Sunday 11 March 2018



In this article, we will highlight two very different approaches to the concept of a Rebbe. We will look at extracts from two contemporary English books which reflect, in modern parlance, the basic differences between how Breslov and Kotzk define the role of the Rebbe.

The first book, Rebbe Nachman’s Soul, is compiled by R. Shlomo Katz, and is ‘A Commentary on Sichos haRan from the classes of Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld z’l.” R. Rosenfeld (1922-1978) is credited with bringing the Breslov teachings to the English speaking world.

The second book is The Quest for Authenticity by Rabbi Dr Michael Rosen (1945-2008) and deals with ‘The Thought of Reb Simcha Bunim’, who was the teacher of Rebbe of Kotzk. Rabbi Rosen studied at Yeshivat Beer Yakov and received ordination from Chief Rabbi Unterman.

To emphasize the extreme differences in attitudes towards the tzadik, we will simply cite extracts from both books, without any additional comment or analysis.

Please bear in mind that the aim is not to have a competition between both approaches, but simply to show two very different spiritual paths.

I have intentionally chosen to use newly published English books to emphasize the ‘current’ nature of these approaches which are indeed adopted by the followers of these movements today and are quite common and widespread:


‘Above all, Rabbeinu zal (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)[2] designates this one thing - travelling to the tzaddik emes (the true tzaddik)[3] - as the definitive sign of emunah (faith)[4], because the faith of a person can only be strengthened through binding himself with the tzaddik emes...

...’tzaddik’- first seek out a tzaddik- ‘be’emunaso yichyeh’- by faith in this tzadik you will live...

Netzach means eternity, and the gematria (numerical value)[5] of netzach (148...) is Rabbeinu zal’s name (148...) (Nachman = 148)[6]. Eternal life is dependent on a person’s simple and pure faith in the tzaddik emes. If a person has that emunah, he is automatically assured of having faith in HaShem...[7]

Rabbeinu zal is the greatest expert in the true knowledge of what’s happening in Olam Haba, in heaven...

If a person repents, there is no limit to the infinite mercy of HaShem. But HaShem has mercy only while a person is alive. When the person passes away, that mercy comes to an end. Then there is HaShem of vengeance and HaShem who pays.

HaShem pays reward to the tzaddik and HaShem avenges the evil acts of the wicked. There is no mercy or kindness in the heavenly court at all; there is purely din (judgement)[8]...

In heaven there are souls who lie outside the gates of Gan Eden. They lie there screaming very bitter screams: “Give us something to eat!”

Others come to them and say, “Here is food and drink. Eat your fill.”

These poor souls reply, “No, no, this is not the food that we want. We want the food and drink of Torah and tefillah...

We have not learned enough Torah during our lifetime and we haven’t had Torah and tefillah in our life. We don’t have the food and drink that is necessary in heaven. We don’t have the spiritual food and drink that a person can acquire only through Torah and tefillah.”

These are souls lying around in heaven freezing, bare of clothes, and they scream in pain: “Give us something to cover ourselves with.”

There is no greater pain and suffering than the suffering of embarrassment. This is worse than the fires of Gehinnom...

Therefore Rabbeinu zal says: There is no way to help these people. One who is left there unclothed, bare and without food – woe is to that soul who is so embarrassed, so isolated, and suffers continuously.

No one can help that person. You cannot offer him clothes, because that’s not the kind of clothes he needs...

However, there is one who has the unusual heavenly power to help these souls. This is the tzaddik emes.

The key to it is if a person during his lifetime has had solid emunah, solid faith, in the tzaddik emes, to the point that he actually merged with the tzaddik emes.

“Merged” means they became one. This merging refers to the mind – one mind only, and that is the mind of the tzaddik.

This is when a person says, “I have no thought of my own, I have no mind of my own, I have no opinion of my own.

I accept completely and implicitly the words of the tzaddik emes, without question at all.”
This is what is meant by merging and becoming one.’


‘It is interesting to note that in Przysucha (pronounced Pesishcha, the school from which the Kotzker came)[10] they did not talk much about Olam Haba (the world to Come)...

Przysucha did not believe in Zaddikism (the veneration of rebbes or other tzaddikim)[11] in the way Hasidism in general did. Furthermore, it was an implied critique of the Hasidic establishment which could not be ignored...

The following story is told about R. Bunim (the Kotzker’s teacher)[12] in response to the “style of prayer” of one of his students:

Our holy teacher, our master from Alexander (Hanoch Heinich), told that once when he visited R. Bunim, he recited the morning prayers in a house which was close to that of R. Bunim, and he prayed in a loud voice with a lot of movement [which was then the norm; however, this approach did not appeal to R. Bunim].
In the middle of praying, R. Bunim came in. Immediately he stopped his noise and movement.
But in a moment he settled his mind, saying: “Indeed, I am standing now before G-d, so why am I concerned at this moment with my rebbe?”
He returned to his former style of praying loudly.
After he concluded his prayers, the rebbe invited him to his house and said to him thus: “Heinich, today I enjoyed your praying.”[13]

If this story can be relied upon...then it...reflects...the relationship between a zaddik and himself (the student)[14]...

Clearly it doesn’t mean he (the student)[15] is abdicating his own judgement, nor does it even mean that he will necessarily listen to his zaddik.

Moreover, R. Bunim not only approves of Hanoch Heinich’s disregarding him because his behaviour was authentic...

It was impossible for someone who had absorbed the world of Przysucha to have a one-dimensional relationship with a zaddik: That which for the rest of Polish Hasidism was a sign of faith – namely, total reliance on the zaddik – was anathema to the world of Przysucha...

...if he does nothing but simply relies on the zaddik, then, unfortunately, the zaddik cannot help him.[16] could journey to zaddikim till kingdom come without achieving anything. Without doing the real work within oneself, the Hasid, or devotee, was wasting his time.

...their journey to zaddikim for periods of time adds nothing, and nothing will come of it.[17]

...Responsibility could not be absolved. Moreover, anything that detracted from the individual’s personal responsibility – be it the miraculous, the belief in salvation by another, or the external trappings of the zaddik’s court – was to be shunned....

The entire role of the zaddik in Przysucha was understood in such a way as not to create dependency. For dependency meant that the very quality on which everything hung – namely personal authenticity – was emasculated...

All a zaddik could do was to be a guide, a role his own spiritual integrity, the student could find his own integrity as well.

The function of the rebbe was to help people become themselves and to serve G-d in their truth.
Vicarious redemption runs counter to the most basic values of Przysucha.

(In Kotzk/Przysucha)[18] the rebbe(‘s)[19]...focus is on how to make the pupil autonomous.
Such a teacher is truly kind, unlike the one who makes the other dependent...

In Kol Simcha[20] R. Bunim says...:

...someone who has the quality of learning from everyone, even from simple people speaking about mundane matters...- such a person does not need a master at all.

The statement “does not need a master at all” could not have been made in any other stream of Hasidism...other than Przysucha...

The real concerned with making his disciple independent...
The (biblical) verse itself warns “Do not trust in princes,” the intention being to warn against...the righteous of the generation...And in truth...Przysucha...would (talk) a lot about this: that maybe it would have been better to abolish this type of leadership since the “world” relies too much on the zaddikim.[21]

[1] Extracted from Rebbe Nachman’s Soul, A Commentary on Sichos Haran from the classes of Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld z’l, compiled and edited by Rabbi Shlomo Katz, p. 186-190..
[2] Parenthesis mine.
[3] Parenthesis mins.
[4] Parenthesis mine.
[5] Parenthesis mine.
[6] Parenthesis mine
[7] Rebbe Nachman’s Soul, p. 298.
[8] Parenthesis mine.
[9] Extracted from The Quest for Authenticity, The Thought of Reb Simcha Bunim, by Michael Rosen, p. 113-122.
[10] Parenthesis mine.
[11] Parenthesis mine.
[12] Parenthesis mine.
[13] Siach Sarfei Kodesh 5:21
[14] Parenthesis mine.
[15] Parenthesis mine.
[16] Toldot Adam, eight night of Hanukkah, 100.
[17] Chiddushei haRim, hasidut, 350.
[18]Parenthesis mine.
[19]Parenthesis mine.
[20] Kol Simcha, Veyetze 35.
[21] Hiddushei haRim Hasidut, 352, 356.

1 comment:

  1. Think about Moshe. As the tzaddik emet. If Moshe would be alive now... wouldnt you follow him and not cuestion him? If Moshe Rabeinu would be alive here and now, then I certainly would... thats the thing. I have a really really hard time to follow blindly anyone else, actually never did. But is good to have a teacher, etc.