PART 2. TEACHINGS OF R' PINCHAS AND
There are many anecdotes about R' Pinchas and R' Raphael and many citations of their wise sayings in the Chassidic literature. Since their philosophies and practices were so closely connected, a representative sampling of both tzaddikim is given here.
R' Pinchas said: “Were I able to write what I say, I would enliven many souls” .
R' Pinchas said: “‘Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One’ (Deuteronomy 6:4). The term echad [one] in the reading of the Shema, which proclaims the unity of G‑d, [requires us to] state that there is nothing in the whole world other than the Holy One, Who fills the whole earth with His glory. The principal intention [of the commandment to recite the Shema] is that we should consider ourselves null and void, and [understand] that there is nothing to us but the soul within us, which is part of G-d above. Hence there is nothing in the whole world except the One G-d. Our principal thought when reciting the word echad should be that the whole earth is full of His glory and there is nothing [in the universe] devoid of Him” .
R' Pinchas said: “‘The whole earth is full of His glory’ (Isaiah 6:3). His glory [kevodo] should be understood in the sense of ‘His garment,’ i.e., that G-d is enclothed, so to speak, in the corporeal. Hence, the whole earth is full of his glory implies [that G-d fills] all corporeality. Thus ‘G-d's glory’ refers to His clothing [i.e., ‘just as the body fills a garment, so G-d indwells in the world’]” .
R' Pinchas said: “[At the time of creation the light of G-d flowed from the sphere of the spiritual down to the physical world through a series of vessels or emanations.] But the vessels proved unable to contain the Divine Light. They broke. This primordial catastrophe is called shevirat hakeilim, the Breaking of the Vessels. You can better understand it with an analogy. Think of a man who is deeply troubled and depressed. Suddenly he receives an exhilarating piece of good news. His troubles are over. Instead of jumping for joy, the man will break down crying. The “bright light” of the good news was too much for him. Similarly, shevirat hakeilim means that the vessels broke because they could not encompass the brilliant splendor of the luminescent Divine Light” .
“Rebbe R' Pinchas spoke of the physical reality of millions of parallel worlds, long before it meant anything in physics or math. There is a word from him where he says that he believes with full faith that there are worlds that are now at every stage of creation, including some where the Maamad Har Sinai (Reception of the Torah) is happening right now” [130a].
R' Pinchas said: “‘If a man fulfills the commandments of the Torah, such as the commandment of the phylacteries, and says the formula prescribed by the Kabbalists, namely, “In the name of all Israel [I am doing this]” then he lifts up the whole universe to its “root” above, for the world is really G-d Himself, like the locust whose clothing is part of its own self [i.e. its own wings garb its body]. Therefore, he annihilates [by his action] the [outward] existence of the whole universe. And if we see that in spite of all this the world is still there, it is because the vital energy of G-d is always active and the world is incessantly renewed.’ In contrast, then, to classical Kabbalistic theurgy, where mitzvot transform the G-dhead's inner state, for Hasidism, mitzvot transform the worshipper's field of vision” .
R' Pinchas said: “A man must go within G-d” .
R' Pinchas said: “What is G-d? The totality of souls. Whatever exists in the whole can also be found in the part. So in any one soul, all souls are contained” .
“In all thy ways acknowledge Him” (Proverbs 3:6). “The following remark is attributed to Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz: ‘How then is it possible to know G-d in all ways? It is, because when G-d gave the Torah, the whole world was filled with the Torah. Thus there is nothing which did not contain Torah, and this is the meaning of the verse. Whoever says that the Torah is one thing and the profane sphere another is a heretic’” .
R' Pinchas said: “The divine is most present when I myself am most absent” .
R' Raphael said: “He who wishes truly to live should also wish to be more insignificant than anyone else” .
R' Pinchas said: “Great miracles can be performed for a man who truly considers himslf nothing [ayin]. For our Father Abraham, when he went to do battle with kings (Genesis 14), did not rely upon miracles. Rather, he went with sword and buckler, for he was on the level of ayin, and the Holy One performed miracles for him and took rocks [hardened soil] which He cast upon them, and so he conquered them. Therefore, it is stated of Nahum Ish Gam-zu that he took of the dust of Father Abraham (Ta'anit 21a), i.e., the quality of ayin which is symbolized by dust, for dust represents the most inferior level [of humility]. Therefore was that miracle performed for him. A man who is on the level of ayin is worthy of having the Shekhinah rest upon him. For of the Holy One we know that the whole world is full of His glory (Isaiah 6:3); therefore, when man considers himself to be ‘something,’ G-d is not within him” .
“According to R. Pinhas there is no substitute for absolute humility, hence miracles are never the outcome of concerted effort, as in the case of the effort of the Maggid during prayer. Miracles and changes in nature cannot be attained by means of contemplative prayer and the deliberate stripping away of the physical during prayer, but arise only from the annihilation of the ego. … At the base of R. Pinhas' passive attitude … is his great sensitivity to the potential for spiritual self-deception, and his recognition that every spiritual and religious effort includes the dangerous pitfall of pride that contradicts all possibility for life within the Ayin [nought]. R. Pinhas connects the world of Ayin with the transformations that arise from direct Divine intervention in the world. What is novel in his writings is his emphasis on the importance of not knowing, on the removal of self-consciousness, that is, pride. … Annihilation of the ego is a state of spiritual torpor and folly … But just as the secret of renewal in nature resides in sleep and awakening, thus the more foolish a man is in his own eyes, the more he is spiritually and physically renewed. These ideas should be understood in the light of R. Pinhas' extremely passive doctrine concerning spiritual techniques. Spiritual wonder and real renewal are recognizable in their being a gift from above and what is really given to man is his self-contraction” .
“Striving for inner anonymity was … emphasized by the great Hasidic sage Reb Pinhas of Koretz. The following tale about one of his disciples exemplifies the master's teaching:
“Reb Raphael was very holy, very humble and very poor. His entire family lived in one room, which had to serve as kitchen, living room, bedroom, study, and reception hall. Many people who adored him came from various communities to ask him for guidance and blessing, to be taught and purified by his presence. He never shunned a soul and performed all services, study, prayer, and meditation while other people were around. There was one exception. He needed solitude for the Feast of Tabernacles [Sukkos] service, when a prayer is said over the four species of plants. This ritual is to bring about the union of the scattered Divine forces in the universe. On the eve of the festival he would prepare a corner in his room and isolate it with pieces of furniture. Then, on each of the seven days, he would seclude himself there to spend an hour with his Father in Heaven. This he did for many years.
“One day Reb Raphael married off his daughter, and the young couple lived in the room too. The young son-in-law admired his father-in-law, watched his every action and habit, and tried to follow his ways. When he saw how he hid himself on the Feast of Tabernacles, he became curious. Knowing that all his religious duties were performed in the open, the young man concluded that this particular service must be of great significance. As Reb Raphael entered his private area, the young man followed him and peered through a crack.
“The Rebbe, noticing this, came out to him and said, ‘My child, if I do not want to be present while I am saying the blessing over the plants, do you want to be present?’” [138a].
R' Raphael said that he had asked his master, R' Pinchas, how to strengthen his faith and trust in G-d, and he replied: “Only the young require such advice. A mature Jew has had sufficient experience to trust in G-d's constant watchfulness over him” .
A disciple, tormented by wavering faith and unable to study, came to see R' Pinchas. The rebbe responded that, as a young man, he, too, had wrestled with questions and doubts. “About man and his fate, creation and its meaning. I was struggling with so many dark forces that I could not advance; I was wallowing in doubt, locked in despair. I tried study, prayer, meditation. Penitence, silence, solitude. In vain. My doubts remained doubts, my questions remained threats. Impossible to proceed, to project myself into the future. I simply could not go on.” Then, one day, when the Baal Shem Tov was visiting his town, R' Pinchas was led by curiosity to attend the gathering. “I was convinced that he was seeing me and no one else. … The intensity of his gaze overwhelmed me, and I felt less alone. And strangely, I was able to go home, open the Talmud, and plunge into my studies once more. You see, … the questions remained questions. But I was able to go on” .
R' Pinchas taught: “You must be wholehearted with the Eternal your G-d” (Deuteronomy 18:13). From the Torah and all of the Prophets there are only two commandments that must be performed ‘with the Eternal your G-d.’ In terms of ‘wholeheartedness’ the text only says, ‘You must be wholehearted with the Eternal your G-d.’ Similarly, regarding the value of humility, the prophet says, ‘Walk humbly with your G-d.’ The reason is that in both of these commandments one can easily fool others; one can pretend to be pure while his heart is filled with cunning and wicked schemes. Similarly it is taught that humility can be faked. … [therefore] wholeheartedness and humility must be performed with G-d, who examines our hearts for health or pride [and cannot be fooled]” .
“[G-d banished man from the Garden of Eden.] He drove away the man, and stationed the cherubim at the east of Eden, and the fiery ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:24). R' Pinchas said: ‘The fiery ever-turning sword has a universal meaning for all of us. It represents the obstacles and temptations we encounter in our attempt at achieving closeness to G-d. G-d is the Tree of Life and there are many deterrents that block our path to him’” .
“Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz taught that a holy spark falls and burns inside a Ger. It compels him to complete his Geirus and actually does not give him any choice in this matter. Only after his Geirus is the Ger given free choice” [142a].
“In the city of Ostrow one Shavuos three prominent tzaddikim—the city's rav, the town's maggid, and the renowned tzaddik R' Pinchas'l of Koritz, all talmidim of the eminent Baal Shem Tov—were deliberating the inyan [matter] of spreading grass on the ground on this holiday. Their interpretations varied one from the other, the Gemara concurring with none satisfactorily. R' Pinchas'l, aware of the greatness of the ailing R' Hirsch who lived in a rundown hovel on the outskirts of Ostrow, suggested they visit the impoverished old man to wish him a good Yom Tov and perchance he would offer some illuminating insights. After all, R' Pinchas'l had once heard his rebbe, the great chassidic master himself, declare that it was the zechus [merit] of R' Hirsch that protected the town from various adversities.
“The tzaddikim found R' Hirsch sitting on his bed engrossed in the Shulchan Aruch. He asked them to be seated on the only other furnishing in the bare room—a broken bench that leaned against a wall for support. R' Hirsch, in response to their quandary, expounded on a narration in the Gemara: R' Ada had once decided to leave his home and family in order to spend his time learning in a yeshiva. To his wife's voiced concern regarding their children's welfare and how she would go about feeding them in his absence, R' Ada proffered simply ‘Mi shelimu kurmei b'agmah?—Has all the grass in the field dispersed?’ R' Hirsch intoned, ‘Now what kind of an answer is that? And yet his wife was appeased. Did he mean to infer that she take her hungry children out to the field and feed them grass, like the animals? Animals, lacking the intelligence to seek parnassa [livelihood], are entirely dependent on their Creator's benevolence. Had man not deemed to act against G-d's directive and eat from the eitz hadaas [Tree of Knowledge], he too would have basked in the bounteousness of his Creator without sweat or headache. But since he thought himself to be smart enough to be his own boss, he now scrambles for a living by constant exertion. Nonetheless, he who harbors true faith in G-d, believing wholeheartedly that Hashem is the “nosein lechem lechol bassar” [the giver of bread to all flesh] is granted ease of parnassa … with the compassion He confers upon the animal that is totally reliant on His chesed [kindness]. By referring to the grass in the field, R' Ada essentially assured his wife that with ultimate faith in Hashem, they would never go hungry’” .
Reb Refoel of Bershid said that for someone whose faith is not as strong as it should be, his faith does not work to his benefit. He offered a suggestion on how to get around this problem: you should have faith that, even though your faith is not strong enough, G-d will assist you as if you were someone with strong faith [143a].
“The people imagine that they pray before G-d. But this is not so. For prayer itself is the essence of divinity” .
R' Pinchas said: “G-d is prayer” .
“Concerning the words in the Scriptures: ‘He is thy psalm and He is thy G-d,’ Rabbi Pinhas said the following: ‘He is your psalm and He also is your G-d. The prayer a man says, the prayer, in itself, is G-d. It is not as if you were asking something of a friend. He is different and your words are different. It is not so in prayer, for prayer unites the principles.’” He added that when a man thinks of his prayer as something separate from G-d, he is like a beggar receiving alms from the king, but when a man knows that prayer is G-d, he is like a prince taking whatever he needs from his father's storehouse .
R' Pinchas said: “The essence of prayer is d'vekut [cleaving to G-d] with the Creator of the world; and the essence of d'vekut is hitpashtut ha-gashmiyut [a state of elevated mystic consciousness where one is divorced from any awareness of materiality or the body], which is similar to the exit of the soul from the body” .
“[Rebbe Raphael] would say, in the name of his teacher (Rebbe Pinchas): ‘Not by external noisy displays of enthusiasm but by internal devotion, soul devotion, and lofty moral qualities.’ And not only in the high heavens and in the world of spirit, but in the places where spirit is absent and there is only a gray and ugly reality” [147a].
A Chassid once asked R' Pinchas why he prayed without making a sound and without moving his body, whereas the davening of other rebbes was often done in a loud voice accompanied by gestures of enthusiasm. R' Pinchas replied: “When a Zaddik prays, he cleaves in truth to G-d, and loses all sense of corporeality, as if his very soul had departed from his body. The Talmud tells us that in some people the soul leaves the body only after great agonies and convulsions, whereas in others it departs as quietly as one draws a hair out of milk or offers a kiss” .
“[Human] experiences conform to a divine reality. This premise undergirds numerous Hasidic teachings, for instance, those about being in states of gadlut and katnut—expanded or truncated consciousness, matching the state of the G-dhead. A vivid example is found in the teaching of R. Pinchas of Koretz that when people feel no desire to pray, it is a sign that the divine realm itself is out of alignment, the cosmic letters of the divine name fragmented, or the sefirotic configurations turned ‘back to back.’ But when people prepare to pray, they force a realignment in heaven, thus altering the worshipper's own inner experience” .
“… the spiritual teachings of the founders of Hasidism [the Maggid, R. Dov Ber of Mezerich; R. Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy; and R. Pinhas of Koretz] transformed the largely ascetic world view they had adhered to initially into a new and positive relationship to material reality. The purpose of worship, they taught, is to illuminate material life in the light of G-dhead through an emotional and conscious effort. R. Pinhas of Koretz, however, preferred passivity and spontaneity in the worship of G-d as opposed to the activism of the other two” .
It was said about R' Pinchas: “He strongly urged that one should not drive oneself [in prayer] with the intention of attaining to the holy spirit, but should serve [G-d] in simplicity. And if one should be worthy of attaining it, it will come of itself. Then he—may his memory be a blessing—told a story about a certain [person] who had prayed in order to attain to the holy spirit. But the prayer created a barrier, so he attained the spirit without the holiness” .
R' Refoel of Bershid said that a person should not be embarrassed to pray even a hundred times a day and in any language, for G-d will certainly hear him, since the power of prayer is truly great [151a].
Huberman writes: “On his many travels to villages and shtetls and marketplaces, [Rebbe Refa'el] would encourage and comfort and implant faith and trust in G-d. He would speak to the illiterate and simple masses—in their coarse coats and their colorful farmers' sashes, in their boots and their woolen hats—in their own language and would rouse them to prayer and to good moral qualities. ‘G-d is close to all who call upon Him’ (Psalm 145:18), he would say. ‘Every Jew can find his way to G-d through prayer. Prayer and G-d are one. Every Jew can come close to G-d when he prays when he gets up in the morning. The Jew who prays encompasses all of the Torah. Even his donkey and his cow become purified by his prayer, and when he attains illumination, even his cow will attain illumination’” [151b].
R' Raphael asserted that a person can pray in any language, even a non-Jewish one, asking Hashem to fulfill his needs. For example, he can repeatedly pray, “Hashem, give me parnassa!” His prayers will be answered, because prayer is very powerful .
“The talmidim of Rav Pinchas of Koritz, zy”a, once found him standing in a corner and davening even though it was not a time for tefillah. When they listened to what he was saying, they heard him ask, ‘Ribbono shel olam, the maid who helps the Rebbetzin wants to leave her job, and the Rebbetzin needs her. Please, Hashem, make her change her mind and decide to stay.’ When he finished davening, his students asked: ‘Rebbe, every minute of your day is so valuable and each moment is devoted to learning and avodas Hashem. How is it that you took time out for such a trivial matter?’ The Rebbe replied, ‘And whom should I turn to if not to Hakadosh Baruch Hu?’” [152a].
R' Pinchas said: “When a person prays for a certain thing many times and is not answered, he should go on praying and not give up, since everything depends upon the hidden light, which is revealed daily in the world” .
According to R' Aryeh Leib Schochet in Sefer Likutim Yekarim, R' Refoel told his students that whenever a person prays, he will certainly be answered. “The proof is from the Shemoneh Esrei, in which each stanza has a request and then is immediately followed by a blessing that G-d is the provider of what was just asked of him. For example, we pray that G-d should forgive our sins, and we conclude, ‘Blessed are you, G-d, the forgiver of sins.’ Now, if you were to say that G-d does not answer prayers, these blessings would be in vain, which is forbidden.” He continued, “One should not wonder why some prayers are seemingly not answered, since many times they are not responded to in this world but rather help to fix many problems that one has with his soul” [153a].
R' Pinchas said: “The world is filled with G-d's Light, but [because of our sins] … there is a separating screen that prevents us from seeing it—like clouds that obscure the light of the sun … And during prayer, it is through our words of prayer, which are called wind/spirit, as it says, ‘the ruach [wind/spirit] of G-d spoke through him’—that the ‘clouds’ are dispersed. And this is also the reason for our swaying in prayer” .
R' Pinchas once told R' Raphael that his grandfather would visit nonbelievers and tell them that he did not care about their impious deeds; he only asked them to say the Shema daily. Many men heeded his request and became men of faith .
R' Pinchas said: “Let us draw G-d into the world, and all need will be satisfied. A prayer which is not spoken in the name of all of Israel is no prayer at all” .
R' Pinchas said: “If you feel the urge to praise, praise G-d; if you feel the urge to blame, blame yourself” .
“Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz [taught] the supreme importance of prayer, and the personal nature of prayer at its deepest level: ‘The Torah is a bride's ornament. Therefore, one may explain it to others. But prayer is itself divinity as Scripture says: “[G-d] is your praise and is your G-d,” (Deuteronomy 10:21) [so that each person receives] in accordance with what is deemed appropriate by G-d. “[Her husband is] known in the gates (she'arim)” (Proverbs 31:23)—“[The Holy Blessed One is known and cleaves to each person] according to the measure [sha'ar] of their understanding” (Zohar I, 103b). Therefore, one is unable to explain it [prayer] to others’” .
R' Pinchas said: “There are certain things you cannot teach another person. For example, a tightrope walker must balance his body very carefully. He gyrates and twists to maintain a perfect equilibrium. Now, if someone were to learn to imitate his movements, thinking, ‘At this point, the acrobat moved to the right, there he moved to the left—I'll do the same thing,’ he surely will plunge to the ground after the first step. The same applies to serving G-d. Prayer cannot be imitated. Everyone must find his own individual approach to the service of G-d” .
R' Pinchas said: “All that is important is rare. Millions and millions of people inhabit the earth, but only a few are Jewish. Among the Jews, only a few are learned. Among the learned, only a few are pious. And even fewer are those who know how to pray correctly” .
R' Pinchas said: “In our code, we read that we should not avoid the proper religious rites because we are ashamed of those who ridicule us. This means that we should not be ashamed to perform any religious rite. How do we know this? We learn it by observing those who scoff at us. If they are bold in their ridicule of those who serve the Lord, how much bolder should we be in serving Him!” .
R' Raphael said: “It is said in the holy books that the early hasidim would express their kavvanah [concentration in prayer] verbally [before the act]” .
R' Pinchas followed the Baal Shem Tov's custom to declare, before praying, “I hereby bind myself to all the tzaddikim of the generation” .
R' Pinchas taught that one should daven [pray] early in the morning .
R' Pinchas said: “I love to pray at sunrise, before the world becomes filled with hatred and vanity” .
“The colleague-student of the Besht, R. Pinchas of Korets …, … prayed at dawn, preferring to offer his devotions ‘before the world is filled with foolishness and vanity’” .
The school of R' Pinchas said: “In certain books, concerning the [statement] written in the Shulchan ‘Aruch that one ought to concentrate when saying the four-letter divine name [Tetragrammaton] [on the fact that G-d is] ruler of all, who was, is, and will be, they say that it is difficult to concentrate on this every time one mentions this name. Therefore, [concentrating on it] once is sufficient” .
R' Pinchas said: “Through prayer we re-create the angel MeTaT every day anew. Therefore, one must be very careful not to skip a single word from the prayer, and every word must be said slowly and with concentration. And if, Heaven forbid, a person swallows the words and skips, he has created a demon … he has created a kind of angel without hands or feet, and then his body hurts him and he experiences all kinds of suffering, because that crippled angel that he created pursues him. … the letters of the prayer are chambers that are very far from one another, which is why it is so very difficult to pray. Because, really, a person is very far from true prayer. … Therefore, there is no need to look forward to any other experience of vitality than to just say the words slowly, even in a dry way, until eventually he will slowly warm up and feel more enthusiastic. (Therefore, someone who comes in the middle of the prayer has already lost out on so much, because the rest of the minyan started an hour earlier and has already managed to warm up. By the time the group gets to Baruch She'amar, they already can say it with some vitality and enthusiasm, and he has lost out on this)” .
“It is told of Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz that: ‘He said to someone who had been in the Land of Israel, that he should picture before himself, during the time of prayer, its views and scenes, with their seas, lakes, and rivers, and its [Jewish] inhabitants—and he will see how great is the power of these scenes to help his prayer’” .
R' Pinchas of Koretz used to thank G-d that he had not been created before the publication of the Zohar [Book of Splendor]. He said that the Zohar had preserved him for Judaism .
“Rabbi Pinchas devoted many hours for the study of the Zohar, and instructed his disciples to learn Zohar every day. He said that the study of Zohar is a good remedy for sustenance and conquering all traces of arrogance” .
R' Pinchas said: “Be heedful not to allow three days to pass without studying the Zohar” .
R' Pinchas said: “Whoever says that the words of the Torah are one thing and the words of the world another, must be regarded as a man who denies G-d” .
Lamm notes: “There are some scholars … who point to a statement of R. Pinchas of Korets … as proof for the notion that early Hasidism had little regard for the study of Torah. Thus we have in the name of this hasidic master: ‘In this generation we do not engage in the study of Torah as in previous times, for now great yir'ah [perhaps: fear of sin] has spread throughout the world and therefore the study of Torah [had to substitute]. There are a few places where Torah is studied; there, there is no yir'ah’ (Likkutim [Gleanings] of R. Pinchas of Korets, p. 21d, no. 23; this was published at the end of a work by R. Yisrael of Koznitz, Ner Yisrael [Vilna, n.d.]. A later edition of this work [Piotrkow, 1914] does not include these Likkutim of R. Pinchas, and it mentions that the first edition was published in the lifetime of the author, ‘the Maggid of Koznitz’)” . In Weiss's essay “Torah Study in Early Hasidism,” he presents essentially the same quotation, translating yir'ah as “awe.” He states that, just as R' Mendel of Premyslan emphasized devekuth over Torah study, this “daring utterance” of R' Pinchas indicates that he favored awe over Torah study .
Lamm continues: “However, one cannot disregard the claim of R. Yitzchak Isaac Yehudah Yekiel, the Admor of Komarno, that such a statement cannot be attributed to R. Pinchas. In strong language, he insists that ‘such words were never uttered by the holy R. Pinchas, who was a constant guardian of the Torah and encouraged people to study Torah lishmah [Torah for Torah's sake], for that is the source of life for the Jew.’ The author maintains that the above statement is a forgery, ‘for many Likkutim [of R. Pinchas] have come down to us, and none contain such a comment.’ He informs us that he himself is in possession of a copy of the Likkutim that was in turn copied from that of R. Zvi Elimelech [of Dinov], who certainly could be trusted, and this copy made no mention of the statement in question. R. Yitzchak Isaac of Komarno attributes it to ‘some scoffer who published nonsense’ (Netiv Mizvotekha, p. 84, no. 14; published first in 1858 and several times thereafter, and recently reissued (Brooklyn, 1970) with marginal notes)” .
Heschel notes that R' Pinchas “sharply criticized scholars who concentrated exclusively on Talmudic dialectics, neglecting the cultivation of awe … the greater the scholarship, the less fear of Heaven there was” [176a].
“Their siddurim were: Siddur Arizal, printed in Lwow in 5544 (1784—by R' Asher Margolios). They did not want to pray from another siddur, because the rabbi himself (R' Pinhas of Korets) prayed from this siddur and he esteemed it highly. I heard … that when the siddur was first printed in Zholkva they did not like it and none of the Tzaddikim could stand it. When this siddur was printed, they grabbed it like a precious stone and esteemed it highly. I once heard that the siddur of R' Shabsai is also one of ours” .
R' Raphael said that one should pray only from the Luria prayer book in the Lemburg edition or in that of R. Shabtai of Rashkov, not from newer versions .
“Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag used to tell the story of a great Kabbalist of the last century, Rabbi Pinchas, from the village of Korits. Rabbi Pinchas had no money even to buy Ari's The Tree of Life, and was forced to teach children for half a year in order to earn the money needed to purchase this book” .
R' Pinchas also studied the Pardes Rimmonim [Orchard of Pomegranates], by R' Moses ben Jacob Cordovero … and the works of R' Isaac Luria. In addition, he studied Maggid Mesharim [Preacher of Righteousness], by R' Joseph Karo. In Koretz, he was influenced by R' Isaac ben Joel Hakohen, the author of the Brit Kehunat Olam [Covenant of Eternal Priesthood] .
“His students [those of Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz] wrote in his name that he considered the Beit Yosef's book Maggid Meisharim to be a great and important work, that its words were of heavenly origin, and that it should certainly be esteemed; the book almost never left his table” .
“R. Pinchas also studied other kabbalah books very intensely, [including] … Shnei Luchos Habris [Two Tablets of the Covenant], by Rabbi Yeshayahu Horwitz [known as the Holy Shla]” [181a].
“The rebbe [Rabbi Raphael of Bershad] told us that we should always have placed before us a little Chumash [Pentateuch] to look into each and every minute, together with Rashi's commentary—like what is said about the king: ‘and it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he learns to fear the Lord’” .
According to a “typically paradoxical Hasidic tale, … Rabbi Phinehas of Koretz—an associate of the Baal Shem Tov—was a great scholar of the Moreh Nevukhim [Guide of the Perplexed, by Maimonides]. It is alleged that he studied the Guide day and night and had mastered it completely. [Heschel states:] ‘The Guide was so near and dear to him that he studied it from cover to cover more than a thousand times. He refused to depart from this book and would never lend it to any man, since he believed that having the Moreh Nevukhim in the house was a magical protection that preserved one's fear of heaven. (In Yiddish: s'iz a segule far yiras shomayim.)’ How ironic that The Guide of the Perplexed, a book that reconciled the laws of nature with Judaism and rejected all superstitious beliefs—specifically condemning the reliance on segulot, or magical amulets, as idolatrous—should be cherished by its devoted Hasidic reader, who claimed to have read it more than a thousand times, in such a perversely superstitious, talismanic fashion” .
Leoni writes: “The sources that inspired R. Pinchas were different from those that inspired the Ba'al Shem Tov. R. Pinchas became a tsaddik from in-depth study of Guide to the Perplexed of Maimonides. The Hassidism of the Ba'al Shem Tov was the Hassidism of the heart, and R. Pinchas sought a blended Hassidism, a form of Hassidism of the heart and of the head. Maimonides was not overly accepted by the leaders of Hassidism, and merely accepting him was a serious and fundamental deviation from the worldview of Hassidism, which rejected philosophy entirely, including Jewish religious philosophy. … However, [R' Pinchas] did not feel complete with Guide for the Perplexed, because he understood that the ‘marriage’ between Aristotle and the Torah of Judaism could not succeed” [183a].
Holy books that have segulas [powers to influence] associated with them: “Reb Pinchos of Korets told his son that learning Nevi'im [Prophets] strengthens emunah [faith]. … Ohr Hachaim [Light of Life]: Reb Pinchos of Koritz says it's a shmira [protection] for the house. … Sharei Kedusha [Gates of Holiness] (Reb Chaim Vital): Reb Pinchos of Koritz says raises up a person ‘m'bechinas eitz hadaas tov v'ra’ [as a test of the tree of knowledge of good and evil]” .
R' Pinchas said that reading the Zohar is good for parnassa [livelihood] .
“In regard to a number of a person's needs, such as his livelihood, or to various difficulties that a person might be in, the Rebbe [Rabbi Pinhas of Koretz] would instruct him to say the whole Book of Psalms, from beginning to end, without a break”; one should not even break to say the customary Yehi Ratzons after each part of the work but must say these prayers at the end of the recitation .
“It is written of Rabbi Pinhas' great disciple, Rabbi Rafael of Bershad that he said: ‘It was an important obligation in the eyes of the Rebbe, his memory for a blessing, to complete the recitation of the Book of Psalms twice each week, once without a break, and once with. He himself would say one of the five books of the Book of Psalms each day. In my youth I used to finish the Book of Psalms once each month, but the Rebbe told me to say more than that, without setting an exact amount, but just according to the heart. And he told me to say all the Book of Psalms, without interruption, once each month’” .
R' Pinchas of Koretz said the entire Sefer Tehillim [Book of Psalms] without a break on Erev Rosh Chodesh [eve of the new month] [187a].
R' Pinchas said: “I did not merit the fear of Heaven until I studied ‘Chovot HaLevavot’ [Duties of the Heart, by Rabbi Bachya Ibn Pakudah] a thousand times” .
R' Pinchas held the book Toldot Yaacov Yosef [The Generations of Yaacov Yosef (of Polnoye)] in high esteem. He said, “The Rabbi of Polna printed a thousand copies of his book and sells each one for a gold piece. But I am willing to pay a thousand gold pieces for a single copy of the book” .
“[R' Pinchas] emphasized in his teachings that one can really be considered a Tzadik, a saintly person, if he does not possess even a speck of evil within himself and does not see any evil in others” .
R' Pinchas said: “After his death a Tzaddik ascends from one degree to another, higher and higher, until he becomes first a sacred letter, then a sacred thought and finally a sacred name” . Similarly, R' Pinchas said: “Many years after a zaddiq enters the future world, he is transformed into a divine Name, and he becomes a light for the fear of G-d” .
R' Pinchas said: “Every person may change the course of history; it is in the power of every individual to shorten exile.” Wiesel comments: “Therein lies Rebbe Pinhas' originality. In his teachings, he barely mentions the central role of the Tzaddik, the Just Man, as mediator between heaven and earth, as the instrument chosen by G-d to make His will known and implemented. Instead he stresses the importance of each individual, no matter how saintly or how ignorant. It is enough to fulfill certain basic and practical commandments to enable the Redeemer to appear in our midst for one hour—to one other human being, and then to more and more” .
R' Pinchas said that mankind was created last for the following reason: if he is deserving, all of nature will be at his service; if he is undeserving, all of nature will be arrayed against him .
R' Pinchas said: “The world is like a book that can be read in either direction. There is the power of creation, making something out of nothing; and there is the power of destruction, making nothing out of something” . Pinson adds that, reading forward, one can observe the physical creation in the sequence of progressing from ayin [nothingness] into yesh [existence]; but reading backward, one realizes “how all of creation emerges from the divine ayin” [195a].
R' Pinchas said: “Whatever exists as a whole also exists in part. Thus, in every soul all souls are contained. If I change and grow as an individual, I also contain in myself the person I want to help, and he contains me in him” .
R' Pinchas said: “The world was created in such a way that a new entity can only arise by destroying what existed previously. The chick only emerges from the egg after the shell has broken, and the stalk of wheat only germinates after the seed kernel has decomposed. In the same way, the ‘light of Moshiach’ that will illuminate in the Messianic era was concealed within the destruction of the Holy Temple; the only way Moshiach could be revealed was for the previous Holy Temple to cease to exist” .
The Messiah, according to legend, is to be born on the 9th of Ab, the day when the Holy Temple was destroyed. R' Pinchas explained that a seed sown in the earth must fall apart so that the grain can sprout from it. It must dwell in deep secrecy, until its strength is resurrected. “To doff a shape, to don a shape—this is done in the instant of pure nothingness. In the husk of forgetting, the power of memory grows. That is the power of redemption. On the day of destruction, power lies at the bottom of the depths, and grows.” That is why the Messiah's birth is on the date of the destruction of the Temple. [Kaschak comments: “The Messiah's birth at the moment of greatest pain and loss teaches us that life is cyclic, that birth and death are linked and that every ending is followed by a new beginning. It also follows the paradoxical Kabbalistic notion that the greatest light is that which emerges out of the greatest darkness”] .
R' Pinchas said: “A person who can find good in everyone is in the category of Moshiach … Moshiach will come to the defense of all of Israel, even the wicked. We now stand at an especially propitious time, for we have recently witnessed many miracles and great wonders around the world, and the tzadikim of our generation have given testimony that we are on the threshold of the Redemption” .
R' Pinchas's Parshas Vayeira is a commentary on the words “… and Avrahom was one hundred years old when his son Yitzchok was born.” Why was Yitzchok not born during his parents' youth? Because Yitzchok was the first person to be born a Jew. A Jew is above the laws of nature, just as Yitzchok's birth was, and this phenomenon has stayed with the Jewish people throughout all our years of exile, defying logic. As it says in the Talmudic tractate Sanhedrin: “Three things come as a surprise: Moshiach, a found article, and a scorpion.” The birth of Yitzchok is the first step in the coming of Moshiach .
“As for the Ibn Ezra who complained about the Kalir [an early liturgical poet who was severely criticized by Abraham Ibn Ezra], [R' Pinchas] said: ‘I like to defend the Ibn Ezra. … The Tannaim and the Amoraim were close in time to the destruction of the Temple, which still gave illumination, having only recently been removed. And the recent Tzaddikim in these generations are close to the light of the Messiah; there is no novelty then in their attaining the truth. … But the Ibn Ezra was far removed from the destruction [of the Temple] and also far removed from the Messiah, and, therefore, he did not attain the level of the Kalir.’ Rabbi Pinchas, however, emphasizes the period of the Temple, and not necessarily that of the revelation at Sinai, as the focus of holiness in the past” .
R' Pinchas said: “Until the birth of the Baal Shem Tov, the Jewish people always looked backward: How many years has it been since the destruction of the Temple? From the birth of the Baal Shem Tov onward, the clock has been ticking toward the future. With each new year, we look forward, realizing how much closer we are to the Redemption” .
R' Pinchas said: “If I so desired, I could bring the Messiah as easily as I can lift a straw; but I prefer to rely on the Almighty. And He relies on man” .
Although many Jewish theologians, including Maimonides, thought that Divine Providence was limited to human beings, in proportion to their intellectual and moral character, R' Pinchas of Koretz believed that Providence extends even to inanimate objects .
R' Pinchas said that even a piece of straw lying on the ground does so at G-d's decree. Divine Providence dictates that it lies with one end facing this way and the other end facing the other way .
“One time the Rov [Rebbe Pinchas] came into the Beis HaMidrash [house of study] and saw a shtender [lectern]. He said that even this shtender is being judged on Rosh HaShanah if it will last the year or break” .
“During the days of Rav Pinchas of Koretz, who was a talmid of the Baal Shem Tov, zt”l, there was an earthquake that caused many to do teshuvah. Rav Pinchas, who was knowledgeable in science, had predicted the event, and therefore he was not moved by it; but it bothered him that he could not join in the enthusiasm of the many Jews who were moved to do teshuvah. He undertook to travel to the Besh’t, and ask him about it. And the Baal Shem Tov responded: ‘It is the counsel of the yetzer hara [evil inclination] to place and explain everything according to the laws of nature’” [206a].
R' Pinchas said: “G-d esteems highly the good deeds of men that are known only to those who perform them and their Maker” .
R' Pinchas said: “A righteous person does not take leave of this world until he does a great mitzvah, and in this way he insures that he will cleave to Hashem” .
The Koretzer Rebbe said: “Within us are all the qualities, good and evil, … but they are unborn, and we have the power to beget them. We can transform evil qualities into good, and good into evil” .
R' Pinchas said: “It is possible for a person to correct the world, while the evil continues to cling to him. The Besht revealed this thing [to Menahem Mendel of Bar]: that one must descend to Gehinnom on behalf of G-d, may He be blessed. And this is alluded to in the gemara [Talmudic aphorism], ‘Greater is a sin for its own sake [than a mitzvah for its own sake]’” .
R' Pinchas said: “A man cannot be consciously good unless he knows evil. No one can appreciate pleasure unless he has tasted bitterness. Good is only the reverse of evil, and pleasure is merely the opposite of anxiety. … And G-d said: ‘There can be no goodness in man while he is alone without an evil impulse within him. I will endow him with the ability to do evil, and it will be as a help-meet to him to enable him to do good, if he masters the evil nature within him.’ Without the evil impulse, man could do no evil; but neither could he do good” .
R' Pinchas said: “It is true that G-d is able to do whatsoever He wills. But man has the similar power, by virtue of his free will” .
R' Raphael said: “See not evil in another and good in thyself, but see good in another, and evil in thyself. … Criticize not another's conduct, but only thine own” .
R' Nachman of Breslov quoted R' Pinchas as saying: “why in my silent prayer to G-d, when no one can hear but me and G-d, do I say ‘Forgive us our Father, for we have sinned’? Because I need to ask G-d to forgive G-d's own part in my sin, for how can I do anything in this world without G-d?” . In “Via passiva in early Hasidism,” Weiss notes that this statement regarding G-d's coresponsibility in man's sinful acts is recorded in Hayyei Moharan but does not appear in collections of R' Pinchas's sayings .
According to Schatz Uffenheimer: “There are not many sources in Hasidism which explicitly teach that the responsibility for ‘sins’ devolves upon G-d. In his article concerning the ‘Via passiva’ in Hasidism, Weiss mentions R. Pinhas of Korets as the sole representative of this viewpoint, following an allusion to this in Hayyei Muhar'an. R. Pinhas indeed speaks about G-d's indirect responsibility for man's sins, although he primarily stresses the positive aspect of the subject—namely, that G-d also prevents man from sinning. But Weiss quite justifiably felt that R. Pinhas does not belong among the ‘metaphysical’ thinkers within Hasidism, and that his entire outlook is even explicitly and clearly anti-metaphysical. His approach to the question of sin likewise indicates a more ethical, ‘popular’ understanding of the meaning of such ‘events.’” Schatz Uffenheimer adds, in a footnote: “It is worth noting here the proximity of the subject of the immanent existence of G-d within man to the question of responsibility for the sin performed by man” .
R' Raphael said: “Nothing, great and small, could exist were it not for His help. We find that all the obstacles [to observing the] prohibitions, or even thoughts, are from the Almighty alone. And without His ‘help,’ I would become a meshumad [apostate]. But if you ignore this principle, you may think that you are ‘something’ and value yourself as a man of virtue [a sheiner yid]. [You say to yourself,] ‘I went away from sin and I am clean of sin.’ But the result is that G-d leaves him, for every haughty-hearted person is an abomination to G-d, and he and I cannot live [in the same place]. Then he finds himself in the grasp of his Urge and be caught in its trap and do whatever it tempts him to do. And [R. Pinhas] said that all this is because of the compassion of the Holy One, blessed be He, and His great kindness which is continuously over the soul, he is seduced in order to fail through a [small] thing in order to remind him that without the help of G-d he is worth nothing. [If] he does not remember through a small thing, he would stumble in a great thing until he comes to … [unclear] the belief in his own power … Then he must break himself very much, until he knows that he himself becomes nothing and very small, and then he becomes a vessel prepared to accept help and assistance from G-d, may He be blessed” .
“The Talmud tells us that Torah study in the days of Rav Yehudah was nowhere near as extensive or penetrating as that of later generations; his students devoted all their time to one tractate—Nezikin, the laws of damages. Yet, in a period of drought, Rav Yehudah only had to remove a single shoe to signal the onset of a fast, and the rain would come pouring down. Later generations mastered the entire Talmud with the greatest subtlety, yet they could not produce such salvation. The holy Rav Pinchas of Koritz commented: ‘The Talmud says that their studies were entirely over how to avoid damages. That is: how not to damage the mouth with loshon harah, how not to damage the eyes with forbidden glances, how not to damage the body with non-kosher foods. This gave them such spiritual merit that even the slightest prayer, as in the case of Rav Yehudah, immediately brought about rain’” .
R' Raphael said that R' Pinchas had often reminded him of the Baal Shem Tov's warning to avoid pettiness when performing religious duties .
“Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz entered the House of Study, and his disciples fell into a profound silence. He asked: ‘What were you talking about just now?’ ‘We were saying how afraid we were that the Yetzer [hara, evil inclination] will pursue us.’ ‘Don't worry,’ said he. ‘You haven't reached that point yet. Right now, you are still pursuing it!’” .
“Someone once came to Rav Pinchas of Koretz, zt”l, and asked a question that was obviously troubling him. ‘In Taanis 9, we find that Chazal [our Sages] cite the phrase … “you shall surely give a tenth of your earnings,” and reinterpret the second word as t'asheir instead of t'aser. This alters the meaning to, “Give a tenth, so that you will become wealthy.” Here we have an assurance that if we faithfully give away a tenth of our earnings, we will be successful financially. I have given ma'aser [a tithe] assiduously my whole life. Why, then, have I have not merited wealth?’ Rav Pinchas answered, ‘Let me tell you a true story about my neighbor that sheds light on your question. My neighbor is a wagon driver. He has good horses and he cares for them with great devotion, always providing them with the best food and shelter possible. As expected, the horses have always performed well, and they run with great endurance in all types of weather. One time, the horses failed to follow orders. Although they were hitched to their wagon and primed to travel, they simply refused to move. Since their owner knew that his animals lacked nothing, their obstinacy infuriated him. He figured that they needed to be taught a lesson. He began to beat them, all the while repeating his command that they start moving. An onlooker shouted at the wagon driver, “You are cruel to your animals! They have done nothing wrong! How can you expect them to move if you have the brakes engaged?” This is your problem too,’ explained the Rav. ‘Giving ma'aser can propel one's financial success forward just as the horses hitched to the wagon will propel it toward its destination. However, if the brakes are engaged at the same time, the driver won't get anywhere at all. If you are braking by failing to observe Shabbos and kashrus properly, the horses are not to blame for your inability to reach your goal. You must release the [brake] mechanism by doing teshuvah [repentance] and changing your behavior!’” .
“The holy Rebbe, Rabbi Pinchas Mi'Koritz, once gathered his Talmidim and told them: ‘You should all know that the Mitzvah of marrying off an orphan is so big and so much appreciated in Heaven, that with this one good deed, you will merit your Olam Habah [world-to-come, after-life] at once. Like Chazal [our Sages of blessed memory] say, Yesh Koneh Olamo Besha'ah Achas!’ [One can acquire the world-to-come in one hour (as the result of a momentous good deed)]” [221a].
“And Yaacov called to his children and said to them, ‘Gather together and I will reveal to you what will be your lot in the end of days.’ So they gathered together and they listened to their father Yisrael” (Genesis 49:1-2). What was the character of this gathering? R' Pinchas of Koretz, a student as well as a colleague of the Baal Shem Tov, suggested that this gathering can be explained by the Talmudic expression, ‘Aseh oznecha k'afarkesis.’ (Make your ears like a funnel. Strain your ears to hear/listen well to what is being said. Chullin 89a). He explained in the name of his friend and fellow student of the Baal Shem Tov, R' Nachman of Horodenka, that sometimes there is a limit to what can be accomplished by Yisrael even through prayer. A Jew's transgressions simply make it impossible for him to bridge the distance between himself and the Creator. What can be done? The distance can be bridged only in one way; by every Jew joining together, hand in hand until this Jewish chain reaches all the way to the Throne of Glory. Then Hashem surely will not be able to ignore our entreaties. This is the meaning of “Aseh oznecha k'afarkesis.” Jews need to learn from the Tribes, the sons of Yaacov who gathered together to hear their revered father's final words, to consolidate all their ears together until they become one enormous ear. Such an ear is surely capable of hearing everything. Since the Talmud says, ‘All Jews bear ultimate responsibility one for the other’ (Shavuos 39a), in this way nothing will be missed, no nuance neglected. The lessons needed to be learned will be grasped, and we will always be able to help each other to go in a proper path of Divine Service” .
R' Pinchas said: “When you believe that everything is from Him, blessed be He, then there is no evil or bad at all—there is just all good” .
R' Pinchas said: “If a person constantly keeps his mind focused on doing good deeds, his mind will be free from thoughts that lead to sadness” .
R' Pinchas said: “When a person is afraid of something, he is actually subjugated to that very thing. If he is not afraid, he remains above it” .
R' Pinchas said: “V'yordim bo, V'hi'nei Hashem nitzov olov, v'hi'nei Hashem nitzov olov. … Even when a person feels a descent, things are going badly, Hashem is there for him” .
R' Pinchas said: “There is one who prays in sadness because of his state of melancholy (lit. ‘black bile’) and imagines that he prays with great fear. Likewise, there is one who imagines that he prays with great love and this is because of his state of euphoria (lit. ‘red bile’). However, when one is in a state of [true] love of G-d, and shame thereby descends upon him and he wants to praise G-d and triumph over the evil impulse for His sake, that is good. For man is only called a servant of G-d through fear and love. He must see to it that fear should descend upon him [from Above] and not inspire it in himself. True fear occurs when shuddering and trembling descend upon him such that because of the fear one does not know where he is, his thoughts have become purified, and his tears roll down of their own accord. But when this is not the case, then even if it appears that one loves G‑d, that certainly is not so. For this is the gate to the Lord (Psalms 118:20). Fear is the gate to love, and if one does not enter the gate, which is fear, how can he attain love? When one is in the above state [i.e., self-generated melancholy or euphoria], he is not even a ‘servant,’ and is certainly not capable of having fear descend upon him. This is not the proper service for a Jew; it is simply a service by rote. One [who is in this state] imagines that he actually serves G-d in joy, but it is nothing more than foolish joy. Therefore, let him return to G-d with all his heart and all his soul” .
R' Pinchas taught: “He who has no desire to go up to Eretz Yisrael is poisoned with bitter darkness” .
R' Pinchas said: “The Sages stated, ‘Evildoers are filled with remorse.’ What are they regretful for? … An upright person believes that G-d guides the affairs of the world, and that man's fate is in the hands of the Almighty. Such a person never regrets his righteous acts. When things go wrong, he knows that it is G-d's will. By contrast, bad people deny the omnipotence of G-d. When their enterprises falter, they constantly blame and reproach themselves with ‘I should've, I could've, why didn't I!’ It is true, their lives are full of regrets” .
R' Pinchas said: “The root of gloominess is pride. An arrogant person thinks that the world owes him honor and respect. He always feels slighted, believing that people disdain and snub him. As a result, he always is in a somber mood. A humble man cheerfully accepts everything that comes his way” .
R' Pinchas said: “Sadness is rooted in haughtiness, because one thinks that he deserves what he desires” .
According to Schatz Uffenheimer, “Pain and regret over one's failures and transgressions became the archetypal religious sin in Hasidism, signifying that sin was measured in terms of a new criterion—namely, the psychological state of man. ‘Repentance’ as a religious value continued to play a dominant role in Hasidic thought, but it was no longer based upon remorse or regret over past deeds, but upon the consciousness that man intends to sin no more and that he does not make light of sin as defined by the halakhah [Jewish law]. The person who repents is simply required to decide that he no longer intends to perform the acts of sin” .
R' Aryeh Leib Schochet wrote that he grew up among the followers of R' Refoel of Bershid, who often related the following incident: While R' Refoel was visiting the town of Uman in the district of Kiev, an individual approached him with a request. R' Refoel looked at the man and immediately accused him of having relations with a niddah [a woman during her time of ritual impurity]. The man began to yell at R' Refoel, asking why he would falsely accuse him of such a horrible sin, especially in front of other people. When he saw that R' Refoel was not responding to his question, he continued by yelling that R' Refoel would be embarrassed when it was proven that he falsely accused him of such a deed. When the people in the room heard this, they forcefully pushed the man out of the room, and he went home. About 30 minutes later, the man reentered the room and, with tears in his eyes, said to R' Refoel, “It isn't enough that I committed this sin, but now I have spoken to you disrespectfully.” R' Refoel then told the man that he envied him because of the broken heart he had. “For, how can anyone be as remorseful for having committed sins as you are now?” [232a].
“The Koritzer rebbe … says that the Jewish people repented at the moment of the Churban [destruction of the Temple]. At that moment they were fulfilling the will of Hash-m, and therefore the Keruvim [angel-like figures atop the Holy Ark] embraced” .
R' Raphael said: “If a man sins and is contrite, the Lord will aid him to full repentance. It is well to remember this axiom: ‘Man has only the power of free choice; everything else is in G-d's hands.’ Therefore, if a man chooses to repent, G-d will perform all else required for the accomplishment of his choice. But even the free will of a man needs the help of G-d to maintain it intact, lest it lapse into weakness” .
“R. Pinkhas … taught proper behavior as a means of influencing people to change their ways for the better: ‘When I wish to reprove someone, I mention to him words of wisdom that give him spiritual inspiration, as Scripture teaches us: “Wisdom preserveth the life of him that hath it” (Ecclesiastes 7:12). And wisdom is an aspect of the soul. Even by telling anecdotes, we can influence a person to change his ways for the better. But in our times, some people just reprove someone so that he repent, but the person is unable to do so by himself without the help of others’” .
R' Pinchas said that one should not be satisfied with merely telling a sinner to repent; one must help him to repent .
“Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz said that the power of teshuva [repentance, return] can been seen in a worm's burrowing its way through the soil to the sun. It's not an expression of thought, but of the soul's movement, the life force. This force is apparent throughout creation” .
R' Pinchas explained the creation and transformation of angels, saying that good deeds turn into angels; however, if the deed is imperfect, the angel is also imperfect. It may be mute or malformed, with an arm or leg missing. Tikkun, or repair, of these imperfections can be accomplished only by the repentance of the person who brought the imperfect angel into being. As stated in the mystical cosmology of the Ari (R' Isaac Luria), every good deed raises up a fallen spark .
“A chossid once asked Rav Pinchas of Koretz, zt”l, ‘We find in the Sefer Chassidim, that even though the Gemara in Taanis 12 tells us that fasting is good for destroying the bad parts of a dream like a fire destroys the bad parts of flax, it only refers to one who has repented. All the fasting in the world, however, will not avail for one who does not do teshuvah. The Sefer Chassidim goes on to tell of someone who had a bad dream on Shabbos and tried to ameliorate it by fasting that day and the next. Unfortunately, his dream came to be in all its detail because he failed to do teshuvah. My question is, if someone has a bad dream why not just concentrate on doing teshuvah instead of fasting, since this is the main objective of the fast anyway?’
“The Rebbe answered, ‘Fasting is preferable for a very simple reason. The more physical something is, the more we find of it in this world. For example, there is more inanimate matter in the world than animate life. Likewise, there are far more non-Jews than Jews in the world. Even within the Jewish people itself, there are more wicked people than righteous. And within the overwhelming majority of people, there are more bad or useless thoughts than good. Most people have a hard time focusing on any good thought for more than half an hour or so. This is especially true of someone whose day is almost entirely focused on mundane matters. To feel connected all the time to spirituality in such a situation is rare indeed! Anyone who fasts in order to come to teshuvah is involved in doing a mitzvah the entire day, and this is true even if he finds it difficult to focus on the teshuvah aspect of the fast throughout the day.’ Rav Pinchas added, ‘Another reason why fasting is better is that it naturally subdues the physical. This is a great help for one who wishes to do teshuvah. One can come to the highest levels while fasting. It is very rare that one who understands the purpose of the fast will fail to come to true teshuvah!’” .
“In his teachings, R. Pinchas preached universal love, even love of the most sinful people in humanity, because only such love can hasten the coming of the Redeemer” .
[R' Pinchas of Koretz] once said: “Who is a consummate tzadik? He who loves a consummate rasha [wicked person]. Who is an incomplete tzadik? He who loves an incomplete rasha.” Ginsburgh explains: “In the inner [depths] of one's soul, it is the very highest level of tzadik that reaches down in love to raise up the very lowest level of rasha. The inherent goodness of the consummate tzadik sweetens the existential suffering of the consummate rasha” .
R' Pinchas said: “One must love even the sinful, but must hate their actions. Although it is forbidden to be close to the wicked, one must still love them, so that perhaps they will return to the path of the Torah. As our Rabbis teach us regarding Aharon, ‘He loved peace and actively pursued peace and brought people closer to Torah.’ (Pirkei Avot 1:12) By loving his fellow men, Aharon brought them close to Torah, bringing them back to the correct path. Although the Gemara (Pesachim 113) says that if one sees his friend sinning, it is a mitzvah to hate him, Sefer Hatanya (ch. 32) limits this to a friend who generally observes Torah and mitzvot, yet has spurned proper rebuke. However, regarding a person with whom one is not friendly in this manner, we find in Pirkei Avot, ‘Hillel was fond of saying, “Be a student of Aharon—love peace … love G-d's creatures, and bring them closer to the Torah.”’ This refers even to those who are distant from Torah and the service of G-d, and for that reason are referred to merely as ‘creatures.’ They have to be drawn with bonds of love, hopefully bringing them back to serve G‑d” .
R' Pinchas said: “How can we daven for someone to do teshuva? Are we not taught, ‘All is in the hand of heaven, except for the fear of heaven?’ But Hashem includes all souls, and whatever is in the Whole is also in each part. Each soul therefore includes all other souls. When you yourself do teshuva, you can bring your neighbor to do teshuva. This is because you are included in your neighbor, and your neighbor is included in you” .
R' Raphael said: “Love the man of wickedness. Why? Because he will then love you, and love will unite his soul and yours. As a consequence, inasmuch as you hate wickedness, you will transfer your hate to him, thereby causing him to repent and turn from evil to good” .
Huberman says: “Rebbe Refa'el was aware of … the secret of compassion and love. Among all of the moral qualities that were abundant in his personality, this moral quality shone with special splendor. It was as if the strands of his soul were organically interwoven with this moral quality. He knew how to penetrate the souls of the errant and to reveal within them the Jewish thread that was hidden beneath the layer of reality. … A Chasidic legend relates that he would go to all of those who were about to apostatize and request of them that they recite from memory the Shema Yisra'el every day. Sometimes he would recite the verse with them, and they would repeat it, word by word, after him. Sometimes he would pray together with them, saying: ‘Prayer includes all of Israel, even the errant ones’” [244a].
R' Raphael said: “A man should not think contemptuously of his ability to do good. Let him but choose and G-d does the rest. Is there any limit to G-d's ability?” .
“From our teacher, the rabbi, Rabbi Raphael [of Bershad] … may his light shine upon us: ‘“You shall love your neighbour as yourself” said Rabbi Akiva: “This is the greatest principle of the Torah.”’ The SHeLaH (R. Isaiah Horowitz, c. 1570-1626) poses the question that this is all very well with respect to [commandments] between one person and another, but with respect to [commandments] between a person and G-d, what is there to say? See there. At first, he—may his light shine upon us—said: ‘According to the plain meaning, when a person loves, the Shechinah rests upon them. In this way, “all workers of iniquity are dispersed” (Psalms 92:10) and it is easy to fulfill the Torah.’
“Later he expounded along the lines of what is written in the writings of R. Fradl … that this is by virtue of not being impatient with one's fellows, but accepting everything with patience, without one's heart becoming agitated and being impatient about the slightest thing. Without all this, it is impossible to fulfill ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ unless one has set aside the attribute of impatience, which is [derived] from the attribute of Power [Gevurah], and in this way, does not use the attribute of Power in matters of this world. [Then] it is easy [to utilize] the power of this attribute to be fearful and agitated before the blessed G-d. And this is the greatest principle of the Torah” .
R' Pinchas said: “My Rafael knows how to love the most wicked evil-doers!” .
“[Rebbe Refa'el's] system directed at the masses also encompassed matters of Jewish Law: the important thing was to not lay heavy burdens and laws on the masses. ‘A severe interpretation of the law leads to negligence and rebelliousness. Heavy-handed laws prolong our Exile and are an expression of the letter of law, while in this generation every individual should be approached in the spirit of compassion.’ Severe interpretation of the law frightens the simple Jew and is not sustainable. He brings, as an example, this quote from a commentary on the Code of Jewish Law: ‘He who walks 4 cubits without ritually washing his hands deserves the death penalty.’ Would there be any simple Jews who did not deserve the death penalty?” [247a].
“[Rebbe Refa'el] would say, in the name of his Rebbe (Rebbe Pinchas), ‘When I need to reprimand someone, I explain to him with words of wisdom according to his own understanding in order to awaken his soul, as it is written: “Wisdom gives life to those who possess it” (Ecclesiastes 7:12). Wisdom can be likened to the soul. Sometimes with a jocular word, an example, a story, or the words of the Rabbis of the Talmud—according to the man's own understanding. Not like the people of this generation who reprove someone by telling him that he must repent his sins, and he can't, G-d forbid, help himself and repent his sins’” [247b].
R' Pinchas said: “If men did not sin, the Lord would have no occasion to employ His attributes of mercy, compassion, and the like, but only His attributes of justice. Therefore, it follows that even sinners please the Lord; they bring into play His worthiest attributes” .
“[Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz] spoke at length about the love of Israel, [saying] that one must love every individual of Israel, and when you sees that someone hates you, you must love them more, for Israel is a Throne for the Shechinah [Presence of G-d] and for holiness. When—G-d forbid!—there is a rift between them, as it were, a hole, an empty space, is created in the Throne, and then, in this way, holiness falls into the [power] of the ‘shells’ [kelippot] [of evil]—G-d forbid! Therefore one must love others a great deal in order to close up the empty space [in the Throne]. Let no one say: ‘I cannot enter into this quality’ for this is a lie. Certainly, by oneself, one may not be able to [do this], but with the help of the blessed G-d, one can attain to the service of the divine [and thus to the love of Israel]. This quality can bring the Messiah, i.e. by loving every person, even the completely wicked, for hatred without cause destroyed our Temple, and because of our sins, it is still ‘dancing’ among us. Therefore, one must strive to bring oneself to this quality” .
R' Pinchas said: “If I have a choice between Paradise and Hell, I will take Hell and suffer the travails of gehennom together with our fellow Jews who are there. I would not move out of there as long as a single Jew remains there” [249a].
“R. Raphael's teachings [deal] with love of fellow-humans and [with] one's being hopeful of his own good capabilities” .
R' Raphael said: “Do you desire that people love you? Love them first” .
R' Raphael loved peace and unity in the Jewish people. He said: “Any disagreement between Jews causes a breach to appear in the Throne of Holiness through which unholy spirits enter. Hence it is the duty of every Jew to love and to befriend anyone who has disagreed with him, and thereby to repair the breach. When Israelites are united, they become the very Throne of Holiness, the Shekinah dwells in them, and all holiness descends upon them” .
Huberman cites a legend: “Once Rebbe Refa'el spent the Sabbath in Savran. There was also another guest, a Chasidic Jew, a preacher. All Sabbath Eve, that guest would abuse him and humiliate him by calling him an ‘ignoramus.’ The more Rebbe Refa'el would try to appease him with persuasive words, the more the guest would continue to abuse him. Rebbe Refa'el was sorrowful about the division of the hearts that he (Rebbe Refa'el) had caused and prayed to G-d that He purify him of this sin” [252a].
In his last year, R' Raphael said: “Put aside all Mitzwoth and labor to unite Jewish hearts” .
R' Raphael overheard his wife scolding her maid. He rebuked her, saying: “You have no right to give pain to a Jewess. A child of Israel is very, very precious” .
R' Pinchas said: “He who truly loves another can read his thoughts, whether good or evil” .
Arthur Green, in a memoir concerning his mentor, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, says: “Heschel … liked to tell the Hasidic tale of Rabbi Raphael of Bershad who invited a group of his disciples to come share with him in a ride in his coach. ‘But there is not enough room!’ a disciple cried out, ‘the rebbe will be crowded.’ The master replied: ‘Then we shall have to love each other more. If we love each other more, there will be room for us all.’ Heschel understood that all of humanity rides in that coach, one that can be either the divine chariot of G-d or the crowded, sealed railway car [i.e., to the concentration camp]. The choice, he insisted, is a human one, and we who have escaped the terrors of hell are here to help all our fellow humans make that choice” .
“Long ago in a far away land, Reb Pinchus of Koretz, a very holy Rabbi and follower of the Baal Shem Tov, became really aggravated by the ever-increasing number of people that came to ask for a blessing. The word had gotten around that whether a person needed help with problems about their health, children, or livelihood, a blessing from Rabbi Pinchus always seemed to help. So there was a constant stream of people visiting Rabbi Pinchus from far and near to get his holy blessing. Now, Rabbi Pinchus was a quiet man who was devoted to his study of the Holy Torah. The interruptions from the people waiting for a blessing finally became so frustrating to him that he prayed, ‘Dear G‑d, please make people hate me so they won't come anymore and disturb my studies.’ Now, a prayer from such a holy man does not go unheeded. Sure enough, people began to feel repulsed by Rabbi Pinchus, and soon no one came to visit.
“Alas, Rabbi Pinchus was very happy with his new-found freedom. Every day he immersed himself in his studies of the Holy Torah. And so it was until the Holy day of Succoth approached. The wife of Rabbi Pinchus, the Rebbetzyn, always arranged to have someone help build their Succah (a little booth covered by s'chach … something that grows from the earth and is no longer attached, such as branches cut from trees). But this year, everyone was so repulsed by Rabbi Pinchus that they refused to help. Finally, the day before Succoth, a non-Jew reluctantly helped her and the Succah was built just in time for the holiday.
“The first night of Succoth, Rabbi Pinchus sat in his Succah having a holiday meal and studying the Torah. Just then, an old man, with a long white beard and dressed in a long white robe appeared at the door of the Succah. Rabbi Pinchus knew it was a supernal guest, Avraham Avenu [Our father Abraham]. Legend has it that a different supernal guest visits the Succah every night of Succoth and on the first night the guest is Avraham.
“‘Avraham Avenu, please come into my Succah,’ said Rabbi Pinchus. ‘Oh no,’ answered Avraham, ‘I only visit in Succahs where there are guests.’ And then he disappeared.
“Rabbi Pinchus realized that he was wrong in praying to be left alone. G-d wants people to help each other more so than studying the Holy Torah. So he again prayed to G-d, ‘Please forgive me.’ And from that day, Rabbi Pinchus lent a ready ear and gave a strong blessing to anyone who approached him” .
“When a group of people join together for the sole purpose of advancing in their service of Hashem, then all six hundred thousand root souls of the Jewish people become a part of their endeavor. This is similar to what Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz said about the Kabbalistic declaration made before performing a mitzvah. ‘By virtue of the One that is hidden and concealed, in the name of all Israel. …’ When a person intends to fulfill a mitzvah, and attempts to connect to the entire Jewish people by making this declaration, it actually arouses the entire Jewish people to repent. It accomplishes this by awakening the Divine spark that is hidden within each and every Jewish soul. This becomes all the more clear in light of what the Midrash says on the verse, ‘The twisted cannot be corrected … this is talking about the person whose friends joined together to fulfill a mitzvah, and he failed to be counted among them.’ Every time that Jews gather as one for the sole purpose of fulfilling Hashem's Will, ‘G-d is present among the G-dly convocation’” .
“The Baal Shem Tov taught that every Jew is a cherished land. Just as the earth has precious stones and metals hidden within, so does every Jew have treasures hidden within him. One of his disciples, Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, expanded on this thought by adding that within every person there is something precious that is not found in any other person” .
R' Raphael asked his teacher why all faces are different. R' Pinchas answered that all men are created in the image of G-d. Every person takes part of G-d's image from a different place, and thus their faces differ, but together these images make up Man . R' Pinchas said: “The difference is in minds, not only in faces” .
R' Pinchas once was told about the philosopher Spinoza, who asserted that man's nature is on the same level as that of animals. R' Pinchas laughed, saying that the free-thinker should be asked whether animals can also produce a Spinoza .
“Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz was asked, ‘Why did G-d create the non-Jewish nations who are so brazen in their sinfulness?’ He replied, ‘Just as He created darkness to make you appreciate light, so did He create non-Jews to demonstrate the greater virtue of the Jewish people’” .
Once, someone read to R' Raphael a statement that we should love non-Jews since they were created by G-d. This idea pleased him immensely .
R' Pinchas said: “In the synagogue, the Jew wears a special covering, the tallit, in order to separate the nakedness of the body from the spiritual. Non-Jews remove their coats and hats when praying. They do not realize that the body and the soul are distinct from each other” .
See maps and information on the partitions of Poland at: http://www.polishroots.org/genpoland/polhistory.htm, http://www.polishroots.org/genpoland/kresy.htm,
1750 map at: http://sumy.net.ua/History/map/14!.php,
and 1850 map at: http://sumy.net.ua/?p=1&g=2&o=15.
R' Pinchas said: “When you arrive at a city and do not know the nature of its people, pay attention to its public servants. If they are righteous and wise, so will be the people of the city. And if these are not—neither are those” .
Although “as a tangible reminder of the destruction of the Temple, he lived in a room that was virtually windowless,” R' Pinchas closely followed political developments and regretted the first partition of Poland in 1772 and its occupation by Russia, Prussia, and Austria .
R' Pinchas said: “I am not strong enough to prevent the danger. So long as Rabbi Nachman of Horodenka was there, this nation [i.e., the Russians] could not cross the river Dnieper. When Rabbi Nachman crossed the river Dienester [on his way to Eretz Yisrael], I remained alone, for only Rabbi Nachman of Horodenka was strong enough to prevent this disaster” .
R' Pinchas urged the Jews not to flee the region in the wake of pogroms and massacres carried out by the Haidamak gangs during this period; he and the Great Maggid were almost alone, among Jewish leaders, in trying to stem the tide of the “Great Flight” . He said: “Were it not for me, not one Jew would have remained there” .
“In the 1760s one of the founders of the Hasidic movement, Rabbi Pinhas of Korzec, deplored … assimilationist tendencies and made the following observation: ‘The Jews [in Germany] are indistinguishable from the gentiles in their dress and speech. The exile in the land of Ishmael [Turkey] is not as bitter as in Germany because Jews, at least, are distinguishable by language, though not by dress. However in Poland, where both their clothing and language are different, the exile is less bitter than anywhere else’” .
R' Pinchas supported the Polish cause and described Russia as a land where men were steeped in filth .
R' Pinchas despised the Russians and called them “mice.” He said they “do not know the meaning of Truth” .
After the partition of Poland, R' Pinchas toured the region extensively to collect money for Jews who were being held in prison. He also collected donations for the support of the poor in Israel .
R' Pinchas had tried, by his prayers, to forestall the Russian annihilation of Poland. After his death, his disciple, R' Raphael, said that if R' Pinchas had lived only 2 more years, he would have destroyed the Russians, the Kaiser, and the French .
Commenting on the words of the prayer “He who maketh peace in his high places, may he make peace for us …,” R' Pinchas said that G-d created Heaven by making peace between fire and water. He added that, since G-d was able to make peace between such extremely different substances, he surely could make peace between men .
R' Raphael said: “Let there be peace within yourself first, then peace in your home. Let there be peace with your neighbours, peace in your street and in your town. Then let there be peace in your country and in the whole world” .
“It once came to the notice of Rav Rafael of Barashad, zt”l, that his wife was spending beyond their means. People approached him and said that their income was not sufficient to cover her somewhat extravagant purchases on behalf of the household, and that he ought to take the matter in hand. Knowing that he had no choice but to confront her about it, he went home.
“When Rav Rafael arrived, his wife was dutifully awaiting him. Instead of entering the house as he normally would, he immediately walked in and sat down on a bench. He lovingly said, ‘Dear heart! My crown! Shalom, Shalom, Shalom!’ His wife was somewhat perplexed by this effusive greeting, and waited to hear what else Rav Rafael had to say.
“He continued in a gentle voice, with a smile on his face, ‘I've heard that you have been spending a lot of money, more money that we really have. Now, the Shelah HaKadosh says clearly that a single argument drives away a hundred livelihoods. So could it be that the solution is to have a fight with you over this? Will it make the problem go away? Quite the contrary! That's why I say: Shalom, Shalom Shalom! Peace, peace, peace!’” .
R' Raphael of Bershad often tried to make peace and mend quarrels. He was once asked to arbitrate a contentious dispute between the members of a community. The request came on the 9th of Av, the day of mourning that commemorates the destruction of the Temple, and it was suggested that this might be an inappropriate time to settle the quarrel. However, R' Raphael replied: “The Temple was destroyed on account of senseless hatred, and therefore on the day of its destruction it is incumbent upon us to make peace” .
A Chassid once asked R' Raphael: “You teach that a man should always tell the truth. How can one do this if he wishes to make peace?” R' Raphael replied: “To make peace, I demand the full truth, and with the full truth, I make peace” .
“Truth to [R' Pinchas] was the highest virtue of all. He said: ‘If all men spoke the truth, there would be no further need to wait for the Messiah; he would have come long ago’” .
R' Pinchas said: “I would prefer that the soul leave my body rather than utter a lie in my mouth … When people realize that to utter a lie is just as sinful as committing adultery, the messianic days will begin” .
R' Pinchas said: “I have found nothing more difficult in life than to overcome lying. It took me fourteen years. I broke every bone I had and at last I found a salvation. For the sake of Truth, I struggled for twenty-one years; seven years to find out what Truth is, seven years to drive away falsehood and seven to absorb Truth” .
“It is said in the name of Reb Pinchas of Koritz, ‘Before I came close to the Baal Shem Tov, my teeth used to fly out of my mouth when I prayed. But this wasn't the truth. After I came close to the Baal Shem Tov, my teeth stopped flying out of mouth when I prayed, and this was the real truth.’ When one sees and examines the light of the Tzaddik, of the Baal Shem Tov, and he receives from this light and leaves behind him everything that he had up until then, only then does the light of truth enter him” .
Rabbi Shmuel Walkin cites “Rabbi Refael of Bershid who was always very careful to refrain from saying anything that was untrue. One day he entered his home while it was raining outside. When asked if it was still raining, he replied, ‘When I was outside it was raining.’ He did not want to mislead in case it had stopped raining from the time he entered his home. This may seem to be ridiculous or inconsequential. However, if a person is careful with keeping to the truth in such instances, he will definitely be careful in more important matters. On the other hand, if a person is careless with the truth, he can even be tempted to lie in major ways!” .
“Rebbe Raphael of Barshad … was once stopped in the street by a man who asked him: ‘Aren't you Reb Raphael of Barshad?’ ‘Yes … I think so,’ replied the Rebbe” .
R' Raphael once visited a town and was offered something to eat. When he had consumed the food on his plate, the host asked, “Do you want more?” R' Raphael answered, “Yes.” More food was added to his plate. After he finished eating, his host again asked him, “Do you want more?” He again replied, “Yes.” Finally, R' Raphael explained, “I know I should not be eating so much, but you ask whether I want more, and I have to tell the truth: I do!” [286a].
“Respect for truth was so profound among [R' Pinchas's] friends and followers that they dared not repeat his comments for fear of misquoting him” .
“R' Pinchas of Koretz once compared himself to R' Yaacov Yosef of Polnoye, the ‘Toldos.’ ‘The Toldos loves “truth,”’ he said. ‘In fact he loves it so much that he speaks great quantities of truth everyday. And if a little bit of falsehood should creep in, it would be worth it for the great amount of truth that would have been spoken. I, on the other hand, abhor falsehood. Therefore I barely speak at all lest I utter a bit of falsehood’” .
“Rebbe Refa'el, the Chasidim would say, would interpret the verse ‘You should distance yourself from speaking falsehood’ (Exodus 23:7) to mean that you should distance yourself from speaking in order to distance yourself from falsehood because mere speaking can lead to falsehood. The Bershad Chasidim would limit their speech” [288a].
“Rebbe Rafael of Bershad so often and so strongly condemned lying and speaking falsely that truth-telling became ingrained even in the children of his community. Once, three children were sitting talking about how Rebbe Rafael said it was forbidden to lie. One child asked, ‘But didn't Abraham say about Sarah, “She's my sister?”’ His friend answered, ‘Because of that he was punished by having a son like Ishmael.’ The second one asked, ‘Didn't Isaac say about Rebecca, “She's my sister?”’ His friend answered, ‘He was punished by having a son like Esau.’ The third boy asked, ‘Jacob too said, “I am Esau your first-born?”’ ‘Oh,’ said his friend, ‘that's because he never met Rebbe Rafael. If he'd met Rebbe Rafael he never would have said that!’” .
“The wife of Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz once bought a gold-plated Kiddush cup. When he noticed the new cup on Friday night, the Rebbe curtly asked, ‘Since when do we have golden utensils in our house?’ ‘Look,’ said his wife apologetically, ‘it is not genuine, it's just a gold-plated cup!’ ‘That makes it even worse,’ said the Rebbe. ‘You not only brought snobbery into our house, but you compounded your mistake by introducing also falsehood and deceit.’ He adamantly refused to use the cup for Kiddush” .
(See Part 3 for the story of R' Raphael's devotion to truth in the face of a fateful decision at the end of his life.)
“It is told that R' Pinchus used to warn his disciples: ‘Never fool yourselves! Above all a Jew must be thoroughly honest with himself!’ Once one of his students challenged him. ‘But Rebbe,’ he said, ‘one who fools himself actually thinks he is being honest with himself. So how are we ever to know if we are being honest, or just fooling ourselves?’ ‘You have asked wisely, my son,’ the Rebbe said. ‘The answer, however, is simple. It is written in Tanna d-Bei Eliyahu [an ancient Midrashic source] that anyone who is careful to speak words of truth will be sent a malach [an angel] who shows him the truth. One who speaks words of sheker [falsehood] will be sent a malach who fools and deceives him. So, if you will be careful to always tell the truth, you will never “fool yourself.” If not, well …’ This is a very telling incident. One can live his/her entire life in deception, of others and of himself, and not have even the faintest notion he is doing so. R' Pinchus also used to tell his disciples: ‘It is better to choke, than to utter a lie’” .
R' Raphael said: “The Sages teach that the greatest labor of man should be to avoid self-deceit. But how can a man do so when he is deceived and believes his action to be right? By obeying the counsel of his friend, since his friend cannot profit by permitting the deceit to continue. We are also taught that he who labors for truth creates for himself an Angel of Truth who acts as a monitor to warn him of falsehood” .
R' Pinchas said: “He who is filled with self-importance lies to himself and he fools others to believe his importance” .
R' Pinchas said: “the holy Torah was originally created as an incoherent jumble of letters. In other words, all the letters of the Torah, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Deuteronomy, were not yet combined to form the words we now read, such as ‘In the beginning G-d created’ or ‘Go from thy land,’ and so on. These words, on the contrary, were not yet present, for the events of Creation that they record had not yet taken place. Thus all the letters of the Torah were indeed jumbled, and only when a certain event occurred in the world did the letters combine to form the words in which the event is related. When, for example, the Creation of the world or the events in the life of Adam and Eve took place, the letters formed the words that relate these events. Or when someone died, the combination ‘And so-and-so died’ came into being. So it was with all other matters. As soon as something happened, the corresponding combinations of letters came into being. If another event had occurred in its place, other combinations of letters would have arisen, for know that the holy Torah is G-d's infinite wisdom” .
R' Pinchas said: “There are no words which, in themselves, are useless. There are no actions which, in themselves, are useless. But one can make useless both actions and words by saying or doing them uselessly” .
R' Pinchas said: “It's possible for a person to be created and live an entire lifetime just for the sake of uttering one word or making a single gesture that he performs for the Holy One” .
R' Pinchas said: “Sometimes, a man whose deeds are corrupt will live to be 70 years old because of one word he uttered or one gesture he made in complete sincerity, entirely for the sake of G-d. It was essential that he be born for this solitary word or gesture. It could not have been done by anyone else, for no two people were created exactly alike, since the beginning of the world until the end of days” .
R' Pinchas said: “In everyone there is something precious which is in no one else. That is why it is said: ‘Despise not any man’” .
R' Pinchas said: “When you speak evil of another man, the Satan will compel you to be his witness against the object of your words. Would you become the Satan's assistant? Blame the fault, not the man” .
R' Raphael said: “Two things I learned from my Master during my last visit to him: ‘The less one talks, the nearer he is to holiness’; and ‘Only that good deed is valuable of which no one knows’” .
R' Pinchas said: “Every word and every action contains all the ten Sefirot, the ten powers emanating from G-d, for they fill the entire world. And it is not the way people think: that mercy is a principle in itself and rigor is a principle in itself. For all the ten creative powers are contained in every single thing. Whoever drops his hand, does so in the secret of the efflux of light. Whoever lifts his hand, does so in the secret of the reflux of light. The completed motion of lowering and lifting, houses the secret of mercy and rigor” .
Winkler states that R' Pinchas taught the languages of birds, animals, and plants and said that birds held the key to sacred chanting .
R' Pinchas said: “A perfect Mitzwah should be performed in three ways: in action, in talk, and in thought. The Mitzwah of kindling the candles on the Sabbath is performed in action by the women; in talk by the recital of the Mishnah on kindling the Sabbath lights; and in thought by the concentration of our mind upon longing for the restoration of the Menorah in the Holy Temple” .
According to Brill, R' Pinchas said that dreams are the “refuse of the mind” . However, Klein's translation gives a different interpretation: dreams are a “secretion of our thoughts,” and they act to purify our thoughts .
R' Pinchas taught: “When learning or davening, don't stop to talk. Don't avert your eyes from the sefer or siddur in front of you unless there is really a great need” .
R' Pinchas often said: “A man's soul will teach him.” A disciple once asked him why men did not obey their souls. R' Pinchas answered: “The soul teaches incessantly, … but it never repeats” .
R' Raphael said: “I learned from my Master that if I walk with Truth, my soul will instruct me, and I shall need no other teacher” .
R' Pinchas said: “Usually, persons asking for advice have already solved their own problem without knowing it” .
R' Pinchas said: “The true Zaddik is always able to see without his eyes and to hear without his ears. A man comes to ask my counsel, and I hear that he himself is telling me, unknowingly, what I should advise him” .
R' Pinchas wrote: “The hahlahchah [law] and the ahgahdah [parables] are two parts of the oral law. For the hahlahchah, one needs his intelligence to uncover its depth, it is necessary to have a sharp mind. For the ahgahdah one needs a feeling heart” .
In the Sefer Likutim Yekarim, R' Aryeh Leib Schochet writes: “I heard that R' Refoel of Bershid said the following to his students: ‘It is a great wonder when one realizes that there is nothing in the world that provides benefits to people, both in this world and the next, like the study of Torah. It is therefore difficult to understand why people do not have a desire to study with both heart and soul.’ He then said that, in truth, every person does have within himself the natural desire to study Torah; however, because of the many sins and physical desires that a person gives in to, the Torah itself does not want to be studied. Therefore, when such a person begins to study, the Torah pushes itself away and creates many distractions to prevent the student from studying. He continued, ‘There is a way to prevent this from happening, and that is to have honest thoughts of repentance, since only through repentance will the Torah allow itself to be studied.’ He then quoted a verse in Tehillim, ‘reishis chachma yiras hashem’ (‘the beginning of knowledge is fear of heaven’). He explained that only with yiras hashem (fear of heaven) and the act of repentance will a person achieve knowledge (chocham) and wisdom” [311a].
R' Pinchas said: “Moses says ‘May my teaching penetrate like rain’ (Deuteronomy 32:2). We see that rain falls on many kinds of plants, and each grows according to its own nature. In the same way, let my lesson be accepted by all persons, and each will benefit according to his innate ability” .
R' Raphael said: “Despair not if you preach and behold no result. Be assured that the seed you have planted will blossom in some listener's heart” .
“The Koretzer Rebbe said: ‘In the Shema we recite “Set these words … upon your heart. Teach them faithfully to your children. …” When these words go forth from your heart, they will truly influence your children for good’” .
With regard to teaching the sensitive child, R' Pinchas said: “Even the minor disturbances which most people hardly notice can throw a person with a more sensitive nature. … [The] neshamah which is distracted easily and harder to deal with is actually closer to higher things, and this is why lower things confuse it. … the more sanctified the neshamah, the more it must be guarded from impurity” [314a].
R' Pinchas said: “Sciences, though they may seem to be the waste of the Torah, in truth serve to clarify it” .
R' Pinchas said: “Every sin is linked to a reason, good or bad—with the sole exception of vanity, which needs no reason to grow and grow. If someone finds it necessary to honor me, that means he is more humble than I. Which means he is better and saintlier than I. Which means that I should honor him. But then, why is he honoring me?” .
“Rav Pinchos of Koritz remarked, ‘All the aveiros [sins] require some degree of action, of activity. The only effortless aveiro is arrogance. A man lies on his couch, doing nothing, yawning from boredom, and convinces himself that he is great’” .
R' Raphael said: “One must beware of pride, since pride needs no foundation on which to build. A man may be lying on his bed; his house may be cold; he may be covered with a torn blanket, and yet he may think in his heart: ‘I am great! I am great!’” .
R' Raphael said: “A man who has even a trace of pride, even if he is otherwise righteous and honest, is imperfect” [318a].
R' Raphael said: “I told [R' Pinchas] of the pride in my heart when people show me respect. He answered: ‘Indulge not yourself in minor, but rather in major thoughts, and your pride of heart for minor reasons will disappear’” .
R' Raphael said: “In the World to Come I will be able to find defenses for all my sins except the sin of haughtiness. When the court Above asks me, ‘Why didn't you study the Torah?’ I will answer, ‘I didn't understand the Torah for I was an unlearned man.’ When I am asked, ‘Why didn't you serve Hashem through prayer and good deeds?’ I will answer, ‘I didn't have time because I had to work hard to keep my family alive.’ And if again I am asked, ‘Why didn't you afflict your body and engage in fasting?’ I will answer, ‘I was weak, and these would have endangered my life.’ Then when the court asks, ‘Why didn't you give tzedakah?’ I will say, ‘I couldn't give because I was poor.’ However, when the court asks me, ‘If you were unlearned, impoverished, and frail, why were you haughty? What was the source of your conceit?’ there will be no answer to that question” .
“Rabbi Raphael of Bershed complained bitterly to his teacher, Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, that he was unable to eradicate feelings of vanity. Rabbi Pinchas tried to help him by suggesting different methods, but Rabbi Raphael replied that he had already tried every one without success. He then pleaded with his mentor to do something to extirpate these egotistical feelings. Rabbi Pinchas then rebuked his disciple. ‘What is it with you, Raphael, that you expect instant perfection? Character development does not come overnight, regardless of how much effort you exert. Eradication of stubborn character traits takes time as well as effort. Today you achieve a little, and tomorrow you will achieve a bit more. You are frustrated and disappointed because you have not achieved character perfection as quickly as you had wished. Continue to work on yourself. Pray to G-d to help you with your character perfection. It will come in due time, but you must be patient. The Talmud states, “Be very, very humble,” to indicate that true self-betterment is a gradual process. We achieve a bit today, and a little more tomorrow’” .
“In regard to pride, R. Raphael expounded a biblical passage: ‘The Lord reigneth; he is clothed in majesty’ (Psalms 93:1). When one is motivated by pride, he takes, so to speak, part of G-d's clothes and acts against the infinite, because human pride also has no limits” .
R' Pinchas said: “The truth of the Torah is said to be very deep; hence the haughty man, who holds his head high, is very far from it” .
This lesson, from R' Pinchas's Parshat Shmini, is entitled “Humility—the soul of the Torah”: “Since the completion of the Torah by Moshe Rabeinu, it is forbidden to add or detract even a letter from it. Due to this injunction, the originality and precision of the Sefer Torah has been preserved to this very day. In order to verify the precise number of words in the Sefer Torah, our sages counted all the words and established the sign that the words ‘darosh darash Moshe’ [literally, “Moshe inquired, he inquired”] constitute the middle of the Torah, i.e., the two halves of the Torah are divided evenly between the words ‘darosh darash.’
“The ‘midpoint of the Torah’ is not merely a technical issue but bears a deep significance: The ‘middle of the Torah’ is the center point, the central axis upon which revolve all the details of the Torah. … This center point is the ‘soul’ of the Torah. Thus, the words ‘darosh darash Moshe’ signify that the central point of the Torah is reflected in the personality of Moshe Rabeinu.
“The sages of the Kabbalah also define Moshe as the ‘soul of the Torah.’ How did Moshe merit to be the ‘soul of the Torah’? The ‘center’ of a circle is a mere point. For example, all the sectors of the circle have a specific size and are located at a specific angle. The center of the circle has no size, no length, and no width, and it does not have any specific form. One can say that the center of the circle has almost no real existence. In spite of this, and for this very reason, the entire circle revolves around this center point and is tied to it.
“The ‘point’ of the eye is the pupil. A simple and dark object, which does not have any blood vessels, sensitive nerve cells, or the like, it merely serves to convey the light rays. If the pupil had its own specific color, it could not pass the light rays reliably.
“This is the merit of Moshe Rabeinu: ‘The man Moshe is very humble, more than any other man on the face of the earth.’ The Torah does not praise Moshe for his wisdom, his leadership, or his other qualities, but only for his humility. This means that humility is the greatest of virtues; only through humility can Moshe be a ‘trustworthy messenger’ to convey the words of the Creator to mankind—to personify the ‘soul of the Torah.’
“The humble person searches only for the truth; he is free from any personal prejudice. Such a person can preach the Torah and derive hidden meanings from its depth. The humble person is free from self-love and will not lean the Torah to his own opinions or desires. Therefore, ‘darosh darash Moshe’” .
Rabbi Pinchas of Koritz taught that Moshe was able to be the most humble of men because he knew that each person has a portion of G-d within himself, and he therefore realized that other people had portions that he did not have within himself. Reb Refoel of Bershid was asked whether, perhaps, the fact that Moshe had a portion of G-d that was not found in anyone else would have been a reason for him to be haughty, as opposed to humble. He answered that an individual knows his own bad traits as well as his good traits; however, with regard to someone else, he can only know another person's good traits (which can be seen in public) but cannot see the other's bad traits. And because of this, he cannot become haughty [i.e., when an individual knows his own faults but cannot see any in other people, how can he be proud?] [324a].
R' Pinchas said: “Ever since I began giving true service to my Maker, I have not tried to get anything, but only taken what G-d gave me. It is because the pupil is dark, that it absorbs every ray of light” .
R' Raphael said, “Some people pursue acclaim and thrive on being honored. Little do they realize that in order to receive honor, you must actually lower yourself. One can only pour into a container when it is held lower” .
When Rav Rafael of Barshud, zt”l, was asked about [the need for humility to appreciate the greatness of Hashem], he would say, “This means that when you find a person who holds Hashem in the highest possible esteem (gedulaso shel HaKadosh Boruch Hu), you will always find that the person is exceedingly humble (anvesanuso, of the person). And the inverse is also true: a person who lacks humility has no inclination to see the greatness of Hashem!” [326a].
“[Rebbe Raphael] would say, in the name of his Rebbe (Rebbe Pinchas), ‘A man who feels that he is nothing, upon him rests the Spirit of G-d’” [326b].
“Rav Pinchas of Koritz, zt'l, [was] one of the earlier Chassidic Rebbes. Although penniless he would ask no man for assistance. Once, he was walking to the Beis Hamidrash and saw a coin on the ground. He bent down to pick it up. He thought for a moment and decided that it was negligent of him to bend down for if Hashem wanted him to have the coin He would have delivered it into his hand. He threw the coin back to the ground, returning it to its path for which it was destined. He went to the Beis Hamidrash and started learning. A while later a wealthy man came into Beis Hamidrash. He looked around the room, scanning all the men engrossed in their gemorahs. He finally approached Rav Koritz and said, ‘While on the street I happened across this coin on the ground and I decided I would give it to someone in the Beis Hamidrash, the one who seems most virtuous in my eyes. I offer it to you’” .
“A disciple of [R' Pinchas] comes with a little book of sayings. He tells the rabbi he is a humble man and the little book is not really worthy but would the rabbi give his blessing to his book? Three times he comes and the rabbi ignores him. Finally in anger he asks, ‘Rabbi how is it you refuse me?’ The rabbi says, ‘you yourself said that your book is not worthy. So why should I pronounce it worthy and give you my blessing? The truly humble man knows his place, he knows where he is worthy as well as where he is unworthy’” .
“Rabbi Pinhas used to say: ‘In my young years, when my place in the synagogue was in the western wall, among the simple people, I had a better understanding of what I learned’” .
“[R' Pinchas] had no use for honors and riches. Though he was poor, he would say: ‘I have never yearned for anything I did not already have.’ When he became a Master—against his will—he said: ‘Everything I know I learned before [in the yeshiva], sitting in the last row, near the hearth, out of sight. And now, here I am, occupying the place of honor—and I don't understand [what is written on the page]’” .
“Rav Raphael of Barshad, zt”l, a disciple of Rav Pinchas of Koretz, zt”l, would always spend many hours preparing for Kol Nidrei on Erev Yom Kippur. Only after an extended period of intense learning and soul searching would the Rav go to the mikveh [ritual bath]. After immersing, he would prepare himself to daven Minchah and eat the seudas hamafsekes. After the meal, he would sit again to learn and prepare himself for the tefillah zakah. During the course of his long day of preparing for Yom Kippur, the Rav was careful not to waste a single moment of precious time. One year, just as Rav Rafael left the mikveh, he was approached by a man who clearly wanted to speak. Unfortunately, this person had all sorts of nonsense on his mind and occupied a great deal of the Rav's time with what was essentially an extended monologue without any real substance. It was literally impossible for the Rav to tear himself away without insulting this other person, and since he had no choice he remained standing outside the mikveh while the priceless minutes ticked by. After the gentleman left, the Rav said to himself: “Ramban writes in his famous letter that we can attain humility by accustoming ourselves to speak all of our words gently to everyone, all the time. Clearly, this even means someone who is wasting our time talking about nonsense while we are leaving the mikveh on Erev Yom Kippur!” .
Rabbi E.E. Frankel writes that R' Pinhas “saw good traits in every man, even the most lowly. Herschele, the water-carrier of Koretz, was a simple and gross person, whose behavior aroused disgust, [and who] very often angered his customers. Once, when he brought water to the house of Rabbi Pinhas, his Rebbetzin spoke to him in anger. When the voices reached Rabbi Pinhas' ears, he said: ‘Who are you shouting at? Herschele the water carrier? I am so ashamed in his presence! He is such a dear Jew. … If only I would merit to be as lowly in my eyes as Herschele is lowly in his own eyes’” .
“Once, Rebbe Refa'el happened to be visiting Rebbe Yisra'el Friedman of Ruzhin. His children, who were still young, wore suspenders. Rebbe Refa'el wondered and asked: ‘Why? There is arrogance and luxury in this’” [332a].
“[R' Raphael said:] ‘When a man dies, he shall be asked: “Have you studied Torah? Have you done kind deeds? Have you acknowledged twice daily the Kingdom of G-d? Have you accepted your fellow-man as your king in a meek manner?”’ He would add: ‘We should especially note the final phrase: “in a meek manner.” Accept not your fellow-man as your superior because it is a duty, but because you feel that he is in truth your superior, and that you are verily as the dust of the earth.’ His son spoke to him once, and his father was standing before his own son as a slave before a master” .
Similarly, “one of his Hasidim writes about Rabbi Rafael of Bershad: ‘He would discuss this with us at length, how you have to treat your fellow man as if he were your king, and be gentle with him and not forceful. And his son, Rabbi Levi, told us how once the rebbe spoke with him about some matter, and he saw, while his father was talking to him, that he was as lowly as if he were a servant talking to his master’” .
R' Raphael said: “What a boon that G-d prohibited pride. If He had bidden us to be proud, how could I possibly do G-d's commandment!” .
R' Raphael actually went so far as to seek disgrace and scorn: “I've seen mayses [stories] about Reb Refoel of Bershad zy”o that, when he felt that someone gave him too much kovod [honor], he would run to the market and act strange, so people would scorn and mock him, and afterward he would say that he needed his portion of bizoyon [disgrace]” .
Once, after receiving an insult, R' Raphael extended his hand and thanked the aggressor for giving him the opportunity to practice receiving abuse with equanimity .
“The Bershider used to object to the fact that the Cantor waited for him to finish the Amidah before repeating it aloud. He would say: ‘It wounds me for you to do this.’ The Koretzer's son, Jacob Simon, expostulated with him: ‘But if he should not wait for you, you would miss the “Kedushah.”’ The Bershider answered: ‘I beg of you, O revered father, to leave me in peace. Force me not to change my conduct.’ He often quoted the words: ‘Love him who reproves thee, and dislike him who honors thee’ [Derekh Eretz Zuta, chapter 9]. He also quoted from Rabbi Feibish Zbirizer: ‘Many persons believe they have attained perfection when they are able to cherish the same feelings when praised or abused. This is not so. They must actually love abuse and hate praise’” .
“The eighteenth-century Rabbi Pinchos of Koritz once visited the home of a disciple who had suddenly absented himself from the rabbi's weekly discourses. He found the young man secluded in his bedchamber, disheveled, melancholic, and unkempt. ‘Where are you?’ the rabbi called to him. The disciple, shocked by the presence of the holy master, warned him to stay away: ‘Do not approach me, Rebbe, for I am in the darkest of all places, the lowest of abysses, and, in fact, at the very final gate of ultimate defilement! Stay away or you will be contaminated!’ When the rabbi heard these words, he broke into joyful excitement and seized the hand of the ‘fallen’ man, exclaiming, ‘The darkest place, you say? The lowest of all abysses, you say? The very final gate of defilement, you say? Please let me join you! For I, too, want to see the Face of G‑d!’” .
The following was written by the Chassidim of R' Raphael: “We saw that he was always happy and enlivened when some kind of humiliation occurred to him, and he would consider it a great kindness from G-d, who sent this to him so that he would not be prideful. Once, on Hoshanna Rabba he made a mistake in the hoshanna [Save us!] prayers—he skipped over the hoshanna that the congregation was saying and accidentally said the one after it—until everybody realized what he had done, and he said it correctly with the congregation (and we remember that he seemed somewhat bothered about this). But later in his house he spoke about it, saying, ‘Thoughtless people become very worried when something like this happens because of the saying that “When someone prays and makes an error, it is a bad sign for him; and if he is leading the congregation, it is a bad sign for them.” But they do not realize that it is really a great kindness to them from G-d.’
“Once, he forgot to count the Omer, and from then on (as according to the halacha) he had to do it each and every night thereafter without the blessing, and he had to listen to the blessing said by someone else. When he led the congregation in the prayers he had to have someone else take his place when it came to counting the Omer, since he could not say it himself with the blessing. And this also he took as a great kindness from G-d, that he was able to have this experience of lowliness” .
Rav Rafael of Bershad, zt”l, explained that when a person slips up or makes an error in davening or is embarrassed, he should not allow himself to be vexed by this in the slightest. “This is just like a person who is sick and requires a bitter medicine to heal him. Although he would prefer to avoid taking the medication altogether, if he is sick he will take it and thank the doctor for administering it. Similarly, Hashem arranges for a person to err when he falls into arrogance. In order to rectify this, a person is made to stumble and this naturally makes him feel very small. Although such failings are a direct result of Hashem's mercy upon us, we are better off searching for a simpler antidote to our hubris so we will not be required to endure such embarrassing moments. If a person yearns to attain humility with his entire heart, Hashem will help him attain it. But when we fail we must never give in to feelings of depression which distance us from Hashem. Rav Pinchas of Koretz, zt”l, once encouraged me on just this point with the words, ‘Just don't be afraid.’ I always understood this to mean that a person should never allow anything to depress or frighten him. Instead one should thank Hashem for the difficulty, saying, ‘Master of the world. You have sent this trouble so I should attain humility and be healed spiritually, and for that I thank you from the bottom of my heart! Please protect me from stumbling in this manner in the future. Instead, protect me from the defilement of arrogance by awakening a desire within me to attain a truly humble spirit, so there is no longer any need to cause me to stumble and fall in the future’” [340a].
“And then there was the time, that Reb Refoel of Bershid, a learned Talmud chochom [sage] and devoted follower of the Baal Shem Tov, had a burning desire to settle in Eretz Yisrael [The Land of Israel]. As customary among Chassidim, he sought the blessing of his Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, to do so. ‘Eretz Yisrael is Eretz HaKodesh [The Holy Land] only because the Torah makes it so. The holiness of Eretz Yisrael descends from Above to below: Poland needs you and the holy Torah you can teach: You can create holiness from below to Above,’ the Baal Shem counseled Reb Refoel. Reb Refoel understood his Rebbe's words: That he was not yet destined to settle in Eretz Yisrael. He was disappointed but as a devoted chassid, he accepted the Baal Shem Tov's advice without question. ‘Perhaps, sometime in the future I will be able to fulfill my desire,’ he thought.
“Many years passed and Reb Refoel, who had served his community as a rabbi, was now growing old. Again the desire to move to the Holy Land awakened in him. ‘I am too old to serve as a Rabbi,’ he thought, ‘and would like very much to live out my last days in the Holy Land.’ But he refrained from asking his Rebbe for his blessing to go. Somehow he knew that the Baal Shem Tov would not agree. Soon thereafter, he received a letter from the Baal Shem Tov again discouraging him from the move. There was no doubt in Reb Refoel's mind that the Baal Shem Tov knew of his renewed plan through his holy vision. Disappointed again, Reb Refoel decided to put the whole idea out of his mind. He dearly treasured the letter written with the holy hand of the Baal Shem Tov, and placed it in a locked box that he put in a safe place.
“Years later, after the Baal Shem Tov had already left this world, Reb Refoel, who was now very old and weak, again had thoughts of moving to the Holy Land. ‘This is my last chance to move to the Holy Land before my time comes to leave this world.’ So he packed his possessions and put them on a wagon. When all his preparations were complete, he invited his friends and relatives for a farewell meal. In the midst of the celebration, he stepped outside the house to get a breath of air. It was not windy outdoors, yet suddenly from out of nowhere, a piece of paper fluttered down landing at Reb Refoel's feet. He bent down and picked it up. Looking at the paper in his hands, he turned white with shock! It was the Baal Shem Tov's letter that he had kept locked away for safekeeping all these years! How is it possible? He could not begin to guess, but he understood what had just occurred.
“Reb Refoel returned to his guests, and placed the letter under the tablecloth. He then began to recount to his friends and relatives the entire history of his attempts to immigrate to the Holy Land. As he explained how the Baal Shem Tov had sent him a letter, he reached under the tablecloth, but to his amazement the letter had disappeared! Reb Refoel couldn't believe it! He quickly retrieved the locked box where he kept the holy letter. Everyone gathered around with bated breath as he unlocked the box and lifted the lid. Sure enough, the letter was still there just as he had left it many years before.
“‘The bond between a chassid and his Rebbe transcends all worlds’ he exclaimed. ‘It is clear that my holy Rebbe, the Baal Shem Tov, knew from the very first time I asked for his blessing, that it was not my destiny to dwell in the Holy Land, but to remain here.’ Reb Refoel lived to a ripe old age, and continued to enlighten his community with his wisdom and teachings of Torah, as he was destined to do. And so it was” .
[Note: since the Baal Shem Tov died in 1760, when R' Raphael was about 10 years old, this story is certainly fictional.]
R' Pinchas said: “For many years I wrestled with my Anger, until finally I conquered him and placed him in my pocket. Now I take him out only when I need him. But I am so angry with him, that I do not ever want to take him out again!” .
Leoni discusses R' Pinchas's views on anger: “[One] should not be an irate person who gets angry easily, but also not be like a dead person without feelings. Rather, he should be in between: he should only become angry about something very great about which it is appropriate to become angry so that on another occasion he does not simply do so perfunctorily” [342a].
R' Pinchas said: “Whoever wishes to teach his family the true path must not become angry at them because through anger a person not only renders himself impure but the souls of those at whom he is angry as well” [342b].
R' Raphael said: “Anger, like pride, is the chief weapon of Satan. It brings impurity to the soul and leaves not a pure thread in it” .
“There is a well-known story of the ssadik Rabbi Refael of Barshad zs”l who loved anything and everything that came from Eress Yisrael. Once, friends of his sent him woolen cloth woven from the first shearing of sheep in the Holy Land. He adored his new possession, so much so that he called the tailor and asked him to make from the material a tallit katan that he could wear at all times, so as to retain a symbol of his sacred land near him at all times. The tailor cut the material, sewed the hem and folded it, so that he could cut … in the middle the opening for the neck. Accidentally, however, he … folded it over once too much; thus, instead of one hole in the center of the garment, there were two holes! Full of dread and fear, the tailor returned the precious material, and, his voice shaking from pangs of guilt, told the ssadik what had happened. Much to his surprise, the face of the ssadik lit up and he exclaimed, ‘Of course—this is how it was supposed to be! This is no mistake! There should be two holes in the garment. The first for the head, like any other tallit katan, and the second to see if Refael would get angry’” .
“Many hasidic rebbes taught that you should speak softly and quietly, with humility. Rabbi Rafael of Bershad specifically emphasized that the tone of your voice should be gentle: ‘He would teach us to be careful even about the tone of our voice. For example, if you have to tell someone in your family not to do something, you should not speak in an angry or strict tone, but softly and gently. And he would remind us of what is written in the Ramban's [Nahmanides'] Letter, that all your speech with your fellow man should be spoken gently’” .
Similarly, his disciples related: “He told us to be very careful about anger and about being annoyed … and he was insistent even about the tone of our voice. For even when you have to give some order to those in your household, or restrain them from something bad, you should not speak with anger or irritation, but gently and softly” .
Rabbi Yitzhak Buxbaum states: “According to the Kabbalah, all forms of pleasure derive from the bliss that emanates from the radiance of the Shechinah that shines through all the worlds. But that pleasure can be experienced on higher or lower planes. Rebbe Pinhas of Koretz, a great disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, once said that even the pleasure and laughter from a good joke come from the divine bliss that emanates from the Shechinah” .
“The daughter of Rabbi Shemuel of Kaminka once went to see the tzaddik Rabbi Raphael of Bershad Zatzal for a blessing to have children. Rabbi Raphael replied, ‘Joy is a segula for having children.’ When the girl recounted this to her father, he said: ‘Rabbi Raphael learned this from the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. In the Torah it is written, “And Sarah laughed” (Genesis 18:12), after which Isaac was born. In the Prophets it is written, “Sing out, O barren one” (Isaiah 54:1), and in the Writings it is stated, “A joyful mother of children” (Psalms 113:9). That being the case, if Sarah laughed because it was a segula, then why was Hashem angry with her?’ Rabbi Shemuel answered, ‘We only need a segula when a tzaddik promises us something. However when the Holy One, blessed be He, is the One promising, we do not need a segula. That is why He was angry with Sarah’” .
R' Pinchas used to comment that it is said that Sarah Imeinu had a special blessing for making challah [bread for Shabbos]. This did not mean that a small quantity of dough would miraculously increase in volume; after all, Sarah's husband, Abraham, was a wealthy man who could afford to purchase plenty of flour. It meant that Sarah's blessing was that the dough would rise beautifully, bake perfectly, and taste delicious. R' Pinchas added that the baker's frame of mind affects the quality of the challah: if the baker is calm and joyous when making it, the bread will have a special blessing of beauty and good taste [348a].
R' Pinchas said: “Joy is on a higher plane than grief. Even with the newborn child, tears come first and smiles only later. Joy constitutes a higher stage, for it springs from higher worlds, from the glory of G-d. Thus it is that joy washes away all sin” .
R' Pinchas said: “When you are joyful it is not possible to sleep because you are in a state of expanded consciousness, and sleep is the state of constricted consciousness” .
“[R' Pinchas] was very fond of song, believing that if the pious sang beautifully, it would be possible to influence G-d to leave Heaven and make His abode among human beings on earth” .
R' Pinchas said: “In the high spheres there exist temples that can be opened through song only. Some held that the sphere of music is near to the sphere of penitence” .
R' Pinchas said: “When a person sings and cannot lift up his voice, and another comes to help with his raised voice, then he too can lift his voice in song. This occurs because of the secret of the d'vekut of spirit to spirit” .
R' Pinchas said: “If I were a singer, I would accept upon myself the duty of traveling from city to city in order to lead services in the various synagogues” .
R' Pinchas said: “The nature of the Levites' work was the daily creation of new songs. Also the angels on high create new songs daily, and with the power of the new song they renew each day the miracle of Creation” .
R' Pinchas said: “A town that has menagnim [singers or composers of melodies], has ‘mochin chadashim’ [freshness of thought]” .
R' Pinchas said: “… in the name of the Arizal [Rabbi Yitzchak Luria zt”l], that he [the Ari] attained his lofty stature because he was the shaliach tzibbur [the one who led the prayers], and he sang beautifully. The entire congregation was attached to him through his Negina, and since he was attached to Hashem, he was able to uplift them all up to Hashem” .
A nigun [wordless melody, used for inducing concentration in prayer] attributed to R' Pinchas's circle is available at:
Recordings of Bershader songs and prayers have recently become available and are presented here. The melodies of these nigunim [tunes] are attributed to R' Raphael of Bershad. The recordings, with accompanying lyrics in Hebrew, include: Anim Zmiros, Ato Hoo Elokeinu, Azamer Bishvochin, Ichlu Mashmanim, Malchuso, Shvutenu Mimerchok, Venakdishoch, Venislach, and Yom Le'yabosho. The tunes were sung by the late Professor Reb Pinchas (Philip) Rabinowitz of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rechovot, Israel, who had heard them from his father, the Admo”r [Grand Rabbi] Reb Yaakov Rabinowitz of Monistritch [Monastyrishche]. According to Rabbi E.E. Frankel, “The shtetl Monistritch is near Bershad, and as is known, Reb Raphael was a great baal menagain [singer], so his tunes spread and were well known throughout the region. The Bershter tunes are characterized by calmness, humility, and sincerity, which are the foundations of Ukrainian Chassidus. … Hopefully, these tunes will draw us close to the holy tzaddikim and their holy ways” .
A version of Azamer Bishvochin with instrumental accompaniment and a contemporary flavor has also been produced by Rabbi Frankel and is presented here as well.
Rabbi E.E. Frankel also notes that the book The Tune and the Song in Chassidus, by Meir Shimon Gershuni [358a], contains the musical notation of two tunes for Yom Kippur prayers attributed to R' Pinchas of Koretz.
R' Pinchas said: “G-d created Eve to serve as Adam's ezer kenegdo [opposing helper] … to help him—against him. What does that mean? Well, imagine you visit a rich man, asking for charity. He welcomes you warmly and says: ‘Oh, I wish I could, I so wish I could give you as much as you need, as much as you deserve, but you see, I cannot; my wife is against it’” .
“Rav Pinchas Koretzer said that the women are closer to Hashem than the men are, and that is why they wear more clothing, more garments. Clothing represents the outer encircling spiritual lights [makifim], for woman has nine times the power of speech that man has” .
“[R' Pinchas] was convinced that all sicknesses originate in lies; a person who does not lie cannot be ill” .
R' Pinchas said: “The first step of any kind of healing is ‘to be concerned not only with yourself but with everything that goes on around you; help others and you will help yourself. You want to serve G-d? Start with serving G-d's children’” .
According to Patai, R' Pinchas of Koretz, like many tzaddiks and their predecessors, the Ba'ale Shem [miracle healers], compiled books of remedies and provided segulas for those who sought his help .
“There is a hasidic custom to whisper the following incantation, attributed to Rebbe Pinhas of Koretz, to a sick person: ‘Job was walking on the road and met Elijah. Elijah said to him, “What ails you?” “My head and whole body hurt!” said Job. “Go and immerse in the River of Fire,” said Elijah, “and you will be healed!” Job went to the River of Fire, immersed, and was healed. Just as Job was healed, so may all the sick of Israel be healed!’” .
“Reb Pinchos of Koritz says that the rain that falls between Pesach and Shevuos is a great refuah [healing] for diseases that have no cure, rachmana litzlon [Heaven forbid!]. One should let the rain fall on their head and open their mouth to let the rain go straight in (some places say to the right side of the mouth)” .
In Sefer Likutim Yekarim, R' Aryeh Leib Schochet relates that, while visiting the home of R' Shmuel of Kaminka, R' Refoel of Bershid was asked by his host to provide the source for a quotation he had heard in the name of R' Refoel's rebbi, R' Pinchas of Koritz. R' Pinchas had said that, in the merit of fulfilling the mitzvah of hosting guests (hachnosas orchim), a person may be healed from any illnesses he or she may have. R' Refoel replied that his rebbi's source was the prayer “Ki Hu Levado,” a tefilla that lists the 10 attributes of G‑d. This prayer refers to the 10 sefiros, which are made up of the oros (lights). Now, the Hebrew word for “guest” is Orach, which can be split into the phrase “Or Ches” (“the eighth light”). The eighth “light” in the prayer list of ten is borei refuos (“he creates remedies”). Therefore, we see that Orach is connected to refuos. R' Shmuel responded that a source may also be found in the verse in Mishpatim, “And you shall serve your G‑d your lord and he will bless your bread and your water and he will remove disease from your midst.” The verse can be explained as meaning that when your bread and water is blessed by guests who partake of them, G‑d will remove disease from your midst [365a].
R' Pinchas said: “One must eat and worship the Blessed Lord by eating” .
R' Pinchas advised that eating sparingly will tend to lengthen one's lifespan. He observed that animals and reptiles that eat the least live the longest .
Rabbi Shmuel Valtzis, a disciple of R' Pinchas, said: “Always confess before you eat and say, ‘Master of the World! Help me that my eating be in holiness, and that my intention in eating be for the sake of heaven. Save me from falling into overeating’” .
The Midrash Pinhas also states: “Interrupt yourself when eating and drinking two or three times during a meal to look in a holy book or to think over what you have heard [taught about eating]. And each time you should pray mentally, ‘Master of the World, teach me how to do Your will; and save me from the evil inclination!’” .
R' Raphael makes an analogy between one's physical posture and one's level of morality: “The infant, at birth, is only capable of attaining a lying down position. When he grows up, he is able to sit and then walk without any hesitation. It is similar for all the base appetites, such as the desire to cohabit, which is implemented in a lying down position. The appetite for food and drink is satisfied in a sitting position. Prayer is done only while standing, as when the Amidah is recited, in a vertical position. … One must distance oneself from all the appetites that are base and contemptible” [369a].
R' Pinchas said that drinking wine, in moderation, unfolds the brain. Persons who abstain from drinking wine rarely exhibit wisdom .
R' Pinchas established a custom for his disciples to drink a little liquor and a little mead (this practice was opposed by R' Yehiel Mikhel of Zlotchov) .
R' Pinchas maintained that smoking tobacco is unhealthy .
Many teachings of R' Pinchas, particularly with regard to healing and movement, teaching and learning, and self-awareness, are presented in Making Connections: Hasidic Roots and Resonance in the Teachings of Moshe Feldenkrais, by David Kaetz.
“If all Jews would give charity, redemption would occur” .
“‘My offering, My bread for My sacrifices' (Numbers 28:2). The ‘offering’ that G-d values over all others is ‘My bread for My sacrifices’—giving bread and tzedaka [charity] to the needy, as it states, ‘Give the hungry man of your bread’” .
“During Shacharis, one should give tzedakah; when one reaches the words ‘Wealth and honor are before You, and You rule over all.’ … Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz states that if all Jews would give tzedakah at this point in Shacharis, Moshiach would surely come” .
R' Pinchas said that Erev Sukkos is the time to give tzedakah .
R' Raphael said: “The reason why we go to bathe in the mikveh Erev Shabbat is that it is a matter of spiritually taking off one soul-garment and putting on another. We have to have a different spiritual aspect altogether on Shabbat, a different soul-garment. So we go to the mikveh, remove our weekday clothes, go through the transforming experience of the bath and put on our Sabbath clothes—all this being duplicated with our spiritual garments” .
R' Pinchas said: “Before the Shabbos lights burn out, they predict all that will happen in the week to come. Unfortunately, because we are on a spiritually low plane, we cannot hear what they say” .
“It was said in the name of R. Pinhas of Korzec that noodles were a proper food for the Sabbath, since they symbolized unity, for noodles become interwoven in one mass. Thus, they might be seen as alluding to Sabbath peace” .
“R. Raphael, the loyal disciple of R. Pinhas, once remarked: ‘It is said that at the close of the Sabbath one should speak about the Besht, or be silent’” .
“Many centuries ago Jacob dreamed of a ladder that was fixed to the earth, with its top soaring into the heavens. Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz said: ‘A ladder fixed in the earth: that is the six days of the week. When it reaches the heavens: that is Shabbat!’” .
It is said that when the first chapter of Bereshit, the story of creation, was read, the Bershader Chassidim would sit in a circle all day long, chanting: “Sabbath of creation, all in one! Sabbath of creation, all in one!” .
“‘And Moshe gathered’ (Shemos 35.1). Moshe gathered together the Jewish people and then he told them about the mitzvah of Shabbos. Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz explained in depth the importance of the unity of the Jewish people. [All Jews should feel as if they were part of a single people and not be divided in their hearts one from the other.] This is the meaning of ‘and he gathered.’ Moshe [when he called them together] made them to feel as if they were one. Then Moshe told them the mitzvah of Shabbos. The reason is that Shabbos shows our unity. It is like a private domain [i.e. a place where a single person dwells.] Also the Torah was given on Shabbos, because (as Chazal [our Sages] teach us) Shabbos is equal to all of the other mitzvos of the Torah. [The Talmud teaches that someone who violates Shabbos is considered as one who violates all of the Torah.] The reason [that the Torah was given on Shabbos] is that the Torah could not have been given without the unity of the Jewish people as Chazal explain with regards to the verse, ‘and Israel rested there’ [as if they were one person. From this verse we see that] Moshe was able to bring all of the Jewish people to the level of unity as Rashi explains that they came together at the call of Moshe. [Just as the Torah required this unity, so the Shabbos reminds us of this unity.]” .
“R' Pinchas Shapiro of Koretz z”l … lived in terrible poverty. His house was shabby and it looked ready to fall at any moment. Once, R' Pinchas' chassidim in another town invited him to spend Shabbat with them. In honor of the occasion, they bought him a new suit and prepared a beautiful apartment in which he would stay. On Friday night, R' Pinchas was in high spirits. He said: ‘Here, where I am a guest, they feed me on silver platters like a wealthy man, whereas at home, the poverty reaches every corner of my house. I assume that my chassidim learned to treat me this way from the Torah itself.’ He explained: ‘Parashat Pinchas contains a description of the sacrifices for all of the holidays, yet this parashah's regular place (its “home”) is during the depressing Three Weeks. On the other hand, when this parashah comes as a guest, it is Yom Tov (i.e., on each of the holidays, we read the day's sacrifices from Parashat Pinchas as a maftir [conclusion]). Similarly, I, Pinchas, make my home in depressing surroundings, but when I come as a guest, it becomes a Yom Tov’” .
Commenting on the verses “… the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath … for in six days Y-hweh made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested” (Shabbat Vayhinafash, Exodus 31:16 and 31:17), R' Pinchas said: “‘He ceased [finished His work], and He rested.’ He ceased, and sadly, a soul (Nefesh) was lost. I heard [this explanation], in the name of Rav Shlomo of Hessen (of blessed memory): the difficulty is that this verse ought to be recited at the end of Shabbat and not on the evening of Shabbat. Moreover, why recite it in a harmonious melody? He explains this by saying that a person who is totally sick no longer feels pain. But for a person in good health who has pain in one of his limbs, all the other limbs feel this particular pain. And a man, who, on all the weekdays, is sick in all the “limbs” of his soul, feels nothing—for the same reasons. But on Shabbat, as he begins to recover, he feels great pain in his sick soul, because during Shabbat he began to feel a sense of holiness (Kedusha), and he knows that a soul was lost and now feels the pain of his illness” [384a].
R' Aryeh Leib Schochet relates: “When I was a child, I was told the following story: Reb Refoel spent a Shabbos in a small village near Kiev, and on Saturday night, when he was preparing to say Havdala, he saw that his host did not have any spices. He therefore sent messengers to every Jewish home in the town to try to find some spices; however, when the messengers returned, none of them had been successful. He spoke to them, in the following words: ‘Holy people, who lives here? A mitzvah that only cost 3 groschen for a whole year, and not one person has any spices! I will announce to the entire world that they should not allow their children to marry your children.’
“It was always hard for me to understand why they deserved such a severe punishment. When I was the Rabbi in Radifka [Vradiyivka], it happened that a man from the town of Zavallia, which is between the towns of Savran and Choroshtavet [Khashchuvate], came to Radifka, and I knew someone in the town he came from, and so I asked him about that individual. He informed me that the man's daughter had converted out of the Jewish religion and married a non-Jew in the very town where her parents lived. And, in fact, the father had asked him [the visitor from Zavallia] to travel with him to Reb Dovid of Tolna to ask him to pray for his daughter, and when they came before him and recounted what had occurred, Reb Dovid asked the father whether he smelled spices while he made Havdala, and he responded in the negative; at that point, Reb Dovid refused to speak any longer to the father and said to the people in the room that someone who smells spices every time they make Havdala will not have this happen to them. And then I understood the story about Reb Refoel of Bershid.
“I later found two places in the Zohar where it is written that, on Friday, the ‘weekday soul’ of a person leaves him or her and is replaced by the ‘Shabbos soul’ (neshama yiseira), and on Saturday night, the Shabbos soul departs, but only after the spices are smelled is the weekday soul returned to the person. Therefore, one who does not smell spices has no soul, but only a spirit like all creatures other than humans, and if he or she conceives at that time, how can the child have a soul passed on to him from his parents, when they themselves have none?” [384b].
The disciples of R' Pinchas recorded his teaching: “Rosh HaShanah is like an engraving of [what will occur later during] the whole year. The way a person acts on Rosh HaShanah, that is the way his year will go. For that reason we don't eat sour things on Rosh HaShanah so that we don't make our faces grimace and become distorted, and hence [this] would be engraved [in our faces] for the year. Likewise he [Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz] didn't want to say anything before the blowing of the Shofar, perhaps he would say something wrong and then the impression of this would last the whole year. Therefore everyone should spend the full day of Rosh HaShanah with learning and prayer even after the meal [so that the whole year will be engraved with learning and prayer]. He explained that Rosh HaShanah is compared to a person who would like to build a house. First he makes the plans on paper and then he builds it. So the impression of the day of Rosh HaShanah affects the whole year” .
On one Rosh Hashanah, R' Pinchas said that all creatures are renewed during sleep. At the New Year, man falls into a deep sleep and is destroyed; he commends his soul to G‑d. But then the renewing hand of G-d touches him, and his spirit is renewed .
Additional teachings of R' Pinchas on the significance of Rosh Hashana may be found on the web site of Rabbi E.E. Frankel, at: http://www.shemolam.com/rabbi%20pinchos%20of%20koretz-%20e.files/frame.htm, slides 12 to 24.
“Our sages teach that one who eats on Erev Yom Kippur is considered as if he had actually fasted on both the ninth and the tenth of the month. Someone once approached Rav Pinchas of Koritz, zt”l, and asked, ‘Why is eating on Erev Yom Kippur as great as fasting?’ The Rav explained, ‘Eating a festive meal today is our way of celebrating Hashem's kindness in forgiving our sins on Yom Kippur, and this is how we demonstrate our faith that Hashem is kind and forgiving. Since it is in the merit of this faith that we are forgiven, our eating on this precious day can achieve so much.’” [386a].
R' Pinchas said: “Oftentimes apparent weakness denotes strength that is to come. At the moment of birth, no living creature is as weak and helpless as man, yet man grows up to be the master of all life. The horse secures his rest through sleep while standing; the cattle rest while kneeling; yet man is so weak that he must lie his entire body down. However, after lying in this vulnerable position, he awakens with renewed and superior strength. A Jew fasts on Yom Kippur and on other days. In so doing, he creates a situation of weakness in order to attain the inner and outer strength that follows. We thus behold that there is frequently weakness before strength” .
R' Pinchas said: “‘… the time of our rejoicing’: Sukkah is the unification of HVYH and ADNY (the male and female names of G‑d; numerically Sukka = 91 = the two names of G‑d combined). This unification brings about Da'at (which is the Kabbalistic term for the interface between the two highest male/female names of G‑d, and literally means Understanding. For context, Moshe, who brings the Torah from Sinai, represents Da'at), and when there is knowledge, there is joy. The proof is, that if one observes a newborn, who has very little understanding, already at birth he is capable of crying. It is only much later, when their understanding grows, that they can smile” .
R' Pinchas said that if someone experiences discomfort while sitting in the succah (because it is cold or raining, for example), he is not obligated to stay there. If he is upset and preoccupied, he will be incapable of observing the mitvza .
R' Pinchas said that on the last day of Sukkos, one should take hosha'anos [myrtle leaves], put apples on them and bake them over coal. After baking, the apples are served on the myrtle leaves .
According to Segal, R' Pinchas said that the world was illuminated by the primordial light for 36 hours; however, Adam's disobedience led G-d to store the light away until the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, during Chanukah, we kindle a total of 36 candles. Through the light of these candles, the Messiah will one day redeem us .
R' Pinchas said: “Since the festival of Chanukah is one of affirming the legitimacy of the Oral Torah, we symbolically light 36 lights, which correspond to the 36 tractates of Gemara” .
R' Pinchas said: “Every Chanuka as the Chanuka lights are kindled, the hidden light is revealed—the light of our righteous Moshiach” .
“The Rebbe of Koritz says that the letters [of the dreidel] allude to all the mitzvos of Chanuka, i.e. lighting the menora and Hallel. The nun and shin are for neiros shemone (8 lights) and the hei and gimmel are for Hallel gamur (we say all of Hallel). … Rabbi Refael of Barshid said: ‘Just like there are 70 facets to Torah, so too there are 70 facets to minhagim [customs], and Chazal say that all the miracles come from the palace of Moshiach, and during Chanuka a light from Moshiach descends. This is hinted at in the letters on the dreidel, which add up to Moshiach = 358’” .
According to Nachli Binah, “there are two methods of serving HaShem. One is that which has been taught by Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz. One should be careful of the bad midos [character traits] he has and to nullify them. This is called the level of ‘Cursed is Haman.’ The second is the way of the Rebbe Reb Zushya of Anapoli to continually concentrate on the greatness of HaShem. Through trying to be attached to HaShem [in his thoughts] he will automatically nullify the bad midos. This is called the level of ‘Blessed is Mordechai.’ One has to have a correct understanding in order to go in either the first or the second way. [The reason is that] the main method of serving HaShem is the first way [to nullify the bad midos] but on occasion he needs to follow the second method. The reason is that it is possible to come to depression if he works on a specific bad midah [for a long time] even if his intention is to nullify it. And so Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz said that one is forbidden to work more then necessary on himself to remove all haughtiness because he can come to spiritual damage from that. And the same with other midos. At those times he should follow the second method. However one needs to have [a clear] understanding [in order to do this.] [At] Purim we need to drink until we no longer have the ability to understand between these two methods. This is because our understanding goes away [due to drinking]” .
“Reb Pinchas from Koritz connects the ten pieces of chometz we hide, in order to find them during the search, and which we then burn in the morning, to the ten sons of Haman” .
R' Pinchas said that each of us can discover his own character in one of the four sons in the Passover Haggadah .
“Like his saintly great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, the Rebbe [Nachman of Breslov] did not eat gebrokhts [broken pieces of matzoh in liquid]. However, in the Breslov community this chumrah is not taken to extremes. This is due to the Rebbe's remarks about not allowing chumros yeseiros [excessive stringencies]. Therefore, although most Breslovers refrain from gebrokhts, those who have a previous custom to eat gebrokhts are not obligated to change. … This seems to have been the prevailing view in the circle of the Baal Shem Tov; … Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz … was opposed to excessive stringencies except on Pesach, and even then limited himself to those mentioned in the Shulchan Arukh” .
R' Pinchas said: “‘You will observe the feast of unleavened bread’ (Exodus 12:17). Here the word for unleavened bread is matzot, which is spelled the same as mitzvoth: commandments. Thus, Rashi, quoting Mekhilta, tells us that just as one may not permit the matzot to ferment, one may not permit the mitzvot to ferment. Just as matzah which has been permitted to ferment may not be used, and one who eats it is punishable by karet—being cut off from his people, so, too, is there a severe punishment for one who allows a mitzvah to ferment and does not perform it at its proper time” .
“Rabbi [E.E.] Frankel told me about a nice minhag for the Shabbat that follows Pesach and the one before Pesach Sheni [for those who, for different reasons, could not observe Pesach on the prescribed date]. According to R' Pinchas of Koretz and R' Raphael of Bershad, on the night of the Seder, the gates of heaven open, and they stay open until Pesach Sheni. Thus, for the Shabbat that follows Pesach, it is the custom to press a key into the dough of the challah, which will leave an impression of its shape, as a segula for parnassa [livelihood] (the gates symbolize the gates of parnassa)” .
“It is a segula for parnassa to bake shlisel [key] challah for this Shabbos. The Ohev Yisroel [Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt] explains that one of the reasons is because it's Shabbos Mevarchim Iyar, and Iyar is when the mon [manna] started to fall. There are customs as to how this is done, including putting a key into the challah before baking, making the challah in the shape of a key, making a key out of dough and placing it on the challah, or putting sesame seeds on the challah in the shape of a key. Reb Pinchos of Koritz says to make the challah flat to look like matzos” .
According to R' Pinchas, a reason for not reciting “Shehechiyanu” during Sefiras ha'Omer is because “it is not the day that we are counting that is important, but the day towards which we heading, i.e. Shavu'os, and that is when we recite ‘Shehechiyanu’” .
R' Pinchas said: “The Torah cherishes humility. Therefore, in ancient times people studied on the ground. And therefore, too, we eat dairy foods on Shavuot, for this is a sign of smallness [katnut]” .
R' Pinchas said that we eat dairy food on Shavuot as an expression of our humility. Eating dairy food signifies that we are like young children who are still too young to eat meat .
R' Pinchas said that, during Tisha B'Av, when we sit on the floor, we are very close to Hashem, and it is therefore a very auspicious time to ask for whatever we need [404a].
“A number of years before his passing, when Yud Elul arrived, Rebbe Pinchas would fast and daven [pray] much longer than usual. He would say, ‘In the month of Elul, one needs to be more of a Yid [Jew].’ No one understood the hint in these words, until several years later, when he passed away on Yud Elul, that he meant he had to prepare himself for the time of meeting his Maker” .
In a conversation about minhagim [customs, traditions] and the manner in which Ukrainian Chassidim tie their tefillin [dalet or square design], it is mentioned that “Reb Refoel of Bershad ztz”l put on tfilin shel yad [hand tefillin] while sitting (al pi Zohar [according to the Zohar]), and his Chassidim did, too” .
It was R' Pinchas's minhag [custom] to say two berakhos when putting on tefillin (one for tefilah shel yad and one for tefilah shel rosh) .
R' Pinchas made a shin on the kibores with only two windings .
R' Pinchas said it was “permissible to put on Rabbenu Tam Tefillin at any time prior to sundown, or for those who are so accustomed, before donning Shemusha Raba Tefillin before Minchah” .
In a conversation about tallises, it is mentioned that “many Russian Chassidim are particular about making chuliyos [joints] on tzitzis (to make separate clusters of 3–3–3 … according to the Zohar and Arizal). This is still practiced in Breslov by Chassidim who have a mesorah [tradition] coming from Reb Avrohom Sternhartz ztz”l, in Monistritch, Chernobyl/Skver, and Chabad. This was also a practice of Koretz and Bershad Chassidim. There are at least two ways to do chuliyos: one with the shames going outside (like Chabad and Chernobyl do today), and the other with the shames going inside (as Breslovers do). How exactly the Koritzer and Bershader Chassidim did it is not clear. Some other Chassidic minhagim about tzitzis:
“1. To make two holes on tales koton and only one on tales godol (this is in accordance with Arizal in Etz Chaim). An extra small hole, as Chabad makes, is called in Yiddish “petelke.” Reb Refoel of Bershad ztz”l also did it this way, but then he stopped, suspecting that it was not strictly in accordance with Arizal.
“2. According to the Baal Shem Tov, it is good to make knots on the end of chutim (but not on the same day as tzitzis were put on the tales).
“3. Ukrainian Chassidim wear tales godol over their shoulders, putting the two bottom ends through the gartl (and not rolling and pulling the tales to the shoulders, like many Litvaks today do). This is the original minhag of Breslov, Skolye, Chernobyl, Kapitchnitz, etc.
“Bershader Chassidim were known for their great zhirus [carefulness] in mitzvas [obligations] with regard to tzitzis. They also made tzitzis for sale that were considered to be of high quality” .