Otzar Nachmani # 226
Collected Talks of Rabbi Nachman Burstein, zatzal
Translated by Dovid Sears (unedited)
Posted in honor of Reb Avraham Sternhartz’s yahrtzeit, 20 Elul.
[Reb Nachman Burstein writes:]
I heard many times from the Breslover elder (“chassid ha-vasik”), Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender, zal, about the awesome power of our master, Reb Avraham “Sofer” Sternhartz, zal, during the days of Rosh Hashanah in Uman—whether concerning his leading of the prayers, his public teaching of Torah, or other matters. Reb Levi Yitzchok described to us the astonishing strength of our teacher, who was already seventy years old; for he left Uman for Eretz Yisrael in 1936 at age 74—and he gave a mnemonic for this from the verse, “bitchu ba-Shem adey ad … trust in Hashem forever,” which can also be read “until 74 (ayin-dalet)” [when his patient trust in Hashem’s deliverence was at last fulfilled].
This avodah began at the holy tziyyun of the Rebbe, zal, at chatzos (midnight) on the last night before Rosh Hashanah—the night of the “Zekhor Bris” selichos (petitional prayers), which is the last night of the year. (See Sippurey Ma’asiyos, Ma’aseh 13, in the story of the Fourth Day, which states that that when night fell, the people would weep.)
After spending about an hour reciting Tikkun Chatzos, [Reb Avraham] went [from the Rebbe’s tziyyun] to the Kloyz, there to imploringly lead the selichos of “Zekhor Bris” amidst the throngs of chassidim. As soon as he intoned the opening words, “Ashrei yoshvei veisekho,” intense feelings of awe would grip the holy congregation. “Es is shoyn gevven a shtick Rosh Hashanah, “It was already ‘of a piece’ with Rosh Hashanah,” [as Reb Noson used to say of the Erev Rosh Hashanah selichos].
A large group of Breslover chassidim still remained at the Rebbe’s tziyyun. They were awe-struck to hear the sound of [Reb Avraham’s] voice like a mighty shofar, as if summoning them. They immediately hastened to the Kloyz, as if in a single breath, while the voice of our master began to echo through the interior of the Kloyz and spread to the outside with the concluding words of each section of the selichos—especially the end of “K-el horeisa lonu sh’losh esrei…” when his voice waxed louder, sweetly and lingeringly, as he wept in supplication, the tears flowing down his cheeks, as he poured out his heart like water. And all those present answered him, the entire holy congregation assembled in the Kloyz, “like one man with one heart,” aroused with deep emotion, crying out in prayer with tears and entreaty, with broken-hearted sighs and groans that rent the very heavens!
[As Reb Levi Yitzchok said,] “Di kolos hobb’n … mamash es kekht zikh a kes’l! The sounds had [such an emotional effect]… It was like a boiling kettle!” The entire Kloyz became one spiritual conflagration. Amidst these holy flames, the chassidim stood for more than three hours, until the end of selichos.
Reb Levi Yitzchok remembered the first time he came to Uman in Elul 5674/1914, and heard our master [Reb Avraham ] lead the selichos of “Zekhor Bris”: “Hott mir di selichos gekling’n in di oyr’n a gantzeh Erev Rosh Hashanah. Ich hobb nit gevist oyf velkhe ich bin… The selichos resounded in my ears the entire Erev Rosh Hashanah. I didn’t know where I was! I had never heard anything like this before in the world. I actually experienced what the Rebbe said: ‘Other [tzaddikim] long for a Rosh Hashanah like my Erev Rosh Hashanah!’ The prayers were like a fire! The sounds emanating from the Kloyz reverberated through the surrounding area. Faces were enflamed; hearts burned; the synagogue was engulfed by a spiritual inferno. It is impossible to describe the heart’s passion for G-d at that time—it was truly an experience of nullification to the Ohr Ein Sof (Infinite Light), a transcendence of physicality [as mentioned in Tur-Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 98]. It is impossible to describe how they could stand in the middle of such a blaze, with such heartfelt cries, almost to the point of expiry of the soul, for so many hours…”
It is self-understood that this fervor and spiritual arousal affected the entire avodah of Erev Rosh Hashanah—particularly the hishtatchus (prostration), outpouring of the soul, and earnest recitation of the ten psalms of Tikkun ha-Klalli at the Rebbe’s tziyyun.
In addition, the magnanimous giving of tzedakah (charity) was beyond all bounds. For they made no calculations, but simply gave profusely, with flames of love, from a special fund they had set aside for that purpose throughout the past year. It was a beautiful sight to behold the wondrous generosity of our brothers, the like of which was not to be found anywhere else. (It is brought in Sefer ha-Middos that one should give tzedakah “with both hands,” in the merit of which one’s prayers will be heard.) And this was aside from the money given as a pidyon nefesh (“redemption of the soul”) to prominent Breslover chassidim, as is customary, in fulfillment of the Rebbe’s words in Sichos ha-Ran (sec. 214): “On Erev Rosh Hashanah, one should give a pidyon.” (And I heard that during the previous generation, they used to give a pidyon to the eminent chassid, Reb Abale, zal, in keeping with Likutey Moharan I, 200 [end]; see there.)
The giving of tzedakah at the Rebbe’s tziyyun prior to reciting Tikkun ha-Klalli was a distinct avodah. For this tzedakah was in honor of the neshamah of the “light of our life,” the Rebbe, zal, who had said, “And give a coin (perutah) to tzedakah for my sake,” at the time he revealed the awesome secret of Tikkun ha-Klalli: the ten psalms designation for tikkun ha-bris [“repair of the covenant,” spiritual correction of nocturnal emissions, which Reb Noson understood to extend to the correction of all sins; also see Likutey Moharan I, 200 [end]; see there.)
All day long the holy tziyyun was resonant with the sounds of hundreds of people coming and going from the ohel (shelter) that covered the Rebbe’s grave, which embodied the “small that contains the great” [see the Rebbe’s story, “The Seven Beggars,” Fifth Day (“The Hunchback”); this concept is found in the Midrash—DS]. For the ohel was too small to hold even a minyan; yet miraculously on Erev Rosh Hashanah, tens of people entered its holy interior, defying all comprehension.
What took place there at that time is beyond words, given the great spiritual arousal, outpouring of the soul, prayers, supplications, confessions, tears and screams, sighs and moans, which reached unto the heart of heaven! It was as if one could feel with his very hands the teshuvah, remorse and new inner resolve of each person.