Having received a number of enquiries to the web site concerning the subject of pidyon nefesh (what is it, how it is done, and what it accomplishes), we decided to provide a detailed explanation on the topic, which will be based mainly on the books Likutei Moharan by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, and Likutei Halachos by Rabbi Nachman’s main student, Reb Nosson.
The word pidyon is usually translated as “redemption,” referring to an exchange, whereby one exchanges money for something else. There are a number of different types of pidyon mentioned in the Torah including pidyon shvu’im (redemption of captives), pidyon haben (redemption of the firstborn male), and pidyon peter chamor (redemption of the firstborn donkey). Our topic, pidyon nefesh (redemption of the soul), refers to the redeeming of a person from the suffering he is going through. Through the giving of a pidyon to an appropriate person, it is possible to exchange one’s suffering on to the redemption money.
The lesson has been divided into three parts: first, the suffering itself. Secondly, the money, the pidyon. And thirdly, the Tzaddik. Who exactly is this ‘appropriate person’ who is able to cancel a harsh decree with the aid of money?
Rebbe Nachman writes (Likutei Moharan 74), “There is no one who doesn’t experience any kind of troubles or suffering. When a person is suffering, it may seem to him as if Hashem is pushing him away and rejecting him.” Rebbe Nachman explains that the truth is exactly the opposite: it is when Hashem wants to draw a person closer that He sends him dinim (harsh judgments) and suffering. As is written in Mishlei 3, “Hashem rebukes those that he loves.” The choice a person is faced with is either to reject the din, and thereby rejecting Hashem as well, or to search within the din itself, and specifically there, to find Hashem. One has to ask, “Why is this happening to me? Where is Hashem within the suffering that I am going through?” Even if one does not come to a definite conclusion or find any clear answers, the fact that he is searching for Hashem amidst the suffering will bring him closer to Hashem, closer to truly believing in Him, and thereby closer to salvation. By searching for Hashem within the suffering, a person shows that he believes that his suffering is from Hashem, and since everything that Hashem does is good, it then follows that the suffering that He is sending to me is only for my own good. And the more one believes in Hashem and in the Tzaddikim (the great rabbis of the generation), the better his life will be.
Intelligence and wealth can distance a person from simple faith. While poverty is also a test of faith, wealth is considered a much harder test. A wealthy person has a greater challenge to have faith since it is so easy for him to feel that he can rely on his money, thinking that it can buy anything. But money doesn’t bring Hashem into one’s life at all.
In Likutei Moharan 250, Rebbe Nachman develops this theme further: “All a person’s suffering is because of a lack of understanding, because when a person has understanding, he is able to see that every single thing that happens to him is sent to him directly from Hashem and that it is all for his own good. And even when he is experiencing some kind of distress, the fact that he knows it is from Hashem helps him to endure and tolerate it…However, someone without this understanding, who doesn’t believe that everything that happens in his life is directly from Hashem but rather attributes it to luck or fate or destiny, can literally be destroyed by such a belief since this attitude only causes him to feel the suffering so much more.” Rebbe Nachman explains there that the main way to escape from this trap is through prayer, since prayer is actually above nature. Through prayer we can literally change nature. By praying to Hashem one can return himself to the belief that everything is from Him, thereby rebuilding his understanding and enabling within himself the ability to accept with equanimity everything that happens.
In Likutei Moharan 177, the Rebbe strongly emphasizes the importance of doing the ratzon (will) of Hashem: “When one wants to do only the will of Hashem, he places authority in Hashem’s hands. Going against the will of Hashem is removing himself from Hashem’s authority. A person has to come to the point where all his desire is to do exactly what Hashem wants him to do. Ratzon is the belief that the world runs only according to the will of Hashem, which obligates a person to do Hashem’s will. This means that we accept that we will have whatever Hashem wants us to have, however much money, or whether or not we will have children, or whatever.”
The Rebbe explains (Likutei Moharan 2:82), that a person’s life can go either c’seder, which means in an organized and structured way, or lo c’seder, haphazard and disorganized. The more a person is disconnected from Hashem, the more his life will go lo c’seder. Conversely, the more he attaches himself to Hashem the more things will go according to his desires. A lack of structure, a disorganized life, when things don’t go well, it can make a person literally sick to the heart, as it says in Mishlei 13, “Going on and on, just living in hope, brings only sickness to the heart.”
Reb Nosson expounds on the Rebbe’s teaching regarding this aspect of c’seder
and lo c’seder (Likutei Halachos, Yoreh De’ah 2, Pidyon
Bachor 3, Paragraph 6, Page 416), “And this is why one gives money for a pidyon
whenever one is going through any kind of torment or distress. All the suffering
that a person goes through originates from this aspect of lo c’seder.”
So when one gives money, which is also this aspect of lo c’seder, to
the Tzaddik who is the aspect of c’seder (due to his unceasing
connection to Hashem), then his personal situation can be reversed and returned
to the aspect of c’seder, and the dinim, the harsh judgments
which are on him which are the aspect of lo c’seder, are sweetened.
(Money has been the aspect of lo c’seder ever since the sin of Adam,
which actually changed the whole world to the aspect of lo c’seder,
which is a whole new kabalistic concept on its own that we will not go
Taking this a step further, it is possible to look at this whole subject of c’seder and lo c’seder on an even deeper level and say that even when we are in this aspect of lo c’seder (since this is the will of Hashem that we should be in just such a situation, without money or children or whatever), then there is even here, within our suffering, an aspect of c’seder since it is from Hashem that it should be so. In which case, the cause of our suffering is not so much that we are not happy about the fact that we are in such a situation, but rather, because we don’t really believe that it is from Hashem (See Likutei Moharan 250). But the rectification remains the same. By giving money to the Tzaddik we receive daas, knowledge in return, which enables us to understand that everything really is sent to us directly from Hashem. So, it can even be that the sweetening of the din is in our receiving the capability of understanding that this is also from Hashem and thereby enabling us to endure our present situation, even when it hasn’t “changed for the better,” per se. To truly believe that all that we are going through is directly sent to us by Hashem and knowing that everything He does is only for our eternal good will surely result in an alleviation of the suffering.
In summation, everyone undergoes a certain amount of suffering. There is no such thing as a person going through life with everything going exactly according to his desire. What comes out of these teachings are that there are three ways to deal with the situation:
All of which bring about one of two results, either an easing of the suffering or its cancellation altogether.
Rabbi Nachman teaches (Likutei Moharan 180), “Money is an aspect of dinim, and the dinim can only be sweetened at their source.” “The most important thing is not to be miserly when giving a pidyon, so that none of the dinim should remain unsweetened. A person must give what he is told to give. Only the Tzaddik knows which dinim are on a person.”
The Gemara relates (Sanhedrin 170), “When Rebbe Eliezer the Great fell sick, he said to Rebbe Akiva: ‘An intense anger has come to the world.’” Rebbe Nachman explains (Likutei Moharan II:3) that [Rebbe Eliezer was sick] “because there was no one around at that time who was capable of cancelling the din, for the din could only be cancelled through the giving of a pidyon, which couldn’t be done. For in truth, only after the sweetening [of the harsh judgments through the giving of…] and the pidyon is it possible to cure the sick person through medication—only then is the doctor able to heal him. For how can any doctor imagine that he will be able to cure a sick person through his various treatments and medicines, for there is no way for him to know exactly which medicine the patient needs since there are a multitude of medicines available for treating each and every condition. However, the sick person can only be completely cured with the precise treatment which will be able to relieve the particular malady which was decreed upon him in heaven. As it says in the Gemara (Avoda Zara 55), ‘It is determined in heaven that this person will be healed by this particular treatment, by this particular doctor, on this particular day.’ In which case, how can any doctor possibly expect to properly cure anyone if he is unaware of the specific treatment decided upon in heaven? [Since only this exact treatment, and none other, even one that is known to have a beneficial effect on this particular malady, will cure him completely.] However, once one has given the pidyon and sweetened the din, at this point, the doctor can cure the patient. This is because, the fact that this person can only be cured by this particular treatment, by this particular person, is engendered by the Attribute of Strict Justice [in heaven], which enacts that the illness will continue until a specific date, establishing that the person will not be cured until these conditions are fulfilled, i.e. this treatment and this doctor. Since this will cause the sickness to continue until the specified point in time. (The conditions for the cure are set in order to ensure that it will not take place prior to the specified time, i.e. that the specified treatment and the specified doctor will not transpire together until the specified date.) However, once one has given the pidyon and sweetened the din, thereby completely cancelling the whole decree, at this point (before the next decree is enacted, because once this decree is cancelled the next one will be issued, but in the meantime…), the doctor can cure the patient with his treatments. This is because the din has been cancelled, and thus it is possible to cure using any medicine, since the decree specifying a certain particular medicine has been nullified. So it turns out that it is actually completely impossible for anyone to properly cure a sick person [before the specified time, etc.] other than through the giving of a pidyon, which must precede the treatment, so that it can cancel the decree and enable the doctor to cure the patient.”
To elaborate further, dinim (judgments) are actually very beneficial. Another way to translate the word “dinim” would be “laws.” There have to be laws, because if everyone did whatever they felt like doing chaos would ensue. Dinim are essential. The Torah is made up of dinim. Hashem gave them to us out of love. However, the sitra achra / the klippot / the side of impurity also has its roots in dinim, and this is awakened when a person doesn’t keep the Torah’s laws. A person forgets about Hashem, forgets that He is ruling the world, and so he reasons that the dinim have a life of their own. He thinks that his suffering and distress are purposeless, just his mazal. But what happens then, is that the suffering he goes through causes him to forget about and become distanced from Hashem even more. Instead of believing that Hashem is all kindness and that everything comes to him because of His love, he asks: “Why is this happening to me?” “Why am I sick?” “Why haven’t I had any children?” He has dinim on him because he forgets about Hashem.
If we would only think about Hashem the whole time, there would be no dinim. This doesn’t mean that everything would necessarily go the way we want it to, but rather, by believing that Hashem loves us and wants only our good, and does only good to us, we would see everything in a different light. Whatever we might be going through, we would realize that this is also for our good. Our salvation lies in our returning to Hashem, keeping the mitzvos, giving tzedaka, etc. For all the suffering that we go through is because we have separated ourselves from Hashem, as it says (Devarim 31:17), when Bnei Yisrael complained in the desert, “Surely it is because Hashem is not with us that all this evil has come upon us.”
When a person gives money to the Tzaddik, he receives daas (understanding) in return. A person works very hard to earn money, in order to have it to spend, and then he goes and does exactly the opposite with it, he gives it away. But by giving it to the Tzaddik, to someone who has no desire for money at all, this brings the person back to his belief in Hashem. And the Tzaddik takes the money and uses it to weaken the dinim, thereby weakening the person’s yetzer hara, which enables him to chozer b’tshuva.
The Tzaddik has such belief, such a trust in Hashem, that he has not the slightest regard for the physical aspects of the money at all. It could be $10, it could be 10 million—what it can buy means nothing to him.
Reb Nosson writes (Likutei Halachos Orach Chaim 1, Birkas HaShachar 5:14), “And this is the reason that we give money as a pidyon to the Tzaddik, because money is the aspect of dinim, and when the Tzaddik uses the money for his daily needs…through this the harsh judgments are nullified.” In other words, money hides/separates Hashem from us. When a person has money, he feels that he has no need for Hashem. He imagines that can do very well on his own. Therefore, dinim come upon him. By giving money to the Tzaddik—the very fact that this person is giving away his money—he brings Hashem back into his life.
Money is very ruchani very spiritual, it comes from a very high place, (which we will be discussing very soon).
There is a shefa (abundance) which is flowing down to each and every person at all times. This shefa is very ruchani (spiritual), but when it descends, it becomes gashmi (physical/material) as in food or money etc. However, it also brings with it dinim. The shoresh (root) of the money is in dinim. The reason that it is connected to the dinim is because the shefa is completely ruchani, and the dinim mitzamtzem it—they limit and constrict it—so that it can come down to us. Anyone who has any kind of suffering, it is because he has dinim on him.
In Likutei Moharan 68, Rebbe Nachman reveals one of the causes of the dinim: “In truth, it would be fitting for every Jew to be rich; however, there is one character trait that causes a person to forfeit the money that is due to him. This trait is both worthless and despicable, but it is incredibly difficult to eradicate. Even if a person does his best to break free of this character trait, even if the only reason is in order that he will receive more money, in order not to be deprived of the money that was coming to him, even so, this trait overpowers him even from childhood and causes him to be deprived of the money due to him. This character trait is the attribute of anger, which causes him to forfeit his money. The reason this happens is that the anger and the money both emanate from the same source in heaven.”
Money and anger have the same root in heaven, and come down to a person as one or the other, either money or anger. “So the evil inclination, when he sees that money is due to come to a person, he tries to force him to get angry, which will cause him to forfeit the money….Furthermore, it can be that even when the person has already received the money his evil inclination will provoke him into falling into such a great anger that he can come to lose the money, even when it is already in his hands.”
A further point is that the sparks, the particles, of a
person’s soul come down through all the brachos and mitzvos that
he does. And it is with these sparks comes the money. That is why we have such a
desire for money, because the sparks of the soul are bound together with it. The
money imprisons the sparks within it. By using it for mitzvos and tzedaka
one adds the sparks to his neshama (soul). If he uses it for gashmius,
for material things, he loses all the sparks. Even the Tzaddik has a
desire for money, because it is also a part, a completion of his soul. Just that
he uses it only for mitzvos and tzedaka. What is far far more
important to him is to have his shefa come down as sechel, that he
should attain a greater understanding of Hashem.
Rebbe Nachman continues this theme of anger and money being connected to each other (Likutei Moharan 59 Paragraph 5): “Wealth and conquering ones anger are bound together….So that when one is overcome by his anger he literally forfeits the wealth that was due to him. So anytime one’s evil inclination provokes him to anger, he should know that at that very moment he is destined from heaven to receive a sum of money and his evil inclination is trying to cause him to lose it. So the most important aspect of guarding one’s neshama is controlling one’s anger, because getting angry literally damages the soul, as it says (Job 18), ‘He rips his soul apart in his anger.’”
The shefa provides all the benefits that a person has from this world, health, money, children etc. Anger is actually a taava ruchani, a spiritual temptation. The yetzer hara tries to convert the money into anger so that the person will not have the money to serve Hashem with. As it says in the Gemara (Shabbos 105:), “One who rips something up on Shabbos out of anger is guilty of desecrating the Shabbos. As Rebbe Yehuda explains, since he is satisfying his evil inclination by cooling off his anger, i.e. the act of ripping calms him down, he has thereby performed a constructive act, which is forbidden.
So by falling into anger, he not only obstructs the flow of money that was due to come to him, he also actually damages his neshama, his soul.
The tremendous power of anger to do such damage is explained in the Cisvei HaArizal (Shaar Ruach HaKodesh, Drush 3, Kavanot HaEfer) which Rebbe Chaim Vital bases on the verse (Vayikra 10), “And Moshe was angry with Elazar and Itamar…” The Gemara explains (Pesachim 66), “Even if he is a prophet, if he gets angry his prophecy will leave him.” And he goes on to say that according to the Arizal, anger is the very worst of all the sins. Even to get angry over a mitzvah is forbidden, as we saw by Moshe. The Arizal explains that this is because, while all the other sins only damage one limb of a person’s spiritual body, anger damages the whole soul, and his anger causes his soul to abandon him, and a soul from the side of evil comes and takes it’s place—as was mentioned earlier, “He rips his soul apart in his anger.”
The shefa (abundance) is actually coming down all the time, but sometimes it comes down in waves, as a kind of extra. The neshama can feel it coming, and that is when the test of not getting angry comes. How does one keep himself from losing control? The answer is that he must be constantly thanking Hashem for all the good He is doing for him. For every breath, the food, the clothes, all the good that he has that enables him to remain alive and enjoying life. A person whose mouth is filled with praise of and is constantly thanking Hashem will have enough yishuv hadaas (presence of mind) not to fall into anger, even when a test comes upon him suddenly.
Anger is the complete opposite of thanking Hashem. When a person gets angry it is as if he is saying to Hashem, “This isn’t good enough, I’m not satisfied.” A person can reach such a low level that they even guard him from heaven from falling into anger, by simply not sending him any kind of significant shefa. This is also for his good. But a person who is constantly thanking Hashem can be sent an excess of shefa, because it will not damage him in any way. He automatically converts his shefa into kedusha, into holiness, rather than anger.
Rebbe Nachman tells a story (Sichos HaRan 24), which explains how giving money to the Tzaddik brings him closer to Hashem and causes them both a great happiness, and the donor’s reward is the cancellation of his dinim.
A person’s yetzer hara, his evil inclination, tells him all the time how important it is to hang on to his money—that he will have no life without it. When he takes this money and gives to the Tzaddik, he is breaking his yetzer hara. This in turn strengthens his connection to Hashem. He creates the vessel that will enable him to receive daas (understanding) from the Tzaddik. And this understanding will enable him to escape from his suffering by increasing his faith in Hashem. So in fact, one aspect of the true salvation is actually the daas itself, which enables a person to accept with equanimity everything that happens to him, since he has the understanding to know that it is all from Hashem. Without this daas, a person falls into taavat mammon, the desire for money, which obliterates the ruchnius, the spirituality of the money. But by dedicating the money to kedusha, to holiness, he pushes away all the gashmius of it, all the klippot, what is referred to in kabalistic literature as the impure husks.
Reb Nosson expands on this topic (Likutei Halachos, Yoreh De’ah 2, Pidyon Bachor 5, Paragraph 7, Page 423): “By giving money to the Tzaddik and his students—since it is the Tzaddik who is responsible for instilling daas into his students—he himself receives a share in this daas, in this understanding of Hashem that they receive, and through this, he himself merits to receive his own salvation.”
And we could really ask a question at this point, why does the Rav have to take money at all? Can’t he just pray for us and bring us our salvation that way? The answer is, as Reb Nasan writes (Alim L’Trufah 385), “It is incredibly difficult to help a person who is not prepared to make some effort on his own. This is the very reason that people bring pidyonot to the Tzaddikim and request that they pray for them, even though it is known that the Tzaddikim are constantly praying for us, regarding the suffering that we are going through. They literally deliver up their souls on our behalf. Even so, it is still so difficult to help someone that doesn’t make the slightest ‘itarusa diletata’ (an awakening from below), on his own behalf.”
So the pidyon is the itarusa diletata—it is the person making an effort to make his own contribution, we also must be involved in our own salvation. In fact, the truth is, the Rav himself would much prefer not to have people bringing him pidyonot. He doesn’t need or want the money. Why should he have to ask people for money?
It is known that the Tzaddikim fix the amount of money they ask for according to the person. When someone has to struggle so hard to find the money, the difficulty that he has in obtaining the amount is reciprocated by Hashem in the amount of salvation that He sends him. When he gathers together an amount that is seemingly beyond his ability to achieve, he merits receiving a salvation that is beyond nature, complete miracles. Furthermore, when a person gives an especially large amount, and thereby becomes that much poorer, it is as if he is taking upon himself the suffering of poverty in exchange for whatever he was going through before. As we say in the tefilla before the Kol Nidrei service, “For some are punished with monetary fines, while some are punished with loss of life.” The money affects an exchange for whatever was due to be, just as can be seen in a court: a person will sometimes be offered the possibility of paying a fine instead of going to jail.
So that basically is where the money comes in:
The third and final subject is the Tzaddik. To whom are we supposed to be giving this money, and how can we know who is the right person to give to?
Rebbe Nachman explains (Likutei Moharan 215), “You should know that there are twenty four different pidyonot. This is because there are twenty four Courts of Justice (in heaven), and for each court there is a corresponding pidyon appropriate specifically to that court, which is able to mitigate the judgments being handed down there. Furthermore, there is one pidyon which encompasses all the twenty four courts, which is able to mitigate the judgment in all of them…However, even amongst the Tzaddikim, not every one of them is familiar with this particular pidyon. In fact, there is only one Tzaddik in each generation who knows it.”
And as Rebbe Nachman says (Sichos HaRan 175), “I do not understand how the Tzaddikim do pidyonot. A pidyon cannot be done other than by someone who knows all the twenty four Courts. Because the one bringing the pidyon has to know in which court the person is being judged. Otherwise he can come to bring the correct pidyon for one particular court, and the person is being judged in another court entirely.” And as he goes on to say there, “I not only am familiar with all the twenty four courts, and which pidyon is needed for each court, but I also know how to appeal a case to a higher court, which will most certainly help, as it buys the person more time, during which he can do more mitzvos, give more tzedaka etc. which will surely benefit him in his final judgment.”
And regarding exactly who is this Tzaddik in this generation today, since no one has come forward and claimed the title, no one has revealed himself as the true Tzaddik, all that is left to us to do is to search for the greatest Tzaddik we can find to bring our money to, since obviously, whoever is on a higher spiritual level will be more likely to be able to draw down a greater salvation to us.
Now we mentioned before, the Torah in Likutei Moharan II:3 which speaks about a person only being able to be cured on a certain day with a certain medicine etc., because until the Tzaddik sweetens the decree, no cure can be totally effective. Rebbe Nachman brings the story there from the Gemara about Rebbe Eliezer HaGadol who was sick. The reason he was sick was that he himself was the Tzaddik and therefore he had no one to give a pidyon to. And no refuah can work without a pidyon being given first. Because the doctor hasn’t received permission to heal, etc. It has to be ‘this herb’ ‘this doctor’ ‘this day,’ as the Rebbe bought from the Gemara. The pidyon cancels the decree, therefore there is now no din, so before the next din is decreed, the doctor can heal through any herb he wants. The point is that there can be no complete recovery without the pidyon.
Rebbe Nachman qualifies his explanation (Likutei Moharan 61 Paragraph 6): “Only the Tzaddik knows how to sweeten the din, because it can only be sweetened through the sechel—the knowledge which is from the same root as the din.” And since the Tzaddik is converting all the shefa, the abundance that comes down to him into sechel, as we mentioned earlier, he then has the understanding to know how to sweeten the din at its root. However, someone who doesn’t have this understanding is unable to see that even his suffering is for his good. He thinks he is just suffering for no reason, and then he blames it on Hashem. The suffering he is going through just causes him to become more confused, until he falls into all kinds of improper behavior, simply because his knowledge has abandoned him, and he sees no rhyme or reason for all that he is going through. He therefore has to come to the Tzaddik to receive both the sechel to understand what he is going through and also the resolution of his problem.
Why does the Tzaddik get involved in our problems? Each person has his own dinim, the Tzaddik also has his own work to do. Why would he put himself out to care for us? Especially as Rebbe Nachman said (Sichos HaRan 185), “I feel the suffering of the sick person even more than he does. He is able to put his sorrow aside by getting involved in other things, but I, I feel his suffering so strongly I can feel the blood literally running out of me.” The answer to this question is that the Tzaddik has such a love for us that he is completely unable to ignore us and just go about his business. He is bound to help us any way he can.
Which brings up a further question: If he actually feels our suffering so much, even more than we do, then how can he stand it? The answer is, as Rebbe Nachman says (Sichos HaRan 26), “People say that forgetfulness is a shortcoming, a disadvantage. But I say the opposite, that it is a very great benefit. Because without forgetfulness, it would be impossible for a person to even get started in bringing himself closer to Hashem. He would be so bewildered by all that had happened to him in the past… However, by forgetting everything that has happened in the past, he can erase it all from his mind,” and this will enable him to have the clarity to get on with the rest of his life.
This is a crucially important teaching here from Rebbe Nachman, one that applies to every person at all times. It is so easy for us to wallow in the past, to constantly relive all that has happened to us, over and over again. A person suffers some kind of damage—he is born damaged or involved in some kind of accident, some kind of attack… Rebbe Nachman explains that the brain is constantly working—it doesn’t stop thinking for a split second, even when we are asleep. Nevertheless, it is within our power to control our thoughts and to not think about things we don’t want to. He describes it as being just like holding the reins of a horse. If you pull left, the horse goes left, right, the horse goes right. Similarly with our thoughts, we can steer them as we wish, and force ourselves not to think about things we don’t want to. And this was how he was able to bear the suffering of so many people, through the fact that as soon as the moment had passed, he would completely erase it from his thoughts, and not return to it and think about it again whatsoever. His whole objective was to always be moving forward, praying and serving Hashem and raising himself up to higher spiritual levels, and he paid no attention whatsoever to anything at all that had happened in the past.
Rebbe Nachman, (Likutei Moharan II:1 Paragraph 13), defines the relationship between the Tzaddik and those that come to him. He says that because the Tzaddik has such a connection to Hashem, it is almost as if it is the Tzaddik himself who is distributing the shefa, the abundance. He is the aspect of a lender that he lends to all and everyone receives their shefa from him.
Reb Nosson expounds on this point that Rebbe Nachman made, that the Tzaddik is the aspect of the lender, (Likutei Halachos, Choshen Mishpat 1, Ha’Ose Shaliach 3:2), and he explains that just as a borrower has to return the money that he borrows, similarly, since we are this aspect of borrowing from the Tzaddik we also have to return the money to him. And the reason why it is so important that we return the money to him is that by doing so, we show that we believe that the money comes from Hashem. It goes against all our instincts to have money and yet believe that it isn’t ours. Surely if we have it, it is because we earned it, because we acquired it somehow. By giving it to the Tzaddik we are declaring that we know that the money isn’t ours, that we just borrowed it from him. Because what on earth other reason would we have to give it away? And by giving it back, we tear down all the veils that are separating between ourselves and Hashem. So it turns out that the same thing that hides Hashem from the world, the money, through returning it to its source, it actually serves to reveal Hashem even more in the world.
Reb Nosson writes (Likutei Halachos, Yoreh De’ah 2, Pidyon Bachor 5, Paragraph 4, Page 422): “And this is why it is so tremendously effective to give money for a pidyon to the true Tzaddikim in order to bring about a salvation for himself or his children from any kind of pain or suffering or sickness. And it can only be done specifically through the giving of money…” And he goes on to explain there, that all the suffering that comes to us is because we have forgotten about Hashem. And as soon as we remove Him from our lives, we make room for all the stupidity and time wasting and various lusts to take over us. We allow an absence of inhibition and self control to dominate us, and we end up going through all kinds of suffering. A person could even end up in prison! Not only that, but by separating ourselves from Hashem, our inherent intelligence and fear of sin gradually drains away, and we end up on a path leading us further and further away from Him.
Such a person stops thinking about Hashem, causing, in turn, Hashem to stop paying attention to him, and thus he finds himself experiencing all kinds of difficulties and problems with no end to his suffering. Now, this is not because Hashem is punishing the person for ignoring Him. Quite the contrary, Hashem wants only what is best for a person, whatever is for his eternal good. Hashem is neither a judge nor a policeman, but rather, He is sending down the shefa, the abundance, to us at all times—air to breathe, food to eat, clothes to wear, money to spend etc. But a person who has terminated his connection with Hashem also terminates his flow of shefa. The shefa starts off at its source as something completely spiritual. We connect to it via our own spirituality by thinking about Hashem, praying to Him, thanking Him for all the good He does for us. With our knowledge of and thoughts about Him, we create a conduit, a pipe through which He can send us. By cutting off and separating from Him, we close the pipe, leaving no way for the shefa to get through to us, money, health, children etc. He can no longer send us.
Even so, we see that it is possible to separate from Hashem and still live, still breathe and eat, earn money etc. But this is no longer Hashem sending us in particular; this is just drawing from a general pool that is available to all. Also animals breathe eat etc.
So Hashem isn’t punishing us: we are punishing ourselves. It is we who disrupt the delivery. He wants to give but we close Him off.
Suffering comes from of a lack of knowledge of Hashem, and we can end our suffering by reconnecting to Him through prayer, through thanking Him, and, most importantly, through connecting ourselves to the Tzaddik. We must search for a Tzaddik who can give us this knowledge, teach us the ways of Hashem, and provide us with salvation from our suffering—someone who is not interested in honor or money, just in being connected to Hashem.
And this Rav, who does have knowledge and is connected to Hashem, how come he himself has suffering, as we can see with our own eyes? The answer is, as Rebbe Nachman explains (Likutei Moharan 24 Paragraph 5), that each person can turn the shefa that comes down to him into whatever he wants. Someone who wants to draw himself closer to Hashem will have his shefa come down as knowledge of Hashem, enabling him to reach even higher spiritual levels. (This is why he has no money.) And this is explained further (Likutei Moharan 63), that the Tzaddik, because of his burning desire for an ever increasing awareness of Hashem, chooses that his shefa should be spiritual, despite knowing that that will result in him accepting upon himself greater suffering, not only his own suffering, but also for other people. As it says in the sefer Derech Hashem 2:3:8: “The Tzaddikim atone for the entire generation through their own suffering.” And the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Netzavim, 9-10:5) states: “‘Leaders, judges and police I have appointed for you.’ This means that you are all guarantors for each other, so that even if there is only one Tzaddik amongst you, in his merit you all have the right to exist.” Similarly, in the Gemara it is written about Rebbe Chanania ben Dosa, “the entire world receives it's shefa in the merit of my son Chanina, and my son Chanina exists on one kilo of carobs a week.” Finally, a quote from Rebbe Nachman shows just how seriously he took this whole matter of the pidyon. He says (Chaye Moharan 539), “If I had a Rav great enough, I would give him a pidyon every single day.”
Our Rav, Rabbi Eliezer Berland, is without doubt doing tremendous tikkunim (both spiritual and material rectifications) with the pidyonot that he receives.
In his book, Escape from
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There was one woman who sent to the Rav to ask how much she should give. She had developed some kind of tumor. The Rav told her $5,000. It didn’t go away so she asked the Rav a second time. He said to give another $5,000. This then happened a third time, but after she gave the third $5,000 the tumor just disappeared.
We can really only say that we have no complete understanding about these matters whatsoever. We might just mention that all the above applies equally to Jew and non-Jew alike.
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