By Dovid Sears
L’illui nishmos avi mori: Leib ben Yitzchak Yaakov (yahrtzeit 30 Shvat, R”CH Adar 1)
Imi morasi: Gittel bas Yitzchak (yahrtzeit 5 Adar)
Dodi: Dov Ber ben Yitzchak Yaakov (yahrtzeit 29 Shvat)When my wife and I lived in Providence, RI, in the early 1980s, we used to have a Shabbos guest who was an elderly Polish-born Holocaust survivor, a wonderful woman who had lived through many trials and troubles, named Chana Berman, a”h. I remember how frustrated she was by the diversity of nusachos (versions of the Siddur) she encountered: Nusach Ashkenaz, Nusach Sfard, “Nusach Ari” (i.e., Chabad), and others. “Why can’t we all daven the same thing?” she asked. “How did this happen?”
I explained that in general, these variations developed because of the galus (exile) of our people to different faraway lands, and the inevitable development of different customs over the generations. But the core elements of the prayers and the basic structure of the prayer services remain the same.
“But why do the Chassidim daven differently?” she persisted. “We’re all Ashkenazim…” That was a harder question to answer. And it is a question that many people still ask, even today.
The answer is not that this was an “ID Card” for an anti-establishment movement, as some contend (although it might have also served that purpose for those who wanted to identify with a special sect). The underlying issue is the quest for a Nusach Ari for Ashkenazim—a “kabbalistically correct” prayer text based on the views of the great Sefardic mystics, in particular Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (known as the holy Ari), but adapted to the Ashkenazic Siddur. What drove this effort was the primacy of the kabbalistic teachings that lay at the core of the Chassidic movement, which sought to bring its own type of mysticism to the masses of Eastern Europe, and ultimately far beyond.
Rav Chaim Vital states that each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel had its own nusach ha-tefillah and its own heavenly gate through which its prayers would ascend. These correspond to the Twelve Gates mentioned at the end of the Book of Ezekiel. (see Pri Eitz Chaim, Shaar ha-Tefillah, beginning; the main section about this was translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan for his anthology on prayer, A Call to the Infinite, p. 85-87).
Nearly two centuries later, the Maggid of Mezeritch added that if someone didn’t know his tribe, there was a thirteenth gate. In terms of the prayer service, this corresponds to the nusach of the holy Ari, which the Maggid called the “Shaar ha-Kollel (Universal Gate).” And since we no longer know our tribe of origin, it is best to pray according to the nusach of the Ari (Maggid Devarav le-Yaakov 141). The Maggid’s teaching is probably what motivated the Baal ha-Tanya to devote himself to creating a nusach that would reflect that of the Arizal, but as tempered by other considerations, halakhic and kabbalistic.
The Baal ha-Tanya didn't create his siddur in a vacuum. Other Chassidic leaders attempted to do the same, including the Baal Shem Tov (and before him, other Ashkenazic kabbalists such as Rav Noson Adler, Rav Yaakov Koppel, etc.). Thus, most groups have their own variation of Nusach Sefard, which is really their own take on Nusach Ari.
I suspect that the reason why no Chassidic leader seems to have accepted the nusach of the Arizal "lock, stock and barrel" is partly due to confusions created by the conflicting texts available to them. (In recent years, a ground-breaking study and clarification of Nusach Ari was authored by Rabbi Daniel Rimmer, entitled Tefilas Chaim. So now we know what the Arizal actually davenned.) But in addition, the early Rebbes may have wished to include the nusach of Rav Moshe Cordovero (RaMaK) in the mix. I believe the RaMaK’s Siddur Tefillas Moshe was available in Europe (although that should be ascertained). And as modern scholars have shown, the RaMaK was also a major influence on the Chassidic movement.
The Rebbe stated that there is a complete unity between the kabbalah of the RaMaK and that of the Arizal (Chayei Moharan 364). It seems that this is how all the early Chassidic Rebbes felt, and not only about the RaMaK and the Arizal, but very likely about the many different voices in the Kabbalah. They accepted them all. Pnimiyus ha-Torah, the “inner dimension” of Torah, is by definition the realm of unity; so there was a widespread feeling that any disagreements must be minor. Therefore, different Rebbes made different personal choices when trying to decide which nusach to daven, and as in all tribes, the “Indians” simply followed their “chiefs.”
There is an oral tradition (now printed in Siach Sarfey Kodesh, Vol. I, sec. 119) the Rebbe said that he didn't want to "misch" ("mix," but he means "butt into") the matter of nuschos. According to one version I have heard, he added "If I was born into a family that davenned according to Nusach Ashkenaz, I'd daven Nusach Ashkenaz." (in a similar vein, see Siach Sarfey Kodesh, Vol. II, sec. 90; cf. Rabbi Moshe Sofer’s defense of Nusach Ashkenaz in Teshuvos Chasam Sofer, Orach Chaim no. 16, also translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, loc. cit.).
As an aside, in Chayei Moharan 366, Reb Noson cites a mysterious remark the Rebbe once made about "the stage where we're we're holding in the prayers." Later the Rebbe explained that his teachings follow the order of the prayer service. “So far, we are before Baruch she-Amar, but after Hodu…" This is not the main point, of course, but his comment reflects Nusach Sefard (i.e., Nusach Ari)!
We don’t have any directives in Breslov about davening according to a specific nusach, (other than what we have heard from Breslov elders about was was customary in the past). The only instruction the Rebbe gave us was that the conclusion of “Yishtabach” should be “Melekh Yachid Chay ha-olamim” (Siach Sarfey Kodesh, Vol. I, sec. 119). (Interestingly, this is the same as the nusach of the conclusion of “Yishtabach” in the Baal ha-Tanya’s Siddur, but it differs from Nusach Ari. I have yet to find an earlier source for this variation. These four words reflect the phraseology of Baruch She-amar, with which the Pesukey de-Zimra begins; also see Rav Avraham Dovid Lavut, Shaar ha-Kollel [Chabad], ad loc.) The Rebbe used the Siddur ha-Ari personally, as did several of his followers, but apparently the nusach found there did not receive any special emphasis.
Yet the term "Shaar ha-Kollel (Universal Gate)" does appear in Breslov teachings. In Likutey Moharan I, Torah 9, the Rebbe also discusses this subject. But there, he relates it to davening with hiskashrus (spiritual attachment) to the tzaddik emes, and not to a specific text at all.
Being the “point of truth among the tzaddikim,” the tzaddik emes personifies the unity of all Jewish souls and indeed, all of creation. The soul of the tzaddik emes is variously described as the neshamah haklalis (universal soul), sekhel hakollel (universal intellect), and mo’ach hakollel (universal mind) (see Likutey Moharan I, 61, II, 72, et al.). Therefore, the tzaddik emes is the Shaar ha-Kollel, whichever Siddur one prefers.