell that conceals the good. Beneath it lies a beautiful fruit of exceptional taste and color, unique in its potential to reveal new aspects of Torah.[12]

Holy Stubbornness

It is known that the tzaddik, Reb Zusia of Anipoli, was an extremely stubborn child, so much so that if his mother refused to do something for him, or give him something he wanted, he wouldn't eat for days. Once he overheard some Chassidim discussing the concept that every bad character trait actually reflects its roots in holiness, were it not for the side of evil that has latched onto it. Precisely there, they concluded, a person can exalt God and come wondrously close to Him. When young Zusia heard this, he made an accounting of his behavior. "Why do I have to hurt my mother and cause others such pain because of my stubbornness?" he thought. "How much better if I could use this trait to serve God and overcome my own evil inclination." And he did!

According to Rabbi Nachman, Reb Zusia served God with the fiery passion of a beginner for twenty-one years![13] (As the saying goes, "There is nothing so powerful as one's start in the ways of Chassidus.") This reflected his tremendous drive for holiness. Nothing so much as a hair's breadth distracted him or interfered with his desire. According to Reb Chaim of Slonim, Reb Zusia's face burned with a fire for God even while he was asleep.

The Righteous, the Wicked, and the Intermediate: All Have the Same Potential

That seed, the good point hidden in one's soul, can raise a person to extraordinary heights. However, on the other hand, if it is improperly used, precisely the opposite can occur. All that amazing potential will become an impediment. Those same strengths will fall into the service of the Other Side, and a person will stumble in the area of his greatest ability. Instead of using his strengths to serve God, he offers them as a sacrifice to idols.

Thus the Talmud says: "A person born under the constellation of Mars will be inclined to bloodshed: either he will be a murderer, a butcher or amohel (an expert in performing ritual circumcision)."[14] The Talmud is alluding to three groups: the righteous, the wicked, and the intermediate. If, G-d forbid, this person's good point falls into the hands of the Other Side, the person will become a murderer. If he actualizes his potential in a mundane way (neither holy nor profane), he will become a butcher (because in general, eating meat is neither a mitzvah nor a sin). However, if he can completely purify himself and turn his desire for bloodshed against his own evil inclination, he will become a mohel and sanctify his potential by using it for the performance of a mitzvah.[15]

Success is Hidden Where the Evil is Strongest

This is true of all our negative traits. The greatest potential for good lies hidden within the most overwhelming proclivity for evil. If a person can defeat his evil inclination, he becomes a tzaddik; if not, he may lose everything. The desires that attack a person on the path to God are the negative aspects of the very strengths he is working to refine.

"Before any Jew can attain a new level in Torah and avodah (Divine service)," Rabbi Nachman wrote, "he is first tried and refined in the exile of one of the 'Seventy Languages.' That is, in their evil desires... because the shell always precedes the fruit. Whoever wants to eat the fruit must first break the shell."[16] By breaking the shell, one raises oneself to God; if not, the potential remains in exile. Although in many ways, the shell resembles the fruit, it is its complete opposite.

The same is true of the path to self-perfection. Pride is an impure character trait. However, on the side of holiness, it can be transformed into a sublime appreciation of God's greatness. Immoral desires are impure but, in the realm of holiness, one can uplift them into a consuming love and longing for the Almighty. Cruelty is impure yet, at times, one must be cruel towards one's own evil inclination. There are many similar examples.

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye commented: "If a person is uncertain as to how he can best serve God, let him examine his basest desires and make use of them. Thus, we can explain the verse: 'You shall take My offering from every man whose heart moves him' (Exodus 25:2). That is, from the longings of the heart - the desires of this world - take God's offering. It is precisely this that elevates a person in the service of God."[17]

The Seed Hidden in the Ground

We must never become upset if negative desires at times overwhelm us, because the moment they attack is the moment they can be repaired. The verse says: "What does the Lord, your God, ask from you…" (Deuteronomy 10:12). From you - not from someone else. None of life's trials are arbitrary. God arranges them all to purify our souls and to bring us to our ultimate good: the revelation of our own unique point. This is like planting a seed. Before it can draw upon the power of the earth, it first must decay. Only then is its inner potential revealed, to sprout forth, with God's help, and reveal its inner beauty. The same holds true for each of us. Only when we have been chafed and worn away by the trials of this world do our unique strengths become revealed. Ultimately, the difficulties are for our eternal benefit.

These ideas are all hinted in Rabbi Nachman's amazing story about the prince made from precious gems.[18] In this story, a certain righteous man predicts that the king will have a son made up entirely of precious stones. The king does have a son, who proves to be an exceptional child, but nevertheless, only flesh and blood. At the end of the story, because of the schemes of his enemies, the young prince contracts leprosy. Yet when his skin dries up and falls away, the precious stones beneath the surface are revealed.

The Personal Messiah

In realizing our potential, we come to experience a revelation of the Messiah on a personal level, for this holy point is a source of light for our entire soul. It can redeem us from the enslavement of the evil inclination and deliver us from our personal exile. To find this point is the very reason why we come into this world.

Practically speaking, when God helps us discover our own unique strengths, whether in "turning away from evil," or in "doing good," we must respond with our own efforts, realizing that we are being offered an opening for personal redemption. We must beseech God to completely reveal to us our essential point, which is unmatched in the entire universe. Then, nothing in the world will be able to distract us, for we will know the exact source of our deliverance. This will bring us close to God, and to eternal goodness.

Yesod Publications © 1994 Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter

"In All Your Ways" is distributed by Moznaim Books
4309 12th Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11219.
Tel.: 718-853-0525 or 718-4380

[11] See Yismach Lev by R. Nachum of Chernobyl, printed together with Me'or Eynaim pp. 321-322. See also Oros HaGra, p. 78.
[12] See Likutey Moharan 1:36.
[13] Chayei Moharan 518 (English edition: “Tzaddik,” Breslov Research Institute).
[14] Shabbos 156 a.
[15] Removing the foreskin corresponds to the removal of evil from the heart See the commentary of the Vilna Gaon on Proverbs 22:6. See also the Maharsha on this aggada.
[16] Likutey Moharan I:36.
[17] Be'er Moshe, Bereishis, 1:4, 4.
[18] Rabbi Nachman's Stories, the fifth story.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Yahrtzeit Se'udah Update

Announcement from the Breslov kehillah in Borough Park:

IY"H, tonight there will be a se'udah in honor of the Hilulah of Reb Noson, zal.

Maariv will be at 7:30 PM, followed by the meal and words of Torah and Chizuk by various prominent Breslover rabbis and mashpiyim. The public is invited.


Breslover Shtiebel of Boro park
5504 16th Ave
Borough Park (Brooklyn)

Tribute to Reb Noson

Rabbi Lazer Brody of "Lazer Beams" and author of "Garden of Emunah" and other widely-acclaimed Breslov books has written a tribute to Reb Noson in honor of his yahrtzeit. His insightful words come straight from the heart. To read this "short and sweet" personal statement about the man who galvanized and preserved Breslov as a living spiritual path, accessible to all even today, please click here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The First Two Rubles

© 1990 Mesorah Publications

Posted in honor of Reb Nosons yahrtzeit, Asarah beTeves (this year, Thursday night and Friday)

The First Two Rubles
From "A Chassid's Journey and Other Breslover Tales"
Retold For Children and Illustrated by Dovid Sears

In 1830, Reb Noson began to collect funds to build a large synagogue - later known as the Breslover kloyz - in Uman. He first revealed his plan at a gathering of his students and fellow Chassidim in the village of Ladizin. Their response was highly enthusiastic, and in the manner of Chassidim, they soon joined together in a joyous dance.

One Chassid was particularly excited - Reb Menachem Mendel, a poor laborer. Unable to hold back his feelings, he ran home during the singing, soon to return with his entire savings: two rubles.

Upon being offered this first donation, Reb Noson sought to dissuade Reb Menachem Mendel. "How can I take your last few coins? With what will you buy your next meal?"

But the ardent Chassid would not be refused. "How can you deny me such a precious mitzvah?" he pleaded.

Reb Noson paused to consider the matter. What was the greater cause for pity? To deprive Reb Menachem Mendel of this act of tzedakah, done whole-heartedly and in joy, or to allow the poor man to cause himself physical hardship?

"Because of your mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice), " Reb Noson concluded, "you deserve the first portion in building our shul. And with such a noble beginning, Hashem will surely help us to complete our task."

At the building's dedication in 1834, Reb Noson said, "We have to ask ourselves, how was this synagogue built? Was it primarily through the money of the wealthy, or was it through the holy desires of simple, poor Jews? I think that our shul was built by the latter!"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tenth of Teves

This Thursday night and Friday will be the Tenth of Teves, a minor fast day (day only) that mourns the beginning of the siege of Yerushalayim by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, which culminated in the destruction of the First Holy Temple on the 9th of Av the following summer.

It is also the yartzeit of Reb Noson, the leading disciple of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.

This Thursday night there will be no shiur at the Flatbush Breslov shul because Rabbi Wasilski has not been feeling well (may he have a refu'ah sheleimah). However, there will be a public yahrtzeit se'udah at the Borough Park shtibel on 16th Ave. and probably at other local Breslov shuls. Please inquire through contacts listed here.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Atara Grenadir's Current Art Exhibit

"Conscious Community": a new series of paintings by Atara Grenadir

You are invited to the Opening Reception: Thursday, December 9, 6-8 PM


580 8th Avenue @ 38th Street 5th floor
New York, NY 10018

Gallery Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 1-6 PM

Atara's website:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Rabbi Shmuel Chechik Sings Breslover Melodies and Chants

Reb Shmuel Chechik, a"h, was a legendary Breslover Chassid, ba'al tefillah and ba'al menagen in Jerusalem, who passed away several years ago. Click here for a series of links of some of his versions of old Breslover niggunim (melodies) and nus'chos (chants). We are fortunate that these performances have been preserved. They're the "real thing"!














Chanukah Party in Kensington Tuesday Night

Rabbi Aharon and Atara Grenadir will be hosting a Chanukah party this Tuesday evening, Dec. 7th (seventh night), beginning at 8:30 PM. Rabbi Eliezer Trenk, who has been giving a series of Breslov shiurim there, will give a Dvar Torah. Atara's famous latkes will be served. Men and women invited.


721 East 7th St. (corner 18th Ave)
For more information, call 718-437-2172

PS: In case you don't have a copy (or need some more), Atara Genadir's cookbook "Naturally Breslov: The Fine Art of Cooking With Simplicity and Joy" will be for sale.

"Naturally Breslov is a feast for the eyes and soul. Created by a gifted fine artist and gourmet natural chef, this unique cookbook combines more than one hundred fifty recipes of healthful and delicious foods with original paintings and drawings, interspersed with quotes from the mystical teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Seven Branches of the Menorah

A Kabbalistic Meditation on Psalm 67
Dovid Sears

Although this essay was first written in connection with the Omer Counting between Pesach and Shavuos, it is relevant to Chanukah, as well. Many recite this psalm either before or after lighting the Chanukah candles.

The relative lack of iconography in Judaism reflects an aversion toward avodah zarah (idolatry) and anything that might lead to it. The cornerstone of Judaism is that God is a simple Unity, transcending all form and limitation. However, there is a kabbalistic tradition by which various Divine Names serve as legitimate objects of contemplation. These mandala-like constructions represent mystical concepts, providing roadmaps for the Jewish spiritual traveler. They include the arcane pictures found in medieval kabbalistic texts and the complex arrays of Divine Names that make up the siddurim for kabbalistic initiates, such as that of the holy Rabbi Shalom Sharabi (known as the "RaSHaSH," 1702-1777).

Many common siddurim include what is probably the most familiar and accessible mystical diagram. [1] It depicts the seven verses of Psalm 67 arranged like the seven-branched Menorah in the Holy Temple. Contemplating this Menorah is meant to put one into the proper frame of mind for prayer - although some use it immediately following the silent Amidah / Standing Prayer, as a way of "coming down" from the high point of the service. [2] It also serves as a focusing device to free one from mental distractions, and purifies the mind of all evil thoughts. [3]. In fact, several sources state that reciting the verses of Psalm 67 in the form of the Menorah has a spiritual effect similar to lighting the Menorah in the Holy Temple. [4] Therefore, it drives away one's inner darkness and mitigates all harsh judgments.

The Menorah is a fitting symbol for such purposes in that it points to the divine core of existence. As Reb Noson writes (Likutey Halakhot, Hil. Beheimah vi-Chayah Tehorah 4:30):

The Menorah was absolutely one, all of a piece, because truth is one. Although ornamented with numerous buds, flowers, and cups, the entire object was formed from a single piece of gold. By analogy, from the core of truth emerge the Torah and commandments, as well as all 'worlds,' both spiritual and physical, which possess colors and variations beyond number; nevertheless, in their source, all things are absolutely one . . . The Menorah was one because the diversity of existence is one. This is the essence of truth, which is one.

Just as the Menorah stood in the sanctuary of the Holy Temple, so we find it "standing" in the beginning of Shacharis in the form of the seven verses of Psalm 67. (Perhaps this is because the prayer service recapitulates the Temple service.) [5] My teacher, Rav Elazar Mordechai Kenig of Tzefat, once mentioned that it is a tradition of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples to arrange the verses so that they are read from right to left. Others read them in the reverse order. [6] However, whatever custom one follows, the first verse corresponds to the sefirah of Chesed and the last verse to Malkhus. This depiction of the sefirot as branches of the Menorah indicates the mystery of which the Tikkuney Zohar (Hakdamah) speaks:

Master of the Universe . . . There is none who can know You at all! Without You, there is no unity in the higher or lower realms, and You are known as the Cause of All and Master of All. Each sefirah has a distinct Name, and by it the angels are similarly called. You, however, have no knowable Name, for You permeate all Names and You are the perfection of them all. When You remove Yourself from them, all Names remain as a body without a soul. You are wise, but not with a knowable attribute of wisdom (Chokhmah); You are understanding, but without a knowable attribute of understanding (Binah)…

The Tikkuney Zohar goes on to enumerate all of the sefiros, concluding that their multiplicity is apparent only from the standpoint of creation - but, in truth, God permeates the sefiros and, at the same time, transcends the sefiros absolutely. By meditating upon the Psalm 67 Menorah, this may be vividly sensed.

Moreover, we should continue to be aware of this paradox as we go about the business of everyday life: that everything we experience is unique in its individual character - and simultaneously an expression of the Divine Oneness. Thus, the light shining through the dining room window borrows its radiance from the Menorah. The light shining through the leaves of the trees borrows its radiance from the Menorah.

Kavanah / Intention

The most basic practice is simply to read the seven verses of Psalm 67 in the form of the Menorah, contemplating their meaning as described above. One should gaze at the words and read them slowly and thoughtfully. When one does so independently of the prayer service, one may contemplate the Menorah in silence.

Beginning with the words "Elokim yechanenu . . . May God favor us," the seven verses form the seven branches of the Menorah, which correspond to the seven lower sefirot and the seven days of creation. (The correlation between the sefiros and verses is shown in the chart below.) One should bear these correspondences in mind while reading or contemplating the words of the psalm. It is also beneficial to gaze upon the form as a whole, to see how the words of the Menorah make up one unit.

Together, the seven verses represent the perception of "oneness in multiplicity" that the Menorah in the Holy Temple radiated to the world. Thus, Psalm 67 speaks of divine illumination extending to all Israel, and from Israel to all humanity. While reciting the psalm, it is fitting to silently pray that this light be revealed anew, driving away all spiritual darkness. Indeed, the kabbalists state that doing so redeems the world.


[1] For example, the popular Sefardic Siddur Tefilas Yesharim arranged by Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad presents this Menorah facing the "Baruch she-amar" prayer. Among the editions of the Siddur ha-ARI, in the 1972 reprint of the Siddur Kol Ya'akov (Slavita 1804) it appears immediately following the Author's Introduction, while in the 18th century ms. Siddur ha-ARI of Rabbi Avraham Shimshon of Rashkov (facsimile ed. Bnei Brak 1995), it follows the passage of Ketores. It is also discussed in Rabbi El'azer Rokeach of Worms, Sefer Yiras E-l; Rabbi Shlomo Luria, Menorat Zahav Tahor; Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apta and Medzhibuzh, Seder Ketores, 5b, et al. A kabbalistic explanation of Psalm 67 in the form of the Menorah was written by Chasidic master Rabbi Yitzchak Eizik of Stretin, Sefer Kan Tzippor. The Menorah is often combined with the Divine Name YHVH and placed above the reader's stand in the synagogue as a reminder to keep one's thoughts focused on God. This is known as a "Sheviti," short for the verse, "Shevisi Hashem le-negdi tamid . . . I have placed God before me constantly" (Psalms 16:8).

[2] Some are accustomed to silently meditate upon Psalm 67 in the form of the Menorah prior to departing on a journey, and subsequently to recite the psalm seven times while traveling in order to invoke heavenly protection and success; see the recent edition of Sha'arey Zion (Jerusalem: Kiryat Sefer, n.d., reprint of Premsyl ed. with additions) by sixteenth century kabbalist Rabbi Noson Nota Ashkenazi (Hanover), p. 416. The editor of Sha’arey Zion cites this custom in the name of Rabbi Elijah Hakohen of Izmir, Shevet Mussar, chap. 31, and Sefer Pischey Olam, 16; also see Rabbi Ya'akov Chaim Sofer, Kaf ha-Chaim, 36, and Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai (CHIDA), Sefer Kaf Achas, 26. CHIDA mentions the custom of reciting the Psalm 67 Menorah handwritten on parchment following the Amidah prayer. My teacher, Rabbi Elazar Mordechai Kenig, once told me that it is beneficial to read both the Psalm 67 Menorah and "Ana bi-Ko'ach" at some point during each meal, in order to elevate of the "holy sparks" in the food. This was the custom of his father, Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig.

[3] Rabbi Yitzchak Eizik Halevy of Zorowitz, Yesod Yitzchak al Hilchos Milah (Pshemyshl: 1910), 35b. The author mentions that it is customary for the mohel to recite Psalm 67 in order to spiritually prepare himself before performing the mitzvah of circumcision. He also cites a kabbalistic tradition that reciting this psalm hastens the Redemption.

[4] Rabbi El'azar Roke'ach of Worms, Sefer Yiras E-l, as cited in "Sod Lamenatze'ach bi-Tzuras ha-Menorah" (Beis Stretin, 2001).

[5] Berakhos 26b; Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Tefillah 1:5.

[6] In support of this view, Rabbi Yitzchak Eisik of Stretin, idem, cites Levushei Mikhlol 18:56, adding that this is consistent with the view of the ARI that the Menorah in the Holy Temple was lit from left to right.

Psalm 67 with verses numbered according to branches of Menorah and seven sefiros

Psalm 67

For the conductor, a psalm with instrumental music, a song:

Chesed / Lovingkindness:

1. May God favor us and bless us;
may He cause His countenance to shine with us, selah.

Gevurah / Might:

2. So that Your way become known on earth;
among all nations, Your deliverance.

Tif'eres / Harmony:

3. Peoples will acknowledge You, O God;
peoples will acknowledge You, all of them.

Netzach / Victory:

4. Nations will rejoice and sing,
for You will judge the peoples fairly
and guide the nations on earth, selah

Hod / Splendor:

5. Peoples will acknowledge You, O God;
peoples will acknowledge You, all of them.

Yesod / Foundation:

6. The earth will have yielded its produce.
May God, our God, bless us.

Malkhus / Kingship:

7. May God bless us,
and may all ends of the earth revere Him.

Contemplating Psalm 67

One may contemplate Psalm 67 in the form of the Menorah bearing in mind some or all of the following additional kavanos (intentions):

• Psalm 67 contains forty-nine words (aside from the four words of introduction). This number corresponds to the forty-nine days (i.e., seven times seven weeks) between Passover and Shavuos. Some have the custom to mentally take note of the word in the psalm that matches one day of this period every evening after counting the Omer, so that one finishes the last verse on the night before Shavu'os. This word is usually found underneath the count for each day in most prayer books. The fiftieth day, corresponding to the Fiftieth Gate of Binah / Understanding, is Shavu'os. There is no corresponding word for the "Fiftieth Gate" because it represents the transcendent level.

The relation to Chanukah is that Chanukah represents Binah, which is the eighth sefirah in ascending order; it transcends the paradigm of seven, which is bound up with the natural order. The number 50 also corresponds to Binah, going one step beyond the paradigm of seven-times-seven.

• The middle verse ("Yismichu vi-yeranenu le-umim . . . Nations will rejoice and sing") contains forty-nine letters, also corresponding to the forty-nine days of the Omer period. Some pause to meditate upon the appropriate letter from this verse, in addition to the corresponding word from the psalm, while reciting it after counting the Omer. Most prayer books indicate which letter to contemplate under the daily count, as well.

• There is a total of 216 letters in this psalm. This corresponds to the number of letters in the Great Name of Seventy-Two Words (which are actually triplets of letters), concealed in the three verses of Exodus 14:19-21 (Rashi on Sukkah 45a, et al.). This Name plays a key role in the attainment of prophecy (see Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Meditation and the Bible, pp. 41, 76, 141).

• The first letter of each of the seven verses forms the acrostic alef-lamed-yod, yod-yod-alef-yod. This combination of letters also bears the numerical value of seventy-two, which corresponds to the Divine Name YHVH in the expansion known as AB:

yud = yud (10)-vav (6)-dalet (4) = 20
heh = heh (5)-yud (10) = 15
vav = vav (6)-yud (10)-vav (6) = 22
heh = heh (5)-yud (10) = 15
Total = 72

This Name is bound up with Atzilus / Emanation, the highest of the Four Worlds, and the sefirah of Chokhmah.

• The final letters of the three verses on the left side of the central shaft are heh (5), khof (20), mem (40). They total 65, which is the gematria of the Divine Name A-D-N-Y, alluding to God's Kingship, and of the word "Heikhal," referring to the inner sanctum of the Holy Temple in which the golden Menorah was placed. Therefore, some diagrams include these words beside the Menorah.

• The middle verse begins with the letter yod and ends with the letter heh. Together, they spell the Divine Name Y-A-H, corresponding to the union of the sefiros of Chokhmah / Wisdom and Binah / Understanding. Archetypally, yud represents the masculine principle and heh represents the feminine principle. Thus, the Divine Name Y-A-H expresses the essential harmony of the universe in its supernal root.

• If one adds up the sum of the final letters of the six branches to the right and left of the Menorah (201), plus the yud-hey (15) of the central shaft, the result is 216. This corresponds to the 216 letters of the Great Name of Seventy-Two Words (which are actually triplets of letters) and the 216 letters of this psalm, as mentioned above. Thus, the middle verse contains in miniature the entire psalm.

• Gevurah / Might also has the gematria of 216. As we have stated, the acrostic formed by the initial letters of the seven verses bear the gematria of 72. This is the gematria of Chesed / Loving-kindness. Therefore, the Menorah reflects the balance of these two opposite forces.

Ana bi-Ko’ach

The “Ana bi-Ko’ach” prayer is part of the kabbalistic rite of counting the Omer. Some sing or recite it while sitting beside the Chanukah candles, as well.

Ana bi-Ko'ach / We Implore You

Prayer of Rabbi Nechunia ben ha-Kana with encrypted Divine Names.

Although less commonly than Psalm 67, the Ana Bi-Ko'ach prayer is sometimes arranged in the form of a Menorah and placed before the prayer leader's stand in the synagogue. (Such a design may be found in Congregation Netzach Yisrael, the Bostoner shtibel of Borough Park.) Since it, too, represents the seven lower sefiros, the Ana bi-Ko'ach prayer and the Forty-Two Letter Name that it contains may be seen as corresponding to the seven branches of the Menorah. The kabbalists relate the Forty-Two Letter Name to the mystery of creation. Thus, contemplating it puts one in touch with the very "genetic code" of the universe. Through it, all things ascend.


After having presented this meditation, we must remember that Rabbi Nachman was extremely cautionary about using kabbalistic kavanos (Sichos ha-Ran 75). Not everyone is capable of engaging in the kavanos, nor is everyone meant to do so. Rabbi Nachman taught that the most important kavanah is sincerity. Whatever our level of knowledge and spiritual development, we should carry out our devotions with awareness of what we are saying and doing, binding concentration of the heart to our words and actions (Likkutei Moharan I, 49; Sichos ha-Ran 66, 75). This is the simple and true way to connect to God.