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The Fire and the Light

AfterBennyfinishedhis trainingcourse,hehadgood
intentionswhenhe tookajob in
a secularcompany;he wassurehe'dbe ableto influence
his colleaguespositivelywhile
maintaininga barrierbetweenhimselfandthe open
world aroundhim. But asBenny
rosethroughthe ranks,his strongconnection yiddishkeit
' In his childhood,he haddavenedfor hoursnextto the tear-soaked
tallis ofRavEliezer
Berland,the powerful yet enigmaticleaderof the
Breslovshuvu Banim community.
The boy'sfather,who wasborn into a nonobservant
home,waspart of this group and
was closeto the man who had ignited the flames
of enthusiasmfor yiddishkeit in the
heartsof thousandsof people.
Even as he becameddistancedfrom yiddishkeit,
Benny still devotedflve minutes
a day to putting on tefillin and reciting the first
chapter of sh"-". H" t
rris .mrtt
tefillin bagon his deskbesidethe computerand
the newspapers.
sut one
somethingunusualhappened.suddenly,his lips
beganmumbling the wordsofpsuker
d2imrah in acaptivatingtune he had onceheard Rav
Berlandsirig in Breslov.
"I couldn't control myself," he related. "I
imagined the navt refllaft and found
myself daveningthe way he does- slowly,savoring
everyword, and with a tune that
literally melted my heart. I hadn't daven.d liku
th"t for years.The forcewas srronger
than me,biggerthan me.,'
Yosefwasan o rder bochurwhen
his *o.tdtturned dark.After his mother passed
and his father becamean emotionalshell,he felt
envelopedin perpetual sadness.His
father was shatteredby his wife'spassingand could
barelyfunction himself, let alone
provide support for his devastatedson.
Before her passing,between caring for his mother
in the hospital and tending to
matters of the motherless_household,
yosef beganristeningto
but in the envelopingblackness,the suggestiori-s
stoppedcoming and he did nothing
to pursue them.
Yosefbecamea shadowofhisformer self,until
onedesperatenight, he found himself
on Hachomah Hashlishis street in Jerusalem,
where RavEliezer Berlandlived. The
Rebbetz'inwas sleeping,sothe Ravtiptoed with the
bocfturinto his private study.The
miserableyoungmanbeganspillingout his heavyload,
tellingthe Ravhowwretchedhis




RavElyaLopianwith his innercircle."Chassidus

is reallyfor Litvaks"

life wasandhow he wishedhe weredead.

RavBerlandwas silent.
"Come,Iet us cry together,"he saidflnally.
"Let uscry,simplycry.HaKadoshBaruchHu
will listento our weeping."And that'swhat
theydid. For a full hour and a hali RavBerlandheldthe handof ayoungmanhe didn't
knoq and they wept together.
RavBerlandthen askedYosefto wait. He
went down to themikveh,andreturnedafew
minuteslater,burstingbackinto the room,
this time encouragingand full of smiles.
"Forgeteverything.From now on,Hashem
will treat you with greatkindness."
I heard this from Yosefhimself, today a
happyfather of three little children.
agoon CholHaMoedPesach,
a chassidishe
bocfturdavening at the Kosel
suddenlyfelta crushandcommotionbehind
him. RavBerlandwasconductinga ceremony
I'zecheraliyah I'regel,withalarge crowd of
his talmidim. The crowd was pushing and

19 S hv at577 3 | ) a n u a r v3 0 . 2 0 1 3

shovingto get as closeas they could to the

Rav,when suddenly,his eyesfixed on the
"By the week of Shavuos,you will be engaged,"Rav Berland stated. The bochur
heard,but was surprised;he hadn't asked
for abrachah- andhewasn'teveninterested
in gettingmarriedyet.
All plansaside,on the dayafter Shavuos,
the bochurbecameengaged.That bochur
l rro rn St' cl et W rl rl tl s A t 112K edushasLevi Streetin the Jerusalemsuburb
of Beitar Illit - Rav Berland'snew home
- massesflock from all over the country
just to standoutsidethe building.Most of
them will not evenget to seehis face,but
will sufficewith being in closeproximity. When neighbors began to complain
about harassment,Rav Berlandissueda
warning that no one shoulddare disturb
the other residents.
RavEliezerBerlandis a mystery,and his
life in recent yearshas been fraught with
struggleoverhis institutions.Yetwrappedin
his tallis is a powerful,esotericpersonality
hiddenfrom thosewho seekhim, the secrets
ofhis life too elusiveto be decipheredeven
by thosewho areclosestto him.
Whenhespeaks,histhoughtsseemto roam

in other spheres.He thinks so fast that few

cankeepup with him.
from the secretworldofsodpepper his conversations
- evenwhen discussing day-to-daymatters.When he speaks,
his entire body moveswith his lips as his
eyesseemto riseto the Heavens.In Breslov
theycallthis nishmas
awondroussoulthat is an innovationin his
He was born in Haifa in 1937into a nationalreligiousfamily,spendinghisyouthin
BneiAkivain the earlyyearsof the state.He
laterslakedhis thirst for Torahin the Lithuanian Torahworld, as he spententire days
bent overhis seforim in YeshivasKnesses
Chizkiyahuin Kfar Chassidim,and laterin
Kollel Ponevezhand Kollel Volozhin in Bnei
Brak.His influenceswereRoshYeshivahRav
EliyahuLopian,the SteiplerGaon,and other
leadingTorahgiantsin BneiBrakofthe last
And then he discoveredthe teachingsof
RebbeNachmanand the endlessfount from
which he was ableto draw a different sort of
wisdom.Itwas through this path that Rav
Berlandhas drawn thousandsofpeopleto
mitzvah observance.It beganwith a handfirI of talmidim, which becamea yeshivah,
which becamea community, which grew
into a movement.





$ trif




It's 5:30a.m.A hanclfulof chassidimare

exhaustion."What are you doing here?,,I
askedthem. "Maybewe,ll be zochehto see
the tzaddik," they reply.Ar-rdfor that faint
possibility,they sleepin the street,spend_
ingnightsunderthe baresky,learningout of
smallseforimunderthe streetlights.
RavBerlandhasjustreturnedfrom ajour_
neyto Amukah in the Galil,and in this ore_
hasgrantedustwo hours,during
whichweareperrnitteda fleetingglanceinto
his rivetinginnerworld.Uponhis return,he
said,"I told the peopleatAmukah _ there
werehundredsof peoplethere_ .Don,tyou
see the fire and the light? Tzaclclikimare
greaterin deaththan they are in life. There
is a tremendous,awesomelight here.',,
The doorto RavBerland,sroom opens:he
i s a l re adywr appedin t a l l i sa n dte fil l i n . l t s
obviousthat he hasbeenfastingfor many
h o u rs B
. ul.aI 74, m ayh e l i v ea n db ew e l l ,h e
doesn'ttry to get olTeasyin any ofthe ritu_
alshe'staken on himself.He beginsbirchos
hashaclrurin a captivatingtune that grows
steadilylouder.'.Rabbeinusaysthat one
must singthe fefllos for them to ascenduo
on H igh,"RavBerlandteaches.
H is shoul_
derssway,his eyesareclosedand his entire
bodyconveysthe message:
1 am hereto serve
Youwith my entire soul.





In bombed-out
courdtheyhavefoundthe missingsordiers?
liit'si :i i,q[ \ ; rl, RavBerland,s
transcendstime and space.Onerninutehe
can be at hor-ne,
and a momentlater he can
be en route to kivrei tzadctikLnr
in the North
or in the Shomron.He sleepsonly two hours
in a 24-hourperiod,usuallyafter flnishing
tableispiledwith yellowedpages
- personal
lettersto his Creator.and
chiddushimthaLhehaswritten down.
From the time he was little, Rav Eliezer
Berlandwas drawn to spirituality. ..I lived
in Haifa,and wasthe only onein my school
v;ith a hat.Theythreatened
to beatme up if
I keptcomingin my hat,but I kept*"
at me,whydid I insist
on beingdifferent,it wasn'ta d'Oravsa.I told


him I insistedon wearingthe hat.

"My brother RavyechezkelBerland,the
ray in Nehorah,followed me and started
wearinghis tzitzisoverhis shirt. I took him
out ofhigh schoolandput him into Ravyaa_
kovEdelstein'syeshivahin Hod HaSharon.
He hadneverlearnedGemarain his life,but
whenRavEdelsteintestedhim, heunderstood
it all. He had a brilliant, analyticalmind; to
this dayhestill does.,,
RavBerlandspentthree and a halfyears
in Kfar Chassidim.from agetZ.There he
learnedunder RavEliyahu EliezerMishk_
ovskyztz"l.Yeshivahold-timers recall how
asa bochur,RavBerlandwouldlearnalmost
2Ohours a day.
"But RavMishkovskytold me I hadto take



a break,go out a bit to the flelds,be myself."

personwho repeatssomethingin the nameof
Peoplethink that it's enoughto just go to
This wasperhapsa hint of thingsto come,
the originator brings Geulahto the world Uman, but the bad thoughtsdon't go away
althoughthe Rav sayshe knew nothing of
refersto HaKadoshBaruchHu.A personhas
if one doesn'tlearn Gemara.
Breslov or the idea ofhisbodedus at the
to know that everythingbelongsto Hashem:
"When I traveledto Uman on forgedpasstime.
my wisdom, my brains, my strength,everyports, in the yearsbeforethe Iron Curtain
"I didn't know there was any suchthing
who recognizes
fell, I met the headsof the governmentin
asBreslov.I camefrom otherplaces.I didn't
that constantlybringsabouta redemptionfor
Kiev,who told me: 'We know why you Jews
evenknow therewas sucha thing as Chashimselfand for the world."
are the smartest nation in the world. It's
sidus.But my roshyeshivahtoldme to goout
Rav Berland came to Kfar Chassidima
becauseyou havethe Talmud. That'swhy
to the flelds every day for two hours. Ifyou
month after the passingofRosh yeshivah
you are so strong."'
don't do that, he said,either your headwill
RavNoachShrmonowitzztz'? "I nevermet
After his wedding,Rav Berlandbecame
explodeor a vein will pop.
him," RavBerlandsayslongingly,evenafter
closeto the SteiplerGaonztz? andto his son,
"Peoplemakea mistakeand think Breslov
so many years."He passedawayon S Iyar,
Rav Chaim Kanievsky sftlita. " We learned
is dancingin the streets.That'snot true. A
andI wasin Kfar HaRoehat the time.It was
b'chavrusa every day for an hour. We expersonwho doesnot learnGemarab'iyun,
Yom Haatzmaut,and everyonewent to get
in writing. But it
RebbeNachmansays,is called a/esset kishwild and drink; but I just couldn't- I just
all got lost."At the endof the shivahfor Rebkes,abarrelofinnards.It saysinSiach
hadto stayinsideand learn while they revbetzinKanievsky
Kodesft,(Volume2:257)that RebbeNachman
eledoutside.I was in the sftrurroom in the
for RavBerland,who hadjust arrived on the
said, Ich vil mein zachzohl gein oif litvishe
yeshivahin Kfar HaRoehwhen the news
planefrom America,beforegettingup.
hertzer,'or in other words,Chassidusis rearrived that Rav NoachShimonowitzhad
"The Rebbetzina"ft was a teacherin the
allyfor Litvaks.
passedaway.I beganto cry like a smallchild,
Ohr HaChaimhigh school,and,myrebbetzin
"TheMaggid[ofMezritch]wasfirst a Litvak
although I didn't evenknow him. To this
and then a chassid.Everyonewas.After you
day I don't know why I cried....Every time
who woke her children up at three in the
arelitvish,RebbeNachmansays,then come
I rememberit, I start to cry. Everyoneelse
morningandtook themto Lederman[Shul]
to me.RavMendelof Nemirov,who first grew
went out to party and I stayedto learn and
and then taught high schoolgirls from eight
up in Germanyandworea shortjacketbefore
to cry aboutRebNoach'spassing."
in the morninguntil four in the afternoon,
to theMaggidanddaveningwith
RavBerlandstayedin Kfar Chassidimunsaidshegot chizukand.yirasShamayimfrom
enthusiasmthat raisedhim to greatheights, til his marriageat age2t to TehillahShaki,
wasonceasked:'What did the Maggiddo for
daughter of the late Rabbi Shalom-AvraRavBerland'sfirst contactwith the Steipler
you?'Hereplied,'WhenI wasin Germany,I
ham Shaki,who servedin the Knessetas
waswhenhe wasstill in Kfar Chassidim."I
hadtoholdmysouldownto makesureit didn't
a National ReligiousParty memberin the
senthim lettersand he would answerme.I
fly otrlsheloyifracftl;
whenI cameto the Mag1960s.He then movedto Bnei Brak, to the
askedhim what was more important, to cut
gid, my soulblossomedlparacfl."'
yeshivosof PonevezhandVolozhin. "In
off the tchup fforeheadbangsl,or to grow a
RavBerland'svoicetakeson a noteoflongPonevezhthere were the geonimRav Ben
beard.I had a hugefcftup,no onecould comingwhenhe speaksof his closerelationship
Levenstein, petewith it. The Steiplerrepliedthat I should
tothe mashgiacft,
RavElya (Eliyahu)Lopian
and RavChaimFreidlanderztz"l.I learned
first cut offthetchup,andthatI shouldgrow
ztz"l."For lhreeanda half yearsRavElyawas
b'chavrusawithRavChaim and sleptin his
a beardafter my wedding."
house.Rav ShmuelHeller, one of the rabvery closeandpredicted,'You'llbecomea big
banim of Haifa, remembersthat they told
A l l of Thi s Is H ers How did t his
I wasjust 2Othen.
me on Purim to go out and dance.I saidI
Litvak turn into the leaderof massesof
"RavElyawasaveryhumble,modestpercouldnot bring myselfto leavethe Gemara. Breslover chassidim? Rav Berland says
son.I will neverforgethow he davened,with
They wanted to spill water over me, but I
he oweshis transformation to his wife.
power,with tears.He would literally cry.At
couldnot closethat Gemara."
"When the Rebbetzinwas lb, shebegan
Ihe mussarsederI would sit on the first bench
Iearning someBresloverseforim that her
nearhim, and in betweenus wasanotherbopath of RebbeNachman.Is anythingleft of
brother receivedfor his bar mitzvah. Becfturwhose name I don't remember.When
thoseyearsin the lzTvzshe
fore we married sheaskedme if I knewwhat
he learnedSftaarei Teshuvah,themashgiach
For Rav Berland,the intenselearning is
Breslovwas.'It doesn'teveninterestme,'I
would sobloudly.I would crywith him. The
his legacyfrom that time. He still learns18
told her. But shewas adamantthat I start
hours a day."If a personwants to mitigate
learningthe seforim."
"RavElyaoncetold me,'The Chazalthat a
"We got married on 28 Adar, and for an

19 S hv at57 7 3

J a n u a r v3 0 , 2 0 1 3




The Fire and the Light

entire year I pretendedthat I was learning

Bresloverseforim.Onlyayearlater,on Chol
HaMoed Pesach,aswe traveledon a train
backfrom Haifa,did shediscovermy ruse.
Shebeganasking me questionsabout the
seferSippurei Maasiyos.Shewas shocked
when I told her I wasn,tfamiliar with it. So
I had no choice.And then, when I actually
beganto learn, I discoveredawesomethings
there,all the wisdomin the world.
"One can sayof my Rebbetzinthat sfte1l
that is mine and all that is
yoursis really hers."

[,o s t in S idon I t w a s th e s u m m e ro f
1982,during the First LebanonWar.The
smellof fire and sulfu r hungoverSidonas
a group of 12 Bresloverchassidimled by
RavBerlandmadetheir way through the
narrow alleywaysin a dilapidatedvan.
Just a few daysearlier,soldiers Zecharya
Baumel, Yehudah Katz, Tzvi Feldman,
Chezi Shai,Ariel Lieberman,and Zohar
Lifshitz had been capturedin the battle
of Sultan Yakub,where the IDF faced off
with the Syrian army.
Two of the missing- Ariel Liebermanand
Chezi Shai - were returned from captiv_
ity after two and three years,respectively,
while it was learnedonly in Octoberl98S
that Zohar Lifshitz had beenkilled in the
battle.But the fatesofyehudah Katz, Tzvi
Feldman,and ZecharyaBaumelremain a
mysteryto this day.
MIA YehudaKatz'sfatheryossiKatz came
to RavBerlandin tears.Theyhad gottento
know eachother after yossi,sother sonbe_
camecloseto RavBerland.
exerciseeveryconnectionhe hadto Hashem
to locatehis sonYehudah.
"Comewith me to Lebanonandwe,llres_
cueYehudahKatz,"RavBerlandtold some
of his closechassidim.But he qualifiedone
condition:"Believewith all your heartsthat
What happenedwhile theywerein Sidon
remaineda secretfor manyyears.But what is
known is that to this day,Katz, Baumel,and
Over the years,those 12 Bresloverswho



took part in the daring missionofferedbits

and piecesof information.And now,three
decadeslater,Rav Berland has decidedto
sharethe details.
"We tried to crossthe border into Lebanon secretly.It was parsftas
where it
says'Kol makom asher tidrof raglechembo
lachemyihyeh, min hamidbar v'haLevanon
- everyplaceyour feet treadwill be yours,
from the wilderness and Lebanon,",Rav
and reachedSidon,driving through villages
looking for YehudahKatz. The driver was
one of the talmidim of the yeshivah,Baruch
"The entire areawas full ofroadblocks.
At first, they thought we were diplomats.
When we came closer to the roadblocks
we donned the kaffiyehs.Then, when we
approachedSidon,we changedto regular
clothes.They thought we were clergymen.
Wepassedall the roadblocks.
realizedthat we were Jewsand the terroristsbeganshootingat us.It wasa miraclewe
got out ofthere.
"We were able to reach the lookout at
Rashia Al Fuchar, two kilometers from
where Katz and his friends were captured
in northeastLebanon.And from there we
were ableto seethe exact spot where the
abductiontook place.
"That night, we were in the Rashiacamo.
andI gavea sftrulrfor
SOsoldiersin thedinins
room.The commander,
who wasalsolistening, saidto me:'I don,tknowwhywe haveto
fight this war. Soldiersare killed evervdav.'

"I told him,'If you don't defendus here.

theywill captureMetullah.,Hesaid,.Idon,t
care,let them captureMetullah.,I repliedto
him, 'Theywillgetto Haifa.,Thecommander
didn't care.Evenwhen I saidthey would get
to Tel Aviv he didn't care..Why shouldmy
soldiersgetkilled herein Lebanon?'
"I told the commander,'If you don,tdefend
us heretheywill getto Jerusalem.'And
he said,'Jerusalem?Oh, no, we won,t give
up Jerusalem.'
"The next day,when we tried crossingthe
borderbackinto Israel,IDF soldierscaught
us andwantedus prosecuted.Theyhanded
us over to that samecommander.But the
commandergaveother orders.,Givethese
peopleimmunity.Don'tdo anythingtothem.
Let them into the dining room, feedthem,
and let them sleep.Give them the best of
what we have."'
DoesRavBerlandthink any of the MIAs
arestill alivetoday?"RonAradis certainlynot
alive,"he saysof the IAF navigatorwho was
shotdown in 1986.And the others?
"YehudahKatz - it's beenB0 years since
his capture.YosefHaTzaddikwasmissingfor
22 years.I told his parentsthat until 22 years
there'shope.Today,after B0years,there'sno
"But I'm sure thatwhen we crossedthe
border,he was still alive.When CheziShai
was returned on a plane from Lebanonto
Germany,oneof the soldiersguardinghim
askedhis friend, 'Is this yehudahKatz?,The
soldierreplied,'No this is CheziShai.,Based
on this exchangewe know that he was alive.

Wedid a lot to bringhimback.Wegotthe Red
Crosson the case,met with the Austrian
prime minister.We did alot."
Alone in Shechem Driving a clunker
van into the heart ofthe Lebanonbattlefield might be consideredfoolhardy for
most, but Rav Eliezer Berland and his
Shuvu Banim chassidim are known for
living dangerously.Their monthly excursionsto Kever Yosefin Shechemhave
been a thorn in the side ofthe IDF since
Israel gave up Shechemin accordswith
the PalestinianAuthority.
RavBerlandsaysthat the extentofmesrrus
ngftsftone must havefor /clyreitzaddikimis
to travel oncea month, on Friday.A chassid
quoted him as saying,"The moment you
undertake a practical endeavorthat entails
a certain risk, it connectsyou with the tzaddik on a higher level."
Rav Berland remembers how he would
travelto Shechemafterthe citywascaptured
in the 1967Six DayWar. "I would go every
day.Then,there was tremendousfear ofthe
Jews.I lived in Bnei Brak at the time, so on
JabotinskyStreetI'd get a bus to Kfar Saba.
It cost me three liras. From there, I continued to Kever Binyamin ben Yaakov.I would
spendan hour alone there, and then travel
to Kalkilya in a taxi with sevenArabs.They
often madesignsof slittingtheirthroats and
I did it right backto them.
"I wouldwalk for five minutesthrough the
Casbahin Shechemuntil KeverYosefalone,
alone I come and I seepeoplewith
Ml6s. I askthemwhytheyneedit....
"'LelamedesbneiYehudahkashos,to teach
the sonsofYehudahto useabow [andarrow].'
The Midrash ShocherTov saysthateveryarrowshouldhavethe ShemHaMeforashwritten on it and eachonewould penetrateone
thousandenemies.If we havefaith, we don't
needsuchweapons.Then,when they'd seea
Jew,they'd seea tank in front of them."
Wake Up navBerlandsayshehasonemain
missionin the world: to bringAm Yisraelto
do teshuvah."NowAm Yisraelis in a stateof
awakening,"he says."It is impossibleto stem

1 9 Shv at57 7 3 | l a n u a r y3 0 , 2 0 ' 1 3

this awakening."
pieceof information: "The planet Pluto has
just drawn closertoEarth.This is a rare occurrencethat onlyhappens onceeveryfew
hundred years,and hasramificationsin the
spiritual spheres."He continues a complex
astronomicalexplanation,bringing sources
from the Rambam,Zohar,andKabbalahasto
the significanceof this positioningandhow it
bodesfor the nationsand the Jews.
'Am Yisrael'sheart is awake,and it is on
the waybackto its Maker.Thewaythe media
portrays the secular public as hating those
who observemitzvos is an absolutelie.
"There is a chain of restaurants,Aroma,
and in the pastJusticeProcacciaofthe High
Court ruled that they could sellchometzon
Pesachbecause,sheruled, chometzinsidea
restaurantis not consideredto be 'in public,'
which would be againstthe law.The owner
of severalAroma franchises,Oren Sasson,
would bring donationsto our yeshivah,but
he felt bad and askedme, 'How can you accept donationsfrom a placeth at seIIschometz
on Pesach?'I told him, 'In the merit of these
donationsyou'll stop selling chometzonPesach.'Andthat's what happened.Twenty
brancheswere kosheredand in the last two
yearstheir revenuestripled."
The sun is alreadyshiningasI take leave
of the Rav.He accompaniesme outside,his
hand holding mine. His hand is thin, but
warm andoverflowingwitha spiritualenergy
that's unbounded.He still has much to say,
ashejumps from onetopic to another,from
apasulrin Tanachto a RambamtotheZohar
to the words of RebbeNachman.I wonderif
anyonecan keepup.
"Meibsos haShamayim al teichasu,ki yeichasuhagoyimmeiheimah- Do not be frightenedbythe signsofthe Heavens,though the
nations are frightened bythem," the Rav
concludeswith a comforting quotefrom Seler
Yirmiyahu."Everything that we said about
Pluto coming closerhas an effect only on
the gentiles.Am Yisrael is abovemazel,"he
explains.For Rav Berland it is another sign
that the time has come to draw thousands
more to teshuvah.