(Drawing by Hyman Bloom)
By Dovid Sears
L’ilui nishmas Shulamis Na’ami bas Gedaliah Aryeh (Sochaczewsky), a”h
After writing the first posting, I had a few more thoughts that I’d like to add here.
Rebbe Nachman said some extreme things about his own teachings, which he understood to be nothing less than heavenly revelations. For example, he deemed the publication of Likutey Moharan to be “the beginning of the Redemption” (Chayei Moharan #346). He urged everyone to buy the book and study it, “even if one had to sell the pillow under his head” to do so (Chayei Moharan #349).
On the other hand, the Rebbe encouraged his followers to study “works by the tzadddikim of recent times, who follow the path of the Baal Shem Tov,” specifically mentioning the Toldos Yaakov Yosef and Likutey Amarim of the Maggid (Chayei Moharan #410, as cited in Part I of this posting). I would assume that the countless Chassidic works published subsequently, down until the present day, would similarly merit his endorsement. He did not take the approach of some other Chassidic masters that their followers should avoid studying Chassidic works from other schools, this being comparable to grazing in “fremder felder (foreign fields).”
The above remarks in Chayei Moharan #410 are probably the reason behind the Tcheriner Rov’s authorship of Leshon Chassidim and Derekh Chassidim.
As for Chabad, when the Baal ha-Tanya (en route to his fateful meeting with Reb Boruch of Medzhibuzh) came to Rebbe Nachman to spend Shabbos with him in Breslov, the Rebbe greeted his honored guest with the term “Sar ha-Elef,” “lord of thousands.” According to Breslov oral tradition, this took place on Erev Shabbos parshas Yisro, when in the weekly Torah portion, Yisro advises Moshe Rabbeinu to appoint a hierarchy of judges, the highest category of which is the “sarei alafim,” “lords of thousands. It is likely that the teaching Rebbe Nachman delivered in his honored guest’s presence that Shabbos day was published as Likutey Moharan II, 72. (In possible support of this oral tradition, this lesson uniquely invokes the term “bilti gvul,” a common usage of the Baal ha-Tanya, as well as the Zohar’s drush on “melekh assur barehatim,” which similarly appears in the first section of the Tanya.)
Although Chabad and Breslov both seem to make absolute claims, historically the two schools of Chassidus were never at loggerheads (as has been too common in Chassidic history between various groups). In fact, according to Rabbi Yaakov Meir Schechter as cited in “Shivcho shel Tzaddik,” upon seeing a volume of Likutey Halakhos, the Tzemach Tzedek once commented (citing the words of Joseph’s brothers in Genesis 41:11), “Kulanu bnei ish echad nachnu … We’re all sons of one man!”
As is known, Rebbe Nachman greatly praised the telling of stories of tzaddikim, and stated that this is what inspired him as a small boy to strive to become a tzaddik (Sichos ha-RaN #138). In Likutey Moharan I, 234, he expounds on the concept that telling (or hearing) the stories of the tzaddikim (“whatever happened to them”) has the spiritual effect of hamtakas ha-dinim (“sweetening heavenly judgments”), and also “purifying the mind” (see there, especially with the commentary of Rabbi Shmuel Moshe Kramer, recently published as Mayim Amukim, Vol. 1; also cf. Chayei Moharan #479).
And the Rebbe “practiced what he preached,” often telling stories of other tzaddikim to his followers. When Reb Noson first had a private audience with him, the Rebbe told him three stories, one about Rabbi Mordechai of Neshchiz, one about Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, and one about Rabbi Michel of Zlotchov. (Kokhvey Ohr, 11, 12, as cited in “Until the Mashiach,” pp. 81-82) (Reb Michel was one of the youngest disciples of the Baal Shem Tov and later, a disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch, until he became a Rebbe in his own right. Reb Michel’s nusach ha-tefillah is preserved in the Siddur Tefilah Yesharah, known as the “Berditchover Siddur,” which some Breslover chassidim use [including a tall, thin shaliach tzibbur at the Uman Ritz]. And Breslover chassidim still sing “Reb Michel Zlotchover’s Deveykus Niggun,” just as we sing niggunim attributed to the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid.)
The Rebbe also loaned Reb Noson his copy of Shivchey ha-Arizal, a collection of wondrous stories about the Arizal and his leading disciple, Rav Chaim Vital. This was to serve as a model for their future relationship (Avaneha Barzel, as cited in “Until the Mashiach,” p. 90).
In addition, Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman preserved a number of stories that the Rebbe told about the Maharsha (Kokhvey Ohr, “Ma’asiyos u-Meshalim mi-Rabbeinu zal,” pp. 30-33). Reb Noson also includes several stories that the Rebbe told about Reb Mendel of Vitebsk (Chayei Moharan #227 [#101 in the English BRI edition]). No doubt, there were many other such instances that have not been preserved.
To return to the subject of the “tzaddik emes (true tzaddik)” and hiskashrus (binding oneself to the tzaddikim), the Rebbe told his followers that it is beneficial to declare before davenning: “I hereby bind myself to all the tzaddikim of the generation” (Likutey Moharan I, 2:6, 9:4; Sichos ha-Ran #296).[i] The Rebbe explained that this is because the tzaddikim elevate the prayers of the entire Jewish people, conveying each prayer to its proper heavenly gate (Likutey Moharan I, 9:3).
Therefore, it is customary for Breslover Chassidim to recite the following verbal formula before each prayer service, as well as before performing any mitzvah or religious practice (such as immersing in a mikveh, studying Torah, lighting the Chanukah Menorah, etc.):
Hareini mekasher atzmi le-khol ha-tzaddikim amitiyim she-be-doreinu, u-lekhol ha-tzaddikim amitiyim shochnei afar, kedoshim asher ba-aretz hemah, u-be-frat Rabbenu ha-Kadosh, ha-Nachal Novea Mekor Chokhmah, Rebbe Nachman ben Feige—zekhusam yagen aleinu ve-al kol Yisrael, amen.
English translation: “I hereby bind myself to all of the true tzaddikim of our generation, and to all true tzaddikim who rest in the dust, ‘holy ones who are interred in the earth’ (Psalms 16:3), and in particular our holy master, the “flowing brook, source of wisdom” (Proverbs 18:4), Rabbi Nachman ben Feige—may their merits shield us, amen.”
(This precise source of this nusach is unknown, at least to me, but it has been published in numerous Breslover texts over the years. The reference to those who “rest in the dust” is based on Likutey Moharan 65:5.)
Note that “Hareini mekasher” includes the phrase “khol ha-tzaddikim amitiyim she-be-doreinu, u-lekhol ha-tzaddikim amitiyim shochnei afar.” It is not exclusive to Rebbe Nachman, but includes all the tzaddikim, past and present—because, as we have said, the tzaddikim are one.
Indeed, I have been told that Reb Avraham Sternhartz (Kokhav Lev) used to recite a longer nusach that also included the five preeminent tzaddikim whom the Rebbe singled out (Chayei Moharan #279).
We also see that Reb Noson often speaks of “tzaddikim” in the plural in Likutey Halakhos and Likutey Tefillos, and occasionally calls other great figures “tzaddik emes” beside the above-mentioned five. (Offhand, I remember that he says this of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Akiva, although I don’t recall the exact sources in Likutey Halakhos.)
Beyond this, the Rebbe states in Sefer Alef-Beis (Sefer ha-Middos) that one should honor anyone to whom Hashem has granted eminence (Sefer Alef-Beis, “Hisnasus” A-44).
May we be mekushar to all of the tzaddikim amitiyyim, not cause them dishonor even unintentionally, and follow in their holy ways, ad biyas goel tzedek, amen.
[i] Although Breslov is best known for the hiskashrus declaration, such declarations (or kavannos / intentions) are not unheard of in other Chassidic circles. For example, see Rabbi Meshullam Feivish of Zabarazh, Yosher Divrei Emes II, 33; Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov, Toras ha-Maggid mi-Zlotchov, Tefillah 3, p. 320; Rabbi Menachem Nochum of Chernobyl, Me’or Einayim, Beshalach [end], in the name of the Baal Shem Tov; ibid. Yismach Lev, Berakhos 2 [end]; Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, Imrei Pinchas [Bnei Brak 2003], Sha’ar Parshiyos u-Moadim, Elul, 424; Rabbi Chaim of Chernowitz, Be’er Mayim Chaim, Vayetzei (s.v. vayachalom); Rabbi Chanokh Henikh of Alesk, Lev Same’ach, Hakdamas ha-Mechaber le-Derekh ha-Tefillah; Rabbi Aryeh Leib Tzintz, Kometz ha-Minchah, Vayikra; Rabbi Yerachmiel Yisrael Yitzchak of Alexander, Yismach Yisrael, Be-ha’alosekha; Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak of Lendov, Emes le-Ya’akov, Bereishis; Rabbi Shaul Brakh of Kashau, Giv’as Shaul, Va-eschanan; Rabbi Eliezer Zusia Portugal of Skulen, Kedushas Eliezer, Tzava’ah 4, Minhagim Tovim; et al.