Friday, August 30, 2013

BRI: Free Rosh HaShanah Booklet + Send A Kvittal Service

From Breslov Research Institute:

In preparation for Rosh HaShanah, we are happy to share a free booklet (available in Hebrew or Hebrew/English) which includes several of Rebbe Nachman’s lessons on Rosh HaShanah with commentary by Chaim Kramer. 

Also, before we leave for the journey to Uman, we have set up a free “Kvittal” or note submission form service for you to fill out. We will be bringing these Kvittals for you to Uman and Rebbe Nachman”s gravesite. Feel free to include your names and any specific prayers/needs that you have. Even if you can’t join with us, we are happy to include you on this great pilgrimage.

May we all be written and sealed in the book of the true Tzadikim for a year of good life and peace, Amen!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Kinship of All Creatures: Two Stories

A Chassidic Ecology Lesson
In everything, even in the minutest circumstance which we created beings reckon as nothing and do not take at all into account, there is a divine intention, a divine will; and divine providence arranges the circumstances that will enable this intention to be realized in a certain way.

One day in the summer of 5656 (1896 c.e.) I was strolling with my father (Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, 1860-1920) in a field in the country resort of Bolivke, near Lubavitch. The crops were almost ripe, and the grain and the grass were nodding in a gentle breeze.”Behold Godliness!” said my father. “Each movement of every single sheaf of grain and blade of grass was included in the Primal Thought of the partzuf of Adam Kadmon (Primordial Reality)—in Him Who watches and gazes until the end of all the generations; and divine providence brings this thought to realization for the sake of a certain divine intention.”

As we walked on, we found ourselves in a forest. Deep in contemplation of what I had just been told concerning divine providence, and overwhelmed by the tenderness and the earnestness of my father’s explanation, I plucked a leaf from a tree as I passed by and held it in my hand. As people often do and without taking particular notice, I tore off little pieces from the leaf every so often as I walked on, ensconced in thought, and tossed them to the ground.

My father now said, “The Ari says that not only is every leaf of a tree a creature with divine vitality, which the Almighty created with a certain end as part of the ultimate purpose of creation; but, moreover, every leaf contains the spark of a soul that descends to this world for the sake of a tikkun, in order to attain restitution.

“Just see how ‘man is always liable for damages, whether awake or asleep’ (Bava Kamma 26a). The difference between being awake or asleep is to be found in the inward faculties of seichel and middos, in the person’s intellect and in his emotional attributes. The external faculties are to be found in a sleeping person, too; only his inward faculties are confused—which explains the presence of the paradoxes to be found in dreams. And where does the difference between one who is awake and one who is asleep become apparent? In the faculty of vision. One who is asleep does not see; one who is awake can see.

“When a person is awake, he sees Godliness; when he is asleep, he does not. But ‘man is liable for damages whether he is awake or asleep.’ Just now we discussed the subject of divine providence—and quite without thinking, you plucked a leaf, held it in your hand, played around with it, turned it around, squashed it, tore it up in little pieces and scattered it in different places. How can a person be so light-minded in relation to a creature of the Almighty? This leaf is something created by the Almighty for a particular reason. It has a God-given vitality; it has a body, and it has life. In what way is the leaf’s ‘I’ smaller than your ‘I’?

“True, the difference is a big one. The leaf is  tzomei’ach  (vegetation) and you are medaber  (a human being, endowed with the power of speech), and there is a great difference between the two categories. Nevertheless, one must always remember the mission and the divine intention of every created thing—what is the task that the tzomei’ach has to fulfill in this world, and what is the task that the medaber has to fulfill in this world” (Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch,  Likkutei Dibburim I, 4a: 4 [Brooklyn, NY: Kehot, 1987], trans. Rabbi Uri Kaploun).
A Walk With Rav Kook
Rabbi Aryeh Levin of Jerusalem (1885-1969) recounts a similar experience. As a young Talmud scholar, Reb Aryeh left his native Lithuania in 1905 and came to the city of Jaffa in the land of Israel. He sought out his future mentor, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, who received him with great warmth. Once, while they were walking together in the fields engaged in Torah discussion, Rabbi Levin picked a flower. At this Rav Kook remarked, “All my days I have been careful never to pluck a blade of grass or a flower needlessly, when it had the ability to grow or blossom. You know the teaching of our sages that not a single blade of grass grows here on earth that does not have an angel above it, commanding it to grow. Every sprout and leaf of grass says something meaningful, every stone whispers some hidden message in the silence, every creation utters its song!”

Rabbi Levin concludes, “These words of our great master, spoken from a pure and holy heart, engraved themselves deeply in my heart. From that time on, I began to feel a strong sense of compassion for all things” (based on Simcha Raz,  A Tzaddik In Our Time [Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1976] pp. 108-109).[1]

[1] An almost identical story is told about Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz (1886-1948) and one of his students. “Don’t you know,”  he asked the youth, “that the whole creation sings a song to the Creator—every plant, every blade of grass?  When you pulled that leaf off the tree, you cut off its song in the middle” (Yonoson Rosenblum, Reb Shraga Feivel [Brooklyn, NY: Artscroll / Mesorah, 2001] p. 232).

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Kinship of All Creatures

From Dovid Sears, “The Vision of Eden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism,” Orot 2002, pp.
30-33, 40-45, 208-213. Although the first edition is out of print, a free online version may be read or downloaded here.

Rosh Hashanah commemorates the “birthday of the universe,” as we mention repeatedly during the Musaf (Additional) prayer service. However, we observe Rosh Hashanah on the first day of Tishrey, which actually corresponds to the sixth day of creation, when God created Adam and Eve. Accordingly, the first day of creation corresponds to the 25th day of Elul. In honor of that day we are posting these few quotes, which remind us of the value and kinship of all created things.

Although it is out of order chronologically, we would like to begin with a quote from Rabbi Yehudah Loewe ben Betzalel (circa 1520-1609), the “MaHaRaL” of Prague, which sums up the basic idea these various sources elaborate upon: “The love of all creatures is also love of God; for whoever loves the One, loves all the works that He has made” (Nesivos Olam, Ahavas Re’a, 1.33).


One should respect all creatures, recognizing in them the greatness of the Creator, Who formed man with wisdom. All creatures are imbued with the Creator’s wisdom, which itself makes them greatly deserving of honor. The Maker of All, the Wise One who transcends everything, is associated [with all His creatures] in having created them. If one were to disparage them, God forbid, this would reflect upon the honor of their Maker. This is the meaning of the verse, “How worthy are Your works, O God...” (Psalms 104:24). It does not say “how great (gadlu)” but “how worthy (rabbu),” as in the verse “the head (rav) of his house” (Esther 1:8), indicating great importance. [The verse concludes,] “You have made them all with wisdom.” That is, since Your wisdom is imbued in them, Your works are great and worthy. Therefore, a person should consider the divine wisdom within them, and not their disgrace (Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Tomer Devorah, Chapter 2).


[The Zohar (Emor, 106b) states that while crossing a stream, Rabbi Yosé stepped on some worms and exclaimed that he wished such creatures did not exist. At this, his master Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai declared that it is forbidden to disparage or to kill any creature, for they all serve to benefit the world.]

One might ask: if so, how can the Torah permit us to kill a snake on the Sabbath in the land of Israel, or [to kill any dangerous or bothersome animal] under similar circumstances?

The term “disparage” could mean either in word or in deed. Rabbi Yosé was guilty of both. First, by stepping upon the worms, he violated the prohibition of wantonly killing small creatures that are not harmful to humans [such as flies, gnats, and worms]. Second, by exclaiming, “Would that they did not exist!” he spoke disrespectfully regarding the order of the universe, which reflects upon the honor of the Creator. If a dangerous creature threatens a person, or if there is a harmful snake in one’s house or courtyard, one is justified in killing it to avoid being hurt. However, if a snake is in the field going its own way, one must not interfere with it; for the snake is fulfilling its mission according to the divine will. The story cited above attests to this, as do many such stories that we have discussed elsewhere.

Even when creatures are sent on a mission to do harm, “God is good to all” (Psalms 145:9); for, in truth, this too is a good mission, since the death they cause will benefit the soul of the transgressor. God’s mercy extends even to creatures that do not perform their mission [i.e., immoral people] in that He sustains them nevertheless. Thus, we are obligated to follow in His ways and show compassion toward all His works, never destroying them wantonly as long as they do not harm us.

Moreover, to diminish God’s creation is to diminish the manifestation of His mercies. According to the diversity of creation, through each and every species, God’s mercies are evident. This is implied by the divine blessing “fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 8:17), as well as by the subsequent verse [in the psalm quoted above], “All Your works, O God, shall praise You…” (Psalms 145:10). That is, over each species in creation, an angel is appointed who sings praises to the Creator; and the praises of the One who sustains all creatures are increased according to the multitude of angelic hosts. One who destroys a swarm of bees or flies or a colony of ants therefore destroys the praises of God, unless these creatures are in one’s house and are harmful. In this case, it is permitted to remove them, albeit in the most humane manner possible. Even this is not proper according to what we see in Tractate  Bava Metzia  (85a) concerning the nest of weasels that were found in the house of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi. He told his maidservant to leave them alone, for “His mercies are upon all His creatures.”

Thus, wantonly to kill even harmful creatures such as mice and weasels would be unseemly, since unlike snakes they do not physically afflict human beings. It would be preferable for a person to keep a cat who will consume them, as this conforms to the ways of the angels who determine how one species is subjugated to another. This may be deduced from the words of the Book of Song (Perek Shirah): “The mouse, what does it say? ‘For You are righteous in all that comes upon us, for You have performed truthfully, and we have acted wickedly’ (Nehemiah 9:33). The cat, what does it say? ‘I pursued my enemies and overtook them, and returned not until they were destroyed’ (Psalms 18:38).” This teaches that [the preying of one species upon another] is God’s will, and reflects His absolute mercy toward the needs of His creatures.

Similarly,  Perek Shirah concludes by describing how King David was pleased with himself upon completing the Book of Psalms, when he happened upon a frog [who contended that its praises of God were superior]. This story does not mean to extol the croaking of the frog, but [the songs and praises of] the angel that presides over frogs. And their leaping too was an expression of the spiritual inspiration that came to them from their presiding angel, who sings melodies and praises to God.

This also applies to the frog’s remark [in Perek Shirah] that it has resigned itself to its fate, to serve as food for the stork or crane, or another bird. In other words, the presiding angel itself fulfills the will of its Maker in compelling the families of frogs not to rebel, but submit to the species designated to consume them. Therefore, it is proper to raise other creatures to prey upon destructive animals, for this follows the natural order. Thus, when Rabbi Yehudah’s maidservant came to destroy the weasels, he told her to let them alone; but, nevertheless, he raised cats, for this [way of ridding oneself of pests] reflects the divine mercy, as our sages taught on the verse, “A tzaddik considers the needs of his animal...” (Proverbs 12:10).[1]

One might ask: since the calf was destined for slaughter, why was Rabbi Yehudah afflicted for saying, “Go, this is the purpose for which you were created”? To this it could be said that there might have been a transmigrated soul in the calf, and it was possible to save it for all eternity from an evil fate, from slaughter.[2] Or perhaps he should have entreated the slaughterer to postpone the killing at least for that day. [This would have served as an example of compassion to everyone present] (Ohr Yakar, commentary to  Zohar, Emor, pp. 137-138).


There is a fundamental principle I would like to share with you, my brother: Just as God is infinite, so all divine attributes are infinite. Thus, His humility and His providence are infinite. God watches over each of His works, even the least of them. God does not merely watch over the various species in a general manner, as Maimonides, of blessed memory, and others maintain.[3] Do not be perplexed that the Holy King, for Whom “the heavens are His throne,” gazes upon and discerns the tiniest creatures in dunghills and unclean places; for also among large animals we see that certain species are not kosher, but the All Seeing One nevertheless watches over them in every detail of their lives.

Indeed, God takes pride in them, as he tells Job: “Do you know the time when the wild goats of the rock give birth or observe when the hinds calve? … The wing of the peacock rejoices are they wings or feathers of a stork? For she leaves her eggs in the ground, and she warms them with the earth … The young vultures gulp down blood, and where the carrion lies, there is [the parent bird]” (Job 39:1, 13, 14, 30).

Before the Blessed One there is no difference whatever between a large creature and a small creature; and the unseemliness of a place is no obstacle to Him, as the author of the Song of Unity wrote in the section corresponding to the third day: “The mighty wind does not repel You; even all foulness does not befoul You.” The meaning is that of all lower creatures, none is repulsive before Him but a transgressor, a proud man, and evildoer he alone is despicable to God and foul smelling.

Rather, know, my brother, remember and do not forget that just as God’s providence applies to all the worlds and all creatures, so does His Essence utterly transcend all worlds and all creatures, being hidden and removed from them. This is the meaning of the verse: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts…” (Isaiah 6:3).

The term “holy” (kadosh) indicates the separation and removal of His Essence from everything, due to the loftiness of His sublime and wondrous station, reaching unto infinity. Nevertheless, the verse concludes: “The entire world is full of His glory,”  as if to say: while God utterly transcends all the worlds, His providence is constantly bound to all the worlds and all His works, down to the smallest detail, even unto this lowly world, which in its entirety is full of His glory (Rabbi Pinchas Eliyahu Horowitz of Vilna, Sefer HaBris I, Ma’amar 14, Eichus HaChai, sec. 8, s.v. vi-klal gadol, p. 224).


The Baal Shem Tov taught: Do not consider yourself superior because you experience deveikus (attachment to God) to a greater extent than someone else. In truth, you are no different than any other creature, since all things were brought into being to serve God. Just as God bestows consciousness upon you, so does He bestow consciousness upon your fellow man. In what way is a human being superior to a worm? A worm serves the Creator with all of his intelligence and ability; and man, too, is compared to a worm or maggot, as the verse states, “I am a worm and not a man” (Psalms 22:7). If God had not given you a human intellect, you would only be able to serve Him like a worm. In this sense, you are both equal in the eyes of Heaven. A person should consider himself and the worm and all creatures as comrades in the universe, for we are all created beings whose abilities are God-given. This should always remain in your thoughts (Tzava’as HaRivash 12).


The Baal Shem Tov taught that when a piece of straw falls from a wagon loaded with straw, this has been decreed by Heaven. Similarly, when a leaf falls from a tree, it is because Heaven has decreed that this particular leaf  at this particular moment would fall at this particular spot. Once the Baal Shem Tov showed his disciples a certain leaf as it fell to the ground and told them to pick it up. They did so and saw that a worm was underneath it. The Baal Shem Tov explained that the worm had been suffering due to the heat, so this leaf had fallen to give it shade (Sha’ar HaOsios, “Hashgachah Pratis”).


The entire universe is included within the mystical paradigm of the human form. Israel and the nations of the world represent  the upper part of the body: those who contemplate divine wisdom and engage in holy speech correspond to the head, while those who do the skilled work of the world correspond to the hands. The animals correspond to the legs, for they perform all their activities on their feet. This correspondence extends to the level of creatures that cannot walk, but crawl; and similarly to the rest of creation (Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, Midrash Pinchas I, 22).


Adam was created last of all creatures because the Holy One, blessed be He, asked all creatures to contribute their portion to Adam’s body: the lion his might, the deer his speed, the eagle his agility, the fox his cleverness, etc. All these traits were given to Adam Thus, the verse states: “Let us make man in our image…” (Genesis 1:26), indicating that the essential traits of all species are included in humankind (Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo, the Vilna Gaon,  Aderes Eliyahu, Bereishis 1:26).

Rabbi Menashe of Ilya, Lithuania (1767-1832), a leading disciple of the Vilna Gaon, once wrote: “What am I in comparison to the many forms of sentient life in the world? If the Creator were to confer upon me, as well as my family members, loved ones, and relatives, absolute goodness for all eternity, but some deficiency remained in the world— if any living thing still were suffering, and all the more so, another human being, I would not want anything to do with it, much less to derive benefit from it. How could I be separated from all living creatures? These are the works of God’s hand, and these too are the work of God’s hand”[4] (Author’s Introduction, Ha’amek She’eilah, cited in biography printed with Alfei Menashe, Vol. II).


Not only for the physical harm that I have caused my fellow men do I beg forgiveness, but also for their spiritual afflictions that I have brought about through my many misdeeds. For our sages taught that one should consider the world to be balanced between good and evil, and one’s deeds tip the scales.

Similarly, I ask forgiveness from all creatures, whether in the mineral, vegetative, animal or human realms, for my having transgressed against them and caused them suffering, whether physical or spiritual. Also, from the depths of my heart I beg all souls, both the living and the dead, and all celestial beings, from the lowest to the highest, to have mercy and forgive me completely for all my transgressions and sins against them, and for having caused them any form of grief or spiritual defect. Instead, may they intercede for me and tip the scales of judgment to the side of merit. May they beseech God to forgive me for everything, and may I be protected by the shadow of His compassion (Ethical Will of Rabbi Nachman Goldstein, Rav of Tcherin, included in Kochvei Ohr, Breslov writings and oral traditions).


The lights of life that animate the entire hierarchy of living creatures according to their species are but shards of one lofty collective soul possessed of all wisdom and talent, divided into many separate parts (Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Orot HaKodesh, II, p. 358).


The human soul in its greatest breadth contains the individual souls of all creatures. Each living thing is a spark of the vast all-encompassing fire that is the collective soul of humankind (ibid. p. 359).

Man stands and wonders: what need is there for the diversity of creation? He is unable to understand how everything comprises one great unity… If you are amazed at how it is possible to speak, hear, smell, touch, see, understand and feel tell your soul that all living things collectively confer upon you the fullness of your experience. Not the least speck of existence is superfluous, everything is needed, and everything serves its purpose. “You” are present within everything that is beneath you, and your being is bound up with all that transcends you (ibid. p. 361).


We do not know how to measure the invigoration and spiritual well-being that animals incapable of speech confer upon us, simply by virtue of the fact that we coexist. The vital symbiosis of members of the same nation already has been revealed to us, and those who possess a clearer vision glimpse that of all humanity, as well. However, the spiritual symbiosis of all living beings still remains hidden. As of yet, no researcher dares voice his conviction regarding this perception. Nevertheless, these far-out propositions arrive before the precise sciences almost as dreams to augur their revelation. Already we can be elevated to that lofty height at which humankind becomes one with the totality of life, even with vegetation and inanimate existence (ibid. p. 363).[5]       


Everything around us was created by God and serves Him. Every force of nature is the messenger of God; matter is what God has apportioned to these forces to work with, in, and through, in accordance with His mighty laws. Everything exists in God’s service, at its post, in its time, to fulfill God’s Word with the means and powers allocated to it, contributing its share to Him, to become part of one all-inclusive entity. Everything serves God (Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Nineteen Letters, Letter Three, trans. Karin Partitzky, commentary by R. Joseph Elias [Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1995]).

[1] R. Cordovero probably alludes to Vayikra Rabba 27:11 and Pesikta D’Rav Kahana on Vayikra 22:28, which interpret the term “righteous” as referring to the Creator, Who “understands the nature of His animal” in mandating that His human subjects show compassion toward animals.
[2] That is, the calf’s tikkun might have been accomplished by other means, without causing it distress.
[3] The author of Sefer HaBris alludes to Moreh Nevuchim 3:17. Among subsequent Jewish philosophers, R. Albo takes a similar position to Maimonides in Sefer HaIkkarim 4:11; for numerous additional sources see R. Aryeh Kaplan’s Handbook of Jewish Thought, Vol. 2, chap. 19, nn. 34-36. However, R. Moshe (Cheifetz) Gentili (1663-1711) agrees with the Sefer HaBris in Mileches Machsheves, Noach (19a).
[4] This statement is consistent with R. Menashe’s ideas regarding the kinship of all creatures presented in his Tikkun Klalli, of which only an incomplete manuscript is extant. I am grateful to R. Yaakov Weiss of Lakewood, NJ, for locating these sources from R. Menashe’s writings.
[5] R. Bezalel Naor shared the following personal anecdote. Meeting Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook’s son, R. Zvi Yehudah Kook (1891-1982) for the first time, he commented on how much ahavas Yisrael (love of Israel) the latter’s father had possessed. The octogenarian R. Zvi Yehudah burst out laughing. “Mai revusa ika? (What’s the big deal?) My father loved the whole world, even tzomeach (vegetation), even domem (earth and stones)!”

Friday, August 23, 2013

Getting Ready for Rosh Hashanah - Rabbi Ozer Bergman

One of the things we learned from our ruminations about Uman and LSD is that a big part of our spiritual—excuse me, Jewish—mission is getting along with our fellow Jews. (Of course, Rebbe Akiva put this a bit more succinctly when he said “Love your fellow as you love yourself” [Leviticus 19:18] is a major principle of the Torah [Bereishis Rabbah 24:7].)

But loving people—even if you don’t like them and even if you can’t stand them—and inter-acting civilly is not the last step. It’s the first step. The real power of love is much greater. Pardon the cliché, but the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.

As you know, Rosh Hashanah is Yom HaDin, Judgment Day. We pray to be written in the Book of Life, for a sweet, happy and healthy new year. But that judgment thing, you know, just won’t go away. Fortunately, God also wants us to come out with a good verdict. So we have to give Him some good reason to make it come out right.

Each of us has the ability to influence the verdict. In fact, you are one of the judges. You are not the chief justice, but your opinion will not only be heard, but it will factor into the final decision. Rebbe Nachman teaches, “On Rosh Hashanah one must be wise and think only good thoughts, that God will be good to us ….” (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #21).

That means, don’t just wish for a good year, and don’t just hope for happiness and good fortune, but “be wise.” Think about what is good, what would truly be good if it happened, if it existed. “Think only good thoughts” about how you, and others, can be better at living a more wholesome Jewish life, for example. Focus and concentrate on how and in what ways “God will be good to us.”

Don’t be selfish and use your wise thinking only on you and yours. Think about your friends, neighbors, local, city, state and federal governments. (I’m not a big fan of politicians, to put it mildly. 

This recommendation is not for their sake, but ours, per the Mishnah [Avot 3:2], “Pray for the welfare of the government.”) Think wisely about the material misery of so many across the globe, but think even more wisely about the decline of morality and of civilization which need to be reversed.

Our individual efforts to “think only good thoughts” will have a positive impact, but only to a limited degree. The reason? Because as strongly as you or I focus on bettering the world, we are acting singly. We can mitigate the judgment only to our individual limits. But what if we thought together? What if we were so in love with one another before Rosh Hashanah that we agreed on which were the best, or most necessary, points to “be wise” about and we focused on them together?

Yeah, that would be pretty cool. Now, maybe it’s too close to Rosh Hashanah 5774 to do something globally, maybe not. But certainly, it’s not too late to discuss with some friends and fellow shul/synagogue/chaburah-goers about which “good thoughts” to think and in what ways we want “God to be good to us.” Ditto, for folks, spouse and siblings.

Uniting in peace and love, even as a small group, creates a mind much greater in scope, with much greater power. The Rebbe teaches (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #62):

When thought is intensely concentrated and focused, it can exert great influence. All faculties of the mind, conscious and unconscious, down to the innermost point, must be focused without distraction. When many people do this without distraction, their thinking can actually force something to happen. (See there for a caveat!)

A final word. We usually think of “good” in material terms, “more” and “better,” “bigger” and “faster.” When Rebbe Nachman says “good” he means an eternal good beyond our comprehension—but within our ability to live. 

© Copyright 2013 Bergman 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Bridge

Musings on a story Rebbe Nachman once told
Dovid Sears

The Rebbe once gave over a parable about the spiritual quest (a translation of which we posted awhile ago on this website here). In brief, an impoverished chassid has a dream that a treasure lies buried near a certain bridge in a faraway city. Upon his arrival there, a guard questions him, laughs at what he hears and remarks that he too had a dream about a treasure—buried under the kitchen stove of a Jew who happened to have the same name as our protagonist. The latter goes home and finds the sought-after treasure. The moral of the story is that each of us possesses the divine truth or perception we seek within ourselves; the role of the tzaddik is to help us to bring it to light.

The Breslov version of the story appears in Kokhvey Ohr (“Maasiyos u-Meshalim,” p. 26), as preserved by Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman of Tulchin, which is accepted as a highly-reliable mesorah. (This is not one of the Rebbe’s famous mystical stories, puplished as “Sippurey Ma’asiyos,” but one of the many other stories he told to his chassidim, some of which were original while others were not.) But to a Breslover ear, accustomed to hearing about the primacy of hiskashrus li-tzaddik and the tzaddik emes as personifying the “universal mind” (sekhel ha-kollel), “collective mind” (moach ha-kollel), and all-inclusive soul, [1] this story seems a bit out of character. It seems more consistent with the teachings of the “Yid Hakadosh” and his disciple Reb Simcha Bunim of Pshis’cha, which play down these “larger than life” portrayals of the tzaddik and his mystical powers and emphasize instead his role as spiritual facilitator.

And in fact, it appears in the lore of that school of Polish Chassidus, too. In Rabbi Michael Rosen’s study of Reb Simcha Bunim, “The Quest for Authenticity” (Urim 2008), the same story is cited in the Introduction (pp. 22-23, based on Maamarei Simcha, no. 30). The poor chassid is also mentioned by name in this version: Reb Isaac ben Yekelish of Krakow.

 But maybe there is no contradiction.

After reading about the primacy of hiskashrus li-tzaddikim in the Rebbe’s works, many new mekuravim ask, “Which tzaddik was the Rebbe connected to?” Perhaps to the Baal Shem Tov, his illustrious great-grandfather, who likewise did not have a living teacher but was mentored by the spirit of Achiyah HaShiloni. Or perhaps he was mekushar to himself—like Moshe Rabbenu, who personified that all-inclusive soul.[2]

Thus the Rebbe states that “Moshe” exists within every one of us, and the consciousness Moshe represents exists within every limb of the body; “Moshe” represents the essence of each neshamah and all neshamos collectively; this is what animates everything in one’s being, body, and sphere of influence. [3]

This essence is the “treasure” we need to discover. But in order to succeed, we must search for that master teacher, the external “Moshe,” who can show us the esence of who we are—because the master teacher has actualized the potential that we all share.[4]

Maybe this is another ramification of the Rebbe’s famous declaration, “I can make you a ‘guhter yid’ [in this context, a tzaddik] just like me!”[5] Because ultimately, there is no “you” and “me.”

This is the symbolic meaning of the bridge in our story: as the Zohar states, the tzaddik is like a bridge in that he binds together “heaven and earth.”[6] He combines all worlds and all that they contain. The bridge also denotes overcoming the sense of division; it is the link between “you” and “me” and all appearances of separateness.

Thus the parable need not be read as an import from Pshis’cha, but may serve as a key to understanding the Rebbe’s nearly-ubiquitous theme of hiskashrus li-tzaddik emes. The meaning of “emes” (truth) would be that the tzaddik is one with that essence, which is the truth of existence.[7]

Accordingly, the tzaddik emes is not really external, but internal. And that’s the “treasure under the kitchen stove.”


When I repeated this dvar Torah a little while ago, someone responded by saying, “Tear up the floor!”

That’s what hisbodedus is all about. 

[1] For a fuller description of these concepts, see Rabbi Chaim Kramer’s “Crossing the Narrow Bridge: A Practical Guide to Rebbe Nachman’s Teachings” (Breslov Research Institute, Chapter 17 (“Tzaddik”), pp. 312-359.
[2] See Likutey Moharan I, 34:4, about the “common point” of the tzaddik, which includes all good points.
[3] See Likutey Moharan  II, 26; also ibid. II, 39 re. how the “leader of the generation, like Moshe, must illuminate even those on the lowest spiritual levels; and ibid. II, 72, re, how Moshe, who personified the collective da’as of all Israel, was able to transmit higher levels of consciousness to every individual through his gaze alone.
[4] Cf. Rabbi Chaim Vital in the name of the Arizal on the verse “Six hundred thousand souls are those at my foot” (Numbers 1:21)—that all six hundred thousand souls of Israel were but parts of Moshe’s soul (Sha’ar HaPesukim 2:3).
[5] Chayey Moharan, Part II, sec. 230. Also see Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender’s explanation in Siach Sarfey Kodesh, Vol. IV, sec. 72.
[6] Zohar III, 257a.
[7] See Likutey Moharan I, 51, where the Rebbe states that the terms emes (truth), echad (one), kadosh (holy) and tov (good) are four ways of describing the same reality. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Teshuvah: Returning to God

Translated by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum of

There is a way that everything can be turned into good.

Alim LiTerufah 113

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God's greatness is unfathomable: that is why Teshuvah has such power. No matter how far you may have fallen - be it to the lowest depths - never despair, because you can always return to God. With just a little effort you can turn even your worst sins into merits. No matter where in the world you fall, you can easily come back to God. This is because of His unfathomable greatness. Nothing is beyond His power. Just never give up! Keep crying out, praying and pleading to God at all times.

Sichot Haran #3

* * *

Sometimes a sin can make a person so bitter that he repents completely.

Likutey Halachot, Birkat HaReiach 4:2

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Stop then and there!

You may be in some place when suddenly you have a thought of Teshuvah and a deep longing for God. Stop then and there in that very place and take a moment to focus on the thought and the feeling of longing. Turn them into a prayer. Put your longing into words straight from your heart. Don't wait or move on, even if you are not in your usual place of prayer and study - even if you are going on your way - because if you move on, it could interrupt your train of thought.

Likutey Moharan II, 124

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The Path of Teshuvah

Every person must minimize his own glory and maximize God's glory. For one who pursues glory attains not God's glory but only the glory of kings, of which it is said: "The glory of kings is subject to investigation" (Proverbs 25:2) . For then everyone investigates who he really is, asking: "Who is he and what is he to be given such honor?" People challenge him, saying he is not fit for this honor.

But when a person flees from honor, minimizing his own honor and maximizing the glory of God, he attains the glory of God. No-one then investigates to see if he deserves it, for "The glory of God is to hide the matter" ( ibid. ) - it is forbidden to question his honor.

The only way to attain God's glory is through repentance. And the true sign of a person who has returned to God is the ability to hear himself insulted and remain silent. He endures even the most murderous abuse with patience, thereby reducing the blood in the left side of his heart (seat of the animal soul) and annihilating his evil inclination. Such a person is worthy of a share in God's glory.

Before a person returns to God, he has no being. It is as if he has not yet been created, because it would have been better for him not to have been created at all. But when he purifies himself in order to return to God, he puts himself in order and prepares to become a being. This element of preparation for becoming - coming into being, as it were - explains why the Divine Name associated with repentance is Ehyeh , "I shall be".

When a person wants to purify himself and return to God, they tell him "Wait!" ( Yoma 38b-39a) . It is true that he should hurry to free his soul and escape the darkness. But he should not allow himself to become discouraged and dejected if he sees that he is far from true prayer and other holy devotions. Waiting patiently is a necessary part of the process. In the end he will be worthy of making amends completely and everything will be rectified.

Repentance never comes to an end: it must be continuous. Even at the very moment that a person is confessing , it is impossible for him to say the words , "I have sinned, I have transgressed, I have rebelled." with perfect sincerity free of all extraneous motives. Thus he must repent for his earlier repentance and for the flaw in his previous confession.

Even when a person knows that he has repented completely, he must still make amends for his earlier repentance. For what he achieved then was good only in proportion to his perception of Godliness at the time. Now, after his repentance, his perception has undoubtedly been heightened. Compared with his present perception, his earlier perception turns out to have been grossly materialistic. He must therefore repent for his earlier levels - because he degraded the true exaltedness of the Creator to the level of the material. Happy is the man who achieves true Teshuvah.

Teshuvah has three aspects: seeing with the eyes, hearing with the ears and understanding in the heart (cf. Isaiah 6:10 ) . A person must use his eyes to look towards the ultimate goal and purpose of this world. He must concentrate on this goal with all his heart, resolving to travel there and nowhere else. And he must use his ears to listen carefully to everything that our holy sages said. Then he will be able to return to God.

Teshuvah essentially depends on humility. One must make oneself into nothing, like a wasteland over which people trample: one must pay no attention whatsoever to opposition or abuse from others. One should train oneself to be silent and hear oneself insulted without answering back. Such a person is worthy of the name "wise" and will attain perfect Teshuvah, the "Crown" and summit of the Sefirot. This is the way to true and enduring glory - the glory of God.

Likutey Moharan I , 6

* * *


Be totally honest when you speak to God. Accustom yourself to talking so honestly that your heart is aroused and the words start pouring forth with fire and passion.

As you draw closer to God you will see your own smallness and insignificance in comparison with His greatness, and you will be filled with humility. Until now you cast your sins behind your back and ignored them. But as you start to acknowledge them frankly, you will feel deep shame at having rebelled against the Master and Ruler of the Universe, Source of all the worlds.

At first this humility will not actually be discernible on your face, because sin weakens a person's mental powers, preventing them from radiating on the face. Before repenting , his mind is so weakened that he has no conception of the true gravity of sin and the greatness of the One he sinned against. But as he returns to God and puts aside his folly, gaining wisdom and understanding, his shame becomes increasingly visible on his face.

The Tefilin are the sign of humility and attachment to God. The light of the Tefilin is a ray of the light of God's inner countenance. When a person achieves this humility, all his sins are forgiven and he becomes attached to the Tree of Life.

Likutey Moharan I, 38
* * *

The Power of Psalms

Everybody wants to revere God's Name but not everyone is able to repent. Sometimes a person feels no arousal whatever. Even one who is aroused to repent may not reach his unique gate of Teshuvah, and even if he does, it could be that the gate is closed. This is why not everyone attains repentance.

But through reciting Psalms, even one who feels no arousal can be inspired to repent. The Psalms can take him to his unique gate and open it up, thereby bringing him to Teshuvah.

For this reason King David called himself "the man who raised the yoke... the sweet singer of Israel " ( II Samuel 23:1) . Our sages explain that David called himself "the man who raised the yoke" because he elevated the yoke of repentance through his own Teshuvah. David was a great Tzaddik and should not have sinned, but God caused him to sin in order to teach everyone the way of Teshuvah. King David was the prime exemplar of Teshuvah and his pathway is set forth in the Psalms, which he wrote with such a spirit of holiness that everyone can find himself in them and thereby return to God.

Likutey Moharan II, 73
* * *

God hides in the obstacle

When after a life devoted to worldliness a person feels an arousal to God, the attribute of Judgment rises to accuse him and does not permit him to follow God's ways. It does this by confronting him with an obstacle. But God loves kindness and hides Himself within the very obstacle itself. One who lacks good sense sees the obstacle and retreats at once. But one who possesses good sense examines the obstacle and discovers God within it.

Likutey Moharan I, 115

* * *

Revisiting the past

To come to complete Teshuvah you must pass through all the places where you were prior to your Teshuvah. When you encounter exactly the same temptations as you experienced before, you must avert your eyes and control your impulses in order not to repeat what you did earlier. This is the essence of perfect Teshuvah: there is no other way.

Likutey Moharan II, 49

* * *

Be a new creation

If you want to return to God you must make yourself into a new creation. You can do this with a sigh!

Man never stops breathing - releasing the stale air and drawing in fresh air. Our very lives depend on this. The physical air we breathe has its root above. There is the good air of the Tzaddik and the evil air of the sinner. The Tzaddik constantly draws air from the holy, the sinner draws air from impurity.

Therefore, when a person wants to repent, he must make sure to stop the bad air from coming into him. The way to do this is with a sigh, which is a long, deep breath in and out. The sigh begins when you draw in extra air. This is similar to what happens just before a person dies: he draws in extra air and then the spirit leaves him. Every exhalation is the death of the moment that has passed, in preparation for the birth of the new moment. Thus when you take a deep sigh, you release yourself from the bad air of the sinner and bind yourself to the pure air of the Tzaddik in order to receive new vitality.

This is Teshuvah, returning from impurity to holiness in order to gain new life. The very body is renewed, because "Sighing breaks a person's whole body" ( Berachot 58b) , and therefore the body is remade.

Chayey Moharan #37

* * *

How precious is a sigh!

How precious is the sigh of a Jew! The very sigh brings fulfillment of his needs.

For the world was created through the breath, which is the life spirit: " . and through the breath of His mouth all their hosts" (Psalms 33:6) . The renewal of the world will also be through the breath: "You send Your spirit, they are created, and You renew the face of the earth" (Psalms 104:30) . The breath is also man's vitality since his life depends on breathing. "And He breathed in his nostrils the spirit of life" (Genesis 2:7) .

The essential vitality of all things thus depends on the breath. Whenever something is lacking, the main lack is in that thing's vitality, which is the life-spirit keeping it alive. A sigh is a long breath - the long breath of patience. Therefore when a person is patient and sighs over what he lacks, he draws life spirit to that which is lacking, because the main lack is the absence of the life spirit.

But from where does one receive the life spirit? Know that we receive the essential life spirit from the Tzaddik and leader of the generation. This is because the main life spirit is in the Torah, for "the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:2) and the "waters" are the Torah. Since the Tzaddkim are attached to the Torah, therefore the main life spirit is with them.

When one who is attached to the Tzaddik and leader of the generation takes a long, deep sigh, he draws life spirit from the Tzaddik, who is attached to the Torah, where the spirit resides. Thus the Tzaddik is called "the man who has the spirit in him" ( Numbers 27:18) - because he knows how to relate to each and everyone according to his spirit.

Likutey Moharan I, 8

* * *

Providence and nature

God shows us great kindness by governing the world with individual providence and through the laws of nature. When people are good, God deals with them providentially, in a way that goes beyond nature. However if God were to oversee the life of an undeserving person in accordance with His providence, no good could ever reach him. Nevertheless out of kindness, God leaves this person to the laws of nature, and as a result , through the law of averages, things may then go well for him.

If God's only way of running the world were through providence, rewarding good deeds and punishing sin, this could lead to a total breakdown of providence. For if God were to see someone acting im­properly and dealt with him in anger, He might cast him out completely. Instead, God abandons him to nature, and when he improves his ways, He deals with him providentially.

But in actual fact we are quite unable to understand what is "nature" and what is "providence", because the truth is that even the laws of nature are really God's providence. However, the human mind is unable to grasp the paradox that what appears to be the law of nature is really God's providence.

Likutey Moharan II, 17

* * *

I have strayed like a lost sheep

"I have strayed like a lost sheep: seek out Your servant" (Psalms 119:176).

When a person sins, it makes a big difference if he comes to his senses at once and repents, in which case it is easy for him to return to his place because he has not yet strayed too far from the good path. For when a person sins, he turns from the straight path and enters a different, twisting pathway. A multitude of wrong turns branch off into ever deeper error and corruption. The person may stray so far and become so entangled that it is very hard for him to turn back and get off the wrong track.

God's way is to call a person the moment He sees him straying from the path of good sense, asking him to turn back. He calls each person in the way most suited to him. To some He beckons with a hint. To others the summons is literally a cry. Some people kick, and He must strike them in order to call them. For "the Torah cries out before them: 'Fools! How long will you love foolishness?'" (Proverbs 1:22, Zohar Shemini 36a) . The Torah is God's voice calling and begging those who sin to return to Him.

As long as a person has not strayed too far from the right path, it is easy for him to return because he still recognizes the voice. This is because only a short time has passed since he was close to God and heeded His voice, the voice of the Torah. He has not yet forgotten it or strayed too far along those other devious paths. Similarly, when a sheep strays from the path and the shepherd immediately calls it, as long as the sheep has not yet strayed too far, it still recognizes the shepherd's voice and immediately responds.

But once the sheep strays far from the path, it forgets the shepherd's voice and no longer recognizes his call. The shepherd also gives up searching because the sheep has been lost for such a long time . Similarly, when a person has been going in the wrong direction for a long time , having strayed far from the true path into all those corrupt, devious and confusing pathways, it is hard for him to repent.

But know that sometimes a person journeys so far along those corrupt and devious paths that his very wandering brings him close to his original place and it only needs an easy test to bring him back to his starting point . But when God calls him and arranges the test, the person does not recognize the voice and feels no need to return. That is the difference between young and old people. One who is still young and has not grown old in his sins can return more easily, because he is still closer and has not forgotten the voice that calls.
This is the meaning of the verse, "I have strayed like a lost sheep: seek out Your servant" (Psalms 119, 176) . "I have strayed like a lost sheep": I have strayed from the good path like a lost sheep that has strayed from the road. This is why I beg of You: ".seek out Your servant, because I have not forgotten Your commandments". Hurry and search for me as long as I still remember the voice of the Torah and mitzvot. Hurry and search for me immediately, because I have not yet forgotten Your mitzvot: I still recognize the call of the mitzvot of the Torah. That is why I beg You to take pity on me and search me out quickly, as long as "I have not forgotten Your mitzvot" and still recognize the voice of the call of the Torah and the mitzvot.

For when a person grows old in his sins, it is very hard to seek him out as he has already forgotten and no longer recognizes the voice of the Torah and the mitzvot. We must therefore beg God to hurry and bring us back to Him before we completely forget the call of the Torah and mitzvot. This was King David's prayer: "Search out Your servant, for I have not forgotten Your mitzvot."

Likutey Moharan I, 206