Thursday, July 10, 2008

How to Study Likutey Moharan - Rabbi Dovid Sears

Ksav yad of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Excerpt from
The Tree That Stands Beyond Space: Rebbe Nachman on the Mystical Experience (Breslov Research Institute) :

Continued from Part I here

How to Study Likutey Moharan

It must be acknowledged that many of Rebbe Nachman's lessons are quite opaque. To even begin to get a handle on what is being said, one must study the relevant sections of Reb Noson's Likutey Halakhos, as well as the primary Breslov commentaries such as, Parpara'os L'Chokhmah and Bi'ur HaLikkutim, etc., until the text becomes more clear. One must study a given Torah discourse again and again, reflecting on its possible meanings, becoming attuned to its nuances, and hearing its "music." Rebbe Nachman recommends that we choose a single Torah and "live with it" for several months, until we are ready to move on to the next lesson.

At the same time, one must engage in the practices discussed in a given Torah in order to understand its words. For example, in Likutey Moharan II, 4, Rebbe Nachman discusses the cosmic effect of breaking our innate cruelty and selfishness, and giving tzedakah (charity). By actually giving tzedakah in this way, as the Rebbe recommends, we become powerfully connected to what the Rebbe is saying; thus, we create vessels with which to receive deeper levels of insight into the Rebbe's discourse.

Another principle found in the Breslov oral tradition is that each Torah contains the necessary segulos, the intrinsic spiritual properties, to impart the higher perceptions it discusses. This principle teaches the student to be attentive to what the Torah says and what it does not say, as well as to heed carefully its practical advice. Every facet of the discourse is perfectly fashioned to accomplish its purpose.

This reflects Rebbe Nachman's statement, "My Torahs are made entirely of hakdamos (introductions and prefaces)." Everything is connected to everything else, in an integrated whole. It follows that each part ultimately must be understood in terms of the whole - and each instruction must be followed to reach the goal.

Living the Teachings

Thus, we see that the study of Likutey Moharan is not merely an intellectual process, but a means of spiritual transformation. In addition to textual study and engaging in the requisite practices, we begin to see the world in a different way. We begin to live with Hashgachah Pratis (Divine Providence), using the Torah discourse as a lens through which to perceive the hidden messages God constantly sends us.

This often may take rather dramatic forms. Therefore, it is useful to keep a daily journal of "meaningful coincidences" and how they relate to the Torah we are studying and our reflections on its meanings. This synchronicity can manifest itself in such an encompassing manner that the world we experience seems to become a commentary on the Torah discourse and not the other way around.

Another essential part of studying Likutey Moharan is to engage in hisbodedus -- spontaneous meditation and prayer, preferably at night in a quiet, natural setting. We should devote this special hour to contemplating the discourse with which we are presently occupied, reflecting upon how it relates to the events of the previous day and praying in our own words for illumination and guidance.

Becoming skillful in this process is one of the main purposes of an authentic student-teacher relationship. For nearly two decades I have witnessed how my personal teacher HaRav Elazar Mordechai Kenig, shlita, of Tzefat, Israel, impeccably exemplifies living with the lessons in Likutey Moharan. Whatever happens to him reflects the Torah in which he is immersed. The chiddushim (original teachings) he conceives spring forth from the discourse, and the "meaningful coincidences" one observes in his presence are nothing short of astounding. I have heard Breslover Chassidim speak in similar terms of other venerated teachers.

Reb Noson states emphatically that it is not enough to study texts and interpret them according to your own understanding. You must search for a more advanced talmid (follower of Rebbe Nachman), rooted in the Breslov mesorah, who can serve as a living spiritual advisor. However, finding a qualified teacher with whom you can develop a rapport may prove to be quite a challenge, especially if you do not live in Israel, near the centers of today's Breslov community. Nevertheless, this difficulty should not prevent the beginner from embarking on the path. The Mishnah states, "Appoint for yourself a teacher, and acquire for yourself a comrade..." Even while you are still searching for a teacher, at least find a study partner, and pray to be privileged to find the right teacher. And if a study partner is hard to find -- practice hisbodedus for that too!

"Whoever wishes to follow the spiritual path must remember this well," Rebbe Nachman declares. "Encourage yourself, do the best you can to serve God, and rest assured that sooner or later, after however many days or years, with God's help you surely will enter the Gates of Holiness."

If we are determined, we will succeed, no matter what our past failings may have been, for this is what God truly desires. "Ultimately everything will be transformed to the good."


At July 10, 2008 at 6:31:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where did you first receive the guidance to keep a daily journal of "meaningful coincidences"?

Is this something you continue to do to this day?

Have you ever kept such a journal with any other sefer or do you think that this practice is best suited to a person who learns Likutey Moharan?

At July 10, 2008 at 2:20:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reb dovid, thanks for these pieces. i haven't even finished reading this one but had to say yasher koach on describing the study of likutey moharan as a 'means of spiritual transformation'. in your first piece you mentioned how l.m. is ultimately a 'revelatory' work.
this is a fine way to describe something that has a uniquely and powerfully uplifting affect on the soul... no matter what the level of the person who reads it!!

At July 10, 2008 at 6:03:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The journal idea is something I stumbled on when I was in my early 20s, during the early 1970s, while I was first exploring Chassidus. But it is really just a form of hisbodedus via writing. The great thing about journal work is that you can also reread it later and remind yourself of these significant happenings in life. For me, this is a source of chizuk in emunah.

I would say that keeping such a journal would be a meaningful adjunct to any path, whether in Chassidus or Mussar. But I have found it especially congenial as a Breslover.

Do I still keep a journal today? Yes, but not regularly. I don't feel the same need right now as at other times in my life. I don't mean to be doctrinaire about any of this -- just to share a few notes in avodas Hashem with kindred spirits.

Hatzlachah v'kol tuv!




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