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The Avnei Nezer: Salvation through the Torah

Rabbi Avraham Borenstein of Sochatshov (the Avnei Nezer) was born in 5599 (1838) to his father, Rabbi Ze’ev Nachum, author of “Agudat Ezov” and a disciple of the Rebbe of Kotzk. His mother was Rebbetzin Dvorish. In Av 5613 (1853), at the age of thirteen, he married Sarah Tzina, the daughter of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk. Rabbi Avraham lived in the home of his father-in-law, who he considered his pre-eminent rabbi, until 5623 (1863) (four years after his father-in-law passed away). Even during the years that the Kotzker Rebbe was in his self-imposed isolation, he would ask his son-in-law to repeat his innovative Torah thoughts to him. In 5623 (1863), Rabbi Avraham became the rabbi of Partchew, where he remained for a number of years. In 5627 (1867) he became the rabbi of Krushnevitz. During these years he would travel to be with his rabbis, the Chiddushei Harim of Gur and Rabbi Chanoch Henech of Alexander. After the passing of the Rabbi of Alexander, Rabbi Avraham began to serve as a chasidic rebbe. In 5636 (1876) he became the rabbi of Nasielsk. The community members there did not approve of the fact that Rabbi Avraham was both a chasidic rebbe and their chief rabbi. In 5643 (1883) he became the rabbi of Sochatshov and established a yeshiva there. In 5651 (1891) Rabbi Avraham acted to establish a chasidic moshava (agricultural community) in Rosh Pina, Israel. This plan, however, was halted because of the decrees of the Turkish sultan. Rabbi Avraham passed away on the 11th of Adar 5670 (1910). He is known as the Avnei Nezer ("Stones of the Crown") after the title of his posthumously published set of Torah responsa which is widely acknowledged as a Jewish legal classic. Rabbi Avraham’s son, Shmuel, succeeded him as Rebbe in Sochatshov.

The saintly Rabbi Shlomo Kalisch was once a Shabbat guest at the holy table of Rebbe Chanoch Henech of Sochotshov (grandson of the Avnei Nezer) in Bayit Vegan, Israel.

Rabbi Chanoch Henech turned to Rabbi Shlomo and said, “I remember that in Sochotshov they would say that the Avnei Nezer said: The world erroneously thinks that one can affect salvations by means of Kabbalah. In truth, one can affect salvation by means of the revealed portion of the Torah. Do you know something about this?”

Rabbi Shlomo smiled broadly and answered: “This story happened to me personally. Once I came to the Avnei Nezer with my illustrious father-in-law, the Chelkat Yoav. The Avnei Nezer turned to my father-in-law and said: ‘It is time for you to accept notes with requests for blessings.’ (In other words, you should be a chasidic rebbe). The Chelkat Yoav was shocked and said, ‘Rebbe! How can I do that? What will I do if someone comes to me and requests that I should affect salvation so that he will have a son? To be a rebbe, one has to know how to do that!’

‘Oy,’ answered the Avnei Nezer. ‘And don’t you know what is written in the tractate of Yevamot?’

‘Is the Rebbe referring to the explanation of the Rabbeinu Chananel?’ the Chelkat Yoav queried.

‘Then you do know!’ answered the Avnei Nezer. The world erroneously thinks that one can affect salvation only by means of the concealed dimension of the Torah. And I say that everything is possible by means of the revealed portion of the Torah. And I know, for example, that the Nimukei Yosef in the tract of Baba Kama can be used to resolve infertility,’ he added and did not explain.

“My father-in-law wasted no time. As soon as we left the Avnei Nezer’s study, he sat down and studied the entire Nimukei Yosef on Baba Kama. He did not find what the Avnei Nezer was referring to. He did, however, know the explanation of Rabbeinu Chananel on the tractate of Yevamot.”’

The Chelkat Yoav related that once when he was learning with his Rebbe, the Avnei Nezer, the Avnei Nezer’s son (the Shem Mishmuel, who was then nine years old) had fallen critically ill. In the middle of their learning session, the Avnei Nezer’s wife entered his room and screamed, “Our child is dying, and you are sitting and learning and not doing anything for him?”

The Avnei Nezer rose, went over to the boy’s bed, put his hand on the child’s face, and then returned to the table to learn. As this happened the boy began to sweat and his condition improved. “In truth,” the Avnei Nezer said, “the child’s condition would have improved while I was sitting and learning, even if I had not taken any action. But because my Rebbetzin was very stressed, and stopped me from learning for a moment, I had to get up and take some sort of action for him. For a moment of not learning had already been caused by the entire situation…”

The Avnei Nezer, who was a unique combination of a rebbe and a rabbi, a tzaddik and the head of a yeshiva, teaches us that the entire Torah affects salvation. Even if it seems to us that miracles occur as the result of the unknown secrets of the Torah, the primary factor in affecting the miracle is cleaving to the Divine Master of Wonders, Who controls nature. The masters of the concealed dimension of the Torah cleave to God by means of their thoughts and intentions. The masters of the revealed portion of the Torah, like the Avnei Nezer, cleave to God’s Torah itself. It restores the soul – even in a miraculous manner – for the Torah and the Holy One Blessed Be He are one.

It is also told of the Avnei Nezer that he recovered from a serious illness in the merit of his Torah. His father-in-law, the Rebbe of Kotzk, told him that he took him as a son-in-law so that he would learn with perseverance and not so that he would lie sick in bed. His words worked and the young groom was healed.

The Holy One, Blessed Be He, “looked in the Torah and created the world.” The Torah also has the power to recreate reality anew and to change how the world works since Creation. In Hebrew, the word for ‘creation’ is ‘bri’ah’, which shares a root with bri’ut (health). The power of the Torah heals the ill and infertile couples become fertile. Nonetheless, there is a difference between a master of the concealed portion of the Torah and a master of the revealed portion of the Torah. The master of the concealed portion of the Torah affects wonders with lovingkindness, while the master of the revealed portion of the Torah is more involved in the aspect of might. For example, the Rogotchover Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Rozin worked most of his wonders by means of the Elucidations of Maimonides, the root of the left line in the Torah.

The concealed part of the Torah, the lovingkindness, is relevant to lights. The revealed part of the Torah and might are relevant to vessels. While the master of the concealed heals the ill by drawing light down into the soul, the master of the revealed strengthens the body, itself. In the revealed part of the Torah, it becomes clear that the vessels themselves, the body and the physicality that the revealed Torah discusses are infused with Godliness. Godliness is not reserved solely for the lights-souls that fill physicality. We can say that the master of the concealed expresses the saying: “The tzaddik decrees and the Holy One, Blessed Be He fulfills (the decree), while the master of the revealed expresses the saying “The Holy One, Blessed Be He decrees and the tzaddik nullifies (the decree).”

The master of the concealed works through the attribute of victory (netzach), which is a branch of loving-kindness. After it draws new light down from Above, the previous decree is nullified in and of itself. The master of the revealed conversely, works through the attribute of acknowledgment (hod), a branch of might. By determining a law that he innovates with self-sacrifice, he nullifies the decree.

The means of action of the revealed, which is concerned with this world and from which it ascends to cleave to God, is the secret of “every returning light returns to its previous state,” literally.” The light that descends from Heaven is a revelation of Divinity, but the light that ascends from this world touches upon God’s essence (atzmut) which shares a root with otzma (strength) through which the Torah was given to the Nation of Israel.

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