The Jewish Spirit Journal
A Journal of Jewish Mysticism and Spirituality
Vol. 1, No. 9 September 2005

TALES

1. The King's Visit

Breslover hasidim tell a parable to explain the situation of a person who is in a very low spiritual state so that he has no desire or energy for anything good because of the sadness and heaviness he feels.

It is like a servant of the king who fell ill and the king came to visit him. When the sick man saw the king he wanted to rise and honor the king as is fitting. But the king said, "Stay where you are; don't trouble yourself at all for me! Did I come to visit you at such a time in order to trouble you? My only desire now is that you just know this: that I am the king and that I've come to visit you to honor you!"

So too with a person who has no desire or energy for anything holy because of the pains of his soul. The Holy One, blessed be He, who visits the sick, comes to visit him and His only desire, blessed be He, is that the person know and believe that the Holy One, blessed be He, is king and ruler of the world, and that everything that has happened to him and that is happening to him, is all for good and from Him, blessed and exalted be He. And He has come to visit Him and still desires him, and he should try to heal himself, to recover and serve God as before. (Siach Sarfei Kodesh [Breslov], vol.4, p.43, #117)

What an awesome teaching! Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said that a sick person has only one mitzvah: to get well. This Breslov teaching explains that sometimes, when God sees that we are spiritually sick and have no desire or energy to serve Him, He visits us and tells us: "Don't worry! Now, I'm visiting you. My only desire is that you concentrate on getting well!" Who would not revive when the king himself visits his sickbed?

2. Divine Nickname

The townspeople called a certain Breslover hasid who lived in Breslov "Zusya God." They gave him this nickname because he spoke only of God and mentioned God constantly. (Siach Sarfei Kodesh [Breslov], vol.4, p.86, #300) Was this hasid a fool? God-forbid! He is a model for us to turn our speech to holiness.

3. Mother Rachel

Rebbe Tzvi Hirsh the "Servant" of Rimanov was fervent in all his ways. When he rose from his bed to recite Tikkun Hatzot (the Midnight Lamentation), he would ritually wash his hands, and in a thunderous voice cry out from the depths of his pure heart, "Mama Ruchel!" [Mother Rachel, a name for the holy Shechinah]. Then he would leap out of bed and with loud and bitter cries begin to mourn the misery of the Shechinah and the exile of the Jewish people. (Kohen Gadol Mesharait, p.154)

Rachel Tulchiner, a Breslover hasidah (female hasid), was a very great tzaddeket (holy woman) renowned for her hospitality. Sometimes by Friday morning she had none of the challahs left that she had baked for Shabbat, because she had invited so many people to eat and they had already eaten them. She was so famous for her holiness that townspeople called her "Mother Rachel" [after the biblical Rachel who in the Zohar is a symbol of the Shechinah]. (Siach Sarfei Kodesh [Breslov], vol.4, p.145, #491)

4. Torah Trance

The Israeli Breslover hasid, Rabbi Shlomo Wexler, sat and studied Torah constantly his whole life. Once, during the War of Independence, when the Arabs bombed areas of Jerusalem, he said with complete innocence to his son-in-law, "Please go tell the neighbors to stop making so much noise!" He was so immersed in his study. (Siach Sarfei Kodesh [Breslov], vol.4, p.156, #628) Torah study is a form of meditation, and when someone is deep in meditation he or she is unaware of outer reality.

5. One Hair of Merit

The group of Breslover hasidim around Rabbi Sender of Terovitz were wonderfully united and would help each other as much as possible despite their great poverty. Once, when they were sitting gathered together and Rabbi Sender was speaking to them, one poor hasid from their group who lived in Talna told his comrades about his great poverty. His livelihood was selling salted fish on the street on market days and he had to stand outside during the winter the whole day without a warm fur coat of the kind needed to bear such cold weather. Rabbi Sender immediately became aroused and began to talk to them about the greatness of the mitzvah of tzedaka. When he finished speaking and they began to dance, as is the Breslover custom, they each threw as much money as they could onto the table until they had accumulated enough for their friend to buy a warm fur coat. When they finished dancing, Rabbi Sender said to them, "If in the World-to-Come, we have the merit of just one hair from this coat,

6. Saying Torah

Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav once told his great disciple, Rabbi Naftali, "Say Torah," meaning: teach. Rabbi Naftali asked, "Who'll listen to me?" Rabbi Nachman replied, "If I order you to say Torah there'll certainly be someone to listen." Rabbi Meir Hazan and Rabbi Yisrael Terovitzer and his brother, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak, who were raised as orphans in the home of Rabbi Naftali, said that every Shabbat for the third meal, Rabbi Naftali secluded himself in his room. When they searched after him to find out what he was doing then, they saw through the keyhole that he was sitting swaying, saying Torah. (Siach Sarfei Kodesh [Breslov], vol.5, p.21, #59) To whom was he saying Torah? Perhaps to his own soul; perhaps to God.

7. To be Joyful Despite Bad Conditions

Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov once travelled with Rabbi Yisrael Pikover (the son of the Berditchever rebbe) in order to redeem a captive. They arrived at a certain inn to sleep and were given a room that had cracks in the roof and from which pieces of the roof were falling down. Pouring rain was also coming in through the roof onto the bed were Rabbi Yisrael Pikover was sleeping, and Rabbi Yisrael was very troubled because he was not used to such miserable conditions.

Rabbi Moshe Leib, on the other hand, made all sorts of calculations for himself in order to be able to remain joyful and happy. For example, he said to himself: If he had a pain on his right side he would have to sleep on his left side; if he also had a pain on his left side he would then have to sleep on his back; and if he also had a back pain, he could not even sleep on his back! And so on with other such imagined calculations. So, since he actually did not have any of these various pains, he could rejoice and be happy! And he became so happy that he jumped out of bed, grabbed Rabbi Yisrael out of bed, and they began to dance. (Yehi Or, p.225, #469)

8. Ahead of the Devotional Curve

A group of outstanding younger Slonimer hasidim used to davven in a corner of one of the synagogues in Lodz. In the place where they davvened, the floor was curved because of all their jumping up and down and dancing and foot stomping. (Yehi Or, p.366, #773)

Why shouldn't we be as fervent? Aren't we also lucky enough to be Jews?

9. Unfazed

An important Slonimer hasid, R. Moshe Midner, said that every shtibel has three main hasidim, and everything that happens revolves around them; he said that the three Slonimer hasidim in Bialystok were Rabbi Artshik, Rabbi Eliyahu Feinsod, and Rabbi Ephraim Shalom. One Sabbath evening the three were returning home after a hasidic gathering. They were walking together down the street when suddenly the police arrived and arrested them. Some horses were stolen, and since they were the only people around, they must be the thieves! The three hasidim were taken to the jail.

They sat in the jail and continued their hasidic gathering with Sabbath hymns, because what did they care where they were singing? One can serve God in any place! They sang with great devotion for a long time. When the guard at the jail saw that they were fully enjoying themselves and even singing, he became furious; and he knew that if he put them in a cell where there was a toilet, they would not be able to sing songs and hymns, because Jewish law forbids uttering holy words near feces; so he put them in a cell with a toilet. But they did not become confused; if they could not sing, they would dance! So they joined hands and danced fervently, as they normally would. When the guard saw this, he became even angrier and yelled at them, "You madmen, get out of here!" And he kicked them out of the jail. (Yehi Or, p.373, #788)

Holy joy can overcome any circumstances; it can get us kicked out of the prison of our misery.

10. Come O Bride!

The hall in Tiberias was full and humming with the noise of people who had come to rejoice at the wedding of the bride and groom. People sat around tables from which the waiters were removing the remnants of the meal and waiting for the last of the seven wedding blessings to be concluded and for the band to begin playing. After a few minutes the band began to play and everyone got up and went to the open space in the hall to form circles for dancing.

Rabbi Avraham (later the rebbe of Slonim; d. 1981), one of the important Slonimer hasidim in Tiberias, was also present and joined the dancers. But to the surprise of everyone, he went into the center of the circle, where a few simple Jews were dancing wildly to entertain the bride and groom. These few men would appear at every wedding-- sometimes they had a connection to the celeebrants, other times they came uninvited. People were friendly to them but also pitied them for this undignified peroformance that would win them a nice meal. So people felt that Rabbi Avraham was lowering himself by dancing with them. But Rabbi Avraham ignored their glances and danced in the center with these Jews, with great energy, imitating their wild movements and steps and in fact giving them some pleasure. When this scenario was repeated at many wedding celebrations and Rabbi Avraham was humbling himself to the dust at every wedding, people told him that it wasn't fitting for a prominent rabbi and hasid to be dancing like that with such common people. "Is it them I'm dancing with?" replied Rabbi Avraham. "I'm dancing with the Shechinah, who is called 'bride'!" (HaRebbe HaKadosh MiSlonim, p.289)

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Copyright 2004-2005, Yitzhak Buxbaum. All rights reserved.