Breslover Manhigim (Leaders)

We present here short biographies on some of the leading luminaries of the movement - the "chain of tradition" - whose lives and lessons have provided us with the material for this work. The biographies are listed alphabetically according to the chronological order of the generation in which they lived
"Merely seeing the faces of the generation's leaders is greatly beneficial"
Sefer HaMiddot, Tzaddik 6

Rebbe Nachman

Rebbe Nachman was born on Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, 5532 (April 4, 1772), in Medzeboz. His father was Reb Simchah, the son of Reb Nachman Horodenker, who was a leading disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. His mother was Feiga, daughter of Adil, the daughter of the Baal Shem Tov. He had two brothers, Reb Yechiel and Reb Yisrael Met, and a sister Perel. His uncles, Feiga's brothers, were the prominent Chassidic figures, Reb Moshe Chaim Efraim, author of the Degel Machaneh Efraim, and Reb Baruch of Medzeboz. Rebbe Nachman was born at a time when the Chassidic movement was beginning to ebb. A week after his birth, a cherem of excommunication was issued against the Chassidim. About half a year later, the Magid of Mezritch, the Baal Shem Tov's successor, passed away.

Rebbe Nachman grew up in Medzeboz, and married Sashia, the daughter of Reb Efraim of Ossatin, when he was thirteen (as was then the custom). On his wedding day he attracted his first disciple, Reb Shimon. Though older than Rebbe Nachman, Reb Shimon remarked proudly, "I left all the older guter Yidden (good Jews; a euphemism for Tzaddikim), and attached myself to a yunger man (young man)!"

The Rebbe had eight children, six daughters and two sons. Of these, only four daughters survived him. They were Adil, the eldest, then Sarah, Miriam and Chayah. Miriam moved to the Holy Land in 1809 where she passed away childless. Adil, Sarah and Chayah had children and a comprehensive family tree appears at the end of Until the Mashiach. The Rebbe had no children from his second wife, whom he married after Sashia's death from tuberculosis.

Rebbe Nachman moved to his father-in-law's town, Ossatin, and lived there for about five years. From there he moved to Medvedevka where he began to attract a large following, some of whom were to become his closest followers: Reb Dov, Reb Shmuel Isaac, Reb Yudel, Reb Aharon the Rav and Reb Yekutiel, the Magid of Terhovitza.

From Medvedevka, Rebbe Nachman made his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1798-1799. In 1800, shortly after Adil's wedding, he moved to Zlatipolia. There, the Rebbe encountered major difficulties from Reb Aryeh Leib, the "Shpola Zeide," who became Rebbe Nachman's embittered enemy. Two bitter years of relentless opposition led to Rebbe Nachman's moving to Breslov in the summer of 1802.

As much as the Rebbe's move was a necessary flight from controversy, it was also the watershed for Breslover Chassidut. Not far from the city of Breslov, in the town of Nemirov, there lived a certain young man who was to become Rebbe Nachman's closest disciple and Boswell. This was Reb Noson. Coming from a family of Mitnagdim, Reb Noson was, nevertheless, very impressed by the devotions of the Chassidim and made many attempts to find his niche within the relatively young movement. If Medvedevka and Zlatipolia were distant and inaccessible for Reb Noson, Breslov was right around the corner. Reb Noson, together with his friend Reb Naftali, immediately visited the Rebbe. They were so inspired by Rebbe Nachman's devotions and teachings that they promptly joined his following and before long became the Rebbe's most intimate disciples.

In early spring of 1803, Rebbe Nachman's daughter Sarah was married. In 1805, Miriam was married. (Chayah married after the Rebbe passed away.) During those years, except for some set times when the Rebbe visited Medvedevka, Tcherin and Terhovitza, Rebbe Nachman remained in Breslov.

In the winter of 1807, Rebbe Nachman set out on a journey to Novoritch, Dubno, Brody and Zaslov. In Zaslov, where the Rebbe spent the Shavuot holiday (June), his wife passed away. Before Rosh HaShannah (September 1807), he married again, this time the daughter of Reb Yechezkel Trachtenburg from Brody. Shortly afterwards, he contracted tuberculosis, which finally took his life three years later.

In 1808, Rebbe Nachman made a journey to Lemberg (Lvov), where he sought treatment for his illness. During that year, while the Rebbe was in Lemberg, the first volume of his major teachings, the Likutey Moharan, was published. He had already begun telling his famous stories and had also revealed his Sefer HaMiddot (The Aleph-Bet Book).

After his return from Lemberg, the Rebbe spent the next two years in Breslov. During this period he revealed the General Remedy and many far-sighted teachings for the Chassidic group he had founded. The tuberculosis continued to consume his body and Rebbe Nachman became very weak and frail. Realizing that his death was near, he began to make arrangements to move to Uman, the place he had chosen in which to pass away. The Rebbe had considered travelling to the Holy Land, but feared that he lacked the strength for so difficult a journey. He also wanted his followers to have access to his gravesite, something which might not prove possible were he to be buried in the Holy Land. Therefore, he chose the city of Uman, where there had been a huge massacre of some 20,000 Jews by Ivan Gunta and the Haidemacks in 1768. Rebbe Nachman said: "There are many kedoshim (holy martyrs) buried in Uman and it would be good to lie there amongst them" (Tzaddik #114).

In spring 1810, shortly after Pesach, a major fire in Breslov destroyed the Rebbe's house. A day later, word arrived that negotiations for welcoming the Rebbe had been concluded and accommodations had been arranged. Hearing the news, the Rebbe's face turned red. He knew that he was being summoned to die.

Rebbe Nachman arrived in Uman on May 9,1810. During his stay there, the Rebbe talked much about rectifying souls, those close to him as well as other souls. It was here that he issued his famous call: "Never despair!" and exhorted his followers to gather for Rosh HaShannah. He passed away on the fourth day of Sukkot, 18 Tishrei 5571 (October 16, 1810), and was buried the next day. His grave has remained a shrine, visited by Breslover Chassidim and many others, from all over the world, ever since.

A full chronology of the Rebbe's life can be found in Until the Mashiach, with much biographical data in Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom and Tzaddik. Rebbe Nachman said, "We will always be known as the Chassidim of BReSLoV, the letters of which are the same as LeV BaSoR (heart of flesh)" (Tzaddik #339). Though Rebbe Nachman passed away nearly two hundred years ago, his flame burns brightly and continues to bring light and happiness to thousands upon thousands of people. Rebbe Nachman himself said: "My fire will burn until the Mashiach comes" (Tzaddik #126). May this be speedily and in our days, Amen.

Reb Noson

Reb Noson Sternhartz was born in Nemirov, on 15 Shevat, 5540 (January 22, 1780). At thirteen, he married Esther Shaindel, the daughter of the prominent Rabbi Dovid Zvi Orbach, a renowned halakhic authority in Poland and the Ukraine. Reb Noson was twenty-two when Rebbe Nachman moved to Breslov, and Reb Noson promptly became his leading follower. He also developed into the Rebbe's scribe, writing down all of the Rebbe's teachings and conversations. Rebbe Nachman himself said: "Were it not for Reb Noson, not a page of my writings would have remained" (see Tzaddik #367).

After Rebbe Nachman passed away, Reb Noson moved to Breslov (1811). He printed all of Rebbe Nachman's writings, and wrote his own original discourses and teachings, some of which were published during his lifetime. He also traveled throughout the Ukraine, visiting Rebbe Nachman's followers and continuing to spread the Rebbe's teachings. In 1822 he made his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a trip that in many ways rivaled Rebbe Nachman's in adventure and suspense. During those years, Reb Naftali Hertz's business failed and Reb Noson became subjected to poverty. He once said that when he began eating from wooden utensils, he felt no taste in the food. Around 1830, with the pronounced increase in the number of those coming to Uman for Rosh HaShannah, Reb Noson initiated the construction of a large Breslov synagogue (until then, they had rented a place in the city for the kibutz gathering.)

In late 1834, Rabbi Moshe Zvi of Savran, the Savraner Rebbe, instigated fierce and fanatical opposition to Reb Noson and the Breslover Chassidim. This opposition led to Reb Noson's temporary imprisonment by the authorities. After his release, Reb Noson fled from city to city in the Ukraine, only returning to Breslov in the spring of 1835. Shortly afterwards he was banished from Breslov and was under court order to remain in the city of his birth. Though he obtained permission to travel to Uman for Rosh HaShannah and for other select occasions, he was virtually a prisoner in Nemirov. His confinement also put him at the mercy of his opponents, who seized every opportunity to torment him. With the Savraner's sudden death in 1838, the relentless opposition waned and Reb Noson returned to Breslov later that year.

Reb Noson had five sons and one daughter, all of whom survived him. Reb Shachneh (b. 1802) and Reb Yitzchok (b. 1808) were born during Rebbe Nachman's lifetime. Reb Noson's only daughter Chana Tzirel (b. 1820) and his third son, Reb Dovid Zvi (b. 1822) were also born to him by his first wife, Esther Shaindel (d. 1826). Reb Noson then married Dishel, who bore him two sons, Reb Nachman (b.1827) and Reb Yosef Yonah (b.1829).

Despite great personal suffering from both poverty and opposition, Reb Noson was singlehandedly responsible for shaping the Breslov movement into the vibrant force it is today. This, in spite of the fact that there is no "living" rebbe. On the morning of his passing, 10 Tevet, 5605 (December 20, 1844), Reb Noson had the first two stories of Rabbi Nachman's Stories read to him. The second story ends "...let us go home!" Hearing these words, Reb Noson nodded his head as if to say, "Yes, it is my time to go home." He passed away later that day in his home in Breslov, just before the onset of Shabbat. Reb Naftali, with whom Reb Noson had been very close ever since childhood, was then living in Uman. The next morning he said that he was certain that "Reb Noson passed away last night." When asked how he knew this, he replied, "I had a dream in which I saw Reb Noson. He was running. I asked him, 'Reb Noson, where are you running?' 'Me?!' he answered. 'Straight to the Rebbe!... (Oral Tradition).
 

The Rebbe's Followers

From his many disciples, Rebbe Nachman, had an inner group of followers - six giants among the many. They, together with Rebbe Nachman himself, are referred to in Breslov circles as the Candelabrum. These followers were: Reb Shimon, Reb Shmuel Isaac, Reb Yudel, Reb Aharon, Reb Noson and Reb Naftali. Biographical sketches about these and other followers of the Rebbe can be found in Until the Mashiach, pp.296-320.
 

The Second Generation

Chazan, Reb Nachman [of Tulchin] (1813-1884). Reb Nachman's grandfather was a follower of Rebbe Nachman. Born shortly after the Rebbe passed away, Reb Nachman was named after the Rebbe. Orphaned as a very young child, he grew up in his uncle's house, where he met Reb Noson on the latter's pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1822. Reb Noson made such a deep impression upon him that the young Nachman decided to be close to Reb Noson forever. He indeed became Reb Noson's most intimate follower and eventually was leader of the Breslov movement.

Reb Nachman was the chazon (prayer leader) for the Musaf Prayer on Rosh HaShannah, hence the family name Chazan. His supplications were so intense, that those assembled felt he was 96 standing on air" while reciting the prayers. His great fervor was matched by his modesty. Though he was the leader of the Breslover Chassidim at that time, Reb Nachman did not consider it beneath him to serve others. Immediately after praying the daily prayers with great devotion, he would take the water buckets to draw water for the synagogue.

Reb Nachman published the first volume of his mentor's Likutey Halakhot while Reb Noson was still alive. Later, he edited and published the remaining seven volumes. Reb Nachman lived for eighteen years in Tulchin and then moved to Breslov after Reb Noson passed away so that he could continue Reb Noson's work. After eighteen years in Breslov he moved to Uman, where he lived an additional eighteen years. It was this move that shifted the focus of Breslover Chassidut to Uman. For all his greatness, he was extremely modest and humble, serving as shaniash (sexton) of the Breslover Synagogue in Uman.

Goldstein, Reb Nachman [of Tcherin] (b.?-d.1894). Known affectionately and reverently as the Tcheriner Rav, Reb Nachman was the son of Reb Zvi Aryeh of Breslov. His father's father, Reb Aharon, was the Chief Rabbi in Breslov in Rebbe Nachman's time. In fact, the Rebbe said that he invoked his ancestral merits in order to bring Reb Aharon - whose clarity in rendering halakhic decisions was unparalleled - to Breslov. An erudite scholar even as a young boy, Reb Nachman, who grew up in Breslov, shied away from Reb Noson in his early years. Reb Noson once called him over and said, "You know, it's very possible that Rebbe Nachman used his ancestral merits to bring your grandfather to Breslov only because of YOU."

After Reb Noson passed away, the Tcheriner Rav regretted having distanced himself from Reb Noson and he became very involved with Reb Noson's works. He published the Likutey Etzot HaMeshulash, the expanded Likutey Etzot (Advice) and collected Reb Noson's teachings in the Likutey Halakhot on all the same topics which appear in the earlier work. He also was the first to begin writing a commentary specifically on Rebbe Nachman's works, thereby making these complex tomes somewhat more accessible to the layman. His personal level of scholarship defies description.

Known as a matmid (diligent in Torah study), he often remained awake all night while immersed in study. As Rabbi of Tcherin, he was always being invited to weddings by the local residents, though he did not always go. Once, his attendant decided not to pass on the invitation since he knew that the Rav in any case, was not going to attend. When he discovered this, Reb Nachman was upset. "Whenever I receive an invitation to a wedding, I know that I'm not going to get any sleep that night (he would always only sleep till midnight and then rise to study Torah until morning). So, even if I don't go to the wedding, I stay up throughout the night studying. By not giving me the invitation, you 'cheated' me out of a full night of Torah!"

After writing his commentary Yekara DeShabbata, explaining the holiness of Shabbat as perceived in each lesson of the Likutey Moharan, the Tcheriner Rav said that he could no longer sleep on Shabbat. He said, "Someone who keeps Shabbat is known as a shomer Shabbat (shomer means watchman or guard). Everyone knows that it is forbidden for a watchman to sleep on the job! How then can I sleep on Shabbat?!"

A younger contemporary of Reb Nachman Chazan, the Tcheriner Rav was highly respected and honored by the Breslover Chassidim. He, together with Reb Avraham Ber, Rebbe Nachman's grandson, was responsible for Reb Avraham Sternhartz being appointed prayer leader for the Rosh HaShannah prayers. Still, when making the pilgrimage to Uman for Rosh HaShannah, he would not expect or allow any preferential treatment because of stature. "In Uman, we are all alike," he said. "When I set out for the Rosh HaShannah kibutz, I leave behind my rabbinical status and authority."

All told, he authored about twenty books, several of which were only seen by Breslover Chassidim in manuscript form before they were lost. Of his major works that remain with us are the Parparaot LeChokhmah on Likutey Moharan, Rimzey Maasiot on Rabbi Nachrnan's Stories and the source references for the Sefer HaMiddot. He also compiled a two-volume collection of teachings on various topics from the Baal Shem Tov and his major disciples, entitled Leshon Chassidim and Derekh Chassidim.

Lubarski, Reb Moshe [Breslover]. Reb Noson was once confronted by a distraught woman who pleaded with him to bless her with children. Her two sons, Reb Moshe and Reb Zanvil Lubarski, were the fruits of Reb Noson's blessing. Reb Moshe was one of Reb Noson's closest followers and a leading Breslover figure after Reb Noson. Reb Yisrael Karduner was sent to him to learn about Breslov. The Tcheriner Rav who sent him, said, "Reb Moshe grew up by Reb Noson. He will plant Reb Noson's teachings in you.

Reb Moshe's faith in Reb Noson was beyond description. Once he was robbed. Instead of looking for the thief, Reb Moshe entered the house of study, took out Reb Noson's Likutey Halakhot and studied the laws and discourses on stealing. Shortly afterwards, his possessions were returned to him. After his marriage, Reb Moshe moved to Tcherin where he would converse daily about the Rebbe's teachings with Reb Avraham Ber, Rebbe Nachman's grandson and another of Reb Noson's followers. Reb Dov, the Rebbe's follower and Reb Avraham Ber's father-in-law, once asked Reb Moshe to speak to him. Reb Moshe stood in awe and said, "What can I say to you about serving God? You knew the Rebbe!" Reb Dov answered, "Believe me! You learned more about Rebbe Nachman through Reb Noson, than I know even from Rebbe Nachman himself."

Reb Efraim b'Reb [son of] Naftali (b.1800?-1883). Though Reb Efraim's father (Reb Naftali) was one of Rebbe Nachman's closest followers, his father sent him to study Breslover Chassidut from Reb Noson. A close follower who spent much time with Reb Noson, Reb Efraim later wrote two books patterned after his mentor's works. The first is Likute_v Euen, following the style of the Likutey Halakhot by explaining the Codes with Rebbe Nachman's teachings. The second is Tefilot HaBoker, prayers which are based upon Reb Noson's teachings. He was very modest and published both volumes without his name appearing as author. Reb Efraim was a very close friend of his contemporary Reb Yitzchok Sternhartz (q.v.) and both were held in high esteem by Reb Noson.

Sternhartz, Reb Yitzchok (1808-1871). Reb Yitzchok was Reb Noson's second oldest son. After his marriage, he lived in Tuichin (about nine miles from Breslov where his father lived after the Rebbe passed away). Reb Yitzchok was highly respected and honored, especially amongst the local authorities, who placed him in charge of the post office (which also served as a government bank in those days). Reb Noson said, "I had no time to write all the letters that I did to my son. The letters were written by Reb Yitzchok's burning desire to hear words of encouragement from me." These letters make up the Alim Litrufah, which has letters that Reb Yitzchok himself wrote appended to the book. Reb Yitzchok moved to the Holy Land in the summer of 1868 and passed away in Safed a few years later. He is buried right next to Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Shulchan Arukh.
 

C. The Third Generation

Breiter, Reb Yitchok (1886-1943?). Reb Yitzchok was born in Poland seventy-six years after Rebbe Nachman's passing, and he grew up without ever having heard about Breslover Chassidut. One day, while studying in Rabbi Tzadok's Yeshivah in Lublin, he came across a copy of the Likutey Moharan. He became engrossed in Lesson #64 of volume 1, which opened entirely new worlds of thought and faith in the Torah for him. Hiding the book so he could easily find it the next day, he was most disappointed when he returned to discover that it had disappeared.

A few weeks later Reb Yitzchok came across a copy of Parparaot LeChokhmah, the Tcheriner Rav's commentary on Likutey Moharan. He used the information it contained to make contact with the Breslover Chassidim in Russia and by the following Rosh HaShannah made his first trip to Uman. After that, Reb Yitzchok became instrumental in spreading the teachings of Breslov throughout Poland, so that by the beginning of the Second World War, Breslover Chassidim in Poland numbered several thousand. In 1917, when the border between Soviet Russia and Poland was closed after the Bolshevik Revolution, he established the kibutz for Rosh HaShannah in Lublin. Reb Yitzchok was a recognized elder in the Warsaw Ghetto until he was sent in one of the transports to Treblinka, where he was murdered at the hands of the accursed Nazis.

Chazan, Reb Avraham (ben R. Nachman) (1849-1917). As a youth, Reb Avraham displayed incredible tenaciousness in his devotions. He would often leave home right after Shabbat with only a sack of bread and a stack of books, to disappear into the forest for an entire week. There he would meditate and study undisturbed. His profundity can be seen from his commentary, Biur HaLikutim, which dissects Rebbe Nachman's lessons point by point by delving into their depths. Even so, Reb Avraham himself said about the Rebbe's simple conversations: "I hope that ten thousand years after the Resurrection, I will be worthy of understanding even one of Rebbe Nachman's statements, the way the Rebbe himself understood it in this world."

The year after Reb Nachman Chazan passed away (1884), Reb Avraham began recording many of the stories and Breslov traditions that he had received from his father. This formed the basis for the Kokhavey Or (five sections), Sichot VSipurim and other books. Around 1894 Reb Avraham moved to Jerusalem, though he would travel back to Russia each year to spend Rosh HaShannah in Uman. He continued this until the outbreak of World War One left him trapped in Russia, where he remained until his passing on Chanukah, 1917. Among his students were Reb Eliyahu Chaim Rosen and Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender, some of the key individuals responsible for the development of Breslover Chassidut in Jerusalem today.

Halperin, Reb Yisrael [Karduner] (d.1920). Reb Yisrael was born in Poland and was recognized as a prodigy. Finding a Tikkun HaKlali, he became enflamed with Breslover Chassidut and moved to the Ukraine, where he studied under Reb Moshe Breslover. In the end of the story of The Spider and the Fly (Rabbi Nachrnan's Stories #7), the Rebbe mentions a beautiful person. Having seen Reb Yisrael, the Tcheriner Rav said that this alludes to him. At the turn of the century, Reb Yisrael moved to the Holy Land, living in Meron, Safed and Tiberias. His prayers were legendary for their sweetness, and many people became attracted to Breslov Chassidut after hearing Reb Yisrael in his devotions. A number of melodies in the Breslov repertoire originate from him. Perhaps his most often quoted remark is, "There was someone [Rebbe Nachman] who called out 100 years ago, 'Never give up!' and we still hear that voice today." He lost his entire family during a plague in Tiberias, where he himself is buried.

Sternhartz (Kokhav Lev), Reb Avraham (1862-1955). Reb Avraham was Reb Noson's great-grandson and a grandson of the Tcheriner Rav. Orphaned at a young age, he was raised by his illustrious grandfather whose influence upon him was unmistakable. Even as a child, Reb Avraham showed great diligence in Torah study, a trait for which his grandfather was known. After the morning prayers he would seclude himself in the attic where he would study Rebbe Nachman's Likutey Moharan, not interrupting his studies until he knew the lesson of the day by heart. After completing the entire Talmud at the age of sixteen, he married. He was a scribe in Tcherin and at age nineteen was accepted as Rav in Kremenchug. At twenty-two he was appointed prayer leader for the Rosh HaShannah kibutz, a post which he also held after coming to the Holy Land, for a total of seventy years.

Reb Avraham arrived in Jerusalem's Old City in 1936, where he was received and recognized as the outstanding Breslover elder of his generation. In 1940 he established the kibutz in Meron for Rosh HaShannah. Exiled from the Old City during the War of Independence in 1948, he was resettled in Katamon together with many other Breslover Chassidim. Among his disciples were a number of the major Breslover leaders of the past few decades, including: Reb Moshe and Reb Nachman Burstein, Reb Michel Dorfman, Reb Shmuel Horowitz (d.1973), Reb Gedaliah Aharon Koenig, Reb Zvi Aryeh Lippel (1903-1979), Reb Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld, Reb Shmuel Shapiro and Reb Yaakov Meir Shechter.

It was said of Reb Avraham that he was a "living" Likutey Moharan. Just by looking at him, one could see that his every action was based on some statement in Rebbe Nachman's teachings. When giving a lesson in Likutey Moharan, he would begin by reading from the text, divert to complementary material for an hour or two, and then pick up again from the exact word where he'd left off. What was amazing about this was that it was all done entirely by memory, without Reb Avraham's ever having to look into the written text! And what's more, he did this up until he passed away at age ninety-three and a half.

Tepliker, Reb Alter (d.1919). Though known affectionately as Reb Alter, his real name was Reb Moshe Yehoshua Bezhilianski. A leading Breslover in Uman (Teplik is near Uman) at the turn of the century, he was the brother-in-law of Reb Avraham Chazan. During the Cossack uprising in the Ukraine in 1919, Reb Alter was murdered in a synagogue while seated next to a Torah scroll. Reb Alter initiated the publication of Breslov teachings in the more popular format based on separate topics, such as Hishtafkhut HaNefesh on hitbodedut and Meshiuat Nefesh on inner strength and so on. (A list of his works is found in Appendix B.)
 

D. The Fourth Generation

Bender, Reb Levi Yitzchok (1897-1989). Arriving in Uman in 1915, Reb Levi Yitzchok became a close student of Reb Avraham Chazan. Although his mentor passed away two years later and World War One had come to an end, he remained in what was then the center of Breslov Chassidut for the next twenty some odd years. It was not long before Reb Levi Yitzchok's special qualities were recognized and at the age of thirty he was appointed prayer leader for the Morning Prayer on Rosh HaShannah in Uman. In the early winter of 1936, he and Reb Eliyahu Chaim Rosen were imprisoned in the Ukraine as "subversive elements." Given a conditional reprieve, Reb Levi Yitzchok fled. He ran from city to city, never remaining long in any one place. The years of the Second World War he spent in Siberia, after which he emigrated to Poland. Finally, in 1949, he arrived in the Holy Land. Reb Levi Yitzchok was the recognized head of the Breslov synagogue in Jerusalem until his passing. Many Breslover Chassidim accepted him as their spiritual guide, especially the baalei teshuvah, who've joined the Rebbe's following in great number over the past two decades.

Reb Levi Yitzchok's personal study schedule was legendary. He gave himself over to following Rebbe Nachman's teaching of finishing many of the holy writings each year (see chapter 7). His diligence in following the Rebbe's advice to recite Chatzot and practice hitbodedut was also amazing. For some seventy-five years, he never missed a night of Chatzot. Yet, when someone once asked him, "Which of your accomplishments is most precious to you? Which are you going to present to the Heavenly Court?" Reb Levi Yitzchok answered simply and in true Breslov fashion: "I lived thirty years in Russia and I still believe in God!"

Rosen, Reb Eliyahu Chaim (1899-1984). Founder and dean of the Breslov Yeshivah in Jerusalem. Reb Eliyahu Chaim was born in Pottosk, Poland and orphaned as a very young boy. At five he was sent to study Torah away from home. Excelling in his studies, he was admitted to the famous Lomzer Yeshivah when only twelve. There he found a Tikkun HaKlali and met a Breslover Chassid who convinced him to travel to Uman. He arrived in Uman in 1914 and was extremely impressed that Rebbe Nachman's followers, though definitely chassidim, paid strict adherence to the Halakhah as delineated in the Shulchan Arukh - without what is commonly known as chassidic "twists."

While in Uman he heard that Rebbe Nachman had said: "The most difficult spiritual devotion is far easier than a simple physical transaction." Not understanding this, he sought an explanation from Reb Avraham Chazan. The then leader of the Breslover Chassidim replied simply, "Hitbodedut is the greatest spiritual devotion one can perform. All it takes is speaking with one's mouth. Even earning just a small amount of money requires more effort than that." From then on, Reb Eliyahu Chaim remained in Uman under Reb Avraham Chazan's tutelage.

A resident of Uman for twenty-two years, he was instrumental in the survival of many Breslover Chassidim in Uman and its environs during the famine which swept the Ukraine in 1933. He organized shipments from the breadlines in Moscow, mailing food back to Uman. He also applied to the Joint Distribution Committee for assistance. This last act caused him to be arrested by the NKVD (predecessor of the KGB) in November 1935, when both he and Reb Levi Yitzchok Bender were charged with making contact with foreign organizations. They were imprisoned, put on "trial," and were under threat of having the death sentence passed against them. However God was with them and a Jewish official in the Ministry of Justice in Kiev was put in charge of their case. Being close to the Breslover Chassidim, this official won them a reprieve. They were permitted to return home, but under "city arrest," forbidden to leave Uman.

Despite this, Reb Eliyahu Chaim returned immediately to Moscow. Even before the famine, in 1931, he had made a request to emigrate to Israel, so that upon his return he found his exit visa waiting for him. Reb Eliyahu Chaim fled to Jerusalem, arriving there in early summer 1936. He took up residence in the Meah Shearim quarter of "new Jerusalem" and established the Breslov Yeshivah in the Old City, in 1937. In early 1953, Reb Eliyahu Chaim initiated the construction of what is today the home of the Breslover Shul and Yeshivah on Meah Shearim Street in Jerusalem. For this, he was ridiculed even by some of the leading Breslover Chassidim. "For whom are you building such a large shup" he was asked. (There were maybe 150 Breslover Chassidim in all of Israel at the time.) Today, nearly forty years later, his brilliant foresight can no longer be questioned. The synagogue, despite its size, is not quite large enough to house the growing numbers of Breslover Chassidim in our generation.

As an address for the brokenhearted, Reb Eliyahu Chaim was the number one stop. Anyone with a heavy heart who came to see him, walked away wondering why he'd been so troubled. It's not that the problems suddenly disappeared. Rather, they remained and were real, but with Reb Eliyahu Chaim's razor-sharp mind, all the accompanying pressures and anxieties had been analyzed, all the excess factors had been cut away. Now, all the person had to deal with was the one point around which the problem really centered and through which he would be able to correct his situation. He would always say, with a broad smile, "The Torah has Five Books. The Shulchan Arukh comprises four volumes. What happened to the fifth volume? This corresponds to one's common sense, knowing where and how to apply your knowledge."

Reb Eliyahu Chaim's inner strength and joy were ever-present. His level of yishuu hadaat (calmness and serenity) had no equal. His body weakened by typhus and other illnesses during his early years, he was quite weak towards the end of his life. Yet, as the true Breslover Chassid he was, he never missed reciting Chatzot and practicing hitbodedut. When asked how he found the strength for such devotions, he replied, "If you get used to it when you are young, it comes automatically after so many years." He taught us, over and over again, never to do anything without hitbodedut. During his last year, when he was in bed most of the time, he said, "What would I be able to do now, if I didn't have Rebbe Nachman's advice of hitbodedut."

Rosenfeld, Reb Yisrael Abba (1882-1947). Reb Yisrael Abba was born to a Breslover family and lived most of his life in Kremenchug in the Ukraine. With the massacre of his family during the Bolshevik revolution, he made his way west, through Poland, arriving in the United States in 1924. Though there was barely a minyon of Breslover Chassidim in New York at that time, he helped establish weekly study sessions in Rebbe Nachman's teachings. Reb Yisrael Abba was also active in raising funds for the Breslov community in Israel.

Spector, Reb Elchonon (d. 1985). A descendant of the Chozeh of Lublin, Reb Elchonon was a child prodigy and an ordained Rav early in life. Even so, he wanted neither the honor nor the proprieties which he could have had due to his position and vast knowledge. And vast it was. He was said to know the entire Talmud, Midrash, Zohar and many other writings by heart. Later on, when he moved to Eretz Yisrael, Reb Elchonon shunned the possibility of a rabbinical position and supported himself as a scribe. He preferred to keep his great knowledge from the public eye.

Yet, there were rare times when, by engaging Reb Elchonon in casual conversation, he could be "caught off guard." On these occasions he would open up and one might have the good fortune to glimpse just how deep the wellsprings of Reb Elchonon's great W!sdom really were. His humility was such, that one could see the awe-filled embarrassment which he felt before God written on his face. In Breslov circles he was recognized as an halakhic authority and his deep understanding of the Rebbe's teachings meant that his ideas were always valued by other leaders of Breslover Chassidut. Some of his original insights into Rebbe Nachman's teachings were published, though most still remain in manuscript.
 

D. The Fifth Generation

Horowitz, Reb Shmuel.

Koenig, Rabbi Gedaliah Aharon (1921-1980). Born in Jerusalem, Reb Gedaliah was a young man when he was drawn to Rebbe Nachman's following by Reb Avraham Sternhartz. When the war of 1948 ravaged the Old City, he moved, together with his mentor, to what is today Katamon. Aside from his efforts to support the Breslover Rosh HaShannah kibutz in Meron, and authoring the Chayey Nefesh (a treatise in response to the Nefesh HaChaim by the prominent disciple of the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Chaim Volozhin), Reb Gedaliah was known for his ability to speak to the searching souls of many of today's youth. Yet, for all of this, he saw as his true mission in life the reestablishment of a chassidic community in Sated. He literally gave his life for this cause.

Rosenfeld, Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Benzion (1922-1978). A scion of a Breslov family, the Rosenfelds trace their lineage back to Reb Aharon, the Rav of Breslov and Reb Shmuel Yitzchak, the Rav of Tcherin, both of whom were among the most prominent followers of Rebbe Nachman. Born in Gydinia, Poland in 1922, Reb Zvi Aryeh was stricken with diphtheria when he was just six months old. His father, Reb Yisrael Abba, went to the Chofetz Chaim and asked the aged sage to alter the baby's name (customarily done for someone seriously ill). The name Benzion was added.

The family arrived in the United States in 1924. Growing up in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, Reb Zvi Aryeh attended the Rabbi Chaim Berlin School and then Yeshivah Torah Vodaat High School. Afterwards he studied under the world renowned Rabbi Avraham Yafen, in the Navardik - Beis Yosef Yeshivah. At age twenty-three, after completing the entire Talmud for the second time along with his many other studies, Reb Zvi Aryeh was ordained as a rabbi.

Assuming responsibility for some of his father's charitable obligations, after the latter's passing in 1947, Reb Zvi Aryeh began corresponding with Reb Avraham Sternhartz in Jerusalem. Making his first of over fifty trips to the Holy Land in 1949, he met with Reb Avraham, who instilled in Reb Zvi Aryeh the burning need to spread Rebbe Nachman's teachings in America. This became his life's mission, and for thirty years Reb Zvi Aryeh was a pioneer in the boal teshuuah movement in the United States - all the while introducing more and more people to Rebbe Nachman's teachings. He encountered angry parents, threats to his life and family, and was even made to face charges for kidnapping (see Rabbi Nachman's Stories #12). Yet, he continued his work, bringing literally thousands of Jews in contact with Judaism and Rebbe Nachman. Included among his students were those who opened the way for pilgrimages to Uman and many who continue to be active in different aspects of the world Breslov scene today.

Forever giving lessons and lectures, Reb Zvi Aryeh loved to share his vast knowledge of the Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, Kabbalah and Rebbe Nachman's teachings in classes attended by Sefardim and Ashkenazim alike. He also excelled in worldly wisdom and was able to dispense sound advice in financial matters. Yet, materially he himself lived a very meager existence, with only a teacher's salary to support himself and his family.

Aside from the time he spent teaching in school and lecturing on Rebbe Nachman, Reb Zvi Aryeh devoted himself to collecting the funds to build the Breslov Yeshivah in Jerusalem. Exhorted by Reb Avraham Sternhartz and encouraged by Reb Eliyahu Chaim Rosen, he raised most of the construction costs. When the building was finished, he continued to raise funds to publish Rebbe Nachman's works in Hebrew. He also pioneered the translation of Rebbe Nachman's teachings into English. This began with Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom, which Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan translated at Reb Zvi Aryeh's behest. Actually, Reb Zvi Aryeh himself edited the book.

Reb Zvi Aryeh also raised and distributed funds for the needy Breslover families in Israel. He had an immense love for the Holy Land and wished to settle there himself. The one thing which always held him back was the new students that kept joining his classes each year. He once decided that should a whole year go by without a new student being attracted, he'd move to Jerusalem. Stricken with cancer at age 56, he finally moved to Jerusalem in the summer of 1978, thereby giving himself a few months to prepare for his passing.

Even when he became bed-ridden and extremely weak, his students would study the Talmud and Zohar at his bedside, with Reb Zvi Aryeh following the discourse and interjecting points from time to time. A father figure to his students, many of them came to Israel for a few days just to spend one last time with him. For as long as it was possible, he continued reciting the Tikkun HaKlaii, often with the assistance of one his students. Reb Zvi Aryeh left a legacy which includes thousands of hours of taped classes and lectures, all of which give insight into Rebbe Nachman's teachings as they relate to all aspects of Torah.

Shapiro, Rabbi Shmuel (1913-1989). Born in Jerusalem, Reb Shmuel was one of the most outstanding students in the Etz Chaim Yeshivah under its world-renowned Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Isar Zalman Meltzer. Attracted to Breslov by Reb Shmuel Horowitz, he became a chassid in 1934. When learning of this, his Rosh Yeshivah said, "Whoever made him a Breslover will never leave Gehennom." To which Reb Shmuel Shapiro countered, "Correct. Because he'll never go in!"

Known as "the Tzaddik of Jerusalem," Reb Shmuel always kept his eyes lowered in public, never looking at any of the physical attractions of this world. He would spend all night in the fields in hitbodedut and then put in a full day's Torah study in some obscure synagogue, always shunning the public eye. In preparation for Rosh HaShannah he would spend the month of Elul in Meron, where Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai is buried. "Here I have everything I need. A synagogue, a mikuah and mountains for hitbodedut. It's Gan Eden on earth," he was heard to say. Together with Reb Moshe Burstein and other Breslover Chassidim, he was taken to Jordan as a civilian hostage during Israel's War of Independence.

His one great desire, one that seemed to elude perpetually him, was to visit Rebbe Nachman's gravesite in Uman. In 1970, he traveled to America to get a special (stateless) passport so that he could apply for a visa to Russia. Even with this so called "white passport," it took nearly three years, but he finally made it. Not satisfied with the one trip, he longed to spend Rosh Hashannah there. This was finally made possible by changes in Soviet policy and he visited Uman, on an Israeli passport, for Rosh HaShannah 5749 (1988). Shortly afterwards he passed away, having suffered from Parkinson's Disease for nearly thirteen years.

Tefilinsky, Reb Yaakov Gedaliah (1942-1971). A nephew to Reb Yaakov Meir Schechter, Reb Yaakov Gedaliah was born in Jerusalem. He studied in Yeshivat Mir and became an accredited scholar and scribe. Childless for ten years after his marriage, he made the pilgrimage with great self-sacrifice to Rebbe Nachman's gravesite in 1969 (long before glasnost). A year to the day after his pilgrimage, his only child was born! Reb Yaakov Gedaliah was a legend in his adherence to having hitbodedut in the fields. Always weak and sickly, he passed away a few months after his daughter's birth.

E. The Sixth Generation

Burstein, Reb Moshe (b.1912). A leading figure in Breslov in Jerusalem, Reb Moshe was born in Poltosk, Poland and arrived in the Holy Land in 1935 with his wife and infant son. Moving to Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter, he founded the daily Breslov minyan there. During the War of Independence (1948), he was held as a civilian hostage by the Jordanians along with eight other Breslovers. After his release, he was resettled in the Katamon section of Jerusalem, where he bought, rebuilt and administered the Breslover Synagogue. Reb Moshe was one of Reb Avraham Sternhartz's closest disciples and was a ba'al tefilah in the Meron kibutz for Rosh HaShannah for many years. For fifty years he longed to be worthy of getting to Rebbe, Nachman's gravesite. When this finally happened, in the spring of 1988, he recited the Shehechiyanu Blessing.

Burstein, Reb Nachman (b.1934). The eldest son of Reb Moshe Burstein, Reb Nachman's expertise in the traditional melodies of Breslover Chassidim is unparalleled. At age thirty, he was appointed the prayer leader for Musaf in the Breslov minyan in Meron on Rosh HaShannah. An erudite scholar, he is a walking encyclopedia on Rebbe Nachman and his teachings and currently one of the leading Breslover Chassidim in Jerusalem.

Dorfman, Reb Michel (b.1911). Born near Kiev, Reb Michel became a Breslover Chassid in his early teens. He married the granddaughter of Reb Avraham Sternhartz. Escaping the Stalinist purges of the Ukraine, he settled in Moscow in the late 1930s where he survived the war, only to be exiled to Siberia for nearly seven years. After Stalin's death, he was given a reprieve and allowed to return to Moscow. Reb Michel was a key figure in maintaining the Breslov kibutz on Rosh HaShannah in Uman, which, even after Stalin, had to be done clandestinely as all religious gatherings remained prohibited.

It was Reb Michel's efforts and self-sacrifice that eventually led to the lifting of the "iron curtain" which prevented Breslover Chassidim from getting to Rebbe Nachman's gravesite. Even when visas were granted, the Russians only permitted tourists to be in Kiev and not Uman. Though he had a "record," having already spent time in Siberia, Reb Michel was still willing to place himself in great danger in order to travel with American tourists (who had no visas) to Uman so that he could show them the place where Rebbe Nachman was buried. Today, thanks to him and others who've emulated his self- sacrificing ways, the Russian authorities are permitting pilgrimages. Reb Michel was finally allowed to settle in Israel in 1970, and he is currently the Rosh Yeshivah of the Breslov Yeshivah in Jerusalem.

Gelbach, Reb Yitzchok (b.1916). Reb Yitzchok was born in Likev, Poland. At age twelve, he found a copy of Hishtafkhut HaNefesh, which introduced him to Breslover Chassidut. After meeting with Reb Yitzchok Breiter, he became a committed chassid. He studied in the famous yeshivot of Baranovitz and Kaminetz. With the outbreak of World War Two, Reb Yitzchok was exiled to a labor camp in Siberia. Given his freedom after the war, he immediately traveled to Uman where he visited Rebbe Nachman's gravesite. From Russia, Reb Yitzchok traveled to Germany, spent a few years in the Displaced Persons Camps and arrived in Jerusalem in 1949, where he now resides.

Kenig, Rav Elazar Mordechai, shlita(b. 1945) is the leader of the Breslov Community in Tsfat, Israel. An alumnus of Jerusalem’s Mir Yeshiva, Rav Kenig studied Kabbalah with his father, Rav Gedaliah Kenig, zt”l, as well as several leading Sephardic masters, including Rav Mordechai Sharabi, zt”l. He was chosen by his father to complete the task of rebuilding the Torah community in Tsfat. Today he oversees Nachal Novea Mekor Chochma Institutions, including Kiryat Breslov (a religious housing complex), a Kollel, the Magen Avos Yeshiva, the historic Trisk Synagogue in the Old City, and the new five story Torah Center, which houses a modern mikveh complex, yeshiva, and the magnificent Great Synagogue. Rav Kenig also sponsors the Breslov Rosh HaShanah gathering in Meron for those unable to travel to Uman. Soon after Rosh HaShanah 5758 (1997), he established the Breslov Center for Spirituality and Inner Growth, in order to make Rebbe Nachman’s teachings more accessible to spiritual seekers in America. His teachings and influence extend well beyond Tsfat, inspiring many people from all walks of life around the world who seek his advice and blessings.

Kramer, Reb Moshe (b. 1937). Born in Jerusalem, Reb Moshe was drawn to Rebbe Nachman's teachings at a young age. He studied in Jerusalem's Mirrer Yeshivah and later became the son- in-law of Reb Gedaliah Koenig. As one of the leaders in Breslov today, Reb Moshe's clarity in the Rebbe's teachings has made him a popular source of information for those seeking to understand the more difficult passages of Rebbe Nachman's works.

Libermensh, Reb Nosson.  (b. 1920?) Rosh Kollel in Emanuel and was prior to that Mashgiach in the Kollel in Bnei Brak. He traveled frequently abroad and gave well-attended shiurim. He was responsible for many Litvishe bachurim becoming Breslovers in the 60s and 70s in Bnei Brak.

Shechter, Reb Yaakov Meir (b. 1931). One of the foremost and fiery leaders on the Breslov scene today, Reb Yaakov Meir was born in the Old City of Jerusalem where he learned from the leading Breslover Chassidim of the past generation, particularly from Reb Avraham Sternhartz. His father was a prominent Breslover Chassid, Reb Dovid Shechter. After his family was expelled from the Old City in 1948, he lived in Katamon, later on moving to the Meah Shearim area, near the Breslov Yeshivah.

(From: Crossing the Narrow Bridge,
© 1989 Breslov Research Institute)
 

Breslover Manhigim (Leaders)

F. Manhigim of Large Breslov Communities

We present here short biographies on some of the leading luminaries who have joined the movement - whose lives and lessons have provided thousands, and tens of thousands with help and guidance.

Berland, Reb Eliezer (b. 1937). Born in the town of Haifa, Rabbi Berland learned in the "Kfar Chassidim" Yeshiva, and later in the Kollels of "Poneviz" and "Volozin" in Bnei-Brak, where he was a chevrusa to the Steipler Rebbe.  Most of his time is dedicated to advising and teaching the many students who come to his house, day and night.  Rabbi Berland gives a weekly lesson to the community every Shabbos, after the morning prayer.  He and his wife,  Rebetzin Tehila Berland, spend much of their time helping and guiding both students of the Yeshiva and their families, and also those from outside the Yeshiva.  Rosh Yeshiva of Shuvu Banim, and one of the pioneers in recent times in getting to Uman for a kibbutz. He is credited with encouraging larger numbers of Breslovers to make the trip to Uman at the end of the communist era.

Odesser, Reb Yisroel.  (1895?-1994?) Rabbi Yisroel Odesser, was among the first Breslover Chassidim in Israel. He was born almost one hundred years ago in Tiberias, to parents who were descended from the first group of Chassidim that settled in the Holy Land. His great-grandfather, Rabbi Yekutiel Zalmon Leib, was among the closest disciples of the great Rabbi Avraham Kalisker, a major disciple of the Ba'al Shem Tov.  Rabbi Yisroel was introduced to Breslov Chassidus by Rabbi Yisroel Halperin, of blessed memory, known as the Karduner. In Rabbi Karduner, Rabbi Yisroel witnessed service of G-d, holiness, and self-sacrifice the likes of which he had not seen even amongst the greatest Sages of his time. Rabbi Karduner's face always shone with joy and happiness and his voice resonated with a purity and sweetness completely unique in his generation.  Rabbi Yisroel merited to serve and learn from Rabbi Karduner for five years, during which time they overcame many trials and tribulations.

Rabbi Yisroel remained strong and determined even after the overwhelming loss of his teacher, in 1918. Following Rabbi Karduner's death, Rabbi Yisroel found himself alone once again. He began to travel by foot to Jerusalem to hear Torah from the renowned Breslov Elders of his time, among whom were Rabbi Shlomo Wexler, of blessed memory, who came to Israel from Germany and was drawn to the teachings of Rebbe Nachman, and Rabbi Naftali Cohen, of blessed memory, who merited to publish several of Rebbe Nachman's books.  Rabbi Yisroel's dedication to the Jewish People was instrumental in bringing many people, both young and old, back to Judaism, including the former President of Israel, Zalman Shazar.  In his later years, it is said that Rabbi Yisroel merited to receive a miraculous letter from Rebbe Nachman over one hundred years after the Tzaddik's death.

Schik, Rabbi Eleazer Shlomo (Mohorosh Breslover).  Perhaps the most dynamic Breslov Leader today, Rabbi Eleazer Shlomo Schik (Mohorosh) founded Mesivta Heichal HaKodesh in 1964 -- an international outreach program touching hundreds of thousands of Jews worldwide.   Mohorosh was a young boy of fifteen and a half  when he found the book "Meshivas Nefesh" - a  Breslover sefer speaking about encouragement. It  attracted him and initiated a lifelong commitment to Breslover Chassidus. He began following Rabbi Nachman's teachings, spending many hours each day in Hissbodedus (private prayer) as Rabbi Nachman requested, and studying Torah with a tremendous diligence in accordance with Rabbi Nachman's system of learning (see Sichos Haran chapter 76). After seeing what a small booklet can do to a person, he then and there promised himself that as soon as the opportunity arrives he will make available all of Rabbi Nachman's books to the entire world. This opportunity arrived immediately after his marriage and he then began printing Rabbi Nachman's books and distributing them all over the world at below cost price.

In 1965, Mohorosh started printing and distributing Rabbi Nachman's books and teachings. He printed and distributed a total of 85,000 books that year - quite an accomplishment for a young man who just turned twenty-five with no money in his pocket.  He continued on this path year after year until the name Breslov gained international fame and respect. Recent years have seen publications in the millions and Breslov centers sprouting all over the world.


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