Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Sivan and Tammuz

From “Breslov Eikh she-Hu: Customs and Good Practices” compiled by Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears 

Khof Sivan

It was customary throughout the Ukraine and Russia to recite selichos on the twentieth of Sivan, including in the Breslover community. This commemoration of the 6,000 martyrs of the Nemirov massacre of 1648 persisted in Eretz Yisrael and chutz la-aretz until recent years, when it began to fall into neglect. However, Reb Noson mentions it in Likutey Halakhos.
(See Likutey Halakhos, Shluchin 5:36; Chovel Be-chavero 3:7, 9. The selichos for Khof Sivan are printed in the Siddur Tefillah Yesharah-Berditchev and elsewhere.)


Reb Avraham Sternhartz used to fast on Khof Sivan.
(Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn, in the name of Rabbi Moshe Burshteyn)

Ches Tammuz

In Uman, selichos were also recited on the eighth of Tammuz, when many thousands of Jewish men, women, and children were slaughtered during the Haidamak uprisings of the same period. However, this minhag has also fallen into disuse.


Reb Avraham Sternhartz used to fast on Ches Tammuz.
(Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn, in the name of Rabbi Moshe Burshteyn)

Khof-Beis Tammuz

The yahrtzeit of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender, the central figure in the Breslov Kehillah of Yerushalayim after WWII, is 22 Tammuz. For a brief biography of Reb Levi Yitzchok, see hereA rare video of one of his shmuessen in Yiddish is also available online here. Together with his lifelong friend, Reb Elyah Chaim Rosen, Reb Levi Yitzchok rebuilt the Breslov community and devoted himself to preserving and passing on the Breslov mesorah from Uman. Much of this material has been transcribed from audio tapes and published as "Siach Sarfey Kodesh" in eight volumes. 

Khof-Gimmel Tammuz

This is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon Kenig, talmid muvhak of Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz and founder of Mosdos Nachal Novea Mekor Chochma, the umbrella organization of the Tsfat Breslov community. Reb Gedaliah was a reknowned for his ahavas Yisrael, arichas apayim, and great wisdom both in understanding people and in all areas of Torah, particularly pnimiyus ha-Torah. He edited and published several seforim written by other Breslover Chassidim, including his teacher Reb Avraham’s Tovos Zikhronos and Reb Ephraim ben Naftali’s Likutey Even / Tefillas ha-Boker, as well as one original work, Chayei Nefesh, on the nature and role of the tzaddik. His other writings remain in manuscript.

Khof-Gimel Tammuz is also the yahrtzeit of sixteenth century kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero of Tzefas, author of Pardes Rimonim, Tomer Devorah, Ohr Ne’erav, and other important mystical works—a tzaddik with whom Reb Gedaliah felt a deep lifelong affinity. Reb Elazar, his brothers, and other chaveirim usually visit Reb Gedaliah’s kever on Har ha-Zeisim in Yerushalayim on the yahrtzeit, where they recite Tehillim and pray for Klal Yisrael in his merit.

An English translation of the first half of Reb Gedaliah’s “Chayei Nefesh” is available on the sidebar of this website. It is hoped that his other works, which include original commentaries on Likutey Moharan and Tikuney Zohar, as well as his letters and an encyclopedia of terms in Rebbe Nachman’s writings, will be published in the near future, be-ezras Hashem.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Why We Eat Dairy Foods on Shavuos

From Rabbi Moshe Sofer, Derashos Chasam Sofer, Vol. II, “LiShavuos,” 291a

The verse states: “When you bring a new meal-offering to God on your festival of Shavuos (Weeks)...” (Numbers 28:26). The initial letters of the Hebrew words “a meal offering to God” spell the word chalav (milk).

This alludes to the custom of eating dairy foods on the festival of Shavuos mentioned in the Sefer HaRoke’ach. We see that it is beneficial to consume animal foods in order to elevate the holy sparks they possess to the human level. Yet if it would be sufficient to eat butter and milk, without having to slaughter a living creature, this would be far better. Thus did Adam conduct himself before the first sin. Afterwards, the human soul no longer possessed the requisite spiritual power to elevate the holy sparks by consuming dairy foods alone, without slaughtering the animal and spilling its blood—for this act accomplishes the release of the animal’s soul. Otherwise, the holy sparks could not ascend. Although after the first sin, animal slaughter still was deemed to be wrong, it was permitted to Noah after the Flood. However, on the day of the Giving of the Torah, the Israelites regained the spiritual level of Adam before the first sin. Therefore, it was sufficient to consume dairy foods, without slaughtering animals, and the holy sparks were elevated through milk.

Akdamus Milin

"Even if the heavens were parchment,
All the trees were quills,
The seas and all waters were ink,
And all inhabitants of the earth were scribes and skilled writers,
His might eternal would remain beyond description.
Alone, the resplendent Master of heaven and earth
Founded the universe and garbed it in mystery…"

One of the highlights of Shavuos is the responsive chanting in the synagogue of Akdamus Milin, written by Rabbi Meir ben Yitzchak of Worms during the 11th century C.E. The hymn begins with these two Aramaic words, which mean "Before I speak…" (The author asks the Creator permission to utter His praise.) However, as a title, Akdamus Milin may be translated "Introduction to the Words," meaning the Divine Speech heard at Mount Sinai. Therefore it is usually read on Shavuos morning before the Torah reading, which describes the awesome experience of all Israel hearing the Ten Commandments at the foot of the desert mountain.

Rabbi Noson of Breslov (1780-1844) writes that Rabbi Nachman highly praised Akdamus.

"The Rebbe observed, 'Because the Jewish people are so immersed in and habituated to what is truly good, they don't fully appreciate the greatness of the sacred hymn of Akdamus, which we recite on Shavuos.'

"He went on to say, 'One who knows the loftiness of this poem of Akdamus, together with the melody to which it is commonly sung, realizes that this is something most wondrous and unique.'

"The Rebbe then chanted a few stanzas of Akdamus. He added, 'Akdamus is a song of cheshek – of love and desire for God.'

"The Rebbe said all of this on Shavuos, during the dairy meal [traditionally eaten after the morning service]. The second minyan was in the middle of their prayers in the synagogue, and the chazan was chanting Akdamus. That was when the Rebbe spoke with us about the loftiness of this hymn." (Sichot HaRan 256)

Rabbi Nachman clearly experienced Akdamus as an expression of the mutual love between the Jewish People and G-d. This love and desire is the pre-condition of prophecy, which is the essence of the Torah.

Continuing to expound upon this theme, Reb Noson also discusses the custom of reading Akdamus in his masterwork, Likkutei Halakhos:

"On Shavuos, we spiritually ascend to the supernal root of ratzon (will or desire). [An aspect of the sefirah of Keser (Crown), ratzon expresses the deepest will and desire of the soul for God, and God's corresponding will and desire, so to speak, for creation].

"Through this ascent, all profane wisdoms related to the natural order are transmuted to ratzon, due to the power of the revelation of ratzon that now becomes manifest. That is, we vividly perceive all existence and all that transpires as only a reflection of the Divine Will.

"Profane or 'natural wisdoms,' by contrast, are derived from the Aramaic tongue. [Aramaic is the language closest to leshon ha-kodesh, the 'holy tongue,' which is Hebrew. During the Talmudic period, Aramaic was used for everyday speech and writing.] On Shavuos, however, the aspect of ratzon is revealed to such an extent that even the Aramaic tongue, the source of 'natural wisdom,' becomes absorbed into the holy.

"This is why we recite Akdamus, which is an awesome expression of praise written specifically in Aramaic – for this transformation of the profane to the holy represents the fullest revelation of ratzon." (Likkutei Halakhos, Hilkhos Kaddish, 1)

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Listening to the Unheard Sound

Here are two excerpts from Likutey Halakhos related to chapter 5, as found in the newly-published Breslov Pirkey Avot (Breslov Research Institute).

Listening to the Unheard Sound

The world was created with ten utterances. And what does this teach us? Could it not have been created with one utterance? However, it is to exact punishment from the wicked, who destroy the world that was created with ten utterances, and to give a good reward to the tzaddikim, who sustain the world that was created with ten utterances (Chapter V, Mishnah 1).

Reb Noson: A sound and its echo are basic paradigms, the power of free choice being rooted in the paradigm of the echo. As the Mishnah states, The world was created with ten utterances… and as it is written, “With the word of God the heavens were made, and with the breath of His mouth, all of their hosts” (Psalms 33:6). The “word of God” and “breath of His mouth” allude to the paradigm of the sounds and words that are part of the Ten Types of Song.

The root of the Evil Inclination is disbelief in God, heresy, and falsehood. In several teachings, Rebbe Nachman states that the Evil Inclination is synonymous with the terms “other gods” and “heresies” —for the root of the Torah and mitzvot is faith. As it is written, “Habakkuk came and established them on one [foundation]: the tzaddik shall live by his faith” (Makkos 24a), and “All of Your mitzvot are faithful (literally, ‘faith’)” (Psalms 119:86). The antithesis of this is that the root of the Evil Inclination and all evil desires and transgressions is damaged or misapplied faith: the paradigm of “other gods” and “heresies.”

All this derives from the echo, for if everyone heard the direct sound, there would be no power of free choice. It was with this voice that God created all worlds and continues to sustain them—for “His word lives and endures forever…” (Isaiah 40:8), according to the explanation of our master, the Baal Shem Tov, of blessed memory. (Translator: See Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Sefer HaTanya, Sha’ar HaYichud V’haEmunah, chap. 1, citing a well-known oral teaching of the Baal Shem Tov; also cf. Rabbi Chaim of Chernowitz, Be’er Mayim Chaim, Bereshit, s.v. Vayikhulu. It is God’s creative word that continually brings the universe into existence ex nihilo.)

If everyone were to hear the direct sound, there would be no free will because it would be immediately apparent that God Himself enlivens the world with the “breath of His mouth.” Moreover, we would become absolutely nullified. (Translator: A similar teaching is attributed to the Baal Shem Tov in Kisvey Kodesh 21a, cited in Sefer Baal Shem Tov al HaTorah, Bereshis 3.) Even at the time of the Giving of the Torah, when the Jewish people attained extremely lofty levels of spiritually refinement, they cried, “Today we have seen that when God speaks to man, he can still survive. But now, why should we die? If we hear the voice of God any more, we shall die!” (Deuteronomy 5:21-22).

Thus, the main perception of Godliness that we can attain is from the paradigm of the echo. This is bound up with fear and judgment, as the verse states, “O God, I just heard about You and I was afraid…” (Habakkuk 3:2); and this is the paradigm of free choice, since hearing about God’s greatness primarily comes from the echo.

So, yes, we have free choice, but one who is truly wise will grasp the truth, just as the Patriarchs of the World grasped the truth. They were able to perceive the source of the echo and realize that the echo possesses no essential existence—the ultimate reality is only the direct sound (Likutey Halakhos, Piryah V’Rivyah 3:19, abridged).


Reb Noson: The essence of the direct sound cannot be revealed or the world would be utterly nullified. Thus, the Mishnah states, The world was created with ten utterances… Our Sages note that the phrase “And God said…” is mentioned only nine times in the first chapter of Genesis, and conclude that the first verse, “In the beginning…” also must be counted as a saying. However, this only begs the question: why does this first divine saying not include the phrase “And God said…” like the other nine sayings?

This is because the first saying corresponds to the direct sound, which includes all ten divine sayings and all possible worlds, from the highest to the lowest. Everything is included in the paradigm of first verse of Genesis, which is known as the Concealed Utterance, and which encompasses all creation. Because it is the direct sound, it is not a saying like the rest. The direct voice cannot be heard or grasped at all.

Only after this all-inclusive direct sound did the echo come into being. God then combined the two sounds to form a third sound, and with this He created everything. This is the paradigm of the other nine sayings of Genesis, and the paradigm of all the sounds that it is possible for us to hear. (Translator: Reb Noson seems to imply that nine is the number three squared. This alludes to the Kabbalistic concept that the sefiros of tikkun are structured according to three vertical columns, which correspond to thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.)

Prior to this it was not possible to recognize the details of creation in their specificity, for the first divine saying was hidden to the utmost degree. However, now, this is our main task: to accomplish the reunification of everything within the paradigm of the first word of creation. In so doing, we return everything to its point of origin—to know and to believe that everything comes from God alone, and that the echo has no true existence except that which it derives from the direct sound.

This is the paradigm of the Ten Types of Song that correspond to the ten sayings of Creation. Through them, the good is refined from the bad, and faith from heresy, for they bind and combine all sounds, the echo with the direct sound, until they form the paradigm of the melody that draws the heart closer to God. Holy melody redeems the heart from false beliefs and passions that emanate from the echo, restoring the echo to the direct sound. Through music, the soul cleaves to God, and all Creation ascends to its supernal source.

Therefore, music is associated with what the Zohar calls the “side of the Levites.” All sounds in the world are part of the paradigm of the echo in relation to the supernal direct sound. By combining the echo with the direct sound, everything becomes transmuted to the direct sound, which is the essence of all things. This is accomplished primarily by holy music (Likutey Halakhos, Piryah V’Rivyah 3:21, abridged).


From Breslov Eikh Shehu: Breslov Customs and Practices, Past and Present, compiled by Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears (in-progress)

Shavuos Customs
Shavuos was one of the three fixed times of the year when Breslover Chassidim came to the Rebbe. Therefore, in recent years it has become common for many Breslovers travel to Uman to spend Shavuos near the Rebbe's tziyun. (However, there is no requirement to do so; the only time a Breslover Chassid is obligated to travel to Uman is for Rosh Hashanah.)


However, in Reb Noson’s day, his talmidim used to travel to him for Shavuos. They would try to arrive in time to conclude the counting of sefiras ha-omer together on the night of Erev Shavuos. One such occasion was Shavuos of 1834, when some eighty followers came to Reb Noson in Breslov. They prayed with such fervor that ever since, Breslover Chassidim refer to this as “der groiser Shavuos.
(See Rabbi Chaim Kramer, “Through Fire and Water,” chap. 33, pp. 366-377)


Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender mentioned that during Reb Noson’s time, when the Breslover Chassidim who had come from far and wide counted the sefirah together on the night before Shavuos, virtually the whole city used to come to witness their fervor. This was an annual event that everyone looked forward to.
(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Moshe Wasilski)


In the Tzefas community, most Breslover Chassidim wear a white caftan on Shavuos at night and during Shacharis-Musaf. However, they do not wear this caftan for Minchah.
(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchok Kenig)


In Tzefas, the Breslov shul is decorated with greenery, following the common minhag.
(Heard from Rabi Yitzchok Kenig. See RaMaH on Orach Chaim 494:3.)


The Steipler Gaon mentioned that in the Ukraine it was customary to spread grass and small twigs on the entire floor of the shul.
(Orchos Rabbenu, vol. II, Bnei Brak 1992, p. 99, sec. 7)


Reb Noson darshans on the minhag of eating dairy foods on Shavuos.
(See Likutey Halakhos, Birkhos ha-Torah 1; Masa U-Matan 4:6; Eruvei Techumin 5:13; Shavu’os 1:4, 2:2; Devarim ha-Yotziyim Min ha-Chai 2:2 and 7; Simanei Behemah ve-Chayah Tehorah 4:40, 46; Mezuzah 2:4)


In Tzefas, as in most communities, the minhag is to eat milchigs after davenning Shacharis, during the Kiddush. However, the day meal is fleishig.
(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Kenig. See Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 494:3, with Mishnah Berurah; Likutey MaHaRiCH Vol. III, p. 577.)


Breslover Chassidim traditionally remain awake all night and recite the Tikkun Leyl Shavuos of the Arizal. In the Tzefas community, the chaburah recites the Tikkun together, and the Chassidim recite Kaddish and dance after concluding each section: Chumash, TaNaKH, Mishnayos, etc.
(See Rabbi Chaim Vital, Pri Eytz Chaim, Sha’ar Chag HaShavuos, chap. 1; ; Kitzur SheLaH Masechtas Shavuos: Seder Leyl Shavuos.)


Reb Noson states that the main parts of Tikkun Leyl Shavuos are TaNaKh and Mishnayos. Although the Arizal omits the Mishnayos, the Shelah ha-Kadosh includes them.
(Likutey Halakhos, Kriyas ha-Torah 6:26)


Accordingly, Reb Avraham Sternhartz used to recite the Tikkun Leyl Shavuos with the Mishnayos.
(Heard from Rabbi Nachman Burshteyn)


In a letter to Rabbi Avraham Jacobovitch, Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz writes: “Remaining awake on the night of Shavuos gives life to all of one’s conduct for the entire year, both spiritually and physically. One should rejoice, for this is the 'wedding' of Matan Torah -- and one should rededicate himself to the study of the Rebbe’s teachings, which are a chiddush niflah, a wondrous innovation that comes from the Future World, from [the Torah of] Atika Setimah [the Hidden Ancient One], destined to be revealed in time to come…”
(Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz, Mikhtevey Shmuel [Jerusalem: Keren Rabbi Yisrael Dov Odesser, first edition], Letter 2, p. 14; cf. Reb Noson’s description of the Rebbe’s teachings at the beginning of his Hakdamah to Likutey Moharan.)


The Terhovitza Maggid, a close talmid of the Rebbe and a prominent Chassidic leader in his own right, and Reb Menachem Nochum of Chernobyl, author Me’or Einayim, always used to take turns visiting each other to celebrate Shavuos. On Shavuos night, they would dance together in ecstasy all night long. When Reb Nochum grew too old and weak to continue, he sent his son Reb Mordechai of Chernobyl to the Terhovitza Maggid for Shavuos, and they, too, danced all night.
(Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz, Mikhtevey Shmuel [Jerusalem: Keren R’ Yisrael Dov Odesser, first edition], Letter 64, p. 201. From this it would seem that the two tzaddikim did not recite the Tikkun Leyl Shavuos.)


Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz states that on Shavuos in Uman, the Chassidim took turns dancing all through the night. Thus, one group was always reciting the Tikkun and another was always dancing.
(Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz, Mikhtevey Shmuel [Jerusalem: Keren R’ Yisrael Dov Odesser, first edition], Letter 54, p. 190; ibid. Letter 64, p. 201)


By contrast, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender recalled that the Breslover Chassidim in Uman recited the Tikkun Leyl Shavuos, as is customary, and then danced for a long time. On one occasion, Reb Borukh Getche’s danced with the members of his chaburah all night until it was time to get ready for Shacharis.
(Si’ach Sarfei Kodesh V, 303)


Rabbi Nachman Burshteyn heard that in Uman, it was primarily the “ovdim” who danced at such length on Shavuos night. Most of the olam simply recited the Tikkun.


In the Breslov shul in the Katamon section of Yerushalayim, they used to dance after each of the three or four “kaddeishim” during the course of reading the Tikkun.
(Heard from Rabbi Nachman Burshteyn)


The melody for “Atah Nigleisa” that we sing on Shavuos night came from the Rebbe Reb Borukh’l of Medzhibuzh, who sang it on Shabbos evening to the words of “Eishes Chayil”—while the melody we sing to “Eishes Chayil,” Reb Borukh’l used to sing to “Atah Nigleisa.” However, the Rebbe switched them. 
(Heard from Rabbi Nachman Burshteyn)


Just before alos ha-shachar, it is proper to immerse in the mikveh. Kabbalistically, this mikveh represents the Fiftieth Gate, and is the source of holiness of all immersions in the mikveh throughout the year.
(Likutey Moharan I, 56:7; Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz, Mikhtevey Shmuel [Jerusalem: Keren Rabbi Yisrael Dov Odesser, first edition], Letter 64, p. 201; Rabbi Chaim Vital, Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chag HaShavuos, chap. 1)


As mentioned above, Shavuos is one of the five times that the tzibbur davens ki-vasikin.
(Oral Tradition)


Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender stated that throughout the Ukraine, including in Breslover communities, it was customary to omit the yotzros on the first day of Shavuos, but to recite them on the second day. In Breslov communities in Eretz Yisrael (where there is only one day of Yom Tov), yotzros are recited during chazoras ha-SHa”TZ on Shavuos.
(See Si'ach Sarfei Kodesh IV, 463)


In America, the Borough Park Breslov congregation does so on both days.


Rabbi Nachman greatly praised the medieval poem "Akdamus Milin" and the regal melody with which it is sung. This remains a highlight of the Shavuos davening in Breslover shuls today. Each stanza is sung by both the chazzan and the congregation, not by alternating stanzas, as in many other communities.
(See Sichos ha-Ran 256)


Reb Avraham used to sing a melody without words prior to Akdamus, and extend and embellish the stanzas with various melodic phrases as he recited them.
(Heard from Rabbi Nachman Burshteyn)


Reb Noson mentions the minhag followed by most congregations to recite Sefer Rus on the second day Shavuos (in chutz la’aretz).
(See Likkutei Halakhos, Birkhas ha-Shachar 5:18, 52; Kriyas Shema 5:17; Birkhas ha-Peyros 5:22; et al. This custom is mentioned in Machzor Vitry, based on a midrash in Pesikta Zutra (Midrash Rus); see Likutey Maharich III, p. 579.)


Reb Gedaliah told Reb Aharon Waxler that one should say “shnei se’irim le-khaper” during the Musaf of Shavuos, as in the Musaf of Rosh Hashanah.
(Heard from Rabbi Aharon Waxler. Cf. Siddur Baal ha-Tanya, Musaf shel Shalosh Regalim)


Shavuos is the yahrtzeit of the holy Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chassidic movement, and the Rebbe’s great-grandfather. Therefore, it is a custom of Chassidim in general to mention a teaching from the Baal Shem Tov, or at least to mention him on Shavuos.
(According to most mesorahs, the Baal Shem Tov passed away on the first day of Shavuos; see Siddur Arizal of Rabbi Avraham Shimshon of Rashkov, p. 298; Rabbi Yitzchok Eizik Yehudah Yechiel Safrin of Komarno, Heikhal HaBerakhah, “Ki Seitzei,” 129b; Sefer Baal Shem Tov, “Ki Savo,” in Mekor Mayim Chaim, note 12; Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok of Lubavitch, Likutey Dibburim, Vol. III, p. 1054; Darkei Chaim vi-Shalom-Munkatch, Hil. Yom Tov, 527). 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Eizer L'Shabbos Shavuous Campaign

Received via e-mail from Eizer L'Shabbos:

We would like to thank all our sponsors and anyone who took an interest and extended themselves for our organization, Eizer L’Shabbos.  We wanted to show our appreciation in particular for all those who have helped us for our Purim and Pesach projects. Your support has enabled us to increase the amount of families we were able to assist. This has also increased the simcha of yom tov in many more homes in Tsfas

Eizer L'Shabbos is presently working full force on our Shavuous campaign. The need is great, especially this year with yom tov starting immerdiately after Shabbos. We have set our goal to assist 300 families and need another $20,000 to help us fill our orders.

Please open your hearts while you prepare your seuda with cheese cake and other dairy delicacies and provide the less fortunate with their basic necessities.

With just $100, you can send a family their Shavuous order and fill another Jew's home with happiness.  Please go online and donate by logging on to and click the DONATE button. Or you can Chase QuickPay to