Monday, April 26, 2021

Pirkey Avos Chapter 4

This sample from the Breslov Pirkey Avot corresponds to the chapter to be studied this coming Shabbos, parshas Emor. (Unlike most postings on this website, transliterations from Hebrew in this book reflect the Sefardic pronunciation.)


רַבִּי יַעֲקֹב אוֹמֵר, הָעוֹלָם הַזֶּה דּוֹמֶה לַפְּרוֹזְדוֹר בִּפְנֵי הָעוֹלָם הַבָּא. הַתְקֵן עַצְמְךָ בַפְּרוֹזְדוֹר, כְּדֵי שֶׁתִּכָּנֵס לַטְּרַקְלִין:

Rabbi Yaakov said, “This world is like an antechamber before the World to Come. Prepare yourself in the antechamber, so that you may enter the banquet hall.”

Digest of Commentaries:

Prepare yourself in the antechamber – that is, prepare yourself with good deeds in this world – so that you may enter the banquet hall – symbolically, the life of the World to Come. Likewise, our Sages commented on the verse, “'You are to keep the commandments and the statutes and the laws which I command you today, to fulfill them' (Deuteronomy 7:11) – ‘Today, to fulfill them’ – for you cannot perform them tomorrow; ‘today, to fulfill them’ – for tomorrow is designated for receiving their reward” (Eruvin 22a).

Prepare yourself in the antechamber 

Reb Noson: In order to perceive the light of God in the World to Come, you must first seek His light within the constraints of this world – in every day and every moment! (Likutey Halakhot, Birkhot HaRei’yah ve-Sha’ar Berakhot Pratiyot 5:11) 

According to Breslov tradition, “Prepare yourself in the antechamber” also alludes to the days of one's youth. One must be careful during his childhood and teenage years in all his activities, habits and ways, so that when he grows older and matures, he will be a person of refined character. Then, during the difficult years of old age, he will not succumb to any sort of spiritual decline. This has been borne out by experience. Those who exert themselves diligently in their youth and devote themselves to serve God typically hold their ground and continue to advance, even into their old age (Siach Sarfey Kodesh V, 419).

At the Peak of His Powers 

Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz (1862-1955) was a great-grandson of Reb Noson and a grandson of Rabbi Nachman Goldstein, the Tcheriner Rav; he was raised by the latter in Tcherin after his mother passed away when he was a young boy. A child prodigy, Reb Avraham applied himself diligently to his studies and finished the entire Talmud for the second time before his marriage at the age of eighteen. Shortly afterward, he was appointed as Rav of the Breslov community in Kremenchug. 

It is said that during his youth, Reb Avraham used to seclude himself in the synagogue and memorize Likutey Moharan and numerous sections of Likutey Halakhot, some of which are as long as seventy sections. In his later years, he was able to quote these lessons at length without looking at a printed book, to the amazement of his disciples. 

One Rosh HaShanah when Reb Avraham was already in his eighties, he walked down the steep slope beside the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Meron to perform Tashlich (the rite of symbolically casting away one’s sins). However, he was physically unable to climb all the way back up to the synagogue. So he simply recited an entire discourse from Likutey Moharan right then and there on the hillside, and completed the rest of the climb when he was finished! (heard from Rabbi Elazar Mordechai Koenig).

Praying By Heart 

Another outstanding Breslov leader was Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Bender (1897-1989), who survived the Stalinist purges in the Ukraine and arrived in Jerusalem in 1946, where he emerged as the central figure in the Breslov Meah She'arim community. It is well-known how Reb Levi Yitzchok stressed the importance of waking up in the middle of the night to recite Tikkun Chatzot (the “Midnight Lament” over the destruction of the Holy Temple), in keeping with Rebbe Nachman’s instructions.[i] 

In his old age, Reb Levi Yitzchok was once hospitalized for a certain ailment, and his young students took turns keeping him company in his room. Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, then a yeshivah student in Jerusalem, took the “night shift.” By his own admission, he was curious to see if his revered teacher would recite Tikkun Chatzot. 

Sure enough, just before the time of chatzot prescribed by Rebbe Nachman arrived – six hours after nightfall – Reb Levi Yitzchok opened his eyes. After washing his hands, he immediately began to recite the Psalms and laments of the Tikkun Chatzot from memory, continuing to pray in a whisper until morning (heard from Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz).

[i] See Likutey Moharan II, 67; Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #268, 301; also see Rabbi Asher Zelig Margolios, Kumi Roni, a collection of Kabbalistic and Chassidic sources on Tikkun Chatzot. Magen Avraham cites this custom in his glosses on Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 1:4.

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