Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Rav Kenig in Monsey

Rav Elazar Mordechai Kenig, leader of the Tsfat Breslev community, will be arriving in New York this Thursday, Oct. 29G-d willing. As in the past, he will be staying with the Klein family at 19 Briarwood Lane, Monsey, NY. Those who wish to consult him for advice or blessings may schedule an appointment through the Klein family: 845-425-6274. They should know if the Rav will be with them for Shabbos and be able to give more details about his immediate plans. He usually teaches while here in America, and speaks publicly during the Third Shabbos Meal. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

“Avraham Was One”

Hashmatah: Likutey Moharan Tinyana

The following teaching is not numbered, but was included by Reb Noson at the beginning of Likutey Moharan Part II (“Tinyana”), which he first published in 1811, the year after our teacher Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s passing. Thereafter, the two parts were published together. We do not know why Reb Noson decided not to include this teaching in the sequence of the lessons, but we may speculate that by placing it at the beginning of Part II, he saw it as a general directive to all who would embark upon the path of Divine service.

This translation and original commentary (based on traditional sources) were authored by Rabbi Chaim Kramer and Rabbi Moshe Mykoff, as edited by Rabbi Ozer Bergman, for the Breslov Research Institute (BRI) English edition of Likutey Moharan, Vol. XII, pp. 2-5. We are grateful to the publisher for allowing us to post excerpts from this and other BRI books.

“Avraham Was One”
“ Echad hayah Avraham (Avraham was one)” (Ezekiel 33:24).

Avraham worshipped God only because he was “one”—because he considered himself alone in the world. He paid no attention whatsoever to people who turned him away from God and hindered him, or his father or others who would interfere. Rather, it was as if he was the only one in the world. This is the meaning of “Avraham was one.”

And it is the same for anyone who wants to embark upon the service of God. The only way for him to get started is by thinking that other than himself, there is absolutely no one else in the world. He should pay no attention to anyone who would hinder him, such as his father and mother, or his father‑in‑law, and his wife and children, or the like; or to the obstacles that he has from other people who ridicule, instigate against or obstruct his service of God. He has to be unconcerned with them and pay them no mind. Rather, he should adopt an “Avraham was one” attitude—as if he is the only one in the world, as discussed above.


Avraham was one. During the reign of King Tzidkiyahu, with most of the Holy Land in ruins, God sent the prophet Yechezkel to rebuke the Jewish people (Radak). Although the Jews were guilty of the atrocities enumerated (loc. cit.), they nonetheless considered themselves deserving of the Land. The full verse reads: “The Word of God came to me, saying, ‘Son of Man, the inhabitants of these ruins in the Land of Israel speak, claiming, ‘Avraham was one, yet he was granted possession of the Land. We are many; the Land has [surely] been given to us as a heritage.”‘ Commenting on this verse, Rashi cites Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s explanation of the Jewish people’s reasoning: Avraham was given only one mitzvah, circumcision yet he inherited the Land; we, who have been charged with numerous commandments, certainly have been granted possession of the Land.

Avraham worshipped God only because he was one ... alone in the world. Rebbe Nachman reads the words “Avraham was one” as alluding to what it was that enabled Avraham to stand up against an entire world of idolaters and proclaim his belief in the one, true God. In the context of our lesson, “Avraham was one” teaches that the first patriarch of the Jews saw himself as though he were alone in the world, as the Rebbe explains next.

Not his father or anyone else.... The Midrash teaches that Avraham’s father, Terach, was an idolater. After Avraham destroyed his father’s statues, Terach turned his son over to the ruler of the land, Nimrod, who had Avraham thrown into the furnace at Ur Kasdim for refusing to worship idolatry (Bereishit Rabbah 38:13). Despite great adversity, even the threat of death, Avraham was not swayed by those who sought to deter him from serving God. Rebbe Nachman explains that Avraham succeeded in overcoming all opposition because he paid no mind to everyone else—i.e., for him, it was as if these obstacles did not exist. It made no difference what got in his way; neither Terach’s power over Avraham as his father, nor Nimrod’s power over Avraham as the preeminent ruler of the region, could force him to be untrue to his belief.

And it is the same for anyone ... as discussed above. Rebbe Nachman now applies his teaching about “Avraham was one” to all those who desire to serve God and come closer to Him. Such a person must pay no heed to anyone who seeks to undermine his determination, whether through logical arguments or emotional pleas. This is true even of the opposition of those closest to him, including parents, spouse, children and in‑laws, all of whom believe they have his best interest at heart. The most important thing in life is serving God. One’s spiritual attainments are the only things that remain with a person after passing from the world. Therefore, the Rebbe teaches, a person has to adopt an “Avraham was one” attitude, as if he is alone with God in the world. Only this will enable him to “inherit the Land”—i.e., attain the World to Come.

In Likutey Tefilot, Reb Noson links this teaching with the words of the psalmist: “I look to the right and see no one who knows me. I have nowhere to escape, no one who looks out for my soul. I cried out to You, 0 God! I said, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living...’ “ (Psalms 142:5‑6). Reb Noson writes that not a day goes by without a person encountering some new obstacle to his devotions and fresh opposition to his worship of God. Let him pray that he not to be influenced by these hindrances or pay them any mind, and let him plead for mercy and assistance in overcoming all challenges to his following the true path to God (Likutey Tefilot I, #149).

Once, while discussing Avraham’s burning desire for God, Reb Noson said that Avraham was not only the first to reveal God in the world but also die first to serve Him with such intensity and sincerity. Hearing this, a disciple sitting nearby groaned. “How can we ever attain such a burning desire?” he wondered aloud. Reb Noson rebuked the disciple, saying, “You also have such a heart! But you don’t make it ‘hearty’ enough!” Reb Noson’s point was that everyone has free choice; there is no one who is not free to strive for the highest levels. This is as our Sages teach (Tanna d’Bei Eliyahu Rabbah #25:2): A person must always say, “When will my deeds reach the level of my ancestors’ deeds?” (Magid Sichot).

A different time, to prove a point he was making, Reb Noson brought an example from the patriarch Yitzchak. His interlocutor objected that this was no proof, for Yitzchak’s righteousness was beyond human comprehension and comparison. “What do you think,” Reb Noson countered, “that Yitzchak did not have an evil inclination which he had to overcome? If he didn’t, he could never have become Yitzchak!” (ibid.).

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

“Lekh Lekha … Go to Yourself!”

Excerpt from Likutey Halakhos, Hil. Geneivah 5:7-8
Translated by Dovid Sears (unedited)

The verse states, “Go to yourself” (Genesis 12:1)—“yourself,” specifically. All your goings and travels [ultimately] should be unto yourself alone; that is, to the essential point of truth, which is your inner core and being. 

For the “real you” is the holy soul within; this is what constitutes the “whole man,” as is written in various holy books and cited [by Rebbe Nachman] in Likutey Moharan I, 22. When the term “I” is used, it denotes the essence of the soul, because the body is called b’sar ha-adam, a person’s flesh, whereas the soul is a “portion of Divinity Above” (Shefa Tal, beginning; Likutey Moharan I, 260; et al.). This is particularly so of the souls of Israel, who originate with Avraham, and about whom it states that they are “entirely true seed” (Jeremiah 2:21).

Thus, “lekh lekha” means to go to your essence: to the essential truth within, which is rooted in your very being. Only this is called “I” when a person refers to himself, and only this is meant by “you” or “yourself” when one speaks with another. All of your goings, physically and spiritually, should lead to yourself, i.e., to the point of truth that lies within. And you must pay no heed to the blandishments of falsehood that darken the faces of creatures, so that it is extremely hard to stand up to them unless one takes pity on himself by constantly seeking the truth and not fooling himself.

The verse continues: “Go to yourself [more literally, ‘betake yourself’], from your land, from your birth place, and from your father’s house…” Because all sorts of darkness and lies come from “your land”; that is, from the city and country where you were raised. For as is known, the klippah (shell or husk) precedes the [development of] the fruit. And in every land and locale, even though much good may be found there, there is nevertheless much darkness that occludes the truth. In every land the masses of people pursue material desires—wealth and honor in particular—as if this way of life had been commanded at Sinai, heaven forbid. You must distance yourself from this [environment], leave “your land” and go to yourself, which is the point of truth within yourself. If you fix your gaze upon the truth, you will understand well that [the pursuit of such desires] is not the way to reach the ultimate goal, the World to Come.

Likewise, “your birth place”—you must leave the evil and darkness within that is associated with your birth, as the verse states, “Behold, I was born in sin…” (Psalms 51:5) and “They and their fathers…” (Genesis 42:35, as interpreted homiletically in Likutey Moharan I, 10, sec. 4).

“And from your father’s house”—this is one’s family. For there is all sorts of nonsense and falsehood that clings to a person from the side of his family, [for example, the delusions of those] who take themselves to be of prestigious lineage, as if all of the honor in the world were due them, and other such foolish ideas and confusions. Concerning them all, G-d commanded that one go forth from them “to yourself,” specifically—to the inner point of truth.

Then one will arrive at “the land I shall show you”—which is the Land of Israel—“and I will make you into a great nation.” This is what is meant by the “G-d of Avraham,” who personifies the perfection of prayer and faith, [and of whom the verse states,] “And through him shall be blessed all nations of the earth” (Genesis 18:18). [Prayer and faith] are an aspect of the miraculous. And all of this is attained through truth.

This cannot be fully explained in writing; however, everyone who desires the truth will understand. For it already has been explained in [Rebbe Nachman’s] words that the obstacles created by other people can be worse than those of the Evil Inclination, as stated in his holy talks; see there. It is bad enough that there are obstructers who are evil-doers or people of little worth or scoffers, who stand in the way of truth with their words. But even G-d-fearing people sometimes are able to confuse a person with their advice, that what he is doing is not good or appropriate for him. There are many ramifications of this, beyond count. Therefore, one who desires in truth must be careful to direct himself to the essential point of truth within himself, according to his true needs. This is the meaning of “go to yourself,” specifically.

This is reflected in [Rebbe Nachman’s] story, “The Simpleton and the Sophisticate,” when the Simpleton says, “This is his work, and this is my work,” [rather than compare his shoes, despite their imperfections, to the those of another craftsman. He is inner-directed, and not competing with others, or dependent on their approval]. Therefore, one must pray and speak to G-d at length, with words of truth, until one merits to draw nigh to the absolute truth constantly, and thus attain all of the above.    

Thursday, October 15, 2015

“And the ark came to rest in the seventh month”

From Likutey Halakhos, Shabbos 7:69
As found in Chumash im Likutey Halakhos: Bereishis, pp. 77-78
Translated by Dovid Sears

All this is hinted in the Zohar Chadash regarding Noah’s Ark.  It is written there (Parshas Noach, 38b-39a) that Noah failed to supplicate G-d on behalf of his generation, but after he emerged from the Ark, and saw a destroyed world, he began to weep over it. The Holy One retorted, “Foolish shepherd! Now you speak, and not earlier?” Study what is written there concerning the superior level of Moshe, who sacrificed himself for the Jewish people and saved them.

[The Zohar Chadash] explains why [Noah] did not entreat G-d’s mercy for the sake of his generation: he didn’t think that even he would be spared. [He thought in his heart, “Would that I succeed in beseeching mercy for myself and be saved—all the more so if I were to succeed in praying for others.”] It describes at length how the Blessed One wanted him to entreat mercy for Israel, no matter how debased they were. See what is written on the verse, “ ‘And he sent forth the raven’ (Genesis 8:7)—This is David who constantly cried out [to G-d] like a raven…” And also what is written on the verse, “And he sent forth the dove… until it did not return again.”

The entire deficiency of Noah and its correction concerns the need to be expert in both the ups and downs of life [as discussed in Likutey Moharan I, 6]; he was not expert in this “halakhah” of the ways of teshuvah, like Moses and the great tzaddikim who brought forth the ways of teshuvah with such wondrous expertise. Although Noah was a whole-hearted tzaddik (“tzaddik tamim”)—he did not realize that it was possible to go out and to lower himself and gaze upon such evil people; to get involved with them; to find in them some degree of merit, and to pray on their behalf, and to arouse within them some good point. [By contrast,] this is what Moses and the great tzaddikim who came after him endeavored to accomplish with strenuous effort.

All this is included in the paradigm of “expertise in ascent and descent” [of which Rebbe Nachman speaks in the above-mentioned lesson].  Therefore, he assumed that at best he could only save himself; for he did not realize the extent of G-d’s mercies, how far they reach. Therefore, he was compelled to enter the Ark and conceal himself there to be saved. For Noah’s Ark was built with the most lofty wisdom and holiness; profound intentions (kavannos) informed its height and length and width, as well as its entire construction, as the Torah describes the details of its construction.

This alludes to teshuvah, in which we engage on Yom Kippur. As the holy Zohar states (Tikkun 21, 54b), “Noah’s Ark—this is Yom Kippur.” And so it states there, “”And the Ark came to rest in the seventh month…” (Genesis 8:4)—this is Tishrei.” Similarly, it is explained in many holy books that Noah’s Ark also alludes to the speech and words of the prayers and supplications of Israel.


A Teaching of the Baal Shem Tov
From Dovid Sears, “The Path of the Baal Shem Tov,” pp. 124-125

Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem, peace be upon him, taught: " ‘[And God said to Noach...] 'You shall make a light (tzohar) for the ark (teivah)’(Genesis 6:16). That is, the word (teivah) which you utter should be luminous.”

For every letter contains worlds and souls and Godliness. And they ascend and combine and unite with one another—with Godliness. Afterward, the letters unite and gather themselves together to form a word, and they effect true unifications in Godliness. One must incorporate his soul within each and every aspect [of these unifications]; then he must unify all the worlds as one. Thus, they will all ascend, bringing about great joy and delight without measure.

The verse continues, "You shall construct it with lower, second, and third [levels]" (ibid.) This alludes to worlds and souls and Godliness, as the Zohar Zohar (III, 159a) states, "There are three worlds…”

A person must listen to each word he says, for the Shekhinah, which corresponds to the World of Speech, actually speaks (Zohar III, 230a, 281b). And when the word possesses light, it comes forth shining and brings gratification to its Maker. This requires great faith (emunah), for the Shekhinah is called emunas uman, "the Work of a Craftsman” (Zohar I, 32a). But without faith, one's utterance is that of "a complainer who separates a leader” (Proverbs 16:28). [According to Rashi, the leader to whom this proverb refers is God. Thus, by not trying to pray with kavanah (concentration), one actually estranges himself from the Shekhinah.]

And to a cubit (amah) you shall finish it upward.. ." [The Hebrew word amah] suggests fear or awe (eimah). [That is, one must utter each word of prayer in a state of awe, so that it will ascend Above.] Or alternatively, one could interpret this to mean that once the word leaves his mouth, he need not remember it anymore. We cannot see the lofty place to which it ascends, just as we are unable to gaze at the sun. Thus, the verse concludes, “You shall finish it upward.” [Once it is expressed, it immediately goes upward.] How may this be accomplished? By putting yourself and your whole body into each word (Tzava’as ha-RIVaSH 75).