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TSFAT, THE FIELD OF DREAMS : R. Moshe Weinberger

On the Profound Significance of Tsfat to Our Generation

On December 10, 2005, during Chanukah, hundreds of people gathered in lower Manhattan at the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. A dinner was held honoring the Holy City of Tsfat. The themes of the evening were renewal in a post-Holocaust era, the magic of Tsfat and Rebbe Nachman of Breslev. Rav Moshe Weinberger of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, New York, addressed an extraordinarily diverse crowd on the profound significance of Tsfat to our generation.

It is hard for me to describe the feelings and emotions of this evening. I am thinking back ten years ago to the first gathering [for Tsfat] that we had in Brooklyn, held in a room filled with approximately the same number of people, different groups, different types, but all chassidim. Tonight, I can’t help but think and wonder about the great strength of both Rebbe Nachman, may his merit protect us, and the Holy City of Tsfat, and how they have somehow miraculously drawn Jews of such diverse backgrounds together to this place.

Rebbe Nachman once said that in the world, stories are told to put children to sleep, but [Breslever chassidim] tell stories to keep children awake. In the introduction to Likutey Moharan, Rebbe Nachman speaks about the great Tanna, Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai. He quotes the verse in Aramaic from the book of Daniel, Ir V’kadish Min Shemaya Nachit [1]….[an angel, a holy one, descended from heaven] which literally means “the one who is awake and was sent into this world from heaven.” I believe the connection between the magical city of Tsfat and Rebbe Nachman has created an awakening in our generation. What brings us all here from different places is the miracle of Rebbe Nachman’s message.

I understand that there are guests of honor and many of you have come to honor them, but I don’t believe for a moment that is why we are here. We are here because Rebbe Nachman is pulling upon the chord strings of our hearts to come. We are all here to give honor to that tzaddik whom G-d Himself sent here into the world when it was falling asleep. He sent him into the world to wake us up.

I want to share with you something very remarkable. Rebbe Nachman describes a mysterious field where wondrous trees and plants grow.[2] It is also where holy souls, neshamos, develop. And yet, he writes, “There are many many naked souls who are bare and wandering, unable to make their way into the field. They are waiting and longing for someone to come along and repair their souls, so they can return to their place.” Who is the person who has the power to do this? Rebbe Nachman explains in this lesson that there is a “master of the field”. This master of the field has wondrous eyes and when the eyes of the master of the field are illuminated, he is able to see great visions beyond the gates of that mysterious field, to those souls wandering and waiting for a tikkun, waiting for someone to bring them back. Rebbe Nachman says there are two types of fields in the world. There is the field of visionaries and the field of weepers; a field where people are crying and weeping, and the field of the tzaddik—the master of the field.

The city of Tsfat is the field of visionaries for our generation. It is the field of dreams, the field of vision, the field where Jews look beyond the confines of the four cubits of their little lives and dream of something greater and bigger. It is to that field, that the master of the field, the tzaddik, has mysteriously taken us. He draws us to that place.

That is why we are here. Some of you are wondering, “What am I doing here listening to some guy with a fur hat screaming at me? What’s going on? I was friends with this guy and he asked me to come to this dinner honoring Tsfat. Tsfat is a nice place, it seems like a charming little city, but I didn’t know that there was anything so miraculous or great happening there…”

The truth is, our generation is filled with tears. We are naked souls trying to get back into that authentic world of Rebbe Nachman. So why is it, that ten years ago, I addressed a chassidic gathering, but now we are sitting here in Manhattan and it is not a chassidic gathering? It is a gathering of all different types of friends from different backgrounds. You know why? It is because we are approaching Chanukah and Chanukah is the celebration of that one jar of undefiled pure oil. Everybody in the world is looking for something authentic. We’re sick of cynicism, we’re sick of sarcasm. We’re sick of hypocrisy and phoniness. Everyone is looking for that pure jar of oil, unaffected by the outside world. Therefore, the city of Tsfat, the field of the visionaries, as well as the visionary of all visionaries, Rebbe Nachman, calls to each one of us who haven’t forgotten the authentic drop of oil that enlivens each and every one of our souls and calls us to come back to HaShem, to return to the Master of all, the Master of the world, Hashem Himself.

I want to conclude with a little story. There was a great rebbe, Reb Yaakov from Isbitz. He was known as the “Beis Yaakov.”[3] This rebbe, the Beis Yaakov, was a huge scholar who for over twenty years, gave a very deep lesson in the gemara. He gave the lesson every single night from midnight until 4:00 in the morning for over two decades. Someone who described what it was like said it was unforgettable. “It was the deepest lesson and I was one of the few people privileged to attend. I don’t remember all of the lessons, but I’ll tell you one thing I remember. Exactly at midnight, the rebbe would walk in. On one side of the rebbe, there was a person holding the gemara, and on the other side, there was another person holding a candle. When the lesson was over, he gave a kiss to the gemara. It is that kiss I remember. It is the kiss that keeps me alive and pushes me on despite all my difficulties to be a Jew.”

Rebbe Nachman gave a kiss to our people. Those who haven’t learned, those who haven’t heard—learn, listen, and hear. You will then understand that the second you walk into Tsfat, you’ll feel the embrace of his love, you’ll feel the kiss the Beis Yaakov gave to the Gemara that can’t be described in words, because it is beyond words.

The soul of a Jew is filled with a yearning for G-d. That’s why we’re here. We yearn for G-d. We yearn for His people, we yearn for His holy city of Tsfat and we yearn to connect once again to that pure undefiled jar of oil inside each and every one of us. May HaShem bless the Jewish people. May we all merit not just to talk about Tsfat and see films of Tsfat, but to go together with all of our dear friends and chaverim to reclaim the land and bring our people back to the Holy City of Tsfat and Jerusalem, to the complete redemption and the beis hamikdash, speedily in our days, Amen. ♦


1. The first letters of these words spell “Shimon” alluding to Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai, with whom Rebbe Nachman shares a profound soul connection.

2. Likutey Moharan 65

3. From the book he authored, called “Beis Yaakov.”

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CENTER STAGE TSFAT

In a tradition handed down from the students of the Arizal, when the first Jewish Temple was destroyed, the Shechina retreated slowly in stages until She came to rest in the Holy City of Tsfat. And there She remains until the final redemption. Rebbe Nachman of Breslev tells a story about a lost princess on a Golden Mountain. According to R’ Gedaliah Aharon Kenig, the Golden Mountain is Tsfat.

The unique role Tsfat plays in the redemption of the world is explained in this kabbalistic teaching from the Arizal.

כי בחר ה׳ בציון, אוה למושב לו

(תהילים קלב׳ י״ג)

“For God has chosen Zion. He has desired it for His habitation.”

(Psalms 132:13)

According to the Arizal, the rearranged letters of the Hebrew word אוה (desired) in atbash* spell  צפת “Tsfat.” The letters of the Hebrew word בחר‭‬(chosen) can be rearranged to spell חרב‭ ‬(destroyed). Tsfat will be His habitation, i.e., after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem the Shechina receded to Tsfat, and will remain there until the coming of the Messiah. It is further written in the Zohar that the Messiah will be revealed first in the Galilee. According to the commentator Meam Loez, this refers to the city of Tsfat, clearly indicating the tremendous importance and holiness of the Galilee and its centrality for Jews and all mankind. ♦


*A type of gematria where the order of the Hebrew alphabet is reversed, i.e., the first letter (aleph) is substituted for the last letter (tav); beit becomes shin, etc.

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A MESSAGE FROM THE “RAMAK” : R. Moshe Cordovero

At the end of exile, close to the time of our redemption, Israel’s troubles will greatly strengthen and intensify. Because of the tremendous travail that will surround them from every side, they will say, “Let the mountains and hills fall on us to hide us.” Their straits will become so dire that fathers will abandon their sons. Anyone who survives this period will be considered a triumphant warrior.

This will all come about since the Shechina will judge her house, Israel, and their adherence to sexual morality, in order to purify them for the Final Redemption and the good promised by the prophets. This good is utterly incomprehensible to the human intellect. The miracles and wonders of the redemption from Egypt will not be remembered in comparison to the final redemption. As it is written, “The days are coming,” says the L-rd, “when it will no longer be said, ‘As the L-rd lives, who brought the children of Israel up out of Egypt,’ but instead it will be said, ‘As the L-rd lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave to their ancestors.” (Jer. 16:14-15).

At the time of the Final Redemption the miracles and revelation of the Shechina to Israel will be wondrous. All who are worthy will exclaim, “Here is HaShem; we hoped for Him!” (Isa. 25:9). They will literally point their finger at the revelation of the Shechina. Who will actually merit this?!

Therefore, during this same time, troubles will increase to refine Israel according to strict judgment. Every single person will regret according to their debt, and anyone who stiffens their neck and refuses to return will be lost. Whoever will return in teshuva, and welcomes and accepts the difficulties gladly, will be purified and made worthy.

The entire matter rests on the fact that the time will have arrived for the klipot (“husks,” forces of evil) to be nullified in the world. However, as long as their wickedness clings to Israel, how is it possible to nullify these “external forces”? The L-rd is the Master of Judgment, meting out a righteous and faithful justice, with no perversion. Therefore, Israel will undergo repeated purging and refining until they are clean and pure as refined silver. This divine process will be administered with strict judgment, since the klipa will demand any portion owed to it.

In these final days, nations will fight each other, each one’s sword against its neighbor, and Israel will be caught in between, with tremendous suffering. Each nation will desire to plunder this “sheep” and consume her flesh. However, the Holy One will take compassion on His people in the merit of the three holy forefathers [Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov], and their suffering will refine and whiten them. During this time of judgment, the Holy One will overthrow the seed of Amalek, cut it off from the world, and ‘erase him from under the heavens.’ ♦


Translated and adapted from Elima Rabbati by the RaMaK, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (1522-1570), one of the greatest kabbalists prior to the arrival of the holy Arizal in Tsfat. In this profound mystical work, the RaMaK mentions the need to accept difficulties in life with love, particularly during the generations close to the coming of Mashiach.

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TSFAT: City of Kabbalah & Spiritual Excellence

TSFAT, SPLENDOROUS CITY OF PASSIONATE YEARNING. A mere two obscure references to her exist in early Talmudic writings. Cryptic and hidden, she has nonetheless attracted those destined to plumb and reveal the mysteries of Torah for the world. Rarely called by name, she exerts her influence quietly on those who understand her preciousness, as she gently prods them higher against the worldly current. So why call attention to her now? Because she is calling out, “Awaken from your slumber! Have you forgotten? A beautiful and magnificent inheritance awaits you! But you must first believe, then search with a pure and hopeful heart.” Exuding an unexpected and faint familiarity, her cobblestone alleyways are conducive to enlightenment—yet it must be stubbornly sought out. She beckons you ever higher—to utilize atrophied spiritual muscles to actualize the pregnant potential of the sacred. Sitting beneath the heavenly throne, source of all souls, her fullest expression will remain untapped until she is reunited with Am Yisrael. A realized deed forms an imprint not only here, but forges a template on high. It generates a force field not only of tendency and potential, but a promise of realization as well. The brief tenure of the Arizal in the holy city of Tsfat fused heaven and earth as deed actualized vision—possibility conquered reality. So fruitful was this time that we are destined to attain these spiritual levels and soar beyond. The key to redemption is to believe not only in its possibility, but prepare ourselves to go beyond our highest aspirations. Since after all, the final redemption is a gift of unconditional love. ♦

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THE RESCHEDULED REDEMPTION

Every once in a while, a unique and remarkable soul is sent into the world to renew mankind with a previously unrevealed light.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as the Arizal, was one such soul. During his brief two years in Tsfat five hundred years ago, he succeeded in revolutionizing the understanding of the Zohar, the classic work of kabbalah. The constellation of kabbalah, the Arizal and Tsfat, made redemption almost irresistibly imminent. Against the historical backdrop of the Spanish expulsion and widespread messianic expectation, everyone living in Tsfat at the time awaited the final redemption. The only problem was, at the last moment, it was suddenly rescheduled for some unspecified date in the future.

Today, much mystery and misconception surrounds Jewish mysticism, the wisdom of the kabbalah, as well as those who profess knowledge of its secrets. The Zohar, the most famous book of kabbalah, was authored by R’ Shimon bar Yochai, who lived two thousand years ago during the Second Temple era. According to Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, every word of the holy Zohar has but one theme: how the upper worlds connect with each other in order to draw down shefa, the “oil of abundant holiness” into the world. Shefa is the fundamental spirtual vitality upon which the entire physical world depends for its sustenance. In order to understand the significance of the Arizal’s time in Tsfat, we must understand a little about the true nature of kabbalah and the anatomy of redemption.

THE SOURCE OF THE KABBALAH

Many people think kabbalah is a mysterious book of magic used by Jewish wonderworkers. The truth is, kabbalah is an ancient body of wisdom that was primarily transmitted orally.

However, Sefer Yetzira, a kabbalistic work that predates even the Zohar, was attributed to the patriarch Abraham. Later, the wisdom of kabbalah was handed down directly from God to Moses on Mount Sinai as part and parcel of the Torah. It was then maintained as a secret oral tradition passed from teacher to student for generations under the strictest of guidelines for fear of its holy power being misused. This tradition took written form during the era of the Second Temple when R’ Shimon bar Yochai garbed its wisdom within the book called the Zohar, literally meaning the “Book of Splendor.” In so doing, he drew the holy light of kabbalah further down into the world. Some time later, the book disappeared and remained concealed until the late thirteen century when it was rediscovered by R’ Moses de Leon, and much controversy arose about its disappearance and reappearance. The Zohar itself was originally a collection of midrashim which was later organized according to the weekly parsha. Thus today, it is a detailed commentary on the Five Books of Moses and contains extensive discussion on the elements that comprise life in this world. It speaks about creation, the soul’s anatomy, the Messiah, suffering, the destruction of evil, reincarnation, tikkun, the Shechina, the system of ten sefirot, fulfillment of the 613 commandments, and Torah study. One of the benefits of learning Zohar is that it gives a person the desire to learn all parts of the Torah (Sichot HaRan 108). After the Zohar resurfaced, it became more widely available and thus more difficult to understand correctly for those lacking a high level of Torah knowledge. When the Arizal arrived in Tsfat for his brief sojourn, he introduced an entirely new system to understand the complexity of the Zohar, today know as “Lurianic Kabbalah”. He succeeded in condensing and systemizing the wisdom of the kabbalah even further, making it more accessible to a greater range of people. For this reason, the Arizal was considered the greatest kabbalist since the days of R’ Shimon bar Yochai.

THE ARIZAL

R’ Yitchak Luria was given the appellation “Ari”, which means “lion” in Hebrew. The final three letters “zal” represent a Hebrew acronym, zichrono l’vrocha, “may his memory be a blessing”. “Ari” is also an acronym standing for “Eloki Rabbi Yitzchak”—the godly Rabbi Yitzchak. Concerned that this name might be taken out of context, later generations said that the Hebrew letter aleph at the beginning of the acronym stood for Ashkenazi, a reference to his family’s Germanic roots.

The Arizal was born in Jerusalem in 1534 and moved to Egypt in his early childhood. By the time he was eight years old, he was recognized as a prodigy, expert in all areas of the revealed Torah including the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, and Aggada. At the age of seventeen, he obtained a written manuscript of the Zohar and spent days, even weeks, engrossed in a single passage until he had grasped its deepest meaning.

In time, after tremendous exertion, he understood the conversations of both trees and birds, as well as the speech of angels. By looking at another’s face, and even by one’s odor, he could discern everything the individual had done and what they would do in the future. He knew people’s thoughts, often before the thought even entered their minds. He knew the future, and was aware of everything happening here on earth, as well as what was decreed in heaven. He knew the mysteries of reincarnation, who had lived previously, and who was here for the first time.

The life story of the Arizal took a intriguing turn when he made his appearance in the Holy City of Tsfat. It was here a relationship was forged between him and another fascinating individual that was meant to catalyze nothing less than the redemption of the world.

R’ CHAIM VITAL

Concealing his gifts completely, the Arizal moved to Tsfat from Egypt during the summer of 1570. He came with the express purpose of teaching a young scholar by the name of R’ Chaim Vital who, the Arizal knew, was to become his main student and disciple. It wasn’t until six months after the Arizal arrived in Tsfat that R’ Chaim Vital finally met him. R’ Chaim, an acknowledged master in kabbalah himself, later wrote that one reason it took so long to meet his master was because he initially thought his own knowledge of kabbalah surpassed that of the Arizal. R’ Chaim Vital was a most unusual individual, an esteemed Torah scholar and an outstanding expert in alchemy, astronomy, astrology, and kabbalah, even before he met the Arizal. At the time of their first meeting, R’ Chaim was only twenty-seven years old; the Arizal was thirty-six.

It is astounding that according to his own account, R’ Chaim was a disciple of the Arizal for less than eighteen months, yet during this brief period, he managed to gain an astonishing mastery of the Arizal’s kabbalistic system. Given their short-lived relationship, the amount of information that must have passed between them defies imagination. Like many great masters, the Arizal rarely, if ever, recorded his own teachings, instead entrusting the task to a close follower. In this case, R’ Chaim Vital. He was the great organizer of the Arizal’s system and spent decades writing, organizing, rewriting and reorganizing countless versions and editions. R’ Chaim’s writings comprise over a dozen large volumes, each intricately compiled and written in an extremely terse style. Known collectively as the Kitvey HaAri, the volumes include the Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) and Pri Etz Chaim (Fruit of the Tree of Life), as well as the Shemoneh Shaarim (Eight Gates), and deal with everything from Torah commentary to Divine inspiration and reincarnation. The sheer quantity of R’ Chaim’s writings is immense, and if not for him, little if any, of the Arizal’s teachings would have survived.

One of the biggest challenges posed to R’ Chaim, was that the Arizal would suddenly start revealing secrets to him with no introduction, or clear sequence. Since the key in learning kabbalah is knowing where and what is being discussed—which world, which construct—the Arizal’s revelations were a dizzying mass of cryptic unorganized material. R’ Chaim was the only one who was able to successfully present the entire system with proper introduction and sequence. Even so, he intentionally wove into the text stumbling blocks to prevent the uninitiated and unworthy from improper understanding.

Kabbalists are extremely careful to use only the writings of R’ Chaim Vital. A relatively contemporary kabbalist from Yemen, R’ Shalom Sharabi (known as the “RaShash”, d. 1777) was particularly strict, warning in extreme language to completely avoid anything other than the writings of R’ Chaim Vital, since among all the students of the Arizal, only he understood his master’s teachings properly.

THE RESCHEDULED REDEMPTION

Yet, the relationship between the Arizal and R’ Chaim Vital possessed an even deeper dimension. Sometimes, when two people unite in a relationship, one of them may experience a personal redemption. In some cases, both sides experience the same. There are also relationships which effect the redemption of a town, a people, or even a country. In the case of R’ Chaim Vital and the Arizal, their union was meant to catalyze the redemption of the entire world, the advent of the Messiah, and the ultimate perfection of mankind. It was all meant to happen in the city of Tsfat.

R’ Chaim Vital could be termed a “microcosmic man”. He was what the kabbalists call a neshama klalit, a general all-encompassing soul. Usually, a Jew is spiritually from one of the original twelve tribes, the sons of Jacob. But a neshama klalit, or all-inclusive soul, has the spiritual root of all twelve tribes encompassed within one soul. This is a specific quality found in certain souls, and it was true in the case of R’ Chaim Vital. The repair, or tikkun, of R’ Chaim’s soul would blaze a spiritual pathway back to God through which others would be perfected. In this way, the entire world could be drawn back unhindered to God in repentance, ushering in the Messianic era. He was the mysterious paradigm upon which all mankind depended, without anyone knowing. This was the secret to the world’s redemption during the time of the Arizal and the significance of the deep relationship between these two extraordinary individuals.

Since the Arizal had come into the world only to teach and perfect the soul of R’ Chaim, he repeatedly cautioned R’ Chaim not to reveal his teacher’s greatness to anyone. If the Arizal’s true greatness was revealed prematurely, it would prevent him from accomplishing what was needed with R’ Chaim. Untold damage would be caused not only to him and R’ Chaim, but to the entire world. Yet feelings of unworthiness persisted within the heart of R’ Chaim. He felt compelled to reveal his teacher’s sublime level to the great leaders in Tsfat at the time, who were older than he, including R’ Moshe Alshich, R’ Moshe Cordovero (the Ramak) and R’ Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch.

As the Arizal’s fame quickly spread, he was sought by those far and wide for the wonders he performed and spiritual guidance he provided. Others were seeking rectification for their souls. Because of the Arizal’s humility he refused no one.

The Arizal continued to plead with him to be more discreet, even revealing awesome secrets about R’ Chaim’s soul in an attempt to convince him that their relationship served a unique purpose in the world, but to no avail. R’ Chaim was unable to overcome his feelings of inadequacy and continued to publicize the Arizal’s greatness. Within a short while, his time spent with R’ Chaim was greatly compromised.

ALL TOO SOON a deadly plague struck the idyllic holy city. At a mere thirty-eight years of age the Arizal passed away suddenly in the summer of 1572 (5 Av 5332), only two years after the Arizal arrived in Tsfat. No one understood the true significance of the loss more than R’ Chaim. The redemption had been foiled, the dream shattered, at least for then.

During the funeral, Rabbi Chaim almost went mad with grief. When the Arizal’s body was lowered into the grave, he jumped in as well, clinging to it tightly. With great difficulty, others separated him from his master’s body and lifted him out from the grave.

R’ Chaim later wrote, “In my transgression, I wanted to be a ‘foolish chassid’ so I said to my master, ‘If these great scholars aren’t able to learn from you, then neither will I. I want no accusations in heaven leveled against me that I was concerned only for myself and not for these great tzaddikim who also want to learn from you.’”

After the death of his master, R’ Chaim often saw him in dreams, but as the years passed, these visits became less frequent. He settled in Damascus in 1594, teaching and inspiring Jews to return to a Torah-based life, but he was plagued until the end of his life with profound regret and sorrow that the final redemption had not yet come. With the exception of occasional visits to Tsfat, R’ Chaim remained in Damascus until his own death in 1620.

TWO EARTHQUAKES and a series of plagues subsequently devastated the city, and Tsfat went into a deep spiritual and physical slumber, essentially freezing her healing redemptive powers for another time in the future.

Thus the gates of redemption temporarily closed in sixteenth-century Tsfat, home to some of the greatest tzaddikim in Jewish history. Although the Arizal’s time in Tsfat was brief, the spiritual levels attained during this period sustain us until today, as we await the final redemption when we are destined to reach these levels and beyond.

SOURCES: Shivchei HaAri; Shivchei R’ Chaim Vital
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THE FIRE OF REBBE NACHMAN : R. Elazar Mordechai Kenig

A conversation with HaRav Elazar Mordechai Kenig, shlita, on the Breslev phenomenon today.

Q. Generations have come and gone in the two hundred years since the passing of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev. After all this time, and perhaps contrary to logic, Chassidut Breslev and the teachings of Rebbe Nachman have garnered tremendous interest, touching the lives of thousands upon thousands of Jews. How is it possible to explain this phenomenon?

Rav Elazar Mordechai Kenig: Within the last two hundred years, we have seen something remarkable about the influence of Rebbe Nachman. He had not yet reached the age of forty years old when he passed away in 1810. Toward the end of his life, he said in Yiddish, Mein firerl vet shoin talyuen biz mashiach vet commen. “My fire will burn until the coming of Mashiach.”My father and teacher (Reb Gedaliah Aharon Kenig, zt”l) would always say in the name of his teacher, Rav Avraham Sternhartz, zt”l, that the Yiddish word talyuen (burning) connotes a certain type of fire, that, for example, catches onto a piece of wool clothing. In the beginning, it burns strongly in one place, and then goes out; it then unexpectedly breaks out in another place. Thus, when Rebbe Nachman said, “My fire will burn until the coming of Mashiach,” he meant to say that suddenly there will be an awakening in one place, and then just as suddenly, the same fire will be ignited in a different place.

When we look back over the last two hundred years, we see this quite clearly. During his lifetime, Rebbe Nachman lived in the Ukraine, in the vicinity of the town, Breslev. This was where the fire started. When the communists came and took over Russia [during the First World War] it looked as though his fire was extinguished. But all of a sudden it broke out elsewhere in Poland. This same phenomenon occurred after the Holocaust. It appeared as if the fire expired, perishing along with everything else. Again, it was precisely at that point that his fire reignited elsewhere, this time in Israel.

Today, two centuries later, the fire is no longer in the category of talyuen, where it intermittently breaks out here and there. It is ablaze nonstop at full force. [Two millennia ago] the new moon was announced each month from Eretz Yisrael through signal fires lit from mountaintops. In describing this process our sages state, “In the beginning, they would lift up beacons of light from mountain to mountain, until at the end, they would see the entire golah, the lands outside of Eretz Yisrael, lit up as one bonfire.” Likewise today, we see that there is no place in the world not influenced in some way by Breslev Chassidut. Tens of thousands, and in certain cases millions, of Rebbe Nachman’s books are printed in every language, reaching every corner of the globe. Jewish communities around the world have heard of Rebbe Nachman, and are familiar with his sayings: “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, the main thing is not to be afraid at all.” “It is a great mitzvah to be always happy.” “There is no such thing in the world as despair!”

His teachings have the potential to touch anyone along the Jewish spectrum from those not particularly learned in Judaism, to talmidei chachamim, accomplished Torah scholars, who have also spent years learning Likutey Moharan, Rebbe Nachman’s main work. Both these types of people, as well as anyone in between, receive wondrous uplift in their lives from learning the teachings of Rebbe Nachman. Thus, Rebbe Nachman’s “fire” possesses an impact that is all-inclusive, and is an inheritance that belongs to the entire Jewish people.

We witness his encompassing reach in Uman on Rosh HaShanah, where both Breslevers as well as those from every conceivable community or background come to Rebbe Nachman’s grave. A Chabad chassid recently told me that in the Chabad minyan in Uman, there were 220 people last year on Rosh HaShanah. This was true with the other minyanim as well. There were hundreds upon hundreds of people from all religious backgrounds, each group praying in their own style and tradition.

Q. What is the explanation for this incredible phenomenon?

The explanation is simple. We see now, in a revealed fashion, what Rebbe Nachman saw with his ruach hakodesh, divine inspiration, two hundred years ago, regarding the current situation of the Jewish people. Our generation is called the generation of ikva d’meshicha, the “heels of the Messiah”. One needs to understand that two hundred years ago, the situation of the Jewish people was quite different. Unlike today, there were not many Jews who were far from Judaism. Nonetheless, Rebbe Nachman’s entire message is essentially directed toward the fallen souls of our generation, to encourage and uplift them. The task of the tzaddikim is always to strengthen fallen souls, and this is exactly what Rebbe Nachman is doing at the highest levels.

It is important to point out that “fallen souls” can also refer to those who grew up in a Torah-observant home. Anyone can encounter circumstances that weaken the soul and cause unhappiness. Rebbe Nachman strengthens these souls, as well as those who are completely distant and almost completely lost. It is as if he says to them, “You went too far? There is still hope.”

Q. Is there a special importance connected with Jews, who are so distant from Judaism, coming to Uman?

They have a spiritual situation we cannot judge. Despite their distance from Judaism, these are nonetheless Jewish souls. It is hard to understand exactly who or what is attracting them, but they make the journey because they feel a desire to come. Indeed, it is impossible to see the spiritual dynamics involved, but something is pulling them there. Anyone who arrives in Uman receives [a spiritual gift] and undergoes transformation. This is not always immediately apparent, but something certainly happens to the soul.

Similarly, we see the same phenomenon on Lag B’Omer at the gravesite of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai, buried in Meron in the Upper Galilee of Israel. People who are very far removed from observant Jewish life come to celebrate the day at his resting place. Afterwards, it appears as if nothing changed in their lives. However, on a spiritual level, it is clear that something affected them.

The entire subject of what exactly goes on with those who are distant is a spiritual matter. The tzaddikim are completely involved in rectifying these souls and we have absolutely no permission to interfere with their work repairing these individuals.

Q. On the face of it, it looks like Breslever Chassidim have it easy. They come to Uman, recite the ten specific chapters of psalms, called the Tikkun HaKlali, atone for their misdeeds, and Rebbe Nachman starts pulling them out of the lowest pit… Is this really the case?

Rebbe Nachman’s [path] certainly provides the tools to strengthen a person, but this doesn’t mean that one has it easy as a Breslever chassid. On the contrary, every chassid knows that Rebbe Nachman demands total investment of one’s strength in prayer. He demands an hour a day of hitbodedut, i.e., speaking to God in your own words, with a spiritual accounting of your deeds and praying for your needs. He also stipulates rising at midnight to say tikkun chatzot, the lament over the destruction of the Temple, and afterwards, many then go out to a field for an hour of hitbodedut. He also requires the learning of Jewish law every day, as well as diligence in Torah study and mitzvot observance. This isn’t easy work. The power of Rebbe Nachman infuses light and vitality into a Jew so he can function as needed, with joy and enthusiasm.

Q. Now that many have drawn close to Breslev, we see there has also been an increase in different types of communities, even within Breslev itself, each with another style. Isn’t Rebbe Nachman’s path singular?

Rebbe Nachman’s way is open to everyone in Klal Yisrael. As with anything in life, there are many gradients in the spectrum of holiness. Wherever in the spectrum a person falls, Rebbe Nachman’s teachings enlighten them in their place and according to their level of knowledge. This being said, it is always possible to make a mistake in one’s spiritual path. Shigiot, mi yavin? (Psalms 19:13) Who can understand mistakes? Everyone must constantly examine themselves to ensure they are not in error. Even for those who learn Torah, it is possible to err in one’s learning. Happy is one who has a good teacher who gives proper instruction as to how to learn, and gives the ability to understand in a straightforward and in-depth manner.

Q. So variation in Breslev is desirable?

My father and teacher (Reb Gedaliah Aharon Kenig, zt”l) used to quote the verse, Ki yasharim darchey HaShem, to make the point that the ways of God are many. Everyone lives their life according to their place and their in-born nature. The holy Zohar comments on the verse, Yisrael asher b’cha etpa’er— Israel in whom I take pride,” saying that within the Jewish people, there are many types of Jews who excel in different ways of learning and service of God. Take, for example, the mitzvah of tzedaka. There is variation even within the mitzvah of tzedaka itself, where there are those who focus on redeeming captives, or those exclusively involved with collecting funds for new brides. God takes pride in the tremendous variation within the Jewish people (see Likutey Moharan 17). The more variation there is, the more everyone is joined together and transformed into a special and unique harmonious entity.

Perhaps the main point in discussing variation among Jews, is not to dismiss or disrespect one’s fellow man. Everyone has their own path in serving God, and it is incumbent upon each of us to value and see the delightful beauty in someone else who serves God in a different way than we do.

Q. In conclusion, two hundred years after Rebbe Nachman’s passing, millions of his books have been printed and distributed, tens of thousands of people are coming close [to Judaism], many of whom fly to Uman for Rosh HaShanah, and the name of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev is famous throughout the world. Where do we go from here?

We aspire to what our sages described regarding the beacons of light that signaled the new month from mountaintop to mountaintop. The light spread out to the entire diaspora in a way that it appeared as one big bonfire. Thank God, we indeed witness how Rebbe Nachman’s message and teachings are publicized throughout the world today. We all await the moment, with God’s help, when “the entire world will be filled with the knowledge of God” [like waters that cover the sea] and “all of your sons are learned in Torah.” We await the time when the entire people will return in teshuva, and we will be worthy of being completely redeemed.

May the entire Jewish people be signed and sealed for a good year, and be blessed with health, livelihood, happiness, and nachat from our children. May we merit educating our children in the way of God, together with the complete redemption, the coming of Mashiach, and the building of the Jewish Temple speedily in our days. Amen.

Excerpted and translated from the original interview in the Hebrew language daily newspaper, HaMevasser. Originally published in Tzaddik Magazine, Rosh HaShanah 2011.