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Everything you need to know about Pidyon Nefesh – Part 2

(See Part 1 HERE)

THE 24 HEAVENLY COURTS

In Lesson I:215 of Likutey Moharan, Rebbe Nachman tells us:

Know: There are 24 types of pidyon nefesh, corresponding to 24 courts of justice. For each and every court, there is a unique corresponding pidyon nefesh to ameliorate its judgments. Therefore, a ransom is not always effective, since not everyone knows all 24 pidyon nefesh, and even if one does, he cannot perform them, and when one does not perform the specific ransom required by a specific court, it is not effective.

Now, let’s go back to Chayay Moharan (translated as Tzaddik, #181), where Rav Natan tells us:

“[T]he Rebbe said it is impossible to make a pidyon nefesh unless one knows all 24 kinds of pidyon nefesh, and how to sweeten the judgments of the 24 courts. He compared this to someone being sued in the courts of Kiev and trying to defend himself in the courts of Kaminetz.

“How can you make a pidyon nefesh for someone if you don’t know what court they are judging him in? At that time, too, the Rebbe said that there is a pidyon nefesh so exalted, that it has the power to sweeten the judgements of all 24 courts…

“He said only one in a generation knows of those 24 pidyon nefesh.”

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So know, we’ve learned that there are 24 courts in heaven that are cranking out the judgements against us, and that in order to ‘sweeten’ the judgment against us by paying over money for a pidyon nefesh, we need to know which court is actually trying our case.

Each of our true tzaddikim have influence in one, or some, or many, of those 24 courts of justice. But there is only one tzaddik in every generation who has access to all 24 courts. And so a pidyon nefesh given to that tzaddik will clearly be the most effective.

There’s a passage from One in a Generation Volume 1 that explains this very nicely:

“Rav Berland had begun corresponding with Rav Yitzchak Kaduri in his younger years, and sent him many letters containing a number of questions he had about Kabbalah. After their correspondence had continued for some time, Rav Kaduri started occasionally telling some of the people who came to him for help that Rav Berland was the one tzaddik in the generation who controls all 24 of the Heavenly courts, and that only he could help them.

This sentiment was echoed in more recent times by Rav Yoram Abergel, zt” l, as the following account shows: “A year and a half ago, around six months before his untimely death,  I went to ask Rav Yoram, zt” l, a number of questions, and one of them concerned all the commotion surrounding the tzaddik and gaon, Rav Eliezer Berland,” explains Dan Ben-Dovid, one of Rav Abergel’s close followers.

“I didn’t really know very much at all about Rav Berland, shlita, or his Shuvu Banim community. But there was so much commotion going on around him, the matter came to my attention. So, I asked Rav Yoram Abergel, ‘Honored Rabbi, there are a lot of things being said about Rav Berland, with people saying all sorts of different things about him.’

“Rav Yoram gave me a very big smile and quietly whispered in my ear, ‘Rav Berland, shlita, rules over the 24 Heavenly courts.’”

RECAP:

Let’s recap where we’ve got to so far:

  • We all do, say and think ‘bad’ things all the time, that we don’t properly acknowledge or make teshuva about.
  • All these sins lead to harsh judgments being made against us in the 24 heavenly courts.
  • Those harsh spiritual judgments manifest as illnesses, money problems, shalom bayit issues, mental health problems, feelings of sadness and depression, relationship problems etc.
  • The suffering itself helps to atone for these sins, and to ‘pay down’ our spiritual debt.
  • But, there is another way we can ‘sweeten the judgments’ and that’s by paying a true tzaddik a sum of money to perform a pidyon nefesh for us.
  • While many of our true tzaddikim are familiar with a few of the heavenly courts where these judgments are made, only one tzaddik in a generation knows all 24 courts, and can affect the outcome in all of them.
  • A pidyon given to this one tzaddik will thus be the most effective. But pidyons given to other true tzaddikim can also work wonders, if they have influence in that specific heavenly court where the harsh judgement was actually made.
  • You have to ask God to help you find out who this ‘one tzaddik of a generation’ is, because not everyone will merit getting access to the ‘spiritual shortcuts’ this tzaddik can give them.

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THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TO HAVE, WHEN GIVING A PIDYON NEFESH

So, now we get to that part of the post that I’ve left until last, because it contains some of the knottier issues that so many people have with paying over a pidyon nefesh.

The main place to start is the knee-jerk reaction I get from so many people with very shaky belief in true tzaddikim, that you can basically sum up as: it’s just a big scam.

Why would someone believe that?

There are a few possible answers to that question. Maybe, they don’t read Likutey Moharan, and the other Breslov works. Maybe, they do read them, but don’t believe that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was really a tremendous tzaddik who had a much better grasp of how the world really works, than they do.

Maybe, they do believe what’s written in Likutey Moharan etc, but they have real doubts about how to find the ‘one tzaddik’, or a true tzaddik, in our generation.

Maybe, they’ve paid money to pseudo-tzaddikim in the past, and didn’t see any benefit or improvement.

And the last option is that maybe they’ve paid money over to a bona fide real tzaddik, but their specific problem still hasn’t been solved.

Let’s go through all of these possibilities, and try to address them, to see what’s really going on ‘underneath’.

  • PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT THE CONCEPT OF DOING A PIDYON NEFESH, OR HOW IT’S MEANT TO WORK

This is the easiest to solve. Take a look at Likutey Moharan 1:215, and the other sources mentioned above. You can also take a look at THIS explanation of the concept of doing a pidyon nefesh, for more background.

  • PEOPLE DON’T BELIEVE THAT REBBE NACHMAN WAS A HUGE TZADDIK WHO KNOWS WHAT HE’S TALKING ABOUT

Mockery, agnosticism and arrogance are huge problems today, even in the externally orthodox world. In Sefer HaMiddot, section on Tzaddik, #134 it’s written:

Mockery prevents one from going to the tzaddikim.

It’s also written (#130):

Judgments are sweetened through faith in tzaddikim.

It’s no coincidence that the people who mock and talk against the true tzaddikim experience tremendous suffering. God should have mercy on them.

  • PEOPLE DON’T KNOW HOW TO FIND A ‘TRUE TZADDIK’, OR WHO TO TRUST TODAY

This is another easy issue to resolve: Ask God to show you who is the real deal. There is no other way of finding it out.

Within 3 days of me and my husband starting to do this a few years back, we got some very definite answers that completely transformed our life.

  • PEOPLE HAVE BEEN BURNED BY ‘PSEUDO-TZADDIKIM’ IN THE PAST, AND ARE NOW VERY WARY

I have so much sympathy for you, as I also went through something similar. The answer, again, is to start exploring the issue in hitbodedut, and to ask God to show you which bad middot tripped you up into wanting to believe these pseudo-tzaddikim were the real deal.

Speaking for myself, I got tripped up by my own arrogance, anger and harshly judgmental tendencies. It was only once I’d suffered through a whole bunch of horrible things that I bought on myself with these bad middot that I was willing to start acknowledging my own issues. At that stage, I started to see through the ‘pseudo tzaddikim’ I’d been enamored with, and also came away from reading stuff from the autistics etc, and life started to be so much nicer and better.

The whole world really is a mirror. The more we work on our own bad middot, the more we’ll naturally be attracted to good, honest and true tzaddikim.

  • PEOPLE HAVE PAID A PIDYON NEFESH TO A REAL TZADDIK AND THEY DIDN’T SEE ANY MOVEMENT

Of all the issues, this is clearly the hardest one to really address. What’s going on with that?

A little while back on the ravberland.com website, I read THIS story, about a man who had to go back to Rav Berland 12 different times, to pay 12 different pidyon nefesh, before his son came out of the coma he’d been in for 10 years.

After I read that story, I did a lot of pondering about it, to try to really understand what was going on there.

Why didn’t the Rav just tell the man to pay one, massive, pidyon nefesh upfront, and gamarnu? Or, why didn’t the Rav explain to the man that he’d need to pay 12 different pidyons before it would work, instead of telling him each time his son would now wake up?

I was very puzzled about this, so I did some hitbodedut on it and here’s what I got back:

The Rav is not a caspomat. Even though doing a pidyon nefesh is a powerful spiritual shortcut, it doesn’t mean that we ourselves don’t have to also make our own teshuva, and also keep working on our own emuna, and particularly, our own emunat tzaddikim.

It’s still a joint effort.

The miracle that man was asking for, to resuscitate a boy who’d been in a coma for 10 years, was absolutely enormous, by any measure. Clearly, the money alone couldn’t pull it off. The father also needed to ‘deserve’ the miracle he eventually got by:

  1. Going through the tremendous suffering of having his hopes dashed on 11 different occasions, before his son finally regained consciousness, and
  2. Working on his emunat tzaddikim, in a very real way, to not go sour half-way through the process and start bad-mouthing the Rav to anyone who would listen for not ‘delivering’ on what he’d promised.

And those three things together is what lead to the harsh decree ultimately being torn up, and the boy waking up.

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What can we learn from this?

I know so many people who have seen swift, immediate and massive turnarounds from doing a pidyon nefesh with Rav Berland. They have no questions. I also know people who have seen immediate but small improvements, that are slowly gathering steam. Most of those people also don’t have questions about what’s going on, and can see it’s a process.

Then there are those who apparently see no change, no turnaround.

Like the man in the story.

We had something a little similar when our house purchase went so spectacularly wrong, last year. My husband paid a pidyon – and nothing seemed to move. Then he went back and the Rav told him to pay another pidyon – and nothing seemed to move.

Then, he went back again, and the Rav told him to pay another pidyon, and that’s finally when we got the breakthrough that helped us to get out of the whole mess and put it behind us.

For a few weeks there, we also had no idea what was going on, But we knew one thing: no money you give to a true tzaddik is ever wasted.

God decreed we had to go through that horrible house purchase, clearly it was something we had to experience. But paying the pidyon meant we could get out of the yucky situation as soon as we’d done the tikkun, and that we wouldn’t be permanently traumatized and embittered by it.

After it happened, we learned a great deal about ourselves, and what we still needed to make teshuva about, and at this stage, I can see that I deserved what happened 100%, and I’m grateful for it.

That experience brought out a whole bunch of ‘bad middot’ that had been hiding out in my blind spot, and that I had no idea were even there.

Our true tzaddikim are operating on a level far, far above us. We have no idea what’s really going on, what really needs fixing. Sometimes, the amounts of money required to ‘fix’ the problem are so astronomical, most people would baulk at the sums.

Maybe that’s why, sometimes, the Rav splits it up into many different payments.

Maybe that’s why, sometimes, we also have to continue to suffer for a bit, or have to work on our emunat tzaddikim, or have to make an effort to not start slandering and spreading lashon hara.

Because that suffering also atones, and brings down the ‘debt’, that teshuva also atones for us, until the pidyon can actually take care of the rest.

Who knows?

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WHEN YOU SHOULDN’T GIVE A PIDYON NEFESH

So, let’s end this post with a brief discussion about when you shouldn’t pay a pidyon.

Don’t do a pidyon nefesh if:

  • You aren’t doing it 100% with a full heart – i.e. you aren’t 100% happy to give over the money, regardless of the outcome, or you begrudge the payment.
  • You won’t be able to stop yourself from slandering and speaking badly if it doesn’t work out how you wanted it to.
  • You don’t really believe in the concept of doing a pidyon nefesh, and secretly think it’s ‘just a scam’.
  • You don’t have a lot of patience, and expect everything to be rectified ASAP (the one place this doesn’t apply is with life-threatening emergencies where time is of the essence. But even then, it may take a day or two, a week or two.)

If that might happen, it’s better for you – way better for you – to keep your money to yourself.

Giving a pidyon to a real tzaddik is a tremendous zchut, a tremendous merit – just as giving any money / gifts / help to them is.

If you’re relating to the whole thing like it’s some transaction at Walmart, that comes with a money-back guarantee – you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Remember what Rabbenu taught us in Sefer HaMiddot:

#153 Someone who draws close to the Tzaddik, but who doesn’t do it innocently, will eventually become an opposer.

Our true tzaddikim are not salesmen, they don’t ‘owe’ us anything. On a number of occasions, I’ve seen with my own eyes how Rav Berland has either refused to respond to requests to a do a pidyon, or how he’s given the petitioner a blessing, or a prayer to be recited, or a practice to be followed, instead of paying over money.

We pay over the money for a pidyon nefesh to help ourselves, not to help the tzaddikim we’re giving the money to. But we’re not always helped in the ways we expect. Vis:

#172 Through the gifts that one brings to tzaddikim, a person can subdue their enemies, and neutralize the evil spirit that hovers over themselves.

#182 One who benefits the Tzaddik from his belongings, it is as if he benefited all the Jewish people, and he is saved from death.

#196 Connection to the Tzaddik is a great healing.

#209 Through the livelihood people provide for the Tzaddik, all their sins are forgiven, just as the Cohen’s eating of the sacrifices atoned for those who offered them.

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May God help us to develop the emuna, and the emunat tzaddikim we really require to get through the last of these birthpangs of Moshiach in one piece.

Click HERE for more posts on Pidyon Nefesh.

 

Everything you need to know about Pidyon Nefesh – Part 1

The whole idea of giving a pidyon nefesh to a real Tzaddik has to be one of the most misunderstood, confusing and murky concepts in Jewish thought.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to deal with this subject via email, or a phone call, so I think the time has come to try to sort it all out in a methodical fashion, and bring as many of the sources and explanations as I can into one post.

(Now that I’ve actually written this, I’m going to split it up into two posts, one after the other.)

But before we can get to the basic idea behind a pidyon nefesh (which is not just a Breslov idea, btw, and not even just a Chassidic idea. Many Sephardi kabbalists also hold by the idea of doing pidyon nefesh) – we first have to talk a bit about the idea of the True Tzaddik.

Which is probably the second most misunderstood, confusing and murky concepts in Jewish thought, so this is going to be one heck of a long post!

After some consideration, I thought the easiest way to dive into the topic is to just bring some of what Rebbe Nachman explains about the Tzaddik, and true tzaddikim, in his book, Sefer HaMiddot.

QUOTES FROM SEFER HAMIDDOT (Taken from the chapter called Tzaddik):

#12 Putting in effort to draw close to tzaddikim is beneficial for serving God.

#20 Don’t be disturbed by the fact that the tzaddikim accept financial support from others in order to run their households with wealth and honor – would it be better for them not to take from others, and not to lead? For the more delight and expansion the Tzaddik has, the more his soul expands, and then there is a resting place in which the Divine Presence may dwell. Therefore, one should not come to the house [of a Tzaddik] empty-handed.

#40 In the merit of serving a great man, one is saved from death.

#46 Giving money to benefit a tzaddik is like serving in the Holy Temple.

#82 Sometimes, a tzaddik elevates someone and then humiliates them, and this is for the person’s benefit.

#107 Sometimes, through giving one bit of satisfaction to the Tzaddik, and through the little action one does for him, one merits the World to Come.

#122 The blessing of a Tzaddik is a pidyon.

#127 One who puts the Tzaddik to the test, it’s as if he put God to the test.

#130 Through faith in Tzaddikim judgments are sweetened.

#136 There is no Tzaddik who does not endure attackers and investigators.

#150 God gives parnassa to a tzaddik through the community, in order that he will have some connection with them, and so that when God remembers the Tzaddik, he remembers them as well.

#151 The coming of Moshiach depends on drawing close to the Tzaddik.

#153 Someone who draws close to the Tzaddik, but who doesn’t do it innocently, will eventually become an opposer.

#172 Through the gifts that one brings to tzaddikim, a person can subdue their enemies, and neutralize the evil spirit that hovers over themselves.

#182 One who benefits the Tzaddik from his belongings, it is as if he benefited all the Jewish people, and he is saved from death.

#196 Connection to the Tzaddik is a great healing.

#209 Through the livelihood people provide for the Tzaddik, all their sins are forgiven, just as the Cohen’s eating of the sacrifices atoned for those who offered them.

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Ad kan, from Sefer HaMiddot. As always, it’s highly recommended to look up the quotes yourself, as I just picked out a few, and there’s much more that could be said.

What I wanted to try to bring out with these quotes are two key points:

  • Giving money / help / gifts / support to tzaddikim is always very beneficial to a person, and goes a long way to cancelling out our sins and helping us to overcome our yetzer haras and negative character traits. And this is without us even getting into the specific discussion about a pidyon nefesh, which we’ll come to shortly.
  • All of the things described above only apply to True Tzaddikim – and not ordinary rabbis and rabbanits, nice as they might be. Even more so, these benefits don’t apply to giving money to ‘pretend’ holy people.

From my own experience, I know it’s very, very hard to really know who is ‘real’ and who isn’t today, let alone who is a ‘true tzaddik’ and who isn’t.

There is only one way to really know this with certainty, and that is:

To pray on it, and to ask God to show you who is a real tzaddik.

Yes, we’re talking about doing regular hitbodedut again, because without it, you’ll trip up. Even with it, you’ll probably still trip up, especially at the beginning. Why? Because we are drawn to the rabbis and rabbanits that most mirror and reflect our own views and beliefs back at us.

If we are angry, judgmental, arrogant hypocrites who think we’re perfect and all the problems in the world are simply everyone else’s fault – that’s the sort of people we’ll be drawn to, those are the types of Torah classes and ideas and ‘proofs’ we’ll want to hear. It takes a lot of time to start clearing all those bad middot out of the way, but when that starts to happen, we’ll find ourselves open to hearing about judging others favorably, and about taking responsibility for our own issues, and about working more on our own bad middot.

And that’s when God will start to draw us closer to the really holy people, the true tzaddikim in our midst.

So, the first part of the equation is that giving money and gifts to true tzaddikim is always beneficial to a person, at least in the spiritual realm, but that it’s not so easy to know who a true tzaddik is, and there are a lot of ‘pseudo-tzaddikim’ out there.

Now, let’s talk more about the concept of the Pidyon Nefesh itself.

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REBBE NACHMAN EXPLANS WHY WE SHOULD DO A PIDYON NEFESH:

In the Kitzur Likutey Moharan (translated into English as ‘Advice’, by the Breslov Research Institute), it says the following about Pidyon Nefesh:

  • When a person is sick, a pidyon nefesh (monetary redemption) is the pre-requisite of any cure. Only after the redemption has been made does the Torah give the doctor permission to cure (See Likutey Moharan, II:3)

  • When a person fills the mouths of the Sages with wine, it is accounted for him like a redemption (LM 1:41)

  • Getting up for Tikkun Chatzot (the midnight prayer for rectification) has the same power as a redemption.

  • It is a good practice to always give money for a pidyon nefesh. This is the way to sweeten the power of harsh judgments at all times, and to be saved from them. Even when nobody in the house is sick and you have no particular problems, it is still good to present money for a pidyon nefesh, in order to prevent any problems or sickness, God forbid (Chayey Moharan Section on Serving Hashem, 92).

This isn’t just anyone telling us this, it’s Rebbe Nachman, one of the biggest rabbis in Jewish history.

And he’s spelling it out clearly, that if you want the best chance of avoiding harsh sicknesses and other big difficulties, you should regularly pay a pidyon nefesh, even if you’re not currently experiencing any problems!

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HOW DOES A PIDYON NEFESH WORK?

To understand this, we first have to state something obvious, but which is often so hidden from so many of us, in our ‘pretend perfect’ world:

Nobody is perfect, and every single one of us is constantly transgressing Torah commandments and hurting other people every minute of every day.

The best way to minimize the judgements against us is by going over the past 24 hours in hitbodedut, to try to figure out if that angry outburst, that slanderous email, that nasty behavior, that spiteful comment, was really as justified and ‘holy’ as it seemed at the time.

This is a crucial part of the teshuva process, and if we’re doing regular teshuva, that’s the main way how we can keep these harsh heavenly decrees that are building up against us every single day in check.

But, even if we are regularly doing that (and especially if we’re not…) we all have our blind spots, we all have our flaws and issues, particularly in the area of man and his fellow man. And if those sins aren’t properly atoned for, they can cause harsh judgments to be sent down to us by the Heavenly Court.

Those harsh spiritual judgments manifest in all sorts of ways, including financial problems, health problems, shalom bayit problems, mental health issues where we just feel sad and depressed all the time, problems with the kids etc etc etc.

Now, the suffering itself atones for our sins.

This is a well-known concept, that when we’re going through harsh experiences, that is ‘paying down our debt’, spiritually. That suffering cleans off the spiritual stains we have on our souls, as a result of all the stuff we’re doing wrong (constantly….) that we aren’t acknowledging, or making teshuva about.

ONE WAY OR ANOTHER, THE SPIRITUAL DEBT WE’VE RUN UP HAS TO BE PAID OFF.

There are three main ways we can do this:

  • Clean it off with daily hitbodedut / cheshbon hanefesh / teshuva (but remember, we all have blind spots, which means that we’re for sure not catching everything we’re doing wrong and need to fix.)
  • Experience the suffering we brought down on ourselves as a result of our own behavior and flaws.
  • Pay a pidyon nefesh, a sum of money for a redemption, to a true tzaddik, which is a different sort of ‘suffering’, because parting with our cash is very hard for most of us to do.

The Tanach makes regular reference to money as damim, ‘bloods’.  Why is it called this?

Because we literally sweat and spill our own blood in order to earn that money, to get it together. It’s very dear to us, we’ve sacrificed so much time, effort, energy, whatever to attain it.

And there’s another factor to toss in here, which is that some of our suffering – especially in this generation, the last before Moshiach finally comes – is because of sins that we committed in past lives.

When that’s the case, we can’t even get to it via a daily teshuva process, however much we try. So then we’re really left with just the last 2 options on the list.

And sometimes, even a pidyon nefesh can’t get us out of the harsh decree, because that is our tikkun for a previous life, and it can’t be avoided.

In the next post, let’s take a look at how the pidyon nefesh process actually works, in Shemayim.