Thursday, April 26, 2012
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
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
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:
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
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 Jewcology.com. Learn more at http://www.canfeinesharim.org/learning.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
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, and I can only report what I remember. The Tikkuney Zohar states that there are masters of the hands and masters of the feet. 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.
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.
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.” 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.
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.” We once heard that the Rebbe said that these are the motions one makes during prayer.
 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.
 Cf. Tikkuney Zohar, Tikkun 18.
 Sichos Moharan 30a (#62).
 Likutey Moharan II, 48.
 Ibid. 282.
 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).
 Tikkuney Zohar 21 (44b); cf. Likutey Moharan II, 7:10.
Monday, April 16, 2012
About ten years ago, Rabbi Yehoshua Yosef Kornblit of Yerushalayim published a “Baal Shem Tov Haggadah” with excerpts of various teachings relating to the text. I have often used this Haggadah, along with Rabbi Alter Tepliker’s Breslov Haggadah “Ohr Zarei’ach,” but didn’t notice that at the very end, he includes a few variations of the story of the Baal Shem Tov’s attempted journey to Eretz Yisrael.
If you can’t find a copy of this excellent Haggadah, you could try contacting Rabbi Kornblit, who lives at 15 Batey Varsha. The phone number given in my edition of the sefer is 02 (or just 2 from chutz la’aretz) 371-059. However, you probably need to add another digit before the 3, since Israeli telephone company switched to seven digit phone numbers in the interim. I’d suggest adding a 5, although I’m not sure.
The basic story as found in the sefer “Adas Tzaddikim” is much the same as our Breslov version (although not surprisingly, it doesn’t include the part about the Baal Shem Tov’s daughter Udel’s rescue in the merit of her future grandson Rebbe Nachman‘s writings). In that version, the cannibals are called “Haidamaks,” which is probably a just a loose usage of the term, and they seem to be pirates rather than man-eating natives. After Reb Hirsh Sofer and the Baal Shem Tov call out responsively the letters of the alef-beis, a bell starts ringing and a mysterious elderly captain comes to the rescue with a group of soldiers, and they scare off the pirates. In this account, the ship makes it back to Istanbul on the Seventh Day of Pesach. As for the old captain—he was none other than Elijah the Prophet.
Another retelling of the story in the sefer “Ginzey Yisrael” similarly ascribes the rescue of the Jewish community of Istanbul to the Baal Shem Tov’s singing “Le-she nifla’os gedolos levado,” but neglects to mention the emissaries and the intervention of the Sultan’s mother.
“Zera Baruch” describes how Reb Baruch of Medzibuzh would honor the Baal Shem Tov’s deliverance with a communal meal on Acharon shel Pesach and retell the story of his grandfather’s life from the day of his birth until his sea journey. There, he emphasizes that the underlying purpose of this journey was the final redemption of the Jewish people. For the Baal Shem Tov possessed the “nefesh” of Dovid HaMelekh, while the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh possessed the “ruach” of Dovid HaMelekh. And if the two tzaddikim had finally met, the Baal Shem Tov would have received the “neshamah” of Dovid HaMelekh and thus been empowered to bring about the ge’ulah sheleimah.
Rabbi Kornblit also cites the sefer “Ohev Yisrael” to the effect that the Apter Rov, who lived in Medzibuzh after the passing of Reb Baruch, would also conclude Pesach with a tisch that extended into the night in honor of the Baal Shem Tov’s miraculous rescue.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender, the central figure in the Meah Shearim Breslov kehillah after World War II until his passing in 1989, used to retell the story every year on Acharon shel Pesach. He always said that he retold the story the way he received it personally from Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Uman, a grandson of Rebbe Nachman and a leading mashpiya during the late late 1800s-early 1900s. However, Reb Levi Yitzchok also said that once someone asked his teacher Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman if Reb Shimshon’s version was accurate. He answered, “S’iz doh nuschos ... There are many versions!” (Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn). Like all oral traditions, there are a few differences over this detail or that. Yet these differences are relatively minor.
We have put together this brief outline so that at least something will be available in English for those who wish to tell the story during the final hours of Acharon shel Pesach. This is not an “official” version, but we hope it will be good for starters.
Beginning the Journey
The Baal Shem Tov experienced intense gagu’im to travel to Eretz Yisrael—until at last the time came. (This mystical understanding of traveling to Eretz Yisrael is echoed by Rebbe Nachman’s statement, “With every step, I’m going to Eretz Yisrael,” and his teaching that “all tefillos and avodahs ascend through Eretz Yisrael.” Just as Eretz Yisrael was the goal of the Exodus from Egypt, so in a mystical sense it represents the goal of the spiritual quest of each individual and the Jewish people collectively. See the Breslov teachings in the Tcheriner Rov’s anthology, Otzar HaYirah, “Eretz Yisrael.”)
The Baal Shem Tov took his only daughter, the tzaddekes Udel, and his chassid Reb Hirsch Sofer, as companions for the journey.
It was very unusual to go to Eretz Yisrael in those days, and extremely difficult—unlike today. But he trusted in Hashem and left home with only enough money to reach the next town. (It is well-known that the Baal Shem did not keep even a small coin overnight, but lived from day to day, trusting completely in Hashem.) He was confident that Hashem would make a way for him.
(When Rabbi Shmuel Breines tells the story in the Breslov Shtibel of Borough Park, he often stresses the importance of bitachon, total reliance upon Hashem. Two sources of inspiring teachings about bitachon are Rabbi Avraham ben HaRambam’s Sefer HaMaspik: Shaar HaBitachon, or Rabbenu Bachya Ibn Paquda’s Chovos HaLevavos: Shaar HaBitachon. A quote or two from such sources can help make the story more meaningful.)
Day by day and week by week the threesome traveled from one town to the next, heading toward the port city of Istanbul on the Black Sea. Somehow the Baal Shem Tov received enough money to keep traveling, until they arrived in Istanbul on Erev Pesach.
They had neither provisions nor money for lodgings. But the Baal Shem Tov was sure that everything would work out satisfactorily. They found an inn in the Jewish quarter of the city and took lodgings on the ground floor, where the horses were stabled. Udel went to shore to wash clothes for Yom Tov, while her father and Reb Hirsch went to a nearby Beis HaMidrash.
At the same time, a wealthy childless couple from Germany arrived in Istanbul. This couple had been following the Baal Shem Tov from town to town in order to obtain his brochah, and only caught up to him now. Bi-hashgochah pratis, they wound up at the same inn, where they rented a large suite of rooms, and bought matzos, wine and food for Pesach. Then they went in search of the Baal Shem Tov. They found a Jewish girl washing clothes at the sea-shore—Udel, of course—asked her if she knew the whereabouts of the Baal Shem Tov, and learned that the Baal Shem Tov was none other than her father. Overjoyed, they took Udel back to the inn and instructed the servants to bring the possessions of the tzaddik and his daughter and disciple from the stables to their rooms upstairs.
Knowing nothing about this, the Baal Shem Tov and Reb Hirsch davened, and came back after Maariv to find everything prepared for the sedorim and for Yom Tov. The Baal Shem Tov displayed no surprise at this, but proceeded to conduct the Seder without indicating that anything unusual had happened. Only after he had completed the Seder, did the Baal Shem Tov turn to their host and hostess and declare, “I know why you came here. Know that your wish has been fulfilled, and you will have a child this year!”
However, no sooner had the words escaped his lips than the Baal Shem Tov’s face clouded over, and he closed his eyes; he was experiencing aliyas ha-neshamah, an ascent of the soul to the upper worlds. His daughter Udel had seen this before, but now she was terrified—her father seemed to be in a state of gesisah mamash, his life seemed to be hanging by a thread. In heaven, the Evil Accuser demanded: This couple had been fated to remain childless. By what right did the Baal Shem force the Ribono shel Olam to change all of creation for the sake of this man and woman? The Gemara states, “The tzaddik decrees and Hashem fulfills” (Shabbos 59b), and the Baal Shem Tov’s blessing would surely bear fruit. However, in such matters there is a price to be paid. The heavenly court ruled that in exchange, the Baal Shem Tov would lose his Olam Haboh, his place in the Afterlife.
Then Baal Shem Tov suddenly opened his eyes, the color returned to his face, and with great simchah declared, “Now I will be able to serve Hashem without any p’nia, without any thought of future reward!”
At this, the Evil Accuser insisted that the heavenly court restore his Olam Haboh—to let the Baal Shem Tov serve Hashem with such absolute selflessness was too much!
At this point, Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman would roll up his sleeves and say, “Un in di ma’aseh iz doh noch a ma’aseh . . . And in this story there is still another story...” (Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn, in the name of Rabbi Itche Meyer Korman).
Although Baal Shem Tov’s purpose was to go to Eretz Yisrael, his journey, like all of his actions, contained many other mysteries and purposes. (See Likutey Moharan I, 42. Reb Noson adds that this is not only true of the tzaddikim, but even of ordinary Jews. Everything we do reflects Hashem’s hidden plan for creation. See Avaneha Barzel, p. 88, which is translated in “The Tree That Stands Beyond Space,” p. 57.)
The Sultan of Istanbul was a tyrant who had a special enmity toward the Jewish people. Yet the Jews had influence and power in the city, and the Sultan had to resort to underhanded means to hurt them.
On that Erev Pesach he called together his royal ministers for a secret meeting. He proposed that a pogrom be carried out the next morning, in which the mobs would be incited to kill every Jewish man, woman and child in Istanbul. His ministers were sworn to secrecy about this plan on penalty of death.
Yet one of the royal ministers was a righteous gentile and friend of the Jews. Risking his life, he hastened to warn the leaders of the Jewish community of their great peril. After discussing the matter, they decided to send emissaries to the Sultana, the widow of the previous Sultan who had treated his Jewish subjects with kindness and respect. Perhaps she could intervene. In the cover of night, the emissaries made their way through the city’s streets toward the palace of the Sultana.
Their long trek took them past the very inn where the Baal Shem Tov and his companions were concluding the Seder. Through an opened window, they could hear the Baal Shem Tov singing with fervor “Le-oseh nifla’os gedolos levado … To the One Who alone performs wonderous miracles!” One of the emissaries remarked wryly to his friend, “If that Jew only knew what we know, he wouldn’t sing those words so sweetly!”
(A contemporary Breslover, Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Bnei Brak, remembered an interesting detail here. When his father Rabbi Noson Barsky told the story, according to the version of his grandfather and namesake, Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Uman, and he described how the Baal Shem Tov sang “Le-oseh nifla’os gedolos levado,” he used to sing the well-known niggun of the Baal Shem Tov—thus demonstrating how the Baal Shem Tov actually sang these words. He did so when mentioning the song both while the emissaries were on their way to the Sultana and on their return.)
Arriving at the palace, the emissaries begged the guards for permission to obtain an audience with the Sultana, but were refused admission. Yet they persisted until the Sultana heard the racket at the door and asked who wanted to see her at such a late hour. Learning that they were representatives of the Jewish community on an urgent mission, the good-hearted Sultana admitted them and listened to their tale of impending destruction.
Given the urgency of the situation, she asked the emissaries to remain in her home while she set out in the night to intercede with her son. Arriving at the royal palace, she woke up the Sultan and announced, “Tonight your father came to me in a dream! And he revealed to me that tomorrow our family will be utterly wiped out! My heart palpitated with dread—that’s why I hurried here. We must consult the royal chronicles to see if we can find a reason for this evil fate…”
The Sultan sent for the royal record book and in his mother’s presence saw inscribed therein the slaughter of the Jewish community scheduled for the next morning. “Now, my son, I know why I had this terrible dream!” the Sultana said. “Don’t you know what happens to all those who start up with the Jews? Don’t you know what happened to Pharaoh and Haman and the rest of their enemies? You must call off this pogram, or my dream will surely come true!”
Thus, the Sultan tore up his cruel decree and only then did his mother return home to inform the emissaries of her success. As they made their way through the Jewish quarter, they passed the same inn and were surprised to hear the same man repeating the words “Le-oseh nifla’os gedolos levado.” But now he did so with the greatest merriment.
After the morning prayers, the community leaders informed the kehillah that a great miracle had occurred. Because of Hashem’s mercy, the Jews of Istanbul had been saved from certain death. In recounting the highlights of the story, they didn’t fail to mention the Jew who sang of Hashem’s miracles at the end of the Seder, and how if he had known what was going on, he wouldn’t have been able to sing.
At this, the Baal Shem Tov (still incognito) remarked, “Mir dacht zokh az der Yid mit zein zingen 'le-oseh nifla’os gedolos levado,' hott ehr mevatel geven di gezerah . . . It seems to me that by singing ‘Who alone performs wondrous miracles,’ this Jew nullified the heavenly decree.”
The Sea Voyage
On the first day of Chol HaMoed, the couple from Germany bade farewell to the Baal Shem Tov. They wished to lavish upon him various gifts in their gratitude for his brochah, but the Baal Shem Tov refused to accept anything beyond the kindness they had already shown him. Only one thing did he request—that they provide him and his companions with tickets for the next ship to Eretz Yisrael. They happily did so. And the next ship was leaving that day.
Before boarding the ship, the Baal Shem Tov told his daughter and Reb Hirsch that he had the power to go to the Holy Land in a more expedient way: he could toss his gartel on the waves of the sea, and they could walk across it to their destination. The only condition was that they would have to focus their minds on a certain Holy Name without breaking their concentration for even a second. The tzaddekes Udel answered that she was willing to do so. However, Reb Hirsch feared that he would not be able to maintain his concentration; so they traveled by ship.
The Great Storm
The ship quickly traversed the peaceful waters, among its passengers the Baal Shem Tov and his daughter and disciple. However, in the middle of their voyage, the sky suddenly darkened and a mighty storm struck. The powerful winds cast the ship on the turbulent waves, until it seemed that they were about to either capsize or be dashed to bits.
The Baal Shem Tov said, “The sea will be stilled only if I cast my writings overboard—or if my daughter is willing to take their place. Only then will the storm subside.”
There are different versions of what happened at this point. Reb Levi Yitzchak’s mesorah from Reb Shimshon Barsky was to preface this part of the story with the words: “Anderer zoggen..." ("Some say…”). Then he would go on to state that Udel agreed and was actually cast into the sea. However, with this act of mesirus nefesh, she received a heavenly communication: she was destined to have a grandson who would write “shennerer ksavim,” i.e., even greater writings than those of her father. She lifted up her hands and called to the Baal Shem Tov and told him this. Udel was immediately retrieved, and the precious manuscripts were cast into the waters.
(As a humorous aside, I heard from Rabbi Avraham Moshe Wasilski of Williamsburg that whenever Reb Levi Yitzchok told the story and described how Udel was cast into the sea, Rabbi Nochum Yitzchok Frank would interrupt the story to protest, shouting “Sheker! S’iz nisht shayakh! Es kennisht zein! Lies! It isn’t possible! It can’t be!”)
Another version states that she merely considered jumping into the sea, either mentally or even verbally, but did not actually do so. Suddenly she had a heavenly communication about her grandson, and told her father that they could cast the manuscripts into the sea after all. Immediately they did so, and the storm stopped as suddenly as it had began.
After this ordeal, everyone on the ship was worn out, physically and emotionally. So they headed for next island they sighted, and anchored offshore in order to set their feet on dry land again for a little while. The passengers disembarked and began to stroll along the shore and among the verdant trees, to recover from their distress.
The Baal Shem Tov and his companions walked until they found a nice shady spot to rest. However, they soon discovered that they had company. Out of the forest emerged a group of cannibals brandishing knives and spears. In a few moments, the cannibals had tied up the threesome and cast them on the ground.
Reb Hirsch, quaking in terror, asked the Baal Shem Tov, “Rebbe, please do something and save us from these savages!”
However, the Baal Shem Tov was silent.
“Why don’t you answer me?” Reb Hirch exclaimed.
“Because right now, I don’t know anything!” the Baal Shem Tov replied. “Do you know anything?”
“Nothing at all,” Reb Hirsch stammered. “Just the alef-beis…”
The cannibals surrounded them, grinning malevolently. In a moment they would start getting ready for dinner…
“If you know the alef-beis, say it!”
Reb Hirsch began: “Alef!” And the Baal Shem Tov answered, “Alef!”
As they prounced the names of the holy letters, the Baal Shem Tov suddenly regained his supernatural powers. In the distance, a bell began ringing, the sound coming closer and closer. Alarmed, the cannibals hastily fled. Soon a carriage came into view, and the people inside freed the prisoners.
Reb Gedaliah Kenig mentioned that Reb Avraham Sternhartz’s mesorah included the detail that as the cannibals were preparing to kill the Baal Shem Tov and his companions, suddenly they heard the ringing of the ship’s bell, and this is why they fled.
Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Bnei Brak, however, remembered that according to his grandfather’s version of the story, the bells that scared off the cannibals were those of the carriage, and the “people” in the carriage were actually malakhim, angels send by Hashem to save the Baal Shem Tov, Udel, and Reb Hirsch.
(When Rabbi Shmuel Breines of Borough Park tells the story, he often digresses here to remark on the power of “temimus u-peshitus,” simple whole-heartedness and faith in Rebbe Nachman’s teachings. See Otzar HaYirah, “Temimus”)
In any case, those in the carriage transported them back to the shore, where they joined the other passengers returning to the ship. The wind filled their sails and the began to travel rapidly—straight back to Istanbul, in time for Acharon shel Pesach.
The Secret of Success
Rebbe Nachman once discussed how his great-grandfather the Baal Shem Tov and the saintly Rabbi Naftali Katz, author of “Semikhas Chakhomim,” both attempted to reach Eretz Yisrael, without success. Yet Rebbe Nachman managed to overcome all obstacles and reach the Holy Land. Why did he succeed where these great figures did not?
Rebbe Nachman explained: “Eretz Yisrael is the aspect of ‘gadlus de-gadlus’ (a sublime level of expanded consciousness). And it is known that every spiritual ascent must be preceded by a decent. Since Eretz Yisrael is ‘gadlus de-gadlus,’ it must be preceded by ‘katnus de-katnus,’ a most extreme descent. Those who came before me were unable to cast themselves down to such depths…”
In the merit of the tzaddikim, who sacrificed themselves on behalf of the entire Jewish people, may we too be worthy of reaching the ultimate spiritual goal.
Monday, April 9, 2012
From “Breslov Eikh she-Hu: Breslov Customs and Practices, Past and Present”
Like other Chassidim, Breslover Chassidim traditionally do not eat gebrokhts (matzah cooked or soaked in liquids containing water) on Pesach. However, in chutz la'aretz, gebrokhts are prepared and eaten on Acharon Shel Pesach, even in the vessels and dishes used for non-gebrokhts. Although this does not apply to Eretz Yisrael, where Shevi’i shel Pesach is the last day, something similar is observed during a leap year when Shabbos falls on Motza’ei Yom Tov. Then gebrokhts are eaten in the regular Pesach vessels and dishes, even by those who live in Eretz Yisrael.
The Rebbe used to go to his daughter Udel for the se’udah on Acharon shel Pesach, during which the family ate soup with kneidlakh. Once Udel served her father two kneidlakh, and he blessed her that in their merit she should have two children. This berakhah came to pass—and Udel regretted that she had not served her father more kneidlakh.
(Avanehah Barzel, sec. 43, p. 33)
The last meal of Acharon Shel Pesach is called the "Baal Shem Tov Se'udah," during which it is customary for a member of the group to retell the story of the Baal Shem Tov's attempted journey to the Holy Land. There is a special Breslover mesorah concerning the details of this story, preserved by oral tradition.
(Most Chassidim used to call this meal the “Baal Shem Tov Se’udah.” In the communities of Skver-Chernobyl, Skolye, and others, they still do. The Breslov nusach of the story of the Baal Shem Tov’s journey may be found in Eretz ha-Kodesh / Masa’ ha-Kodesh, Jerusalem: Toras ha-Netzach, 5758/1998; and in Yiddish in Der Otzar Fun Yiras Shomayim, Hotza’as Ben Adam, Aharon Weinstock, ed. 1992, pp. 71-87. The story was also published many years ago in Mabu’ey HaNachal. Other nus’chos of the story preserved by various Chassidic communities are presented and discussed by Rabbi Shlomo Abish, “Koros Chayav haMekoriyyim shel Rabban Shel Yisrael haBaal Shem Tov ha-Kadosh, zy ‘a,” #4, Kuntres Heichal haBaal Shem Tov, Nisan 5764 / 2004, pp. 145-152.)
On the Shabbos after Pesach, some are accustomed to bake a challah with the form of a key on the loaf. Some engrave this shape by pressing a key into the dough; some attach a piece of dough in this shape; and some bake an actual key in the challah. (Reb Elazar Kenig’s family attaches a piece of dough shaped like a key.)
(Erkhei Yehoshua, Perach Shoshanim 156, mentions that the Manistritcher minhag was to engrave this shape. A reason for the minhag of baking a “shlissel challoh” is offered by the Apter Rov in Ohev Yisrael, “Le-Shabbos Achar Pesach,” pp. 282-283, 330-331.)
Someone once complained to the Tcheriner Rov, “Purim is over, Pesach is over…” The Tcheriner Rov corrected him, replying, “Mer hobben areingenumen a Purim un a Pesach . . . We have internalized Purim and Pesach!”
(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn)
In this spirit, Reb Avraham Sternhartz would learn Likutey Moharan I, 135 (“Ki Ekakh Mo’ed”), saying, “I am taking the Yom Tov into myself!” He also used to mention that the number of this lesson (135) is be-gematria “matzah.”
(Mabu’i ha-Nachal, Kovetz 53, Nisan 5782, p. 37)
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
A Pesach Prayer By Rabbi Ephraim ben Naftali, Tefilot HaBoker, 7
From Entering the Light
Master of the Universe! Help me to attain holy memory—to remember the words of Your Torah constantly and not let them slip from my memory, in fulfillment of the verse: “They shall not cease from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your children, nor from the mouth of your children’s children, says God, from now until the end of time” (Isaiah 59:21).
Protect me from violating the prohibition of possessing even the smallest amount of chametz throughout the days of Pesach. Through this, may I be saved from falling into states of constricted consciousness that lead to all harsh judgments and all sufferings, God forbid. May I be worthy of seeing beyond the illusion of nature completely and eliciting the full manifestation of Divine Providence, which comes from expanded consciousness.
Grant me the privilege of eating matzah on the days of Pesach and, by so doing, attaining the perception of Divine Providence—to truly believe that the natural order is an illusion, and that everything takes place through Your Providence alone; to negate all perplexities and heretical ideas that befall humankind because of Your hidden ways; and to believe that all that transpires is for the good. We can accomplish all this by eating matzah in a state of holiness. Through the merit of eating matzah, may we be granted revelations of Godliness, to see and to know that everything reflects Your Providence.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
From “Breslov Eikh she-Hu: Breslov Customs and Practices, Past and Present,” compiled by Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears
Before going to shul on Seder night, Reb Gedaliah selected the three matzos for the ka’arah, and made other preparations, as well, such as arranging the chairs, etc. Thus, he could begin the Seder without unnecessary delay as soon as he came home from shul. However, he did not actually place the matzos on the table until he came home from shul. (Heard from Rabbi Yossel Sofer, citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)
During his early years, he used to check all of the matzos for kefulos before Pesach and separate the whole matzos from the broken ones in order to expedite things at the Seder. However, it seems that during his later years he did not always do so, and if he found kefulos, he broke them off and put them aside. (Heard from Rabbi Yosef Sofer, citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)
Like most communities today, Breslover Chassidim arrange the ka’arah (Seder plate) according to the custom of the Arizal as presented in the Mishnas Chasidim. That is, the three matzos (Chokhmah-Binah-Da’as) are placed under the six simanim, with the zero’a/bone (Chesed) to the upper right, beitzah/egg (Gevurah) to the upper left, morror/bitter herbs (Tiferes) in the middle, charoses/chopped fruit and nuts with grape juice or wine (Netzach) to the lower right, karpas/celery, parsley, or another vegetable that grows from the ground (Hod) to the lower left, and chazeres/second portion of bitter herbs (Yesod) between them, under the morror. The ka’arah itself corresponds to Malkhus. (See Mishnas Chassidim, Seder Leyl Pesach 2; Siddur ARI Rav Shabbsai, et al. This is also cited in Be’er Heitiv, Orach Chaim 473:8. Arukh haShulchan, Orach Chaim 473:11, states that this is the prevailing Ashkenazic custom today. However, the RaSHaSH and other Sefardic mekuballim do not place the matzos underneath the six simanim, but on the ka’arah at its upper point (i.e., “twelve o’clock” if it were the face of a clock). This is because traditionally the Sefardic matzos are smaller and made somewhat like pita breads. An interesting exchange on this subject between Rav Asher Zelig Margolios and the Minchas Elazar appears as an appendix in Kocho deRaSHBY, pp. 18-23.)
Reb Avraham Sternhartz also arranged the ka’arah in this manner (i.e., as presented in the Mishnas Chassidim). (Heard from Rabbi Michel Dorfman)
The matzos may be placed in a cloth bag with three sections; or between napkins; or in a special unit with three metal racks and a ka’arah on top. Reb Gedaliah did not own a special holder, but used to rest a plate containing the simanim in small vessels directly on top of the covered matzos. Reb Elazar explained that this was another example of his father’s extraordinary histapkus—contentment with his modest material circumstances and shunning of luxuries, even when it came to the performance of certain mitzvos.
Mrs. Mirel Sofer remembered that Reb Gedaliah used napkins between the matzos.
(Heard from Rabbi Yosef Sofer)
Reb Gedaliah’s minhag was to use romaine lettuce for morror, and he took the “kepel,” the part from which the leaves grow, for chazeres on the ka’arah. (That is, the bottom point of the upper segol was the leaf of the romaine lettuce, while the bottom point of the lower segol was the “kepel” of the romaine lettuce.) Once he tried to use chrein (horseradish) for the mitzvah of morror, but found that it made him ill.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig. Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 473:5 states that romaine lettuce is the preferred type of morror. This is based on Pesachim 39a. However, cleaning these leaves to remove insects may be a difficult and time-consuming task. Therefore, some just use lettuce stalks. Special insect-free lettuce with rabbinic supervision is also available today.)
However, Reb Avraham Sternhartz used chrein for morror.
(Heard from Rabbi Michel Dorfman)
Since insect-free romaine lettuce was then unavailable, Reb Gedaliah advised his talmidim to put the lettuce in the coldest part of the refrigerator overnight. This would cause the insects to loosen their grip, so that cleaning would be easier the next day.
(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Shapiro)
For karpas, Reb Gedaliah at first used potatoes, and then changed to a raw celery root (not the stalks or leaves), in keeping with the view of the Arizal. However, he also continued to serve cooked potatoes, which some people prefer. Many Sefardic kabbalists also use celery root for karpas.
(Heard from Rabbi Elazar Kenig and Rabbi Ephraim Kenig. This is supported by Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 118:2, Teshuvos Chasam Sofer, Orach Chaim, no. 132. See Rabbi Chaim Vital, Sha’ar ha-Kavannos, ‘Inyan Pesach, Drush 6, that the ARI was particular to use karpas and not any other vegetable. Sefardic authorities understand this to mean the celery root. Darkei Chaim ve-Shalom 589 states that the Minchas Elazar used a small amount of parsley leaves (petrizeil), which he held to be the karpas mentioned in the Gemara and Kisvei ARI zal. Some use the parsley root. The Hornestiepler Rebbe of Flatbush, Rabbi Mordekhai Twersky, told us that his family minhag is to use radishes. Bobover Chassidim use cucumbers. However, most Eastern European Jews used potatoes.)
In any case, Breslover Chassidim do not use raw onions for karpas, in keeping with the Rebbe’s family mesorah that the Baal Shem Tov said not to eat raw onions.
(See Sichos haRan 265)
However, Reb Gedaliah did not consider raw scallions to be the same as onions. When he spent Pesach in Brooklyn, at the home of Reb Moshe Grinberger, he considered using raw scallions for karpas.
(Heard from Rabbi Moshe Grinberger)
Reb Gedaliah would eat the karpas without reclining.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig. This follows the view of Shevilei Leket, 64; Matteh Moshe 626; Birkhei Yosef 474:14; Siddur ARI Rav Shabsai; Darkei Chaim ve-Shalom [Munkatch] 590; Minhagei Chabad; et al. Those who recline follow the shittah of Abudarham.)
For zero’a, Reb Gedaliah used a roasted chicken wing.
For beitzah, Reb Gedaliah used a hard-boiled egg, but did not roast it. (Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)
Reciting the Haggadah
Many Breslover Chassidim use the Haggadah Ohr Zarei’ach compiled by Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Beziliansky (better known as Reb Alter Tepliker). This work is a digest of Breslover teachings related to the text of the Haggadah. However, there is nothing special about the nusach of this Haggadah.
The women in Reb Gedaliah’s family used to light the Yom Tov candles after the men came home from shul. They recited the berakhah “Shehechiyanu” immediately afterward, and did not wait to do so until Kiddush. (Heard from Rabbi Yosef Sofer, citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)
Reb Gedaliah said “Ha lachma ‘anya,” with a kametz under the heh, as in most versions of the Haggadah, not “Heh lachma ‘anya,” with a tzeyre under the heh—although the latter is the nusach of the Arizal. (The common nusach of “hah” with a kametz is mentioned in Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 473:6. For the nusach of the ARI zal, see Rabbi Chaim Vital, Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chag haMatzos, 7; Mishnas Chassidim, Masechtas Seder Leyl Pesach, 5:2, et al. This is based on several pesukim: Bereishis 47:23, Yechezkel 16:43, and Daniel 2:43.)
Reb Gedaliah followed the more common order of “Mah nishtanah” (Matzah, Maror, Matbilin, Mesubin), not that of the Yerushalmi (Matbilin, Matzah, Maror, Mesubin), although the Arizal preferred the latter.
(The common nusach is that of the Talmud Bavli, and is cited in the Machzor Vitry. It also appears in all of the Slavita siddurim. The ARI zal follows nusach of the Yerushalmi, as redacted by the RIF, RaMBaM, Rosh, and Baal haRoke’ach; see Rabbi Chaim Vital, Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chag haMatzos 7. Chassidic sources that follow the minhag ARI include Siddur Baal ha-Tanya; Darkei Chaim veShalom [Munkatch] 599; Erkhei Yehoshua [Manistritch], Perach Shoshanim 121; Siddur Tzelosa deShlomo [Bobov]; et al. The Arizal explains that the Four Questions parallel the Four Worlds, in ascending order.)
Reb Gedaliah and his family recited the “Mah nishtanahs” in unison, not the children first, followed by the adults.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)
After the “Mah nishtanahs,” Reb Gedaliah used to exclaim, “Oo-ah! Azoyne shtarkeh kashas . . . Such strong questions!” Then he would say “Der teretz is . . . The answer is…” and recite “Avodim hoyinu.” (Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)
Sometimes after reciting the section “ ‘Avodim hoyinu,” he would add: “Me darf es noch fahrenferen. Tzorekh biur … We need to give more of an answer. This needs explanation…” (Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)
Reb Elazar has told his family members and talmidim that when we mention the ben sho’el during the Haggadah, this is an “es ratzon.” Therefore, one should quietly daven for whatever one needs. (Heard from Mrs. Hindy Hecht)
Reb Avraham Sternhartz knew all of Reb Noson’s children. He heard from them, and particularly from Reb Noson’s daughter Chanah Tzirel, “az Pesach banacht is geven zeyr a shverrer tzeit . . . Pesach night was an extremely difficult time . . . ‘Es is geven fun di shverster tzeiten fun a gantz yohr … It was one of the hardest times of the entire year.” Reb Avraham explained that first, there were all of the hakhanos, physical and spiritual, and later during the Seder, Reb Noson was enflamed with emotion. Reb Noson used to recite the Haggadah loudly and with great fervor. His deveykus was so intense that once—and possibly more than once—when he came to the words “U-ve-morah gadol—zeh gilu’i Shekhinah,” he actually fainted. His family was therefore extremely nervous about what would happen at the Seder. They were afraid that he might suddenly expire.
(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn)
Reb Gedaliah recited the Haggadah like a “flamm fier,” with intense passion. He conducted the Seder with awe and yiras Shomayim, creating a rarified atmosphere that affected everyone present. He did not allow the emotional climate to degenerate, notwithstanding all the children and the lateness of the hour, but maintained this exalted mood from beginning to end.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)
Reb Ephraim Kenig once remarked that the way his father recited the Haggadah, intensely probing the meaning of its words, was “a perish af der gantzeh Haggadah.”
Reb Gedaliah would place the Kos shel Eliyahu on the table at the beginning of the Seder and fill it after bentching. Thus, it was visible throughout the Seder. He used a slightly larger kos than the rest, made of glass, not silver.
(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Kenig and Rabbi Yosef Sofer, citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)
The wine from the kos shel Eliyahu was used the next morning for Kiddush.
(Heard from Rabbi Yosef Sofer, citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)
Reb Gedaliah sometimes spoke briefly after “‘Avodim hoyinu,” and perhaps two or three times during “Maggid.” However, he and his sons and guests did not say vertlach, or engage in lengthy discussion of the Haggadah.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)
Reb Gedaliah would spill a drop of wine while reciting each of the Ten Plagues, and not remove the wine with his finger.
The spilled wine would be collected and poured into an unglazed earthenware container, and later disposed of.
(Heard from Rabbi Yossel Sofer, citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)
Reb Elazar Kenig continues his father’s minhag of personally making the charoses for the Seder, with the help of one or two of his daughters. His recipe is: 10 apples, peeled and cored; 10 pears, peeled and cored; 10 bananas, peeled and sliced. The entire mixture is put through a food processor. Then Reb Elazar adds the juice of one pomegranate, strained through a cloth; three cups of home made sweet red wine; plus ground walnuts, ground almonds, ground cinnamon, ground ginger. He divides the batch into a number of separate bags for his married children who will not be with him for the Seder. The rest is used at his table.
(Heard from Mrs. Hindy Hecht)
Reb Gedaliah would dip the morror in charoses for both morror and korekh, and immediately shake it off. He did not eat charoses together with the matzah and morror for korekh.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig. According to Erkhei Yehoshua, Perach Shoshanim 131, the Manistritcher minhag was to include charoses in the korekh/sandwich. Sefer Minhagim-Chabad similarly states that one dips the romaine lettuce in charoses and then shakes it off, as prior to eating the marror.)
He added a little grated horseradish to the lettuce for korekh, but did not do so for morror.
(Heard from Rabbi Yossel Sofer, citing his mother, Mrs. Mirel Sofer)
When Reb Avraham Sternhartz ate the morror, he would exclaim again and again, “Ot azoy is gevezen bitter di Yidden… Just like this, it was bitter for the Jews!” Reb Gedaliah used to repeat Reb Avraham’s words when he ate the marror, as well. (Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)
During the meal, Reb Gedaliah would use a bed in order to recline while eating. However, he would sit in the usual manner while eating the soup, or if it became difficult for him at some point.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig. This reflects the view of the Rama, Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 472:7, end; also cf. Mishnah Berurah, ad loc., that this is only le-chatchilah. Some say that this is entirely not applicable today.)
In Reb Gedaliah’s home, it was customary to eat the egg after the fish, not immediately at the beginning of the meal. He used the egg on his ka’arah (unlike those who leave all the minim on the ka’arah for the entire Seder).
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)
However, Reb Elazar did not remember his father waiting to eat the egg.
Reb Gedaliah would slice the egg into sections, dip the sections in salt water, and give them to everyone with a spoon. If he needed more slices, he would use a second egg, in addition to the one from the ka’arah. Before eating the egg, he would announce, “Zekher le-chagigah.”
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)
However, Mrs. Mirel Sofer remembered that when she was a young girl, Reb Gedaliah did not use the egg from the ka’arah, but took eggs from a separate bowl, dipped them into salt water, and distributed them. The egg from the ka’arah was eaten during the day meal, and Reb Gedaliah would distribute slices to those present.
(Heard from Rabbi Yosef Sofer)
In Reb Gedaliah’s house, sour pickles, chrein mixed with beets, and other sharp-tasting foods and condiments were not served during the Seder meal. It seems that this was because the Haggadah, in the second of the Four Questions, states: “ba-laylah ha-zeh, marror.” This is an old hanhagah, which is mentioned in various seforim.
(Heard from Rabbi Ephraim Kenig)