Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Acharon shel Pesach / Last Day of Pesach

From “Breslov Eikh she-Hu: Breslov Customs and Practices, Past and Present”

Like other Chassidim, Breslover Chassidim traditionally do not eat gebrokhts (matzah cooked or soaked in liquids containing water) on Pesach. However, in chutz la'aretz, gebrokhts are prepared and eaten on Acharon Shel Pesach, even in the vessels and dishes used for non-gebrokhts. Although this does not apply to Eretz Yisrael, where Shevi’i shel Pesach is the last day, something similar is observed during a leap year when Shabbos falls on Motza’ei Yom Tov. Then gebrokhts are eaten in the regular Pesach vessels and dishes, even by those who live in Eretz Yisrael.


The Rebbe used to go to his daughter Udel for the se’udah on Acharon shel Pesach, during which the family ate soup with kneidlakh. Once Udel served her father two kneidlakh, and he blessed her that in their merit she should have two children. This berakhah came to pass—and Udel regretted that she had not served her father more kneidlakh.
(Avanehah Barzel, sec. 43, p. 33)


The last meal of Acharon Shel Pesach is called the "Baal Shem Tov Se'udah," during which it is customary for a member of the group to retell the story of the Baal Shem Tov's attempted journey to the Holy Land. There is a special Breslover mesorah concerning the details of this story, preserved by oral tradition.
(Most Chassidim used to call this meal the “Baal Shem Tov Se’udah.” In the communities of Skver-Chernobyl, Skolye, and others, they still do. The Breslov nusach of the story of the Baal Shem Tov’s journey may be found in Eretz ha-Kodesh / Masa’ ha-Kodesh, Jerusalem: Toras ha-Netzach, 5758/1998; and in Yiddish in Der Otzar Fun Yiras Shomayim, Hotza’as Ben Adam, Aharon Weinstock, ed. 1992, pp. 71-87. The story was also published many years ago in Mabu’ey HaNachal. Other nus’chos of the story preserved by various Chassidic communities are presented and discussed by Rabbi Shlomo Abish, “Koros Chayav haMekoriyyim shel Rabban Shel Yisrael haBaal Shem Tov ha-Kadosh, zy ‘a,” #4, Kuntres Heichal haBaal Shem Tov, Nisan 5764 / 2004, pp. 145-152.)


On the Shabbos after Pesach, some are accustomed to bake a challah with the form of a key on the loaf. Some engrave this shape by pressing a key into the dough; some attach a piece of dough in this shape; and some bake an actual key in the challah. (Reb Elazar Kenig’s family attaches a piece of dough shaped like a key.)
(Erkhei Yehoshua, Perach Shoshanim 156, mentions that the Manistritcher minhag was to engrave this shape. A reason for the minhag of baking a “shlissel challoh” is offered by the Apter Rov in Ohev Yisrael, “Le-Shabbos Achar Pesach,” pp. 282-283, 330-331.)


Someone once complained to the Tcheriner Rov, “Purim is over, Pesach is over…” The Tcheriner Rov corrected him, replying, “Mer hobben areingenumen a Purim un a Pesach . . . We have internalized Purim and Pesach!”
(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn)


In this spirit, Reb Avraham Sternhartz would learn Likutey Moharan I, 135 (“Ki Ekakh Mo’ed”), saying, “I am taking the Yom Tov into myself!” He also used to mention that the number of this lesson (135) is be-gematria “matzah.”
(Mabu’i ha-Nachal, Kovetz 53, Nisan 5782, p. 37)

The Baal Shem Tov’s Nesia to Eretz Yisrael

Breslover Chassidim are accustomed to retell this story during the “Baal Shem Tov Se’udah,” which is the last meal of Acharon shel Pesach (AKA “ne’ilas ha-chag”). This was a common custom among many Chassidim in Europe, and a few such as the Skolye Chassidim still tell the story. This version is based on the Breslov mesorah.

Dovid Sears

Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender, the central figure in the Meah Shearim Breslov kehillah after World War II until his passing in 1989, used to retell the story every year on Acharon shel Pesach. He always said that he retold the story the way he received it personally from Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Uman, a grandson of Rebbe Nachman and a leading mashpiya during the late late 1800s-early 1900s. However, Reb Levi Yitzchok also said that once someone asked his teacher Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman if Reb Shimshon’s version was accurate. He answered, “S’iz doh nuschos ... There are many versions!” (Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn). Like all oral traditions, there are a few differences over this detail or that. Yet these differences are relatively minor.

We have put together this brief outline so that at least something will be available in English for those who wish to tell the story during the final hours of Acharon shel Pesach. This is not an “official” version, but we hope it will be good for starters.

Beginning the Journey
The Baal Shem Tov experienced intense gagu’im to travel to Eretz Yisrael—until at last the time came. (This mystical understanding of traveling to Eretz Yisrael is echoed by Rebbe Nachman’s statement, “With every step, I’m going to Eretz Yisrael,” and his teaching that “all tefillos and avodahs ascend through Eretz Yisrael.” Just as Eretz Yisrael was the goal of the Exodus from Egypt, so in a mystical sense it represents the goal of the spiritual quest of each individual and the Jewish people collectively. See the Breslov teachings in the Tcheriner Rov’s anthology, Otzar HaYirah, “Eretz Yisrael.”)

The Baal Shem Tov took his only daughter, the tzaddekes Udel, and his chassid Reb Hirsch Sofer, as companions for the journey.

It was very unusual to go to Eretz Yisrael in those days, and extremely difficult—unlike today. But he trusted in Hashem and left home with only enough money to reach the next town. (It is well-known that the Baal Shem did not keep even a small coin overnight, but lived from day to day, trusting completely in Hashem.) He was confident that Hashem would make a way for him.

(When Rabbi Shmuel Breines tells the story in the Breslov Shtibel of Borough Park, he often stresses the importance of bitachon, total reliance upon Hashem. Two sources of inspiring teachings about bitachon are Rabbi Avraham ben HaRambam’s Sefer HaMaspik: Shaar HaBitachon, or Rabbenu Bachya Ibn Paquda’s Chovos HaLevavos: Shaar HaBitachon. A quote or two from such sources can help make the story more meaningful.)

Day by day and week by week the threesome traveled from one town to the next, heading toward the port city of Istanbul on the Black Sea. Somehow the Baal Shem Tov received enough money to keep traveling, until they arrived in Istanbul on Erev Pesach.

They had neither provisions nor money for lodgings. But the Baal Shem Tov was sure that everything would work out satisfactorily. They found an inn in the Jewish quarter of the city and took lodgings on the ground floor, where the horses were stabled. Udel went to shore to wash clothes for Yom Tov, while her father and Reb Hirsch went to a nearby Beis HaMidrash.

At the same time, a wealthy childless couple from Germany arrived in Istanbul. This couple had been following the Baal Shem Tov from town to town in order to obtain his brochah, and only caught up to him now. Bi-hashgochah pratis, they wound up at the same inn, where they rented a large suite of rooms, and bought matzos, wine and food for Pesach. Then they went in search of the Baal Shem Tov. They found a Jewish girl washing clothes at the sea-shore—Udel, of course—asked her if she knew the whereabouts of the Baal Shem Tov, and learned that the Baal Shem Tov was none other than her father. Overjoyed, they took Udel back to the inn and instructed the servants to bring the possessions of the tzaddik and his daughter and disciple from the stables to their rooms upstairs.

Knowing nothing about this, the Baal Shem Tov and Reb Hirsch davened, and came back after Maariv to find everything prepared for the sedorim and for Yom Tov. The Baal Shem Tov displayed no surprise at this, but proceeded to conduct the Seder without indicating that anything unusual had happened. Only after he had completed the Seder, did the Baal Shem Tov turn to their host and hostess and declare, “I know why you came here. Know that your wish has been fulfilled, and you will have a child this year!”

However, no sooner had the words escaped his lips than the Baal Shem Tov’s face clouded over, and he closed his eyes; he was experiencing aliyas ha-neshamah, an ascent of the soul to the upper worlds. His daughter Udel had seen this before, but now she was terrified—her father seemed to be in a state of gesisah mamash, his life seemed to be hanging by a thread. In heaven, the Evil Accuser demanded: This couple had been fated to remain childless. By what right did the Baal Shem force the Ribono shel Olam to change all of creation for the sake of this man and woman? The Gemara states, “The tzaddik decrees and Hashem fulfills” (Shabbos 59b), and the Baal Shem Tov’s blessing would surely bear fruit. However, in such matters there is a price to be paid. The heavenly court ruled that in exchange, the Baal Shem Tov would lose his Olam Haboh, his place in the Afterlife.

Then Baal Shem Tov suddenly opened his eyes, the color returned to his face, and with great simchah declared, “Now I will be able to serve Hashem without any p’nia, without any thought of future reward!”

At this, the Evil Accuser insisted that the heavenly court restore his Olam Haboh—to let the Baal Shem Tov serve Hashem with such absolute selflessness was too much!

Disaster AvertedAt this point, Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman would roll up his sleeves and say, “Un in di ma’aseh iz doh noch a ma’aseh . . . And in this story there is still another story...” (Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn, in the name of Rabbi Itche Meyer Korman).

Although Baal Shem Tov’s purpose was to go to Eretz Yisrael, his journey, like all of his actions, contained many other mysteries and purposes. (See Likutey Moharan I, 42. Reb Noson adds that this is not only true of the tzaddikim, but even of ordinary Jews. Everything we do reflects Hashem’s hidden plan for creation. See Avaneha Barzel, p. 88, which is translated in “The Tree That Stands Beyond Space,” p. 57.)

The Sultan of Istanbul was a tyrant who had a special enmity toward the Jewish people. Yet the Jews had influence and power in the city, and the Sultan had to resort to underhanded means to hurt them.

On that Erev Pesach he called together his royal ministers for a secret meeting. He proposed that a pogrom be carried out the next morning, in which the mobs would be incited to kill every Jewish man, woman and child in Istanbul. His ministers were sworn to secrecy about this plan on penalty of death.

Yet one of the royal ministers was a righteous gentile and friend of the Jews. Risking his life, he hastened to warn the leaders of the Jewish community of their great peril. After discussing the matter, they decided to send emissaries to the Sultana, the widow of the previous Sultan who had treated his Jewish subjects with kindness and respect. Perhaps she could intervene. In the cover of night, the emissaries made their way through the city’s streets toward the palace of the Sultana.

Their long trek took them past the very inn where the Baal Shem Tov and his companions were concluding the Seder. Through an opened window, they could hear the Baal Shem Tov singing with fervor “Le-oseh nifla’os gedolos levado … To the One Who alone performs wonderous miracles!” One of the emissaries remarked wryly to his friend, “If that Jew only knew what we know, he wouldn’t sing those words so sweetly!”

(A contemporary Breslover, Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Bnei Brak, remembered an interesting detail here. When his father Rabbi Noson Barsky told the story, according to the version of his grandfather and namesake, Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Uman, and he described how the Baal Shem Tov sang “Le-oseh nifla’os gedolos levado,” he used to sing the well-known niggun of the Baal Shem Tov—thus demonstrating how the Baal Shem Tov actually sang these words. He did so when mentioning the song both while the emissaries were on their way to the Sultana and on their return.)

Arriving at the palace, the emissaries begged the guards for permission to obtain an audience with the Sultana, but were refused admission. Yet they persisted until the Sultana heard the racket at the door and asked who wanted to see her at such a late hour. Learning that they were representatives of the Jewish community on an urgent mission, the good-hearted Sultana admitted them and listened to their tale of impending destruction.

Given the urgency of the situation, she asked the emissaries to remain in her home while she set out in the night to intercede with her son. Arriving at the royal palace, she woke up the Sultan and announced, “Tonight your father came to me in a dream! And he revealed to me that tomorrow our family will be utterly wiped out! My heart palpitated with dread—that’s why I hurried here. We must consult the royal chronicles to see if we can find a reason for this evil fate…”

The Sultan sent for the royal record book and in his mother’s presence saw inscribed therein the slaughter of the Jewish community scheduled for the next morning. “Now, my son, I know why I had this terrible dream!” the Sultana said. “Don’t you know what happens to all those who start up with the Jews? Don’t you know what happened to Pharaoh and Haman and the rest of their enemies? You must call off this pogram, or my dream will surely come true!”

Thus, the Sultan tore up his cruel decree and only then did his mother return home to inform the emissaries of her success. As they made their way through the Jewish quarter, they passed the same inn and were surprised to hear the same man repeating the words “Le-oseh nifla’os gedolos levado.” But now he did so with the greatest merriment.

After the morning prayers, the community leaders informed the kehillah that a great miracle had occurred. Because of Hashem’s mercy, the Jews of Istanbul had been saved from certain death. In recounting the highlights of the story, they didn’t fail to mention the Jew who sang of Hashem’s miracles at the end of the Seder, and how if he had known what was going on, he wouldn’t have been able to sing.

At this, the Baal Shem Tov (still incognito) remarked, “Mir dacht zokh az der Yid mit zein zingen 'le-oseh nifla’os gedolos levado,' hott ehr mevatel geven di gezerah . . . It seems to me that by singing ‘Who alone performs wondrous miracles,’ this Jew nullified the heavenly decree.”

The Sea Voyage
On the first day of Chol HaMoed, the couple from Germany bade farewell to the Baal Shem Tov. They wished to lavish upon him various gifts in their gratitude for his brochah, but the Baal Shem Tov refused to accept anything beyond the kindness they had already shown him. Only one thing did he request—that they provide him and his companions with tickets for the next ship to Eretz Yisrael. They happily did so. And the next ship was leaving that day.

Before boarding the ship, the Baal Shem Tov told his daughter and Reb Hirsch that he had the power to go to the Holy Land in a more expedient way: he could toss his gartel on the waves of the sea, and they could walk across it to their destination. The only condition was that they would have to focus their minds on a certain Holy Name without breaking their concentration for even a second. The tzaddekes Udel answered that she was willing to do so. However, Reb Hirsch feared that he would not be able to maintain his concentration; so they traveled by ship.

The Great Storm
The ship quickly traversed the peaceful waters, among its passengers the Baal Shem Tov and his daughter and disciple. However, in the middle of their voyage, the sky suddenly darkened and a mighty storm struck. The powerful winds cast the ship on the turbulent waves, until it seemed that they were about to either capsize or be dashed to bits.

The Baal Shem Tov said, “The sea will be stilled only if I cast my writings overboard—or if my daughter is willing to take their place. Only then will the storm subside.”

There are different versions of what happened at this point. Reb Levi Yitzchak’s mesorah from Reb Shimshon Barsky was to preface this part of the story with the words: “Anderer zoggen..." ("Some say…”). Then he would go on to state that Udel agreed and was actually cast into the sea. However, with this act of mesirus nefesh, she received a heavenly communication: she was destined to have a grandson who would write “shennerer ksavim,” i.e., even greater writings than those of her father. She lifted up her hands and called to the Baal Shem Tov and told him this. Udel was immediately retrieved, and the precious manuscripts were cast into the waters.

(As a humorous aside, I heard from Rabbi Avraham Moshe Wasilski of Williamsburg that whenever Reb Levi Yitzchok told the story and described how Udel was cast into the sea, Rabbi Nochum Yitzchok Frank would interrupt the story to protest, shouting “Sheker! S’iz nisht shayakh! Es kennisht zein! Lies! It isn’t possible! It can’t be!”)

Another version states that she merely considered jumping into the sea, either mentally or even verbally, but did not actually do so. Suddenly she had a heavenly communication about her grandson, and told her father that they could cast the manuscripts into the sea after all. Immediately they did so, and the storm stopped as suddenly as it had began.

The Cannibals
After this ordeal, everyone on the ship was worn out, physically and emotionally. So they headed for next island they sighted, and anchored offshore in order to set their feet on dry land again for a little while. The passengers disembarked and began to stroll along the shore and among the verdant trees, to recover from their distress.

The Baal Shem Tov and his companions walked until they found a nice shady spot to rest. However, they soon discovered that they had company. Out of the forest emerged a group of cannibals brandishing knives and spears. In a few moments, the cannibals had tied up the threesome and cast them on the ground.

Reb Hirsch, quaking in terror, asked the Baal Shem Tov, “Rebbe, please do something and save us from these savages!”

However, the Baal Shem Tov was silent.

“Why don’t you answer me?” Reb Hirch exclaimed.

“Because right now, I don’t know anything!” the Baal Shem Tov replied. “Do you know anything?”

“Nothing at all,” Reb Hirsch stammered. “Just the alef-beis…”

The cannibals surrounded them, grinning malevolently. In a moment they would start getting ready for dinner…

“If you know the alef-beis, say it!”

Reb Hirsch began: “Alef!” And the Baal Shem Tov answered, “Alef!”



As they prounced the names of the holy letters, the Baal Shem Tov suddenly regained his supernatural powers. In the distance, a bell began ringing, the sound coming closer and closer. Alarmed, the cannibals hastily fled. Soon a carriage came into view, and the people inside freed the prisoners.

Reb Gedaliah Kenig mentioned that Reb Avraham Sternhartz’s mesorah included the detail that as the cannibals were preparing to kill the Baal Shem Tov and his companions, suddenly they heard the ringing of the ship’s bell, and this is why they fled.

Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Bnei Brak, however, remembered that according to his grandfather’s version of the story, the bells that scared off the cannibals were those of the carriage, and the “people” in the carriage were actually malakhim, angels send by Hashem to save the Baal Shem Tov, Udel, and Reb Hirsch.

(When Rabbi Shmuel Breines of Borough Park tells the story, he often digresses here to remark on the power of “temimus u-peshitus,” simple whole-heartedness and faith in Rebbe Nachman’s teachings. See Otzar HaYirah, “Temimus”)

In any case, those in the carriage transported them back to the shore, where they joined the other passengers returning to the ship. The wind filled their sails and the began to travel rapidly—straight back to Istanbul, in time for Acharon shel Pesach.

The Secret of Success
Rebbe Nachman once discussed how his great-grandfather the Baal Shem Tov and the saintly Rabbi Naftali Katz, author of “Semikhas Chakhomim,” both attempted to reach Eretz Yisrael, without success. Yet Rebbe Nachman managed to overcome all obstacles and reach the Holy Land. Why did he succeed where these great figures did not?

Rebbe Nachman explained: “Eretz Yisrael is the aspect of ‘gadlus de-gadlus’ (a sublime level of expanded consciousness). And it is known that every spiritual ascent must be preceded by a decent. Since Eretz Yisrael is ‘gadlus de-gadlus,’ it must be preceded by ‘katnus de-katnus,’ a most extreme descent. Those who came before me were unable to cast themselves down to such depths…”


In the merit of the tzaddikim, who sacrificed themselves on behalf of the entire Jewish people, may we too be worthy of reaching the ultimate spiritual goal.

Other Versions of the Baal Shem Tov’s Nesia

About ten years ago, Rabbi Yehoshua Yosef Kornblit of Yerushalayim published a “
Baal Shem Tov Haggadah” with excerpts of various teachings relating to the text. I have often used this Haggadah, along with Rabbi Alter Tepliker’s Breslov Haggadah “Ohr Zarei’ach,” but didn’t notice that at the very end, he includes a few variations of the story of the Baal Shem Tov’s attempted journey to Eretz Yisrael.

If you can’t find a copy of this excellent Haggadah, you could try contacting Rabbi Kornblit, who lives at 15 Batey Varsha. The phone number given in my edition of the sefer is 02 (or just 2 from chutz la’aretz) 371-059. However, you probably need to add another digit before the 3, since Israeli telephone company switched to seven digit phone numbers in the interim. I’d suggest adding a 5, although I’m not sure.

The basic story as found in the sefer “Adas Tzaddikim” is much the same as our Breslov version (although not surprisingly, it doesn’t include the part about the Baal Shem Tov’s daughter Udel’s rescue in the merit of her future grandson Rebbe Nachman‘s writings). In that version, the cannibals are called “Haidamaks,” which is probably a just a loose usage of the term, and they seem to be pirates rather than man-eating natives. After Reb Hirsh Sofer and the Baal Shem Tov call out responsively the letters of the alef-beis, a bell starts ringing and a mysterious elderly captain comes to the rescue with a group of soldiers, and they scare off the pirates. In this account, the ship makes it back to Istanbul on the Seventh Day of Pesach. As for the old captain—he was none other than Elijah the Prophet.

Another retelling of the story in the sefer “Ginzey Yisrael” similarly ascribes the rescue of the Jewish community of Istanbul to the Baal Shem Tov’s singing “Le-she nifla’os gedolos levado,” but neglects to mention the emissaries and the intervention of the Sultan’s mother.

Zera Baruch” describes how Reb Baruch of Medzibuzh would honor the Baal Shem Tov’s deliverance with a communal meal on Acharon shel Pesach and retell the story of his grandfather’s life from the day of his birth until his sea journey. There, he emphasizes that the underlying purpose of this journey was the final redemption of the Jewish people. For the Baal Shem Tov possessed the “nefesh” of Dovid HaMelekh, while the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh possessed the “ruach” of Dovid HaMelekh. And if the two tzaddikim had finally met, the Baal Shem Tov would have received the “neshamah” of Dovid HaMelekh and thus been empowered to bring about the ge’ulah sheleimah.

Rabbi Kornblit also cites the sefer “Ohev Yisrael” to the effect that the Apter Rov, who lived in Medzibuzh after the passing of Reb Baruch, would also conclude Pesach with a tisch that extended into the night in honor of the Baal Shem Tov’s miraculous rescue.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Pesach Customs of the Barsky Family

Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Bnei Brak, depicted in the photo above, is a son of Rabbi Noson Barsky and grandson of Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Uman. He remembered a number of Pesach customs and hanhagos of his father and grandfather.

Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Uman, some of whose teaching were published as “Likutey Eitzos—Ivri Teitch,” was a descendant of Rebbe Nachman through his daughter Sarah, and was a leading figure in the Breslov community before the Stalinist persecutions. His son Reb Noson spent the first twenty years of his life with his parents in Uman, until in 1914 on the eve of World War I, he married the daughter of Rabbi Henich Gutterman, a Gerer Chassid from Lublin, Poland, who had become a Breslover. From then on, Reb Noson lived in Lublin, while his father remained in Uman until his passing in 1935. Reb Noson and his wife and seven children miraculously escaped to Eretz Yisrael two weeks before the outbreak of World War II, when Shimshon was four years old. Reb Noson Barsky’s customs mentioned below were also those of his father.

Reb Shimshon remembered that his father Reb Noson Barsky allowed the smaller children to eat gebrokhts. However, when the children were older, he no longer permitted gebrokhts in his home.


Reb Noson Barsky put out ten pieces of bread, but did not perform a lengthy bedikas chometz.


He wore a spodek and kittel at the Seder.


His wife and any other women present lit the candles when the men came home from shul. They were yotzei “Shehechiyanu” after Kiddush.


He did not bentch the children before the Seder.


Only the men and boys said Kiddush. The women just listened, as on a regular Shabbos or Yom Tov. Reb Noson Barsky and his sons recited Kiddush together, and the boys also said the words out loud.


The bekhers they used contained a smaller shi’ur (presumably around 4 oz.), as was common in those parts of Eastern Europe in past generations.


The men leaned on a pillow next to the arm of the chair for the mitzvos, but not during the se’udah. (According to Ashkenazic custom, the women did not recline.)


Kadesh, Urchatz,” etc., were recited at the beginning of the Seder, and then at each component of the Seder, the name of the new section was announced with the niggun of the Haggadah.


After “Yachatz,” Reb Noson Barsky wrapped the Afikoman and put it aside. The children “stole” the Afikoman, and Reb Noson bartered to get it back, according to the common minhag.


Only the children said “Mah nishtanah,” and the adults did not repeat it.


After the Four Questions, Reb Noson said, “Der teretz is…” and recited “ Avodim hoyinu.”


He used chrein for both morror and korekh. Lettuce was not available in either Poland or the Ukraine at Pesach time.


For karpas, he used potato. This seems to have been the common minhag.


He reclined for karpas.


The egg for the ka’arah was boiled and then roasted on the fire.


Charoses consisted of grated apples, chopped walnuts, cinnamon, and wine.


The wine was added to the charoses when it was prepared, not when the mixture was place on the table. A small amount of charoses was placed on the ka’arah, and the rest remained on the table in a bowl for serving.


Reb Noson Barsky placed a plate containing the six simanim on top of the three covered matzos.


He did not use the egg from the ka’arah at the beginning of the meal, but distributed eggs from a separate bowl.


He dipped the chrein into the charoses and left a little charoses on the chrein (not a lot) both by morror and korekh. He was not makpid about preventing the the matzah from coming in contact with the charoses for korekh.


On the ka’arah, he used grated chrein for morror (i.e., the lowest point of the upper segol), and a piece of the head of the horseradish root for chazeres (i.e., the lowest point of the lower segol).


For zero’a, he used a roasted chicken wing.


He used the Ohr Zarei’ach Haggadah compiled by Rabbi Alter Tepliker.


He recited the Haggadah with intense hisorerus, and chanted the entire Haggadah the same niggun except for “Vehi she’omdoh,” which he sang to the familiar upbeat melody that is still sung by many Chassidim.


He simply recited the Haggadah and explained a few highlights briefly to his family in Yiddish.


He sent the children to open the door for “Shfokh chamoskha,” and no one said “Borukh ha-boh.” The kos shel Eliyohu was placed on the table and filled after bentching, prior to “Shfokh chamoskha.”


After concluding the Seder, he recited Shir HaShirim with great deveykus.

Rabbi Herschel Wasilski’s Pesach Customs

Photo by Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

Rabbi Herschel Wasilski’s Pesach Cutoms
From “Breslov Eikh she-Hu: Breslov Customs and Practices, Past and Present,” a work-in-progress compiled by Dovid Sears and Dovid Zeitlin.

Rabbi Zvi Yosef (“Herschel”) Wasilski (1922-1981) was the central figure in the New York Breslov community after World War II. There is a Breslover shtiebel in his name on Lee Avenue in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, which he founded, and which is led today by his son Rabbi Avraham Moshe Wasilski. Reb Avraham Moshe kindly provided the information posted here.

A descendent of many distinguished talmidei chakhomim, Rabbi Herschel Wasilski was born in Vilna, Lithuania, raised in Oszmiana on the outskirts of the city. At age thirteen his parents sent him to learn in Rabbi Elchonan Wasserman’s famous yeshivah in Baranovitch. Many talmidim in Baranovitch were Breslover Chassidim, and Reb Herschel soon became a Breslover, too. With the invasion of the Nazis, the yeshivah was forced to disband and reestablish itself in Vilna. When Vilna came under attack, Reb Herschel was forced to flee. Captured by the Russian army, he spent the rest of the war in Siberia and then in Samarkand. There, he became a close and lifelong friend of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender, who also survived the war and went on to lead the Breslov kehillah in Yerushalayim. Reb Herschel emigrated to New York in 1946, soon entering the Torah Vodaath Yeshivah in Williamsburg, where he later served as a maggid shiur, melamed and menahel. Reb Herschel was a devoted Breslover Chassid who worked tirelessly for the Breslov chaburah in New York and on behalf of the Breslover shul and yeshivah in Yerushalayim and the Breslover Chassidim in Eretz Yisrael.


Rabbi Avraham Moshe recalled that his father, zikhrono liv’rakha, had many personal chumros which reflected his deep yiras Shomayim—but not hakpodos. His Pesach hanhagos were all conducted in a pleasant spirit.


He came from a Litvishe family that basically followed the minhagey ha-GRA. However, unlike his family, Reb Herschel did not eat gebrokhts on Pesach. There were no gebrochts in his home, even on Acharon shel Pesach. Even the children were not allowed to eat gebrokhts.


Reb Herschel did not “mish” (eat food prepared in other people’s homes, or in restaurants or at public events) all year long—but his hatznei’a leches (modest conduct) was so thorough that no one ever noticed. This certainly included Pesach. But on Acharon shel Pesach, for the Baal Shem Tov Seudah (Ne’ilas HaChag), it is customary for everyone to bring some food to shul (usually matzos, hard-boiled eggs, and fruit) which the entire chaburah shares. This was the one time that Reb Herschel did “mish,” as an expression of achdus.


He refrained from commercial food products all year long, with a few exceptions such as bakery bread, rolls, and cake; milk and cottage cheese. On Pesach he used only staples such as salt and sugar (with the hekhsher of the Hisachdus HaRabbonim), and wine. Rebbetzin Wasilski and later her older daughters did all the cooking. The Rebbetzin made her own non-gebrokhts lokhshen. She made her own shmaltz rather than use commercial oil, and she ground her own fish for gefilte fish. On Pesach, she squeezed her own orange juice and grape juice, and they didn’t even use selzer.

Yet, Reb Avraham Moshe added, his father never made an issue about these hanhagos; nobody thought that this was anything special, or that Reb Herschel was “extra frum.” Everything was done with temimus u-pshitus and with simchah. 


Reb Herschel used handmade shmurah matzos from the Poilisher Matzoh Bakery on the Lower East Side, which he participated in baking with a special chaburah. The chaburah included his brother-in-law Rabbi Tuvia Kaplan, his younger brother Rabbi Boruch Kaplan (founder of Beis Yaakov Seminary in America), and Rabbi Dovid Bender (Menahel of Yeshiva Torah Vodaas and father of Rabbi Yaakov Bender). They were particular to use razeveh (whole wheat) matzos, as a hiddur in halakhah. (The whole wheat flour was only sifted once, leaving less chance for error.)


Reb Herschel used these handmade shmurah matzos, not machine matzos, throughout Pesach. Rebbetzin Wasilski and the children also used only these handmade shmurah matzos.

He used to leave some matzos on a tray in the middle of the dining table throughout the entire Pesach, in case anyone wanted to wash and make “hamotzi.


Bedikas chometz: The bedikah was a serious avodah for Reb Herschel. He did not speak the entire time, and all the lights in his home were turned off. They would put out ten small pieces of bread, as is the common minhag. Reb Herschel used a long wax candle, which one of his young children would hold for him. He would sweep any crumbs with a feather into a white cloth. He also used a wooden spoon. Yet he did not perform an unusually long bedikah. It took 15-20 minutes to search their seven and a half room apartment.


In those years, bedikas chometz kits were not common. Reb Herschel would get a feather from the local butcher.


He used to say the tefillah after bedikas chometz from the Rabbi Yaakov Emden Siddur (“Dinei Erev Pesach,” p. 226, Lemberg ed.).


After the bedikah, he would tie up the the white cloth and its contents, including the feather and spoon, with string. Then he would hang it from the light fixture in the front hall of the apartment until the morning.


He would recite the tefillah after bi’ur chometz from the Rabbi Yaakov Emden Siddur. Alluding to Yechezkel 36:26, this tefillah asks that Hashem grant us a “lev bosor” (heart of flesh). In Chayei Moharan (sec. 339), Reb Noson mentions that the Rebbe related “lev bosor” to “Breslov” (since they have the same letters). Therefore, Reb Herschel would always tell his children and all those nearby after reciting the tefillah, “So we’re asking to become Breslover Chassidim!”


Hadlokas HaNeiros: The women would light the candles before the zman on the first night, as on Erev Shabbos. The second night they would light after tzes ha-kokhavim. Reb Avraham Moshe assumed that the women recited their own “Shehechiyanu” after lighting, although he wasn’t absolutely sure.


Reb Avraham Moshe remembered that when his father came to the Seder, he had an aura of malkhus. His face would be radiantanpin nehirin.” Reb Herschel wore a white yarmulke and white kittel. He used his regular armchair covered with a white cloth, to the left of which was another chair covered in white with several pillows on which he would recline when drinking the wine or eating the matzoh, etc. But he did not lay down, nor did he recline during the meal.


His sons did not use pillows, but just leaned at the required times. The guests did not have their own pillows, either—and there were always guests.


Reb Herschel did not bentch the children before the Seder (although he did so before the Shabbos meal on Friday nights).


Reb Herschel himself picked out the matzos for “Kohen, Levi, Yisroel” (arranging them in that order—“Kohen” on top, “Levi” in the middle, and “Yisroel” on the bottom), and then set up the Ka’arah.


Ka’arah / Seder Plate: They used one ka’arah, set up according to the minhag of the Arizal (which is the common minhag in Breslov). However, each guest had his own lechem mishneh. The children did not have their own matzos, though, even Reb Herschel’s grown sons.

Simanei HaKa’arah:

Karpas: Reb Herschel used both potato and onion for karpas. Although he preferred potato, he always served onion as well, since this was his father’s minhag (as it was throughout Lithuania). So the onion was on the table, even though he didn’t use it. (This probably reflected the Rebbe’s caution not to eat raw onions in Sichos HaRan 265).

Whenever Rebbetzin Wasilski’s father Rabbi Yaakov Mordechai Gordon joined them for Pesach, they also served raddish for karpas, since that was his family minhag. (This was customary in the region of Kobrin, where his family came from.)

Chazeres: He used the head (keppel) of the horseradish root.

Moror: He used the end (i.e., the root, not the tip) of a romaine lettuce stalk. 

Beitzah: He used a boiled egg, not roasted.

Zeroah: He used the neck of a chicken (gorgel). But in later years, he used the wing (fliegel).

Charoses: Like most Eastern Eurpean Jews, he used a mixture of grated apples, wine, chopped nuts and maybe cinnamon. He would mix them together himself in the late afternoon on Erev Pesach.


Kadesh, Urchatz, etc.: Reb Herschel led the entire Seder, and everyone else followed along. He alone recited “Kadesh, Urchatz, Karpas, Yachatz…” (If anyone wished to say it for themselves, they would do so quietly.) He also announced each of these simanim individually as the Seder progressed, and often would comment on it.


Kiddush: According to the common Litvishe custom, Reb Herschel alone made Kiddush on Shabbos and Yom Tov for his family. However, on Pesach every son made his own Kiddush one after the other, in the order of their ages.

He drank the entire kos for each of the four cups of wine—even though in those days only Tokay, Malaga or Concord wine were available. He usually used Concord wine.

He used an 8 or 9 oz. glass kos on Shabbos and Yom Tov and also at the Pesach Seder. Yet he would drink the contents all at once. However, the women and children over bar mitzvah didn’t use such large glasses; they were probably 6 oz. glasses.

Every child also had his own Kiddush cup, even if it was a small shiur. This included even the younger children, beginning when they were as young as three or four.

Everyone stood for Kiddush. The women held their glasses and quietly recited the Kiddush at the same time as Reb Herschel. Then the male guests and his sons would recite Kiddush, one after another. No one left the table during Kiddush, but everyone listened to everyone one else. There was no hefkerus.


Maggid: With Reb Herschel leading, everyone would recite the text of the Haggadah together, section by section. He would frequently add chiddushei Torah based on Breslov teachings. These chiddushim were new every year. Occasionally one of the guests would add a vertl, but this was infrequent.

Reb Herschel recited the Haggadah with a certain niggun or nusach that he probably heard from his father.


He always used Reb Alter Tepliker’s Ohr Zareich Haggadah, which includes various excerpts from the Breslover seforim. Reb Avrohom Moshe recalled that his father had an old edition, probably from the 1940s.


Karpas: He did not recline for karpas.


Yachatz: He would set aside the Afikoman in a cloth bag nearby, and during the Seder one of the children would “steal” it and then bargain with him at the end of the meal, as is common.


He followed the common nusachHoh lachma anya” (with a kometz-heh for “hoh”), not “hey lachma anya” or “ki-hoh lachma anya”—although he was well aware of these variant nuschos. This probably reflected his father’s custom.


Mah Nishtanah: The younger boys and girls would recite the “Fee’ir Kashas,” and Reb Herschel alone would repeat them when they were through. (He would often preface this by saying, “I was the youngest child in my family.”) He would then say, “Der teretz iz… (the answer is)…” followed by “Avodim hoyinu.”

They said the “Mah Nishtanah” in the order of the Bavli, as found in most Haggadahs, and not according to the Yerushalmi and Arizal (even though most of the other Breslover hanhagos conform to those of the Arizal).


In addition to commenting on the Haggadah, he would sing at various points, particularly in Hallel, and then at length after the conclusion of the Seder. Everyone would enthusiastically join in the singing. There were years when some of his talmidim and other local yeshivah bochurim stopped by just to witness Reb Herschel’s Seder (which was much longer than most).


Mitzvas Moror: He would use only the stalks of romaine lettuce, removing the rest of the leaves and then rinsing the stalks thoroughly with water.

He would add some white chrein on top of a few lettuce stalks, with a very small amount of charoses. However, he distributed large shiurim, six or seven stalks.

For his personal use, he would prepare slices of the ends of the lettuce (i.e., the lower part from which the leaves grow) and add white chrein to those slices. This too may have been his father’s minhag.


Korekh: Reb Herschel would add a little charoses to the chrein and lettuce stalks. Despite his carefulness to avoid gebrokhts, he was not concerned with the charoses touching the matzohs for korekh.


Beitzah: At the beginning of the meal itself, he would serve hard-boiled eggs. For himself, he would slice an egg and put the slices in a small dish of salt water. This was his father’s minhag. (In Eastern Europe, many families only ate slices of the egg; they could not give each person a whole egg, due to poverty.)


By the time he got to the fourth kos, which was after 4:00 AM—or sometimes after finishing the Seder—he often would go to the kitchen sink and dampen his forehead with cold water to wake himself up in order to continue his avodah. Reb Avrohom Moshe speculated that he might have even done so for the sake of the children, whom he encouraged to do the same thing.


Afikoman: Reb Herschel was never makpid about the zman of chatzos. Reb Avraham Moshe does not remember his father even mentioning it. He just did his avodah in its own time. And in fact there were many Gedolei Yisrael who were not makpid about the zman chatzos on the Seder nights.


After completing the Seder, he would lead the singing of the various songs at the end, some of which he sang in Yiddish or Russian, as well as in Hebrew. Then he would recite aloud the entire “Shir HaShirim.” After this, he would go to wake up those who asked him to do so for Shacharis, go to the mikveh and then to shul. (He did not daven ki-vasikin but a little after 7:00 AM.) Thus, he would be awake all night long on both of the first two nights of Pesach.


Reb Avrohom Moshe added that one should remember that his father and his peers were strong people, and they were capable of doing these avodahs with simchah shel mitzvah and without becoming overstressed. Reb Herschel himself would always tell people that if they would not be able to function the next day, they surely should finish the Seder earlier.

Reb Avrohom Moshe added a vort of his own about this issue. The Haggadah mentions how five chakhomim stayed up all night discussing yetziyas Mitzrayim, until their talmidim came and announced that the time had arrived for kriyas Shema shel Shacharis. Did the sages need their talmidim to tell them this? Maybe we can infer from this that the talmidim wanted to inform their teachers that they couldn’t stay up all night like their masters and function properly the next day!


After Pesach:

Shlissel Challoh: At first, the Wasilskis did not bake a “shlissel challoh” for the Shabbos after Pesach. But in the later years, Rebbetzin Wasilski would bake a challoh with the form of a key on top of the loaf, not an actual key. (There are a number of different customs for baking shlissel challoh.)


Because they didn’t eat kneidlach on Acharon shel Pesach, for many years Rebbetzin Wasilski made kneidlach for the Shabbos after Pesach. They were prepared from a half-pound of matzoh meal which Reb Herschel bought before Pesach, ground by the bakery from the matzoh baked by his chaburah. However, it seems that this was done for the sake of the children. After the children grew up, Rebbetzin Wasilski stopped making kneidlach for this Shabbos.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Chad Gadya: “One Kid Goat”

Reb Noson Sternhartz, Likutey Halakhos, Rosh Chodesh 6:19
Translated by Dovid Sears
From The Breslov Pirkey Avot, Breslov Research Institute

The singing of Chad Gadya (“One Kid Goat”) at the conclusion of the Passover Seder is a most amazing thing. The song’s basic theme is the perversion of justice. Each creature acted unjustly: the cat ate the kid goat unjustly; then along came the dog that ate the cat, and although the cat unquestionably deserved this, the dog had no right to bite the cat—for who appointed the dog to pass judgment on the cat? Similarly, the water, fire, etc., took vengeance on one another. All this was brought about by God, for each [as a victim] deserved its fate; yet each [as an aggressor], when considered alone, acted unjustly. Thus, each was subject to retribution afterward.

In truth, the nature of cosmic justice is beyond mortal understanding, for “God’s designs are profound” (Psalms 92:6) and it is forbidden to question them at all. This paradox is addressed by the Mishnah: He saw a skull floating on the surface of the water. He said to it: “Because you drowned others, they have drowned you— and those who drowned you in the end will be drowned.” No doubt [the victim] deserved to drown according to divine justice; nevertheless, the [murderer] behaved wrongfully. Therefore, those who drowned you in the end will be drowned.

This is why we mention this theme of Chad Gadya on Passover. Since the first Passover preceded the Giving of the Torah, we had not yet received the perfection of judgment. Chad Gadya teaches us that as long as judgment remains imperfect, it is impossible to fathom divine justice. Therefore, we are forbidden to harm anyone else, although according to his deeds he deserves it. We may not carry out this judgment, for “judgment belongs to the Lord” (Deuteronomy 1:17), and the ultimate perfection of justice is brought about only by God directly.

As we say at the conclusion, Along came the Holy One, blessed be He, and slaughtered the Angel of Death… which teaches us that the perfection of justice will be revealed in the end, when God slaughters the Angel of Death, and “the spirit of impurity will be removed from the earth” (Zechariah 13:2). However, at present it is impossible to understand the ways of divine justice, and it is forbidden to question them when we are confronted with such enigmas. Rather, we must believe that God’s reasons are profound, that it is impossible to understand them at all, and that everything reflects great kindness.

© Breslov Research Institute

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Boot Factory

The idea that Rebbe Nachman would remain the mentor of those who followed his teachings even after his death may not seem so radical today. But Reb Noson, who established this as one of the foundations of Breslov Chassidus, encountered fierce opposition, especially during his later years. This account is an abridged section of Chapter 36 from Rabbi Chaim Kramer’s Through Fire and Water, based on the primary sources Alim L’Terufah, Tovos Zikhronos, and Yemey HaTla’os.

During the years of persecution that Reb Noson and his followers endured, Reb Noson’s opponents in the town of Breslov arranged for the local authorities to set up a boot factory to supply an army unit stationed nearby. The site they chose was Reb Noson’s house.

In the weeks before Passover, a group of non-Jewish workers converted the main room into a workshop, filled with foul-smelling hides. There they worked, while Reb Noson’s family was restricted to the bedrooms. On the evening before Passover, the time came to search the house for chametz; however, the non-Jewish workers were still at work, and their food was still on the premises. Reb Noson had always said, “When one recites the berakhah before bedikas chametz, it is already a shtik Pesach (i.e., one is already connected to Passover itself).” He recited the blessing with intensity, having in mind that just as the chametz must be removed, so should the boot factory. Then he performed the search.

The workers were so awed by Reb Noson’s blessing that they told him to search wherever he wished, and not to think of them at all. The following day at noon, they removed their hides and equipment, and left. Immediately a few people were hired to clean the house and help prepare it for Passover.

That night during the Seder, Reb Noson recited the Haggadah with great fervor. During the meal, his family began to discuss their sufferings and express their happiness for being rid of the boot factory. Then they began to speak against their opponents. This upset Reb Noson.

“This is such a great and awesome time,” he said. “After all the effort every Jew has put into his Passover preparations, after all the money we have spent to honor the festival, after all our longing to perform the mitzvos of Passover, it is forbidden to speak against them, God forbid. They are our brothers. Eventually they will receive their tikkun. We ourselves will seek remedies for them!” After the meal, Reb Noson completed the Seder with a deeply inspiring melody.

© Breslov Research Institute

Candle, Feather, and Spoon

By Dovid Sears

Every year on the night before Passover, we search our homes for bread or leavened products (chametz). The Gemara (Pesachim 7b) instructs us to use a candle to light up all the dark nooks and crannies, and it is customary to use a feather to sweep up the crumbs and a wooden spoon to serve as a miniature dustpan. Today, many of us use a flashlight, just to play it safe. But we still should use the candle, feather, and spoon, at least while reciting the blessing and beginning the search. The question is: what’s so special about these particular objects?

Beside their utilitarian value, perhaps these ancient “search and destroy” instruments have a deeper significance. According the Kabbalah, there are four levels of earthly existence: domem (the realm of the “silent”), tzomei’ach (vegetation), chai (living creatures), and medaber (“speaking beings,” or humans). The candle (for sure if it is made from paraffin) represents the “silent” realm; the wooden spoon represents vegetation; the feather represents the animal kingdom; and the person making the search represents humanity. However, this correspondence in turn begs another question: why should all four levels be involved in the search for chametz and its destruction?

The key to unlock this mystery may be found in the writings of Rebbe Nachman, particlarly in Likutey Moharan I, 52. By working on nullifying our negative traits through secluded meditation (hisbodedus), says Rebbe Nachman, we can come to experience the essential and true reality—the “imperative existent,” which is G-dliness. Elsewhere (Likutey Moharan I, 4), basing himself on the classic Kabbalistic work, Mishnas Chassidim, Rebbe Nachman explains that these negative traits are fourfold, corresponding to the four elements of fire, air, water, and earth. Specifically, the fire within human nature gives rise to anger, air produces damaging speech, water breeds evil desires, and earth can pull us down into lethargy and depression.

Perhaps we may add that these four elements in turn correspond to the four levels represented by the objects used in the search for chametz. And chametz represents the root of those negative tendencies, which is self-importance.

In Likutey Moharan I, 52, Rebbe Nachman also states that the universe was created as the necessary context for the Divine service of the Jewish people and humanity; by attaining the realization of G-dliness (da’as), we ennoble all levels of Creation. Thus, the objects used for the search represent our negative traits and their nullification; what is more, they serve as vehicles for the aliyas ha-olamos, the spiritual “ascent of all worlds.” Our efforts in self-transformation benefit the entire system of Creation.

Our Sages state: “If you save a life, you save a world” (Sanhedrin 37a). The search for chametz, which symbolically represents the purification of character traits, teaches that this also applies to saving a spiritual life—even if that spiritual life is one’s own. For the entire universe is elevated by one who reaches the ultimate goal.