The exact nusach ha-tefillah of Rebbe Nachman is not known, and evidently was not something he stressed. In general, Breslover Chassidim, past and present, have davenned basically the same Nusach Sefard that was common in the Chassidic communities of the Ukraine (notably Skver-Chernobyl), with only a few variations.
Yet Reb Gedaliah Kenig did pay careful attention to the nusach of his teacher Reb Avraham Sternhartz, and learned that there were certain mesorahs that went back to Reb Noson (Reb Avraham’s great-grandfather). Reb Gedaliah privately davenned according to this nusach, as far as he was able to determine it. However, it seems that he did not speak about it until a few of his talmidim succeeded in persuading him to fill them in on the subject. The following is what we have learned about Reb Gedaliah’s nusach for the Shemoneh Esreh, based on that of Reb Avraham, with some added material about Tachanun in Breslov kehillos, in general. (The sources presented below remain incomplete.)
We must add that even the Tzefat kehillah, which was founded by Reb Gedaliah and is led by his son Reb Elazar Mordechai Kenig, does not follow Reb Gedaliah’s nusach in every detail—presumably because he did not make an issue of it to his family and talmidim.
From “Breslov Eikh she-Hu: Breslov Customs and Practices, Past and Present,” compiled by Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears.
In the berakhah “Magen Avraham,” most versions of Nusach Sefard say “vi-konei ha-kol.” However, Sha’ar ha-Kavannos says “konei ha-kol,” without the vav. In the Tsfas community it is usually said with the vav.
(All versions of the Siddur Arizal omit the vav. So do several Chassidic nus’chos; see Imrey Pinchos [Bnei Brak 2003] vol. I, Sha’ar Seder ha-Yom 86; Siddur Baal ha-Tanya; Siddur Tefillah Yesharah-Berditchev [in hagahah]; Darkey Chaim ve-Shalom [Munkatch] 155; Erkhey Yehoshua [Manistritch], Kuntres Perach Shoshanim 18; Siddur Tzelosa de-Shlomo [Bobov]; et al. This omission is supported by Siddur Rav Amram Gaon, Abudarham, Zohar, Pekudey, Tikuney Zohar, Tikkun 70, et al.)
Reb Avraham Sternhartz stated that during the winter, in the berakhah “Atah gibor,” it is our custom to pronounce the word "gashem" with a kametz under the gimel, not "geshem" with a segol. Many Breslovers still do so. However, the pronunciation of geshem with a segol has become more common today.
(Similarly, cf. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender, Si'ach Sarfei Kodesh IV, 150. This may be a regional minhag, since the Skverer Chassidim follow it, as did the Manistritcher Chassidim of Uman. However, Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Bnei Brak said that his father, Rabbi Noson Barsky, pronounced “geshem” with a segol. Since Reb Noson Barsky lived in Lublin, Poland, this may reflect the local custom in that region. The vowelization of this word is the subject of halakhic debate.)
During the summer, Reb Gedaliah would say "mashiv ha-ru'ach u-morid ha-tal." This is the custom of the Tzefas community. (However, most Breslover kehillos simply say “morid ha-tal,” as is more common.)
(See Be'er Heitiv, Orach Chaim 114:3, and the BaCH, ad loc. This is the nusach of Siddur ARI Kol Yaakov. Among Chassidim, see Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh of Ziditchov, Pri Kodesh Hilulim, in the name of Rabbi Yisrael of Koznitz; Shulchan ha-Tahor [Komarno], 114, with Zer Zahav; Darkhei Chaim vi-Shalom [Munkatch], Shemoneh Esreh 157, in the name of Rabbi Zvi Elimelekh of Dinov; et al. It is also the nusach ha-GRA.)
Once Reb Gedaliah was leading the davenning and said "mashiv ha-ru'ach u-morid ha-tal." Apparently this raised some eyebrows. Reb Michel Dorfman, who was present at the time, later asked him about this. Reb Gedaliah replied, “When the Gabbai announces this [on the first day of Pesach], he calls out ‘mashiv ha-ru'ach u-morid ha-tal.’ ”
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)
However, Reb Avraham Sternhartz only said “morid ha-tal.”
(Heard from Rabbi Nachman Burshteyn)
Reb Gedaliah said that Reb Avraham possessed a family mesorah that the Rebbe's nusach in the berakhah "Atah chonen" was "de'ah, binah ve-haskil."
(Heard from Rabbi Elazar Kenig. Cf. Siddur Rav Amram Gaon, Abudarham; Pri Eitz Chaim; Siddur RaMaK; Siddur ARI Rav Asher; Siddur Tefillah Yesharah-Berditchev; etc. According to Tefillas Chaim, the annotated Siddur Arizal published recently by Rabbi Daniel Rimmer, this was the nusach of the Arizal.)
Rabbi Nachman Burshteyn also remembered that Reb Avraham said “de’ah, binah, ve-haskil." Reb Avraham also told him that this had been the nusach of the Breslover Chassidim in Tcherin.
Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn heard that Reb Avraham followed this nusach because Reb Noson often repeats it in Likutey Halakhos, and probably in his letters, as well.
This mesorah conflicts with that of Reb Levi Yitzchak Bender, who stated that in Uman, the nusach of this berakhah was “chokhmah, binah ve-da’as.” However, it seems that occasionally there were diverse customs among Breslover Chassidim in Uman.
(See Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh IV, 150)
Rabbi Noson Barsky, son of Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Uman, used to say “chokhmah, binah ve-da’as.”
(Heard Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Bnei Brak)
Rabbi Noach Cheifetz recalled that Reb Gedaliah once told him to combine both nus’chos: "de'ah, binah ve-haskil, chokhmah, binah ve-da’as.”
(Heard from Rabbi Noach Cheifetz)
The custom of the Tzefas community is to say "de'ah, binah ve-haskil,” while in Yerushalayim, it seems that most Breslovers say “chokhmah, binah ve-da’as.”
In “Atah kadosh,” most Breslovers add the words “ki E-l Melekh gadol ve-kadosh Atah.” This is part of the standard Nusach Sefard. It is also the custom of the Tsfas community.
(In support, see Abudarham, based on Siddurey ha-Geonim. However, Sha’ar ha-Kavannos omits this phrase, and it is not found in any versions of the Siddur ARI except that of Rabbi Asher of Brod, which brings it as an alternative nusach. Early Chassidic sources that omit it include Imrey Pinchos [Bnei Brak 2003] vol. I, Sha’ar Seder ha-Yom 87; Siddur Baal ha-Tanya; Siddur Tefillah Yesharim-Berditchev; Siddur Heichal ha-Berakhah-Komarno. The Manistritcher Chassidim in Uman also did not say it, as stated in Erkhey Yehoshua, Kuntres Perach Shoshanim 18; and it is omitted by the communities of Bobov, Munkatch, Spinka, Karlin-Stolin, and Slonim. However, most other Chassidim include it.)
Reb Avraham’s nusach included the words “u-maher le-g'aleinu ge’ulah sheleimah meherah le-ma'an shemekho…” This is the custom of the Tsfas community.
Reb Gedaliah's nusach was: "Rifa'einu (HaShem) ve-neirafei, hoshi’einu vi-nivashe'ah, ki sihilaseinu Atah, vi-ha'alei refuah sheleimah le-khol makhoveinu u-le-khol makoseinu, ki E-l Melekh Rofei Ne'eman vi-Rachaman Atah…" This is the custom of the Tsfas community.
(Heard from Rabbi Elazar Kenig, Rabbi Noach Cheifetz, and Rabbi Dovid Shapiro)
Reb Elazar Kenig said that what he heard specifically in the name of Reb Avraham was the inclusion of the phrase “le-khol makhoveinu u-le-khol makoseinu.”
During the summer, Reb Gedaliah would say "Borkheinu" according to the Sefardic custom. This is mentioned in the writings of the Arizal. However, the Tsfas community follows the more common Ashkenazic custom to say "boreikh aleinu" with "ve-sein berakhah" as the seasonal variation for the summer months.
(Cf. Abudarham; Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha'ar ha-'Amidah, 19; Sha’ar ha-Kavannos, etc. Several Chassidic siddurim also include "borkheinu," e.g., Siddur Tefilah Yesharah-Berditchev, Siddur Beis Aharon-Stolin, Siddur Magen Avraham-Slonim, and others.)
In “Borekh ‘Aleinu,” Reb Gedaliah said “ve-sab’enu me-tuvah…” not “me-tuvekha.”
(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Shapiro. Similarly, Siddur ARI Rav Asher; Imrei Pinchos [Bnei Brak 2003] vol. I, Sha’ar Seder ha-Yom 89; Siddur Tefilah Yesharah-Berditchev; et al. This is nusach Ashkenaz; also see Magen Avraham, Orach Chaim 117:2, in the name of Maharshal and Teshuvos ha-Rosh. However, Ohr Tzaddikim brings the nusach “me-tuvekha,” as does the Siddur Baal ha-Tanya and Darkei Chaim ve-Shalom [Munkatch], 163.)
Reb Avraham's nusach for "birkhas ha-minim" included the phrase “ve-khol oyvey amkha meherah yikaresu…" Reb Elazar did not know if he then said “ve-ha-zeidim,” "u-malkhus zadon," "u-malkhus zeidim," or "u-malchus ha-risha'h." However, the rest of the berakhah followed the standard Nusach Sefard: "meheirah si'aker u-sishaber u-simager u-sikhalem vi-sashpilem vi-sakhni'em bi-meheira vi-yameinu…"
(Cf. Siddur ARI Rav Asher, which is gores “oyvei amkha,” although there are difference elsewhere in the berakhah.)
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender remembered that in Uman, the nusach of birkhas ha-minim included the phrase “ve-khol ha-risha’h ki-rega’ toveid,” not “ve-khol ha-minim.”
(Si’ach Sarfei Kodesh IV, 150)
Reb Elazar mentioned that Rav Mordechai Sharabi, with whom both he and his father studied Kabbalah, once pointed out that the roshey teivos of the chasimas ha-berakhah “shoveir oyvim u-machniya zeidim” has the same gematria as SHaDaY.
Reb Gedaliah once explained that we say “oyvey amkha,” not “oyvekha,” because we cannot recognize the enemies of Hashem; however, the siman is if they are enemies of Klal Yisrael, as indicated by the lashon “oyvey amkha.”
(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Shapiro, who added that this seems to be based on Rashi, Bamidbar 10:35, s.v. “misanekha,” citing Midrash Tanchuma.)
Reb Avraham Sternhartz would say “ve-al chasdekha ha-gadol be-emes nish’anenu.” This is the nusach of the Tsfas community.
(According to Tefillah le-Dovid, this phrase alludes to the Avos: “chasdekha” corresponds to Avraham; “ha-gadol” corresponds to Yitzchak; and “ve-emes” corresponds to Ya’akov; see Likutey Maharich, vol. I, p. 156.)
Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender concurred that the nusach of this berakha that was common in Uman includes the phrase be-emes nish’anenu,” not “be-emes u-ve-samim nish’anenu.”
(Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh IV, 150)
Es Tzemach Dovid
Reb Avraham Sternhartz would say “u-metzapim tamid le-yeshu’ah.” This is the nusach of the Tzefas community.
(Heard from Rabbi Noach Cheifetz and Rabbi Dovid Shapiro)
This conflicts with the mesorah of Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender, who recalled that in Uman the nusach was "u-metzapim le-yeshu'ah," omitting the word “tamid.”
(Si’ach Sarfei Kodesh IV, 150)
Reb Avraham's nusach for this berakhah was: "Av ha-Rachaman, shema koleinu, HaShem Elokeinu, chus vi-rachem aleinu, ve-kabel be-rachamim u-ve-ratzon es tefilaseinu, ki E-l shomei’a tefillos ve-sachanunim Atah. U-milfanekha Malkeinu reikam al tishiveinu. Chonenu va-‘anenu u-shema tefilaseinu, ki Atah shomei’a tefillas kol peh, amcha Yisrael be-rachamim..." This is the nusach of the Tsfas community.
(Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar ha-Amidah 19. The words “Av ha-Rachaman, shema koleinu” was also the nusach of the Baal Shem Tov; see Ze'er Zahav on Shulchan ha-Tahor-Komarno, 18:8; Keser Nehorah on Siddur Tefillah Yesharah-Berditchev, loc cit. It was also the nusach of Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, Imrey Pinchos [Bnei Brak 2003] vol. I, Sha’ar Seder ha-Yom 93. Similarly, both Siddur ARI Kol Yaakov and Siddur ARI Rav Asher begin the berakhah “Av ha-Rachaman, shema koleinu…” Siddur ARI Kol Yaakov also includes the phrase “chonenu va-anenu u-shema tefilaseinu…” although it omits “amcha Yisrael be-rachamim," which is nusach Ashkenaz. The latter is an alternative nusach that some siddurim append to “shomei’a tefillas kol peh.”)
This, too, is the nusach that Reb Levi Yitzchak Bender remembered from Uman.
(Si’ach Sarfei Kodesh IV, 150)
Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender stated that in Uman, the nusach for birkhas “Retzei” was: “u-sefilasam meheirah be-ahavah sekabel be-ratzon…” including the word “meheirah.”
(Si’ach Sarfei Kodesh IV, 150)
Reb Gedaliah included the words “be-rov oz ve-shalom,” as in the standard Nusach Sefard. However, he did not say “yachad,” but only “ki-echad be-ohr panekha…”
(The phrase “be-rov oz ve-shalom” appears in Abudarham, Siddur ha-RaMaK, and old Sefardic siddurim. Rabbi Daniel Rimmer brings it as the nusach of the Arizal in Tefillas Chaim, ad loc.)
Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender also stated that this was the nusach in Uman.
(Si’ach Sarfei Kodesh IV, 150)
Reb Elazar Kenig lifts up his feet slightly on his toes when he recites the declarations “kadosh, kadosh, kadosh…” “baruch kevod HaShem...” and “yimlokh…” (We presume that he follows the custom of his father, but neglected to ask.)
(See Tur, Orach Chaim 125 for further discussion. Sha’ar ha-Kavannos, Shnei Luchos ha-Bris, Minchas Aharon, Ben Ish Chai: Halakhos I, Terumah 4, et al., state that one should raise one’s feet at each declaration, while Mishnas Chassidim states that one should do so only while reciting “kadosh…”)
According to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender, the minhag in Uman was that after each of the three sections of Birkhas Kohanim during chazoras ha-shatz, the tzibbur would answer "kein yehi ratzon," not "amen." This was the regional custom.
(Si’ach Sarfei Kodesh IV)
However, when the Birkhas Kohanim was actually performed by a Kohen, as in Eretz Yisrael, the tzibbur would answer "amen."
According to some halakhic opinions, even in chutz la’aretz, where Birkhas Kohanim is not performed daily, if the shaliach tzibur is a Kohen, one should also answer “amen.”
(In general, see Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 127:2; Mishnah Berurah 10-11, ad loc.; Magen Avraham in the name of the BaCH, ad loc.; Mishmeres Shalom [Kaidinov] 10:8; Darkei Chaim ve-Shalom [Munkatch], ad loc.; Likkutei MaHaRiCH I, p. 165.)
The minhag of Yerushalayim is to respond "amen," not "kein yehi ratzon." This became the minhag of the Breslev community in Eretz Yisrael long ago, and remains the minhag in both the Yerushalayim and Tsfas communities.
(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Kenig)
On yahrtzeits of tzaddikim and Gedoley Yisrael, Breslover Chassidim recite Tachanun. This is in contrast to certain other Chassidic groups that omit Tachanun at these times.
(The reason usually given for omitting Tachanun is because a tzaddik ascends to greater heights on his yahrtzeit, thus it is a day of joy in the supernal worlds for him and for all who share a spiritual bond with him. However, this custom is not found in the Shulchan Arukh or Zohar. Other Chassidic communities that recite Tachanun on yahrtzeits of tzaddikim include Chabad and Munkatch.)
Reb Gedaliah was fastidious in saying Tachanun except on those days specified in Shulchan Arukh and halakhah.
(Heard from Rabbi Noach Cheifetz)
He told his talmidim to say Tachanun even in a shul that omitted Tachanun on the yahrtzeit of a tzaddik.
(Heard from Rabbi Aharon Waxler and Rabbi Moshe Grinberger)
When Reb Moshe Grinberger asked him if this might be a zizul to the kavod of the tzaddik, Reb Gedaliah replied, “Absolutely not.” Reb Moshe then asked, “Even the yahrtzeit of the Rebbe Reb Melekh on Khof-Alef Adar?” To this, Reb Gedaliah replied, “It is b’khlal not a zilzul!”
(Heard from Rabbi Moshe Grinberger)
The neshamah of Rav Sa'adia Gaon once appeared in a vision to the Rebbe and told him to perform nefilas apayim on his left arm, both during Shacharis and Minchah. Some Breslovers emulate this, while others do not. Still others take an in-between position, leaning on both arms during Shacharis to avoid separating from the tzibbur.
(See Chayey Moharan 448; cf. Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 131:1, as discussed in Mishnah Berurah s.k. 4-6, citing ha-GRA; similarly, Chayei Adam 32:33, who adds that if one wears Tefillin during Minchah, he should nevertheless lean on his left arm)
Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Rosen, for many years Rosh Yeshiva of the Breslov Yeshiva in Jerusalem, would practice nefilas apayim on both arms during Shacharis. However, Reb Avraham Sternhartz and Reb Gedaliah Kenig did not fall on the left arm at all during Shacharis, because the Rebbe did not communicate this custom to Reb Noson. (It is axiomatic in Reb Gedaliah's thought that whatever Rabbi Nachman told to Reb Noson was a horo'ah for Klal Yisrael. However, what he did not communicate to Reb Noson did not have this implication. Reb Gedaliah received this tradition from Reb Avraham Sternhartz.)
(The minhag of falling on both arms is also mentioned by Rabbi Shalom of Kaidinov, Mishmeres Shalom 12:1, although this was not his personal practice.)
In nefilas apayim, some Breslover Chassidim say "Le-Dovid, Eilekha HaShem nafshi esa" (Tehillim 25), according to the nusach of the Arizal. However, most say "HaShem al bi-apkha" (Tehillim 6:2-11), according to Nusach Ashkenaz. The kavanah related to the former entails mesirus nefesh, therefore it is not appropriate for the average person. Reb Gedaliah told his talmidim not to say "Le-Dovid, Eilekha...”
(See Rabbi Chaim Vital, Sha'ar ha-Kavannos, Drushei Nefilas Apayim, Drush 2, end; also see Even ha-Shoham, Vol. I, 131, in the commentary Petuchei Chosam re. the ramifications of this danger. A similar position is taken by the Minchas Elazar, Darkei Chaim ve-Shalom [Munkatch] 187; also Minhagey Karlin-Stolin, where the Rebbe follows the practice of the Arizal and the Chassidim do not. This is the case in other communities, as well.)
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender recalled that in Uman on Yom Sheini and Yom Chamishi, Breslover Chassidim would recite the long Tachanun according to Nusach Polin (AKA Nusach Sefard). This is the custom in virtually all Breslov communities today.
(Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh IV, 151)