Friday, 31 October 2008

Yahrtzeit - 3 Cheshvan - Rabbi Yisrael of Rhuzin - The Rhuziner Rebbe

Rabbi Yisrael of Rizhin (Rhuzin)

Born: Pogrpbisht, Ukraine, 1797
Died: Sadagora, Galicia, 1850
Known as the Rhuziner.

Rabbi Yisrael was the son of Rabbi Shalom Shachna (and Chava), the son of Rabbi Avraham HaMalach (the angel), the son of the Maggid of Mezritch – the pupil of the holy Baal Shem Tov. He founded the Rhizin dynasty – also known as the GOLDEN DYNASTY. Not only were his descendants to become “gold” in Torah, becoming Rebbes with their own courts, but he – and they were blessed with fortunes of wealth! One need just look at the palaces they lived in – their homes – to know that their wealth was absolutely huge! He was born on the day after Rosh HaShanah.

At the tender age of just 15, he succeeded his father as Chassidic Rebbe of Prohovitch (near Kiev). With his phenomenal talent for organization, the young Rebbe built the community into a Chassidic center. In Rizhin he conducted his "court" in a palace with all the trappings of royalty, maintaining a staff of servants, an orchestra of musicians, and a splendid horse-drawn coach. Thousands of Chassidim, attracted by the glitter and the opulence, rallied around to the Rizhner. The Rebbe's motive for the ostentatious display of wealth was to raise the standards of Torah and Chassidut. He derived no personal enjoyment from it. He was said to walk on hard peas that he placed inside his elegant leather shoes. He often fasted, and he slept only three hours each night.

One of the most famous stories told about R’ Yisrael concerned an evening when the Rebbe went out to do Kiddush Levanah (sanctifying the new moon). As usual he was dressed like a king – going so far as to wear his golden shoes. He certainly must have been a sight! One can imagine the looks on people’s faces as they would look at his regal appearance in all respects – even the gold shoes! Does a Rebbe need to wear such ostentatious garments and shoes – even when the Torah goes so far as speaking about the modesty of garments?!

The Rebbe continued his blessing… It was a freezing evening and the snow had settled upon the ground. The Rebbe completed his blessing and began to walk back to his “palace.” It was only then that the truth became known… Those nearby the Rebbe noticed that wherever the Rebbe walked, there were marks of red. Suddenly it became clear, the red was nothing less than the blood from the Rebbe’s feet… It was only then that it became clear, the Rebbe wore shoes without soles! While externally the shoes appeared glamorous, in actual fact the Rebbe had no desire for the opulence for material veneer. Rather, the reasons for his “excessive” behaviour were known only to him. In truth, however, the Rebbe well felt the pain of the Shechina in Galut (exile.)

As a result of false accusations of treason, R' Yisrael was imprisoned for two years in Kiev. After his release he fled to Sadagora where he was acclaimed more than ever before.

Compilations of his commentaries were published under the titles Irin Kaddishin, Knesset Yisrael, and Pe'er Layesharim. His comments, many of which are based on Kabbalistic themes, attest to his great wisdom and piety. He was the father of the Chasidic dynasties of Sadagora, Chortokov, Boyan, and others, all of which are keeping alive the Rizhiner tradition today with large Yeshivot and Chassidic centers in Israel and the United States. For the most comprehensive information about the descendants of R’ Yisrael and the Golden Dynasty, see “The Golden Dynasty” by Rabbi Yisroel Friedman (himself a direct descendant of R’ Yisrael!)

Chassidic tradition maintains that R. Shalom Shachna possessed a "spark" of King David's soul and that his son R. Yisrael of Rizhin had a spark of King Solomon's.

For a comprehensive look at the Ruzhyn dynasty together with photographs of many of the Rebbes, together with links to other beautiful sites – including the entire book “The Golden Dynasty” online, click HERE


“Am I My Brother’s Keeper?”

Once there was a follower of the holy Rabbi Yisrael of Ryzhin that owned a large soap factory. He had many non-Jewish workers and always treated them fairly and kindly.

One of his workers was a fifteen-year-old lad that suffered terribly at home and was always miserable. This boy's father had died when he was a baby and his mother remarried a cruel drunkard of a man with four grown sons of his own. It wasn't long before this sadist began to order his sons to beat the poor lad while he sat back and enjoyed the spectacle. To make matters worse, the boy's heartbroken mother was helpless to stop the torture.

One night, insane with depression after an unusually long thrashing, he found a long piece of rope, limped to the factory, climbed up to one of the rafters above the huge vat where the soap was crushed and boiled, and … hung himself.

Early next morning when the chasid opened the door to his factory and was greeted by this gruesome sight, he understood that it could mean big trouble for him. If anyone found out about this he was sure to be accused by the anti-Semitic villagers of murder.

He had to act fast. Without giving it too much thought he took a knife, climbed up to the same rafter, cut the rope and watched as the body fell below him and melted into the boiling churning soap.

But the case was far from closed. It seems that one of the neighbours saw the lad enter the factory late the previous night, and because no one saw him leave, the Jew was suspected. Needless to say, the Bishop and the townsfolk began to demand justice.

The Chassid had no choice than to speed as fast as possible to his Rebbe, 'The Holy Ryzhiner,' for help.

The Rebbe listened, thought a bit, and finally assured the trembling man that everything would be all right. He added that he personally would defend him in court.

The day of the trial arrived and the courthouse was packed. The police had trouble keeping order; the only thing that quieted the crowd was their desire to hear the witnesses. They were almost in tears when the boy's stepfather and stepbrothers testified one after the other, how they loved the dear departed lad, and they hissed when they heard how the boy often cursed the evil Jew.

They seethed when they heard the testimony of the neighbour. But it was the Bishop's speech, a venomous assault on the Jews and their blood rites, which began to drive the crowd to the point of frenzy.

He was just in the middle of a glorious sentence; --hand lifted majestically in the air-- when suddenly the courtroom door burst open, everyone turned to look, and in walked … the dead boy!

Everyone froze in astonishment as the boy walked to the front of the courtroom faced the audience and shouted angrily: "What are you doing to this Jew! He was my only friend! Dead? I am not dead! I just ran away to escape their beatings! Your Honor!!" the lad looked up at the Judge pointing his finger at his 'brothers', "if anyone deserves punishment it is these evil snakes!"

The stepfather and his sons shot quick glances at each other. Then, blind with flaming rage, they suddenly jumped from their places and before the police could intervene, one grabbed the boy by the throat while the others beat and kicked him mercilessly until … he died.

They were all arrested on the spot and charged with murder.

Later the Rhyzhiner Rebbe explained the miracle that he had accomplished by telling a story that involved the Baal Shem Tov bringing back a non-Jewish nobleman who had been dead for fifteen years.

"I am nothing compared to the Besht," concluded the Holy Ruziner; "nevertheless, if he could reconstruct a person a decade and a half after he died, I felt sure I could do the same thing with this lad who died only last week. That is how I knew I could help you."

[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from the rendition of his friend and colleague Rabbi Tuvia Bolton in his weekly email for Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim: ; ]

“The Secret of Le’Chayim Revealed”

Rabbi Yisrael of Rizhin once stayed in a town called Sanek during one of his travels. Of course, everybody came out to greet him since the reputation of the tzaddik preceded him wherever he went. Among them were some Jews who were not adherents of the Chassidic path. These Misnagdim (opponents) decided to vent their hostility on R' Yisroel.

"Tell us," they challenged, "it is very difficult for us to understand. Our custom is to arise well before the break of dawn, to pray the morning prayer at sunrise according to the custom of the ancestral pious ones. After we finish praying, we remain for some time in the shul, still wrapped in tallit and tefillin and we learn Chumash and Mishna before we leave. Even as we put away the tallit and tefillin we learn chapters by memory from the Tanach. The rest of the day, we maintain fixed times when we gather for additional study in the shul. For this behavior we are labeled Misnagdim?!

"You Chasidim, your way is to pray the morning prayer long after the prescribed time for doing so, and immediately after the prayer, instead of dedicating time for study, you race to set the table. Then you bring out cake and brandy, and sit together drinking, eating and singing. For this you are called Chasidim (pious)?! It seems to us to be quite the opposite."

Reb Leib, the attendant of the Rizhiner, after hearing these accusations could not hold himself back. "I'm not surprised," he imputed. "Your whole service is performed with so little heart, in such a calculated, chilly and lifeless manner, it is no wonder that you learn Mishnayot afterwards, for that is what one learns in memory of the dead! (Mishna, spelled mem-shin-nun-hei, has the same letters as the word for soul, neshama.) Not so the service of the chasidim. Whatever we do, no matter how much, or how little, we do with devotion, warmth and vitality. Doesn't a living man need a sip of brandy once in a while!?"

He drew a breath to go on, but the Rizhiner interrupted him. "I am sure you realize that he is just joking. I will tell you the real reason for our way of praying and the secret of L'Chayim.

It is well know that since the destruction of the Holy Temple, our prayer takes the place of the sacrifices which were offered there, as it is written, "The prayer of our lips shall replace the oxen of the sacrifice" (Hoshea 14:3). Our three daily prayers correspond to the daily burnt offerings. Just as a sacrifice was rendered invalid by undirected thoughts, so too is our prayer.

When a man stands in prayer before his Creator, the Evil Inclination wants nothing more than to confuse him and introduce all manner of strange thoughts into his head. How is it possible to stand in prayer in face of that? In the end, it is unlikely that we succeeded in replacing the oxen of the sacrifices with our prayers. What did the chasidim discover to remedy the problem, and to battle against the ploys of this Evil Inclination, the Yetzer Hara?

After the Prayer, the chasidim sit together, raise their glasses in L'Chayim, and pour out their hearts in blessing. "Yankele, you should find a proper shidduch (match) for your daughter," exclaims one. "Beryl, your business should have as many customers as the eyes on a potato," exclaims another.

The Yetzer Hara, already regaling in his victory of having confounded the prayer of an entire congregation of Jews, and seeing them eating and drinking, concludes that for the meantime their prayer is indeed finished, and he joyfully retires for the morning.

Now, it is a clear law in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), that prayer can be said in any language that one understands (Orach Chayim 62:2). Therefore, when Jews gather together to say L'Chayim, and in the absence of the Yetzer Hara they begin to bless one another from the depths of their hearts, it is the real prayer, and it goes straight to the heart of the Master of the World.


[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from, the website of the former Nishmas Chayim Yeshiva in Jerusalem, headed by Rabbi Benyamin Adilman. Posted there are also back issues of his weekly parsha sheet, B'ohelei Tzadikim.]

Historical note:
It is an accepted fact that the labels "chasid" and "mitnaged" were originated (derisively) by the Mitnagdim themselves. -- y.t.

Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the and websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

Story published at

May the Tzaddik Rabbi Yisrael of Rhuzin protect us all, Amen!

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Private Torah Tuition, Discussion of Life Issues - In Person or Over the Internet!

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Thursday, 23 October 2008

Yahrtzeit - 25 Tishrei - Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev


Born: Hoshakov, Galicia (Poland), 1740
Died: Berdtichev, Poland, 1810
Affectionately known as the Berditchover.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak is one of the most known and liked of the Rebbes from the period of the beginnings of the Chassidic movement. His love for EVERY Jew (without fail) expresses itself in almost every story told about him. He is the ultimate example of what true Ahavat Chinam (baseless love) is all about. If Rebbi Levi Yitzchak is to find a fault in anyone, it must be in G-d Himself Who simply is not doing what He should to make things right in the first place! A famous teaching of the Baal Shem Tov expresses this very idea. When the Baal Shem Tov began the teachings of Chassidut, one thing that stood out was his hurt at the fact that Jews should find fault in each other – rather than seeing the fault as being a “problem” in G-d Himself. After all, if G-d has created man in the way He has chosen to, why does He become so upset with his behaviour?!

If G-d would just set up creation in a way that doesn’t cause a Jew to fail, then there would be no need to be upset at any Jew. While there are many Jews in today’s world who will find fault in everything that another does, pointing out that the reason for many punishments in the world are because of inappropriate behaviour etc., the Baal Shem Tov would rather shout at G-d Himself to sort matters out. It is not towards our fellow that we should be finding fault – but rather instead by venting our distress out at G-d to make things right! G-d is infinite. We do not need to make excuses for an infinite G-d! He can do anything! Man – a Jew – is finite, created with a vicious animal soul that continually distracts him from his true mission in this world. If we fail, it is because of this very animal soul that G-d has created within us. If G-d is not happy with our service – let him set us right so that we not come to rebel against Him!

Rebbi Levi Yitzchak well understood the difficulties encountered by the Jew trying his best to serve G-d with simplicity. This path is often filled with tests that most of us simply cannot succeed in – even at the best of times! While the many “righteous” of our generation will find fault in everything that another Jew may do, Rebbi Levi Yitzchak could only imagine seeing an absolutely good soul in front of him – lacking every possible iota of a blemish. A Jew is essentially good, and nothing he ever does can detract from this. If it appears that things are not right – or that he may not be behaving appropriately, a proper investigation must be done to find out just where the problem lies. Usually Rebbi Levi Yitzchak finds this problem with all sorts of various spiritual issues going on in the worlds above. Once he sees the situation as it should be, he acts as the greatest advocate imaginable towards the Jewish people in supporting every Jew to see to it that he be blessed with only the best. Rebbi Levi Yitzchak never seems to see a flaw in any Jew.

If anyone could fulfil the teaching in Pirkei Avot of judging everyone favourably – Rebbi Levi Yitzchak is the Rebbi to do this. It is a wonder how he manages to turn everything around for the good and to reveal only the goodness hidden inside every single Jew. We can only hope that he will be there for each of us whenever it is that we truly need him the most!

Rebbi Levi Yitzchak also composed the well known prayer "Gut Von Avraham" - G-d of Avraham. This is a special prayer recited by Jews at the end of the Shabbat before saying Havdalah. It is usually recited 3 times and is said to be a very great Segula (charm) for many many blessings! The prayer is easily available in a variety of languages and is usually printed together with the Tana Devei Eliyahu at the back of the book. See below for a free downloadable version.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had been a child prodigy, acclaimed in his early years as an Illuy (genius). At the suggestion of his mentor, Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke of Nikolsburg, Levi Yitzchak travelled to Mezritch where he studied Chassidut under the Maggid of Mezritch for many years. He served as rabbi in the cities of Britchval, Zelichov, and Pinsk; and for the last 25 years of his life he was the Rabbi of Berditchev, which under his inspired leadership grew into a flourishing center of Chassidut.

The Berditchever is one of the legendary figures of Chassidut, revered for his enthusiastic dedication to Torah and Mitzvot, but above all for his consuming love of God and his people. He became known as the defender of the people of Israel. He would argue with God, charging Him with being too stern a father to His children, pleading for an end to the long and cruel exile.

His work Kedushat Levi is a classic collection of chassidic thoughts arranged according to the weekly Torah portions; it includes a commentary on Avot, and an appendix containing a number of anecdotes that reflect his saintly life and his role as attorney for the defence of the Jewish people.

A Slave...

R' Levi Yitzchak was once visiting the supernal realms. While there, the Satan mounted a massive assault against the Jewish people. He and his helpers brought in box after box, filled with the sins of the Jewish people. Realizing that something must be done, Reb Levi, very quietly took the boxes and destroyed them. The Satan was incensed and demanded that Levi Yitzchak return his possessions. Reb Levi, of course could not. The Satan dragged Reb Levi before the Heavenly tribunal, accusing him of robbery.

After much deliberation, the verdict was handed down, guilty. A convicted thief must return double the worth of the stolen item or be sold into slavery. Reb Levi had no choice. He was put up for auction to the highest bidder. On one side the souls of the Patriarchs bid for this precious Tzaddik. On the other side, Satan and his accusers were delighted at the prospect of finally ridding themselves of their arch nemesis. The bidding was fast and furious. It looked bad for Levi Yitzchak, as Satan was gaining the upper hand.

Finally, the Almighty himself entered a bid. Even the Satan knows not to bid against G-d. Having won the auction, the Almighty remarked, "Now Reb Levi Yitzchak will be my servant-slave, exclusively."

Milk Or Coffee First?

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak once visited the Chozeh of Lublin. The Lubliner brought him some coffee and wanted to pour the coffee into the cup first and then add the milk. The Berditchever, however, asked him to please put the milk in first, and then the coffee, since, he said, "when I drink milk with coffee, I intend "Mikveh," because milk, chalav, in Gematria (numerical value) is Mem and the letter Mem together with Kiveh (coffee) equals Mikveh. When the Berditchever drank coffee, was he meditating on the Mikveh somehow?

The Cattle Merchant

A wealthy cattle merchant was in a dilemma. He had many head of cattle to sell, but the market bottomed out. He went to R' Levi Yitzchak for advice. The Rebbe told him to use a certain herb to help stop the bleeding at the next circumcision he performed (the man was a Mohel, ritual circumciser). The man asked the rabbi, again, about the cow problem. The Rebbe simply replied that he had given him his answer.

The man stopped off at an inn on his way home. While there, he discovered that the young son of the innkeeper was not circumcised. The innkeeper explained that the boy had two older brothers that died as the result of the Brit and he was therefore exempt from the Mitzvah, lest he too, succumb. The man proposed that he be allowed to do the Brit, since he had had experience with heavy bleeding. The man agreed on two conditions. First, that the man remain one full month to insure that no problems arise and two, that the man would have to put up a 400 ruble deposit. At the end of the month, he would get the deposit plus another 400 rubles payment. The man agreed.

The Brit took place and the child bled heavily. Heading the Rebbe's advice, the man applied the necessary apothecaries and the bleeding stopped. A week went by and the child showed no ill effects from the procedure. In the meantime, the price of cattle picked up. He asked the innkeeper if he could be absolved of his conditions. The innkeeper refused. Another week went by and the prices of cattle soared. The man grew quite anxious as he wanted to get rid of his cattle. The innkeeper still refused. After four weeks the price of cattle hit an all time high. The man bid the innkeeper farewell received his deposit and payment and sold his cattle.

May the merit of the Tzaddik
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak ben Meir of Berditchev
protect us all, Amen.
For more TERRIFIC stories of Rebbi Levi Yitzchak, see the wide selection of stories on Chabad's site right HERE:
For another terrific site filled with stories and teachings of Rebbi Levi Yitzchak click HERE!

To read more stories (if these are not enough!) do check out ASCENT's site, do a search for Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and enjoy!

One more link filled with Rebbi Levi Yitzchak's teachings, stories and translations can be seen HERE. You can also download a free copy of Gut Von Avraham - the special prayer composed by Rebbi Levi Yitzchak to be recited each Motzei Shabbat just before Havdalah.

Yahrtzeit - 24 Tishrei - Rabbi Yaakov Yosef HaKohen Katz of Polnoye

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef HaKohen Katz of Polnoye

Born: c. 1669
Died: Polnoye, Russia 1781

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef HaKohen Katz was a foremost disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. He was born before the Baal Shem Tov. Although his exact birth date is not known, it is accepted that he lived more than 110 years!!!

Having been born before the beginning of the Chassidut movement, his attachment to Torah did not follow in accordance with Chassidic thought. It was only after a mysterious meeting with the Holy Baal Shem Tov where he remained together with him privately for a few hours – that he changed his thinking to become the foremost disciple! Although he was so close to the Baal Shem Tov, he did not become the leader of the Chassidic movement after the Baal Shem Tov. This would be the position reserved for the Maggid of Mezritch – Rabbi Dov Ber. While the Maggid was an extroverted charismatic leader who was able to reach the masses, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef remained the more introverted type of successful Torah scholar. He was a direct descendant of the Kabbalist Rabbi Shimshon of Ostropole and Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller – author of the Tosefot YomTov, the well known commentary on the Mishna. He is gifted for being able to express himself successfully in both the revealed Torah in Halachah as well as the hidden aspect of Torah – Kabbalah and Chassidut.

He wrote the Toldot Yaakov Yosef – a commentary on all the Parshiyot of the Torah. It was the first Chassidic book to come out in print! It blends both Kabbalisic teachings together with Halachic law as well as philosophical concepts. He quotes his teacher the Baal Shem Tov 280 times. The work was praised by the Chassidic giants including Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz who called it “Torah from the Garden of Eden.”

He also authored: Ben Porat Yosef, Tzofnat Paaneach and Ketonet Passim.

He is known to the Chassidic world as simply “The Toldos.” He had one righteous son – Rabbi Avraham Shimshon and one righteous daughter.

The Floating Bed
"Every word, every letter in this book, Toldot Yaakov Yosef, is precious," Reb Yayvi, the Maggid of Ostra told his son, Getzel. "There is just one passage whose meaning eludes me." Reb Yayvi turned again to the obtuse section and pored over it for a long time but could not fathom its meaning.
"Come, Getzel," he announced to his son. "We are going to R' Yaakov Yosef himself for an explanation." After many hours of travel, the carriage finally stopped in front of R' Yaakov Yosef's house. They found R' Yaakov Yosef lying in bed. It was several days before he would die.
"I have come to you for Torah knowledge. I bought your precious book and enjoyed it thoroughly, studying it closely from cover to cover. There was one passage, however, which I could not understand. I have come here to ask you for an explanation."
R' Yaacov Yosef motioned to the bookcase where his volume stood among other books. "Bring it here and show me exactly which passage you are referring to." The visitor did as he was told. As soon as he opened the book, it fell to the particular paragraph in question. He handed it to the man in bed.
"Here, it says, 'I heard from my rebbe the Baal Shem Tov...'"
As soon as he began explaining, R' Yaakov's face began to glow with an unearthly aura, his body appeared like a burning torch. The very bed he lay on rose in the air and hovered, surrounded by a pillar of fire !
"When he finished his explanation," Reb Getzel would tell over many times in the years to come, "everything returned to normal. The fire disappeared and the bed rested once more on the floor with its occupant, an exhausted old man."
"It is a sight I will never forget all my days," Reb Getzel would say, swearing by his beard that it was all true. (Sifrei Kodesh)
May the merit of the tzaddik Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye protect us all, Amen.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Yahrzteit - 18 Tishrei - Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

Born: Mizhbozh, Podolia, Russia, 1772 (1st of Nissan)

Died: Uman, Podolia, Russia, 1810

Rabbi Nachman, a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, occupies a singular place on the chassidic firmament as an innovator who roused his followers to heretofore unknown heights of Dveikut, attachment to God, coupled with sublime joy. Even as a youngster he showed signs of greatness, studying the Talmud without letup. After his marriage at 13 he would often go into seclusion, seeking communion with God through fervent prayer and fasting, a practice he continued throughout his life. He would wander off into fields and forests, contemplating the marvels of God's creation. Divesting himself of the mundane, he would reach a state of high exaltation and experience the purest form of spiritual joy.

After he settled in Medvidovka, his fame as a holy man spread rapidly, and a steady stream of Chassidim converged on his modest dwelling to be inspired by his saintly way of life.

In 1798 he traveled to Eretz Yisrael. Word of his imminent arrival spread rapidly, and many admirers, among them well-known Kabbalists, flocked to join his circle of ardent followers. His brief stay ended when Napoleon invaded the country. Returning home he settled in Breslov, which became a principal centre of Chassidism. His rise to prominence and his controversial leaning toward an asceticism that was coupled with exuberant ecstasy provoked a great deal of opposition on the part of those rebbes who claimed that his service lacked dignity. On the heels of a bitter dispute, as well as a calamitous fire that ravaged his home, he left Breslov in 1810 and settled in Uman. On Sukkot of the following year he died of tuberculosis at the age of 38, without appointing a successor, and no rebbe was chosen.

Though the Breslov Chasidim still have no living rebbe, their movement continues to flourish and is today operating Yeshivot and other institutions in America, Israel and many other countries, continually attracting many new adherents and Baalei Teshuvah (newly observant Jews) who are drawn by the warmth of its enthusiastic fervor. every year thousands of Chassidim travel to Uman to visit the tomb of Rabbi Nachman, who has remained their rebbe.

Before his death, Rabbi Nachman instructed his followers to destroy all his writings, but in spite of this admonition 52 of his books were published by his closest disciple, Rabbi Nathan. Among these is Likutei Moharan, a collection of his thoughts. The lessons are long and complex, masterfully drawing on the entire body of Talmudic, Midrashic and Kabbalistic literature. Ideas are connected by a poetic and intuitive grasp of the texts. He strongly opposes all philosophical speculation, counselling his followers to serve God with simple, naive, childlike faith. Rabbi Nachman is known for the intricate tales he wove of princes and beggars, horsemen and rabbis; these were parables with profound moral messages, which were compiled by R' Nathan in his Sippurei Maasiyot.

Always Be Happy

When you are filled with joy all day you can easily find an hour in which to pour out your heart before the Holy One blessed is He. When you are depressed, it is very difficult to seclude yourself and speak to God. Therefore, do your best, even force yourself to be always happy, especially when you are praying. It is impossible to reach a true state of happiness except by doing [what may be seen as] foolish things [that is by removing every trace of self-importance, and not caring what others think of you]. (Mekor Hasimchah)

Early Marriage

It happens very often that parents claim that they love their children and don't want to marry them off while they are still young. "Let them stay at home for a few more years," they contend. These parents don't love their children; they love themselves! For at that young age, their children are consumed with sexual desire. Parents who love their children therefore marry them off young.

They often use as an excuse the high cost of living, and the enormous expenses involved in preparing a wedding. That too is a fallacy. Where is it written that they must display their wealth by wasting money on ostentatious weddings? Let them make a modest wedding, and if they saved any money let them give it to the young couple. If they would invite to the wedding only the closest members of the family they could easily marry off all their children without incurring exorbitant expenditures.

Sometimes the search for a match of status and distinguished lineage is the reason for deferring marriage plans for their children. In order to gain prominence for themselves, these parents delay their children's marriage for many years. Don't they realize that many young people go astray because they were not married at an early age? Let the parents have pity on their children and marry them off when they are young. They will then enjoy much pleasure from them and from the children they will have. The parents will live to see the fulfilment of the verse, "Your children shall be like olive shoots surrounding your table" (Psalm 128:4). (Erech Apayim)

Prayer in the Open Field

When you pray out in the field, the entire plant world comes to your aid and lends strength to your prayers. It is for this reason that one of the terms used for prayer is "Sichah", which is related to "Siach", denoting shrubs, as in Genesis 2:5. Indeed, when the Torah relates that Isaac went out into the field to pray (Genesis 24:63), the word used for "to pray" is "Lasu'ach" (cognate to Siach), for Isaac's prayer was boosted by the energy inherent in the plants. (Likutei Moharan, Tanina 11)


“If you believe that you can damage, believe you can fix.” – R' Nachman of Breslov

May the merit of the Tzaddik
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov protect us all, Amen.

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teaching about Rebbe Nachman
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Sunday, 12 October 2008

Zohar - Parshat Pinchas - Raya Mehemna - The Four Species - Man Himself...


Daf 255b (end) – 256a



[On Sukkot, we are commanded to take 4 species together, make a blessing on them and wave them around at various times during the davening. The verse in Leviticus 23:40 says, “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a citron tree, the branches of date palms, twigs of a plaited tree, and brook willows.” The Zohar discusses the reason why we are commanded to use these particular species – rather than perhaps others. It describes how in fact each relates to the various 10 Sefirot. Just as a person’s body – made in the image of G-d, is composed of physical representations of the 10 Sefirot i.e. the right hand/arm for Chesed and the left hand/arm for Gevurah etc. so too do these species represent the 10 Sefirot. The 4 species correspond to the most vital parts of a person’s body which he uses in the service of G-d. By waving them, we similarly place the energy of our entire bodies into the service of G-d.]

Lulav in the right: The Lulav is taken in the right hand to show that it is the side of kindness. [Whenever possible, any action done to affect kindness must be done with the right hand e.g. when one gives another Tzeddakah, one must use one’s right hand which is the side of Chesed – Kindness.] And it comprises six species parallel to the Va”K [Vav Ketzavot – lit: the six extremities i.e. the six Sefirot Chesed, Gevurah, Tiferet, Netzach, Hod, Yesod] which are included in Yesod. [The Sefirah of Yesod which acts as a channel for the flow of energy is also the name that represents the entire array of these 6 Sefirot.] [Although there are only 4 actual species that are waved, the word “Lulav” actually refers to the entire array of 6 separate species that we hold in our right hands i.e. One Lulav, three Hadassim, two Aravot – excluding the Etrog which will be taken in the left hand by itself and brought towards the “Lulav”.]

And it explains: Three [Daf 256a] Hadassimthe three myrtles are the secret of [the three Sefirot] Gedulah [i.e. Chesed - Kindness] Gevurah [Strength], Tiferet [Beauty], and they are comparable to the three colorings of the eye, two stalks of the Aravot [willows] are the secret of [the Sefirot] Netzach [Eternity/Victory] and Hod [Splendor], and they are comparable to the two lips. Lulav [the palm branch] is the aspect of Yesod [Foundation], is comparable to the spine that through it is the existence of all the bones and upon it King David said, (Psalms 35:10) “All my limbs will say, G-d who is like You?” Etrog [citron] is the secret of Malchut [Kingship] which is the crown of the Yesod of Z”A is like the heart that in it are thoughts. And the reason for all this is in order for a person to subjugate all his limbs towards his Creator and to unify all his senses to the service of his Creator. For there are no other limbs that include all the actions of a person and the subjugation of his body like these – the eye to see, the lips to speak, through the spine is the establishment of the entire structure of the body, and the heart which is the king of all the limbs through thought. These limbs that parallel the 4 species of the Lulav include all the matters of a person.

[It is worth noting that the Lulav being strong and straight in appearance, parallels the look of the spine. The myrtles have the shape of an eye. The willows have the shape of lips and the citron has a shape similar to the heart. Our sages say that when it comes to the action of a misdeed, (See Tur, Orach Chayim chapter 1. Rashi Numbers 15:39) “The eyes see, the heart desires, and the limbs commit the deed.” From here we see clearly how these three parts of the body are directly connected with any action we involve ourselves in. The mouth which is not included is nevertheless our other means of action. Through the mouth we can achieve with our words the same good or it’s opposite as we can with our entire bodies – although one does not do any physical act as such. By waving these 4 species we correct what we may have caused through using our bodies by not directing them to the service of G-d. In this way, we direct these species and our bodies completely to the service of G-d.]


Bold print: Original Zohar

Ordinary text: Matok Midvash

[Square brackets]: Rabbi Eliyahu Shear

(Round brackets): Either the source being quoted e.g. Proverbs etc., or alternatively used to quote the kabbalistic language as discussed in Matok Midvash. The Matok Midvash formats the Nigleh side of things in an ordinary print, and the Nistar terminology in Rashi script. I’ve therefore put the Rashi script – the Nistar terminology in round brackets.

Zohar - Parshat Vayakhel - Yonah Enters the Giant Fish - The Soul Entering the Body

Matok Midvash pp. 230-232

[On Yom Kippur we read the story of the Prophet Jonah. He is commanded by G-d to inform the people of the city of Ninveh to repent. Not wanting to obey G-d’s command, Jonah takes a ship to Tarshish, and while in the middle of the journey, leaps off the ship he is on, into the sea where he is swallowed by a giant fish (whale.) In fact, as this Zohar points out in a discourse over many pages, "Jonah" is the soul of every Jew, that is placed into the body. The story of Jonah is actually the story of every Jew’s entire life, until death… and even onwards…]

For the remainder of this post including the Zohar selection - 

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Yahrtzeit - 12 Tishrei - Rabbi Avraham HaMalach (The Angel)

Rabbi Avraham HaMalach (The Angel)

Born: Mezritch, 1739 (/1741)

Died: Chavastov, 1776

Rabbi Avraham was the son of the Maggid, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezritch, the Baal Shem Tov's successor.

The Maggid once effected an unprecedented spiritual unification (yichud), which caused such joy in Heaven that he was asked to name his reward. "I didn't do it for a reward," he replied. But when pressed, he asked for a "golden chain" - that is, that all his descendants should be Tzaddikim. His wish was granted.

Through many years of marriage, the Maggid remained childless. After he met the Baal Shem Tov, his master declared that despite his frailty, he would live long and father a son so pure and holy that people would hardly think him human.

Born in 1741, that son was known as Rabbi Avraham the Malach (angel), because an angel appeared to his mother to herald his birth, and because he was as angelically free of temptation as his sainted father.

A Tzaddik's Youth

The only accounts of his youth tell us that R' Avraham learned Kabbalah from the Maggid and the revealed Torah from Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the teacher chosen by the boy's father. R' Shneur Zalman once complained to the Maggid that even during their study sessions, R' Avraham insisted on explaining the halachah and aggadah kabbalistically. "Don't worry," the Maggid reassured him. "You learn your way and he'll learn his. Just show him the outward cloak of the Torah, and he'll show you what lies within."

From his earliest youth, R' Avraham led an other-worldly existence. He would remain in his room the entire day, crowned with Tefillin and engrossed in study. Enveloped in his Tallit, he could neither see nor be seen. Thus he shielded himself from the material world and anything entrenched within it.

R' Yisrael of Ruzhin (the grandson of R' Avraham HaMalach) recalled: "When R' Zusia of Anipole uttered HaShem's Name, he was seized with such fear that his limbs trembled, and his blood ran cold. He had to ask HaShem to insulate him against such awe. But my grandfather was an angel who subsisted on nothing more than a pigeon skin a day. His fear of HaShem never left him for a moment."

The Malach's other-worldliness was so extraordinary that when his father sought to find him a wife, he exclaimed, "How can one descend to such physicality?" Only because of the sanctity of the mitzvah did he agree to marry.

A Match Made in Heaven

When R' Avraham's first wife passed away, the Maggid sent two distinguished men of Mezritch to the town of Kremenitz to arrange for his son to wed the daughter of R' Feivel, author of Mishnas Chachamim.

R' Feivel's wife was quite amused by this notion, for she had never heard of the Maggid, and her daughter was only twelve years old. But R' Feivel agreed to the match.

As they wrote the Tenaim (engagement agreement), the Maggid's emissaries stressed that the wedding mustn't be delayed. The wedding and week of Sheva Brachot abounded in rejoicing, festivity and Divrei Torah. The bride's mother returned to Kremenitz filled with joy, for she had never seen anything like it.

R' Avraham's new wife was not a simple woman. Twice, she dreamed that a tribunal of distinguished-looking sages wanted to take away her husband, but she screamed and pleaded his case. In the third occurrence of this dream, the court decreed, "Your defenses are so strong that we will allow him to remain with you for another twelve years." The next morning, the Maggid thanked her profusely for her efforts, which had granted his son another 12 years of life. After his death, the Maggid appeared to his daughter-in-law in a dream whenever necessary. One night he told her, "Tell your husband to change rooms, or at least to move his books into your room." Her husband, however, dismissed the matter. The next night, a fire broke out in R' Avraham's room, burning his entire library.

R' Avraham did not succeed his father as the leader of the Chassidic movement. Instead, he settled in Fastov, far from the center of Chassidut, where he lived in isolation. He himself said, "A certain type of Tzaddik cannot lead his generation, for they cannot relate to him. Due to his great intellect, he cannot sink low enough to uplift them."

The Inheritance

The Maggid often warned his son about the dangers of self-affliction. Even after death, he appeared to his son with his strictures, stressing the obligation to honor one's father, even posthumously.

"What do I have to do with you," R. Avraham replied, "my father of flesh and blood? My soul yearns for my exalted Father!"

"My son," inquired R. Dov Ber, "If I am not your father, why did you accept your inheritance?" "I hereby renounce it," declared the Malach. That moment, fire engulfed his house, consuming everything the Maggid had bequeathed him.

Shortly thereafter, on the eve of Yom Kippur, R' Avraham donned the white, silken Bekeshe his father had worn on the High Holidays. But when he entered the synagogue, the flame of a lit candle leaped onto the robe and incinerated it. Thus were severed his ties to his forebears and to all flesh and blood.

Words of Rebuke

When R. Avraham once visited his father-in-law in Kremenitz the whole town came out to greet the wondrous man known to everyone as the Malach. But R. Avraham ignored them and merely stared at a tall mountain. The people anxiously awaited a word from the Malach, but he remained lost in thought.

Among those present was a young mitnagged who was very impressed with his own learning and lineage, and very unimpressed by R. Avraham's strange behavior. Unable to restrain himself, he demanded, "Why are you staring at that mountain for so long? It's only a clump of earth!"

"I am staring in amazement," the Malach replied, "How could such a simple clump of earth be haughty enough to become a tall mountain?"

The young man trembled and squirmed as these words penetrated his heart.

A Very Special Matzah

Every Pesach, R. Avraham baked Shmurah Matzah for his father, who trusted no one else. One year the Malach sent his father three matzos with one of the Maggid's students, Dr. Gordia. Intrigued by these holy Matzos, which he knew were baked with lofty intent, Dr. Gordia couldn't resist taking one for himself and replacing it with one of his own.

At the Seder that night, after tasting only a small piece of Matzah, Dr. Gordia suddenly felt as if his entire body were burning. "The Rebbe!" he gasped.

The members of his household rushed to the Maggid, who prescribed a remedy. The next day, R' Dov Ber said that only because Dr. Gordia was his doctor had he been allowed to remain alive. Otherwise, the intense Kedushah (holiness) of the Matzah would have consumed him.

The Appearance of a Tzaddik

The Malach's appearance struck awe in all who beheld him, even other Tzaddikim. One Tzaddik prepared himself for a month before visiting him. The minute he saw R. Avraham putting on Tefillin, he shuddered and fled without even greeting him.

The Baal Shem Tov's grandchildren, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim and Rabbi Baruch, once came to gaze upon the Malach. Afraid to enter his room, they peeked through a window instead. When R. Avraham arose and R. Baruch looked into his face, he became so frightened that he grabbed his brother and ran, leaving behind his books and his coat in his haste.

Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl once performed a Brit Milah, and R. Avraham served as the Sandek. A large crowd gathered in the synagogue, eager to see the reclusive Malach. But when he arrived, all but twenty of the people bolted, and the Shamash was afraid to speak to him. When the Malach approached the Bimah, R. Nachum became so startled that he dropped the Mohel's knife, and forgot whether he had pronounced the blessing over the Milah. When he returned home, R. Nachum sat down, silent and bewildered. His attendant brought him coffee, and twice he refused, saying: "How can we drink when we know that there is a man who serves Hashem with such loftiness?"

The Malach's Avodat HaShem was very intense. Once, as he prayed, his soul began to depart from his body. R. Shneur Zalman instructed those near him to replace his Rashi Tefillin with those of Rabbenu Tam. Only then did he return to his normal self.

The Malach's Passing

On his final Yom Kippur, the Malach became very weak. By the time of the Neilah service, he could no longer speak. Asked if a message should be sent to R. Nachum, the Malach nodded his agreement. Two days later, on the twelfth of Tishrei, 1776, the Malach passed away.

R. Nachum learned of R. Avraham's death a few days later, on Sukkot. Banging his head against the wall, he cried continuously for two hours. Finally, his chassidim carried him into the Sukkah and said, "Rebbe, remember that today is Yom Tov!" Only then did he regain his composure and recount the Malach's greatness.

R. Avraham lived only 36 years, just long enough - chassidim say in the name of R' Meir of Premishlan - to liberate the soul of the pious Rabbi Yisrael of Ruzhin from the "treasure house of souls." R' Yisrael of Ruzhin himself believed that his grandfather, R. Avraham, was that rare Tzaddik capable of clinging to his Creator constantly. When Rabbi Moshe of Savran noted that R. Avraham didn't live very long, R' Yisrael retorted, "Irrelevant! One only comes into this world to accomplish what is good for his soul. Once he finishes, he returns to the Source, whence his soul was hewn."

Messages in a Dream

After the week of Shivah, R. Avraham's wife came to Chavastov to receive her husband's bequest. R. Avraham's followers tried to comfort her, but she was inconsolable. That night she dreamed that she entered a great, beautiful palace, where she beheld her husband, his face radiant with joy, and several distinguished-looking elders.

"My wife always complained that I was overly abstemious," he told them, "and she was justified. I therefore beg her forgiveness in your presence."

"You are forgiven wholeheartedly," she replied.

"The Torah allows her to remarry," R' Avraham continued, "especially since she is only 24 years old. I will not prevent her. But if she agrees not to marry another, I will cover all her expenses, and those of her children. And when she comes home, each child will already have an appropriate match."

When she returned home, her children immediately found good Shidduchim (matches), and her business improved and provided for all her needs. The Malach continued to appear in her dreams whenever necessary.

When the wife of Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl passed away, R. Nachum considered taking R. Avraham's widow as his wife. He sent the Malach's son, Rabbi Shalom Shachna, to discuss it with her.

One night, on the way to his mother's home, R. Shalom Shachna dreamed that his father was standing at the entrance to a magnificent palace, his hands reaching its ceiling. "Who dares to enter my palace?!" the Malach shouted. When he awoke, R. Shalom Shachna realized that he and R. Nachum had overstepped their bounds.

His Teachings and Writings

Some of R. Avraham's teachings appeared in his work Chessed L'Avraham (Chernowitz, 1851, Jerusalem 1997). In line with his departure from the ways of the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid with his self-mortification, he hardly mentions them in this work. He aspired to strip away the physical outer layers and reach the highest level of Chassidut, "nothingness," by crushing desires and vices and cultivated an extraordinary humility. He vehemently protested against cultivating concrete discussions of lofty concepts derived from the Upper Worlds, for this he saw as a physical embodiment of the spiritual. Thus, the introduction to Chessed L'Avraham railed against those who taught Kabbalah publicly and reduced it to comprehensible terms. Similarly, he viewed attempts to explain the Divine in human terms as a violation of Jewish belief in an incorporeal God.

R. Avraham attributed the decline of the Chassidic idea through the generations to the terrible sufferings of exile, which, ironically, should have propelled the nation towards its Tzaddikim, through whom goodness and perfection reach the Lower Worlds.

The Malach perceived the Tzaddik as central to redemption. The Jews could rise spiritually only by rallying around him, while he in turn would encompass them all and cleave to Hashem.

Despite this image of the Tzaddik as a man of the people who provides for everyone, he himself withdrew from the world allowing no one into his domain. The foundation of Chassidus is the Rebbe, the Tzaddik of the generation; R. Avraham was the Tzaddik without the generation.

The essence of R. Avraham's teachings lies perhaps in two famous sayings. Quoting a prayer recited on Shabbos, "And all who stand erect shall bow before You," he explained, "Only after reaching his full stature can one completely nullify and subjugate himself, and bow to the Eternal."

Elsewhere in the Shabbat liturgy, we proclaim: "There is none comparable to You, Hashem, our God, in this world; and none beside You, our King, in the World to Come...." Said the Malach: "If, Heaven forbid, there were a split-second without Your inspiration and providence, what could this world give me? What pleasure would I derive from the coming of Mashiach or the resurrection of the dead? But if You are here, everything is here; for nothing can compare to You and the great delight and pleasure of Your influence. There is no satisfaction like that which we gain from You."

Forever seeking the satisfaction to be gained from God - this was the way of the Malach, the way of an angel in human form.

*** More information about the descendants of the Maggid of Mezritch can be found in the book Beit Rizhin. (Hebrew)

May the merit of the tzaddik Rabbi Avraham HaMalach protect us all, Amen.


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