Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hisbodedus Customs

From “Breslov Eikh she-Hu: Breslov Customs and Practices, Past and Present” compiled by Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears.

Rebbe Nachman urged his followers to seclude themselves, preferably in the fields or forests, for at least one hour a day in order to meditate and express themselves in their native tongue before HaShem. The best time for this is at night, while most people are sleeping.


(Likutey Moharan I, 52; ibid. II, 25, 95-101, et al.)


However, if one finds it impossible to practice hisbodedus for a full hour, one should do so even for a shorter time—even in a private corner of one's home or under one's talis—rather than let a day pass without hisbodedus.

(Sichos ha-Ran 274, 275)


Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender stated that one should not practice hisbodedus in the fields or forests at night without a companion within audible range.

(See Si'ach Sarfey Kodesh IV, 186.)


However, Reb Elazar Kenig took issue with the reason printed in Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh. There is a tradition that the Rebbe once said that if he had a young son, he would allow him to practice hisbodedus alone. The reason why one should have a companion is not because of any ordinary danger, but rather because of a terrible incident perpetrated on a follower of Reb Noson by certain opponents of Breslov in Reb Noson’s day.

(Heard from Rabbi Elazar Mordechai Kenig)


A Breslover woman has no obligation to practice hisbodedus for a full hour on a regular basis. Rather, her hisbodedus may consist of speaking to HaShem in the midst of household and other daily activities, or when she finds some spare time. As a rule, women should not practice hisbodedus in the fields or forests at night, but in their own homes, backyards, or in another safe, private place.

(Heard from various Breslov teachers)


Reb Gedaliah Kenig taught that one should always begin hisbodedus with praises and expressions of gratitude to HaShem, and only then engage in rigorous self-examination, vidui devorim, appealing for divine assistance, etc. One should always conclude on a positive note, confident that HaShem will surely help.

(Cf. Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Tefillah 1:4, re. the structure of the daily prayer service)


Before hisbodedus, Reb Gedaliah was accustomed to say "Hareini mekasher…" (see elsewhere in this compilation under "Hiskashrus / Binding Oneself to the Tzaddik and to Klal Yisrael") and "Le-shem yichud Kud’sha Berikh Hu u-Shechinteh, bi-dechilu u-rechimu, le-yached Shem ‘Yud-Heh’ be-‘Vav-Heh’ be-yichuda shelim be-shem kol Yisrael . . . For the sake of the unification of the Holy One, blessed be He, and His Presence, in fear and in love, to unite the Name Yud-Heh with Vav-Heh in perfect unity, in the name of all Israel." He made both declarations before performing many mitzvos and avodos.


Reb Elazar Mordechai Kenig once defined improper hisbodedus as when one focuses on asking HaShem for things. This leads to anger, as stated in Sefer Alef-Beis A 35 (“Improper hisbodedus leads to anger”).


When several Breslovers go to hisbodedus together, it is customary to dance afterward. This reflects the Rebbe’s statement that one knows that he has achieved a lev nishbar (a “broken heart” in the positive sense) if he subsequently experiences simchah.


(Sichos ha-Ran 20)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Rav Kenig in Monsey

Rabbi Elazar Mordechai Kenig of the Tsfat Breslov community arrived in Monsey, NY, last Sunday. April 22nd, and will be staying there for at least one week, and possibly two. He is a guest of Mr and Mrs Jack Klein, 19 Briarwood Lane (which is off College Road, near the new Yeshiva of Spring Valley building). If you would like to make an appointment to speak with Rav Kenig, please call his Gabbai here in America, Rabbi Dovid Zeitlin: 1-718-288-1951. Rabbi Kenig usually gives shiurim at the Klein home while visiting New York, and Melaveh Malkas are usually open to the public. But please check with Rabbi Zeitlin to make sure.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Breslov Pirkei Avos

Since it is customary to study a chapter of Pirkey Avos each Shabbos afternoon between Pesach and Shavuos, we plan to post an excerpt from the Breslov Research Institute anthology each week for the next six weeks. (The BRI translations reflect the Sefardic pronunciation of Hebrew, unlike most of the postings on this website.) These excerpts are just what caught our eye as we looked over the book. There are many inspiring and profound teachings on virtually every page.

From Pirkey Avot, Chapter 1


יוֹסֵי בֶּן יוֹעֶזֶר אִישׁ צְרֵדָה וְיוֹסֵי בֶּן יוֹחָנָן אִישׁ יְרוּשָׁלַיִם קִבְּלוּ מֵהֶם. יוֹסֵי בֶן יוֹעֶזֶר אִישׁ צְרֵדָה אוֹמֵר, יְהִי בֵיתְךָ בֵּית וַעַד לַחֲכָמִים, וֶהֱוֵי מִתְאַבֵּק בַּעֲפַר רַגְלֵיהֶם, וֶהֱוֵי שׁוֹתֶה בַצָּמָא אֶת דִּבְרֵיהֶם:

Yose ben Yoezer of Tzereidah and Yose ben Yochanan of Jerusalem received the tradition from them. Yose ben Yoezer of Tzereidah said, “Let your house be a meeting place for the wise, sit in the dust at their feet, and drink in their words thirstily.”

Digest of Commentaries:

Following Antignos of Sokho, the era of the Zugot (“Pairs”) began. From that time on, for almost three hundred years, there were always two Sages at the helm of the Jewish tradition. The leader of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court) was called the Nasi (“Prince" or "President”). Second to him was the Av Bet Din (“Chief Justice”). Yose ben Yoezer was the Nasi and Yose ben Yochanan was the Av Bet Din. Both were disciples of Antignos of Sokho. Accordingly, a variant text states that they "received the tradition from him." But others maintain that they “received the tradition from them”—that is, from Shimon HaTzaddik, and subsequently, from Antignos (Tosefot Yom Tov).

A meeting place for the wise

Rebbe Nachman once remarked, “What most inspired me to devote myself to serving God in truth was hearing stories about tzaddikim.”

He explained that many great tzaddikim used to visit his parents’ house, which had once been the home of the Baal Shem Tov (Rebbe Nachman’s maternal great-grandfather). These illustrious Chassidim would come frequently to Medzeboz to pray at the Baal Shem Tov’s grave, and on their way most of them would visit Rebbe Nachman’s parents.

Thus during his youth, the Rebbe came to hear their stories, which awakened in his soul the burning desire to serve God and to strive for the highest spiritual levels (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #138).

A meeting place for the wise

Reb Noson: The Torah verse that commands us to affix a mezuzah to our doorposts—“You shall inscribe these [words] on the doorposts of your house” (Deuteronomy 6:9) – begins in the second-person plural but ends in the second-person singular. The mezuzah, which declares God’s Oneness—“Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” (ibid., 6:4)—makes each house into a place where diverse viewpoints within the Torah can be brought together in unity and peace.

Therefore Pirkey Avot states, “Let your house be a meeting place for the wise.” This suggests a home in which sages gather in order to find ways to solve the problems of society. Each sage expresses his opinion according to his way of thinking, after which compromises are sought between opposing views and resolutions are passed. This is the main purpose of a house being called "a meeting place" (bet va’ad).

Every Jewish home must serve as “a meeting place for the wise” as well. That is, every Jewish home must be imbued with the same spirit of peace and harmony which emerges from the debate of true sages who seek to benefit the world. For true sages know and believe – even when expressing their differences – that, in fact, everything is one, as the mezuzah attests (based on Likutey Halakhot, Mezuzah 4:5).

Growth through struggle

Reb Noson: One must "sit in the dust" at the feet of the tzaddikim, for it is impossible to enter the realm of holiness except through suffering and struggle. These difficulties humble us [like the lowly dust], while at the same time strengthening our resolve. Thus we may become fit vessels to receive the wisdom that the tzaddikim wish to impart (Mili D’Avot based on Likutey Halakhot, Minchah 7:92).

Sit in the dust at their feet

Reb Noson: The truth is extremely difficult to clarify. It requires a lifetime of diligent effort to distill even a small part of the truth. For the essence of truth in its fullness cannot be revealed until the End of Days; at present we can glean only a certain aspect of the truth, in accordance with our abilities and efforts.

For example, in the study of Torah, one person may merit to clarify certain laws while another may clarify other laws. But even this cannot be to the fullest extent, for “There is no law or teaching that is perfectly clear in any one place,” as our Sages state (Shabbat 138b-139a).

Nevertheless, we must engage in the work of birur (“clarification”) and exert ourselves to study the Torah so that we can accomplish our share in this great task, be it large or small. This applies to every aspect of Torah study, from the sublime to the mundane, from its esoteric teachings to its legal pronouncements—and even more so to the fulfillment of the Torah in action, which is the main objective. This also applies to the study of classical ethical texts which contain important advice and practical strategies to help us fulfill the Torah and remain faithful to the point of truth within each of us.

Such study is extremely deep and cannot be grasped except through strenuous effort and by “sitting in the dust at the feet” of the true sages. If we do so, we will surely succeed in fulfilling our share of the truth, according to our abilities (Likutey Halakhot, Shevuot 2:26).


Reb Noson: It is essential to "sit in the dust at the feet" of those who have attained true simplicity and purity of heart. Therefore we must endeavor to be accepted into a yeshivah [literally, “Torah academy,” but in this context, the spiritual fraternity of disciples] of a true tzaddik who can give us the instruction we need to fulfill the Torah.

Such a place of study will restore in us true faith in God and extricate us from the depths into which we may have fallen. Therefore if we truly care about our lives, we must set out in search of a yeshivah of a true tzaddik in order to attain perfect faith, fulfill the Torah, and save ourselves from drowning in the depths.

Such yeshivot have always existed since the days of our forefathers. Jacob was called “a simple man, dwelling in tents” (Genesis 25:27)—these "tents" were the holy yeshivot of Shem and Eber, where Jacob learned the ways of simplicity and truth, thus becoming a “simple man” (Likutey Halakhot, Nezikin 5:11).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

News from Canfei Nesharim

Two articles by Rabbi Sears of the Breslov Center are among the Core Teachings on a ground-breaking new project to raise the awareness of the Jewish public on environmental issues. His writings under the heading Tzaar Baalei Chaim: Compassion for All Creatures.

These materials are posted as part of Canfei Nesharim’s “Year of Jewish Learning on the Environment,” in partnership with Learn more at

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Art of Prayer

Translated by Aryeh Kaplan from “
Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom” (Breslov Research Institute) / Sichos HaRan 75
© 1973 The Breslov Research Institute

The Rebbe constantly told us to force ourselves to pray with devotion, strongly binding our thoughts to each word. He said that true devotion is listening very carefully to the words you are saying.

The Rebbe had told many of his disciples to study the Kabbalistic writings of the Ari. But even they were not advised to follow the Kabbalistic meditations (kavanos) found in these works.

He said that perfect prayer is the plain meaning of such words as Baruch Atah Hashem —”Blessed are You, G d.” Devotion is concentrating on the meaning of the words and listening to them carefully.

The Rebbe would ridicule those who said that one should not force himself to pray. He advised us very strongly to pray with all our might, putting all our strength into each letter of the service.

He also instructed us to ignore all disturbing thoughts during worship. His advice was that we merely pray correctly, disregarding all distractions. He said that we should turn our minds away from all such thoughts completely.

The Rebbe also said that it might be impossible to go through the entire service with proper devotion. Still, each person can say a small portion with true feeling.

We see this all the time. One person might have deep feelings while saying the Ketores, the prayers in place of the Incense Offering. Another might pray best during the Pesukey DeZimra, the opening psalms.

I once saw a lesson regarding this in the Rebbe’s writings. It was never copied,[1] and I can only report what I remember. The Tikkuney Zohar states that there are masters of the hands and masters of the feet.[2] There is a transcendental counterpart of the human body, and each of its limbs corresponds to a portion of the service. Each person is also associated with a particular limb. When he comes to the part of the service pertaining to his limb, he is aroused to great devotion.

You may sometimes pray with great devotion. Then the feeling departs, and the words begin to seem empty. Do not be discouraged, for you have merely left your area in the transcendental form. Continue the service, saying each word in absolute simplicity.

Sometimes you will try very hard and still not be able to pray. But never become discouraged. This is the most important rule of all. Force yourself to say each word of the service. Make believe that you are a child just learning to read and simply say the words. In most cases, G d will then touch your heart with a flame and it will be aroused to pray with feeling.

Do not make a test of this. For deep inside, you are very far from prayer.

Prayer is very high. It is even above the study of Torah. How can you be worthy of serving G d in such a lofty manner?

Do your part. Simply begin the words of the service, Adon Olom Asher Malach, ”Lord of the world, who was King. . .” Listen to every word you say. Concentrate and do not let your thoughts stray. Simply keep your mind on the words of the service. Follow the order of the service, even without feeling. Continue word by word, page by page, until G d helps you achieve a feeling of devotion. Even if you complete the entire service without feeling, it is not the end. You can still say a Psalm. There are other prayers to be said.[3]

In general, you must force yourself to do every holy task with all your might. This is especially true of prayer. If you are not worthy, it is still forbidden to become discouraged. Be strong and cheer yourself as much as possible. This is discussed widely in the Rebbe’s published works.[4]

Pray in happiness, with a joyful tune.

Put yourself into a cheerful mood before you begin your worship. Seek out your good points, using them to bring joy to your prayers. This is discussed in Likutey Moharan, on the verse (Psalms 146:2): “I will sing to G d (azamra) while I have my being.”[5] The Rebbe’s teachings regarding prayer are very extensive, and can only be outlined here. If you are intelligent, you will understand the main points. Ponder this well, for it contains awesome advice, and is full of truth and sincerity.

Look further in the Rebbe’s lessons on the, verse (Exodus 15:5), “Deep waters covered them,” and on (Genesis 6:16), “A light you shall make for the ark,” appearing in chapters 9 and 112 of Likutey Moharan. Open your eyes and contemplate these lessons well.[6]

In these lessons the Rebbe says that the main thing is truth.

You may be distracted during your devotions, but grasp onto truth.

No matter what your level, you can speak the simple truth in your prayers.

Consider the Rebbe’s words, and you will certainly be Worthy of true prayer. It is an important rule in all devotion.

The Tikkuney Zohar speaks of “hands writing secrets.”[7] We once heard that the Rebbe said that these are the motions one makes during prayer.

[1] A number of the Rebbe’s writings were destroyed at his express command. There was the Sefer HaNisraf (The Burned Book) which he ordered Reb Shimon to burn shortly before Pesach 5568 (1808), while the Rebbe was convalescing in Lemberg; Chayei Moharan 36b (#3); Yemey Moharnat 34b. There was also a chest of unpublished manuscripts that he ordered to be burned by Reb Shimon and Rabbi Naftali immediately after his passing, ibid. 40b.
[2] Cf. Tikkuney Zohar, Tikkun 18.
[3] Sichos Moharan 30a (#62).
[4] Likutey Moharan II, 48.
[5] Ibid. 282.
[6] Both of these lessons were given during the winter 5563. Lesson 112 was delivered at the beginning of the winter, while lesson 9 was revealed on Shabbos Shirah, 13 Shevat (Jan. 8. 1803), Chayei Moharan 4b (#3).
[7] Tikkuney Zohar 21 (44b); cf. Likutey Moharan II, 7:10.