How Rabbi Eliezer Berland came to Breslov – Translated from the...

How Rabbi Eliezer Berland came to Breslov – Translated from the Hebrew Knishta Chada journal

This is a rough translation from the Knishta Chada bi-weekly journal in Hebrew – Issue 26 Shvat 5774
 
To see the original click here – Knishta Chada
 
BS”D BR”H – Issue 26  – January 2014
Rabbi Berland
Rabbi Berland at age 13
(Bar Mitzvah photo)
We mentioned in previous issues about the chavrusa (study partnership) that our teacher Rav Eliezer Berland had with Rav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky zt”l (known as “The Steipler”). We spoke about how the Steipler respected him and even stood up for him in respect etc. (see issue 21).
Many ask, “If the Rav was first a Litvak and studied in Ponyvezh Yeshiva then how did he get to Breslov”?
 
Shabbos in Zimbabwe the Rav told the story to his daughters about his coming close to the Breslov chassidus. We weren’t there so we didn’t hear exactly what was said, however part of this story has already been published in an article about the Rav in “Mishpacha” magazine (Hebrew/English), and some of it we heard from classes which the Rav gave in previous years. 
 
Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Mishkovsky
Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Mishkovsky
About 60 years ago when the Rav was a student in Yeshivas Knesses Chizkiyahu in Kfar Chasidim he was already recognized as a Gaon (genius) and great masmid (extremely studious) in Torah. He would study 20 hours a day without a break. Once, when he was 17 years old, the Rosh Yeshiva Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Mishkovsky zt”l said to him, “You must go out to the fields to misboded (literally ‘be alone’ or ‘meditate’)”, he said, “everyday go out to the fields for two hours [to give yourself a break]”. The Rav had not yet heard of the Breslov chassidus and did not know about hisbodedus in the teachings of Rebbe Nachman, but in order to fulfil the commands of his Rosh Yeshiva he would go every day to be alone in the fields surrounding the village of Kfar Chassidim. He felt such pleasantness in his hisbodedus that instead of traveling back and forth from his home in Haifa to the Yeshiva every day, and in order to guard his eyes on the way (from seeing immodestly dressed women on the public buses), he would walk 2 hours in each direction. In those days the entire way was made up purely of fields

Reb Elyah Lopian
Reb Elyah Lopian

and orchards. His entire essence, however, was completely absorbed in the holy Torah. There in Kfar Chassidim he became very close to the mashgiach Rav Eliyahu Lopian (known as Reb Elyah). When the Rav was still a 20 year old boy Reb Elyah said to him “A great Rosh Yeshiva will come out of you.”

 
R’ Chaim Friedlander
Reb Chaim Friedlander
R’ Yechezkel Levinstein
Reb Chatzkel Levinstein

When the Rav got engaged to the Rebetzin Tehilla, he moved to Bnei Brak to the Ponyvezh Kollel. There he learned with Torah leaders of the previous generation: R’ Ben Tzion Bamberger zt”l, R’ Yechezkel Levinstein zt”l (also know as Reb Chatzkel), and R’ Chaim Friedlander zt”l of who’s house he slept in. In Ponyvezh the Rav was so engrossed in his learning that nothing else in the world interested him. R’ Shmuel Heller of Haifa remembers them saying to the Rav one Purim, “go dance”, the Rav said, “but I can’t leave the gemara” – his friends threatened to pour water over him but it didn’t help, he couldn’t bring himself to close the gemara.

 
Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky "The Steipler"
Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky
“The Steipler”
After their wedding the Rav and the Rebetzin continued to live in Bnei Brak and the Rav went to learn in Kollel Volozhin. There in Bnei Brak the Rav became very close to Rav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky zt”l (The “Steipler”), and learned with him chavrusa every day for an hour – this went on for a few years. When the Rav was still in Kfar Chassidim he would write many letters to the Steipler with halachic questions. Later on he would continue writing his questions until he amassed a notebook full of shutim (questions and answers) from the Steipler. Once, when they were learning together, the Rav expressed his yearnings to discover the inner depths of Prayer. The Steipler said to him, “Go pray with the Chassidim”. So one Purim eve the Rav went from one chassidus to the next looking for a place where they are serving Hashem sincerely, until he came to the Breslov Yeshiva in Bnei Brak. When he entered he found to his surprise the place completely silent, there was practically no one there. He bumped into the Mashgiach Rav Nachman Rosenthal and asked him, “Why is it so quiet? Do you not celebrate Purim here?”

Rabbi Eliezer Berland and Rabbi Nachman Rosenthal
Rabbi Berland and Rabbi Rosenthal in later years

So Rav Rosenthal answered him, “By us on Purim, everyone goes to sleep early so they can wake up at midnight and go to the fields to prepare for Purim – to pray ‘save me from the klipah of Haman/Amalek and merit me the holiness of Mordechai and Esther’. For how could a person waste such a holy night with wildness and drunkenness, a night of which it is written, ‘whoever stretches out his hand [in prayer] is given to’.” The Rav was very impressed by this answer and from that moment he began coming close to Breslov.

 
The Rav once said that the Rebetzin was the one who encouraged him to learn Breslov sfarim (books), she would test him if he is really learning them, for she was well versed in all the Breslov books, and even to this day she delivers deep and inspiring classes on Rebbe Nachman’s teachings to the women of the community.
 
In the “Nitzotzot” magazine which was just issued in honor of the 10th of Teves, Rav Nachman Rosenthal who was the mashgiach of the Breslov Yeshiva in Bnei Brak when the yeshiva was established over 50 years ago, relates the following story: One day a person come to the Steipler with a request that the Speipler should bless his wife who was in desperate need of a specific salvation. The Steipler answered him “Go to my neighbor Rav Eliezer Berland and request from him a blessing”. The person went the Rav’s house but the Rav was in the field doing hisbodedus at the time. “Leave a note with your name and I will deliver it to him for a blessing” answered the Rebetzin. After a couple of days the man returned to the Rav’s house with an envelope enclosed with a very large sum of money and handed it over to the Rav as a gesture for the salvation of his wife. The Rav refused to take the money but the man argued with him and pleaded until he just placed down the envelope and left the house.

Rabbi Shimon Bergstein
Rabbi Shimon Bergstein

The Rav discussed it over with the Rebetzin and decided to go out in the street.”This money does’nt belong to me. I will go out in the street and the first Rosh Yeshiva I meet I will give him the envelope”. The Rav left the house and right away met the Rosh Yeshiva of Breslov R’ Shimon Bergstein zt”l

and happily handed over the envelope. Later on, says Rav Rosental, R’ Shimon Bergstein told him that that money was what kept the yeshiva alive.

 
The Steipler’s son Hagaon R’ Chaim Kanievsky Shlit”a is very fond of the Rav and when his wife Rebetzin Batsheva a”h passed away Rav Berland wasn’t in Israel. After the Shiva when the Rav returned to Israel immediately when getting off the plane he was told that R’ Chaim is waiting for the Rav to be menachem ovel (console the relatives of the deceased).

Rabbi Eliezer Berland and Reb Chaim Kanievsky
Rabbi Berland being menachem ovel Reb Chaim

The Rav went directly there from the airport and when he arrived, there were no visitors, and in general even the most prominent rabbis are not allowed more then ten minutes as not to interfere R’ Chaim’s course of learning. The Rav sat with him for 45 minutes and told him about the greatness of Rabbanit Batsheva a”h that in her merit did the Rav go out of the house for whole nights to do hisbodedus  when she helped Rebetzin Tehila and looked after the children. The Rav also read from Tana Dvei Eliyahu who writes “I Testify heaven and earth that whether a man or women etc’ according to their actions can “Ruach Hakodesh” (divine inspiration) dwell upon them”. We were told afterwards that during the visit R’ Chaim had  tears  streaming  down his face and afterwards he said that among all the people that came in the course of the week he hadn’t been consoled like that by anyone else.

 
At the beginning of the Rav’s coming close to Breslov in Bnei Brak he would do hisbodedus the whole night, walking along the old train tracks from the evening until the morning – 16 kilomters each way. He would start off by a sign that said 5 k”m and would know to return when he reached a sign that said 21 k”m and would make it on time for the vasikin minyan (prayer at dawn).
 
Rabbi Berland Shuvu Bonim early days
Rabbi Berland teaching at
Yeshiva Shuvu Bonims early days in Bnei Brak
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says that all of the tzadikkim of the generations reached their levels because they did hisbodedus and it is impossible to be a tzadik without hisbodedus. It is also told about the Steipler and the Chofetz Chaim and many other tzadikim who were known to do hisbodedus every day (refer to the book “haderech hayishana” which is brought at the end of the book “shivcho shel tzadik”).
 
The veterans of Yeshivat Shuvu Bonim relate that the Rav would disappear for weeks doing hisbodedus in the fields and when he would return he would return with such a fire that in his lectures and would “ignite” everyone to avodas hashem (service of the Creator).

The Rebbi says that a Tzaddik that has humility has a gravitational force, and like the Earth which draws everything to it, everyone is drawn to the tzaddik. In that way slowly but surely more and more students who sincerely longed for Hashem’s words were drawn to the Rav until gradually the yeshiva in Bnei Brak was established. 
 
In one of his lectures the Rav said that only since I studied by the “litvaks” for 25 years do you have today in breslov Rav Eliezer Berland. Some of the students who come to the Rav for a blessing the Rav tells them “learn choshen mishpat, ktzos hachoshen, tokfo cohen etc’ 18 hours or 20 hours every day”. Some of them think that the Rav is joking or exaggerating since they don’t know that the Rav himself did just that for many years. Many times the Rav said that prior to becoming a breslover you must be like a litvak and learn 18 hours a day and then put all that energy into avodas hashem like rabeinu said “I want my words to spread to litvish hearts” (Siach Sarfei Kodesh).

Rabbi Binyomin Finkel
Rabbi Binyomin Finkel

Recently one of the Rav’s students met Rav Binyomin Finkel shlit”a Mashgiach of Mir Yerushalayim, and asked him about the the Rav, Rav Finkel answered him “Rav Berland imbues the idea of ‘toil in torah’ into chassidus, I constantly pray for him to return to Israel”.

 

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