Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Ephrayim Portnoy - Chernobyl & Breslov

A Simple Jew asks:

The sefer Shivcho shel Tzaddik if full of examples of tzaddikim from the Chernobyl dynasties lauding Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and his teachings. Given all these historical examples, to what would you attribute the negative attitudes towards Breslov that seem to be widely held amongst chassidim from the Chernobyl dynasties today?

Rabbi Ephrayim Portnoy answers:

There are several reasons why we may find that today’s leaders of Chernobyl Chassidus are opposed to Breslov, while many of their ancestors may have held Rebbe Nachman and his followers in high regard.

First of all, the general attitude of Chassidus has changed over time. We find many of the concepts taught by Rebbe Nachman echoed in the works of the earlier generations of Chassidus, such as Hisbodedus and the in-depth study of Chassidus, amongst others. However, as time progressed, many of the leaders of Chassidus in general felt that the masses were not up to these lofty ideas, and felt them to be too dangerous for the average chassid to be involved with.

For example, being preoccupied with one’s shortcomings, even for just an hour a day of Hisbodedus, they felt may lead to depression. Even the path of Hischazkus was deemed to risky, because it required one to acknowledge his shortcomings. Instead, they felt that today’s chassid should concentrate only the positive and not at all make a big deal about the negative.

Therefore, many Chassidishe Rebbes felt that it is better that their followers not learn Rebbe Nachman’s works, as not to be exposed to ideas that they felt too unsafe today.

Breslov, on the other hand, believes that Rebbe Nachman in his unique path provided us with the necessary safeguards in order to protect us from potential danger. The unique paradigm which is expressed throughout his teachings shows us how to strive for the highest levels, while not feeling any unhappiness even while acknowledging how we may presently be at the lowest. The concept of tzimtzumim which the Rebbe teaches helps one to strengthen himself in Emunah and to sharpen it through learning and thinking in Chassidus without compromising on the simplicity of his faith.

Something else to keep in mind is that many Tzaddikim who held highly of Rebbe Nachman himself, may not necessarily felt the same way about his derech. Each Tzaddik has his own distinct path, and while they certainly respect each other, they each direct their followers within their own derech. Not all derachim are compatible with one another, and they may therefore sometimes feel that it’s better to avoid confusion with other paths.

For the same reasons, we find that although the Litvishe Gedolim know of the greatness of the Chassidishe Rebbes, they instruct their followers not to learn Chassidus or take upon its practices when it may compromise the path on which they are leading them.

As a final point, many people have pointed out that every statement we hear from our Gedolim must be taken in context. Not all of the statements of praise in the aforementioned book may have been meant in the way they were quoted. I have found other Seforim which refer to some of the quotes and explain that the Gedolim meant something else altogether. And some of the Tzaddikim may have otherwise been strongly opposed to Breslov even if they may have said a positive statement here or there.

A Breslover Chassid understands that we do not understand the ways of Tzaddikim, and certainly not what we perceive to be disputes between them. We find direction and encouragement in the path that the Rebbe teaches us, and we follow it with full trust in him. Rebbe Nachman himself taught that it will be necessary for his followers to endure opposition from other Tzaddikim. Baruch Hashem, as we become closer to the coming of Moshiach, the opposition is quieting down, and Rebbe Nachman’s teachings are becoming more and more accepted.

Someone once asked Reb Naftali, one of principal talmidim of the Rebbe, where are we holding in the Meggilas Setarim, the document in which the Rebbe revealed the events that will lead up to Moshiach’s coming. He replied, “One thing I can tell you, that when you see that the world starts accepting the Rebbe’s sefarim, you can start preparing for Moshaich” Speedily in our days.


At January 28, 2009 at 2:16:00 PM EST, Blogger A Yid said...

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At January 28, 2009 at 2:18:00 PM EST, Blogger Shmerl said...

negative attitudes towards Breslov that seem to be widely held amongst chassidim from the Chernobyl dynasties today

These can be attributed to the change in Chernobyl itself. I.e. it is not the old Chernobyl anymore.

Many of today Chernobylers are not enough informed about history and Chernobyl mesoyro itself.

Not many are aware of the fact, that after Bolsheviks came to power, Chernobyler tzadikim in Russia had a meeting and put stop to all machloykes against Breslov.

Reb Avrohom Shternhartz had a mesoyro, that all disagreements with Chernobly were not based on anything substantial (ideological).

Also, Chernobyl up until recent times didn't at all consider deep chasidic ideas dangerous or not applicable. Chernobyler chasidim did learn Kabolo, and Chasidus extensively.

The picture that is present today is just a sad image of what happened of Chernobyl after the Bolsheviks and WWII. Most of today Chernobylers are newcomers that didn't go to research Chernobyler mesoyro far enough.

At January 28, 2009 at 2:48:00 PM EST, Blogger A Talmid said...

Very interesting. Is this a personal theory? My question is: If these Rebbes were worried about people falling into depression, then why aren’t they so vehemently “anti-mussar” in the same manner? Why is Sefer Reishis Chochma, which goes into detail about the various punishments for different aveiros, found in virtually every Chassidish Beis Medrash? The same goes for Kav Hayosher, which is praised by Chassidish Rebbes from the Noam Elimelech till present, and can be pretty graphic about punishment. Also, the first page speaks of hisbodedus. I recently heard the Skvere Rebbe shlita speak and there seemed to be plenty of mussar in there.

There must be something more to the opposition to Likutei Mohoran. I have no idea what it is. I don’t think anyone is against emunah, tefila, limud HaTorah or the other Avodas Hashem spoken of there. My feeling is that it is just the Satan getting involved, since we see how the teachings of Reb Nachman resonate deeply in Jews of every background.

At January 28, 2009 at 4:28:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know as a fact of a Breslover Bochur who Married a Skverer girl When they asked the Rebbe he said he could not answer but indicated he was not againt it.

At January 28, 2009 at 4:46:00 PM EST, Blogger Shmerl said...

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At January 28, 2009 at 4:47:00 PM EST, Blogger Shmerl said...

Anonymous: Reb Luzer Kenig met with Skverer Rebbe (as well as his father Reb Gedalya ztz"l) and the Skevrer Rebe said that he finished what his father started (meaning really stopping the machloykes).

By the way, Machnovker Rebbe ztz"l (who was also from Skverer line of Chernobyl) praised Breslovers highly for being the strongest in enduring Bolshevik persecutions.

At January 30, 2009 at 2:51:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are all rebbes associated with Chernobyl opposed to Breslov today? Does anyone know whether Rabbi Michel Twerski (Milwaukee), for example, is against Breslov?

At February 1, 2009 at 1:19:00 PM EST, Blogger tzuriel said...

Here is Rabbi Benzion Twerski's (son of Rabbi Michel) response.

It was primarily a Skver issue. In fact my father owns a set of Likutei Halachos of R' Nosson with R' Laible's stamp in it! So we have the greatest reverence for R' Nachman.

At March 16, 2009 at 1:24:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To by beloved cousin ben zion you are wrong. It is not just skver ( and your mother is skver) it is all of ukrainain chasidus which oppose breslov. It derivates from torah HaBaal Shem and does not help in the geula. It created a chassidus without a rebbe a contradiction in terns

At March 16, 2009 at 10:47:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Excuse me, why do you feel that Breslov is a chassidus without a Rebbe? A Breslover Chassid is mekushar to the daas and eitzos of his Rebbe 24/7. Most of today's modern-day chassidim see their Rebbe once in a while and maybe get some brocho from him for their business, but what real kesher does the average chassid have? Granted, you've got some individuals who have a real relationship, but how can you compare that to the average Breslover?
Besides that, there are many manhigim in Breslov today who are in many ways similiar to Rebbes.

I have heard confirmed from two different sources that the origin of Chernobyl opposition to Breslov is as follows. The Chernobyl Chassidim would travel throughout Ukraine to get ksav magidus for their Rebbes. In each town that they would enter they would encounter three types of people, chassidim, "ashkenazim" and Breslovers. The chassidim always agreed to having a chernobyler einekel as the official Rebbe of the town. The ashkenazim didn't care one way or another. The Breslovers, however, wouldn't sign, because that would give up their autonomy in inyanei chassidus to the Chernobyl. As retaliation the chernobyl chassidim launched a smear campaign against the Breslovers that they don't believe in Rebbes.
Even if the reason for opposing Breslov is because they don't have a fleishigeh Rebbe, why is that a heter for Chernobyl chassidim to burn Likutei Moharan and beat up Breslovers (yes, recently) force happy couples to get divorced, and consider the word Breslov a dirty word (although the Skvere Rebbe has allowed himself to utter other words)


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