Tag Archives: Sukkot

Jew of the Week: Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

The Tomb of Rebbe Nachman in Uman, Ukraine

The Tomb of Rebbe Nachman in Uman, Ukraine

Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) was born in Ukraine, and was the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism. From a very young age, Nachman was drawn to spirituality and the study of Jewish wisdom. By the time he was just six years old, he made it a habit to visit his great-grandfather’s grave every night, and immerse himself in a mikveh. By 13, he was already married, and attracted his first disciples. He was soon known simply as Rebbe Nachman. A few years after a pilgrimage to Israel, Rebbe Nachman moved to Breslov and officially founded a new movement of Hasidic Judaism. There he met his most famous disciple, Nathan Sternhartz, known as Reb Noson. Over the following eight years, Reb Noson recorded and published the bulk of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, which revolutionized the Hasidic world, and the religious Jewish world at large, enlightening thousands with novel interpretations and practical wisdom for living a better life. Rebbe Nachman also produced a number of hymns and songs, including the popular “All the World is a Very Narrow Bridge” (kol ha’olam kulu, gesher tzar me’od) and “It Is A Great Mitzvah To Always be Happy” (mitzvah gedolah li’yot b’simcha tamid). His teachings emphasized simple living permeated with constant joy, and he encouraged people to sing and dance, even during prayers. A major part of his system involves meditation (hitbodedut) and for each person to have a personal dialogue with God, as they would with their best friend. Rebbe Nachman is also famous for his storytelling, and to this day many read his tales, which are full of deep lessons and morals. In 1810, a fire destroyed Rebbe Nachman’s home (along with most of the town of Breslov), and he moved to the town of Uman. Shortly after, he passed away from tuberculosis, aged just 38 years. Since then, countless Jews have been making yearly pilgrimages to his grave in Uman, particularly during the holiday of Rosh Hashanah. In recent years, the Ukrainian town of Uman (with a population of under 90,000) has built an entire industry around these travelers, which number over 25,000 every Rosh Hashanah alone. Rebbe Nachman passed away on the 4th day of Sukkot, which this year falls on the coming Sunday.

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Words of the Week

Gems from Rebbe Nachman:

“Wherever I go, I’m always going to Israel.”

“All the world is a very narrow bridge, but the main thing is to have no fear at all.”

“You are never given an obstacle you cannot overcome.”

“The essence of wisdom is to realize how far from wisdom you are.”

“If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix.”

Jew of the Week: Louis Brandeis

Robin Hood of the Law

Louis Brandeis

Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1856-1941) was born in Kentucky to Jewish immigrants from Prague. Despite his own family’s secularism, Brandeis’ role model and inspiration growing up was his uncle Naphtali Dembitz, a religious Jew, and in his honour Brandeis changed his middle name to Dembitz. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he achieved the highest grade point average in the school’s history – a record that stood for 80 years. This distinction, among others, led to his acceptance to the Massachussets bar without even taking the exam! Working at a Boston law firm, Brandeis quickly became famous as the “People’s Lawyer”, always defending the little guy, focusing on the public good, and refusing to take cases where he believed the defendant was guilty. Brandeis fought successfully against corruption, corporate power and consumerism, monopolies and banks; he fought for healthy workplace hours and wages, better living conditions for the poor and a host of other public causes. More amazingly, he stopped accepting payment for this work. In 1916, Brandeis was nominated to the Supreme Court, one of the most controversial events in U.S. political history. It caused such a great furor that for the first time ever a public hearing was held. Brandeis was termed “dangerous”, not only because he was a Jew, but as was later said, “because of his brilliance, his arithmetic, his courage. He was dangerous because he was incorruptible…” Brandeis’ confirmation to the Supreme Court came a month later, in a process that normally took a single day. He would serve as supreme court justice for 23 years. Meanwhile, Brandeis was also a lifelong Zionist, and served as president of the Provisional Executive Committee for Zionist Affairs. In his later years he donated generously to Israel. Nicknamed ‘Robin Hood of the Law’, he is most remembered for upholding free speech and individual privacy, crusading for the public, and revolutionizing many aspects of American law. Brandeis passed away on the eve of Sukkot.

Words of the Week

He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.
– Confucius

 

Jew of the Week: the Vilna Gaon

Genius Is His Middle Name

the Vilna Gaon

Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman Kramer (1720-1797) was born in a small village in what is now Belarus. Known popularly as the Vilna Gaon – the Genius from Vilnius – it is said he committed the entire Torah to memory by age 5, and by age 11 the entire Talmud. It wasn’t long before he was one of European Jewry’s greatest legal authorities. A prolific writer, he penned commentaries on the Tanakh, Talmud, Mishnah and many other works (a large number of them Kabbalistic). Dedicating every moment of his life to Torah learning, he generally studied secular subjects only while in the bathroom (where study of Torah is forbidden). It was there that he became an expert in astronomy and Euclidean geometry, later instructing his disciples to write a mathematical treatise called Ayin Meshulash. The Vilna Gaon led a simple, saintly, ascetic lifestyle, sleeping just 2 hours a day, usually in 4 half-hour segments. For much of his life he was a travelling nomad, though his aim was always to settle in Israel. Himself unable to accomplish this goal, at least three groups of his students and their families did succeed in making Aliyah, bringing over 500 people to Tzfat and Jerusalem long before the Zionist movement. The Vilna Gaon passed away on Tishrei 19, the 5th day of Sukkot.

Psalm of the Day on the day of Gilad Schalit’s release from captivity. Incredibly, the psalm explicitly mentions Gilad’s name, as well as freedom from captivity, the holiday of Sukkot, and Tuesday. Schalit was freed on Tuesday, during the holiday of Sukkot!

Words of the Week

“On Simchat Torah the Torah scrolls wish to dance, so we become their feet.”
– Chassidic saying