Friday, October 28, 2016

Origins of the Berditchever Siddur “Tefilah Yesharah”


By Dovid Sears

A friend of mine recently asked me about the “Berditchever Siddur,” which he has decided to use, so I wrote the following in reply. Since this information may be of interest to others, we are posting it here. No doubt, a number of Breslover Chassidim past and present have used the Berditchever Siddur, but it has no “official” status within Breslov, which doesn’t put much stress on Nusach ha-Tefilah, aside from the few customs that have been preserved (as discussed in previous postings).

The editor of the new (2015) “Pe’er” edition of the Berditchever Siddur provides an Introduction (Hakdamah) that explains the origins of both the Nusach (text) of the Siddur and the accompanying commentary, “Keser Nehorah” (“Crown of Light”).

The Nusach is that of the illustrious Reb Michel of Zlotchov (AKA the Zlotchover Maggid), who was a disciple of both the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezeritch. A Siddur with this Nusach was first published by the latter’s son Rabbi Mordechai of Kremenitz during the very early 1800s, and subsequently in Medzhibuzh at the instruction of the Apter Rov (author of “Ohev Yisrael”), who was the reigning Chassidic leader in that part of Eastern Europe at that time, and who revered the Zlotchover Maggid. These siddurim are no longer extant. However, we do possess a copy of the 1820 edition that was printed in Radvil as “Siddur Tefilah Yesharah,” and which states that it is the second edition on the title page (although it may have been the third if the siddur printed in Medzhibuzh was the same).

(See the facsimiles of the title pages of several early printings at the beginning of the Pe’er edition of the siddur.)

The commentary Keser Nehora was written by Rav Aharon Hakohen of Zhelichov (and Bilgoray). He was also the author of Keser Shem Tov, a classic anthology of teachings of the Baal Shem Tov gleaned from the works of his disciples, primarily the Toldos Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye, and Ohr HaGanuz LaTzaddikim, his original Chassidic teachings on the weekly Torah portion (which seems to strongly reflect the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings – at least the parts I have read).

Although written much earlier – the author, Rabbi Aharon Hakohen, was a contemporary of the Kedushas Levi and the Chozeh of Lublin and the Maggid of Kozhnitz, all of whom gave him enthusiastic approbations – Keser Nehora was first published in the Chassidic (Nusach Sfard) Siddur “Ohr LaYesharim” (1868). I don’t know if it was available prior to that.

I own a copy of the Ohr LaYesharim siddur, and it is more like the standard Nusach Sfard siddurim of today, except that it contains many more variant phrases in brackets. In today’s Nusach Sefard siddurim, by contrast, these brackets are omitted, so we have instead many “double versions” which people commonly recite simply as printed. In any case, the Nusach of the Siddur Ohr LaYesharim is not identical with that of the Siddur Radvil.

I was surprised to learn from the Hakdamah that the commentary Keser Nehora was not printed together with the Nusach of the Siddur Radvil until 1873 in Brody, again as “Siddur Tefilah Yesharah.” Subsequently, this siddur was reprinted in Berditchev (1891), which is where it gets its familiar nickname, the “Berditchever Siddur.” Since then it has been reprinted many times.

The Siddur Tefilah Yesharah now contains teachings and prayers and other additions from various Chassidic giants, such as the Yismach Moshe, Reb Elimelekh of Lizhensk, and the Be’er Lachai Ro’i commentary on a section from the Tikuney Zohar. Some of this material seems to have been added by the publisher, Pe’er, which is based in Kiryas Yoel, the Satmar enclave in Monroe, NY. I’d have to compare it with other, older versions, which I don’t own. However, I do have a 1989 edition of the siddur, which also includes the Tzetel Katan and some of the same material from the Yismach Moshe.

In addition to being the only siddur the Satmar Rov (Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum), zatzal, would use, the Berditchever Siddur has long been the siddur of choice of numerous tzaddikim and chassidim, and remains so today. My Rosh Yeshiva, the Bostoner Rebbe of Flatbush, shlit”a, and yibadel bein chaim l’chaim, his late brother, the Bostoner Rebbe of Borough Park and Ramat Beit Shemesh, zatzal, also used this siddur, as did all of the Bostoner Rebbes. Since Bostoner Chassidus is an offshoot of Lelov, I assume it was used by the Lelover Rebbes, as well (although this would need to be confirmed).

From what I have read, both the Siddur of the Baal HaTanya and the Siddur Tefilah Yesharah date back to about the same time, shortly after 1800. This also seems to be when the commentary Keser Nehorah received its approbations (which are undated, at least in the printed versions). Thus, they are the two earliest PRINTED Chassidic Siddurim, or at least among the earliest. However, there were earlier manuscript siddurim such as those of Rav Yaakov Koppel (d. 1740; siddur first published in 1804) and Rav Shabsai Rashkover (d. 1757; siddur first published in Korets, 1797) that included the kabbalistic kavanos of the Arizal, and were used by early Chassidic masters such as Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz and the Rebbe, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Chabad also possesses a manuscript siddur that is said to have been written for the Baal Shem Tov according to his instructions. I believe it is part of the Chabad library in Crown Heights.

The early Chassidim must have used the common Nusach Ashkenaz siddurim, which they modified according to kabbalistic customs, as found in Pri Eitz Chaim and elsewhere, until the first Chassidic siddurim were printed.

From the original four Haskamos (Approbations) to the commentary Keser Nehora:

“I was shown a [commentary on the] Siddur in the name of Rabbi Aharon Katz, Rav of Bilgoray, according to the kavanah,Shevisi Hashem Lenegdi Samid (I have set G-d before me constantly),’ and in my opinion, it is excellent and entirely desirable throughout. All kavanos of the various Siddurim are holy, but this kavanah of ‘Shevisi Hashem Lenegdi Samid’ is the ‘Holy of Holies’—for it is full of awe of G-d and acceptance of the yoke of G-d’s kingship and G-d’s exaltedness, thus to recognize G-d’s sovereignty in heaven and on earth and in all four directions of the universe. It is a two-edged sword to cut off the klippos (‘evil husks') and to purify the worlds…”
 – Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (author of “Kedushas Levi”)

“In my view, these straightforward kavanos are good indeed, thus to fulfill ‘I have set G-d before me constantly’ at the time of prayer. [This commentary] is full of awe of G-d and acceptance of the yoke of G-d’s kingship, which one should uphold all through the day, and all the more at the time of prayer. I have studied it entirely, and it is good…”
– Rabbi Yisrael ben Shabsai of Kozhnitz (author of “Avodas Yisrael”)

“It is hinted in the Tikuney Zohar in several places that that a Siddur with [these] kavanos would appear in the world in the time preceding the Redemption (‘be-ikvos meshicha’)…
– Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok ben Avraham Eliezer Halevi Horowitz (the “Chozeh” or Seer of Lublin)

“Not every mind is capable of contemplating the esoteric kabbalistic kavanos—but these kavanos of ‘Shevisi Hashem Lenegdi Samid,’ and fear of G-d and love of G-d, are incumbent upon allTherefore, I say to [the author], ‘Yeyashar koach (More power to you)!’ [This work] is fit to be published, and is appropriate for every Jew, to provide help and support and to confer merit upon the many…”

– Rabbi Azriel Halevi Horowitz of Lublin 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Two Teachings About the Sukkah



Two Teachings About the Sukkah
From the unpublished "Breslov Tehillim" (BRI)


Psalm 27

“Indeed, He will hide me in His shelter (sukkah) on a day of evil.” The sukkah shields a person on a day of evil. That is, when one falls away from Divine service, if he will only strengthen himself and not give up, he will find himself shielded and sheltered by an extremely lofty level of holiness: the aspect of the sukkah, which corresponds to the Supernal Mother.[1] This holiness will encompass him like a protective mother so that he does not fall, God forbid, when he comes to a place of danger. It is also understood from the words of [Rebbe Nachman] that when a person finds himself in a spiritual tailspin, in the very place he has fallen, the greatest holiness is concealed.[2] When he supplicates God and finds Him there, at that very hour he will attain the loftiest sanctity (LH, Rosh Hashanah 4:7).

Psalm 35

“All of my bones shall declare, ‘God, who is like You?’ ” The sefirah of Binah is the archetype of the mother; it is where the embryo is formed, as in the verse, “If (IM) you call to understanding (binah)” (Proverbs 2:3). [The word Im is homiletically related to EiM, meaning “mother.”] Binah is also an aspect of the mitzvah of Sukkah, as it is written, “You sheltered me (teSuKeini) in the womb of my mother (IMi)” (Psalms 139:13). When a person prays with intense concentration, and he puts all his force into the letters of prayer, this is an aspect of “All of my bones shall declare, ‘God, who is like You?’ ” This is analogous to the Sukkah, as it is written, “You encompassed me (teSoKhekheini) with bones and sinews” (Job 10:1). The letters of the prayers which one utters with all his might (KoaCh, which has the numerical value of twenty-eight) become the twenty-eight letters of the act of creation (i.e., the number of letters in the first verse of Genesis). Thus, his words are the very words of the Holy One, blessed be He, as in the verse, “I put My words in your mouth” (Isaiah 51:16). [Thus by virtue of prayer with intense concentration, one who prays becomes a “spiritual Sukkah” and an instrument of the Divine speech of creation] (LM I, 48).


[1] I.e., the sefirah of Binah/Understanding, which is the “mother” of the lower seven sefirot. Associated with the upper letter heh in the Divine Name YHVH, Binah also alludes to the ohr makif, or trancendent plane.
[2] Rebbe Nachman discusses this concept in Likutey Moharan I, 56. This is also related to the widely-discussed issue of the yeridah le-tzorekh aliyah, “descent for the sake of an ascent.” 

Chol ha-Mo’ed

Breslover Chassidim follow the view of the ARI zal and Baal Shem Tov, based on the Zohar and many Rishonim, not to wear Tefillin on Chol ha-Mo’ed. Reb Noson expounds upon this in Likkutei Halakhos.
(Re. the Baal Shem Tov, see Imrei Pinchos 751; Shivchei Baal Shem Tov 6; Shulchan ha-Tahor [Komarno], Hilchos Tefillin 31:1. Re. the Zohar, see Zohar Chadash, Shir ha-Shirim, 64b; also note Rabbi Chaim Vital, Sha’ar ha-Kavannos, Drushei Chazoras ha-’Amidah, Drush 2, 38b. Rishonim who take this position include: Tosefos on Menachos 36b; Teshuvos ha-Rashba and Ra’avad, as cited in Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 31:2. Cf. Likkutei Halakhos, Tefillin 6:4; ibid. Chol ha-Moed 1:3.)