Friday, December 28, 2012

Rav Eldar on Speech and Silence, Part 2

(Painting by Milton Resnick) 
This two-part shiur was first published online by Yeshivat Har Etzion: Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash (VBM). It is posted here with their kind permission.
Introduction to the Thought of Rav Nachman of Breslov
By Rav Itamar Eldar

Shiur #16b: Silence, Part 2 – Wordlessness Before God
God will fight for you

We can deepen our understanding of God's salvation of a person who remains silent in the face of insult by examining another teaching of R. Nachman: 

"The Gemara says (Shabbat 98b): Those who are insulted and who do not insult in return, who hear abuse and do not answer – regarding them it is written (Shoftim 5), "and those who love Him are like the sun coming out in all its power."  We know that there are three "kelipot:" a stormy wind, a great cloud, and a burning fire.  The kelipa of Noga exists between these three kelipot and holiness.  Sometimes it is included in holiness, while at other times it is included as a kelipa; it is like the soul of the oppressed, and this is sufficient for those who understand.  This reflects the order of Creation, with three years of "orla" [the produce of the first three years of a fruit tree], corresponding to the three kelipot, and the "revai" [produce of the fourth year], corresponding to Noga.  It also reflects "chashmal," because sometimes it is included in the "mal" lights.  The secret of circumcision also parallels this construct in that there are three skins, corresponding to the three kelipot, and a fourth thin membrane, resembling Noga.  All of the humiliations (cherpot) that befall a person emanate from these three kelipot.  As a result, Dina's brothers told the men of Shekhem (Bereishit 34): "We cannot give our sister to a man who has a foreskin because it is a disgrace (cherpa) to us."  Similarly, after Yehoshua performed a second mass circumcision for Israel, God said (Yehoshua 5): "Today I have banished the disgrace (cherpa) of Egypt from upon you."  The essence of disgrace comes from orla, which represents the three kelipot.  For this reason, when Yosef was born, his mother said (Bereishit 30): "God has gathered up my disgrace (cherpati)."  The humiliations were gathered up with the revelation of Yosef, who signifies the holy covenant, circumcision, and the three kelipot.  When washing oneself with warm water prior to the holy Shabbat, one intends for the kelipa of Noga to be included in holiness.  Following his example, the three kelipot also seek to ascend and to grasp onto holiness, initiating the descent of (Shir ha-Shirim 5) "the flame of God" (shalhevet Y-ah).  The flame, represented by the hot water, burns them so that they will not grasp onto holiness.  Cutting one's nails prior to the holy Shabbat carries similar significance.  This is what the Gemara explains regarding the expression, "those who are hurt and do not hurt in return" – he is like "chash," which is silence; "they hear their abuse and do not respond" – as explained above, "and act out of love" –sometimes a person remains silent in order make his adversary suffer, and then he is like the one included as a kelipa.  However, when he remains silent out of love, he is like "chash," included in holiness.  "Regarding them it is written, "and those who love Him are like the sun coming out in all its strength"" – the sun here portrays the shalhevet Y-ah, as explained above."  [Meaning that by hearing others insult them and by not responding, they are rejecting the three kelipot, which represent orla and cherpa.  They include themselves in chashmal by means of their silence, which represents the chash.  He rejects cherpa by not wishing to argue and to humiliate his friend.  This is the aspect of mal, signifying "mila" (circumcision), which is a nullification of orla, of cherpa, and of the three impure kelipot.  Together, these actions illustrate chashmal – chash mal.  The statement in the Gemara, "who act out of love," refers to this silence or chashmal.  It also reflects Noga, which has two aspects, as explained above: sometimes it is included in holiness, and sometimes it is included as a kelipa – within the three kelipot, which correspond to cherpa.  In other words, sometimes he is silent before his friend in order to cause him great suffering.  In such a case, his silence humiliates his friend greatly, and, like Noga, it is included as a kelipa.  On the other hand, when he remains silent out of love, because he does not wish to embarrass and to humiliate his friend, the aspect of Noga is included in holiness.  Therefore, regarding those who choose the latter it is said, "and those who love Him are like the sun coming out in all its strength" – this is the shalhevet Y-ah, by means of which the Noga is included in holiness, representing Chashmal.]  (Likutei Moharan Kama 92)

Here again, R. Nachman attributes the insult and humiliation that a person suffers to Divine concealment – this time, in the form of kelipot.  The kelipot that are embodied in human beings are an expression of that aspect of existence from which Divinity is concealed that seeks to reveal Divinity (holiness) in order to draw strength from it.  By paying attention to someone who insults, one bestows strength, existence, and significance upon the culprit.  R. Nachman proposes silence as a way of dealing with this.  As in the previous teaching, this is not a mere "method" of action, but rather a change in consciousness, in psychological position and in status.

A person connects himself to holiness by means of his silence.  This time it is the kelipa of Noga that connects the person back to his source, as we saw above.  Here, however, attention should be paid to how the connection helps the person to cope with the insults and humiliations.  When the kelipa of Noga is included in holiness (through the person's silence), those who insult also seek to grasp onto holiness.  Now, when they attempt to harm the one who is silent in the face of their insults, they are no longer in confrontation with him, or - in the words of the previous teaching – "with his honor – worldly honor."  He has cleared space for a different honor that now fills him: Divine honor.  As a result, when others challenge the honor of the living God now inside of him, the Divine flame emerges to defend him.

In this teaching, R. Nachman introduces another new idea.  As we have said, silence is not a method of dealing with insults.  First and foremost, it is meant to benefit the silent person himself by stimulating a profound inner process within him.  At the conclusion of the transformation, he faces God from a completely different position: silence before God.  Therefore, the silence must be accompanied by a sense of acquiescence.  When a person is silent simply as a "method" to arouse greater fury in his assailant or out of a desire to conclude the argument with a sense of having "come out on top," the argument may end.  However, no connection with holiness will have been effected.

This condition teaches us, above all else, that the silence is meant principally for the person himself, and that its primary effectiveness lies in his relationship with God.  The insults and his way of addressing them are secondary; they are merely a reflection of the person's inner position vis-a-vis God.  When that position is elevated, the insults disappear on their own, with God's help and by virtue of His strength.

The double danger
In both of the above teachings, R. Nachman describes the qualities of silence in the face of humiliation and shame.  This is not so in the following teaching, in which the person remains silent in response to a similar, yet different phenomenon:

"Know that through conflict, namely dispute, upstanding people entertain the thoughts of the wicked; in other words, their heretical thoughts, which fall onto them because of this.  The rectification for this is to hand over the conflict to God, so that God will fight the battle.  Through this, one nullifies the aforementioned thoughts of the wicked….  In the Gemara (Yevamot 96b) we learn: "It once happened that a dispute in the Beit Midrash reached the point at which a Sefer Torah was ripped due to their anger…he said: I would not be surprised if this place has become a temple of idolatry!"  Thus, dispute opens the door to idolatry and heresy, as it is written (Tehillim 140), "They devised evil in their hearts; all the time stirring up wars."  By means of wars, namely dispute, they think up evil in their hearts and come to evil thoughts, namely heresy, as explained above.  The rectification for this is to hand the conflict over to God, so that God will fight the battle.  This is silence – i.e., he must be silent before them and must only rely on God to fight on our behalf, as it is written (Shemot 14), "God will fight for you, and you will be silent."  By means of this silence, evil thoughts of heresy are nullified, thereby elevating one's own thoughts.  As we are taught, "Be silent, this is how it has arisen in thought" (Menachot 29b) – through silence, thought is elevated, as explained above."  (Likutei Moharan Kama 251)

R. Nachman asserts that dispute gives rise to thoughts of wicked people that fall upon, and enter the hearts of, upright people.  Once again, we encounter a negative situation that involves a type of concealment: Dispute results from a concealment of truth and a concealment of unity.  This time, however, the heretical thoughts of the wicked attack and dominate upright people.

According to R. Nachman's view, dispute is extremely dangerous for two principal reasons:

On the one hand, it creates cracks in the defensive wall of certainty, allowing doubt and heresy to creep in. On the other hand, it opens the door to the danger of pride.

The boundary between controversy that is for the sake of heaven and controversy that arises from ego and one-upmanship is sometimes very thin.  The remedy for dispute is silence.

Attention should be paid to the fact that dispute and silence are two psychological movements that are diametrically opposed to each other.  One who disputes seeks, at best, to prove that he is correct, or, in less ideal circumstances, to win the argument.  He analyzes, defines, attempts to understand, and tries to probe and to criticize the opposing view.  A person who remains silent forgoes everything.  He neither probes, nor defines; he attempts neither to win the argument, nor even to prove that he is right.  All he wants to do is to "hand the war over to God."  Again, his silence is not a method.  "Handing the war over to God" in this teaching does not arise from a sense of security in his correctness; it is the recognition that, instead of fighting his own war, he is fighting God's war.  As soon as he absorbs this knowledge, all the cracks that the argument has created within him are repaired, and he is filled with the determination and certainty of a loyal agent.  On the other hand, the sharp nails of his ego become blunted by his readiness to exit the stage, leaving the Holy One alone in the spotlight (Yeshayahu 2): "And God alone will be elevated on that day."

The Maharal of Prague also employed the Gemara’s reference to being shamed without taking revenge, but with slightly different emphases:

"It is said here that the nations of the world take notice of Israel’s sins and accuse Israel of prostitution under the wedding canopy (vis-a-vis their relationship with God).  In response, Israel simply remains silent, and regarding them it is said (Shabbat 98b), "Those who are insulted and who do not insult in return…."  The insulted people who receive the grunt of an action but do not act against others demonstrate that they have reached the level of complete equanimity.  However, one who insults or returns insults acts with brazenness that removes him from the distinguished (elevated) state of equanimity, even if he acts only in response to the humiliation and abuse to which he was subjected.  We have already explored this concept many times: material and physical things are removed from equanimity.  Whereas the equalized and balanced is simple and distinguished, that which is not abandons simplicity.  Therefore, "[t]hose who are insulted and who do not insult in return" choose not to act with the brazenness that can remove them from equanimity.  As long as a person can withstand the pressure of insults and disgrace without responding with audacity, he remains on the level of equanimity and even acquires a distinguished level of simplicity."  (Chidushei Aggadot I 44)

The Maharal states here that the level to which we aspire is the "level of equanimity," which separates a person from the material and which allows him to reach the loftiest simplicity.  The Maharal's assumption here is that the transition from simplicity to complexity is the transition from complete spirituality to the material, and vice versa.

Equanimity is the psychological state that instills simplicity in a person.  Equanimity derives from the word equal.  A person must develop an attitude of equanimity towards the reality around him; not apathy, but equanimity – the ability to adopt anything, good or bad, pleasant or painful, within the same unity.  Everything should be viewed from the same perspective, having the same beginning and end and heading towards its point of origin.  This equanimity endows the world characterized by multiplicity, complexity, and variation with the complete unity that is characterized by simplicity.

Standing up to the hurling of insults and humiliations represents a clear indication of, and sometimes even a catalyst for, this spiritual state.  Any attempt to respond is driven by a psychological state that the Maharal calls "brazenness:" a wish to participate, and even to emerge victorious, in the arena where materialism, complexity, and multiplicity reign.  By doing so, the person immediately removes himself from simplicity and equanimity and enters the material and complex.

Likewise, dispute that a person encounters represents a huge opportunity for elevation to a psychological level of inner silence.  Upon reaching it, one develops inner equanimity that testifies to simplicity and to elevation above the complex reality of insults and humiliations.  Reality’s apparent ugliness indicates the existence of a huge gap between it and the supreme infinity, the supreme Keter, which is elevated above material being and which lies beyond all division.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rav Eldar on Speech and Silence, Part 1

(Photograph by Rabbi Dovid Sears) 

This two-part shiur was first published online by Yeshivat Har Etzion: Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash (VBM). It is posted here with their kind permission.

Introduction to the Thought of Rav Nachman of Breslov
By Rav Itamar Eldar

Shiur #11: Speech, Part 1 – “Day by day uttering speech”

Previously, we saw that, R. Nachman warns of the doubts and questions that originate in the “empty space,” and advises anyone who wishes to guard his soul to distance himself from such wisdoms and principles that come into being because of the eternal existence of the empty space in existence.  In section 3 of this passage, which we shall deal with in forthcoming shiurim, R. Nachman expresses some reservations or exceptions about his earlier statement.  He focuses on the place of the tzaddik, relying upon two key concepts in his teachings, speech and silence.  Therefore, before addressing the ideas introduced in this section, we must explain the significance of speech and silence in R. Nachman’s thought.

We encounter speech for the first time in the creation of the world, when Hashem’s voice breaks the silence of the chaos that had prevailed in all the worlds: “And God said, Let there be light.”  At this moment Hashem’s speech creates the world exnihilo, separates what was previously joined, and sets limits to these creations.  With ten utterances, Hazal teach, God turned the unformed chaos into a built-up, established and defined world.

We have two possible ways of relating to this speech.  One way is based on the framework of the transcendental approach, which understands God’s speech as an expression His intention, command and instruction.  Hashem’s speech is simply an expression of the Divine will.  But an “instruction” which is nothing more than a statement. “Blessed is He who spoke and the world then came into existence.” The realization of Hashem’s word requires no means or agents of execution. “For He said – and it was; He commanded – and they were created.” Therefore, the expression of this will, and the revelation of the intention, is identical with the fulfillment and realization of the will and intention.

The second way arises from R. Nachman’s words concerning Divine speech.  He writes,

Know that with each utterance that emanated from the Holy One, an angel was created, and each utterance was divided into many sparks – as it is written, “As an anvil shatters the rock.” And so many, many angels were created, like the great number of sparks.  And from an utterance that includes all the sparks, an angel was created that is the master and leader of all the angels (that were created from the sparks), and they are his camp.  And each angel is responsible for some particular thing.  Even the trees and herbs have angels appointed over them, as our Sages taught, “There is no blade of grass below that does not have an angel above…” And every angel receives its vitality from the Word, and influences the thing over which it is appointed – i.e., the grass or whatever else it is responsible for… (Likutei Moharan Kama 57:1)

The Divine word, in R. Nachman’s view, is not mere instruction, nor is it as ephemeral as a passing breath.  Hashem’s word assumes a from of tangibility and existence.  Once Hashem’s word enters the world, it never leaves it.

The difference between R. Nachman’s approach to Divine speech and the view described above arises from the difference between the two views concerning the creation of the world.  According to the first view, Creation was a one-time event.  The significance of Creation’s limited duration impacts the autonomy bestowed upon the created world.  The world was created by Hashem’s utterance, but now it exists in its own right.  This opens the door to two possibilities:

The first possibility is to sever the Creator from creation, just as the carpenter must be regarded as separate from the table that he has created (a metaphor brought by the Maharal to describe this approach, which he himself rejects outright).  Hence, the world exists according to a regular and natural law that the Creator may well have implanted within it, but the world no longer needs His guidance.  The classical philosophers followed this path.

The second option is to preserve the connection between the Creator and the creation on the transcendental level.  Hashem watches over and guides the world in one way or another.  He is able to intervene in what is going on if He so desires, and may overturn the natural law that exists there by inertia.  Contact does exist between God and the world, but only through Divine guidance, knowledge and decree.  This was the view adopted by some medieval Jewish thinkers who, on one hand, adopted the transcendental model, but on the other hand, were not prepared to relinquish the connection between God and man – a connection that stands at the foundation of Jewish belief.

The second approach, presented here by R. Nachman, accepts neither the “carpenter model” nor its variation which leaves the carpenter in the picture.  The relationship between God and the world, according to R. Nachman, is like the relationship between the living spirit within man and his body.  Man was created “dust from the earth,” and this clod of earth was not a “living spirit” until the breath of life was breathed into him.  But this breath of life needs its own “oxygen.” It cannot be cut off for even a moment from the source of its vitality, for “a moment in His breath is a lifetime in His will.”  Similarly, the world is indeed created with its laws, out of the material from which it is formed, but all of this is like a body without a soul until the Holy One breathes the breath of life into it.  Moreover, this breath is not a one-time event.  “The breath that sustains us is the Mashiach (anointed) of Hashem.” In this sense, the autonomy granted to the world is reduced to nothing.  “In the beginning God created…” is nothing but an indication of the starting point of an odyssey that will never end, and “the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters” is simply a description of the permanent presence of the Divine spirit which resides within the world as well as above it.

This Divine spirit, claims R. Nachman, is the Divine utterance, which has never ceased to echo over the world.  “Let there be light” is uttered not only every morning anew, as we recite, “…Who renews the act of Creation every day, continually,” but each and every moment that light exists in the world. “… And for Your wonders and kindnesses that are at all times, evening and morning and noon; the Good – for Your mercies have not ended, and the Merciful – for Your kindnesses have not ceased.”  It is in these terms that R. Nachman describes the appointed angel that brings Hashem’s word to that plant, goading it at every moment and telling it, “Grow!”

Hashem’s word, states R. Nachman, is the Divine reality that dwells within the world and literally gives it life at every moment.  Hence the following traits that R. Nachman ascribes to the Divine word:

“For the Word – which is the breath of the Holy One’s mouth – is a reflection of “malkhut (kingdom) – mouth.” It is a reflection of the sea, to which all rivers flow, as it is written: “All rivers flow to the sea.” And it is a reflection of Adonay, as it is written, “God (Adonay) – open my lips….” (Likutei Moharan Kama 38:2)

The images that R. Nachman uses to describe the Word overlap and express the same thing: Malkhut (kingdom), which is the tenth ‘sefira,’ the sea, and the name “Adonay” are all expressions that describe the presence of God in the world, and the flowing of Divinity - in all its range of manifestations – towards the limited, bounded reality.  He concludes his series of images of depicting the Divine Word with the following:

“And speech is a reflection of ‘malkhut,’ as Eliyahu said: “kingdom of mouth.” And it is a reflection of the Shekhina, too, for it dwells with them always, without a moment’s break, as it is written: “Who dwells with them within their impurity.” And it is a reflection of the “mother of children”; i.e., just as a mother is always with her children and does not forget them, so the Divine speech – which is reflection of the Shekhina – goes always with man.” (Likutei Moharan Kama 78).

(At a later stage we shall hopefully address the ramifications of this excerpt with regard to the status of mortal speech.)

At the end of this teaching, R. Natan felt that the matter was not sufficiently well arranged, and therefore he attempts to provide an interpretation:

“Apparently, the intent of R. Nachman is to indicate the lofty level of Hashem’s speech.  For Divine speech is a reflection of the Shekhina, it is a reflection of the spirit of Mashiach, a reflection of Divine inspiration, a reflection of resurrection, a reflection of the unification of the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Shekhina.  And all of this is made clear within the words of this teaching…” (ibid.)

The Shekhina, which is also listed among the names given to the ‘sefira’ of ‘malkhut,’ is the substantive expression that best exemplifies this sefira – the presence of God in the world.  Not “providence,” not “knowledge,” not even “decree,” but rather “presence” – Shekhina.  This presence is immanent to existence itself: “I exist,” “he exists,” “we exist” – all of these mean that the Divine spirit moves within us.  Hashem’s word, then, is not a passing breath, but rather an act; this act is Hashem’s taking up dwelling within the world that He has created.  (At a later stage we shall hopefully deal with the element of ‘tzimtzum’ of God into a limited and defined world.)

We mentioned at the end of shiur no. 7 that Divine Immanence is the meaning, the intelligence and the wisdom that exists within everything:

“For a Jew must always look at the intelligence of every thing, in order that the intelligence in each thing may illuminate his way to becoming closer to the blessed God by means of that thing… But since the light of the (Divine) Intellect is very great, it is impossible to attain it other than through the aspect of “nun,” which is the aspect of malkhut….” (Likutei Moharan Kama 1)

Divine speech, identified by R. Nachman as the Shekhina, is the meaning and the significance of each and every creation.  Just as speech in human terms is simply a revelation of the person’s ‘da’at’ (knowledge), so too is Divine speech:

And speech is the revelation of ‘da’at,’ for one cannot know what exists in the ‘da’at’ (of someone else) except through speech, as it is written, ‘Every night expressing knowledge.’ “Expressing” (yehaveh) is derived from the idea of speech, for speech expresses what exists in the “da’at”… (Likutei Moharan Kama 43).

There is no creature, no thing, that does not have Hashem’s voice emanating and arising from it.  A person with spiritual sensitivity must listen to the voice and speech of Hashem that arises from within things, He will thereby reveal their essence, and in fact, will also reveal the intention and will of Hashem.

But this is not so simple, as we have seen in previous shiurim, for there are many coverings, garments and kelipot.  Even Hashem’s word itself is no longer quite so complete and harmonious “… For at the moment of Creation, worlds fell downwards, and these worlds are letters, and they were dispersed in the form of many sparks…” (Likutei Moharan 75)  Divine speech is a perfect expression of Hashem’s will and thereby the world, whose every detail is connected with this will.  But “the worlds fell,” and speech was cut up into words, and words into letters.  These are the Divine sparks that fell together with the worlds.

The letters are simply sparks of the great light that no longer shines with its concentrated, perfect prism.  The letters fly through the air, carrying meaning and content, but the meaning is fragmented and the content severed and dispersed.  Divine speech was exiled and the letters were scattered.  The “exile” of the Shekhina is simply an expression of the severing of any object or any creature, from the Wholeness and Unity “that declares, ‘glory.’“

The world of separation is a world in which the Divine word is heard only in fragmented form, and even this voice – which is really only letters of the speech and sparks of the light – is muffled and swallowed up by the coarseness of the material in which it is imprisoned.  The disappearance of Divine speech, according to what we have already learned, is nothing more than the disappearance of the “da’at.”  In other words, Hashem’s will and intent are cast into exile; they are not revealed and known.

“And this is the meaning of an “open utterance” – it is faithful and simple.  This open utterance is a reflection of the revelation of da’at, for speech is the revelation of da’at as it is written, “From His mouth – da’at and understanding.” And in Egypt, where da’at was exiled, as it is written, “And My Name Hashem was not known (lo noda’at) to them,” speech was likewise exiled – reflecting the state of “clumsy of mouth and heavy of tongue.” And when they left Egypt – when da’at left its exile – the speech also left and was opened, and this is the meaning of an “open utterance” – that speech was opened and da’at was revealed.” (Likutei Moharan Kama 56:7)

R. Nachman, remaining true to his view of historical processes as being nothing more than another application of the model that sets out reality and God’s relationship with it, identifies the phenomenon of the “exile of the Shekhina” and the “exile of (Divine) speech” with the Egyptian exile.

R. Nachman’s wonderful innovation here lies not in his addressing of the phenomenon of the “exile of the Shekhina” as a result of the “breaking of the vessels” and the dispersion of the light, but rather in handling this phenomenon with a new language: “the exile of speech.”  This terminology sharpens the perception that we are dealing not with a theological-philosophical fact, but rather with existential experience.  Treating the Shekhina as speech highlights two of its characteristics.  This first is its meaning.  Speech carries meaning; it conveys content and reflects intention.  When it is exiled, the content and meaning of revealed reality are weakened in our eyes.  The second is its appeal.  It is specifically in the view of R. Nachman, who views Divine speech as an expression of tangibility and presence, that the Shekhina as speech expresses God’s continuous appeal to man, as we have explained in previous shiurim.  When this speech is exiled, then the appeal of the Holy One to man is also somewhat diminished and muffled.  The exile of speech, then, is the blurring and weakening of the meaning and content of the reality surrounding man.  When the meaning gradually disappears, then God’s appeal to man is also weakened.

Let us conclude on an optimistic note, which will serve as the bridge to man’s coping with this reality – the subject of the next shiur.  Although this quote comes from the Sefat Emet, a different Chassidic figure, it relates directly to our topic.

“Ramban raises a question concerning Hashem’s command of “Lekh-lekha” to Avraham without any prior mention of his merit.  And the Holy Zohar explains that this (“Lekh lekha”) itself is the Torah’s praise for him; that he heard this command of “Lekh lekha” that was given by the Holy One to all of mankind at all times...  (Sefat Emet, Lekh Lekha 5632)

The Sefat Emet, quotes the Ramban, asks why do we not find, prior to Hashem’s revelation to Avraham, any background explaining why Avraham was chosen from amongst the rest of humanity.  In contrast, for example, in the case of Noah, we find prior to Hashem’s command to him a statement that “Noah found favor in the eyes of God.”

The Sefat Emet answers, in accordance with the Zohar, that Avraham’s greatness lays in the very fact of his hearing Hashem’s voice calling to him – “Lekh lekha.” This voice was not particularistic; it was merely the call of the Holy One that echoes throughout the world from one end to the other. It is a call that is not heard clearly, as we would expect or hope, but a person who is really listening, who succeeds in removing the various screens that divide between Hashem’s word and man, will certainly hear his own private “Lekh Lekha” call.  And thus he is shown the meaning, the explanation and the content that are hidden in reality within the fragments of words – the letters seeking their redemption.

(Translated by Kaeren Fish)

Canfei Nesharim: Being a Good Neighbor

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bris Milah / Naming a Daughter / Upsheren / Bar Mitzvah

From “Breslov Eikh She-hu: Breslov the Way It Is
Customs and Practices, Past and Present
By Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears (work-in-progress)

Bris Milah
The Tcheriner Rov darshans on many aspects of bris milah and its related minhagim from a kabbalistic point of view.
(Nachas ha-Shulchan, Yoreh De’ah 260)


It is a common custom for the father to remain awake on the night prior to his son’s bris. If possible, he should study the portion of the Zohar related to this mitzvah, which may be found in the Siddur ha-Ya’avetz (Rav Yaakov Emden). It is also a Breslover custom for the father to read the entire Sippurey Ma’asiyos, or at least “The Seven Beggars” if there is not enough time.
(Heard from Rabbi Elazar Kenig)


Reb Gedaliah said in the name of Reb Avraham Sternhartz that the father, sandek, and mohel should immerse in a mikveh prior to Shacharis and the bris. The father should recite Tikkun ha-Klalli before the bris. He should also meditate on the name of the child when the mohel performs the circumcision.


Rabbi Beirach Rubenson remembered that in Poland, Breslover Chassidim used to recite Tikkun ha-Klalli during a bris, due to the presence of Eliyahu ha-Navi.
(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Shapiro)


However, Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender stated that this was not the minhag in Uman. (Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh VI, 501)


Reb Elazar Kenig has instructed his talmidim to give tzedakah prior to the bris in the amount of the gematria of the infant’s name (or names). Thus, for example, if the boy’s name is “Yisrael,” the father should give 541 coins—whether pennies, dimes, or dollars, etc., depending on the father’s income and the currency of the country in which he lives. In addition, one should add 18 coins (gematria “chai”) of any denomination to this amount. (This need not be actual coins, but an equivalent amount, such as $5.41, or even a check for an equivalent amount, such as $54.10.)
(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Zeitlin)


However, Rabbi Dovid Shapiro recalled that when his twin boys were born, Rabbi Yidel Lichter told him in the name of Reb Gedaliah about the custom of giving the gematria of the names for a “Pidyon Nefesh.” He said nothing about adding 18 coins. So he sent Reb Gedaliah the exact amount for a pidyon. Reb Meir Savitzky was with Reb Gedaliah when the check arrived, and he heard Reb Gedaliah say that it was the exactly right amount.


When the father names his child, it is good for him to have in mind that in addition to any departed relative, he is naming the child after all of the tzaddikim who had the same name.
(Heard from Rabbi Elazar Kenig)


Reb Gedaliah felt that there was no impropriety in naming a child after a non-religious relative in order to perpetuate the name in the family. Indeed, if one were to object to this, many holy names would have been lost. Names uniquely associated with the wicked, such as “Avsholom (Absalom)” are not used, but names that are also associated with  tzaddikim are not open to any objection whatever.
(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Shapiro)


The Rebbe stated that one should be careful to choose a mohel who is a tzaddik and yirei Shomayim.
(Sefer ha-Midos, “Banim” I, 10)


It is uncertain if one should wear Tefillin when attending a bris. Reb Elazar remembers that his father did so at the bris of his youngest brother. However, when Reb Elazar asked his father about this a few years later, Reb Gedaliah did not give him a clear answer. (There are conflicting views about this inyan among the kabbalists.)


Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender remembered that in Uman the Chassidim used to dance after the conclusion of the bris, before the olam sat down to the se’udas mitzvah.
(Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh IV, 157)

Naming a Daughter
According to a tradition that Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender heard from Rabbi Eizik Eisenstein, the Rebbe once asked rhetorically, “Why do we wait eight days to name a son, and to name a daughter, we do not?” This suggests that one should wait eight days. Nevertheless, the custom of Breslover Chassidim is to announce the name of a daughter on the first Shabbos after her birth.
(Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh IV, 533)


Reb Gedaliah Kenig heard from his teacher Reb Avraham Sternhartz that we name a daughter only on Shabbos, not during a weekday Torah reading; and if the baby was born on Erev Shabbos, she could be named the next day. In one of his letters, Reb Noson mentions that his daughter Chanah Tzirel had given birth on Erev Shabbos, and the baby was named the next day.
(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Kenig. Reb Noson’s letter may be found in Alim le-Terufah [Toras Ha-Netzach ed. 2000] 148 [dated: Motza’ei Shabbos Shoftim 5594 / 1834]. The Manistritcher Chassidim in Uman also had the custom of naming a daughter only on Shabbos; see Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Rabinowitz, Ehrkei Yehoshua 283.)


Rabbi Shmuel Moshe Kramer of Yerushalayim also has stated that one should name a daughter only on Shabbos.
(Heard from Rabbi Nachman Bergstein)


An exception to this rule is when Rosh Hashanah (or Yom Tov in chutz la-aretz) falls on Erev Shabbos. In this case, one should name the baby on the first day of Yom Tov and not wait for Shabbos.
(Heard from Rabbi Elazar Kenig)


Rabbi Nachman Bergstein’s wife once gave birth to a daughter when her husband was already in Uman prior to Rosh Hashanah. That year, the first day of Rosh Hashanah fell on Thursday. Reb Nachman asked Rabbi Ephraim Anshin, one of the gabba’im in Me’ah She’arim and in Uman, what to do. Rabbi Anshin referred him to Reb Elazar Kenig, who told him to name the baby on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Shmuel Moshe Kramer also agreed with this.
(Heard from Rabbi Nachman Bergstein)


Reb Elazar has told his talmidim to give tzedakah before naming a daughter in the amount of the gematria of her name (or names). Thus, for example, if the baby’s name is “Miriam,” the father should give 290 coins—whether pennies, dimes, or dollars, etc., depending on one’s income and the currency of the country in which one lives. One should also add 23 coins (gematria “Chayah”) of any denomination to this amount. (As stated previously, this amount need not be in the form of actual coins, but an equivalent amount.)
(Heard from Rabbi Shmuel Rosenberg)

Upsheren/First Haircut

It is a common custom, particularly among Chassidim, not to cut a boy’s hair until his third birthday. This reflects the concept of “Adam eitz ha-sadeh/A man is like a tree of the field” (Devorim 20:19). Just as a tree is considered orlah for the first three years and its fruit may not be harvested, so a boy’s hair should not be cut until his third birthday. In Yiddish, the first haircut is called an “upsheren” or “upsherenish”; in Hebrew, it is called a “chalakah.”  Each guest snips off a small lock of hair, being careful not to cut the peyos. The family and friends then share a se’udas mitzvah.
(This custom is mentioned by Rabbi Chaim Vital, Sha’ar ha-Kavannos, Inyan Sefiras ha-Omer, Drush 12; Pri Eitz Chaim, Sefiras ha-Omer, 7; et al. Also cf. Midrash Tanchuma, Kedoshim, 14.)


In Eretz Yisrael, many celebrate the upsheren on Lag ba-Omer near the gravesite of the holy Tanna, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron. However, Reb Gedaliah instructed his talmidim to give the child his first haircut only on the day of Lag ba-Omer, even if they could not come to Meron. He said that if a child already could speak well, his hair could be cut on Lag ba-Omer even a little earlier than his third birthday—but if not, the parents should wait until the next Lag ba-Omer. This seems to reflect the kabbalistic principle that there is a spiritual connection between hair and the power of speech.


Reb Gedaliah cautioned that one should not cut the child’s hair so closely that he appears to be bald.
(Heard from Rabbi Binyamin Rosenberg in the name of Rabbi Chaim Man)


Reb Gedaliah encouraged his talmidim to weigh the shorn hair and give the equivalent value in gold to tzedakah. (This is an old minhag, which is not unique to Breslov.)
(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Shapiro)

Bar Mitzvah
The Rebbe encouraged his followers to have their sons begin wearing both the Tefillin of Rashi and Rabbenu Tam on their thirteenth birthday. However, due to the great poverty in the Ukraine and later in Eretz Yisrael, many Breslover families could not afford to buy their bochurim a second pair of Tefillin. Borukh Hashem, things have greatly improved, and today virtually all Breslovers do so.
(Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh II, 29. Rabbi Pinchos of Koretz stated that wearing the Tefillin of Rabbenu Tam is a segulah for cheshek to study pnimiyus ha-Torah; see Imrei Pinchos [Bnei Brak 2003] vol. I, Sha’ar Seder ha-Yom 38.)


The Rebbe wanted the Bar Mitzvah bochur to put on Tefillin for the first time on the morning of his thirteenth birthday, and not earlier. (If the birthday falls on Shabbos, he should don Tefillin on Sunday, not on Erev Shabbos.)
(Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh II, 30)


Upon reaching the age of Bar Mitzvah, it is customary for a Chassidisher bochur to start wearing a hat, jacket, and gartel when davenning. This is the minhag in Breslov, too.


Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender stated that in Uman, it was customary for the Bar Mitzvah bochur to deliver a Torah lesson from Likutey Moharan at the se’udas bar mitzvah, together with explanations from a related portion of Likutey Halakhos.
(Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh IV, 173)


However, this minhag seems to have fallen into disuse today. In most Breslover communities in Eretz Yisrael, the bar mitzvah bochur says a d’var Torah on a subject in nigleh, and if his teacher is a Breslover, the teacher may quote the Rebbe or Reb Noson in the course of his speech. (This may be because until recent years, most Breslover bochurim learned in non-Breslov yeshivos.) 
(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Kenig)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Shabbos Chanukah in Uman

Despite freezing temperatures and snow, thousands of Breslover Chassidim traveled to Uman to spend Shabbos Chanukah near the kever of Rebbe Nachman. "Shaar Breslov" has posted a few photos of this memorable trip here and here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Reb Noson on Prayer and Hisbodedus

(Painting by Zvi Malnovitzer)

From “Through Fire and Water: The Life of Reb Noson of Breslov “ (Breslov Research Institute, “Gems of Reb Noson,” pp. 559-563)

By Rabbi Chaim Kramer

This posting is in honor of Reb Noson’s yahrtzeit, Asarah be-Teves, which falls this year on Saturday night through Sunday, Dec. 22-23.

Reb Noson wrote copiously on this topic in his master work, Likutey Halakhos (from which Reb Alter Tepliker excerpted many profound teachings in the second part of his anthology, Meshivas Nefesh). The following are a few stories that Rabbi Kramer translated from several books that preserve oral traditions of the Breslover Chassidim.

Prayer and Hisbodedus

When Reb Noson was travelling he often used to pray in the carriage. Once when he came to an inn, his driver said, “Today I travelled with a Jew who prayed so beautifully that not only did I cry, but even the horses cried!” (Si’ach Sarfei Kodesh 1‑593).

Reb Noson said, “One must pray that God should lead one on the path of God’s truth. One’s own truth can lead one astray, but God’s truth is the real truth” (Si’ach Sarfei Kodesh 1‑502).

Once, Reb Noson was at an inn eating his evening meal when a bone became stuck in his throat and he started choking. He opened his mouth wide the way people do when choking. At last the bone was dislodged and Reb Noson was safe. He said to the person who was with him, “Did you notice that when the bone was stuck I looked up to Heaven? No matter what happens, the only recourse is to turn to Heaven for help. Even when one cannot speak, one should at least look upward to Heaven” (Kokhavey Or, p. 71, #8).

Once at a funeral Reb Noson cried bitterly. When asked why he was crying so much, he said, “A person has to cry out his heart to God. If an opportunity arises to cry, one should take advantage of it” (Si’ach Sarfei Kodesh 1‑635).

There was a certain man whose wife was so wicked that not only did she cause him constant aggravation, she also harmed many other people as well. The man came to Reb Noson for advice. He replied, “For a full half‑year you should fix a special time every day to pray only about this. Plead with God to make her good from now on” (Aveneha Barzel, p. 70, #49).

Reb Noson said: “Praying for something for forty days without a break is one of the best ways of making sure the prayer will be answered” (Kokhavey Or, p. 68).

Reb Nachman of Tulchin once worked very hard to build Reb Noson a Sukkah. When they sat down in it to eat, Reb Nachman told Reb Noson how much satisfaction he had after having worked so hard for the mitzvah. Reb Noson said, “But have you ever cried out to God for a whole day to have a taste of what a sukkah really is? Try it, and then see what a taste you have in a sukkah!” (Aveneha Barzel, p.52, #12).

Reb Noson said, “The holy SheLaH writes, ‘Eyn rega belo pega’ (Sh’nei Luchos HaBris 2, 138a). People understand this to mean, ‘There is no moment without its torment.’ But the word pega also means prayer. There is no moment that cannot be the occasion of some prayer or other. By constant prayer, we can be saved from the bad moments” (Kokhavey Or, p. 81, #38).

Reb Noson taught that there is a level of prayer which is below that of Torah study, but there is another level of prayer which is above it. One’s prayers for material needs are certainly on a lower level than Torah. Such prayers are referred to as chayey shaah, the life of the moment. However, when one prays to understand and fulfill the Torah, such prayers are greater than Torah. Such prayers are called chayey olam, eternal life (Sichos v’Sipurim, p. 95, note 1).

When Rebbe Nachman told Reb Noson about his visit to Elijah’s Cave (on Mount Carmel in Haifa), he said, “I imagined how Elijah the Prophet actually stood there speaking to God in hisbodedus.” Reb Noson later said how inspired he was by this conversation. It made him realize that even Elijah was also a human being, yet through hisbodedus he was able to rise up to such a level of purity that he did not taste death. Indeed, all the great tzaddikim attained what they did through hisbodedus (Kokhavey Or, p. 76, #23).

Once, when speaking about going out into the meadows for hisbodedus, Reb Noson remarked, “There will come a time when everybody will do this, just as everyone puts on talis and tefillin in the morning. Someone who knows he will have to account for his every deed before the Heavenly Tribunal will not allow anything to stop him from going out into the meadows for hisbodedus” (Kokhavey Or, p.71,

Rebbe Nachman’s lesson in Likutey Moharan I, 15, teaches that the way to “taste the Hidden Light that will be revealed in the future” is through self‑scrutiny and hisbodedus. When Reb Noson discussed this lesson, he said “Whoever wants to taste the Hidden Light, which is Rebbe Nachman, must practice hisbodedus” (Aveneha Barzel, p. 69, #47).

Reb Noson said, “The reason why God has helped me in my later years is because I have practiced hisbodedus so much. I can’t do anything without first speaking to God” (Kokhavey Or, p.76, #22).

Reb Yitzchok [Reb Noson’s son] once wrote to Reb Noson complaining that during hisbodedus he found it difficult to open his mouth and pray. Reb Noson answered that King David had the same problem, but he was wise. Instead of getting up and abandoning his efforts, he would sit there even when he found himself unable to pray. He would groan from the depths of his heart, crying out to God that his heart and mouth were closed. He would persist until God helped him open his mouth and pray with fervor. This is what is meant by “King David sat before God” (II Samuel, 7‑18) (Aveneha Barzel, p.71, #52).

Someone from Uman told Reb Noson that it took him a long time to recite the prayers, as he found it necessary to repeat the words several times in order to say them with the proper feeling. “Are the prayer services the only form of devotion you have?” replied Reb Noson. “There are plenty of different devotions. If you don’t feel one word, there are many other words. If you don’t feel the prayers during the service, you can always recite Psalms or other prayers” (Aveneha Barzel, p. 90).

Someone once asked Reb Noson if one should pray quickly in order to avoid having foreign thoughts. Reb Noson answered, “If you pray quickly, you might go through the entire service caught up in a single foreign thought! But if you pray more slowly, you might still be able to arrest your foreign thoughts a few times” (Aveneha Barzel, p. 61, #25).

A woman once stood in front of Reb Noson’s door and refused to let him through until he promised her children. He gave her his promise, and then said he must now pray for her. On another occasion several women came to Reb Noson asking for his blessing that they should have children. “ ‘Am I in place of God?’ (Genesis 30:2)” he cried out. Later on he said he was sorry, because he should have said it quietly (Aveneha Barzel, p. 64, #35).

Reb Noson said, “One Erev Purim I cried out to God to save me from the kelipah (husk) of Haman‑Amalek as if Haman‑Amalek was standing over me with a metal rod!” (Aveneha Barzel, p. 52, #13).

Once, on the last market‑day before Pesach, Reb Noson still did not have any money to buy his household needs for the festival. Before he could even say his morning prayers, his wife, Dishel, pressed him for money, causing him great anguish. “Oy, did she learn a chapter of bitterness with me!” he said. Still, when he began his prayers, he strengthened himself with faith and trust in God, and put all his energy into his prayers, as if nothing at all was wrong. Reb Nachman of Tulchin, who was there at the time, said, “After Reb Noson finished his prayers I saw a tremendous change on his face. He looked as if all his needs were fulfilled.”

Later that day some of Reb Noson’s followers from nearby Rairid came to Breslov for the market. They brought Reb Noson a sizeable sum of money, sufficient to cover all his needs for Pesach. Reb Nachman of Tulchin was with Reb Noson when they gave him the money. He said he saw no change whatsoever on Reb Noson’s face when he received it. This was because of his complete trust in God (Aveneha Barzel, p. 76, #64).

Reb Ephraim b’Reb Naftali once said to Reb Noson, “With your prayers, you explain the prayers” (Aveneha Barzel, p. 60, #21).