Friday, December 30, 2011

Chayei Nefesh / An Exploration of the Role of the Tzaddik

Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig (1921-1980) of Yerushalayim was the leading disciple of Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz (1862-1955), Rav of Kremenchug and Uman, and a major link in the Breslov mesorah (chain of transmission). Reb Gedaliah published some of his mentor’s oral traditions as “Tovos Zikhronos,” together with Reb Avraham’s writings on the issue of traveling to Meron for Rosh Hashanah when one cannot go to Uman, and “Yerach HaEisanim,” the Rav of Tcherin’s chiddushim (original teachings) on the first 23 lessons in Likutey Moharan, as related to Rosh Hashanah. He also published “Likutey Even/Tefillos HaBoker,” chiddushim on Likutey Moharan and original prayers of a disciple of Reb Noson, Reb Ephraim ben Naftali. In addition, Reb Gedaliah authored several major seforim of his own (the publication of which we still await); but the only one he published during his lifetime was “Chayei Nefesh,” a ground-breaking study of the nature and role of the tzaddik in response to the critique of the Chassidic viewpoint attributed to Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin in “Nefesh HaChaim.”

Almost 25 years ago, Rabbis Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears translated Chayei Nefesh to English—their first translation effort—although only the first half was made available online via the original Breslov Center website. Today this translation is being edited by the publication arm of Nachal Novea Mekor Chochma (umbrella organization of the Breslov community in Tsfat, Israel, founded by Reb Gedaliah and led today by his son, Rabbi Elazar Mordechai Kenig). When completed, this new version will be published together with a brief biography of the author.

However, in the meantime, we are making available the unedited version of the first half of the book on this website in two parts. May it serve as a source of deeper understanding and insight to all students of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s teachings, particularly on this key subject.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"The Rebbe's Letter"

The following teaching, published as Likutey Moharan II, 48, is one of Rebbe Nachman's best-known discourses. It is unusual for its intimate, informal tone, hence it is known as "The Rebbe's Letter." As may be seen from Reb Noson's writings, this lesson has long served as the model for the characteristically Breslover style of chizuk (encouragement in Avodas Hashem).

Translated by Dovid Sears

When a person first begins to serve God in earnest, this is the way they show him: rejection. It seems to him that from above, they are keeping him at a distance, and refuse to let him enter into the service of God. However, all of this seeming rejection in reality is love in disguise.

It takes extremely great strength not to become disheartened, God forbid. You may see that many days and years have passed during which you exerted yourself greatly in serving God, and you still remain far away—you have not even entered the gates of holiness, for you can see for yourself that you are still full of coarseness, physical attachments, evil thoughts, and inner turmoil. Whatever holy task you wish to accomplish, they do not let you succeed. It seems that God pays no attention to you at all, and that He has absolutely no desire for your service, since you constantly cry out and supplicate and prostrate yourself before God, that He should help you to serve Him—and still you remain far away. Thus, it seems that God does not heed you in the least, because He does not want you.

To cope with all this requires great fortitude. You must encourage yourself greatly, and pay no mind to any of this at all—for in truth, all the rejection is only meant to draw you closer. All of this happened to all of the tzaddikim, as we heard from their lips explicitly. It seemed to them that God paid them no mind at all, since they saw that they were searching and striving and trying to serve God for so long, and still they seemed extremely far away. If they had not greatly strengthened themselves not to pay attention to any of this, they would have remained in their original place and never have attained what they attained.

The main thing, my beloved brother, is to remain strong and firm; hold on with all your might, and remain steadfast in your Divine service. Do not respond or pay heed to any of the difficulties mentioned above. And if indeed you are very far from God, and it seems that you are making matters worse all the time, nevertheless, you should know that each gesture such a spiritually coarse person makes to uproot himself from his physical attachments and turn to God—however small this effort may seem—is extremely precious. Even your slightest movement away from your innate materialism toward God causes you to traverse thousands of miles in the supernal worlds. This can be clearly understood from the story about the tzaddik who became depressed, as is well known in our circle.[1]

You must rejoice over this and strengthen yourself with gladness—for melancholy is extremely damaging. And know: as soon as a person resolves to begin to serve God, it is a cardinal sin to become depressed, God forbid, because sadness is a manifestation of the Other Side (Zohar I, 71a), and God hates it.

A person must be very stubborn in serving God, and never desert his position, i.e., the limited degree of Divine service he has already undertaken, no matter what happens. Remember well this advice, for you will need it as soon as you begin to serve God. You must demonstrate great stubbornness in order to remain strong and firm, holding on and standing your ground. Even if they cast you down, God forbid, again and again—for sometimes they cast down an individual from his level of Divine service, as is known (Avodah Zarah 4b)—nevertheless, you must fulfill that which is incumbent upon you, and continue to serve God in any way possible.

Never give up, God forbid. Of necessity, you must experience all of these spiritual descents and confusions before you may enter the gates of holiness. The true tzaddikim also endured all this.

And know: a person already might have reached the very entrance to the realm of holiness, and then turn back because of his inner conflict—or, at that moment, as he stands at the door, the Other Side and the Evil One might pit themselves against him with all their might, may the Merciful One deliver us, with the fiercest intensity, and not let him cross the threshold. And for this reason he might turn back, God forbid. This is the way of the Evil One and the Other Side: when a person comes very close to the gates of holiness and is just about to enter, they attack him with all their strength, may the Merciful One deliver us. Therefore, at that moment it is necessary to muster great resistance against them.

We once heard of a true tzaddik who declared, "If just one person, no matter who he might have been, had said to me: 'My brother, strengthen yourself and remain firm!' I would have run forth with the greatest alacrity in serving God!" All that we have described had befallen him, too, but he did not hear even a word of encouragement from anyone.

Therefore, whoever wishes to embark upon the spiritual path must remember this well: strengthen yourself, do the best you can to serve God, and rest assured that sooner or later, after many days and years, with God's help you surely will enter the gates of holiness. For God is full of compassion, and He greatly desires our service.

And know: the slightest movements, the least gestures you make, time after time, to subjugate your physical nature in order to serve God, all gather together and combine and come to your aid in an hour of need, when you find yourself in narrow straits, God forbid.

And know: a person must cross an exceedingly narrow bridge; but the main thing is not to frighten yourself at all.

And know: there is a tree with many leaves, and each leaf takes one hundred years to grow. This tree is found in the orchards of the nobility, who call it me'ah shanim, the "one hundred year tree." Since it grows for a century, without a doubt it must endure many things. Then, at the end of the hundred years, it explodes with a loud report like a cannon. Consider this parable well.

You must live with the teaching "Azamra L'Elokai B'Odi" ("I shall sing to my God with the little I have left," Likutey Moharan I, 282). That is, you should search and probe, until you discover in yourself some meritorious quality, some good point. With this little bit of good that you find, you must gladden yourself, strengthen yourself, and never give up—no matter how far you may fall, may the Merciful One deliver us. You must nevertheless strengthen yourself with the little bit of good that you still possess, until through this you are able to return to God, and "all of your transgressions are transformed to merits" (Yoma 86b).

This is what the Baal Shem Tov, may the memory of the tzaddik be a blessing, did on his sea voyage, when the Evil One began to entice him.[2] From this you should understand the power of encouraging yourself, and never yield to despair, God forbid, no matter what happens. The main thing is always to be happy, to gladden yourself in any way possible, even through foolish things—to play the clown, engage in harmless jest, turn somersaults, or dance, in order to reach a state of joy, which is a very great thing.


[1] This is the story of “The Melancholy Tzaddik.” See Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Nachman’s Stories (Breslov Research Institute), “Additional Stories,” p. 447; also Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, Restore My Soul (Breslov Research Institute), pp. 123-127; Likutey Halakhos, Pesach 9:15, Chayei Moharan 593.

[2] Rebbe Nachman alludes to the tradition that when the Baal Shem Tov was en route to the Land of Israel by sea, his ship was caught in a storm, and subsequently landed on a desert island. There, the passengers who had disembarked were beset by cannibals. The Baal Shem Tov, his daughter Rebbetzin Udel, and his attendant, Reb Hersch Sofer, were among the captives. Rabbi Hersch asked the Baal Shem Tov to make use of his madreigos, his supernatural powers, in order to escape. However, his master said that all his powers had been taken away; he had forgotten his Torah learning, and could not remember even the Alef-Beis. However, instead of succumbing to despair, the Baal Shem Tov asked Rabbi Hersch to repeat the letters of the Hebrew alphabet together with him responsively. With great yearning for God, they did so. Miraculously, another ship appeared, the cannibals fled, and everyone was rescued. Having withstood this test, the Baal Shem Tov found his powers completely restored; however, from what had transpired, he knew that it was the will of Heaven that he return home to Medzhibuzh. Among Breslover Chassidim, the full version of this story (published by Toras HaNetzach in “Eretz HaKodesh/Masah HaKodesh”) customarily is told during the "Baal Shem Tov Se'udah," the last meal on Acharon Shel Pesach.

Giant Menorah with 400 Candles at Maaleh Adumim

From Arutz-7:

Giant Menorah with 400 Candles at Maaleh Adumim
by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu

Adults and youth at Maaleh Adumim, east of Jerusalem, used 400 candles to build a giant Menorah that could be seen from the highway to the Dead Sea.

They created the “Chanukiyah” Wednesday night, the second evening of the eight-day festival. Former American Jacob Richman filmed the event.

The candles were lit on sand that was placed in bags on the side of a mountain, enabling it to be seen from the road leading from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, a unique way of fulfilling the mitzvah of publicizing the miracle of Chanukah.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Audio - Rav Motel Zilber Shiur

Received via e-mail from David Friedman:

Here is a link to here the shiur given by Rav Motel Zilber this past Sunday (as well as previous shiurim).

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Reb Avraham b'Reb Nachman Chazan, zatzal

On this Motza'ei Shabbos, Saturday night, Dec. 24-Sunday, Dec. 25, which is the fifth day of Chanukah, Breslover Chassidim will comemorate the yartzeit of one of our greatest luminaries, Rabbi Avraham ben Reb Nachman Chazan. Public Melaveh Malkas in his memory will be held in most Breslov shuls, including those in Borough Park, Flatbush, Williamsburg and Monsey.

The son of Reb Noson’s close follower Reb Nachman Tulchiner, Reb Avraham was a key figure in the Uman Breslov kehillah and later in Yerushalayim, and he passed on many oral traditions (some of which are found in his “Kokhvei Ohr”). Reb Avraham ben Reb Nachman was an extreme ascetic who had nothing to do with the materialism of this world. It is said that for many years he was accustomed to leave his home on Sunday to seclude himself in the Grekko forest outside of Uman with a few seforim and a few rolls of bread, and not return until the following Erev Shabbos. His “Bi'ur HaLikkutim” is one of the most profound works ever written on Likutey Moharan.

Zekhuso yagein aleinu v'al kol Yisrael!

The Mysterious Guest

Illustration © Uri Shulevitz

Chayey Moharan, Sippurim Chadashim 85
Translation by Dovid Sears

Rabbi Nachman told this story on the first night of Chanukah 5569/1808, after lighting the first candle.

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

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

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

The host answered him.

They continued conversing, until soon they were engaged in a true heart to heart discussion. The host began to feel an intense longing and yearning to reach a certain level of holiness. “I will teach you,” said the guest.

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

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

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

“I also need to learn from you about this,” said the host. “How far must I go when I accompany you on your way, as a host is obligated to do when his guests depart?” [1]

“Until just beyond the entrance,” he replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The guest explained, “The moment you decided to come with me, to accompany me beyond the doorway, I took the neshamah (higher soul) from you and gave you a garment from the Lower Garden of Eden. [2] The nefesh (vital spirit) and ru’ach (lower soul) remain with you. Therefore, whenever you attach your thoughts to that place, you are there, and you draw an illumination from that place to yourself. And when you return here—you are here!”

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

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


[1] Sota 46b. Tanna D’vei Eliyahu Zuta 16:43 states that a disciple who escorts his Torah teacher receives divine blessing. The same text adds (16:46) that when one escorts a traveler embarking on a journey, the traveler will be protected from harm.

[2] The Zohar (I, 138a) describes the Garden of Eden as having a higher level for the neshamah, which is the seat of thought, and a lower level for the ru’ach, the seat of the emotions.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rav Mottel Zilber Shiur - Sunday, December 18

הגה"צ הרב מרדכי זילבער שליט"א

HaRav Mottel Zilber

Will deliver a Shiur Chassidus for Men

in English on the Pnimiyus of Chanukah

מעין ישראל

מרכז החסידות

3307 Ave N, Brooklyn

This Sunday, Parshas Mikeitz

כ"ג כסלו ה'תשע"ב - December 18th, 2011

9:00 pm Maariv – 9:15 Shiur

The Tzibbur is Invited

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rabbi Yitzchak ("Itzik") Isaac Eisenstadt z"l

Photo (c) Dovid Sears

We are saddened to learn of the recent passing of Reb Itzik Eisenstadt, zikhrono livrakha, prominent Modzitzer chassid and also lifelong friend and follower of the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Like his mentor, Reb Itzik had a warm relationship with Breslover Chassidim both in America and Eretz Yisrael -- but he had that kind of relationship with virtually everyone he met. As Rabbi Meir Fund said during his hesped, "Reb Itzik was a friend to every kind of Jew, from the extremely Chassidic to the "yeshivishe" ben Torah, from the religious Zionist to the staunch secularist; he befriended the non-Jew who was exploring Judaism, as well as the non-Jew who had no interest whatever in Judaism. He was a friend to all..."

In Modzitz, he was renowned for his devotion to the Rebbes he knew so well: the Nachalas Dan, zatzal, and his son, the present Rebbe, shlit"a. In the Carlebach community he was familiar to all as Reb Shlomo's frequent traveling companion and also as a repository of Chassidic neginah. He leaves behind a daughter, Mrs. Mishket Glassman of Borough Park, and her family. May he have a "lechtiger Gan Eden" and be a meilitz yosher, an eloquent intercessor, for all Klal Yisrael.