Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Question & Answer With Rabbi Micha Golshevsky - Becoming A Breslover Chassid

A Simple Jew asks:

How did your discovery of the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov lead you to become a Breslover chassid?

Rabbi Micha Golshevsky answers:

I was raised in a frum family, my father is a congregational rabbi, and from high school onward I went to regular Litvishe yeshivos, and got along well in that environment. Eventually, I came to learn in Israel with Rabbi Meiselman at Toras Moshe, but I also had the advantage of having a large family network in Yerushalayim with whom I was able to associate. My father's two brothers came to live here decades ago; both of them married into very prominent Litvishe families, but one of them became a Breslover many years ago. I was close with both of my uncles and their families, but I learned with my uncle Simcha z"l especially, and he was the Breslover uncle. Even so, he was very low-key with me and did not discuss Breslov with me at all. After all, we all have the same boundless Torah from Sinai, so it's not as if there was nothing to speak about. Both chassid and misnaged must learn gemara and halachah, Midrash, as well as Rishonim and Achronim.

This uncle, though, had been a student of Rav Shach, zt"l, had done shimush with Rav Meir Bransdorfer, yibadel l'chaim tovim, and was a prominent talmid chochom in his own right who had been a Rosh Kollel, had taught in Aish HaTorah for eight years, and who was also serving as a maggid shiur in a Breslover yeshiva. My uncle Simcha's father-in-law was the famous Rav Binyamin Zilber, zt"l, to whom the Chazon Ish, zt"l, referred as "Binyamin HaTzaddik"—he was from the earlier generation of Novhardoker talmidim, along with the Steipler, zt"l. (How Rav Binyamin chose Uncle Simcha for a chosson is a good story in its own right!)

Although my uncle was kind enough to learn with me during the afternoon seder and I definitely respected him as a huge lamdan, I showed no real interest in any kind of chassidus, let alone Breslov. If you had asked me then, I would have told you that I found that chassidic teachings simply didn't speak to me and felt no need to learn them. This is not surprising since most of my family were misnagdim. I had a closed mind to chassidus, so it is not at all surprising that I had no interest in its teachings. I have since found that most of the concepts with which most people are uncomfortable in chassidus are also found in other pre- or non-chassidic sources such as the Maharal, Ramchal, Ohr Hachaim and the Shelah Hakadosh, as well as the writings of the Vilna Gaon and his students, such as the Nefesh Hachaim. Chassidus didn't emerge from a vacuum, although it does teach us what to focus on.

During my first year in Israel, my uncle lost his wife of close to twenty-eight years. Less than a year later, my (younger) cousin, Moshe Golshevsky, got engaged to be married (to the grand-daughter of Rav Shmuel Horowitz, zt"l). Understandably, this was an especially joyous time for the entire family. The Shabbos before the wedding arrived. The chasan was slated to be called to the Torah in Breslov Meah She'arim.

As many know, Rebbe Nachman said that one should daven as early as possible. At the very least, one should not miss the Magen Avraham times. In the main Breslov shul, there are two minyanim: one for vasikin, and the second early enough to make the Magen Avraham time. Even so, I found myself at a late seudah Friday night, still up at 11PM with no sign of sleep in sight. Waking up early was never my forte.

Sometimes, with a very powerful alarm, I would manage to get out of bed fairly early. That Shabbos I had not set an alarm and I realized that I had two choices: either go to sleep and wake up with no chance of making it to the shul for my cousin's aufruf, or to stay up all night in the Breslov shul so that I wouldn't run the risk of missing it. I figured that I would daven with the sunrise minyan, put my head down and sort of wake up in time for the second minyan.

I looked at staying up all night as an opportunity to grab some hours of learning, but after an hour or two, I could no longer focus on gemara. I decided to scout around to see if there was something in English that I would likely be able to learn. After a quick search I found a book by one of my all-time favorite authors, Rav Aryeh Kaplan, zt"l. Although I had never read any of his translations of Rebbe Nachman's works, I was familiar with other writings of his. The sefer was a translation of Shivchei and Sichos HaRan that had been compiled together as "Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom." I opened to the first part, "His Praise," and did not relate at all to the incredible avodos of Rebbe Nachman. It was very impressive, but it just did not speak to me. It took only a few minutes to discern that although the English was great, I was not holding by reading through the first part of the book at all. I decided to flip ahead to "His Wisdom." What I found spoke to me in the most direct, the most powerful and moving way—more than any sefer mussar or machshavah had ever done. It was completely gripping and I read the entire remainder of the night literally on the edge of my seat.

I was particularly impressed with Rebbe Nachma's practical advice, especially that one must always be fresh, having good thoughts, and his general recommendations. I was also astounded by the potent chizuk and yiras Shomayim that permeated the sefer. I found myself completely inspired and renewed by the time it was time to daven.

That Sunday, my grandmother was slated to arrive in Israel for the wedding and I traveled with my uncle to meet her. Virtually the first thing I said after we got into the taxi was, "Please teach me something about Breslov…"

My uncle may have been a little surprised at my sudden interest, but he didn't show it. Instead he said, "Do you know what Azamra is?" (That is Likutei Moharan I:282)

"Nope," I blithely replied.

"How can you not be familiar with Azamra? It's the most essential lesson of Rebbe Nachman and definitely the first thing that anyone interested in Rebbe Nachman should know!" And we started from there. The more I studied, the more I found that Rebbe Nachman's teachings both spoke to me and helped me in the areas that troubled me.

I traveled with my uncle and cousins the following Rosh HaShanah to Uman and have been going ever since. That must have been about seventeen years ago. The kibbutz was definitely different in those years! It was maybe two years after the Russians had first opened Uman to the public—if you think the logistics are a pain today, you should have seen it then!

One note: I did not adopt the outward forms of the usual Yerushalmi Breslover dress (except that I did stop trimming my beard) until I was married, with the support of my wife, because I felt that it was positive for me spiritually. But I was definitely a Breslover.


At January 14, 2009 at 7:20:00 AM EST, Blogger Ploni Almoni said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At January 14, 2009 at 10:00:00 AM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Very intersting.

At January 14, 2009 at 6:16:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rav Gladser (from Eimek Halocho) said once, that zmaney tfilo aren't enforced on Shabbos as during weekday. And even if Eliyohu haNovi will come and say the opposite - we wouldn't listen :)

Reb Micha, where does the Rebbe say, that one should hold all zmanim of Mogen Avrohom? It is said regarding the tikun hatzoys, but not regarding the zmaney tfilo according to what I know.

At January 14, 2009 at 6:25:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have heard that in Uman, they followed the Magen Avraham's z'manim -- unlike other Chassidim who follow the shittah of the Baal HaTanya. This always struck me as a little odd, but it probably reflects the general emphasis in Breslov on davenning early (which comes from the Rebbe).

Thanks for telling your inspiring tale, Reb Micha!

At January 14, 2009 at 9:45:00 PM EST, Blogger Long Beach Chasid said...

Could So and So please cite a source that it is assur to set an alarm?

I only ask this because there is a "Kosher Clock" sold Here.

By such logic, one could not set a timer for a light to turn on either.

Im very interested to hear about the Breslov approach to holding by Magen Avraham Z'manim.

A Vishnitz Chasid I am close with once told us in a shuir that it is very Important to rise and say Shema before Magen Avraham Z'manim.

I really admire the early davening of the Breslov Chassidim. Funny enough, I stayed by a good friend of my who is a Breslover Chasid in Har Nof and was very excited to rise early to daven. Ends up its one of the only Breslov Minyanim in Israel that only has a late davening. When I mean late, I mean 8:30.

At January 14, 2009 at 11:04:00 PM EST, Blogger Ploni Almoni said...

I must apologize as I remember this din elsewhere as I posted but when I looked up in Shmiras Shabbos (28:29) it says there that it is basically permitted provided certain (probably commonly met) conditions are met.

At January 14, 2009 at 11:10:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I have heard that in Uman, they followed the Magen Avraham's z'manim -- unlike other Chassidim who follow the shittah of the Baal HaTanya."

The Klausenberger Rebbe zy'a also held by MA time as I understand.

"By such logic, one could not set a timer for a light to turn on either."

I'm not an expert and I'm not saying it is ossur, but an alarm clock is a noise maker which is not the case with lights.

At January 14, 2009 at 11:15:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my home growing up we always had the calendar from the Hisachdus Harobonim (Satmar) and on that calendar the zmanim were also according to the Mogen Avrohom. My family has always been makpid on this zman - especially for krias shma in the morning.

At January 14, 2009 at 11:39:00 PM EST, Blogger Long Beach Chasid said...

I think we are straying from the topic at hand which I think is more interesting and that is Chassidim following Magen Avraham Z'manim.

I am curious about what is assur about something that makes noise.

I took at look at Shemiras Shabbos and it says that it is acceptable to set an alarm clock prior to Shabbos or Yom Tov for Shabbos or Yom Tov if it so that one can perform a mitzvah such as learning Torah (I would assume davening is included)

I hope more discussion can involve the main topic of this Article though.

At January 15, 2009 at 1:49:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, most Hungarishe chasidim follow the shita of Mogen Avrohom because it was the standard psak amongst Ashkenazim before the Baal haTania and the Gr"o came with the psak based on Gaonim. Russian chasidim virtually universally accepted Baal haTania's psak, while others didn't change the old practice.

According to the rules of Halocho (klaley hoyroo) Baal haTania's psak is really the correct one since it is based on Gaonim (research the sugya in depth for more details). In this regards, Breslover practice needs some more research, because in Russia/Ukraine Baal haTania's shita was normative. Mogen Avrohom's shita could be held lechumra in this case (not as an ikar hadin). Also note, that similar practice (fitting into Mogen Avrohom's zmanim) was used by Bershader (Ukranian) chasidim (see Imrey Pinchos) as a chumra.

At January 22, 2009 at 6:36:00 PM EST, Blogger A Talmid said...

You seem to be closely affiliated with Rav Morgenstern shlita, who I have had the merit of seeing many times. Was there any particular reason you became, specifically, his talmid? (if this is correct) Are there any other Breslov gedolim that you are close with, and how would you suggest someone determine who to get close to when there are B"H so many great tzadikim in Breslov, such as Rav Morgenstern, Rav Yaakov Meir Shechter, Rav Luzer Kenig, etc?

At January 22, 2009 at 11:09:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Talmid: Um your question is a post all its own.
In chronological order, my uncle was close to and respected by Rav Nosson Tzvi Kenig, zt"l, (who had him teach at the suedah shlishis in Breslov Bnei Brak many times)Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender,zt"l, Rav Michel Dorfman, zt"l and--may they live long--Rav Ya'akov Meir Shechter, shlita and Rav Eliezer Berland, Shlita. As I wrote in the article, in my formative years in Breslov I received from my uncle.As a struggling English speaker I was not going to try and make a relationship even with those who were alive when I interested (and fluent in Yiddish) Like most people, Breslov resonated with me in a very deep place just from the sefarim.
Besides Rav Morgenstern, shlita, I have a kesher with: Rav Eliezer Berland, shlita, Rav Nisan Dovid Kivak, shlita, and Rav Eliyahu Gudlevsky shlita. Since Rav Guldlevsky is rarely in Yerushalayim, the kesher is less personal then the others although I have heard his shiurim and been very influenced by his mehalech especially through one of his talmidim.
In addition, I learned (and loved) Siach Sarfei Kodesh and Noam Siach which bring down the sichos of Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender, zt"l, and received from many other great people. RAv Bender had many worthy students who are not famous.
Er...please don't take offense, but could you tell me what a "Brelover gadol" is?
In other groups when there is divisiveness regarding which minhagim to follow the leading dissenting chosid--who is not batel to the Rebbe--becomes a "Rebbe in his own right."
In Breslov there is enough division in custom etc to make many Rebbe's--Rebbe Nachman did say he will make us into many groups.
I never understood the precise distinction between those who treat certain people as Rebbe's but don't call them "Admor" and just calling them the Rebbe mimeilah.
Although the Mashpi'im still uses Rabeinu's mehalech (as each understand it,) to certain students, he is the "gadol" and anyone who sees things differently from him is "off."
Of course not taking on an actual Rebbe\Gadol has a distinct disadvantage since someone can claim every sort of nonsense in the Rebbe's name. I would reply that if all the greatest in Breslov avoided something or spoke against it that shows clearly that it is not a kosher mehalech.
On the other hand, with no Rebbe, the main thing is the chasidus\ avodah. As the Porasover Rebbe, shlita, once said, "It's true that Breslovers have no Rebbe but look at who they produce! The mehalech of Breslov builds Rebbes! If you say that each person with a hundred close followers is a Rebbe, how many Breslovers would the rest of the velt call bona fide Rebbe's?"
For all of it's unstructured openness, what other chasidus can make such a claim? (And no; the Porosover is not a Breslover.)
In truth this might just be my Litvishkeit coming out, but when the Rebbe said that his sefer is the beginning of the redemption, do you think he meant only through a gadol\ mefursam?
Do you think when he said that he wished his inyan to reach Litvisher hearts (Siach Sarfei Kodesh) that he meant to effect the halachic process of most Litvisher so that they correspond with the Ukranian--or any other--mehalech?
I always understood that he mainly wished the entire world his advice in avodas Hashem. After all, did he not say that if one talks to a Jew and can only give the Rebbe's powerful advice without the Rebbe's name, he should do so since, "What do I care if someone serves Hashem in my koach and he is unaware?"
Surely the Rebbe meant that the entire world learn avodas Hashem from his seforim and use this to combat the nefarious haskalah, bad influence from internet etc. etc. Regardless of minhag; Sefardi, Ashkenazi, Chareie and Kippah Serugah, Rebbe Nachman speaks to all of us. (Come to Uman and see for yourself!)
The closer we get to Moshiach, the more the Rebbe's powerful eitzos are emerging from other chasidic and non-chasidic sources--especially chizuk.
Even fifty years ago: who focused on chizuk like Breslov? Today who doesn't focus on chizuk? Why not go to the source?

At July 20, 2009 at 9:01:00 PM EDT, Anonymous yaakov said...

reb micha,
yasher koach. what impresses me is that even with a very impressive lifetime of learning you are very haimish and kind with those who ask you questions. you are always encouraging and understanding. this is what i notice from your blog etc.

may H' bless and strengthen you together will all of israel.

your story reminds me somewhat of rav elchonon tauber, shlita.

At July 21, 2009 at 4:09:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Micha Golshevsky said...

Reb Yaakov: Ya'asher koach for the kind chizuk!
I was blessed with many truly erudite teachers (both Breslovers and non) who have always given me much to strive for and an excellent example (maybe one day...)
Hashem should help us follow their example of continuous connection to Him at all times!


Post a Comment

<< Home