Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Never Give Up!

Chayei Moharan 565
Translated by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, “Tzaddik” (Breslov Research Institute)

There was one extraordinary occasion when the Rebbe spoke in awesome terms about the greatness of the Creator. He spoke in a way that is impossible to describe in writing.

Then immediately afterwards he began to give encouragement, saying that even if a person experiences a tremendous fall, each one in his own way, he should still strengthen himself and never despair—because God's greatness is exalted even beyond the Torah,[i] and there is a place where everything can be corrected. For teshuvah, repentance, is beyond the Torah.

“But how can we achieve this?” I asked.

“It is possible to come to it,” he replied, “so long as you never despair or give up crying out, praying and pleading. The only thing is to cry out, to pray, to plead ... never ever tire of it. Eventually you will rise up from where you have fallen. The essence of teshuvah is to cry out to God.”[ii]

[i] See Likutey Moharan II, 78
[ii] Likutey Halakhos, Nedarim 4:16.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reb Noson’s Yahrtzeit

This year, Reb Noson’s yahrtzeit, Asarah be-Teves, falls on Wednesday night, December 31 - Thursday, January 1. It is customary to light a 24-hour candle and give tzedakah in his memory, as well as to learn some of his teachings. In many Breslov shuls, including those in Borough Park, Williamsburg and Monsey, there will be public Melaveh Malkas in honor of Reb Noson’s yahrtzeit. (Since Asarah be-Teves is a fast day, the yahrtzeit seudah is always held on the evening before the fast.)

The following biographical sketch was written by Rabbi Chaim Kramer and published as an appendix to his now-classic introduction to Breslov Chassidus, “Crossing the Narrow Bridge” (Breslov Research Institute), pp. 434-436.

The Life of Reb Noson

Reb Noson Sternhartz was born in Nemirov, on 15 Shevat, 5540 (January 22, 1780). At thirteen, he married Esther Shaindel, the daughter of the prominent Rabbi Dovid Zvi Orbach, a renowned halakhic authority in Poland and the Ukraine. Reb Noson was twenty‑two when Rebbe Nachman moved to Breslov, and Reb Noson promptly became his leading follower. He also developed into the Rebbe’s scribe, writing down all of the Rebbe’s teachings and conversations. Rebbe Nachman himself said: “Were it not for Reb Noson, not a page of my writings would have remained” (see Tzaddik #367).

After Rebbe Nachman passed away, Reb Noson moved to Breslov (1811). He printed all of Rebbe Nachman’s writings, and wrote his own original discourses and teachings, some of which were published during his lifetime. He also traveled throughout the Ukraine, visiting Rebbe Nachman’s followers and continuing to spread the Rebbe’s teachings. In 1822 he made his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a trip that in many ways rivaled Rebbe Nachman’s in adventure and suspense. During those years, Reb Naftali Hertz’s business failed and Reb Noson became subjected to poverty. He once said that when he began eating from wooden utensils, he felt no taste in the food. Around 1830, with the pronounced increase in the number of those coming to Uman for Rosh HaShanah, Reb Noson initiated the construction of a large Breslov synagogue (until then, they had rented a place in the city for the kibutz gathering.)

In late 1834, Rabbi Moshe Zvi of Savran, the Savraner Rebbe, instigated fierce and fanatical opposition to Reb Noson and the Breslover Chassidim. This opposition led to Reb Noson’s temporary imprisonment by the authorities. After his release, Reb Noson fled from city to city in the Ukraine, only returning to Breslov in the spring of 1835. Shortly afterwards he was banished from Breslov, and was under court order to remain in the city of his birth. Though he obtained permission to travel to Uman for Rosh HaShanah and for other special occasions, he was virtually a prisoner in Nemirov. His confinement also put him at the mercy of his opponents, who seized every opportunity to torment him. With the Savraner’s sudden death in 1838, the relentless opposition waned and Reb Noson returned to Breslov later that year.

Reb Noson had five sons and one daughter, all of whom survived him. Reb Shachneh (b. 1802) and Reb Yitzchok (b. 1808) were born during Rebbe Nachman’s lifetime. Reb Noson’s only daughter Chana Tzirel (b. 1820) and his third son, Reb Dovid Zvi (b. 1822) were also born to him by his first wife, Esther Shaindel (d. 1826). Reb Noson then married Dishel, who bore him two sons, Reb Nachman (b. 1827) and Reb Yosef Yonah (b. 1829).

Despite great personal suffering from both poverty and opposition, Reb Noson was single-handedly responsible for shaping the Breslov movement into the vibrant force it is today. This, in spite of the fact that there is no “living” rebbe. On the morning of his passing, 10 Tevet, 5605 (December 20, 1844), Reb Noson had the first two stories of Rabbi Nachman’s Stories read to him. The second story ends, “...let us go home!” Hearing these words, Reb Noson nodded his head as if to say, “Yes, it is my time to go home.” He passed away later that day in his home in Breslov, just before the onset of Shabbat. Reb Naftali, with whom Reb Noson had been very close ever since childhood, was then living in Uman. The next morning he said that he was certain that “Reb Noson passed away last night.” When asked how he knew this, he replied, “I had a dream in which I saw Reb Noson. He was running. I asked him, ‘Reb Noson, where are you running?’ ‘Me?’ he answered. ‘Straight to the Rebbe!’” (oral tradition).

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Unity of All Creatures

(Painting by Lana)

Chayei Moharan 75 and 76
Translated by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, “Tzaddik” (Breslov Research Institute), sec. 201 and 202 (excerpt)
Sefer HaMiddot (Daat B1) states: “Know that all the worlds and every creature have their own unique form. Thus the form of the lion differs from that of the sheep, etc. All the differences are alluded to in the forms of the Hebrew letters and their combinations. One who succeeds in understanding the Torah can understand the significance of all the differences between the various creatures.”

[Reb Noson comments:]

I feel this teaching relates to a conversation I heard from the Rebbe before Shabbat Chanukah 5565 (1804) about the different creatures in the world.[i] He said then that the forms and shapes of every human being are all included in the word Adam, man, where it appears in the Torah (Genesis 1:26). As soon as God said the word Adam, he included every human likeness in it. The same applies to the words behemah, animal, and chayah, beast, in the account of the Creation. Those words contain the forms of all animals and beasts. The same applies to other creatures. The Rebbe spoke about this at length and said that there are categories of wisdom even in this world on which one can subsist without any other food or drink.[ii] The Rebbe spoke at length, but it was not written down.

The same passage in the Sefer HaMiddot (loc. cit.) ends by saying that one who succeeds in understanding the Torah “will also know the unity [of all the creatures]—their beginning and end, for in their beginning and ultimate end they are a unity with no distinctions.”

[i] Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom (Sichos HaRan), #306.
[ii] Cf. Likutey Moharan I, 19:8.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Eizer L'Shabbos Chanukah Appeal

Received via e-mail:


Dear friend of Eizer L'Shabbos:

Please help the people in the Holy Tzefat for Chanukah.

You should be blessed in the merit of the Ari Hakadosh and  other Tzadikim from Tzefat..

Happy Chanukah

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Rabbi Chaim Kramer in Cedarhurst - December 13

19 Kislev: Yahrtzeit of the Maggid of Mezeritch

19 Kislev: Yahrtzeit of the Maggid of Mezeritch
Based on Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, “Chassidic Masters,” Chapter 4, and “Until the Mashiach.”

This year “Yud-Tes Kislev,” the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Dov Ber ben Avraham (1704-1772), better known as the Maggid of Mezeritch, falls on Thursday, December 11.

On the yahrtzeit of a tzaddik, it  is customary to light a 24-hour candle, give a few coins to tzedakah and learn something from the tzaddik’s teachings or tell a story or two about him. A few translations from this great and awesome Chassidic master’s teachings can be found in a separate posting here.

According to tradition, the Maggid of Mezeritch was a leading student of the celebrated Talmudist known as the “Pnei Yehoshua” (Rabbi Yehoshua Falk, 1680-1756) in Lemberg (Lvov), at whose behest he later traveled to the Baal Shem Tov in search of a cure for his lameness. The Maggid was already a master of the Kabbalah by this time—but upon encountering the Baal Shem Tov, that mastery was forever transformed from intellectual knowledge to the most profound experiential knowledge of these mysteries.

After the Baal Shem Tov’s passing in 1760, some eight years later, the Maggid emerged as the unique disciple who would succeed in transmitting the Master’s teachings to a core of elite students, who in turn disseminated them throughout the Jewish world. Several collections of the Maggid’s oral teachings were published after the latter’s death by his disciples. These included Likutey Amarim (1780); Likutim Yekarim (1792); Ohr HaEmes (1799); and Ohr Torah (1804).

Although Rebbe Nachman was not a disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch (his formative years having been spent in the family circle of the Baal Shem Tov), he nevertheless had the highest praise for him. Reb Noson writes that once a group of people were discussing the greatness of the tzaddikim. One mentioned the testimony of a certain tzaddik that with wherever he set his eyes, the Maggid of Mezeritch could see all “Seven Shepherds” (i.e., Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David). Rebbe Nachman commented, “About the holy Maggid, one may believe everything.” Reb Noson adds that the Rebbe spoke many other praises of the Maggid and his inner circle of followers (Chayei Moharan #553).

Another great event that took place on Yud-Tes Kislev was the release of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad school of Chassidism, from the Czar’s prison. This liberation is still celebrated all over the world by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

In this connection, there is an interesting observation from Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in his biography of Rebbe Nachman, “Until the Mashiach” (Breslov Research Institute), p. 40. In describing Rebbe Nachman’s journey to Israel, he writes:

“Thursday, 24 Tishrei 5559 (October 4, 1798):  The day after the holiday [of Shemini Atzeres-Simchas Torah] the Rebbe wanted to return home immediately. His attendant, however, again refused to go, since he wanted to visit Tiberias. The Rebbe agreed (Shivchey HaRan).

On this day, Rabbi Shneur Zalman was taken to prison. He had been denounced to the Prosecutor-General in S. Petersburg as a political agitator (Tanya, Toldos Rabbenu HaZaken, p. 207; HaTamim, 214a). [Rabbi Kaplan adds:] This might have been why the Rebbe was so brokenhearted [during the preceding holy days].”

The “coincidence” of these events—Rebbe Nachman’s mysterious grief and the accusation and then arrest of the Baal HaTanya—is remarkable.

Upon his return to Russia from his momentous journey to the Holy Land, Rebbe Nachman went straight to the Baal HaTanya in Liozna, attempting (unfortunately, without success) to make peace between him and Rabbi Avraham Kalisker in Eretz Yisrael. And when the Baal HaTanya later traveled through the Ukraine on his way to meet with Rabbi Baruch of Medzhibuzh, he stopped to spend Shabbos Yisro with Rebbe Nachman in Breslov (“Until the Mashiach,” pp. 178-179)—but that’s another story…

Zekhusam yagein aleinu!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

“The Stone That the Builders Rejected”

Retold by Dovid Sears
The following posting first appeared in 2006 on the Breslov-oriented blog, A Simple Jew.

There is a story in Reb Avraham Sternhartz’s Tovos Zichronos (Breslov oral traditions) about some astounding things one of the Reb Noson’s talmidim told the author in his youth about the Rebbe’s power of tikkun ha-neshamos (healing or perfection of souls). An English translation by Rabbi Chaim Kramer appears in the back of The Breslov Haggadah (Breslov Research Institute). This is a slightly shorter version.

Reb Pinchas Yehoshua was the son of Reb Isaac the Sofer, a close disciple of Reb Noson. He was very poor, yet well known for his piety and great devotions. One day, Reb Pinchas Yehoshua made the pilgrimage to the Rebbe’s gravesite in Uman, together with Reb Avraham Sternhartz, then in his early twenties, and Reb Motele Shochet, both of whom were very close to him. The three of them prayed there for many hours.

Reb Avraham writes:
As we turned to leave the Rebbe’s gravesite, Reb Pinchas Yehoshua began to tremble with great trepidation. “My friends,” he said, “I looked at myself, and I saw that I have been reincarnated again and again into this world.”

He then began detailing the various generations in which he lived. He said that he had been alive in the time of a certain Tanna, and then in the generation of a particular tzaddik... As he spoke, Reb Pinchos Yehoshua carefully weighed his words, their truth being clear. We believed him because we knew of his greatness and his incredible devotion to G-d. He even told us how many times his soul had already returned to this world.

Reb Pinchas Yehoshua found it extremely hard to understand why, of all the people that lived in the world when his soul was first incarnated, he alone had to endure this. The Tanna had rectified other souls. Why not his? Why did he have to suffer so many incarnations? Reb Pinchas Yehoshua began saying to himself, “Why was my soul left without a tikkun? Why was I left in the depths, in the abyss of my sins, so that I had to come down to this world again? Perhaps I would be rectified the second time around...”

Then he told us that he came back in the generation of a different tzaddik. This tzaddik worked diligently to rectify neshamos and bring them back to their source. But as before, his soul was left without its tikkun, and he had to return again – and again.

“I tried as hard as I could to understand why this was happening,” Reb Pinchas Yehoshua continued. “Finally, I realized that I alone was responsible for my fate. I, myself, because of my difficult nature and improper deeds, had made it impossible for anyone to provide me with a tikkun. Had I not learned in the Gemara that ‘the tzaddikim are builders?’ It must have been my fault that these righteous leaders were powerless to include me in the ‘buildings’ of holiness that they had made.”

I looked at Reb Motele Shochet, and he looked back at me. Neither of us could believe what we were hearing. We stood there transfixed as Reb Pinchas Yehoshua went on.

“When constructing a building,” he said, “a mason gathers all the stones that he needs for the first level of the building and starts cutting and chipping away at the corners. He forms the stones so that each one fits properly into place. When he has finished the first level, he again gathers the stones he needs and shapes them, so that he can then erect the second level. So it goes, level after level. At each level, the mason must make sure that all the stones he uses for the building are suitably formed. Many times we see that builders come across certain odd-shaped stones, which they try to use, only to find them too awkward to fit properly. In the end, they have no choice but to discard them.

“The same is true in spirituality. The great tzaddikim try to ‘build’ by attempting to rectify the souls of Israel. The Torah calls these souls ‘stones’ [as in Lamentations]. The tzaddikim work hard at this. Each stone they come across, every soul they encounter, they do their very best to fit into the building of holiness they erect.”

Reb Pinchas Yehoshua interrupted his words with a long, deep sigh. Then, with even greater intensity, he began again. “When it was my soul’s turn to play its part in the building, I came before this great Tanna. He attempted to correct me, but found that he could not succeed. He worked very hard to ‘ shape’ me, trying all different angles. However, no matter what he tried, it did not work. As soon as he corrected me on one side, I was found to be crooked on another side. Whichever way he turned my soul, it was still impossible for him to find a place for me in his ‘building.’ Seeing that it was futile, this Tanna left me alone. There was absolutely nothing he could do. The exact same thing happened the second time my soul descended into this world; and so it was with every subsequent incarnation. All the tzaddikim tried to rectify me, but their efforts failed. I was left alone through all those generations, thrown away like an odd-shaped stone, to be cast and kicked about forever.

“Yet G-d, Whose kindness is everlasting, wants all souls to be rectified, no matter what they have done. He saw my difficulties and sent me back to this world again. However, this time, in my current incarnation, I discovered something completely new: a tzaddik with a ‘building power’ that I had never seen in any of my previous incarnations. This was Rebbe Nachman of Breslov! All the Upper Worlds tremble in awe of his greatness and his holiness. Rebbe Nachman believed that a person could always come close to G-d, no matter how distant he was. In a strong voice he called out from the depths of his heart, ‘Never give up! Never despair!’ This Rebbe Nachman described himself as ‘a river that can cleanse all stains.’ From Creation until today, there never was a tzaddik who spoke such words, and with such strength and such power. In addition to hearing about Rebbe Nachman, G-d gave me the privilege of knowing Rebbe Nachman’s closest disciple, Reb Noson. He taught me Rebbe Nachman’s lessons and brought me to serve G-d.

“This is where I am now. “

And now, when I think about this, I cannot help but wonder: After being so distant from G-d all those years, how is it possible that I should I merit such a great light? How could someone so undeserving come to know of Rebbe Nachman?

“I only understood this after I contemplated the psalms of Hallel. ‘The stone despised by all the builders has become the cornerstone.’ In other words, this soul – the very same soul that had been discarded by all the great tzaddikim – has now come to the tzaddik, who is the ‘cornerstone,’ the foundation of the entire world. ‘This has come from G-d; it is wondrous in our eyes.’ It is truly wondrous how G-d deals with every single soul, making certain that it achieves its tikkun. The great tzaddikim never give up trying to correct all souls, because this is what G-d truly wants.

“I saw from this,” Reb Pinchas Yehoshua concluded, “that no matter what happens to us, we must understand that there is salvation. We can always come back to G-d.

“And these are the next words we say in the Hallel: ‘This is the day that G-d has made, we will rejoice...’ For today, in our generation, G-d gave us such a great leader, Rebbe Nachman, who instilled in us the faith that we can always turn to G-d, no matter where we are. Then G-d will redeem the Jewish People, and we will know nothing but great joy and happiness all the rest of our days, amen!”

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rabbi Ozer Bergman in Cedarhurst

Received by e-mail:

With gratitude to Hashem, Breslov of Far Rockaway and the Five Towns is pleased to announce a shiur on Inyanei Chanukah this Monday evening (December 8/ Kislev 17) at 8:15 pm with Rabbi Ozer Bergman of Yerushalayim. Rabbi Bergman is the author of "Where Earth and Heaven Kiss, a guide to Rebbe Nachman's path of meditation."

Location: Beis HaMedrash Chaim vi-Shalom

530 Central Avenue in Cedarhurst (next door to Citibank)

Refreshments will be served.

All are welcome. Please notify anyone you think may be interested. 

Looking forward to seeing you!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Baal Shem Tov and the Am Ha’aretz

(Painting by Zvi Malnovitzer)

Otzar Nachmani, Vol. I, sec. 77
By Rabbi Nachman Burstein, zatzal
Translated by Dovid Sears (unedited)

[Rabbi Nachman Burstein writes:] Rabbi Hirsch Leib Lippel told me that he heard from the Breslover Chassidim in Uman the following wondrous story about the Baal Shem Tov, may his merits shield us.

During one of his holy journeys, the Baal Shem Tov visited a certain village where he stayed with a simple Jewish peasant. According to his holy way, the Baal Shem Tov arose at midnight (chatzos) to begin his divine service. However, he saw that the villager too woke up from sleep and took an old Siddur that was extremely thick (since it contained the prayers of the entire year). He then recited everything in the Siddur, from beginning to end, with all the blessings specific to Shabbos and Yom Tov, the Days of Awe, Chanukah, Purim, all the blessings over food, continuing until the break of dawn. This was the man’s practice every night.

When the Baal Shem Tov observed this, he was extremely upset that such a whole-hearted Jew as this would recite so many blessings in vain—which is a grave sin. Therefore, after the villager had served him his morning bread (pas shacharis), and he had already decided to depart and continue his journey, the Baal Shem Tov alerted the man concerning the seriousness of the matter and the punishment that would await him in the World to Come for reciting blessings in vain.

The village exclaimed, “Holy rebbe! What can I do? I’m an am ha’aretz (ignoramus), because I never learned anything beyond how to read Hebrew. I was orphaned as a child and had no one to teach me. I only remembered that my father, may he rest in peace, used to pray with this Siddur every day. So I follow his example and also pray from this Siddur until the end, and I can’t tell the difference between one blessing and another. But this way I feel that I have fulfilled my obligation as a Jew to pray every day before our Father in Heaven. So it is that not only do I pray with great effort, but I will be severely punished for doing so!”

When the Baal Shem Tov heard these heartfelt words, he asked, “If I set up the order of the prayers for you, so that you’ll know which are the weekday prayers and which are the Shabbos prayers, and so forth, will you accept this from me and act accordingly?”

The villager replied with great joy, “Absolutely! I will do everything you say, just as long as it saves me from the severe punishment that’s coming to me!”

Therefore, the Baal Shem Tov told him to bring him a bundle of straw. Then the Baal Shem Tov placed one short straw after each section of the Siddur to indicate that here end the weekday prayers, here end the Shabbos prayers, here end the Rosh Chodesh prayers; then he inserted a longer straw to indicate that here end the Yom Tov prayers; and an even longer one to indicate that here end the prayers for the Days of Awe, followed by still longer straws for those of Chanukah, Purim, etc. The Baal Shem Tov reviewed all this with the villager until the man understood which straw went along with which prayer service. Now the villager was overjoyed that he knew how to daven correctly, each prayer in its proper time frame. He thanked the Baal Shem Tov profusely for his effort and for his instructions. Then the Baal Shem Tov went his way.

However, it wasn’t long before all of the villager’s joy ceased. For when he wished to put the Siddur back in its place, all the straws suddenly fell to the floor. He was extremely broken over this—for now he had no sign to distinguish between one prayer and another, according to what the Baal Shem Tov had taught him.

He was deeply embittered by this misfortune, because now he couldn’t daven at all, given what the Baal Shem Tov had told him about the severe heavenly punishment for reciting blessings in vain. So he was lost, without any advice. What could he do now that he had a Siddur, but was forbidden to pray? How could he bear this?

In his anguish, he ran outside. Maybe he could catch up to the Baal Shem Tov on the road. And in his great haste, he came to the river and in dismay, saw from afar how the Baal Shem Tov cast his gartel (cloth belt) on the water and crossed without a boat or ferry. So he began to scream with all his might, “My father, my father! My teacher, my teacher! Save me, for I’m such a wretch!”

But there was no sound or response; the distance between them was too great, and his cries could not be heard. Therefore, due to his great misery, he paid no heed to himself or to any danger, and did the same thing as the Baal Shem Tov!

He took his gartel and cast it across the surface of the water. Then he walked until he neared the Baal Shem Tov, and began to call out to him about the fallen straws. The Baal Shem Tov turned to face the man and saw him walking on his gartel. With his ruach ha-kodesh (divine inspiration), he immediately that the prayers the simple fellow had recited in truth and whole-heartedness, with no self-serving motive but only for the sake of Heaven, made a great impression on high, to the point that he too could perform a miracle by casting his gartel on the river. Thus, he told him in reply, “If you are able to do the same thing as me, go back home and keep praying as always!”

In retelling this story, the Breslover Chasidim add what the Rebbe [Reb Nachman] states in Chayei Moharan (sec. 520): how he envied a fellow known as “Yoss’l Siddur,” who used to pray with a thick Siddur and recite all of the supplications (techinos) and requests (bakashos) found therein. The Rebbe envied that this sincere, devout Jew was able to recite many prayers and requests with unselfconscious simplicity, and without any cleverness (“chokhmos”).