(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).
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).