Monday, April 5, 2021

Breslov Pirkei Avos

Since it is customary to study a chapter of Pirkey Avos each Shabbos afternoon between Pesach and Shavuos, we plan to post an excerpt from the Breslov Research Institute anthology each week for the next six weeks. (The BRI translations reflect the Sefardic pronunciation of Hebrew, unlike most of the postings on this website.) These excerpts are just what caught our eye as we looked over the book. There are many inspiring and profound teachings on virtually every page. From Pirkey Avot, Chapter 1 1:4

יוֹסֵי בֶּן יוֹעֶזֶר אִישׁ צְרֵדָה וְיוֹסֵי בֶּן יוֹחָנָן אִישׁ יְרוּשָׁלַיִם קִבְּלוּ מֵהֶם. יוֹסֵי בֶן יוֹעֶזֶר אִישׁ צְרֵדָה אוֹמֵר, יְהִי בֵיתְךָ בֵּית וַעַד לַחֲכָמִים, וֶהֱוֵי מִתְאַבֵּק בַּעֲפַר רַגְלֵיהֶם, וֶהֱוֵי שׁוֹתֶה בַצָּמָא אֶת דִּבְרֵיהֶם:

Yose ben Yoezer of Tzereidah and Yose ben Yochanan of Jerusalem received the tradition from them. Yose ben Yoezer of Tzereidah said, “Let your house be a meeting place for the wise, sit in the dust at their feet, and drink in their words thirstily.” 

Digest of Commentaries: Following Antignos of Sokho, the era of the Zugot (“Pairs”) began. From that time on, for almost three hundred years, there were always two Sages at the helm of the Jewish tradition. The leader of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court) was called the Nasi (“Prince" or "President”). Second to him was the Av Bet Din (“Chief Justice”). Yose ben Yoezer was the Nasi and Yose ben Yochanan was the Av Bet Din. Both were disciples of Antignos of Sokho. Accordingly, a variant text states that they "received the tradition from him." But others maintain that they “received the tradition from them”—that is, from Shimon HaTzaddik, and subsequently, from Antignos (Tosefot Yom Tov). 

A meeting place for the wise Rebbe Nachman once remarked, “What most inspired me to devote myself to serving God in truth was hearing stories about tzaddikim.” He explained that many great tzaddikim used to visit his parents’ house, which had once been the home of the Baal Shem Tov (Rebbe Nachman’s maternal great-grandfather). These illustrious Chassidim would come frequently to Medzeboz to pray at the Baal Shem Tov’s grave, and on their way most of them would visit Rebbe Nachman’s parents. Thus during his youth, the Rebbe came to hear their stories, which awakened in his soul the burning desire to serve God and to strive for the highest spiritual levels (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #138). 

A meeting place for the wise Reb Noson: The Torah verse that commands us to affix a mezuzah to our doorposts—“You shall inscribe these [words] on the doorposts of your house” (Deuteronomy 6:9) – begins in the second-person plural but ends in the second-person singular. The mezuzah, which declares God’s Oneness—“Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One” (ibid., 6:4)—makes each house into a place where diverse viewpoints within the Torah can be brought together in unity and peace. Therefore Pirkey Avot states, “Let your house be a meeting place for the wise.” This suggests a home in which sages gather in order to find ways to solve the problems of society. Each sage expresses his opinion according to his way of thinking, after which compromises are sought between opposing views and resolutions are passed. This is the main purpose of a house being called "a meeting place" (bet va’ad). Every Jewish home must serve as “a meeting place for the wise” as well. That is, every Jewish home must be imbued with the same spirit of peace and harmony which emerges from the debate of true sages who seek to benefit the world. For true sages know and believe – even when expressing their differences – that, in fact, everything is one, as the mezuzah attests (based on Likutey Halakhot, Mezuzah 4:5). 

Growth through struggle Reb Noson: One must "sit in the dust" at the feet of the tzaddikim, for it is impossible to enter the realm of holiness except through suffering and struggle. These difficulties humble us [like the lowly dust], while at the same time strengthening our resolve. Thus we may become fit vessels to receive the wisdom that the tzaddikim wish to impart (Mili D’Avot based on Likutey Halakhot, Minchah 7:92). 

Sit in the dust at their feet Reb Noson: The truth is extremely difficult to clarify. It requires a lifetime of diligent effort to distill even a small part of the truth. For the essence of truth in its fullness cannot be revealed until the End of Days; at present we can glean only a certain aspect of the truth, in accordance with our abilities and efforts. For example, in the study of Torah, one person may merit to clarify certain laws while another may clarify other laws. But even this cannot be to the fullest extent, for “There is no law or teaching that is perfectly clear in any one place,” as our Sages state (Shabbat 138b-139a). Nevertheless, we must engage in the work of birur (“clarification”) and exert ourselves to study the Torah so that we can accomplish our share in this great task, be it large or small. This applies to every aspect of Torah study, from the sublime to the mundane, from its esoteric teachings to its legal pronouncements—and even more so to the fulfillment of the Torah in action, which is the main objective. This also applies to the study of classical ethical texts which contain important advice and practical strategies to help us fulfill the Torah and remain faithful to the point of truth within each of us. Such study is extremely deep and cannot be grasped except through strenuous effort and by “sitting in the dust at the feet” of the true sages. If we do so, we will surely succeed in fulfilling our share of the truth, according to our abilities (Likutey Halakhot, Shevuot 2:26). * Reb Noson: It is essential to "sit in the dust at the feet" of those who have attained true simplicity and purity of heart. Therefore we must endeavor to be accepted into a yeshivah [literally, “Torah academy,” but in this context, the spiritual fraternity of disciples] of a true tzaddik who can give us the instruction we need to fulfill the Torah. Such a place of study will restore in us true faith in God and extricate us from the depths into which we may have fallen. Therefore if we truly care about our lives, we must set out in search of a yeshivah of a true tzaddik in order to attain perfect faith, fulfill the Torah, and save ourselves from drowning in the depths. Such yeshivot have always existed since the days of our forefathers. Jacob was called “a simple man, dwelling in tents” (Genesis 25:27)—these "tents" were the holy yeshivot of Shem and Eber, where Jacob learned the ways of simplicity and truth, thus becoming a “simple man” (Likutey Halakhot, Nezikin 5:11).

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