Emunah Based on the Teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

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Questions and Answers to Maximize your Prayer at the Holy Tomb of Rebbe Nachman

By HaRav Kletsky, Shlit”a Rosh Hashana 5770

How can someone describe the great nachas and joy, both in heaven above and down here on earth, as  tens of thousands of Jews are taking heed of the call of the Rebbe, zt”l, sacrificing themselves in order to carry out his holy command to gather together by him for Rosh Hashanah.

The Rebbe once remarked how every step of the way creates an angel. Just imagine how many angels are being created from all the thousands of travelers together and from all their difficulties and overcoming of obstacles which they experience, from acquiring a ticket to the whole organization of the trip, not to speak of the journey itself.

Is it a wonder, then, that Hashem has such delight from this?  The day of the coronation of the King, Hashem, approaches. Now is the time that the Tzaddik is going to extract from the Sitra Achara all the good which he has caused Klal Yisroel to lose out on throughout the whole year (see Likutei Moharan II 8).

It’s therefore possible that various different questions, doubts and confusion may come up, in order to disturb us from achieving the joy and satisfaction that we should be, concerning this journey. The forces of the yetzer hara are disturbed that heaven is taking such enjoyment from what’s happening, and with all their might they are trying to confound this holy enterprise, by bringing into our hearts dejection and lack of enthusiasm.

We therefore thought it worthwhile to provide answers and practical solutions to several questions which have been brought to our attention.

Question #1

I was looking forward the whole year for this journey to Uman. But now that I’m here, I’ve totally lost any enthusiasm. My heart feels all blocked-up. Where has all my passion gone?

It’s imperative to know a very important concept in the service of Hashem. The yetzer hara of a person is not one, big yetzer hara, which sometimes you win over, and sometimes he wins over you. Every test we pass through in life is a totally new yetzer. Whenever a person wins over one yetzer hara, he is immediately sent to combat a new yetzer hara.

Therefore, don’t get taken aback when you realize that in the past you may have had a longing and yearning for kedushah, and now all that former excitement is gone. This doesn’t mean that you’ve fallen. All it means is that you were already victorious in the first battle when you originally thought about doing Teshuvah, and developed a desire to travel to the Tzaddik, at that point.

Now that you are by the Tzaddik, a new encounter is starting with a new enemy: a battle to regain your excitement and enthusiasm.

See Likutei Moharan I, Lesson 72, for a more detailed explanation of this concept.

Question #2

I am always thinking of all the stories which I’ve heard about the great Breslover Chassidim of previous generations, how they would spend whole days and nights in prayer and Hisbodedus by the Holy Tziyun. I also see all the people standing by the Tziyun, and how they all seem to be so full of enthusiasm. Why am I so unsuccessful at being like them?

We must be very careful when we hear stories about Tzaddikim and other great people. Their main purpose is to provide general inspiration to serve Hashem better. But be wary of trying to imitate any Tzaddik or great person. Everybody has his own unique soul and therefore a different way of serving Hashem and everyone must concentrate on his own talents when coming close to the Tzaddik, and to take from him what he needs to take.

We have no understanding of the exalted Tikkunim, rectifications of our souls, which the Rebbe is performing by the Tziyun. We are here because of the trust we have placed in the Tzaddik, and our faithfulness to his command. We must therefore realize that the Tzaddik rectifies everyone according to his individual soul. For one person the Tzaddik does this by causing him to be filled with thoughts of Teshuvah and repentance, and for someone else, the Tzaddik does the same thing with feelings of detachment. (This is explained in Likutei Moharan I, 63.)

Sometimes the rectification of our blemishes is dependent upon a person getting a very strong feeling of rejection, until he almost feels sorry for expending himself so much to come to the Tzaddik. If he will then overcome his feelings, and be stubborn not to despair, and instead to simply do whatever he has to, like saying Tehillim, this alone will merit him to his Tikkun. This is explained at length in Likutei Halachos, Tefillin 4.

Be strong! Maybe you were chosen to be the one to demonstrate the strength of being able to have faith even without any feeling.

Question #3

What do I do? I’m standing by the Tziyun, trying to arouse myself. I say some Tehillim, Likutei Tefilos, and I try with all my might to pour out my heart to Hashem, and it just doesn’t work. My heart is locked up, and the well of tears has dried up.

The Rebbe has already taught us that when a person is praying and is thinking about how he would like to cry, this in itself is a “foreign thought.” He should be trying to concentrate only on the words of the prayers which he is saying, and to also keep in mind that Hashem is certainly listening to him.

The same applies when doing Teshuvah, and confessing one’s sins, and begging for a better future; say the words, even without any feeling. Keep out of your mind any thought or anticipation of trying to feel something or to cry. Just believe with simplicity that you are for sure being heard.

(On a side note, that even though it’s for sure good to get close to the Tziyun, it’s still possible to pray anywhere in the room. There’s no need to wait or push until you reach it, as explained in the writings of the Tcheriner Rav.)

You must be very careful about this, because this is one of the most common causes of confusion which affects many people in every prayer and Hisbodedus, and especially by the Rebbe’s Tziyun. They are constantly checking themselves to see if they are feeling something or not.

We don’t mean to say that you should pray just with lip service, without any feeling whatsoever. On the contrary, you should try to concentrate on what you are saying, but the feelings should come automatically. You don’t need to force yourself to experience something. Just say the words, simply and honestly, with whatever’s in your heart right then, together with bearing in mind the belief that Hashem is certainly listening.

An additional thing which is important to emphasize is to set aside time during your stay in Uman for Torah study, such as Chumash, Gemara, Mishnayos, and Shulchan Aruch. It would even be advisable to have a study partner. This helps very much to have a clear, fresh mind. The Torah which you study also helps out in your prayers. It’s been tried and tested that when the mind is empty of Torah, it’s difficult to engage in Tefillah. (Of course, that doesn’t absolve someone from praying when feeling empty.)

It’s also important to make time to study the Rebbe’s works. Take an idea from the Rebbe or Reb Nosson on Rosh Hashanah, think about it, and discuss it with your friends. This will help you build up your mind and heart to be able to pray better.

Question #4

During the stay in Uman, I feel a pressure to be especially careful to spend my time wisely, to accomplish as much as I can. This completely takes away my enthusiasm to be by the Tziyun. Everything I do I think that maybe I should be doing more, or that I should be doing something else now. I have no satisfaction from any prayer or study, and I feel like the whole time I’m persecuting myself for wasting time. After a day or two I’m already looking forward to the flight home, but on the plane I’m full of regret for not spending my time properly.

Even when going back to my quarters to eat or sleep, I feel that maybe I’m supposed to be trying harder to stay by the Tziyun, since every moment there is worth a treasure.

Every morning there’s this fear, what will I do the whole day by the Tziyun, and ultimately the whole day passes without doing anything.

Everybody has to recognize his own abilities, to know how long he is able to spend by the Tziyun. Of course, it’s important to be careful not to get carried away with idle chatter, getting into a conversation with every friend you see. Try to see that the conversations that you do have revolve around serving Hashem, and be careful not to get into arguments. With such an attitude, there’s nothing to worry about, for on the contrary, such conversation can provide a break to refresh your mind. It’s understood that you can take care of all your needs, to spend time at the apartment, to eat something, or to rest. in this manner, even the time spent away from the Tziyun can be considered akin to preparation for serving Hashem.

It would be great to start a new beginning in Uman, to start keeping “Shvisi Hashem LeNegdi Tamid”, to constantly place Hashem before me. Even in the apartment, and even at meal times. The Rebbe related to us how much he toiled to develop the habit of always thinking about Hashem. It’s certainly good for us to start now, when we are by the Rebbe, especially at the times when we are outside the Tziyun. Even when it’s hard and we aren’t successful, keep starting again, even a thousand times. This is the only way to start getting into the habit of “shvisi”, to start again and again innumerable times, whenever you remember Hashem, especially when involved in mundane matters.

As a preparation to being by the Tziyun, it’s good to first study Torah, and then to go to the Tziyun without taking a break for idle chatter. But the main thing is that everything should be with tranquility and without pressure.

By the Tziyun, start with thanking Hashem for whatever you’ve merited until now, and then talk to Hashem about Teshuvah and confession for some time. Afterwards say the Tikkun Haklali, and the prayer afterwards. It’s very important to try to do Hisbodedus, to pour out your heart to Hashem, but even then, to be careful to avoid pressure and anxiousness. Try hard to speak from the heart, with simplicity, about whatever is on your heart and all that you desire.

When there is a need to rest, you can sit by the side and simply say Tehillim. You can even rejuvenate yourself by speaking with your friends, to go outside, get some fresh air, and get something to eat. There’s nothing wrong with that. But be careful to avoid arguments and pointless conversations. You can then go back to the Tziyun for a little more. Just like in Yeshivah, when there is a set time to learn, and a time to take a break.

In general, when somebody doesn’t have a schedule, even if he plans on spending the whole day in Torah and prayer without a break, at the end of the day he ends up wasting his time either in the apartment, or eating, or checking out what’s for sale by the vendors. But when he schedules himself, he knows that there will be time to eat, there will be time to speak with friends, and there will be time to sleep and rest. And there will be plenty of relaxed time for Torah study, prayer and Hisbodedus.

Even if this is also too hard for you, don’t get upset. The most important thing is just to keep away from things which might cool you off from the tone of Avodas Hashem.

The main and most important thing is to be relaxed. Remember the great privilege you have to participate in the holy Kibbutz by the Tziyun, an awesome thing of which there is nothing greater, and to ask Hashem that the whole experience should help you to come closer to Him throughout the year.

When you accustom yourself to think in this fashion, you will be able to spend your entire time attached to Kedushah. This in itself is preparation for Rosh Hashanah, to realize that everything, even resting, is a component of serving Hashem. Recite Berachos with concentration; eat slowly, without pushing to get a portion, with the certainty that nobody has the ability to take away from you that which you are supposed to receive from Hashem. Speak with your friends with Derech Eretz, without lightheartedness or Lashon Hara or arguing. Realize that proper behavior is also part of serving Hashem.

With this you will be able to absorb the atmosphere of spiritual elevation which surrounds the Tziyun. As the Rebbe teaches in Likutei Moharan #191, that it’s possible that two people could be sitting right next to each other, yet one is enjoying the experience of spiritual delights, and the other feels nothing. It all depends on Simcha, joy, and Emunah, faith, clarity of what you want, and serenity.

The Rebbe describes (Likutei Moharan II #115) how many people have yearned to ascend to Eretz Yisroel, but from their great longing they were unable to imagine that Eretz Yisroel exists in this material world. When they got there they saw how the land is just like the rest of the world, and there is earth and stones there just like everywhere else. We must realize that with material eyes we can’t see the difference. Everything depends on faith.

The same applies with everything pertaining to Yiddishkeit. For example, when we hear about the greatness of the Tziyun, and the holiness of Rosh Hashanah, we imagine something heavenly and other worldly, which we have a strong desire to reach. But when we actually get to Rosh Hashanah, we can’t understand how this is the thing which we were longing for so much. With material eyes, the place looks just like everywhere else, especially since we have gotten so used to it, and it is so full of masses of people. The awesome day of Rosh Hashanah seems to be an ordinary day. This is how the world works; sometimes a person has an inspiration and sees the world with entirely different eyes. Other times are simpler; then, the material world conceals everything and makes itself look real.

This is the reason why when we reach Uman and the Tziyun we don’t feel content, and we find ourselves persecuting ourselves that maybe I should be doing something more. We don’t feel happy with actually being by the Tziyun, and simply saying the Tikkun Haklali, and simple words of Hisbodedus and Torah study. We are therefore constantly looking for another “experience”.

This is a sign of “Ribuy Ohr”, of not concentrating on what we are doing at that moment, and realizing that this is the mitzvah which Hashem expects from me right now. This is what brings joy in performing mitzvos, as explained in Likutei Moharan #5.  Instead, we are always thinking about what’s coming next. Perhaps this is also an important thing to daven for these days – that Hashem should remove from us this terrible “thirst”, that we are always wanting and searching for more and more and we don’t know how to connect with Hashem and be cheerful with what we have. (See Likutei Moharan #76)

We must get used to concentrating on what we are doing at the present moment, and to believe that awesome things are taking place, things above our perception, which the Tikkun HaOlam is dependent upon.

Question #5

In Uman we are constantly meeting up with friends. A lot of time is wasted because of this. One year I decided not to speak with anybody, but it ended up being very stressful, not to answer to anybody. What is the proper way to act?

Reb Nosson would remark, the Baal Shem Tov came into the world in order to uproot the concept of a “beize lamden” (an anxious scholar). This means those who take Avodas Hashem as a stressful, pressure-filled experience.

In everything we do, it’s best to take the middle ground. Of course, we must be careful not to waste time, but on the other hand, one of the ideas behind the Kibbutz gathering is the great unity which is displayed between the Breslover Chassidim. Therefore, it’s certainly proper to spend time in friendly conversation. Especially since many people are not in such a great state of mind, and sometimes with just one good word, you can save him.

The clarity in this issue is as explained above in the previous question. When someone is scheduled, he knows that there is a set time for everything. There’s a time to learn and a time to pray, which at that time nothing else can bother him (of course without any anxiousness or nervousness, without hurting anyone who stands in his way, and not to be angry at himself when unable to carry out all his plans). So too, there’s also a time to speak with others, and he knows how to talk and also how to stop talking.

The main thing is that it should be done as Avodas Hashem. The mind also needs a rest through speaking with friends. (Needless to say, it’s important to respect the sanctity of the Tziyun, and not to discuss mundane matters over there.)

Question #6

I don’t find myself in Uman. I feel like there’s noise and tumult from all directions, with such large crowds and so many different types of people. I have nowhere to sit by the Tziyun. Even on Rosh Hashanah itself I don’t have a seat, and throughout the entire prayer there’s pushing. How is it possible to concentrate on anything in this situation?

There’s no solution to the tumult, but everything depends on how we choose to view the whole matter of the Kibbutz.

Breslover Chassidim have always considered the harmony between the participants of the Kibbutz to be an exalted element of Avodas Hashem. Everyone leaves his own concerns aside and considers himself to be just another soul that merited joining the Kibbutz. Therefore, even the simple folk were able to sit side by side with the great Ovdei Hashem.

Chassidim relate how Reb Nachman, the Tcheriner Rav, would look into the face of each of the participants of the Kibbutz. He would not wear his special rabbinical attire, and would act like everybody else. About the great Chassid, Reb Getche, we are told, how the entire year he would pray with awesome screams, but on Rosh Hashanah he would pray just like everybody else.

Well known, also, is the story about the last year of the Rebbe’s life, when two Chassidim were missing for Rosh Hashanah; the great Reb Aaron, the Rav of Breslov, and another simple Chassid named Berel. The Rebbe remarked then, “Ahreleh iz nit du, un Bereleh iz nit du.” In other words, holding them equal in regards to the Tikkunim of the Kibbutz.

The entire year, we concentrate on our own private service of Hashem and spiritual growth. On Rosh Hashanah, we work on trying to leave these thoughts of personal honor and success, and we try to enter into thoughts of recognizing Hashem and performing Mitzvos solely for His honor. How do we go about this?

Through gathering together for prayer and Avodah, a person feels how everybody has come together to coronate the King, and I with my own private service am only one part of the entire nation of Klal Yisroel. Like an article of clothing which is produced from many threads, the benefit of each individual thread is only realized when they are all woven together.

This is our work on Rosh Hashanah; to stop concentrating only on myself, and my progressing and achieving successes.  In its place, to nullify myself and unite with the masses who are gathered to recognize and accept Hashem’s kingship, and to understand how every person is part of Hashem’s nachas- and I am one of them!

Such an outlook, on one hand causes great happiness and satisfaction, and conversely, humility and meekness. In such a way, it’s possible every moment to have vitality from the Kibbutz, together with the commotion and pushing, crowds and different types of people. We are all crowning Hashem together, and we all want the glory of Hashem to be revealed. On the contrary, this is what is so glorious about the Kibbutz: how it helps us leave our egos a little, and to concentrate on the glory of Hashem.

Of course, everyone has his own personal Avodah, his way of serving Hashem, according to his personality and soul. Therefore it’s important to spend the time in Uman with Hisbodedus, prayer and Torah study. But everything should be together with a feeling of the unity of all these Jewish souls coming together to recognize Hashem’s kingship. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, have patience for everyone. This will elevate your mind, to only want Hashem’s honor.

We can now understand what the Rebbe said to the person who requested to be able to come after Rosh Hashanah, since then it’s easier for him to concentrate. The Rebbe told him, “Whether you pray or not, whether you eat or not, the main thing is to be by me for Rosh Hashanah.” For sure, the Rebbe didn’t mean that we shouldn’t care about prayer. What he meant is that we should rise above thoughts of individual successes, and to join together in screaming, “HaMelech!”

It’s necessary to view the crowds in a different way. Judge everyone favorably. Everybody here has come with a desire and longing for Hashem. Everybody is a precious gem, a pearl, from which a crown will be fashioned for the King (see end of Likutei Moharan 6). I don’t want to make an issue of the material over here. The Rebbe is now connecting heaven and earth.

When we adapt such an outlook, we won’t be bothered anymore by where to sit, or a need to be able to concentrate properly without outside distractions. On the contrary, we will understand that the trip to the Rebbe strengthens our Emunah, to know that Hashem will help me to find everything that I need, which is the most important lesson in our lives. We will then understand that if the Rebbe brought me here to Uman, he will certainly take care of a place for me. We will believe in divine providence, and we won’t think too much about it.

Now, the days of Rosh Hashanah, the day when Man was created, is the time that freedom of choice and the possibility of forgetting about Hashem’s honor was created.  Now, the main battle is to understand how to connect with Hashem from the midst of all these situations of confusion and tumult. This is part of the Tikkun of Rosh Hashanah.

Question # 7

I feel a paradox within myself. On one side, I try to rely on the power of the Tzaddik, and to rejoice with the great zechus of being part of the holy Kibbutz. But I also know that I must present my own, personal Avodah of praying with all my might, and repentance. The Rebbe has so many teachings describing the personal Avodah of each individual on Rosh Hashanah, to purify the mind, and to accept Hashem’s kingship.

Also, with regard to that which the Rebbe said, that he takes care of all of his Chassidim already on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. If so, what is my job the next two days, and the subsequent days of Teshuvah and Yom Kippur?

We will not discuss the subject of attaching oneself to Tzaddikim. We will just mention that faith and trust in Tzaddikim and their awesome strength is a reality. There are tremendous Tzaddikim who are performing Tikkunim. This is not just imagination and guesswork, this is reality. We already have belief in this idea, as we understand it to be true. We must awaken that faith every time we ascend to the Tziyun and Kibbutz of Rosh Hashanah, even when we don’t understand anything. And the more we will study the teachings of the Rebbe and Reb Nosson concerning this subject, we will come to understand more and more.

What is Tikkun? What needs to be rectified? What has been ruined?

Everything has already entered into a state of ruin through the first sin of Adam, for which he was banished from the Garden of Eden. His way back was guarded by a “revolving flaming sword”, which alludes to the confusion which we experience in our attempt to enter into Avodas Hashem. At that time, it became difficult to feel the sweetness of closeness to Hashem, and as a result, we stumble in sin. This has now become our life’s’ work; to rectify the sin in order to be able to return to Gan Eden, and a life of joy and faith.

Even if we ourselves have added to the roster of sins, and the concealment has overcome us, and our minds and hearts are stopped up, and many obstacles stand in our way, we still should not despair. Everything can be fixed and rectified, and we can gather new vigor to reverse the concealment.

Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the day Adam was created and originally sinned. It is the day that we try again every year to rectify the concealment which started at the world’s genesis, and to remove the concealments which have been added over time.

The Rebbe works to rectify souls. He draws upon us new souls. We of course are not looking for ways to be acquitted in order to be absolved from the yoke of mitzvos.  Quite the opposite, Reb Nosson once remarked how especially after Yom Kippur, when we are clean of all sin, is an opportune time to renew our commitment to Avodas Hashem.

When we pay attention to the prayers of Rosh Hashanah, we will see that sin is almost not mentioned anywhere. The entire prayer is about accepting Hashem’s kingship, that we should merit feeling Him, with love and awe of Him. This really is the crux of the sentence which has been placed upon us; not to feel the sweetness of that feeling.

In truth, everyone, deep inside his heart, wants only Hashem. Preventing us from feeling that is the yetzer and materialism, and our desires for other things. Through them we have fallen under the dominion of strict judgment, which causes us not to feel and taste the light and sweetness of the closeness to Hashem. This is what needs ‘Tikkun”, that we should be able to return to Gan Eden.

We therefore travel to the Tzaddik who performs these awesome Tikkunim, that we should be able to truly purify our hearts and thoughts, to receive his Torah which encourages us and brings our hearts closer to Hashem. This is what we pray for when we say, “Remember us for life,” eternal, true life. To be entered into the book of Tzaddikim, to understand their Torah and to apply it. (see Likutei Halachos, Teffilin 5, Sukkah 7)

It would seem then, that if we have already been taken care of on the first night, and we have already received our Tikkun, now we can really scream “HaMelech” from the depths of our heart, and to repent with feelings of renewal and with greater vigor throughout the coming Days of Repentance.

We can now understand a little bit what Reb Nosson meant when he said, “On Rosh Hashanah everyone screams, ‘HaMelech’, but the actual coronation is in Uman.” For that is where all the severity is mitigated in order that we are able to accept upon ourselves the yoke of Heaven willingly and with joy.

Question #8:

Thank G-d, I merited feeling a little inspiration in Uman, and to taste a little of the wonderful experience of connection to Hashem. However, I’m scared of returning back to everyday life. I know that I will be unable to stay with these feelings.

The Rebbe once told Reb Nosson, that there is a concept of traveling to a Tzaddik, and there is also a concept of “coming home.” By Kabbolas HaTorah, when Klal Yisroel received the Torah, they were told afterwards, “Return to your tents!”  The entire purpose of the journey is in order to learn how to serve Hashem throughout everyday life.

This is one of the most fundamental principles of the Rebbe’s path, to serve Hashem in the “running ups” and in the “returning back downs”: To taste some true light, and immediately to constrict oneself to little actions in order to cleave to Hashem throughout normal life, after having tasted the truth.  The main parts of life are the times when we are down. The ups only come at specific times, in order to give us a taste of the truth, in order to take with us a lasting impression that will help us to remember what we really want out of life, until we merit more permanence in Torah study and prayer.

On Rosh Hashanah, every Jew merits some feeling of fear of punishment, and of accepting the yoke of Heaven, especially at the holy Kibbutz. In addition to the central idea, how we have all truly taken part in a great and awesome event which rectifies the soul, after Rosh Hashanah, we shouldn’t be checking and thinking about it too much, about what happened, and what will be. Just concentrate on the joy and the awe, and to look for practical ways to keep this mind throughout the Days of Repentance. This is the main way to do Teshuvah. This is how we will merit forgiveness that will help us to continue the joy and energy throughout the coming whole year.

It’s therefore advisable to set aside time, and to contemplate, and to have Hisbodedus, about any idea or action which you would like to accept upon yourself for the coming year, but something that you will be able to keep up with. It’s not expected from a person anything which he does not have the ability to do.

Question #9

When I just leave the Tziyun, I see those same familiar trials, as if nothing has changed.

You must remember, the Rebbe doesn’t take away our freedom of choice. He only helps us to serve Hashem together with our free will. In other words, on one hand he calls us to wage battle with the yetzer, but on the other hand he also gives us encouragement in the face of difficulty and failure. But he has revealed to us in many places how he has left the actual work for us to do. Everybody must pass through whatever experience he has to in order to reach his potential.

Therefore, the most important resolutions for the coming years should be in regard to studying the works of the Tzaddik, and to fill our minds with more and more of the Rebbe’s Torah and advice, and to listen to lectures and classes from Breslover Chassidim. Through this we will be able to cleave to Hashem in every situation, whether on a high or during a “low”, and we will know how much Hashem takes pride in us, and we will cherish every small good point, and we will rejoice and enjoy every mitzvah and good deed which we merit.

We must be ready to return home like an armored soldier, who sets out for battle with confidence, with a sense of mission. Even if there is danger, and even if he is wounded, he still knows that he certainly has received the Tikkunim of the Tzaddik who goes before him, that no matter what will happen, with Tzaddik’s strength, he will always be able to renew himself to start again in Avodas Hashem throughout the coming year.

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