Friday, January 29, 2016

The Tzaddikim Are One

By Dovid Sears

L’ilui nishmas Shulamis Na’ami bas Gedaliah Aryeh (Sochaczewsky), a”h

Most Breslover chassidim (and many “misnagdim”) are familiar with Rebbe Nachman’s hispa’arus—his seeming self-praise. One such remark recorded by Reb Noson is that Rebbe Nachman received his teachings from a “place” from which no other tzaddik had ever received (Chayei Moharan #353, hashmatah). Some take these statements to indicate disrespect for other tzaddikim, or to lead to the conclusion that the Rebbe’s leadership is of an exclusive nature. Both conclusions would be entirely erroneous. And such errors could be extremely damaging.

First of all, Rebbe Nachman did not see himself as the “tzaddik ha-dor” to the exclusion of others, but acknowledged and praised many of his contemporaries, as well as tzaddikim of the recent past.  

In Chayei Moharan #353, Reb Noson relates some of the praises of Rebbe Nachman for his holy great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov (whose spiritual rung he identifies with the sefirah of Binah that is above Chokhmah; see below); the Maggid of Mezeritch (whose spiritual rung he identifies with the sefirah of Chokhmah); and his uncle, Reb Borukh of Medzhibuzh (whose spiritual rung he identifies with the sefirah of Binah that is below Chokhmah). (It seems that “Binah above Chokhmah” is a way of describing the sefirah of Keser, since both are termed “makifin,” or “encompassing lights”—Binah in relation to the seven lower sefiros of ChaGaS-NHYM, and Keser to the entire array of sefiros from Chokhmah to Malkhus. Thus, the Rebbe’s remarks may be understood as saying that the wisdom of the Baal Shem Tov included everything that would subsequently be revealed or developed by the other Chassidic masters. And he implicitly designated the Maggid and Reb Borukh as outstanding figures in the dissemination of the Baal Shem Tov’s “encompassing light.”) 

The Rebbe was born and raised in the Baal Shem Tov’s house in Medzhibuzh, met many of the surviving disciples of both the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid during his childhood, including the elderly Toldos Yaakov Yosef, and he used to pray at length beside his great-grandfather’s grave (Shivchey ha-RaN #19). (For a discussion of the ancient Jewish practice of praying beside the graves of the tzaddikim, see Rabbi Gedaliah Kenig, Chayei Nefesh, sec. 32-36, as found in Shaarey Tzaddik, Vol. III, which cites a number of primary sources.)

In Chayei Moharan #553 (in the editor’s note), Rebbe Nachman’s praises of other Chassidic masters are also enumerated, including a number of his living contemporaries. He described Reb Levi Yitzchok, the Berditchover Rov, as “unique in his generation” (also see Chayei Moharan #270, where he compared the Berditchover Rov to the Tefillin of the Jewish people); regarding the Maggid of Mezeritch, “one may believe anything [said about his spiritual attainments or alleged miracles]”; he extolled the Baal Shem Tov in the highest terms (also see Chayei Moharan #280 re. the uniqueness of the Baal Shem Tov); and he declared that Reb Pinchos of Koretz was at one time the greatest tzaddik on earth, adding, “Happy are the eyes that beheld Reb Pinchos!” As for Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye (author of Toldos Yaakov Yosef and other early Chassidic classics), “All his works are holy and wondrous—but the tzaddik himself was much higher!” He had similar praises for the Rebbe Reb Elimelekh of Lizhensk (author of Noam Elimelekh), and the latter’s brother, Reb Zushe of Annipola.

Other Chassidic masters whom Rebbe lauded are mentioned in Chayei Moharan #553. They include Reb Michel of Zlotchov; Reb Avraham of Kalisk; Reb Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk; Reb Nochum of Chernobyl; the Rav of Neshchiz; the Rav of Alik; the Rav of Kozhnitz; the Rav of Lantz and Lublin; Reb Aharon of Titiev; and the Rebbe’s uncle, Reb Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudylkov.

In Chayei Moharan #410, the Rebbe contrasts philosophical writings with those of tzaddikim: first and foremost, Chazal; the kabbalists (Zohar, Arizal); and specifically, Likutey Amarim (Maggid of Mezeritch), Toldos Yaakov Yosef, and the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov (as found in various early Chassidic works).

In addition, there are well-known Breslov oral traditions about the Rebbe’s friendship with the Baal ha-Tanya and his praises of the older Chassidic leader. Rebbe Nachman and the Baal ha-Tanya each spent a Shabbos with the other, and according to Breslov tradition, the Rebbe took the Baal ha-Tanya to some of his wealthy supporters to solicit donations for Chassidic immigrants in the Holy Land, introducing him as “a true talmid chokhom” (probably in both senses of the term: a master Torah scholar and a “disciple of the wise,” meaning the Maggid of Mezeritch and Reb Mendel of Vitebsk, among others).

In Shivchey ha-RaN #20, it states that after his marriage, when the Rebbe moved away from Medzhibozh, he used to visit the grave of Reb Yeshaya of Yanov, a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov buried near his new home.

Much is made of the Rebbe’s remarks that his path went beyond that of his great-grandfather (e.g., Chayei Moharan ##381, 393). However, Breslover friends who were close to Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender, zal, have told me that Reb Levi Yitzchok often pointed out that of all Chassidic groups today, Breslov is closest to the “derekh ha-Baal Shem Tov,” and brought various proofs to support his claim. The Rebbe was very much a product of the Baal Shem Tov’s “cheder,” and his teachings were intimately connected to those of the Baal Shem Tov.

Reb Noson’s illustrious disciple, Reb Nachman Goldstein, the Rov of Tcherin, in addition to his commentaries on Likutey Moharan and other Breslov works, authored two popular anthologies of non-Breslov Chasidic teachings: Leshon Chassidim, which collects teachings of disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, and Derekh Chassidim, which collects teachings from disciples of the Maggid. These teachings are arranged alphabetically by topic and to those knowledgeable in Breslov Chassidus, implicitly show the many resonances between Breslov and the other early Chassidic writings.

When I lived in Borough Park in the 1980s, I once asked the prominent Breslover, Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Vitriol, why the Tcheriner Rov created these two works. Was it so that his fellow Breslovers would realize how connected we are to the other schools of Chassidus, or to show other Chassidim how the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid and his talmidim are kindred to those of Rebbe Nachman? Reb Shlomo Chaim immediately said, “Both are true!”

Beyond this, the Rebbe taught that we should love and revere all of the tzaddikim. He cautions, “Never say ‘this tzaddik is appealing (tzaddik na’eh), but that tzaddik isn’t appealing.’ ” This seems to reflect the concept he discusses in Likutey Moharan I, 64:4 (based on kabbalistic principles), that despite all appearances, the tzaddikim are one. Elsewhere, he states that the seeming strife between the tzaddikim is only due to our pgam (deficiency) (Likutey Moharan I, 5:4; also see Likutey Moharan I, 56:8, which discusses strife (machlokes) and the higher knowledge (da’as), as personified by Moshe, in which contradictory viewpoints coalesce.)

This isn’t merely theoretical. In Chayei Moharan #101 (BRI English translation, #227), Reb Noson preserves one of Rebbe Nachman’s dreams. The soul of a former disciple appears before the Rebbe, complaining that he has gone astray because he lost faith in the Rebbe. “Is there no one besides me to go to?” the Rebbe asks. “If you don’t believe in me, go to one of the other tzaddikim!”

Certainly, Breslover chassidim believe that Rebbe Nachman is the tzaddik emes, from whom all receive, whether they know it or not (Likutey Moharan I, 70). This tzaddik is compared to the yesod ha-pashut, the unitary “primal element” from which the four elements of earth, water, wind and fire derive (Likutey Moharan II, 66, 67). But when understood in the light of Rebbe Nachman’s broader teachings, this belief should unite us, not divide us. Kulam ahuvim, kulam kedoshim, all are beloved, all are holy. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Breslov Campus Winter 2016 Semester

In honor of our exciting Winter 2016 semester, we are thrilled to introduce our brand-new Breslov Campus website!
We have listened to your feedback and are pleased to announce our new website’s great features and additions, including:
  • Daily inspirational videos
  • Easy access to our audio and video library
  • Registration and login no longer necessary to access live courses and archived material
  • Each course page has been simplified to include everything you need to know to access live classes or watch and listen to archived material
And MUCH more…
So click here now to take part in our exciting Winter Semester 2016 starting this Sunday, or to watch a short inspirational Breslov video.
Happy Learning!

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Tu B’Shvat and Shabbat Shira

Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir
Rav Natan of Breslav writes: “Tu BiShvat is always adjacent to Shabbat Shira, and sometimes it falls on Shabbat Shira itself” – as it does this year (and 30% of all years). Rav Natan explains this proximity in an involved Chasidic digression (Likutei Halakhot Orla 3), based on a teaching of his Rebbe, Rav Nachman of Breslav (Likutei Moharan II 8). We will attempt to present the main elements of the explanation here, including many illustrations from revealed sources that are not mentioned by these awesome Chasidic masters.
Our prayers are almost always requests for mercy, as the gemara states (Berakhot 20b), that prayer is “mercy”. The natural world has its laws of nature, and the Torah has established laws of punishment “measure for measure”, but in our prayers we ask that these laws be circumvented: We ask HaShem to send rain even if the forecast wouldn’t predict it, or to be lenient with us even if we really did transgress.
Prayers for justice, on the other hand, are extremely rare. The gemara warns, “Anyone who asks the judgment of his fellow man, he is punished first!” (RH 15b.) Rav Nachman writes that such a prayer is usually “eaten up” by the side of evil. It generally does not stem from the uplifting, idealistic side of man that inspires our other prayers, but rather from the small-mindedness and vindictiveness that are the usual fare of the evil impulse. One who would pray for judgment needs extraordinary qualities. First of all, he must have unblemished righteousness; otherwise he will be punished first. Second of all, his request for judgment must itself stem from a recognition that ultimately such judgment is necessary in order for kindness to reign. We find for example, that the blessing asking for judgment on the “minim” could only be composed by Shmuel HaKatan who was known for his extreme self-effacement (see Sanhedrin 11a) and lack of vindictiveness (see Avot 4:19); furthermore, it was only introduced when it was clear that it was an absolute necessity to save the prayer service from malicious informers (Berakhot 28b). (Rav Nachman explains that such a necessity generally arises when mercy is distorted in order to protect and nurture wickedness and cruelty. Judaism reconciles itself to the need to be “cruel to be kind” only with difficulty, when the world considers it “kind to be cruel”.) Rav Nachman states that when such an extraordinary individual does arise and confronts such an extraordinary situa- tion, he has immense power to subdue evil and to awaken to repentance those who have been caught in its grip. In fact, it is this exact trait that gives a person the ability to reprove others in an inspirational way that affirms their basic goodness (as we explained last week). Rav Nachman calls this a “voice” or a “song” which awakens the dormant good in wrongdoers and gives them a beautiful fragrance that nullifies the stench of sin.
Rav Nachman refers here, as he often does, to a “single, double, triple and quadruple song”; he explains that these four levels refer to different levels of Divine providence. The lowest level is completely according to natural law, without any Divine guidance (though of course the laws themselves are of Divine origin!); the highest level is completely according to Divine intervention, as the world will be guided in the time of the complete redemption.
We can explain that someone who has the most profound understanding of HaShem’s ways is able to perceive that sin ultimately is also part of HaShem’s plan. What is considered against HaShem’s will at a lower level of providence is actually part of His greater blueprint at a higher level. A normal person is not capable of such a perspective; if you tell him that evil is part of G-d’s plan, then he will feel no distress in the face of wickedness, whether his own or of others. If he understands that evil is against G-d’s will, then he considers the sinner banished from G-d. Only a few, such as Moshe, are able to encompass all these songs; these individuals are able to fight evil with all their might, yet reprove wrongdoers with a perfect faith that they are still servants of G-d, involved in advancing His plan.
Rav Natan writes that one actual song that gives expression to this supernal song is the Song of the Sea. This song celebrates the judgment of Egypt. Normally this would be highly inappropriate; the Midrash states that the angels were forbidden to sing during the splitting of the sea (Yalkut Shimoni Beshalach). But Moshe, who led Israel in this song, had a perfect apprehension of how this judgment, with its awesome demonstration of HaShem’s sovereignty and His election of Israel, was necessary for the establishment of G-d’s kingdom among mankind. This song refers to natural phenomena; to G-d’s judgment and retribution; and ultimately to the final redemption: “HaShem will reign for ever and ever”. Thus it encompasses all of the four levels of song.
We explained above that prayers for judgment are generally acceptable only for truly extraordinary individuals in truly extraordinary circumstances. Yet there is an exception: Rosh HaShana, the Day of Judgment. On this day, all of us pray for a favorable judgment: while we make pleas for leniency, ultimately we ask judgment to be done. Rav Natan explains that this special quality extends to all the New Years mentioned in the mishna, including Tu BiShvat, the New Year for trees. It seems that on these days all Israel merit a bit of the spiritual might which makes such a prayer acceptable. And on Shabbat Shira, all of us participate in the public recitation of the Song of the Sea; evidently on this day all Israel merit a dim apprehension of the “four levels of song”. Since these two qualities are intimately connected, it is natural that Shabbat Shira and Tu BiShevat are always in close proximity.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Trip to Uman with Rabbi Erez Moshe Doron

בקרוב! נסיעה לאומן עם הרב ארז משה דורון
SOON: Trip to Uman 
Led by Rabbi Erez Moshe Doron
קצר וקולע - הכנה לפורים אצל רבינו הקדוש
Feb. 24-25th
24.2.16 - 25.2.16
מיועד לגברים ולנשים
פרטים נוספים בהמשך 

Or Pnimi Breslov 
אור פנימי ברסלב 08-6640064
(Israel time)

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

SHoVeViM (SHoVeViM-TaT in a Leap Year)

From “Breslov Eikh She-hu: Breslov the Way It Is
Customs and Practices, Past and Present
By Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears (work-in-progress)

SHoVeViM (SHoVeViM-TaT in a Leap Year)

Breslover Chassidim used to fast until the late afternoon one day a week (usually on Thursdays) during the period of SHoVeViM – i.e., the weeks corresponding to the Torah readings of Shemos through Mishpatim. According to the kabbalists, this period is conducive for each person to make amends for his part in Adam's sin of separating from his wife after the exile from the Garden of Eden. In this spirit, some Breslover Chassidim in Eretz Yisrael today refrain from eating any davar min ha-chai (animal product) for a twenty-four hour period, or more commonly from dawn until nightfall, once each week during SHoVeViM.
(See Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender, Si'ach Sarfei Kodesh IV, 204)


Reb Noson mentions in Likutey Halakhos (source needed) that during the weeks SHoVeViM, one should cry out during selichos. (Many Ashkenazic congregations used to recite selichos during SHoVeViM. Although this is less common today, there are some who do so in Eretz Yisrael.)


However, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender recalled that in Uman, the Breslover Chassidim did not recite selichos during ShoVeViM.
(Si’ach Sarfei Kodesh IV, 205)


Reb Avraham Sternhartz fasted the whole day during the weeks of SHoVeViM; however the details of when and how often are unknown.
(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn, citing Rabbi Moshe Burshteyn)


In a letter to Rabbi Avraham Jacobovitch, Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz recommended fasting during SHoVeViM until noon one day a week, such as Thursday or Friday; and to refrain from any daver min ha-chai on two other days a week, such as Monday and Wednesday, as long as doing so would not hurt his health. He added that any such effort is good and helps, even if one can only fast for an hour or two in the morning, etc.
(Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz, Michtevey Shmuel [Jerusalem: Keren Rabbi Yisrael Dov Odesser, first edition], Letter 16, pp. 69-70)


As for the hanhagah of refraining from any davar min ha-chai, Reb Gedaliah held that this does not include such things as the small amount of egg white smeared on bread before it is baked, or even adding a little milk to coffee.
(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn)


Reb Noson had an extra shi’ur of Tehillim that he said during the days of ShoVeViM.
(Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz, Michtevey Shmuel [Jerusalem: Keren Rabbi Yisrael Dov Odesser, first edition], Letter 16, p. 69; ibid. Letter 23, pp. 93-94. Reb Shmuel Horowitz understands Likutey Moharan II, 73, which discusses the recitation of Tehillim in connection with parshas Shemos, as also alluding to the recitation of Tehillim during the weeks of ShoVeViM.)