Sunday, October 15, 2017

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev: 25 Tishrei


Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (1740–1809), also known as the Berdichever Rov, was a leading disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch and an outstanding figure in the early Chassidic movement. He served as rabbi of several cities, including Ritchvol (Ryczywół), Zhelichov, Pinsk and most famously, Berditchev. He was also a disciple of Chassidic leader Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg, whom he succeeded as rabbi of Ritchvol. Among his own disciples was the young Reb Noson of Nemirov (later Breslov) before he met Rabbi Nachman.

The Berditchover Rov was known as the "defense attorney" for the Jewish people, because he constantly sought to intercede on their behalf before God. He was also known as Der Baremdiger, the “Merciful,” due to his boundless compassion. Due to this, many consider it to be beneficial to recite his name and mother’s name in times of trouble: “Levi Yitzchak ben Sarah Sasha."

His mystical teachings were later published as Kedushas Levi, which is arranged according to the weekly Torah portion, and which almost immediately became a Chassidic classic. (Selections from this work were translated to English by Rabbi Arye Kaplan in his anthology, Chassidic Masters (Chapter 6). There are now other translations, as well.)

Reb Levi Yitzchok also penned a haskamah (approbation) to the commentary Keser Nehora, which was eventually combined with the Nusach of the Zlotchover Maggid and published in Berditchev as Siddur Tefillah Yesharah (the “Berditchever Siddur”). This Siddur was widely used by countless tzaddikim, chassidim vi-anshei ma’aseh.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was close with another prominent disciple of the Great Maggid, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, author of the Tanya and founder of the Chabad school of Chassidism. Later they became machatanim, relatives through marriage.

He also defended Rabbi Nachman of Breslov against the denunciations of Chassidic elder Rabbi Arye Leib of Shpola, known as the “Shpoler Zeide.” (See Chayei Moharan, #122). He even declared, “If I thought people would listen to me, I’d cry out with a voice that could be heard from one end of the world to the other, ‘Whoever wants to be pure and saintly and serve G-d should attach himself to Rabbi Nachman!’ “

This admiration was mutual. Rabbi Nachman called Reb Levi Yitzchok the “Pe’er (glory) of Israel,” a term the Gemara associates with the Tefillin (Berakhos 11a). Accordingly, when Reb Levi Yitzchok undertook a difficult journey (I seem to remember that this journey was to raise charity for pidyon sh’vuyim, but I haven’t located a source for this), Rabbi Nachman asked to have his Tefillin checked. (See Chayei Moharan, #270; also see ##533 and 599 re. Rabbi Nachman’s great esteem for the Berditchover Rov.)

Reb Noson writes that Lesson 67 in the second half of Likutey Moharan alludes to the Berditchever Rov’s passing – of which Rabbi Nachman was aware b’ruach hakodesh before the sad news came to Breslov. (See Chayei Moharan, # 45; Sichos HaRan #196.)

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok passed away on the 25th of Tishrei, 5570 (1809), a year before Rabbi Nachman’s passing, and is buried in the old Jewish cemetery in Berditchev. At that time, it was reported that a pillar of fire was seen accompanying his bier. Upon hearing this, Rabbi Nachman remarked, “Whoever has eyes in his head will see that on the day Rabbi Levi Yitzchok died, a great darkness descended upon the world…” (Sichos HaRan #197). His holy grave site is still visited by thousands of Jewish pilgrims throughout the year. Zekhuso yagen aleinu v’al kol Yisrael, amen.

“Drawing Down” Divine Providence


From a talk by Rabbi Yaakov Meir Schechter of Jerusalem

Submitted by Rabbi Nosson Rossman

With warm wishes of “Mazal Tov” from the Breslov Center to Dina Rossman and the entire Rossman family on Dina’s Bas Mitzvah

“And Cain said to HaShem, ‘Is my punishment too great to bear? Behold, You have driven me out today from the face of the earth, and I will be hidden from Your face. I will be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and anyone that finds me will kill me.’ And HaShem said to him, ‘Therefore, Cain will not be slain for seven generations.’ “ (Bereishis 4:14-15, according to Rashi)

There is an unusual word in this verse, “Therefore.” How was HaShem’s answer a direct response to Cain’s complaint? The connection is unclear; surely it means to teach us something.

The answer is that Cain’s belief in HaShem’s hashgacha (Providence) was so great, and his recognition that only HaShem could protect him was so clear, that he actually “pulled”  HaShem’s hashgacha and protection into his life. Cain turned to HaShem in his distress and sought His protection alone, THEREFORE, HaShem promised to protect him for seven generations by putting fear into the hearts of those who would harm him (see Ohr HaChaim on Bereishis 4:15).

This principle applies to each of us. To the degree that we believe that HaShem directs our lives, that is how much hashgacha and protection we receive. “HaShem is your shadow,” says the verse (Tehillim 121:5). Just as a shadow follows a person’s movements, so too, HaShem deals with us according to our actions and emotions. The more we realize that HaShem watches over each detail of creation, the more this realization empowers our lives. HaShem will then protect us from danger, and tend to our needs in the most amazing way (Sefer Baal Shem Tov, parshas Kedoshim).

The Apter Rov explains that the word for faith, emunah, is related to the word omen, which means a guide or mentor. When we have faith in HaShem’s constant protection, we actually “pull” that hashgacha into our lives.

The opposite is also true. If we deny HaShem’s hashgacha and believe that things happen to us “by accident,” then HaShem will direct our lives through the screen of nature and chance. Thus the verse says: “If you will not listen to Me, and walk oblivious to Me, then I will walk oblivious to you in fury” (Vayikra 26:27-28). When a person thinks that the world runs on it’s own, HaShem treats him accordingly. And in a world where everything is “accidental,” one encounters a lot of “fury”—that is, a lot of things can go wrong.

I heard a story that happened during The War. A Nazi soldier, on guard duty, caught hold of a passing Jew. “Your life is in my hands,” the Nazi taunted. “I can kill you in an instant, and no one can save you!”

This Jew, who had a deep belief in HaShem’s hashgacha, answered back, “My life is in G-d’s hands. If He does not want me to die, you will not be able to kill me.”

The Nazi was so outraged by this response that he started yelling at the Jew, demanding that he admit to the “truth”—“It is I who can kill you!”

But the Jew held firm to his belief. The Nazi yelled and argued with him for nearly an hour. Finally, his time on guard duty was over. He no longer had “authority” to kill this Jew, and was forced to leave.

It was this Jew’s very conviction that his life was in HaShem’s hands, and not the Nazi’s, that kept him from fear and saved his life. His belief drew down HaShem’s hashgacha, even in the dark and tragic period of The War.

Adapted from Leket Amorim vol. 1, by Rav Yaakov Meir Shechter, shlita
Retold by Rabbi Nosson Rossman, based on a translation by Rabbi Eliezer Shore

Monday, October 2, 2017

A Time to Rejoice: A Teaching from Reb Noson on Sukkos, Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah


Free translation of an excerpt from Likutey Halakhos, Chezkas Karka’os, Halakhah 3
As found in Otzar HaYirah, “Teshuvas HaShanah,” sec. 164 and 165

By Dovid Sears

The ritual of taking the Four Species on Sukkos, the “season of our rejoicing,” is meant to imbue the heart with simchah shel mitzvah, the joy of the mitzvah, as the verse states, “You gave joy to my heart” (Psalms 4:8).

This is an aspect of the World to Come. For a person contains within himself all of the worlds; each of us contains an aspect of the “World to Come” and “This World.” That is, the head and higher consciousness (da’as) of a person is an aspect of the World to Come, which represents the culmination of higher perception. The body is the aspect of This World.

The key factor is the heart, which possesses two chambers that house the two basic inclinations: the Yetzer Tov (good urge) and Yetzer HaRa (evil urge). This makes it possible for a person to possess free choice, which is the great challenge of this world. Accordingly, it is possible for one to mentally sense the aspect of the World to Come. However, the main thing is to draw down this perception to the heart, which alludes to This World, the world of free choice.

This is the drawing down of the joy and delight of the World to Come to very midst of This World, in keeping with the verse, “And you shall know (da’as) today and place it in your heart…” (Deut. 11:2). And we accomplish this through the ritual of the Four Species—thus transmitting the joy of the World to Come from the brain to the heart, so that we may feel the joy of the World to Come right here in this world and in the heart, which is the main locus of joy.

Thus it is written, “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day [of the Sukkos festival] a fruit of the Eytz Hadar [‘beautiful tree,’ which Chazal understand to denote the Esrog] and rejoice before Hashem, your G-d” (Leviticus 22:40).

For in this way, we draw down the complete joy of the mitzvah to this world—to such a degree that we will merit to perform all mitzvot, constantly, throughout the year, with inherent joy of the mitzvah, free of any desire for reward in the World to Come. Rather, our entire joy will be in the experience of performing the mitzvah itself.

This is why “hiddur” (beauty) is especially associated with the Esrog, which represents the heart, as our Sages state; and the taste of this tree and the fruit are the same. [Our Sages infer from the Torah’s language that the Creator’s initially commanded this to all trees, but only the Esrog tree properly fulfilled that command.]

For the tree itself alludes to This World, where ordinarily we don’t experience the “taste” of holiness so much. Rather, this is a world of action. Yet from this tree grow wondrous fruits which we may merit to eat and enjoy in in the World to Come, at the time of receiving divine reward. However, the ideal is to experience the taste and the pleasantness of the fruit in the tree, as well. This is the experience of the World to Come when we perform the mitzvah [in this world]—the aspect of the tree and the fruit tasting the same.

Throughout the seven days of Sukkos we merit to elicit this happiness and to rejoice in G-d. This corresponds to “Israel will rejoice in its Maker.” This is the aspect of our joy in performing the mitzvos themselves. For the mitzvos are one with G-d who commanded them. 

This too is the meaning of the Simchas Beis Hasho’evah [i.e., the rejoicing in drawing water from the Shiloach stream for a special Water Libation in the Holy Temple. This celebration took place on the first night of Sukkos, and lasted until dawn, when the water was drawn, amid great festivity and song. However, even today it is customary to celebrate on the nights of Sukkos. These festivities are also called “Simchas Beis HaSho’evah.”]

Afterward, on Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah, G-d rejoices (so to speak) in the Jewish people. As our Sages state, it is as if G-d asks, “Please remain with Me one more day…” This corresponds to “G-d will rejoice in His works.”  Then joy is complete; for both joys become one.


At this time we hold the Torah scroll and rejoice with her. This shows that all of our joy is derived from the Torah alone—which is one with G-d. And reciprocally, G-d rejoices with us. Thus the two aspects of joy become one. 

Rabbi Nachman’s Yahrzeit



On the second day of Chol ha-Moed Sukkos (18th of Tishrei), Breslover Chassidim and others commemorate the yahrtzeit of our holy teacher, Rabbi Nachman ben Feige of Breslov, zatzal, by lighting a 24-hour candle and gathering with others in the Sukkah to share divrei Torah, sing niggunim, and participate in a se’udah / festive meal. In larger Breslov communities, this event is usually held in the Sukkah of the local Breslov synagogue. Various speakers discuss the Rebbe’s life and spiritual legacy, and say divrei hischazkus, words of encouragement based on Rabbi Nachman's teachings. The event concludes with a lively rikkud. It is also proper to study the Rebbe’s teachings more than usual on his yahrtzeit.

Reb Noson’s account of the Rebbe’s final months in Uman and his histalkus may be found in Chayei Moharan, sec. 185-229. In Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum’s English translation, “Tzaddik: A Portrait of Rabbi Nachman” (Breslov Research Institute), this material is presented in pp. 87-125. (Concerning the Yahrtzeit of a tzaddik, cf. Rabbi Chaim Vital, Likkutei ha-Shas, Berakhos 11.) The late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan also compiled “Until the Mashiach,” Breslov Research Institute 1985, a biography of Rabbi Nachman in English organized in the form of a dateline. After Rabbi Kaplan’s death, Rabbi Dovid Shapiro of Yerushalayim completed this work.


In Greater New York:

This year the yahrtzeit falls on Wednesday night October 19 through Thursday Oct. 20. Breslov shuls in Flatbush, Monroe, Borough Park, Williamsburg and elsewhere will host public events. (For more information, see the list of contacts on the "Breslov Shuls" page of this website, listed on the right sidebar.) However, be prepared: all these events will be conducted in Yiddish.

Breslov Customs and Practices for Sukkos



Compiled by Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears

We have included a number of personal customs of various Breslover gedolim, in particular Rabbi Gedaliah Ahron Kenig, as well as a few general Breslov customs.

Esrog/Arba’ah Minim

The Rebbe greatly praised those who exert themselves to buy a beautiful esrog, adding that there are profound mystical reasons for this custom.

(Sichot ha-Ran 125. Reb Noson was mehader in this mitzvah, as mentioned in Yemey Moharnat, Letters 91, 269, 322, 437, and 472)

*

Nevertheless, Reb Gedaliah Kenig cautioned that a poor person should not spend beyond his means for an esrog. Often he would wait until Erev Yom Tov in order to buy an esrog after the prices had dropped.

(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Kenig)

*

Reb Gedaliah considered the beauty of an esrog to be more important than its yichus, since in any case there is no such thing as a vaday bilti murkav (ungrafted plant beyond any question), but only be-chezkas bilti murkav (presumably ungrafted plant) This was not an unusual attitude, but reflected the prevailing view of Yerushalayimer Poskim. Accordingly, one should look for a clean esrog with as many hiddurim as possible, even if it does not have a special yichus.

(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Shapiro. From a historical perspective, the issue of grafting became hotly debated in the mid-1800s in connection with esrogim from Corfu. Those from Eretz Yisrael were generally relied upon as bilti murkav and were praised by such luminaries as the Arukh HaShulchan and the Sdei Chemed. In the early 1900s, Rav Kook established the “Atzey Hadar” union to develop and promote esrogim mehudarim in Eretz Yisrael, which met with great success.)

*

Reb Gedaliah was more stringent about hadassim, and would often go to great lengths to buy the finest hadassim, which conformed to one of the larger shiurim of meshuloshim.
(Heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Kenig)

*

The minhag of the ARI zal for the Arba’ah Minim is to place one aravah (willow branch) on each side of the lulav with the three hadassim (myrtle branches) covering them, and to bind them together with leaves of the lulav. Rabbi Moshe Burshteyn of Yerushalayim remembered that Reb Avraham Sternhartz bound the Arba’ah Minim together according to the minhag of the ARI zal. Rabbi Michel Dorfman concurred.

(Heard from Rabbi Moshe Burshteyn and Rabbi Michel Dorfman)

*

Rabbi Noson Barsky, son of Rabbi Shimon Barsky, also bound the Arba’ah Minim like the ARI zal. His father probably did so, too, but this is not certain.

(Heard from Rabbi Shimshon Barsky of Bnei Brak. The Barskys are direct descendents of Rabbi Nachman.)

*

Nevertheless, most Breslover Chassidim follow the more common custom of placing the three hadassim on the right of the lulav and the two aravos on the left. Reb Elazar Kenig remembered that his father Reb Gedaliah used to tie the Arba’ah Minim with leaves of the lulav, simply tying knots, not making the leaves into rings; however, Reb Gedaliah did not arrange them according to the minhag of the ARI zal. Reb Elazar said that this probably reflected the general rule of avoiding doing things in public that are conspicuously different than the common practice.

(Re. the common custom, see Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, Kitzur SHeLaH, Masekhes Sukkah [Ashdod 1998 ed. p. 322. Although the latter is a major early source of kabbalistic customs and hanhagos, it nevertheless instructs the reader to arrange the arba’ah minim according to the common minhag, not according to that of the ARI.)

*

Reb Elazar Kenig also pointed out that that in Likkutei Halakhos, Reb Noson sometimes darshans on minhagim of the ARI zal, while at other times he cites the local Ukrainian minhagim of his day. Thus, it is apparent that Reb Noson did not do everything according to the ARI zal.

*

Reb Avraham Sternhartz tied the top ring one tefach below the tip of the lulav itself -- not from the end of the shedra, as stated in Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav, which is quoted in the Mishnah Berurah. Reb Avraham tied a total of three rings on the lulav, and two on the entire bundle. These were also Reb Gedaliah’s personal customs.

(Heard from Rabbi Dovid Shapiro and Rabbi Yitzchok Kenig)

*

Reb Gedaliah was particular to recite the berakhah over the Arba’ah Minim in the Sukkah, following the view of the ARI zal. Reb Noson also mentions this custom.

(Likkutei Halakhos , Rosh Hashanah 4:8; Umnin 4:18)

*

Reb Gedaliah performed the nanuim according to the minhag of the ARI zal. This is the common custom in most Chassidic communities. That is, while facing east, one waves the arba’ah minim to the right, left, front, up, down, and over one’s shoulder, over one’s back. Some turn while doing so. When waving the minim in the down position, one should nevertheless keep the lulav upright and not point the tip toward the ground. (These directions correspond to the six sefiros of Ze’er Anpin; see Likkutei Moharan I, 33, end.)

*

Reb Avraham Sternhartz used to perform the nanuim according to the minhag of the ARI.
(Heard from Rabbi Nachman Burshteyn)

*

In Reb Gedaliah’s family, the women were accustomed recite the berakhah over the arba’ah minim and perform the nanuim every day.

No’i Sukkah (Sukkah Decorations)

It is common for Breslover Chassidim to decorate the Sukkah, like the majority of Jewish communities. Most hang various fruits and other objects from the s’khakh, according to their family minhagim. There does not seem to be any kepeidah to refrain from hanging things from the s’khakh due to chumros.

(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn)

*

Reb Gedaliah used to hang a pomegranate from the s’khakh, which he would save in the refrigerator until Pesach, and if it was still good, he’d use it in the charoses. (Pomegranates were not usually available in Eretz Yisrael at Pesach-time during those years.)

He also had a family minhag to take an onion and put a few feathers into it and hang it from the s’khakh, as a remez to the posuk: “Be-tzeyl kenafekhah yechesoyun . . . In the shadow of Your wings I take refuge.” (“Bet-zeyl” is similar to the word “batzel,” meaning “onion.”)

Another family minhag was to hang a magen Dovid from the s’khakh. (This predates the secular state of Israel and its choice of the magen Dovid as its symbol.)

(Heard from Rabbi Elazar Kenig)


Ushpizin

It is customary to invite the Ushpizin (“Holy Guests”) to the Sukkah before each meal, both by night and by day. There does not seem to have been any special nusach for inviting the Ushpizin, just what is stated in the nusach Sefard machzor.

(Heard from Rabbi Avraham Shimon Burshteyn. The first part of the commonly used zimun is derived from Zohar III, 103b.)

*

Like other Chassidim, Breslovers follow the order according to which the seven Ushpizin correspond to the seven lower sefiros: Avraham-Chesed, Yitzchak-Gevurah, Ya’akov-Tiferes, Moshe-Netzach, Aharon-Hod, Yosef-Yesod, and Dovid-Malkhus. This assumption is supported by Rabbi Avraham b’Reb Nachman’s remarks connecting the day of the Rebbe’s histalkus, which is the fourth day of Sukkos, to Moshe Rabbeinu, the fourth of the Ushpizin.

(See Kokhvei Ohr, Chokhmah u-Binah 35, with note 43, ad loc. Neither Siddur ARI Rav Asher nor Siddur ARI Rav Shabsai specifies the order of the Ushpizin. However, Siddur ARI Kol Yaakov redacts the Ashkenazic order, which mentions Yosef fourth instead of Moshe. Siddur Tefillah Yesharah-Berditchev and Siddur Ohr le-Yisrael, both of which were popular in the Ukraine, similarly follow the Ashkenazic order. Nevertheless, virtually all Chassidim today mention Moshe as the fourth of the Ushpizin. This reflects the view of the ARI zal and Siddur SheLaH, as cited in Likkutei MaHaRICH, vol. III, Seder Chag ha-Sukkos, p. 684.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Reb Noson’s Yom Kippur




From “Otzar Nachmani,” Vol. I, sec. 61-62
Translated by Dovid Sears

The first volume of a collection of transcribed “sichos” – Chassidic teachings in the form of anecdotes and oral histories – has been published by the sons of the late Rabbi Nachman Burstein, zatzal. Reb Nachman was a “chad bi-doro,” a unique figure in the Breslov community of Yerushalayim. A master story-teller, baal menagen and singer, baal tefillah and respected talmid chokhom, Reb Nachman brought a special warmth and “chassidishkeit” into Breslov. This wonderful little book is a tribute to the memory of this great teacher and friend to several generations of Breslover Chasidim. He is sorely missed.


Reb Noson’s Yom Kippur
Reb Noson used to say, “The Rebbe’s zakh (mission, task) is Rosh Hashanah—and mine is Yom Kippur.” Concerning this, the Breslover Chassidim explain that the culmination of the Rebbe’s tikkunim comes about through Reb Noson, for without him we would have no way to receive the Rebbe’s light, or his tikkunim and spiritual advice. As the Rebbe attested of Reb Noson, “If not for him, you wouldn’t have even a page of my book” (Chayei Moharan 370). 

The entire matter of the Rosh Hashanah gathering in Uman that has endured from generation to generation, following the ascent of the Rebbe, of blessed memory, from the body was due to the great effort and self-sacrifice of Reb Noson, as described in various sources. Therefore, he declared, “My task is Yom Kippur”—since what was decreed on Rosh Hashanah is sealed on Yom Kippur.
Moreover, it is a day of beseeching forgiveness (selichah). Thus, just before his death Reb Noson was heard to repeat again and again the phrase “chanun hamarbeh lis’lo’ach (gracious One, abundant in forgiveness”)—the gematria (numerical value) of which is “Noson.” (See Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman, “Chokhmah u-Binah”: Chanun=114, hamarbeh=252, lis’lo’ach=134; Total=500. Noson=500) For his mission was Yom Kippur—to increase in supplication, defending and finding merit in others and interceding for their good, as well as in encouragement and restoring the soul, even of those who had fallen to the lowest levels, as he stated. Therefore, Reb Noson greatly desired that his disciples come to him for Yom Kippur, when he would undertake what he would undertake… (Reb Nachman states that he heard this from Reb Itche Meir Korman, Reb Levi Yitzchak Bender, and Reb Elyah Chaim Rosen). 


***

Once before Yom Kippur, Reb Noson urged the wealthy philanthropist Reb Abaleh of Tcherin to spend the holy day with him, as well as to attend the seudah hamafsekes, the last meal before the commencement of the fast, with him and other guests. For it was known that during this meal, Reb Noson was accustomed to speak with all those present at his table and deliver the most profound teachings, expressed with fiery intensity and passion, regarding the holiness and awe of the holy Day of Judgment. (See the Introduction to “Yemey ha-Tla’os.”) Knowing that the food served by the wealthy included various delicacies, Reb Noson added, “Aye, you serve large fish and I serve small fish—but that’s nothing (nisht geferlach). The main thing is that you should come to me for the holy day!” (Reb Nachman Burstein states that he heard this from Reb Itche Meir Korman and Reb Levi Yitzchak Bender.)

 (And the Breslover Chassidim point out that Reb Noson mentioned fish specifically because it is customary to serve fish on Erev Yom Kippur, as mentioned in the Tur, Orach Chaim.)
 This is an appropriate place to quote the manuscript of Rabbi Moshe Glidman, of blessed memory (also known as Reb Moshe Chenstekhover—who attended Reb Avraham b’Reb Nachman, particularly during the latter’s final months, with great self-sacrifice, as described elsewhere). He writes the following sichah in his notes, which is relevant to our subject: Once someone mentioned in Reb Noson’s presence the words of the Rav of Berditchev, “When the holy Days of Awe approach, one’s shoulders tingle from terror and fear of the Day of Judgment.” Reb Noson commented on this, “This is how we already must tingle [from awe], to the point that we won’t notice any difference when this tingling comes.”

[Reb Moshe] adds that the Rav of Berditchev further remarked, “When the night of Erev Yom Kippur arrives, even the fish in the sea tremble in fear of the Day of Judgment!”
 We also read: Once Rabbi Avraham b’Reb Nachman of Tulchin sat together with the local Breslover Chassidim on Erev Yom Kippur at the seudas ha-mafsekes. When they finished the meal, he told them the above story with dread and fear of Heaven, and a great awe fell upon them all. They recited the Grace After Meals with intense concentration and reverence. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Rabbi Elazar Mordechai Kenig on "The Rebbe's Rosh Hashanah"



Translated and summarized by Dovid Zeitlin and Dovid Sears

Rosh Hashanah and Purifying the Mind

In elaborating on this issue, Reb Elazar connected two lessons from Likkutei Moharan. First we will present these teachings, followed by Rav Kenig’s explanations and remarks.

Likkutei Moharan I, 61:7:
This is why people travel for Rosh Hashanah to the tzaddikim. Rosh Hashanah is the day of judgment for the entire year. Each person comes with his holiness and his tzimtzumim (constrictions) to the tzaddik of the generation. He is the paradigm of the Holy of Holies, the paradigm of the Foundation Stone. This reflects the verse, "For unto God are the pillars of the earth; He has founded the world upon them" (I Samuel 2:8). These are the tzaddikim, upon whom the world was founded (Yoma 38b). Through this [i.e. by traveling to the tzaddikim], all harsh judgments are mitigated − through the aspect of the Foundation Stone, mentioned above [i.e., through the Sekhel HaKollel, the Universal or Collective Mind; see the original discourse at length].

Likkutei Moharan II, 94:
As for the reason why people travel to the tzaddikim for Rosh Hashanah, this is because the main “sweetening” of harsh judgments is accomplished only by the sanctification and purification of one's thoughts, for this is their source. "Everything is rectified in thought" (Zohar II, 254b). However, it is only possible to attain a pure mind through hiskashrus, that is, by spiritually binding oneself to the tzaddikim. Citing the verse "Then Moshe took the bones of Yosef" (Exodus 13:19), the Zohar explains that Moshe is the aspect of the mind, while Yosef is the aspect of tzaddik. That is, there can be no perfection of the mind except through hiskashrus to the tzaddikim. Rosh Hashanah is the source of judgments (dinim) for the entire year. A person must purify his thoughts in order to mitigate these judgments. This is why people travel to the tzaddikim: in order to attain purity of thought.

Rav Kenig explains:

The mitigating of all harsh judgments comes through chokhmah (wisdom) or sekhel (intellect / mind / consciousness). Thus, implicitly the avodah of Rosh Hashanah is that everyone should "come with his mind" (the terminology of Likkutei Moharan II, 94)—that is, one must guard the mind, and mitigate harsh judgments by purifying and sanctifying one's thoughts. A person should have holy thoughts, and be careful not to dwell upon unholy thoughts (see Sichos ha-Ran 21). The Rebbe says that one should think "good thoughts," in general and in particular: that Hashem will be good to Klal Yisrael, and that Hashem will be good to us. Meh darf zehn Rosh Hashanah tzu trachten gutt − gutteh machshovos − be-klalliyus u-bi-fratiyus. For purely spiritual reasons, we should have holy thoughts on Rosh Hashanah, and guard ourselves against dwelling upon evil thoughts. However, even regarding material concerns, we should think good thoughts: that Hashem wants to show us kindness in these areas of our lives. This is what the Rebbe means by everyone "coming with his mind."

In Likkutei Moharan I, 61, section six, the Rebbe quotes the Zohar to the effect that "everything is rectified in thought." He explains that the sekhel is the source of all judgments, and there, all judgments are "sweetened," because "din (judgment) is only 'sweetened' in its source" (see Rabbi Chaim Vital, Eitz Chaim, Heikhal ha-Ketarim 13:11). Every din reflects a certain tzimtzum (constriction); every din has a corresponding sekhel that sweetens this tzimtzum. The sekhel . . . this is the main thing. This is the fundamental task: to bind one's mind to the mind of the tzaddik. The Rebbe discusses this in Likkutei Moharan I, 211, citing the verse, "And Moshe took with him the bones of Yosef," a teaching that also has a connection to Likkutei Moharan I, 61. The "perfection of daas" is attained when one comes to the tzaddik ha-emes, particularly on Rosh Hashanah, which is the day of judgment. One comes with holy thoughts, good thoughts, spiritually and materially.

[The person who had asked for clarification mentioned to Rav Kenig that that on another occasion, he had said that one must also come to the tzaddik with "yishuv ha-daas." Reb Elazar commented: "Not to be mevulbal, unfocussed and confused." Then
he added: "Vos men tutt, tutt men . . . We do what we can do. But one doesn't need to
become obsessed with this..."]

Rosh Hashanah is the time of dinim. And the sweetening of the dinim is accomplished by coming to the tzaddik, the "head of the Children of Israel," on Rosh Hashanah, in order to purify one's mind. Because "everything is rectified in thought." Thought is the highest of the three garments of the soul: thought, speech, and action. Therefore, the faculty of thought needs the greatest shemirah (guarding). As the Rambam states, sometimes a person doesn't realize that he has damaged his mind by allowing his thoughts to stray. He may think, "After all, what did I do?" However, one must know that thought is extremely potent.

Rosh Hashanah and the Combination of Souls
[Rav Kenig was asked to repeat an insight he had shared a few years previously about the combinations of letters / souls, etc., which the Rebbe discusses in Likkutei Moharan II, 8.]

We spoke about the interconnectedness of those who come to the Rebbe on Rosh Hashanah, how everyone is bound to everyone else in multiple ways. We discussed the permutations of letters and souls. These permutations and combinations represent an awesome and profound unification, beyond order and hierarchy. For example, when these permutations occur in the form of letters, the tav [which is the last of the twentytwo Hebrew letters, symbolizing the lowest level] may precede the alef [which is the first letter, symbolizing the highest level], and may even infuse the rest of the letters of the alphabet with vitality. Likewise, at the level of souls, the smallest may energize the loftiest souls, in keeping with the verse, "And they receive from one another…" (Siddur; Targum Yonasan on Isaiah 6:3).

True, there is a hierarchy of souls, as we see from Likkutei Moharan I, 13 ("souls great and small"), and various other lessons. However, these new configurations become possible due to the intense love and unification of the souls that come to the tzaddik – to the point that the distinction between the alef and the tav, "greater souls" and "lesser souls," is entirely forgotten and disappears.

Leaving Eretz Yisrael to Go to the Tzaddik
Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz writes in his Amaros Tehoros: "According to what we may understand from Likkutei Moharan II, 67, the holiness of the Beis ha-Mikdash depends upon the tzaddik, whose light shines into it. Therefore, we must mourn the passing of the tzaddik all the more sorrowfully. Concerning this, my grandfather, the Rav of Tcherin, of blessed memory, states in his Zimras ha-Aretz that in these times, after the destruction of the Holy Temple, and especially after the passing of the tzaddikim, the entire holiness of Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim is damaged and concealed. Although they are aspects of the tzaddik − even the Western Wall, which is an aspect of the Foundation Stone [being a remnant of the Beis ha-Mikdash] − nevertheless, as long as they remain in a state of destruction, their entire holiness is damaged and hidden. This holiness devolves from the paradigm of the 'beginning of the year,' as the verse states: 'The watchful eyes of Hashem are there from the beginning of the year until the end of the year…' (Deuteronomy 11:12). − 'eyes' specifically; for [the 'eyes'] are the tzaddikim."

[Translator: The Rebbe, ad loc., relates the tzaddikim to the "eyes of the congregation" (Numbers 15:24). He also relates the eyes to the Beis ha-Mikdash, which is called "the desire of your eyes" (Ezekiel 24:16). The verse from Deuteronomy connects Rosh Hashanah and Eretz Yisrael. Thus, the holiness of Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim is contingent on the Rosh Hashanah of the tzaddik.]

Rav Kenig explains:

That we are still in a state of exile is readily apparent from the words of the Shemoneh Esreh ("VeYerushalaim Irkha") and Birkhas ha-Mazon ("U’venei Yerushalayim"), as well as the nusach of "Nachem," which we recite on Tisha be-Av. The holiness of Eretz Yisrael is still hidden and concealed. Therefore, to rectify this, we must go to the tzaddik for Rosh Hashanah, even if we live in Eretz Yisrael. This is because the tzaddik shines the light of holiness into the Holy Temple, from which the holiness of all Eretz Yisrael emanates, as the Rebbe states. Therefore, those who argue that it is unnecessary or even wrong to leave Eretz Yisrael in order to go to Uman for Rosh Hashanah are in error. The opposite is true. Our love of Eretz Yisrael and yearning for its rebirth mandates that we travel to the tzaddik for Rosh Hashanah.

"In the Merit of Righteous Women"It is a great sacrifice for those women who make it possible for their husbands and sons to leave home and travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah − especially since this is a Yom Tov, and many of them take upon themselves the extra burden of caring for the rest of their children alone. These women have a major share in all of the tikkunim of the tzaddik, and their merit is very great. They can be assured that when their husbands return home, they will bring back with them abundant shefa', both materially and spiritually.

"Le'eilah, Le'eilah / Beyond, Beyond"
It is customary to engage in various spiritual preparations before Rosh Hashanah, and to make good resolutions for the coming year. These things are most praiseworthy. However, the main tikkunim of Rosh Hashanah are those that the tzaddik uniquely accomplishes. These are on a completely different plane than our efforts—incomparably so. In fact, it is the power of the tzaddik that enables us to do whatever we do. Similarly, one may experience a great his'orerus (awakening) when one goes to the Rebbe's tziyun, or participates in the prayer services with thousands of others. These are surely experiences that we should treasure. However, we should know that the level on which the tikkunim of the tzaddik take place are far, far beyond what we can experience—even those experiences that we take to be the spiritual highpoints of our lives.

The Road to Uman


Translated by Dovid Sears

As the summer days pass, Breslover Chassidim and others who heed Rabbi Nachman’s clarion call are making preparations for the annual Rosh Hashanah pilgrimage to Uman, Ukraine, where Rabbi Nachman is buried. However, many people wonder why this event is such a “big deal.” How do we even know that this is what Rabbi Nachman wanted?

This classic story from Tovos Zichronos, oral histories preserved by Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz – a great-grandson of Reb Noson, grandson of the Rav of Tcherin, and one of the foremost Breslover gedolim of the twentieth century – sheds light on these issues, while lending chizuk and inspiration to those who aspire to undertake the long and sometimes arduous journey.


This unedited translation belongs to the Breslov Research Institute, which commissioned me to do a collection of such translations for the new revised edition of “Uman, Uman, Rosh Hashanah,” a practical guide for travelers to the Breslover Rosh Hashanah Gathering in Uman.


That winter [in 1811, following Rebbe Nachman’s passing], as the month of Shevat approached, Reb Noson began to yearn to travel with at least a minyan to the Rebbe’s tziyun (grave site) in order to pray there on Erev Rosh Chodesh. This month is one of the four “Rosh Hashanahs” mentioned in the Mishnah, and the Rebbe had declared, “Gohr mein zakh is Rosh Hashanah . . . My entire mission is Rosh Hashanah.” Therefore, Reb Noson wanted to use this opportunity to encourage the other Breslover Chassidim to start thinking about traveling to Uman for Rosh Hashanah the coming Tishrei, concerning which the Rebbe had spoken so urgently prior to the last Rosh Hashanah of his life.

Reb Noson succeeded in persuading a few fellow Chassidim in the town of Breslov to join him on the journey. There were no trains to take in those days; so he hired a coach and horses and arranged to pay the driver by the day. The driver agreed to go wherever he was told, even if Reb Noson wished to go to Uman in a roundabout way, or to spend the night in one of the villages. When they had travelled only a mile or so from Breslov, Reb Noson instructed the driver to turn toward the village of Sidkovitz, and not take the usual route through Heisen. No one in the coach understood what Reb Noson had in mind, including the driver, but the latter had to oblige in keeping with their agreement. They arrived in Sidkovitz when it was almost time for the Minchah prayer.

A Breslover Chassid lived in this village, a follower of Rabbi Shmuel Isaac of Dashev, who had come to Uman to be with Rebbe Nachman on his last Rosh Hashanah. Reb Noson told the group that there they could daven Minchah. When they came to this man and he saw Reb Noson and the other Breslovers at his door, he was so happy that he immediately covered the dining table with his best tablecloth and lit candles as on the Shabbos in honor of his distinguished guests, particularly Reb Noson. Full of joy, he placed a bottle of spirits and a bottle of wine on the table, as well as cakes and sweets.

After they concluded the Minchah prayer, they saw that it was still possible to continue on to the next village and spend the night there. However, Reb Noson told the Chassidim, “We have a ‘business partner’ here in the inheritance that was left to us. We really must talk things over with him, so that he’ll know what a lucrative business this is!”

The host begged everyone to sit and partake of the refreshments he had served in their honor. However, the time to daven Ma’ariv had already arrived. Reb Noson said that it was prohibited to eat a meal before praying. So they prayed Ma’ariv together then and there. The host was greatly inspired by the prayers of Reb Noson and the Chassidim, who davened with fiery enthusiasm and clapped their hands, but he still did not understand why they had suddenly appeared. He thought to himself, “Just seeing and hearing how my fellow Chassidim pray Ma’ariv this way, despite their weariness from the journey, when even in the town’s synagogue the worshippers don’t pray with such intensity – that would be enough!”

After Ma’ariv, they all sat down, and the host invited Reb Noson to taste the good food and drink he had served. However, Reb Noson said, “Before we eat, there is something that I would like to say.”

He arose from his seat and addressed his host. “You were present at the last Rosh Hashanah of the Rebbe’s life, together with the holy assembly. And many of us heard from the Rebbe’s mouth on that Erev Rosh Hashanah that he wanted each one of his followers, wherever they resided, to cry out that whoever wants to be a truly good Jew, an ‘ehrlicher Yid,’ should come to him for Rosh Hashanah in Uman. He once said, ‘I myself had a mind to pick myself up and go away…’ [However, he decided not to do so because he looked forward so much to Rosh Hashanah . . . He told his followers, “I want to remain among you – and you should come to my grave” (Tzaddik #94)].

“At that time, he also said, ‘To me, the main thing is Rosh Hashanah. What can I say? There is nothing greater!’

“In the final lesson he delivered on that Rosh Hashanah (Likutey Moharan II, 8), just before he passed away, he spoke about how one must pray to God to be worthy of drawing close to a true leader in order to attain perfect faith. Similarly, in the lesson on the subject of the prostok (‘simple peasant,’ see Likutey Moharan II, 78), he stated that one must beg God to bring one close to the true tzaddik – and this was on Shabbat Nachamu, when the Rebbe was already gravely ill and knew that he was about to die. Nevertheless, he spoke this way. Plainly, all of these statements and urgings were about our continuing to come to him for Rosh Hashanah, even after his passing, until the arrival of our righteous redeemer! The Rebbe warned us that the Evil One in his deviousness established false leaders in the world, so that one doesn’t know where Moses can be found, or where Aaron can be found, namely the true leaders. For this reason, my beloved friend, we came here to forge a mighty, lifelong bond among ourselves concerning this good inheritance that remains with us!”

Then Reb Noson asked the Chassidim who had come with him to sing “Ashreinu, mah tov chelkeinu, how fortunate are we, how good is our portion (yerushaseinu)!” For the Torah is our inheritance (yerushah), as it is written, “An inheritance (morashah) of the congregation of Yaakov” (Deuteronomy 33:4) – and their host’s name was Yaakov.

They danced and danced to this song, and then returned to their seats at the table. The host filled a schnapps glasses for Reb Noson, and then Reb Noson shook his hand and drank a “l’chaim” to him. Then he told him, “With this handshake you agree to travel every year for the rest of your life to the Rebbe’s holy tziyun for Rosh Hashanah and be numbered among those who participate in the holy Rosh Hashanah gathering in Uman!” And the host replied, “Amen, may this be God’s will!”

Reb Avraham Sternhartz [who preserved this story] added that during his youth, he met the grandson of this man, who also used to travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah. He told how his grandfather had written in his will that every year his son should come together with his sons to Uman for Rosh Hashanah. (Tovos Zikhronos, pp. 129-130)

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May Hashem provide all of the travelers to Uman this year and every year with all of their needs, materially and spiritually; protect them all both coming and going; inspire them and enable them to make a new start in avodas Hashem; and bless them, their families, and all Israel to be “written and sealed for the good, amen!”