Monday, February 22, 2021


The Rebbe taught: “Rejoicing and dancing on Purim makes us worthy of receiving the Torah anew, in both its revealed and hidden aspects.” He also discusses how clapping the hands and dancing mitigates harsh judgments.
(Likkutei Moharan I, 10:8)


Purim is one of the five times during the year that Breslover Chassidim are particular to daven together ki-vasikin, following the custom of the Baal Shem Tov.

Breslov Teachings On Purim

From the anthology Oztar HaYirah (Likutei Eitzos HaMeshulosh), Purim.

These selections are, in turn, from Reb Noson’s Likkutei Halakhos.
Translated by Dovid Sears

The Sitra D’Mosa [“Side of Death,” meaning the state of estrangement from God, Who is the source of life] is primarily derived from self-importance. This is the root of the klippah (“husk”)—the spiritual force that seeks to obstruct the light of holiness, associated with Haman and Amalek, the archenemies of the Jewish people. (4)


The main strategy of the klippah of Amalek is to attack the weak by convincing them that there is no hope, God forbid. [1] However, by finding the good point within yourself, even when you seem to be in a state of spiritual decline, you conquer Amalek. (1)


Through the simcha (joy) of Purim, it is possible to gain lofty perceptions— to attain "the ultimate knowledge, which is not-knowing." The seemingly opposite paradigms of "knowing" and "not knowing" coalesce and become one. Every trace of evil disappears, for at this exalted level, all is one, and all is good. (9)


When the holiness of Shabbos enters the world, the klippah of Amalek is subjugated. The Wine of Drunkenness, from which we refrain, is supplanted by the Wine of Joy. When we recite the Kiddush over wine, a spirit of holiness encompasses all the souls and holy sparks that were extricated from the realm of the klippos during the six days of the week, and now, with the advent of Shabbos, they ascend to their place of rest.

Their main path of ascent is through simchah (joy) and the Kiddush that we recite over the wine, which is an aspect of the Wine of Joy. Through this, our "hot blood" is tempered, and we can serve God with a heart inflamed with devotion.

This is why on Purim, which celebrates the extirpation of the seed of Amalek, it is a great mitzvah to drink wine to the point of intoxication. On Purim the wine is an aspect of the Wine of Joy, which destroys the klippah of Amalek; for the main downfall of Amalek is accomplished through simchah. (20)


The klippah of Amalek, which manifests itself as false wisdoms and heretical philosophies, derives from the Chalal HaPanui—the Vacated Space that precedes all creation.[2] Because of this precedence, it is axiomatic that on all levels of reality, “the klippah precedes the fruit.”

Thus Amalek is called reishis (the "first")— "Amalek was the first of nations" (Numbers 24:20); its power derives from the Vacated Space that precedes creation altogether. Analogously, Esau was born before his twin brother, Jacob, and was considered to be the firstborn son.

However, in truth, the holy transcends everything; God is the primordial reality, and God created the Vacated Space. Therefore, Israel, by power of their simple faith that God transcends and precedes everything, can ascend beyond all the wisdoms and heretical philosophies that come from the Vacated Space. This is why Israel is called the "firstborn," as the verse states, "My child, my firstborn, Israel" (Exodus 4:22), and why Jacob took the right of the firstborn from his brother, Esau, from whom Amalek descends.

This faith destroys the klippah of Haman and Amalek, and reveals the Song of the Future World. [3] (3)


On Purim a great and wondrous light shines forth that reaches the very depths of this lowly World of Action: the spiritual light of Mordechai and Esther. Just as gazing upon the face of the true tzaddik is spiritually transforming, [4] so is the experience of this lofty light. Through it, we attain humility and nullify our self-importance, which is the klippah of Haman and Amalek.

The reading of the Megillah in particular reflects this, for the light of the holy faces of Mordechai and Esther is hidden within the Megillah, the scroll that they composed. When we read their words in the Megillah, the light of their faces shines upon us, and it is as if we gazed upon them in person. Our higher consciousness becomes charged, as it were; our self-importance falls away, and we attain true humility. This is the eternal life of the World to Come.

Lowliness and the "pride" that derives from the side of holiness become as one, in keeping with the verse, "In the place you find His greatness, there you find His humility." [5] This fusion is the ultimate perfection of humility. Thus, on Purim our sages command us [6] to drink wine "until you do not know the difference between: Arur Haman (Cursed is Haman)," which corresponds to nullifying the ego," and “Baruch Mordechai (Blessed is Mordechai)," which corresponds to holy pride. This leads to true joy, the simchah of Purim. (5)


[1] The nation of Amalek attacked the weary and enfeebled Israelites on their journey through the wilderness, sexually abusing and dismembering their captives; see Rashi citing Midrash Tanchumah on Deuteronomy 25:17-19. Amalek is a symbol of human cruelty throughout rabbinic literature, much like the Nazis in the contemporary experience. On a deeper level, the Kabbalists point out that word Amalek bears the same gematria (numerical value) as sofek, meaning "doubt." Thus, the klippah of Amalek is the voice within us all that denies God and the true tzaddikim and simple emunah (faith).

[2] The Sefer Eitz Chaim of the Ari z"l begins with an abstruse account of the mysteries of creation: In the beginning, the Infinite Divine Light was omnipresent. When it arose within His will to create the universe, God constricted the light to the “sides” in all directions, leaving a Vacanted Space (Chalal HaPanui). Into this Vacated Space, God "beamed" a thread of the light that had been constricted; and from this thread of light all things, spiritual and physical, derive their existence. For a practical application of this teaching in divine service, see Likkutei Moharan I, 49.

[3] Likkutei Moharan I, 64.

[4] Likkutei Moharan I, 4.

[5] Megillah 31a.

[6] Megillah 7a. See Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 695:2 for the halachic parameters of this law, which are quite lenient in the case of a person who is weak, or otherwise incapable of drinking to the point of intoxication. This obligation does not apply to women.

Purim Mysteries

Rabbi Dovid Sears
Based on a discussion from

Q. While I was reviewing books on the subject of Purim, I ran across this teaching from Likutey Moharan II, 74: “Purim is a preparation for Pesach. Through the mitzvah of Purim we are protected from chometz on Pesach.”

In my own slow-paced learning of Likutey Moharan, I have not yet reached this lesson. I can’t say that I fully comprehend what Rebbe Nachman of Breslov is trying to teach us. I know that joy is the main aspect of Purim and that chometz symbolizes the character trait of arrogance. I don’t yet understand how the joy we experience on Purim helps protect us from arrogance.

A. Like most of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, this lesson is full of mysteries. This reflects Reb Noson’s words in his Introduction to Likutey Moharan, citing the Gemara (Chagigah 13a) that in mystical matters, one must simultaneously reveal and conceal. This is particularly true of Rebbe Nachman’s teaching style. So whatever we say must be understood as speculation only.

1) On a basic level, the Rebbe is expounding on the “coincidence” that in the Jewish calendar, Purim is followed by parshas Parah and then by Pesach, and he finds profound meaning in these connections. Even though the miracle of Purim took place more than one thousand years after the Exodus, the paradigm it represents “paves the way” for Pesach.

Rebbe Nachman states: “Through Purim, we are protected from chometz on Pesach.” Purim represents hidden miracles; Pesach represents open miracles. Purim shows us that what appears to be natural is truly supernatural. It elevates us above nature, above ego, and destroys Amalek, which represents sexual immorality (symbolized by the fact that the Amalekites sexually mutilated their victims) and disbelief (the word “Amalek” = gematria “sofek,” or doubt). Thus, Purim protects us from chometz, which variously represents ego, lust, and the illusion of nature as autonomous—the antithesis of Pesach.

2) Rabbi Borukh Ephraim of Homel, a student of the Tcheriner Rov and author of Be’ibey haNachal on Likutey Moharan, looks at this teaching from another angle. First let’s recap the original lesson in Likutey Moharan:

After Purim, we read parshas Parah, which is a preparation for Pesach. This is customary because when the Beis haMikdash still stood, we were required to eat the Korban Pesach in a state of taharah, purity from tumas mes (ritual defilement that comes from contact with the dead). This is attained through the ashes of the Parah Adumah, the Red Heifer. Today, lacking the Beis haMikdash and the ashes of the Parah Adumah, we cannot do so. However, in a spiritual sense we reenact this process every year beginning on Purim, when we commemorate the “pur” (pey-vav-reish), the lot that was cast concerning the fate of the Jews, after which Purim is named. Then a little later we read parshas Parah. Thus, the “pur” of Purim turns into the aspect of “Parah” (pey-reish, the root letters of “pur,” plus the letter “heh”), the Red Heifer. (Rebbe Nachman takes this connection of “pur” and “parah” from a teaching of the ARI zal in Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Purim 6, which is too complex for us to discuss here.)

The Rebbe finds an allusion to this idea in Shir haShirim: “Sifsosav shoshanim notfos mor ‘oveir … His lips are roses overflowing with myrrh.” “His lips” refer to Pesach, which the ARI interprets as “peh-sach,” a mouth that speaks (Sha’ar haKavannos, Inyan Pesach, Drush 3; Pri Etz Chaim, Sha’ar Chag haMatzos, Chap. 7. In other words, on Pesach we can now speak HaShem’s praises openly, as free men.) “Shoshanah” has the same gematria as “Esther,” thus it hints to the Purim story. And “mor” hints to Mordechai, whom the Gemara homiletically connects with the biblical phrase “mor d’ror,” flowing myrrh (Chullin 139b). The word “d’ror,” which literally means “free,” also alludes to Pesach, the Festival of Freedom.

This Purim-Pesach connection is further borne out by the verse: “Shivas yamim tokhal matzos ka’asher tzivisikha le-mo’ed chodesh ha-aviv ki vo yatzasa mimitzrayim ve-lo yeira’u fana’i reikam . . . Seven days you shall eat matzos as I have commanded you at the season of the month of Aviv [“springtime,” the biblical name for Nisan], for then you came out of Egypt; and you shall not appear before Me empty-handed” (Exodus 23:15). The initials of the five words “mi-mitzrayim velo yeira’u fana’i reikam” spell the word “Purim.” For Purim is the way to Pesach. Through it, one can be protected from chometz on Pesach…

Reb Noson, the editor of Likutey Moharan, mentions that at this point, the Rebbe paused and did not finish explaining this idea. Then the Rebbe added another cryptic remark: “At first, all beginnings were from Pesach; thus, all mitzvos are zekher le-yetziyas Mitzrayim, in commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. Ve-’achshav, and now…”

He stopped again, and did not finish.

The author of Be’ibey haNachal detects in the Rebbe’s words some amazing hints as to how the derekh of Breslov works today, after the Rebbe’s histalkus (ascent from the body). To sum up the gist of his remarks:

Nachman” is numerically equivalent to “Pesach” (148) – “ve-’achshav,” and now, we can all make a new beginning by going to the Rebbe’s holy burial place on Rosh Hashanah, which is so called because it is the “head” (rosh) and beginning of the year. Pesach is also a new beginning. Thus the lesson states that Purim is named after the “pur,” and subsequently turns into “parah,” which is spelled pey-reish-heh. These letters are the initials of Pesach (pey) and Rosh Hashanah (reish-heh), which together include all spiritual rectifications (tikkunim) (see Likutey Moharan I, 49). This is the aspect of the Parah Adumah, which “purified the impure, and contaminated the pure” (Rashi, Numbers 19:22, end). That is, when one comes to the cemetery, where the dead are buried, one contracts tumah. However, by reciting Tehillim and praying to Hashem from the depths of one’s heart – especially by reciting the ten psalms of the Rebbe’s awesome Tikkun haKlalli – one “purifies the impure.” This is accomplished by teshuvah, and by rectifying the spiritual damage one has caused, through the merit and power of the tzaddik who is buried there. Thus, one may make a new start in serving G-d, which is the aspect of Pesach and the Exodus, leaving one’s state of impurity and receiving the Torah anew. All this is accomplished through the holy grave of the Rebbe, whose name has the same gematria as “Pesach.”

This leads to our personal ge’ulah, our inner exodus from spiritual alienation, which is true slavery, to freedom from the ego and self-serving desires. This freedom is gained through the Torah.

3) Breslov tradition includes still another interpretation of this lesson from a different vantage point. According to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender (Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh VI, 233), the Breslover Chassidim of old used to say that the Rebbe gave us a precious piece of spiritual advice by concluding “ve-’achshav / and now…” That is, one can only serve Hashem in the present moment -- for the past is gone, and the future has not yet come, as the Rebbe states (Sichos haRan 288). Therefore, the present moment is all that truly exists.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Two Unifications

(Painting by Dovid Sears)

From Rabbi Shmuel Moshe Kramer’s Mayim Amukim on Likutey Moharan

Translated by Dovid Sears, with my comments in italics

In memory of my cousin and lifelong friend, Judd Magilnick: Yitzchak Zvi ben Yehoshua Moshe, a”h


Topic: Likutey Moharan, Part I, Lesson 13 (section 1):

For there is a Yichuda Ila’ah (Upper Unification) and a Yichuda Tata’ah (Lower Unification), which correspond to “Shema Yisrael” and “Baruch shem kevod malkhuso l’olam va’ed…”


“Shema Yisrael” is the scriptural verse that declares our faith in God’s unity (see Deuteronomy 6:4), while the declaration “Baruch shem kevod… (Blessed be the name of His Glorious kingdom forever and ever)” is recited by rabbinic decree immediately afterward, based on the Gemara in Pesachim (56a).


The Zohar (I, 18b, and elsewhere) relates the Upper and Lower Unifications to the Shema and Baruch Shem. This is discussed at greater length in the Tanya, Shaar HaYichud vi-ha-Emunah, especially in chapter 7.


Contemporary Breslov teacher Rabbi Moshe Kramer explains:

The “Shema” expresses our faith in God’s unity—that there is nothing but God (“ein ode milvado”), and nothing exists apart from God.


The simple sense of this verse (Deuteronomy 4:35) is that there is no other deity but the One God. However, the mystical reading of this verse is that in a profound sense, nothing exists but God. This is discussed in the writings of Rav Moshe Cordovero (though not citing this verse), the Maharal of Prague (Shabbos HaGadol drosha, published in some editions of his Haggadah), and the Shnei Luchos HaBris of Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, among many other sources, especially (but not exclusively) in Chassidic works.


And the entirety of creation is nullified to God, to the point that it cannot be named altogether, as was the case prior to creation. As we say in the Morning Prayer: “You are [God] prior to the creation of the world, and You are [God] following the creation of the world.’ This indicates the nullification of the existence all worlds to the Blessed One.


The plural term “worlds” primarily denotes the Four Worlds discussed in the Kabbalah: Emanation, Creation, Formation, and Action. But in this context, Reb Moshe also alludes to all levels of creation entirely, even those mysterious realms above these Four Worlds, which are sometimes described as “pure lights (tzachtzachos).”


Rav Kramer mentions that all creation is nullified to the extent that “it cannot be named altogether,” because the Lower Unification does reflect the concept of naming, as he will discuss.


As for the Yichuda Tata’ah, which is related to “Barukh shem kevod malkhuso l’olam va’ed,’ this indicates the Divine Kingship, and our faith that God fills all creation. For He creates, animates, governs, and oversees all the world; and [with this declaration, we affirm] our knowledge that God rules over all that exists, above and below. For “there is no king without a nation.”


This familiar saying is found in Rabbeinu Bachaya, and many other later sources, seemingly based on Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer, chapter 3 (though not precisely with this phrase).


 And God created the worlds “something from nothing” (ex nihilo), for the sake of His glory, as it is written, “For My glory I have created it…” (Isaiah 43:7). That is, [God created everything] for the purpose of revealing His Divinity in the midst of the worlds.


When we speak of God’s “glory” in this sense, we mean Divine illumination. As the Torah states, “And His glory … appeared at the summit of the mountain…” (Exodus 24:7), and “God’s glory filled the Mishkan (Exodus 40:35). This manifestation of God’s glory is for the purpose of our coming to know Him. As the Zohar states, everything exists for the purpose of coming to know God (‘b’gin d’ishtimodin lei”). And knowledge requires that there be a knower and a known. Hence this is described as a unification (yichud) of two things that had previously seemed to be separate from one another.


This is what is explained in the discourse (section 5), that Yichuda Ila’ah, the Upper Unification, is an aspect of Shabbos, while Yichuda Tata’ah, the Lower Unification, is an aspect of the Six Days of the Week.


For Shabbos alludes to the mystical “secret” of the cessation and nullification of [all] the worlds to the Blessed One. And this is a foretaste of the Shabbos of the Future—when there will be fulfilled, “And God will be exalted alone, on that day” (Isaiah 2:17). For then the truth will be revealed that “there is nothing but [God] alone,” and all existence is nullified to the Blessed One.


[This Lower Unification is related to] the six days of mundane activity, which represent the manifest reality of creation, its mode of conduct and its animating force, by means of the “garbing” of the Divine within it, through various “garments” and constrictions (tzimtzumim), until creation appears to be a separate thing and an autonomous existent.


This is the “secret” of the Thirty-Nine Melakhos (creative activities) of the Six Days of the Week, which [the Talmudic rabbis] derive from the labors associated with the building of the Mishkan, in an aspect of “the design of the Mishkan is modeled after the design of the Work of Creation” (Tikkuney Zohar, Introduction, 13a).


That is, our mundane labors, being related to the creative activities associated with the Mishkan and the Holy Temple, are symbolically a reflection of the Divine Work of Creation, concealed in our human labors. Thus, our weekday activities are also part and parcel of the Divine creative activity, which is a wondrous subject of contemplation.


These two unifications may be found on all levels. For it is known that concerning all spiritual levels, each level is comparable to the infinite (eyn sof) and the emanator in relation to the levels below itself, which are produced by it, and which are in the category of separate entities compared to [their higher level]. Therefore, the paradigm of these two unifications applies on all levels [of the cosmic hierarchy].


For all levels are null and void in comparison to the level above them, from which they are emanated. This is the paradigm of the Yichuda Ila’ah.


Thus, we may think of the Upper Unification as a spiritual elevation from “below to above.”


On the other hand, the higher level enlivens and presides over [the lower levels, in their devolution from their source], until they appear to be autonomous entities—except that the higher level [nevertheless] illuminates them, and imbues them with life, as is understood from our holy books.


This garbing of Divinity within the lower levels in the hierarchy of creation is the paradigm of the Yichuda Tata’ah. Thus, we may think of the Lower Unification as a spiritual descent from “above to below.”


Through these two unifications in particular, the Divine Glory is revealed—which is the ultimate purpose of creation. As our Sages state: “Everything that the Blessed One created, he only created for His Glory, as the verse states, ‘Everything that is called by My Name, I created for My Glory…’” (Pirkey Avos 6:12, citing Isaiah 43:7).


For with the Yichuda Ila’ah alone, there is no existent other than [God] whatever. In that case, to what and to whom would God reveal His Glory [i.e., illumination]? For “glory” applies only to [the relation between one being and] another; see Biur HaLikkutim on this lesson, section 19. And with the Yichuda Tata’ah alone, it would lead to an even greater degree of separation [from God] and concealment [of God].


Therefore, by combining these two unifications [related to the Shema and “Baruch shem…”], the glory of the name of His kingship is revealed: that God is the Creator, Who rules over and enlivens all the worlds, in order that it be known that “the Lord is God [HaVaYaH hu haElokim], and there is nothing else but Him.”


That is, the duality of the world we experience exists only for the sake of this wondrous “knowledge (da’as)” that the true reality is Divinity alone.




I would add that not only does this teaching provide us with kavannos, or meditative intentions, for reciting the Shema and Baruch Shem, but it gives us a perspective for everything we experience in everyday life. Both unifications are always present, if only we are attuned to them. Everything exists in a constant state of unity with God—and at the same time, everything possesses a degree of autonomy and selfhood sufficient for the recognition of the divine life that indwells within all the worlds and throughout the diversity of our experience. May we all attain this realization.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Yahrtzeit of HaRav Elazar Mordechai Kenig zt"l

Via Nachal Novea Mekor Chochmah:

The loss is still too fresh for Breslev Tsfat and anyone who was blessed to come into contact with the great Rav and Tzaddik, HaRav Elazar Mordechai Kenig, zt"l, who passed away exactly two years ago in the Holy City of Tsfat.

Fulfilling his father's directive, he accomplished so much during his life on behalf of Tsfat, Judaism, and Klal Yisrael. So many were touched and impacted by his presence, his endless blessings, prayers, tikkunim and miracles.

On any given day, there was usually a line of various types of people outside his door, waiting patiently for their turn to enter. During times like chol hamoed, or aseret yamei teshuva, a crowd would be packed into the small courtyard outside his front door. At times, it would overflow down the long steps into the courtyard below. Many were local Tsfat residents, some in his community, others not. Among the visitors, there were those who had heard of Rav Elazar and traveled great distances to see him. In some cases, they brought along a Hebrew or Yiddish-speaking translator. From the most secular to the most religious, many grasped a pidyon hanefesh in their hands—a small note with their Hebrew names and prayer requests, along with a sum for tzedaka.

Entering his modest home, visitors were struck by its simplicity and atmosphere of tachlis—getting down to the business at hand, whatever it was at the moment. This is because in Rav Elazar’s home, as well as anywhere else you may encounter him, he existed within the fullness of the moment.

Once in his receiving chamber, one might have expected more fanfare, more of an act, more ceremony. But there was none. Simply gazing into his eyes and taking in his voice, he would disarm you immediately with his straightforward manner. His communication was so real, without a trace of affectation. Perhaps the most startling aspect of the interaction is that he would listen in a way rarely experienced in today's technology-filled world. His quiet focused presence charged the air with electricity, all the while exuding profound yishuv hadaat, a settled and tranquil mind.

He might have asked a few introductory questions or just said, “What do you have to say today?” After listening intently, he would give solid advice and encouragement, inevitably ending with, "We'll remember you in our prayers." Sometimes these meetings are a mere few minutes, other times they would stretch to an hour or more, but the experience was always subtle yet transformative.

His dedication to every Jew was legendary. For example, families from the Tsfat community with children in tow, could wait alongside two secular Israeli business partners who made a special trip from Tel Aviv to receive advice on a business venture (and not their first visit). There were newly-religious young seminary women who would come in, one after another, with a translator, "What does HaShem want me to do in life?" they would ask. And this was the question which always brought a wide smile to Rav Elazar’s face and he would answer each one according to their unique circumstances.

Roshei Yeshiva from top yeshivas in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak would arrive in a special taxi to plead with Rav Elazar to send some of the famous “Tsfat bachurim” to their Yeshiva Gedola. The Tsfat bachurim were those students of the Yeshiva Ketana founded by Rav Elazar and which rapidly gained a reputation its sharp, sweet talmidim with the special "Tsfat derech eretz." Rav Elazar would say to them, “I will give you a few of my best, on the condition that you also take ‘Plony,’ who struggles in learning and comes from a broken home.” When the Rosh Yeshiva agreed, the deal would be sealed. There were also the many various public officials and heads of institutions in Tsfat and throughout the country, who would come for his advice and blessing. He received everyone, leaving them all with a renewed sense of direction and clarity.

Until his miraculous lung transplant in 2006 in New York, he was completely given over to anyone who came to his door or called him at any hour both in Tsfat and when he waited in Monsey for a new lung. In the period leading up to the procedure, he felt it was indeed the end, being dependent upon canisters of oxygen 24 hours a day. In the final moments before he received the call from the hospital that a donor had been located, he was unable to breathe, even with an oxygen mask. He thought that someone had accidentally turn off the oxygen flow, when in actuality, his one working lung was beginning to fail. He was rushed to the hospital by ambulance seconds after the timely call. The extraordinary details of his experience would fill volumes with tales of wondrous and inspiring emunah. After his miraculous recovery, he repeatedly said, "I am now only here for Am Yisrael." One wondered what exactly had changed from his previous devotion to bring every Jew closer to HaShem.

HaRav Elazar was only a young man of 35 years when he was thrust into the mantle of leadership of the Tsfat community upon the sudden passing of his father, the great tzaddik and gaon, Reb Gedaliah Aharon Kenig, zt"l. Reb Gedaliah was 59 years old when he left the world in 1980. Accompanied by his sons to the airport for a flight to England on what would be his final journey, Reb Gedaliah reportedly indicated to Rav Elazar that he should take over the fledgling Tsfat community. His sons were puzzled to hear such a disturbing instruction, but understood in the coming days its significance when word reached them that their father had returned his pure soul during a public address in Manchester on behalf of the holy city of Tsfat. His body was flown back to Eretz Yisrael and buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

Rav Elazar not only continued the work of his father but caused the materialization of a vision which many saw back then as impossible and unattainable. Today, any visitor to Tsfat can experience an exquisite Shabbat in a way unattainable anywhere else in the world, in the same city where L’Cha Dodi was composed along with the entire Kabbalat Shabbat liturgy used throughout the Jewish world. The intrinsic sanctity of the Holy City of Tsfat has come to life again.

On this day, we profoundly miss HaRav Elazar Mordechai Kenig, zt"l, yet are confident that he continues to daven for us on high and that his merit protects us all. Zecher tzaddik l'vrocha.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Chanukah Customs

Compiled and annotated by Dovid Sears and Dovid Zeitlin

This list of customs especially reflects those of Reb Gedaliah Kenig and the Tzefat Breslov community, although it includes a number of general Breslov customs, as well.


The Rebbe states: Through the mitzvah of the Chanukah lights, we come to recognize G-d’s Glory, which is elevated and magnified throughout the world. Those who are distant from holiness are awakened to return to G-d; and we attain awe of G-d, peace in our homes, and the power of prayer. All strife and evil speech are nullified, and universal peace spreads through all of the worlds.

(Likkutei Moharan I, 14)


He also states that through the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah lamp, we internalize holy da’as, which is the awareness of G-dliness. This is the paradigm of “good oil,” the paradigm of “remembrance.” That is, through the Chanukah lights we are privy to “remember” the World to Come -- the transcendental realm that is the point of origin of the soul and its ultimate destination -- even in the midst of this world.

(Ibid. I, 54)

The Chanukah Menorah

Reb Gedaliah Kenig was particular to use olive oil for lighting the Chanukah Menorah. This is the mitzvah min ha-muvchar, the optimal way to perform the mitzvah.

(See Rama on Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 673:1. However, wax or paraffin candles are also acceptable, as the Shulchan Arukh states.)


Most Menorahs have an extra place for a ninth light, set apart from the rest, called the “shamash.” In addition to this, Reb Gedaliah would use a second shamash, a wax candle, to light the wicks; and when finished, he would place it in a separate holder to the side of the Menorah. This seems to reflect a hiddur in halakhah, in that adding the light of the shamash prevents one from inadvertently making mundane use of the Chanukah lights.

(See Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 673:1 regarding the custom of lighting an extra candle)


The conclusion of the blessing before lighting the Menorah is "le-hadlik ner Chanukah," in keeping with the custom of the ARI zal. The initial letters of these three words spell the Divine Name "NaCHaL" (literally “river” or “brook”). Reb Noson homiletically relates this to the "Nachal Novea Mekor Chokhmah (A Flowing Brook, the Source of Wisdom)," a euphemism for the Rebbe. (The initial letters of this phrase from Proverbs 18:4 spell the name “Nachman.”)

(Cf. Rabbi Chaim Vital, Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chanukah, chapter 4, which explains that this Divine Name brings about an outflow of the supernal light of Binah to Ze’er Anpin; Reb Noson relates this to “Nachal Novea Mekor Chokhmah” in Likkutei Halakhos, Betzias ha-Pas 5:27; ibid. Kiddushin 2:3)


Reb Gedaliah did not wear Shabbos clothes while lighting the Chanukah Menorah (except on Erev Shabbos Chanukah and Motza’ei Shabbos Chanukah). However, some wear a bekitcheh in honor of Chanukah.

(This seems to have been the common custom among Russian and Ukrainian Chassidim, among others; e.g. Skver-Chernobyl, Chabad, Karlin-Stolin, Boyan-Rizhin, et al. However, many Hungarian Chassidim wear a shtreimel and bekitcheh while lighting the Chanukah Menorah; see Likkutei MaHaRiCH, Seder Dinei u-Minhagei Chanukah, p. 718.)


Reb Gedaliah would begin chanting “Ha-neiros hallalu…” after lighting the first candle, while the flame was starting to arise by itself.

(Reb Gedaliah’s custom reflects the view of the Shulchan Arukh, Magen Avraham, Elyah Rabbah, et al., and is similar to the custom followed by the communities of Karlin-Stolin, Lelov, and others; however, some begin “Haneiros hallalu” after the first candle is fully lit. Other communities, such as Chabad, Skver-Chernobyl, et al., follow the view of the Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham, et al., to begin after one finishes lighting all the candles; see Likkutei MaHaRiCH, Seder Dinei u-Minhagei Chanukah, p. 718.)


After reciting “Haneiros hallalu,” Reb Gedaliah would gaze at the lights in silence for approximately thirty minutes.


He would also sing Ma'oz Tzur, and recite Vi-hi Noam and Yoshev be-Seser seven times, followed by Lamenatze'ach be-Neginos, Ana be-Koach, and various zemiros. However, he always spent much time sitting and gazing at the lights in silence.

(The minhag to recite these psalms and zemiros is not unique to Breslov, but is common practice in many Chassidic communities; see Likkutei MaHaRiCH, Seder Dinei u-Minhagei Chanukah, p. 709.)


Reb Gedaliah would often learn Likkutei Moharan I, 3 (“Akrukta”) at this time, although he sometimes chose a different Chanukah Torah.

(Other Chanukah lessons include Likkutei Moharan I, 8, 14, 17, 30, 49; II, 2, 7)


Shabbos Chanukah was one of the three fixed times during the year when the Chassidim used to come to the Rebbe. In commemoration of this, some Breslover Chassidim today travel to Uman for Shabbos Chanukah. (However, the only time of year when it is obligatory for a Breslover Chassid to come to the Rebbe is Rosh Hashanah.)


Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender states that on Erev Shabbos Chanukah, the Breslover Chassidim in Uman would daven Minchah with a minyan earlier than usual, prior to lighting the candles.

(Si'ach Sarfei Kodesh IV, 255. This is consistent with Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 679:1, 2; also see Mishnah Berurah, ad loc.)


However the minhag of Yerushalayim, which is also the minhag of the Breslov community in Tzefat, is to light the Chanukah Menorah and Shabbos candles prior to Minchah, and then go to shul.

(Kitzur SheLaH, Hilchos Chanukah, s.v. “Ve-yesh le-hazhir” states that this is preferable to praying Minchah alone at home in order to maximize the time that the candles will burn. This custom probably reflects practical difficulties of going back and forth to the synagogue twice so close to Shabbos.)


In any case, the Chanukah Menorah should be lit before the Shabbos candles, and the candles should burn until at least 30 minutes after tzes ha-kokhavim (about 90 minutes after sundown in America, and somewhat less in Eretz Yisrael).

(Mishnah Berurah on Orach Chaim 679:2)


On Shabbos Chanukah, the psalms and zemiros usually recited and sung immediately after lighting the Menorah are sung during the evening meal.


Shabbos Chanukah is also the main time that the Tzefat chaburah gets together to rejoice as a community, including sharing a communal Melaveh Malkah. This was the focal point of Chanukah for the talmidim of the Rebbe and Reb Noson, as well.


On the eighth night of Chanukah, the yeshivah bochurim share a communal meal, accompanied by singing, divrei Torah, and joyous rikkudim. Rejoicing on “Zos Chanukah” is a minhag of the Baal Shem Tov, which is observed by many Chassidim. However, the Tzefat Breslov kehilllah does not do so as a whole. Rather, Shabbos Chanukah is the focal point of communal celebration.

(Sippurei Baal Shem Tov; also cf. Likkutei MaHaRiCH, Seder Dinei u-Minhagei Chanukah, p. 714)

“Chanukah Gelt”

It is customary to give extra tzedakah during the days of Chanukah. Reb Noson states that this is because during Chanukah, we are engaged in drawing the light of holy altruism into the world, as indicated by the verse “the tzaddik is beneficent and giving” (Psalms 37:21).

(Likkutei Halakhos, Birkhas ha-Mazon 3:16).


Reb Gedaliah used to give “Chanukah gelt” to his children on the last night of Chanukah (“Zos Chanukah”).

Nittel Nacht

Like all Chassidim, Breslovers do not study Torah from sundown until Chatzos on “Nittel Nacht.” Ideally, one should go to sleep as early as possible and arise to recite Tikkun Chatzos. However, Reb Gedaliah stated that if one remains awake, it is permissible to read the Rebbe’s Sippurei Ma’asiyos.
(Heard from Rabbi Chaim Man.)

Reb Noson's Yahrtzeit

On the evening of Asarah Be-Teves, Reb Noson's yahrtzeit is commemorated by lighting a 24-hour candle and sharing a communal meal. In some Breslov communities it is customary to read the description of Reb Noson's histalkus (passing from the world) from Alim le-Terufah (Jerusalem: Toras HaNetzach 2000 ed., pp. 913-918). It is also proper to study an additional portion of Reb Noson's teachings on his yahrtzeit, and to give tzedakah in his name according to one’s means.

(In English, see Rabbi Chaim Kramer, Through Fire and Water, Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute, Chapter 48)

Chanukah and Overcoming Avarice

Excerpt from "
Chanukah with Rebbe Nachman of Breslov":
Even someone who is supported by charity must beg or sell his clothing in order to buy Chanukah candles.


The history of mankind may be the story of the victory of the strong over the weak (war), of the many over the few (democracy), of the wicked over the innocent (crime), but the underlying dynamics of human history boils down to avarice. The rise and fall of nations may be connected with the strong the many, and sometimes the wicked, but the basic driving force for power is avarice.

The Greeks were no different, although they pursued their goals under the facade of "culture." in order to impose avarice upon the Jewish people, they issued three decrees: no Sabbath, no New Moon, and no circumcision.

The weekly Sabbath rest reminds the Jew that his sustenance comes from God. Observing the Sabbath thus precludes avarice, since it declares that no effort will help without God. The New Moon dictates the Jewish calendar, and subsequently the festivals. just as the Sabbath rest precludes avarice, so does observing the festivals. Circumcision signifies sexual purity, the lack of which induces avarice, because controlling one's passion for sexual gratification weakens the passion of avarice (Likutey Moharan I 23:2‑3; Likutey Halakhot, Aveidah u’Metziah 3:6).

Avarice defiles the mind. When one's mind becomes filled with thoughts of money, there is no room left for wisdom. Thus the Greeks defiled the Temple oil, because oil is symbolic of wisdom (ibid. 3:7).

Furthermore, the desire for money and material gain is really the source of all sadness. The more you want, the more you need, and the more you feel you lack. A criminal will rob and kill someone, in order to fill his perceived lack, and nations go to war for the same reason. Thus, those who succumb to avarice are surrounded by a dark cloud of moroseness (Likutey Moharan I, 23:1) – because they find no contentment in what they possess. Therefore, tradition says, the Greeks are compared to darkness (Bereishit Rabbah 2:4).

In order to counter avarice, in order to dispel these clouds of darkness, you must open your heart and hand (Likutey Moharan I, 13:1). You must become a fitting vessel for God through which to channel His boundless bounty. You must allow yourself to experience the gratitude that comes from accepting that bounty. Lastly, you must allow yourself to experience the love that comes from sharing your bounty.

Chanukah symbolizes this.

The victory was wrought through the priests. The priests symbolize charity, because they are given the priestly gifts that epitomize charity. So after Judah Maccabee—the priest led his army to victory, he donated all the spoils of war to charity (Yosefun).

To relive this victory over avarice, over the dark clouds of moroseness, we light our candles after sunset, rejoice, and give Chanukah gelt—charity (Likutey Halakhot, Aveidah u'Metziah 3:8).
In fact, so great was this miracle—the miracle of victory over avarice—that even someone who has nothing to give must beg or sell his belongings to purchase candles. That will be considered his charity.

Bringing Down the Light

Excerpt from "Bringing Down the Light":
Rabbi Ephraim ben Naftoli

Tefilot HaBoker:
Prayers of the Dawn, Tefilah 4

No matter to what depths we have fallen, the tzaddikim can rescue us by "shining" down the light of Divine perception to heal our souls.

Help us, O Lord our God, help us to receive the holiness of the days of Chanukah in sanctity and purity, and with true joy. Grant us the privilege of lighting the Chanukah candles every night, as You have commanded us through our holy rabbis of blessed memory—to begin by lighting one candle on the first night, and to add another candle on each succeeding night, until the eight days of Chanukah are complete. For You have already made known to us through our holy sages that through the holiness of the Chanukah candles, we imbue our minds with perceptions of Godliness. The
tzimtzumim (constrictions) of the Infinite Light which they represent produce the spiritual illumination transmitted by all holy lights and candles. This is the paradigm of “eliciting abundant holiness and igniting flames and radiant lights.”

Shine upon us the light of the holy anointing oil, enlightening us with perceptions of Godliness in a miraculous and wondrous way. Thus may we illuminate and kindle the holy candles which contain all spiritual unifications and transmissions of Divine consciousness, so that their light will reach even people like us who occupy the nethermost rung, which corresponds to “below ten handbreadths.”

Through the tikkunim of the miracle of Chanukah, may we too experience this light through the power of the preeminent tzaddikim who transmit perceptions of the supernal light to us, even in our lowly condition. They heal us from sicknesses of the soul which threaten to overwhelm us, to the point that “our souls abhor all food, and we have reached the gates of death.” For we know in our hearts how fiercely these sicknesses attack us, and how every day our souls grow weaker, due to the multitude of our sins. However, in Your great mercy, You ennoble us with the holiness of this awesome mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles. Through this mitzvah, the true tzaddikim transmit the radiance of Divine perception even to such spiritual invalids as us, and they bring down this lofty light into the darkness that pervades our bodies because of our evil deeds. These tzaddikim “shine” to us, so that we might take to heart their holy words; they enliven us with their words, and in so doing, transmit the holy light of the Chanukah candles to the depths of darkness.

May we firmly believe that without a doubt, we can go forth from darkness to light with this mitzvah, in the merit of the true tzaddikim who illuminate the earth and all who dwell upon it! Fulfill in us the verses: “Even when I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I shall not fear evil, for You are with Me.” “Though I sit in darkness, God is a light unto me.”

Instill compassion into the hearts of the true tzaddikim toward the entire Jewish people and toward me, so that they will mercifully draw all of us closer. May they lower themselves to our level, shine their lights upon us, and reveal flashes of Divine perception, even to people like us, and may they succeed in healing our souls. May they fulfill the mitzvah of visiting the sick by attending our ailing souls every day! Thus they will give us,new life and revive us with spiritual delicacies, until we finally return to You in perfect teshuvah when we accept and follow all their holy advice, which is a powerful remedy for our souls.

Illuminate our souls with the wondrous radiance of Divine perception in the aspect of Chanukah! Revitalize our wisdom in holiness, and grant us life from the Light of the Face as a result of our rejoicing in the mitzvot. Gather together the mitzvot that we perform on the Three Pilgrim Festivals and in their merit, may we participate in the rededication of the Holy Temple, which is the channel for the illumination of the Light of the Face!

“The Light of Your Face, O Master, lift up to us.” “May God favor us and bless us; may He cause His Face to shine among us, selah.” “Shine Your Face upon Your servant; save me in Your kindness,” so that through the lighting of the Chanukah candles I will be privileged to draw the Light of the Face from the Holy Temple in order to enliven the sefirah of Malkhut, and thereby receive perceptions of Godliness.

“Let Your Face shine upon Your servant, and teach me Your ordinances.” “And every created thing shall know that You created it, and every formed thing shall understand that You formed it; and everything that possesses the breath of life in its nostrils shall declare: The Lord, God of Israel is King, and His dominion extends over all!”

In Your mercy, grant us the opportunity to give tzedakah, especially during the days of Chanukah, so that through us Your Face will shine. And by virtue of the tzedakah that we give to the poor when they come to our homes, may we receive the Light of the Face of the Living King.

In the merit of this tzedakah, may we draw closer to the true tzaddikim who reveal Your light by making the necessary tzimtzumim and vessels to illuminate even our souls, which are so far from holiness that by right we should be treated as outcasts. Nevertheless, with great self sacrifice, they labor all their days out of compassion for us and for all Israel — even those who are most distant—in order to bring us closer to God. They reveal new and wondrous tzimtzumim by which it is possible to reach anyone who wishes to enter the realm of holiness.

Have mercy on us and allow us to come close to tzaddikim like them. In Your mercy, put an end to the dispute, which was produced by our sins, surrounding those tzaddikim who strive to reach out to us. For this is why there is such great opposition to them, even from other great tzaddikim: The Divine attribute of judgment garbs itself in these opposing tzaddikirn because of their fierce holiness, which prevents them from being able to tolerate the world, due to our transgressions and unworthy deeds.

Although the truth is with them, You have already made known to us that in Your beneficence, You do not desire to reject us, God forbid. On the contrary, You always wish to judge us favorably, despite the foulness of our sins. You always wish to show compassion toward us, even to the “worst of the worst.” Therefore You create ways of fixing our damage, and garb the lights of holiness in such wondrous garments and constrictions that these lights can shine to us as well.

Thus the tzaddikim. continue to transmit the Divine light to lower levels, in increasing degrees of holiness, more and more every day, and they continue to elevate all fallen souls, imbuing them with perceptions of Godliness through holy tzimtzumim, until finally they will heal all afflicted souls in the world. Therefore have mercy on us and abolish all strife surrounding these true tzaddikim, and allow us to draw close to them. Let them remove all the shame and disgrace that has befallen us due to our sins, bring us back in complete teshuvah, and draw us close to You in truth!

The Mysterious Guest

Painting by Francisco de Goya

The Mysterious Guest
Chayey Moharan, Sippurim Chadashim (“New Stories”) 85
Translation and Commentary by Dovid Sears

On the first day of Chanukah 5569/1808, in the evening after lighting the first candle. Rabbi Nachman told this story:

A visitor came into a house and asked the head of the house, “From where do you obtain a living?”

"I don’t have a steady livelihood at home,” his host replied. “However, the world provides me with what I need to live.”

The guest asked him, “What do you study?”

The host answered him.

They continued conversing, until soon they were engaged in a true heart to heart discussion. 

The host began to feel an intense longing and yearning to reach a certain level of holiness. “I will teach you,” said the guest.

The host was surprised. He began to wonder, “Maybe this isn’t a human being at all!” However, he looked again, and saw that the guest was talking to him like a human being.

Immediately afterward he had a strong sense of faith, and he resolved to believe in him. He started calling him “my teacher,” and said to him, “First of all, I would like to ask you to teach me how to conduct myself with due respect toward you. Not, I scarcely need add, that I could actually detract from your true honor, God forbid; but even so, it is hard for human beings to be as meticulous as they should be in these matters. That is why I would like you to teach me how to behave with due respect.”

“For the moment, I don’t have the time,” he replied. “Another time I will come and teach you this. Right now I must go away from here.”

“I also need to learn from you about this,” said the host. “How far must I go when I accompany you on your way, as a host is obligated to do when his guests depart?”[I]

“Until just beyond the entrance,” he replied.

The host began to think to himself, “How can I go out with him? Right now I am with him among other people. But if I go out with him alone—who knows who he is?” He questioned him and then told him, “I’m afraid to go out with you.”

“If I can learn with you like this,” the visitor retorted, “then now, too, if I wanted to do something to you, who would stop me?”

The host went with him beyond the entrance. All of a sudden, the visitor seized him and began to fly with him!

It was cold for the host, so the other took a garment and gave it to him. “Take this garment,” he said, “and it will be good for you. You will have food and drink and everything will be good, and you will live in your house.” And he flew with him.

In the midst of this, the host gazed, and suddenly he was in his house. He couldn’t believe his own eyes that he was in his house; but he looked, and there he was, speaking with people, and eating and drinking in a normal manner. Then he looked back, and lo and behold, he was flying, as before. Then he looked back and he was in his house. This went on for a long time.

After awhile, he flew down to a valley between two mountains. There, he found a book which contained various combinations of letters: alef, zayin, chet, which is dalet, etc. Vessels were depicted in this book, and inside the vessels were letters. Moreover, inside the vessels were the letters of the vessels, by which one could create such vessels. He felt an intense desire to study this book. 

In the midst of this, he gazed, and lo and behold, he was in his house. Then he gazed, and there he was, in the valley.

He made up his mind to climb the mountain; perhaps he would find an inhabited place there. When he came to the mountain, he saw a golden tree with golden branches standing there. Hanging from the branches were vessels like those depicted in the book, and within those vessels were other vessels by which one could create such vessels. He wanted to take some of the vessels away from there, but he was unable to do so, for they were inextricably entangled in the branches.

In the midst of this, he gazed - and lo and behold, he was in his house. This was most amazing to him. How was this possible? How could he be both here and there at the same time? He wanted to discuss this with other human beings, but how could one speak about such an astounding phenomenon to other people, something that they surely would not believe?

In the midst of this, he looked out the window and saw the same guest. He started begging him to come to him. However, the guest replied, “I don’t have time, because I am on my way to you!”

“This itself is a wonder in my eyes!” he cried. “Look, I am right here—what do you mean, that you are on your way to me?”

The guest explained, “The moment you decided to come with me, to accompany me beyond the doorway, I took the neshamah (higher soul) from you and gave you a garment from the Lower Garden of Eden.[II] The nefesh (vital spirit) and ru’ach (lower soul) remain with you. Therefore, whenever you attach your thoughts to that place, you are there, and you draw an illumination from that place to yourself. And when you return here—you are here!”

I do not know which world he is from, but this much is certain: it is a world of good.

So far, it is not over, it is not finished.


Before we start skating on thin ice, it must be said that there are no classical commentaries on this story in the Breslov literature. Therefore, all of our remarks are speculative. No doubt, the story lends itself to many other lines of interpretation, as well.

Guest and Host/Ohr Makif and Ohr Pnimi

The “mysterious guest” has at least two levels of meaning: most obviously, he represents the tzaddik. He also represents the ohr makif, or “encompassing light,” which in general alludes to the sefirah of Binah.[III] This is the level of perception or being that is perpetually beyond one’s grasp - for as soon as it is internalized, another ohr makif takes its place.[IV] Thus, Binah is in a constant state of flux.

The Baal Shem Tov relates Binah to orei’ach, the Hebrew word for guest.[V} Orei’ach (spelled alef-vav-resh-chet) can be divided into ohr-chet, meaning “light of eight.” This alludes to the eighth sefirah in ascending order, which is Binah. Whenever one shows hospitality, this creates a channel for internalizing the light of Binah:

The Baal Shem Tov, taught: When a guest arrives, he brings his host Torah insights - for the Torah insights the host receives from Above correspond to the nature of his guests.[VI]

The guest is a vehicle for the ohr makif. However, every level of perception is an ohr makif in relation to the level below it, which is called ohr pnimi, the “inner” or “manifest light.” The ohr pnimi corresponds to the host.

Sixteenth century kabbalist Rabbi Chaim Vital explains that the light of the Chanukah lamp represents Binah, the transcendent level, as it illuminates Z’er Anpin, or “Small Face,” the structure comprising the six lower sefirot that animate the natural order.[VII] In less technical language, a ray of the limitless “shines” into the finite. Rebbe Nachman’s allegory of the guest and the head of the house alludes to this kabbalistic model, as well.

“From where do you obtain a living?”

The guest inquires as to the host’s source of livelihood. This is because the tzaddik is the parnes, provider of sustenance. Thus the guest, who represents the tzaddik, is entitled to ask his host this question.

Only two biblical figures are explicitly called “tzaddik”: Noah and Joseph. The Midrash explains that both deserved this title because they provided others with food.[VIII] In Noah’s case, he fed the entire world in his ark until the floodwaters subsided; in Joseph’s case, he provided grain to all Egypt and surrounding lands. Similarly, the Talmudic tzaddik Rabbi Chanina confered his great spiritual merit upon the world so that all creatures might receive sustenance, even those deemed completely unworthy.[IX]

Rebbe Nachman deals with this concept of the tzaddik as provider in many teachings, especially Likutey Moharan II, 7 (“For a Compassionate One Shall Lead Them”). There he states that the world receives livelihood by virtue of the tzaddik, albeit through the fusion of two levels inherent within him. The higher is represented by the tzaddik’s “son”; the lower is represented by the tzaddik’s “disciple.” However, these terms are mean to be taken more symbolically than literally. The perception of the son is expressed by the Ministering Angels who ask: “Where is the place of His glory?”—indicating the transcendent level, the aspect of “not knowing,” the ohr makif/encompassing light. The perception of the disciple is related to the antithetical declaration, “His glory fills the world” - indicating the immanent level, “knowledge of God,” the ohr pnimi/inner light.

In truth, these two perceptions are one, and each completes the other. Those in the category of the “son,” who have attained the higher level (“Where is the place of His glory?”), must be protected from total self-nullification in God’s transcendent aspect. They are like holy moths that would readily self-destruct in their desire to reach the light. The knowledge that “His glory fills the world” grounds them, creating the possibility of a perception of God. Thus, they may experience the mystic’s awe before the infinite mystery of the Divine.

Those in the category of the “disciple,” who occupy the lower level (“His glory fills the world”), are protected from total self-nullification in God’s immanence. They are like people who immerse in the mikveh (ritual bath) and stay under the water too long. These “disciples,” too, must experience awe of God, because the trace of wonderment they are granted—the admixture of “Where is the place of His glory?”—creates the existential distance needed for their perception. Otherwise, everything becomes “white on white,” lacking all contrast.

Thus, process and spiritual growth are made possible through this fusion of the perceptions of God’s transcendence and immanence; and livelihood is drawn forth to the world from the tzaddik who has grasped the secret of this dualism, and as such, serves as the channel for God’s will to continually create and sustain the world. This is the concept of “tzaddik yesod olam . . . the tzaddik is the foundation of the universe” (Proverbs 10:25).

“The world provides me with what I need to live”

Because the ohr pnimi derives its life force from the ohr makif, the host actually receives his livelihood from the guest. However, the host remains unaware of this. All he knows is that somehow his needs are fulfilled. Thus, he replies, “I don’t have a steady livelihood at home, but the world provides me with what I need to live.”

This answer suggests that either the host lacks initiative, or he fails to appreciate the true source of his sustenance, or both. In Likutey Moharan II, 7, the lesson cited above, Rebbe Nachman says that to be a provider, one must have a certain malkhut, a certain authority (although he seems to use the term in more than one sense), adding “one can’t be a shlimazal”—an incompetant person, or a “loser.” If so, what is our host? What is he telling us about himself with his vague reply? At this point in his life, at least, he seems to be a passive sort of fellow. 

This alludes to the paradigm of how the world was sustained prior to the Giving of the Torah. Rebbe Nachman states in Likutey Moharan II, 78, that before the Torah was given, humanity was involved only in derech eretz, mundane pursuits. From this, the Midrash infers, “Derekh eretz (which can also mean simple human decency) preceded the Torah.”[X] Since the Torah is the source of life—as it is written, “For they [i.e., the commandments] are your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:20)— from whence did the world derive its sustenance? The answer: from God’s gratuitous kindness.

The Talmud states that the twenty-six generations prior to the Giving of the Torah correspond to the twenty-six repetitions of the refrain “for His kindness is everlasting” in Psalm 136.[XI] However, the Torah certainly existed prior to its revelation; indeed, the Midrash tells us that all things came into being through the Torah, which preceded creation.[XII] The Torah was merely hidden. And where was it hidden? In the Ten Creative Statements recounted in the first chapter of Genesis, with which God continually animates the universe.[XIII] Thus, our host says that he is sustained “by the world,” that is, by the Torah that is hidden in the world, although he does not yet perceive it.

In this lesson, Rebbe Nachman also identifies the tzaddik as the channel for sustenance. He is the holy “prustok” (peasant or simpleton) who at times must desist from studying or fulfilling the commandments of the Torah in order to engage in worldly activities. At such times he receives vitality from what the Midrash calls the “Treasury of Unearned Gifts,” the gratuitous kindness with which God sustained the world prior to the Giving of the Torah.[xiv] Then he, in turn, can confer this gratuitous kindness upon the true simpletons—the rest of us in our present unenlightened state, enabling us to survive until we, too, become worthy of receiving life directly from the holiness of the Torah.

Perhaps the guest in our Chanukah story is the holy prustok, and the host represents the spiritually benighted masses that unwittingly receive life and sustenance through him. This is what gives the guest the “right” to inquire as to his host’s means of livelihood. The guest wants him to realize that he is being sustained by the tzaddik who is privy to God’s Treasury of Unearned Gifts.

“What do you study?”
Torah study, too, is the guest’s business, inasmuch as it reflects the influence of Binah/Understanding. The first letter of the Written Torah is the bet of Bereshit (“In the Beginning”); the last letter is the lamed of Yisrael (“Israel”). Together, they spell lev (heart), which the Zohar designates as the seat of Binah/Understanding.[xv]

A heart-to-heart discussion
It is said: “Words that come from the heart, enter the heart.”[xvi] Because the guest/tzaddik personifies the heart, he can reach the heart of the other. He channels the ohr makif into the heart of the host, who reciprocates by expressing his longing for greater levels of illumination. This is one of the main benefits of our attachment to tzaddikim.

Rebbe Nachman once observed, “I have three types of followers: those who come for my shirayim (leftovers);[xvii] those who come to hear my Torah teachings; and those who are ‘baked’ in my heart.”[xviii] Of course, every aspiring follower wants to be in the last category. But how can this be accomplished? Say the Breslover Chasidim, “When the Rebbe is ‘baked’ in our hearts!” This is implied by the “heart-to-heart discussion” in our story.

The host began to feel an intense longing and yearning to reach a certain level of holiness

This arousal is due to influence of the guest, who has put the host in touch with the deepest will of the heart: longing and yearning for the holy.

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[i] Sota 46b. Tanna D’vei Eliyahu Zuta 16:43 states that a disciple who escorts his Torah teacher receives divine blessing. The same text adds (16:46) that when one escorts a traveler embarking on a journey, the traveler will be protected from harm.
[ii] The Zohar (I, 138a) describes the Garden of Eden as having a higher level for the neshamah, which is the seat of thought, and a lower level for the ru’ach, the seat of the emotions.
[iii] See Rabbi Avraham ben Nachman, Kokhvei Ohr, Chokhmah u-Binah, who associates Rebbe Nachman’s teachings with the sefirah of Binah.
[iv] Likutey Moharan II, 7:6.
[v] Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Vayeira, 4, citing Toldot Yitzchak, Likutey ha-Shas.
[vi] Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudylkov, Degel Machaneh Ephraim, Vayeira.
[vii] Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar Chanukah, 4. The three “upper” sefirot are Chokhmah / Wisdom, Binah / Understanding, and Da’at / Knowledge, corresponding to three aspects of the mind. The six “lower” sefirot are: Chesed/Kindness; Gevurah/Strength; Tiferet/Beauty or Harmony; Netzach/Eternity or Victory; Hod/Splendor; and Yesod/Foundation; corresponding to the two arms, torso, genitals, and two legs. The seventh and last sefirah is Malkhut / Kingship, which is a partzuf unto itself, corresponding to the feminine archetype. 
[viii] Tanchuma, Noach, 5.
[ix] Ta’anit 24b; cf. Rabbi Yisrael of Koznitz, Avodat Yisrael, Likkutim, Ta’anit.
[x] Leviticus Rabbah, 9:3.
[xi] Pesachim 118a.
[xii] Genesis Rabbah 1:2, 8:2; Zohar I, 134a, II, 161a‑b.
[xiii] This idea echoes a fundamental Chasidic teaching. On the verse, “Forever, O God, Your word stands in the heavens” (Psalms 119:89), the Baal Shem Tov explains that “Your word” alludes to the Ten Creative Statements that bring the universe and all it contains into existence. If the “letters” of these divine statements were to depart for even a moment, everything would revert to nothingness; see Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, Sefer ha-Tanya, Sha’ar ha-Yichud vi-ha-Emunah, chap. 1; Rabbi Chaim of Chernowitz, Be’er Mayim Chaim, Bereshit, s.v. bereshit bara, 7.
[xiv] Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:1; Tanchuma, Va’eschanan, 3; cf. Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, Ohr Yakar, Vayelekh, 1:15 (p. 27), who relates the “Treasury of Unearned Gifts” to the sefirah of Keter.
[xv] Tikkuney Zohar, Hakdamah, “Patach Eliyahu.”
[xvi] A rabbinic maxim quoted by Rabbi Moshe Ibn Ezra, Shirat Yisrael, p. 156.
[xvii] Based on earlier rabbinic precedents, it is customary for a Chasidic Rebbe to distribute to his followers portions of the foods from which he has partaken. These leftovers are known as “shirayim.” This communal eating creates a spiritual bond among the participants, causing the holiness of the tzaddik to extend to all, bringing healing and blessing; see Rabbis Mordechai Scharf and Yisrael Menachem Mendel Brecher, Yesod Olam, 11:5-7, citing various sources.
[xviii] Oral tradition cited by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender, Si’ach Sarfey Kodesh, vol. II, 1-102.