Friday, February 24, 2012

Healing the Soul

Kever of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk

Healing the Soul
A four-part teaching translated by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum
From Tzaddik: A Portrait of Rabbi Nachman (Breslov Research Institute), sections 227, 228
Corresponding to Chayei Moharan 101, 102

The week of Torah reading Vayelekh.[1] Thursday, during the Ten Days of Penitence, 5670 (1809), Breslov. The Rebbe told us he had had a dream, but he did not know what it meant. A man who was one of his followers had passed away. The man was really dead, but the Rebbe did not know until today. In the dream everybody was standing around in front of the Rebbe, taking leave of him before they set off on their homeward journeys after the Rosh HaShanah gathering. This man who had passed away was also standing there.

The Rebbe asked him, “Why were you not with us for Rosh HaShanah?”

“But I have already gone to the next world,” he replied.

[Rabbi Nachman went on:] “I said to him, ‘Is that a reason? If a person has died, is he not permitted to come for Rosh HaShanah?’ The man remained silent. Seeing as several people had spoken with me about the question of faith, I also spoke to him about this.” [Rabbi Noson writes: It would appear that the Rebbe understood that the man had lost his faith.]

“I said to him, ‘Is there no one else besides me to go to? If you don’t have faith in me, go and follow one of the other Tzaddikim. Since you still have faith in the others, go and be their follower.’

“He said, ‘Whom should I go to?’

I seem to recall that I indicated to him that he should become the follower of a particular well-known Tzaddik. He replied, ‘I am far from him.’ I told him, ‘Become the follower of someone else.’ I went through the list of all the well-known Tzaddikim, but he said the same about all of them: he was far from them. I said to him, ‘If you are far from all of them and you have no one to follow, you might as well stay here as before and become my follower again.’

“‘From you,’ he exclaimed, ‘I am very far!’

“It was the middle of the day. The sun was directly overhead. The man raised himself up into the air until he rose up to the sun, and he traveled with the sun, descending gradually towards the horizon, just like the afternoon sun. He literally came down to the ground just as the sun set, and he carried on traveling with the sun until at midnight he reached the point directly underneath me together with the sun—because at midnight the sun is literally opposite a person’s feet. At that moment, when he had descended so far that he was directly opposite me, I heard him crying in a loud voice, ‘Have you heard how far I am from you!’ I do not know what this means.”

[Rabbi Nachman continued:] “I had great pity on him. Surely the main struggle a person has is to reach the ultimate goal. This is the main task in life. In this life, one cannot really savor the true meaning or feeling of being close to the Tzaddik, owing to the gross physicality of the body and all the other obstacles. Therefore, the main thing is to strive for the ultimate goal. Then, when you leave this world after a long and full life, you will understand what you heard long before and what you will hear then. More than this, there will be the spiritual joys each one will attain. And if after all this you still do not succeed in drawing close... Happy is the one who remains strong in his faith in God and the true Tzaddik, and who fulfills what the Tzaddik says. He will never be disgraced or put to shame, either in this world or the World to Come.”

On another occasion the Rebbe said that a person must put great efforts into strengthening his faith in the Tzaddik. His faith should be so strong that even after his death he will remain firm. Then they will be powerless to deceive him in the other world in any way. There too, great determination is needed to believe in the Tzaddik. The Rebbe said there are souls of the wicked who oppose the Tzaddik and their aim is to deceive a person and keep him from making the effort to come to the Tzaddik for his tikkun. But for one who remains strong in his faith, these opposing forces will be powerless to prevent him from going to the Tzaddik to receive a tikkun for his soul. Even in the other world, the main obstacles are nothing but the distractions created by the accusers and destroyers found there.

They confuse a person and weaken his resolve, deceiving him with various rumors about the Tzaddik so as to prevent him from making the effort to reach him. Even after a person leaves this world, as long as he is unworthy of reaching his final resting place, he is still not in the World of Truth. On the contrary, his main punishment and pain come at the hands of the destroying forces that lead him to the World of Desolation.[2] There it appears to him as if he is still in this world. They deceive him in all kinds of ways, as is known from the literature discussing these subjects. However, when a person is determined and stubbornly refuses to listen to what they are saying, telling them, “I will not listen! All I want is to travel to the Tzaddik!” they have no option but to leave him alone. There is no way they can prevent him, because their only power lies in deceiving him, and he refuses to listen to them.

The Journey to Leipzig

The Rebbe told a story about a Jew from White Russia who had come to live in Eretz Yisrael. He had traveled there with the well-known Tzaddik, the saintly Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, of blessed memory. (It is well known how fierce the opposition to the Tzaddikim and the Chassidim was in the early days. This was especially true in Lithuania and White Russia. Anyone who wanted to become one of their followers had to face formidable obstacles.) There in Israel it was agreed that this man should be sent abroad to raise money for the settlers, as was customary in those days. The man in question—the follower of R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk—was traveling at sea in the course of his mission when he died. However, in Israel they knew nothing of this yet.

After his death, it appeared to him as if he was on a journey to Leipzig together with some members of his staff, just as he used to travel during his lifetime. For he had been a merchant with considerable interests, and he traveled to Leipzig regularly during his lifetime. Now, too, it seemed to him as if he was traveling there together with his assistant and his carriage-driver, as usual.

In the middle of the journey he suddenly felt a tremendous longing to go to his Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel, in order to speak with him and experience his holiness. So great was his desire that he was willing to leave everything and break his journey in the middle in order to go directly to his Rebbe. He started telling his employees that this was what he wanted, but they laughed and put him off. How could he think of losing such an excellent business opportunity? Thus they prevented him from going. Then after a while he again felt another surge of desire and longing. Again he told his employees he wanted to travel to his Rebbe, and again they put him off, telling him it was impossible to lose such a wonderful business opportunity and just leave. They must go on to Leipzig. This time he also listened to them and again was prevented from going.

Later on he felt a tremendous sense of arousal and enthusiasm. This time he told them he would not listen to a word they said to the contrary. All he wanted was to go to his Rebbe, and he would throw everything aside to do so. No matter how much they tried to persuade him, using every kind of argument and excuse—how was it possible to do such a thing in the middle of an enterprise of this nature?—he refused to listen to a word they said. He remained totally firm in his intention to go off immediately to his Rebbe. He ordered them to turn back and come with him to where his Rebbe was to be found. Seeing they were powerless to stop him with arguments and excuses, they got up and staged a rebellion, saying they refused to follow his instructions in something as unheard of as this. He retorted that they must do exactly as he wanted, but they refused to listen. He became extremely angry with them for ignoring his command, for he was their employer, and they were obliged to obey him in everything.

In the course of this argument he was informed of the truth: he was already dead, and his fellow travelers were destroying angels that were leading him on and deceiving him. “In that case,” he said, “I am certainly determined that you should bring me at once to my Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel.”

“And for our part,” they replied, “we are certainly not prepared to take you to him!”

The argument became very fierce, with the Chassid insisting they take him to his Rebbe while the destroying angels refused to yield. Eventually the case was brought before the Heavenly Court, which decided in his favor and his desire to be taken to his Rebbe at once must be honored.

And that is exactly what happened. Without delay, he was taken to the sainted Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, who was still living in Eretz Yisrael. He was brought to the Tzaddik’s house, and when he entered, one of the destroying angels went in with him. The Tzaddik was so frightened that he fainted. They brought him round, and afterwards he worked for about eight days to bring about a tikkun until in the end he succeeded. Only then did the Tzaddik announce to the other settlers that the man they had sent abroad had died—for as yet they knew nothing about this whatsoever. The Tzaddik told them the whole story. (It was essential for them to be informed about his death in order to know how to proceed with their arrangements for raising money abroad for Eretz Yisrael.)

The Rebbe’s purpose in telling the story was to emphasize the determination needed to draw close to the Tzaddik even in the other world after one’s death. However, the main thing is what happens in this world: a person who is strong and determined in his faith in this world will also be able to surmount the obstacles in the other world. Because “according to the devotion shown by mortals in this world, so it is in the World to Come.”[3]

I also heard it said in the Rebbe’s name that he had offered advice as to how to make sure of coming to the Tzaddik after death.[4] The advice was to take an oath to this effect while holding a holy object [such as a Torah scroll or Tefillin]. [Rabbi Noson adds:] I myself did not hear this directly from the Rebbe, only from the lips of others who had heard it directly from him.

Reb Hirsh’s Kaddish

Rabbi Alter Tepliker[5] heard this story about coming straight to the Tzaddik after death from R. David Hirsh of Damitreivka. The latter had it told to him by R. Shlomo Magarinitzer, the grandson of the Tzaddik, Rabbi Shlomo Lutzker, a disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch. R. Shlomo Magarinitzer’s mother had brought him to Rabbi Nachman to be his attendant, in the hope that the Rebbe would find a suitable marriage partner for her son. It was while R. Shlomo was in the Rebbe’s service, that the following story took place:

In Medvedevka there lived a man by the name of R. Hirsh who was one of the Rebbe’s close followers. He had a son and a daughter. This only son contracted tuberculosis, but because R. Hirsh did not understand the seriousness of the disease, he took the matter lightly. He did not think to even mention it to Rabbi Nachman, who was then visiting in Medvedevka. R. Hirsh’s son-in-law did appreciate the gravity of the situation and went to the Rebbe to ask that he pray for his brother-in-law’s recovery. Rabbi Nachman’s answer was, “I can do nothing for him in this world, but in the Upper World I will be able to benefit him once he passes away.” The Rebbe then asked that R. Hirsh’s son be told to come to speak with him and he would tell him what he needed to know.

Shocked by this disclosure, R. Hirsh’s son-in-law sought to stir the Rebbe’s compassion so that Rabbi Nachman would work to nullify the decree and his brother-in-law would live on. “How tragic it will be for R. Hirsh, already an old man, to lose his only son.” However, the Rebbe remained silent. Again the son-in-law tried to sway the Rebbe, and only when he finished did Rabbi Nachman respond. “Why are you pressuring me? Don’t you know that if I work to help him so that he recovers, God will be obliged to take thirteen other people from the world?[6] And to our Father in Heaven, all his children are equal; as the saying goes, ‘When a man bruises his finger, the pain is felt by all.’ Besides,” added Rabbi Nachman, “perhaps you are one of the thirteen.” Hearing this, R. Hirsh’s son-in-law retreated and went off to advise his brother-in-law to visit the Rebbe.

When the sick man came, Rabbi Nachman spoke with him, after which the Rebbe returned home. R. Hirsh’s son passed away two months later and his father mourned him greatly. During the mourning period, the son-in-law told R. Hirsh of everything he had heard from Rabbi Nachman when the latter had visited in Medvedevka. R. Hirsh’s grief was very great and he cried endlessly. Immediately after the seven day mourning period, R. Hirsh traveled to Breslov to see the Rebbe.

Arriving at night, he quickly made his way over to Rabbi Nachman who was already preparing for bed. Knocking on the door, he spoke with the Rebbe’s attendant, R. Shlomo Magarinitzer mentioned above, who informed Rabbi Nachman that R. Hirsh of Medvedevka had come to see him. When R. Hirsh entered the Rebbe’s room, he began crying uncontrollably and could not compose himself enough to speak. Rabbi Nachman consoled him: “After all, the main offspring of the righteous are their good deeds” (Rashi, Genesis 6:9). But R. Hirsh would not be consoled by this or any of the other things the Rebbe said to him. “What will be with my Kaddish after I die?” asked R. Hirsh.[7] ”He was the only one who would have said Kaddish for me.” “In that case, I will be your Kaddish,” exclaimed the Rebbe, “and I will teach you how to die.”

At this point, Rabbi Nachman motioned for his attendant to leave the room. R. Shlomo, who very much wanted to hear what the Rebbe was about to say, closed the door behind him, but not all the way. Still, the only thing R. Shlomo managed to hear was how Rabbi Nachman advised R. Hirsh to take an oath over some holy object that after he dies, immediately after they seal his coffin, he wishes to be brought to the Rebbe.

R. Hirsh returned home. All this took place in the wintertime and a while later, R. Shlomo, the attendant, also had reason to travel to Medevedevka. When he arrived, he found that a plague had taken the lives of a number of children there. The people of the town wanted to send someone to bring a redemption to Rabbi Nachman but were not able to raise both the pidyon money as well as the expenditures required to cover such a long journey. In the meantime, R. Hirsh passed away. Before he was buried, the attendant, who was still in Medvedevka, related to Rabbi Nachman’s followers what he had heard from behind the door when R. Hirsh had come to the Rebbe in Breslov. He spoke of the oath, but noone knew whether R. Hirsh had actually taken it before he passed away. The Rebbe’s followers, including Rabbi Yudel, agreed upon a plan. As they were carrying R. Hirsh’s body to be buried a Torah scroll was brought out, and the deceased was told to take an oath that he would immediately go to Rabbi Nachman to inform him of the plague that was attacking the children of Medvedevka.[8] Because of this oath, R. Hirsh would have to go to the Rebbe even if he himself had not previously followed the Rebbe’s advice.

Three months later, R. Shlomo the attendant returned to Breslov. When he came to Rabbi Nachman, the Rebbe asked him if he could remember when it was that R. Hirsh had died. R. Shlomo responded by recalling which month it had been, but he could not call to mind the exact day. “Was it not on such and such a day of the month?” said Rabbi Nachman. “Yes, yes!” R. Shlomo suddenly remembered that R. Hirsh had indeed passed away on that date. “You see,” said the Rebbe, “right after they closed his coffin, R. Hirsh came to me”—as if to say, “I thought it would take some time, but he came instantly.” R. David Hirsh of Damitreivka was personally told this story by R. Shlomo the attendant.

The Synagogue of the Dead

[Rabbi Noson writes:] I heard from others that the Rebbe once said: In Jerusalem there is a synagogue to which all the dead people on earth are brought.[9] As soon as someone in this world dies, he is brought there at once to be judged as to where his place should be. There are people who die in Eretz Yisrael who are taken outside the Land. Others who die outside may be brought to Eretz Yisrael.[10] It is in this synagogue that the court which hands down these judgments sits and allocates each person the place he deserves. There are even cases where the verdict is that there is no place at all for the person concerned and he is to be destroyed and cast into the “hollow sling.”[11]

When the dead are brought there, they are brought in clothing. Sometimes a dead person’s clothes are missing something. One person might be missing a sleeve, another a piece from the edge of his garment, and so on. Everything depends upon a person’s actions in his life-time (because his clothing after death corresponds to his deeds).[12] The verdict depends on the clothes he has when he is brought there, and his place is allocated accordingly.

Once a dead person was brought there completely naked. He had no clothes whatsoever. The verdict was that he should be cast into the hollow sling and destroyed, G-d forbid, because he was completely naked. However, a certain Tzaddik came and took one of his own garments and cast it over this person.

The court asked him, “Why are you giving him one of your own garments?”

The court took exception to this, because why should the dead man be given a garment and be saved with clothing that was not his? The Tzaddik answered: “I have to send this man on a mission for my own purposes, and for this reason I am entitled to dress him in my own garment. Surely you are aware that on occasion a nobleman may send his servant to another nobleman and the servant delays carrying out his bidding. His master asks him, ‘Why have you not left yet as I ordered?’ The servant replies, ‘Because I don’t have the right clothes for going to the nobleman in question. He is very great and it is impossible to go there in clothes which are not respectable.’ The master answers, ‘Quickly, take one of my garments and put it on and run quickly to the nobleman to do my bidding.’ Similarly, I need to send this dead person on a mission of my own. For that reason I am giving him one of my garments.” This is how the Tzaddik saved the dead man from the bitter penalty of the hollow sling.

The Rebbe told this story to show the tremendous power of the true Tzaddik to save his followers in the World of Truth.[13]

© 1987 The Breslov Research Institute


[1] Parpara’ot LeChokhmah 11, 5 (end).
[2] This punishment can last for hundreds of years until one merits being judged, and then either rewarded or penalized for his acts. See Kokhavey Or, Sichot V’Sipurim, pp. 168 -170.
[3] Zohar I, 100a, 129b; also see Kokhavey Or, Sichot V’Sippurim, p. 168.
[4] See Kokhavey Or, Sichot V’Sippurim, p. 168.
[5] Though he was affectionately known as R. Alter Tepliker, his real name was R. Moshe Yehoshua Bezhilianski. A leading Breslover in Uman at the turn of the century, he was the brother-in-law of Rabbi Avraham B’Reb Nachman Chazan of Tulchin. Among his works are: Hishtaphkhut HaNefesh / Outpouring of the Soul (Breslov Research Institute 1981), Meshivat Nefesh / Restore My Soul (Breslov Research Institute 1980), Mai HaNachal, Milei d’Avot, Haggadah Or Zoreach and other books. In 1898, he collated the previously unpublished sections of the Chayei Moharan. His manuscript was used in the preparation of this text. In 1919, during the Cossack revolution in the Ukraine, R. Alter was killed in a synagogue while holding a Torah scroll.
[6] Zohar III, 205a.
[7] The Kaddish is a prayer recited to elevate the soul after it passes away.
[8] It is customary for the burial society to inform the person at the time of his interment that he is deceased. This is done so that he can demand to be taken to his final judgment rather than be tricked into entering the World of Desolation.
[9] Cf. Emunat Uman, 31.
[10] Zohar II, 141a.
[11] A punishment whereby a soul is cast about from place to place and can never rest. Also, a soul may be cast constantly from the Gehennom of Fire to the Gehinnom of lce. See Zohar I, 238b.
[12] Zohar II, 229b; ibid. II, 210b; ibid. III, 101a; cf. Ketubot 103a, Gilyon HaShas, s.v. kol bei shimshi.
[13] Cf. Eruvin 19a, that Abraham removes from Gehinnom those who are circumcised; also note Tikuney Zohar, Tikkun 32.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Andy Statman Trio: Charles Street reaches 600, then Boston with David Grisman

Thursday, 23 Feb @ 8:30
Charles Street show number 599 (Andy and Larry)
...and then...

Tuesday, 28 February @ 8:30
Our 600th show at the
Charles Street Synagogue
53 Charles Street NYC
Celebrate with us!

Thursday, 1 March @ 7:30
The Andy Statman Trio
with Special Guest David Grisman
The Somerville Theater Somerville MA

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Light of Lights

Etching by Gustave Dore

Otzar HaYirah: Emes VaTzeddek
Chapter: Hasagas V’His'notzitzus Elokus (“Divine Illuminations and Perceptions”)
Selections from Reb Noson’s Likutey Halachos

Translated by Dovid Sears

All lights are derived from the Divine light; as King David declares, "God is my light…" (Psalms 27:1). Just as the light of the sun breaks forth from the east and illuminates the face of the earth, the Divine light suddenly may break forth within the soul, bringing about an illumination that is indescribable, beyond all words. However, this revelation cannot remain constant, or the person would cease to exist. Moreover, constant delight would not be recognizable as delight. Therefore, God constricts and conceals His illumination, as the verse states, "Behold, you are a God Who conceals Himself…"(Isaiah 45:15). This creates a spiritual vessel that can hold the light in a measured way, according to the capacity of each person. Through this constriction and concealment, one subsequently may receive the Divine light in its pristine brilliance, perceiving that each moment is entirely new. Indeed, this is the ultimate truth. This, too, is why in the physical world, each day combines both aspects of darkness and light.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Simply Tsfat Concert in Flatbush

Simply Tsfat, the premier Breslov music trio, will usher in the simchah of Adar, as well as the simchah shel mitzvah of helping our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael.

This mini-concert is a fund-raiser for Eizer L'Shabbos, which provides weekly food packages to the needy, under the directorship of Rabbi Binyomin Rosenberg, shlita. Rabbi Rosenberg will make a brief presentation of his organisation's ongoing work.

DATE: Tuesday February 28th


LOCATION: The Kaufman Residence
1305 East 22nd St (between Aves L-M)

Light refreshments

DONATIONS: Whatever you want to give!

MORE INFORMATION: 917-319-4656

Due to space limitations, this will be a men's event.

UPDATE: Due to Aveilus in the Kaufman family, the Simply Tsfat kumzits to benefit Eizer L'Shabbos has been moved across the street to the home of Yossie Rubin: 1278 East 22nd Street, side entrance.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Two Prayers For Peace

From The Flame of the Heart, translations from Reb Noson’s Likutey Tefilos.

Peaceful Dialogue

Master of peace, “King unto Whom peace belongs,” may it be Your will to bestow peace on Your People, Israel. And let peace grow and extend to all the inhabitants of the world until there is no longer any hatred, jealousy, conflict, strife or hostility between one person and another. May there be only great love and peace among all people. May we all recognize the love that others bear for us and know that they seek our good and our love, and that they desire our lasting success.

Then all people will be able to come together to engage in genuine dialogue and explain the truth to each other, inspiring one another to contemplate man’s lot in this world. For this world passes as the blink of an eye, like a passing shadow—not even the shadow cast by a tree or a wall, but the shadow of a flying bird, which moves quickly out of view.

Let all people discuss with their friends the ultimate futility of worldly desires, and come to understand the true purpose of the soul’s descent to this lowly world. Let us speak at length with each other in a spirit of brotherhood and love truthfully, from the depths of our hearts, without any desire to win arguments or to provoke each other at all.

Through such dialogue may we all draw near to You with absolute sincerity, discarding our “false gods of silver and gold.” May we cease to follow the crookedness of our hearts that draws us toward evil, and may we no longer waste our lives in the pursuit of wealth; may we neither chase after luxuries nor dedicate our lives to amassing riches. Then the spirit of folly will be banished from our hearts, and peace will grow and spread throughout the world.

All Israel will return to You in complete repentance, as is Your beneficent will. All the nations of the world, too, will be aroused spiritually, and they will recognize the ultimate truth. They, too, will all draw near to You and accept upon themselves the yoke of Your Kingship, as the prophet has promised, “For I will turn the language of the nations to one of pure speech, that they all call upon the Name of God and serve Him with a common accord” (LT I, 409).

The Hidden Tzaddikim

Merciful God, reveal to us the “hidden Torah” (secrets of Kabbalah), and reveal to us the hidden tzaddikim. Even if the world does not yet deserve to glimpse this hidden light, deal with us mercifully nevertheless; do not relate to us with strict justice. Arouse Your true mercy and kindness on our behalf, and help us to become worthy of the revelation of the hidden tzaddikim and the hidden Torah.

For we have no hope and nothing upon which to rely, except the hidden tzaddikim and the hidden Torah. Only they can protect us now, in the depths of this bitter exile, in the darkness that precedes the coming of the Mashiach. In Your mercy, awaken Your compassion and help us overcome completely the evil in our hearts, as is Your will. May our deeds find favor in Your eyes, so that even in this world we may experience something of the Supernal Light that is hidden and stored away for the tzaddikim, as the verses state, “Light is sown for the righteous and joy for the upright of heart,” and, “Say of the righteous: It shall be well, for they shall eat the fruit of their deeds.”

Send peace to the Jewish people and remove all strife from the world, until the influence of peace is so strong that those who have drifted far from You will be drawn near, to serve and revere You. Even those most distant from holiness, who are befouled by all sorts of abominations—may they all experience a spiritual awakening; may they draw near to You through the power of the true tzaddikim, who strive continually to reveal Your Godliness and dominion to the Jewish people and to all of humanity.

Even in this world, let us taste of the wondrous peace that You shall reveal in Days to Come, as the prophet states, “And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the bull and the lion and the fattened calf together, and a small child shall lead them. They will do no harm, and they will destroy nothing in all My holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea” (LT I, 497).

Friday, February 17, 2012

Please Say Psalm 46 Every Day

Abridgment of recent article in Hamodiah

Harav Moshe Wolfson, shlita, spoke Tuesday night in a rare mid-week assembly for his kehillah, Emunas Yisroel in Boro Park, asking bluntly why there is no greater uproar within the community over the potential for war over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"Why are we quiet? Where is the awakening? Why is everyone so apathetic?" asked Rav Wolfson, who is also Mashgiach of Yeshivah Torah Vodaath. "Don't we know that we have to pierce the heavens for rachamim from the Ribbono Shel Olam?"

Rav Wolfson told the packed beis medrash of nearly 1,000 people that the potential for a war encompassing Iran, Israel, Europe and the United States over the next few weeks is a real one, and Klal Yisrael must prepare itself spiritually.

Rav Wolfson started his address with the famous ruling of the Rambam that it is a mitzvah to daven during troubled times. "If you don't daven," the Rambam says, "then it is a cruelty, since it will get worse."

"The leader in Iran says clearly - he repeated it this week - that he wants to kill, heaven forbid, every Jew in the world, just like Haman," Rav Wolfson said. "If he will be successful, chas v'shalom, in getting the nuclear bomb - and experts says he will have it by the summer - it will be a great danger for Klal Yisrael."

"A good part of the world's Jews live in Israel, and the government there says that they will attack Iran first, before they could get the nuclear bomb. If that happens, everyone knows that that will cause a world war."

Rav Wolfson quoted the Pesikta, which says that the year when Moshiach will come all nations will battle each other. The spark that will set it off, according to the Midrash, will be when the king of Paras - which is modern-day Iran - will threaten "Arabia," presumably Saudi Arabia, such as is happening today.

Arabia will go for an alliance with Edom - the culture of Edom is today's Western world, Europe and United States. Paras will then destroy the world and the Jewish people will be thrown into turmoil. Hashem will then say: "Do not fear, the time for your Geulah has come."

Rav Wolfson noted how eerily similar this Midrash is to what is occurring today.

"However, we should not panic," Rav Wolfson said, "Hashem will perform miracles for us. But maybe the time for the Geulah has arrived. We must prepare for the Geulah."

Rav Wolfson said that since the Holocaust, Hashem has performed great miracles for the Jewish people. Eretz Yisrael, which today hosts the world's largest Jewish population and most of the Torah world, merited supernatural Divine intervention during its wars. When Palestinians shoot missiles from Gaza, they usually land in empty areas and cause relatively little damage.

When then-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein shot 39 Scud missiles during the Gulf War, only one Jew was killed - that man had previously received a klalah from the Chazon Ish. "This a hashgachah niflaah that is reserved only for those who learn Torah, who keep the mitzvos and who will ultimately do teshuvah," Rav Wolfson said. "Hashem wants to perform miracles for us."

But just like Eliyahu had to daven on Mount Carmel even though Hashem had already rain, Hashem still wants our prayers today.

In order to deserve these miracles, Rav Wolfson said, we must strengthen in Torah, tefillah and chessed.

He specifically suggested saying Tehillim 46 every day. During the Suez campaign in 1956, the Belzer Rebbe asked that people say that particular psalm, since it is a segulah to prevent warfare.

Above all, Rav Wolfson said, we should keep in mind that we live in momentous times, and prepare for the upcoming era with emunah and bitachon. "In the next couple of weeks there will be news," Rav Wolfson said, "and with the help of Hashem, it will be good news for all Israel."

Rabbi Avraham Sutton in NJ/NY

New Jersey
Thursday evening Feb 23
For details, contact:
Sam Kamara

New York
Sunday Feb 26 through Thursday March 1
For details, contact:
David Schweke

We hope to have more information later.

But it looks like Rabbi Sutton will be speaking at Congregation Sheves Achim / The Flatbush Minyan on Tuesday night, Feb. 28th.

Stay tuned!

The Breslov Center

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Reason for Unrest in Israel

From Likutey Moharan II, 71

“Portions (chavalim) have befallen me in pleasant places” (Psalms 16). [“Chavalim,” portions, may be homiletically rendered as “chovlim,” disturbances.] These “disturbances” are conflicted states of mind, which correspond to countries outside the holiness of the Land of Israel. These disturbances fall into the “pleasant places,” which are the tranquil states of mind that correspond to the Land of Israel. However, the ultimate reason for this intrusion is that the disturbances might be pacified and absorbed by those pleasant mentalities. -- Rebbe Nachman

(c) Breslov Research Institute, from the unpublished Breslov Tehillim

The Moral Instinct

Translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom (Breslov Reasearch Institute)

Sichos HaRan, sec. 78

Fairness exists everywhere.

One may commit every outrage but still have a sense of fairness. It may be blunted, but it still exists. There are people who are immediately sensitive to all unfairness. Others do not sense it until after they have committed some wrong. Still others feel no remorse until they have committed serious crimes. But each man has his limit. There is a degree of outrage that stimulates the sense of fairness in every man.

I was once in a small village. A military officer had come there demanding all the horses, saying they were needed to carry mail. The villagers bribed him to leave them in peace. They kept their horses and the officer had some easy money.

Soon one of his junior officers arrived. The commander convinced him that he should also try this trick. The second officer went to the townsmen again, also demanding horses for the mail. He was also bribed and walked away with a tidy sum.

A third officer then passed through the town. He was really in charge of the mail, and was short several animals. He actually needed the horses and would not be satisfied with a bribe. The mayor went and pleaded before the commander. The people had already paid two bribes but would still have their horses taken.

At this point, even the commander recognized the unfairness of the situation. He ordered the mail officer to leave the townsmen alone, and the horses were not taken. This same commander had already robbed the villagers without qualm. He had even advised his junior to do the same. It took two crimes before his sense of fairness could even begin to function. But by the third time, even he realized that the situation was hardly fair. It was then that he ordered that the town be left alone.

For fairness exists everywhere.

It may be buried, but it can always be reached.

It is written in the Zohar that even the Left Side contains both right and left. Even the unholy has a spark of the divine. The Left Side has a right, even though its right may not even reach the left side of the Holy. The right side is fairness. It even exists on the Other Side. However, on the Other Side, righteousness and fairness begin very late, even after the fairness of the left of the Holy. Understand this.

© 1973 Breslov Research Institute

Now Available!

(Click on image above)

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Chassid’s Journey

Illustrations by Dovid Sears © Mesorah Publications

From Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz, Tovos Zichronos 2

Emor El HaKohanim,” the second lesson in Likutey Moharan, was given on a Shabbos during the winter of 5561 (1800-01). Rebbe Nachman was not quite thirty years old. The discourse addresses the importance of the importance of spiritually binding oneself to the tzaddik of the generation, particularly when praying. Rabbi Shmuel Isaac, destined to become one of the foremost Breslover Chassidim, visited Rebbe Nachman in Zlatipolia, where the latter had established his residence less than a half year earlier. Rabbi Shmuel Isaac’s visit was precipitated by a most disturbing dream, for which he sought the Rebbe’s advice.

In his dream, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac found himself lost inside a great forest, with no path by which to make his way home. There he encountered a man who was armed with a double-edged sword.

Rabbi Shmuel Isaac’s initial fear was abated by the man’s friendly demeanor, and Rabbi Shmuel Isaac agreed to follow him. They soon came to a large house deep in the forest, and the man informed him that inside Rabbi Shmuel Isaac would find many swords, great and small. He could chose one of the small swords, but he would have to know how to use it in a judicious manner.

Entering, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac came upon an old man who told him that he could not take any of the swords until he was absolutely pure from any spiritual or moral blemishes. He would also have to know how to wield any sword he took. Then suddenly, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac found himself being covered by layer upon layer of dark clouds. The old man then pushed Rabbi Shmuel Isaac out of the house, telling him, “You are not yet ready for the sword, since you are still surrounded by these clouds. However, if you are able to travel still further into the forest, you will come upon a beautiful building in which you will find the craftsman who sharpens these small swords. Even the large sword carried by the master swordsman you encountered must be brought to this craftsman. But who knows if the craftsman will open the door to let you in when you arrive?” concluded the old man. At this point Rabbi Shmuel Isaac awoke, his heart pounding in dismay. What was the meaning of this dream?

This took place not long after Rabbi Shmuel Isaac had first become one of Rebbe Nachman’s followers. He lived in Dashev, and at that time the Rebbe lived in Zlatipolia, a considerable distance away. To make matters more difficult, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac was extremely poor. Nevertheless, he realized that he must overcome all obstacles and consult the Rebbe about his dream. Somehow, he managed to gather together enough money for his journey. Thus, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac set out on foot in the winter’s frost, until at last he reached Zlatipolia. Not knowing exactly where the Rebbe’s house was located, he asked one of the townspeople for directions.

“What do you want to go to him for?” asked the local inhabitant. “Indeed, there is much objection to him here in town.”

Hearing these words, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac recalled the old man in his dream, and remembered his having wondered if Rabbi Shmuel Isaac would manage to get in to see the craftsman. When he eventually did arrive at Rebbe Nachman’s house, the door was indeed locked. After knocking loudly and repeatedly, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac heard the Rebbe’s hushed voice from the other side of the door: “Shmuel Isaac, it is impossible to open up for you now! “

For about an hour, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac stood at the door, crying and completely brokenhearted. When Rebbe Nachman finally opened the door, he said to Rabbi Shmuel Isaac: “Were you not already informed, even before having set out on your journey, that you might not be allowed to enter? However, I have fulfilled the words of our Sages, ‘All the gates are sealed, but the gates of tears’—because you cried so much—’are not sealed’ “ (Berakhos 32b).

From this, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac understood that Rebbe Nachman already knew about his dream. Yet when the Rebbe said to him, “You are surrounded by numerous clouds,” Rabbi Shmuel Isaac was left totally astounded by exactly how much the Rebbe really knew. Overawed, he could not manage utter a word about his dream.

As Shabbos approached, other Chassidim arrived from Medvedevka. It was at the Shabbos gathering that Rebbe Nachman revealed the lesson, Emor el HaKohanim. Careful study will show that the Rebbe included within his lesson the explanation of Rabbi Shmuel Isaac’s dream, particularly through references to the sword of Mashiach and the need for bringing one’s prayers (the sword) to the Tzaddik (the craftsman) for perfection (sharpening). This marked the beginning of Rabbi Shmuel Isaac’s attachment to Rebbe Nachman, specifically through the devotional practice of prayer. In fact, Rabbi Shmuel Isaac devoted so much effort into perfecting his prayer that he very nearly fulfilled the Talmudic dictum, “Would that a man could pray all day long” (Berakhos 21a).

Translation by Dovid Sears © Mesorah Publications

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Fixer: A Story About Trust

Illustration by Aharon Friedman
(c) Breslov Research Institute

Translated by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum
From “
The Essential Rabbi Nachman

There was a certain king who thought to himself: “Who in the world has fewer worries than me? I have everything good: I am the king and the ruler.”

He decided to investigate if this was true. He went out at night and stood behind each house to hear what people were talking about. All he heard was each person’s worries. One had problems in his shop. At a different house he heard someone talking about a problem that needed government assistance. Each and every one had his own worries.

One night the king saw a very low house. It was like a cellar built half underground with windows at ground level. The roof was broken and sagging. There the king saw a man sitting playing his fiddle. The king had to listen very carefully just to hear the music. The man was very happy. He had a jug of wine and various foods in front of him, and he was very happy. He was full of joy, with no worries whatever.

The king (who was in disguise) went into the house and asked the man how he was doing. The man invited the stranger to sit down, and the king saw the jug of wine and the various foods, and how the man was simply full of joy. He served his guest a drink and drank a toast to the king. Out of affection for this man, the king also drank. Afterwards he lay down to sleep, and he could see that the man was completely happy with no worries at all.

In the morning the king rose and so did the man. He accompanied the king out of the house.

“From where do you get all this?” asked the king.

“I know how to repair things,” replied the man. “I can repair anything that is broken. I am not able to make anything from scratch, but if something gets broken I can repair it. Each morning I go out and repair a few things. Then, when I’ve earned five or six shillings, I purchase all this food and drink for myself.

When the king heard this, he said to himself: “I’m going to spoil it for him.”

The king went back to the palace, took off his disguise and issued a decree forbidding anyone who had something in need of repair from giving it to somebody else to repair. Either he would have to repair it himself or buy a new one.

That morning the man went out looking for people with things in need of repair, but they told him the king had decreed that it was forbidden to give anything to someone else to repair. The man was very upset about this, but he had trust in God.

As he was walking, he noticed a householder chopping wood.

“Why do you have to chop the wood?” he asked. “Is that fitting for someone of your status?”

“I tried to find someone to chop wood for me,” replied the householder, “but I couldn’t find anyone, so I was forced to chop it myself.”

“Give it to me,” said the man, “and I will chop it for you.”

He chopped the wood, and the householder paid him a shilling. The man saw that this was a good way to earn money and he went to chop more wood, until he had earned six shillings. He again bought his entire meal—and it really was a meal—and he was very happy.

That night the king again peered in through the window of the man’s house and saw him sitting there with his food and drink before him in a very happy mood. The king went into the house and, as on the previous night, he slept there. In the morning the man arose and accompanied the king out.

“From where do you get this?” asked the king. “To buy this you need money!”

“I used to repair anything that was broken,” replied the man. “But the king passed a decree prohibiting giving anything out to someone else for repair. So I chopped wood until I earned enough money for this.”

The king left him and issued a decree that nobody must give their wood to anyone else to chop.

When the man approached someone offering to chop his wood, the person told him that the king had issued a decree not to give anybody wood to chop. The man was very upset about this because he had no money. But he had trust in God. As he was walking, he noticed someone cleaning out a stable.

“Is it fitting for you to have to clean out this stable?” he asked.

“I looked for someone to clean it out but I couldn’t find anyone, so I have to do it myself.”

“Let me,” said the man, “I will clean it!”

He set to work and cleaned out the whole stable, and the owner gave him two shillings. He went and cleaned more stables until he had earned six shillings. Again he bought a whole feast and went home. The meal was a meal, and he was very happy.

Again the king came to look, and once again saw that everything was as it had been before. The king went inside and stayed the night. In the morning the man accompanied the king out. The king asked him how he had managed, and he explained.

The king issued a decree making it forbidd en to employ anyone else to clean out one’s stable. That morning the man went in search of stables to clean, but people told him that the king had passed a decree forbidding this.

The man went to the king’s recruiting officer to sign up as a soldier in the army. Some soldiers are forcibly conscripted for army service, but others are hired soldiers who serve for pay.

The man went to the recruiting officer to sign up for pay. However, he made a condition with the recruiting officer that he was not signing up permanently but only for a while, and that he was to receive his pay each morning for that day’s work. The officer immediately dressed him in army uniform, hung a sword at his side and sent him where he was needed.

Towards evening, after he had completed all his duties, he threw off his uniform and went to buy his whole meal—and the meal was a meal! He went home and he was very happy. Again the king went to look and saw that everything was ready in front of him and that he was very happy. The king went into the man’s house and lay down. In the morning he asked him how he had managed, and the man told him what he had done.

The king summoned the recruiting officer. He instructed him not to dare pay wages to anyone that day. That morning, when the man went to the recruiting officer to collect his day’s pay, the officer refused to give it to him.

“But I made it a condition with you to pay me every day,” the man protested.

“The king has decreed not to pay anyone today,” replied the recruiting officer. All the man’s pleas were of no avail .

“I will be happy to pay you tomorrow for two days,” said the officer, “but today it is impossible to pay.”

What did the man do? He broke off the blade of his sword from its handle, replacing it with a piece of wood. When the sword was in its sheath this was not in the least visible from the outside. The man pawned the blade of the sword. With the money he received he bought the whole meal—and the meal was a meal!

The king arrived and saw that the man was completely happy, as before. Again the king entered his house and lay down. He asked him how he had managed, and the man told him the whole story—how he had been forced to break the blade of the sword from the handle, and how he had pawned it in order to buy what he needed for the meal.

“And afterwards, when I receive the pay for that day, I will redeem the blade and repair the sword. Nobody will be able to see a thing because I can repair anything that is broken, so there will be no loss to the king.”

The king went to his palace and called the recruiting officer. He told him that a certain person had been condemned to death. He instructed the officer to call the particular soldier he had hired and to order him—and only him—to cut off the condemned man’s head.

The officer summoned the man, who came before the king (now dressed in his royal clothes). The king gave instructions for all his ministers to assemble in order to witness this comic spectacle exposing a man who had stuck a piece of wood in his sword in place of the blade. The man came before the king and fell at his feet.

“My lord the king, why have I been summoned?” he asked.

“In order to cut off this condemned criminal’s head,” replied the king.

The man pleaded that he had never in his life shed blood. He begged the king to call someone else for this.

The king answered that he and nobody else was obliged to kill the man.

“Is the verdict so clear-cut?” asked the man. “Perhaps it is not so clear that he deserves to die. I have never shed blood in my life. How could I shed blood when it is not clear that the prisoner deserves to die?”

The king replied that there was no shadow of a doubt that the prisoner deserved to die. “And you and nobody else must execute him.”

The man saw that he could not prevail over the king, so he turned to God and said: “Eternal God: Never in my life have I shed blood. If this man is not guilty, let the blade of my sword turn into wood!”

He took hold of the sword and drew it from the sheath, and everybody saw that it was made of wood. Everybody laughed heartily, and the king saw that he was an excellent man and sent him off in peace.

Chayey Moharan (manuscript)

Translation (c) Azamra Institute.

Trees, Torah and Caring for the Earth

From the Canfei Nesharim website:

Trees, Torah and Caring for the Earth
By Dr. Akiva Wolff and Rabbi Yonatan Neril [1]

Tu b’Shevat, “the New Year of the Tree,” [2] has become known as a day for raising Jewish-environmental awareness. That the New Year of the Tree has come to be associated with sensitivity to and appreciation of the natural environment is not by chance. Many Jewish sources connect trees with our proper stewardship of the earth. Understanding these teachings on Tu b'Shevat can help us improve our relationship to G-d’s creation, our world.

The Torah is called a “tree of life” (Proverbs 3:18), showing how trees connect to the highest Jewish values. Trees also symbolize a healthy and sustainable environment.

“When G-d created the first man He took him and showed him all the trees of the Garden of Eden and said to him 'See My works, how beautiful and praiseworthy they are. And everything that I created, I created it for you. Be careful not to spoil or destroy My world - for if you do, there will be nobody after you to repair it.'” [3]

This Midrash singles out the trees of the Garden of Eden - rather than the Garden of Eden itself - to represent the natural world G-d created and the imperative not to destroy it. Trees also symbolize the necessary environment for human life when the Jewish people enter the land of Israel. Encouraging us to emulate G-d, the Midrash teaches:

“It is said, 'follow the Lord, your G-d' ((Deuteronomy 12:5). This means follow His example. When He created the world, His first action was to plant trees, as it written, 'and G-d planted a garden [of trees] in Eden' (Genesis 2:8). So you, too, when you will enter the land of Israel, planting trees should be your first involvement.” [4]

There are numerous other essential elements for human beings in a healthy environment, yet these sources identify trees as emblematic. Trees also take a long time to bear fruit, which is why we plant them first. Thus trees represent the long-term needs of the land and people.

The message of Bal Tashchit – the prohibition against waste and needless destruction -- also begins with trees. The Torah (in Deuteronomy 20:19-20) teaches us that we are not to cut down fruit trees in wartime. It asks, “Is the tree of the field a man, to go into the siege before you?” Destroying trees is understood by our sages to encompass the entire range of needless destruction.

Rashi (France, 1040-1105 C.E.) understands this verse to mean that, since the tree is not an enemy, we have no right to destroy it or make it suffer. Rabbeinu Bachya (Spain, 1255-1340 C.E.) explains this to mean that trees are so important to people that they are compared to human beings, which is to say, destroying those trees destroys human life, because it may destroy the lives that depend on them.

These Jewish Sages highlight the Torah's use of trees to generate within us compassion and awareness of interdependence, both essential for living in ecological balance.

In addition to inappropriate destruction, lessons about trees also teach proper use of resources. The Midrash (Tanchuma, Teruma 9) teaches that the Israelites planted saplings when they arrived in Egypt. When the Jews left Egypt, they cut these trees t for use in the Sanctuary of G-d. The trees sang with joy because they were being elevated for a holy, long-term purpose. We too can sanctify our resource use with holy intent.

Jewish teachings about trees apply not only to biblical Israel, but also to the environmental challenges we face in the modern world. Today we use trees in myriad ways, more than ever before, with tremendous ramifications for the future of the rainforests, the global climate, and human civilization itself. A few ways we can reduce our tree consumption are to buy products in bulk and thereby use less packaging, arrange to receive bank, phone, and other bills electronically, and bring a cloth bag instead of using paper (or plastic).

Bringing this wisdom about trees into our daily lives can help us become more cognizant of the precious resources we have been given, and more careful about how we use them. In so doing, we can transform our relationship to the natural world, sanctify our daily actions, and take better care of the planet G-d created.

1) This dvar Torah has been adapted by the authors and Evonne Marouk from Dr. Akiva Wolff's “The Trees in Jewish Thought” and Rabbi Yonatan Neril's “The Trees Sang with Joy,” both available at
2) Mishna Rosh Hashana 1:1. This is the opinion of Beit Hillel.
3) Midrash Kohelet Raba 7:28
4) Midrash Vayikra Rabba 25:3

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Breslov Mesorah

This essay first appeared on “A Simple Jew,” a Breslov-oriented blog, Chanukah 5768 / 2007. It has been slightly modified for this posting.

The Breslov Mesorah
By Dovid Sears

There were several Breslov communities in Ukraine during the 19th century until Stalin destroyed them all in the 1930s, including those of Uman, Breslov, Teplik, Dashev, and Tcherin, of which Uman and Tcherin were the largest kehillos. During the 1920s, Breslover Chassidus began to spread rapidly in Poland, largely through the efforts of the fiery Rabbi Yitzchok Breiter, who later perished in the Holocaust. (Reb Yitzchok Breiter traveled to Uman for Rosh Hashanah until WWI. He was in touch with Breslovers in Uman already by Pesach 5666 / Spring 1905.)

In addition, there were a few Breslovers in Eretz Yisrael, beginning with disciples of the Rebbe and Reb Noson in Tzefas and Tiveria, and continuing until the present. The letters Rabbi Noson of Tiveria (son of Reb Leibel Reuven’s, a close disciple of Reb Noson), were published by Rabbi Noson Zvi Kenig of Bnei Brak as “Nesiv Tzaddik”; they are an inspiring body of work, full of spiritual guidance, as well as historical information. Inevitably there were different groups with different leaders. But by and large, the Breslover Chassidim got along with each other, and their ahavas chaverim seems to have been very strong in most times and places.

Not all of the Rebbe's followers accepted Reb Noson as the foremost teacher after the Rebbe's passing, but we have no record that this ever led to actual strife. In fact, several prominent members of other chaburos (groups) sent their sons to learn from Reb Noson. One case in point: Reb Hirsch Leib was a follower of the Rebbe’s talmid Reb Shmuel Isaac, but he sent his son Reb Nachman—later to become the Tcheriner Rov—to Reb Noson. Similarly, Reb Naftoli sent his son Reb Ephraim to Reb Noson. None of these other groups lasted after their founders passed away, while Reb Noson alone succeeded in enabling the Rebbe’s light to endure—as the Rebbe had predicted in calling Reb Noson “my Yehoshua.”

In Uman at the turn of the 20th century, there were several prominent teachers, including Reb Avraham ben Reb Nachman, Reb Shimshon Barsky (who was a descendant of Rebbe Nachman), Reb Avraham Sternhartz, etc. Yet they all were close with one another, despite any differences of viewpoint or approach.

When the Breslovers who survived Stalin relocated to Eretz Yisrael during the 1930s and in the 1940s, following the Holocaust, more pronounced differences began to emerge. The Polish Breslovers were from a different cultural background than the Russians / Ukrainians, and both were different than scions of old-time Yerushalayim families who became Breslovers. So they occasionally had different ways of doing things and seeing things. Plus they had somewhat different mesorahs (traditions).

Born in Poland, Reb Yisrael Karduner discovered a copy of Tikkun HaKlalli in his youth, and eventually traveled to Tcherin and Uman to study at the feet of Reb Noson's talmidim. He eventually made his way to Eretz Yisrael, where was mekarev other Breslover Chasidim until his untimely death during an epidemic in 1920.

Reb Avraham ben Reb Nachman, son of Reb Noson’s close follower Reb Nachman Tulchiner, was a key figure in Uman and later in Yerushalayim, and he passed on many oral traditions (some of which are found in his “Kokhvei Ohr”). Plus Reb Avraham ben Reb Nachman was an extreme ascetic who had nothing to do with the materialism of this world, and his approach no doubt reflected his unusual personality. His “Bi'ur HaLikkutim” (parts of which are missing) is one of the most profound works ever written on Likutey Moharan.

Then the tremendous gaon and kabbalist Rav Avraham Sternhartz arrived in Yerushalayim from Ukraine in 1936 and provided a major link in the transmission of Breslover Chassidus to Eretz Yisrael. Reb Avraham was a grandson of the Tcheriner Rav and great‐grandson of Reb Noson, who became the teacher of Reb Gedaliah Kenig and numerous other Breslover Gedolim. An orphan, Reb Avraham was raised by the Tcheriner Rov, and during his youth met all of the living talmidim of Reb Noson, including Reb Moshe Breslover. He was Ba’al Mussaf and Ba’al Tokei’a for many decades in Uman, and served as Rav of Kremenchug and later in Uman until he escaped the U.S.S.R. at the height of the Stalinist purges. Reb Avraham immediately became a key figure in the Jerusalem community, attracting many disciples, and soon established the Rosh Hashanah gathering in Meron. He also inspired the effort to establish a Breslov community in Tsfas and more broadly to revive religious life in the “city of the kabbalists” (see below).

Among the prominent Polish Breslovers in Eretz Yisrael were Reb Elchonon Spector (not to be confused with the Kovno Rov of the same name), whose letters are published in “Ginzei Abbah”; and after WWII, Reb Ephraim'l of Pshedbarz, author of “Oneg Shabbos,” and the holy badchan (wedding jester) and baal menagen Reb Ben Zion Apter, among others.

After the War of Independence in 1948, the Jerusalem Breslover community continued to grow, and soon extended to several neighborhoods. Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender, a Polish Breslover who had gone to Uman as a sixteen-year-old and miraculously survived the Stalinist persecutions, became a central figure in Meah Shearim. He deserves most of the credit for building up the Breslov kehillah in Meah Shearim after the Holocaust. Reb Levi Yitzchok’s oral histories were published in eight volumes as “Si’ach Sarfei Kodesh.”

Although much younger than Reb Avraham Sternhartz (in fact, he almost became Reb Avraham's son-in-law at one point), Reb Levi Yitzchok turned into something of an opponent of Reb Avraham. The lightning rod for this conflict ostensibly was Reb Avraham's position about forming a Breslover gathering in Meron for Rosh Hashanah. Reb Avraham held that davenning in Meron on Rosh Hashanah near the kever (grave) of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is tantamount to davenning in Uman near the kever of Rebbe Nachman, given the profound connection between Reb Shimon and the Rebbe (see Rabbi Shmuel Moshe Kramer’s “Chadi Rabbi Shimon” for a presentation of the Meroner shittah)—and that the awesome tikkunim of “the Rebbe’s Rosh Hashanah” could be obtained in Meron, as well. This was a radical idea that Reb Levi Yitzchok and others could not accept, even though it came from one of Reb Avraham’s towering stature.

This controversy deeply divided the community until Uman finally opened up again in the late 1980s. Reb Avraham's closest talmid, Reb Gedaliah Kenig, persisted in keeping the Meron gathering alive after his teacher's passing in 1955, and he was fiercely loyal to Reb Avraham's mesorahs. He published some of Reb Avraham’s oral histories related to Likutey Moharan in “Tovos Zichronos.” Reb Gedaliah founded the Tsfas Breslov community at Reb Avraham's behest; and he authored “Chayei Nefesh,” an exploration of the role of the tzaddik, written as a response to Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin’s “Nefesh HaChaim.” (Reb Gedaliah’s other works remain in manuscript.)

Other close talmidim of Reb Avraham were Rabbi Moshe Burstein (who passed away several months ago in his mid-90s) and his son Rabbi Nachman Burstein (now in his 70s), who were "Meroners," but avoided conflict with Reb Levi Yitzchok as much as possible. Reb Moshe founded the Ohr Avraham Shul in the Katamon neighborhood of Yerushalayim, which later was sold and rebuilt in another neighborhood. During the last years of his life, Reb Avraham actually lived with Reb Moshe Burstein’s family. Reb Shmuel Shapiro was a talmid of Reb Avraham and a “Meroner,” who nevertheless remained close with Reb Levi Yitzchok. Reb Shmuel was a respected member of the Meah Shearim kehillah, known for his prishus (asceticism) and intense devotions, as well as for his kind and pleasant personality. A biography plus some of his letters was published as “U’Shmuel Bekorei Shemo.” Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz, too, was a talmid of Reb Avraham who went on to become one of the great ovdim ("servants of God") and profound thinkers of his generation. Reb Shmuel’s father had been the Chief Rabbi of Tzefat and a prominent Chabad chassid, who initially fought against his young son’s “conversion” to Breslov tooth and nail. However, later they not only became reconciled, but Reb Shmuel’s father helped to support him during some financial hard times. Reb Shmuel tells his story in the three-volume autobiography, “Yemei Shmuel.”

The Rosh Yeshiva of the Breslov yeshivah in Meah Shearim was Rabbi Elyah Chaim Rosen, a product of the Lomza Teshiva who had spent a number of his younger years in Uman. (Reb Elyah Chaim was the main teacher of Reb Chaim Kramer after he came to Eretz Yisrael as a bochur, as well as numerous other Breslover Chassidim today.) He was politically aligned with his lifelong friend, Reb Levi Yitzchok.

In America, Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld, a close disciple of Reb Avraham Sternhartz and a descendant of Rebbe Nachman's follower Reb Aharon, the Rov of Breslov, took the lead in Breslov outreach. Rabbi Herschel Wasilski, who remained close with both Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender and Reb Elyah Chaim Rosen after WW II, played a pivotal role in building up Breslov Chassidus in New York. (For a more detailed history, see the two-part posting Breslov in America.) Both Rabbi Rosenfeld and Rabbi Wasilski helped raise significant funds to build the Breslov synagogue in the Meah She'arim neighborhood of Jerusalem and to assist needy Breslover families -- although both lived on the brink of poverty themselves.

In Bnei Brak, Rabbi Shimon Bergstein and Rabbi Noson Zvi Kenig founded yeshivos and were important scholars. Reb Noson Zvi created numerous indexes and anthologies from the Breslov literature; biographical and bibliographical works; volumes of historical letters from Breslover Chassidim; and similar anthologies from the works of the RAMAK, ARI, and Tikkuney Zohar.


In brief, there are at least two basic lines of transmission: 1) From Reb Noson to the Tcheriner Rav to Reb Avraham Sternhartz to Reb Gedaliah Kenig (Tsfas) and other talmidim of Reb Avraham; 2) from Reb Noson to Reb Nachman Tulchiner to Reb Avraham ben Reb Nachman to Reb Levi Yitchok Bender (Yerushalayim) and his talmidim. The “Poilisher” Breslovers might see Reb Yitzchok Breiter as the key person after Reb Avraham Sternhartz, or after Reb Avraham and Reb Shimshon Barsky, both of whom were teachers of Reb Yitzchok. (I’m not sure, because I never discussed this with any of them. Rabbi Moshe Yaakov Rosen and Rabbi Nachman Dov of Monsey, or Rabbi Avraham Moshe Wasilski of Williamsburg, would know more about this chapter of Breslov history.) Many Breslovers accept traditions from more than one mesorah, even if they have an allegiance to one in particular.

To become a true Breslover Chassid, it is essential to receive from teachers who are bearers of the mesorah, as Reb Noson often states. Otherwise, the “mesorah” one follows will be that of his own imagination. However, in the final analysis, the Rebbe speaks to each of us in his own way—through his writings and through his talmidim—and this is the main thing.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tu BiShvat Seder In Flatbush

DATE: Tuesday, February 7

TIME: 7:30 - 10:30 pm

LOCATION: Khal Bnei Yisroel, 884 East 7th St (between Foster and Ave. H)

PLEASE RSVP by Feb 5 (718) 813- 5386
Rabbi and Mrs Tzvi Mandel

Couples $36

Singles (men and women) $18

Divrei Torah. Participants read from special Tu BiShvat "Hagaddah."

Singing, instrumental music, wide array of Tu B'Shvat fruits, nuts, grains and wines.

Come and celebrate the new year of the trees!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Giving and Spiritual Transformation, Part I

By Dovid Sears

Rebbe Nachman has many profound things to say about tzedakah (charity) and both its immediate, practical effects, as well as its “ripple” effects, its cosmic repercussions. To present some of these ideas, I’d like to discuss a section of Torah Lesson 13 from his magnum opus, Likutey Moharan. We will present the text in bold type and interpolate our explanation after each quote.

Rebbe Nachman begins:

It is impossible to elicit complete Divine Providence until one breaks the desire for wealth. This is accomplished through tzedakah.

Divine Providence is the revelation of God’s miraculous hand in creation, how everything that seems to obey the laws of nature is truly miraculous, and reflects God’s will alone. The concept of “complete” Divine Providence is explained later in the lesson, when Rebbe Nachman compares God’s watchfulness to human vision. It is one thing to gaze at something in the distance, but quite another to actually discern it lucidly, so that the image “bounces back” and is formed in the eye. The latter case establishes an intimate connection between the perceiver and the thing seen. In terms of Divine Providence, this is called “complete.” Gazing without such focus remains incomplete. Rebbe Nachman calls it “half-seeing.”

To the extent that we are lost in the illusion of nature as a separate entity that “runs by itself,” our perception of God’s Providence is diminished. We remove ourselves from the Divine field of vision. To the extent that we break through the illusion of nature, however, God’s Providence is manifest in our lives.

Belief in nature as a self-contained system that can be successfully “worked” by someone who knows the right tricks is bound up with the desire for wealth. Elsewhere, Rebbe Nachman states that the lust for money includes all other evil desires.[1] Perhaps this is because it is the most encompassing expression of ego: the will to dominate and control the universe. Wealth is the means by which one tries to take over the reins from God. Thus, a few lines later in the lesson Rebbe Nachman refers to the “idolatry of money.”

Tzedakah is the antithesis of all this. It affirms the value of the other, and bespeaks the knowledge that each of us is only a part of a greater whole, a “cell in the cosmic body.” What is more, by giving tzedakah we must break our innate selfishness, the illusion that we somehow exist as entities unto ourselves. We let go of the false security that money provides, and instead rely upon God, Who “shows mercy unto the merciful.”[2]

For it is taught in the Zohar (III, 224a): “A ru’ach (wind, or spirit) descends to cool off the heat of the heart; and when the ru’ach descends, the heart receives it with the joy of the Levites’ song.”

The Zohar compares the individual to the Holy Temple, in which the Levites primarily sang and played music, while the Kohanim-Priests performed the various rites. The act of giving charity is analogous to bringing a sacrifice; in Hebrew the word for sacrifice is korbon, from the root karav, meaning to come near. Thus, tzedakah, too, heals our state of spiritual alienation and brings us closer to God.

Kabbalistically, music reflects the balance of two opposing forces: Chesed, or lovingkindness, which the Zohar represents as the ru’ach-wind; and Gevurah, might and strict judgment, which the Zohar represents as the “heat of the heart.” Unchecked, either force can prove harmful; they are opposite extremes. However, when Chesed tempers Gevurah, something positive can result. In the present context, the feelings of the heart can now be expressed in a structured way. This is the “Levite’s Song.”

Ru’ach” corresponds to the paradigm of charity, which is an expression of a “generous ru’ach” [ru’ach nedivah, as in Psalms 51:14]. Through this, the heat of the desire for wealth is cooled. This is an aspect of “He shall cut off the ru’ach of the noblemen” (Psalms 76:13), for the ru’ach diminishes the desire for nobility and affluence.

Rebbe Nachman suggests that tzedakah is more than one mitzvah or category of mitzvos, among others.[3] It is an expression of the “generous ru’ach,” a spiritual quality that characterizes a way of being in the world that is the antithesis of the insatiable lust for wealth and prestige, and the egoism that drives it. Through this ru’ach, the “taker” becomes a “giver.”

The “Levites’ Song” corresponds to the paradigm of doing business in faith: one rejoices in his portion and does not run after riches. For melody is equivalent to doing business [Hebrew:masa u-matan, literally, “picking up and giving”]. As it is written, “Pick up a tune, and give [i.e., beat] the hand-drum” (Psalms 81:3).

The Hebrew words for “pick up” and “give” are related to masa u-matan, the “give and take” of business. Obsessed with reaping large profits, one may approach business as a fierce battle; or one may approach it as merely a way of making a vessel for God’s blessings. One who chooses the latter course will primarily rely upon God, not upon clever strategies in which material ends too often justify unethical means. This is masa u-matan bi-emunah, doing business in faith. The “Levites’ song,” the balance of Chesed and Gevurah, is present there.

“Joy” [of the Levites’ song] corresponds to one who is happy with his lot (Avos 4:1).

This alludes to the “music of life”: one lives in harmony with the Divine will, accepting good and bad with equanimity, and withdraws from trying to manipulate the world through various strategies. This music is joyous because it is free of the fear and insecurity that lie at the root of ego. Moreover, by relying upon God, one cleaves to Him; and it is written, “Might and gladness are in His Place” (I Chronicles 16:27). Then Divine Providence is complete. Effortlessly, one is strong; effortlessly, one is joyous.

Part II continued here.
[1] Likutey Moharan I, 23.

[2] Shabbos 151b.

[3] The Babylonian Talmud states that tzedakah is equivalent to all of the mitzvos (Bava Basra 9a), and throughout the Jerusalem Talmud, tzedakah is called “the mitzvah” (as noted in Likutey Amarim-Tanya, chap. 37). In addition, see Rebbe Nachman’s Sefer HaMiddos, Inyan Tzedakah, A 14, which Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig discusses in Chayei Nefesh, chap. 31.

Giving and Spiritual Transformation, Part II

By Dovid Sears

Review: In Part I, we learned that in order to cause Divine Providence to become fully revealed in our lives, we must overcome the craving for wealth. This is accomplished through tzedakah, usually translated as “charity,” but which in an extended sense might be rendered as “giving” or “altruism.” Rebbe Nachman relates tzedakah to a teaching from the Zohar: ”A ru’ach (wind, or spirit) descends to cool off the heat of the heart; and when the ru’ach descends, the heart receives it with the joy of the Levites’ song.” This implies that man is a miniature Holy Temple, and that tzedakah is an expression of the spirit of giving which tempers our desires and produces “holy music.” Rebbe Nachman extends the metaphor of holy music to include the spiritual state in which we conduct our business dealings. If we do so with emunah / faith, trusting in God and not succumbing to greed or dishonesty, this challenging aspect of our lives, too, becomes a kind of music and a source of joy.

Now Rebbe Nachman continues his exploration of the Zohar’s analogy:

This is the paradigm of the sacred incense (Ketoret), which binds the heat of the heart with the ru’ach.

Compounded of eleven ingredients according to a carefully-guarded formula, the Ketores (sacred incense) accomplished the nullification of harsh decrees. For example, the Torah tells us that when a plague broke out among the Israelites in the desert, Aharon the High Priest ran into the camp with his fire-pan of incense, putting a stop to the plague (Numbers 17:11-15).

The Zohar (ibid.) notes that the word Ketores is similar to katar, the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew kashar, meaning to “tie” or “combine.” By combining fire with sweet fragrance, the Ketores fuses the influences of Gevurah and Chesed, tempering harsh decrees.[1] Thus, Ketores shares the properties of tzedakah and the “wind” that tempers the heat of the heart, transmuting it to gladness and song.

Rebbe Nachman brings two scriptural verses to support this comparison:

This is the meaning of “incense gladdens the heart” (Proverbs 27:9). It also corresponds to “They shall place the fragrance of incense in Your nostrils (be-apekha)” (Deuteronomy 33:10). For the paradigm of incense nullifies the paradigm of “By the sweat of your brow (af) you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19).

With this, Rebbe Nachman discloses a new vista of meaning. Adam was cursed with struggling for his livelihood when he was banished from the Garden of Eden. By stating that sacred incense nullifies this curse, Rebbe Nachman implies that tzedakah (which a moment ago he equated with the incense) opens the invisible gates that were locked after the first sin. Cultivating a giving spirit not only tempers harsh judgments, but also restores Paradise Lost.

One might ask: what is so special about tzedakah that it can bring about such an encompassing tikkun (spiritual rectification)? Tzedakah possesses this potency because it bears within itself something of the Garden of Eden. The will to benefit another person springs forth from the “Garden of Eden” within the giver, which is the original condition of the soul. This is characterized by dissolving the division between self and other: no ego. (Thus, Rebbe Nachman asserts that only the essential humility of a person will arise at the Resurrection of the Dead not the deluded “I,” which is self-importance.) [2]

This is an aspect of the revelation of Mashiach. Then the craving after money will be nullified, as it is written, “On that day, man will cast away his gods of silver and gods of gold” (Isaiah 2:20). This reflects the paradigm of “The breath (ru’ach) of our nostrils (af), the Mashiach [literally, ‘anointed’] of God” (Lamentations 4:20).

“As long as the idolatry of money exists in the world, burning anger (charon af) exists in the world” (Sifre on Deuteronomy 13:18). To the extent that this idolatry is nullified burning anger is nullified, as in “the breath of our nostrils, the Mashiach / anointed of God” (op cit.).

The craving for wealth is bound up with the perception of nature as an autonomous entity, inexorably governed by its own laws. Therefore the pursuit of wealth gives power to God’s attribute of Gevurah, strict judgment, and arouses “burning anger” (af). However, Mashiach bears the ru’ach of giving which nullifies the idolatrous craving for wealth and the Divine wrath it brings in its wake. Indeed, this altruistic spirit is the Mashiach.

Then loving-kindness (Chesed) is drawn into the world, as in “He performs chesed for His Mashiach / anointed one” (Psalms 18:51).

After the “burning anger” (af) has been nullified, Chesed can flow into the world. This is the underlying Divine intention in creation.[3]

When this lovingkindness is revealed, divine knowledge (Da’as) becomes manifest. This is the “rebuilding of the House,” indicated by the verse, “And as for me, according to Your abundant kindness, I shall enter Your House” (Psalms 5:8).

The Talmud (cited below) equates the Holy Temple and Divine knowledge / Da’as, supporting this assertion by pointing out that each term appears in a scriptural verse, couched between two Divine Names. This suggests that Da’as is the inner aspect of the Holy Temple.

Just as the Holy Temple will be restored during the Messianic Age, this exalted knowledge will be the crowning touch of the Redemption. Freed from the illusion of external appearances,[4] all humanity will perceive the essence of reality, which is Godliness. As the prophet states: “And God’s Glory shall be revealed, and together all flesh will see it “ (Isaiah 40:5).

As it is written in the Zohar (III, 220b): “And the right side . . . has been readied for building the Holy Temple.” This is because Divine knowledge is the paradigm of the House, as our Sages of blessed memory state, “When one possesses Da’as, it is as if the Holy Temple were built…” (Berakhos 33a).

The “right side” denotes the attribute of Chesed. Thus, the act of tzedakah, as a paramount expression of lovingkindness, nullifies all harsh judgments and “builds” the Holy Temple, causing Da’as / Divine knowledge to illuminate the world. Then we will see that everything is miraculous, and nature is but a lens through which to perceive Divinity.

The Sages of the Talmud taught that the Final Redemption will come about only in the merit of tzedakah.[5] Surely we hasten the Redemption with every penny we give to a worthy receiver; but when we do so in a true spirit of generosity, without self-serving motives, we actually experience a glimmer of the Redemption.

[1] See Rabbi Nachman Goldstein of Tcherin, Parpara’os le-Chokhmah, ad loc.

[2] Likutey Moharan II, 72. Rebbe Nachman also defines nullification of the ego as the final spiritual hurdle to be overcome in his path of hisbodedus / secluded meditation and prayer. See Likutey Moharan I, 52 (re. “eizeh davar,” with Reb Noson’s explanation in brackets).

[3] Rabbi Chaim Vital, Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar ha-Klalim, 1:1; cf. Likutey Moharan I, 64.

[4] Cf. Likutey Moharan, I, 1, which discusses seeing past externals in order to glimpse the sekhel she-bekhol davar, the animating Divine intellect within all things.

[5] Shabbos 139a; Sanhedrin 98a; also see the explanation of this in Likutey Amarim-Tanya, Igeres ha-Kodesh, Letter 9.