When the Rav first came to Breslev more than 45 years’ ago, he was a very well-respected Litvak Talmid Chacham who’d been learning chevruta daily with the Steipler Gaon for more than eight years, already.
Breslev chassidut at that point was almost dead. It had less than 500 adherents worldwide, most of whom were Yiddish-speaking, and lived in Meah Shearim. While the Breslev elders like Rav Levi Yitzhak Bender, Rav Shmuel Shapira and Rav Hersh Leib Lippel all welcomed Rav Berland very warmly, and encouraged his efforts to broaden-out the appeal of Breslev and Rabbi Nachman’s teachings, and to break open the way to Uman, a small group of Yiddish-speaking Breslev zealots resented him and his Hebrew-speaking students right from the start.
These zealots had a number of ‘issues’ with Rav Berland, as follows:
- He was encouraging the Breslev elders to start giving more shiurim in Hebrew - and the zealots felt that ‘pure Breslev’ was only for frum-from-birth Ashkenazi Yiddish-speakers.
- He started taking people behind the Iron Curtain, to visit Rebbe Nachman’s tomb in Uman - and most of the zealots had given up on going to Uman many decades’ ago, and come up with a whole tradition of how visits to Rabbenu were no longer needed or advisable.
- He started revitalizing the Breslev practices of doing regular hitbodedut (personal prayer), guarding the eyes, and getting up for Tikkun Chatzot (the Midnight Lament) - which were all ‘inconveniences’ that the Breslev zealots weren’t interested in, and didn’t want to be hearing about.
The Breslev zealots in Meah Shearim wanted to keep Breslev and Rebbe Nachman’s teaching to themselves, and bitterly resented the hundreds and then thousands of newcomers, Sephardim and baal teshuvas that were flooding into Breslev thanks to the efforts and outreach of Rav Berland.
They also bitterly resented the fact that a ‘Litvak outsider’ like Rav Berland should become the defacto leader of the next generation of Breslev chassidim. To boil it down, this internal Breslev feud against Rav Berland is rooted in religious snobbery, elitism, arrogance, jealousy and petty-mindedness - i.e., the very opposite of what true Breslev chassidut is really all about.
Over the years, this group has tried to involve Rav Berland and Shuvu Banim in many different controversies and scandals (machloket), but they couldn’t really do much against the Rav as long as he was riding high as the undisputed leader of Breslev chassidut, with tens of thousands of followers and a reputation as the Tzaddik of the generation.
When the original false witness, I.N.S. showed up with his slanderous allegations against Rav Berland more than three years’ ago, the Breslev extremists from Meah Shearim lost no time in throwing their time, energy and money into manufacturing additional calumnies and lies against the Rav, as part of their 30-year long campaign of hate against Rav Berland and his followers.
The latest stage of this internal ‘war’ against Rav Berland and Shuvu Banim came to be spear-headed by a group of three particular Breslev zealots, the brothers Y.T.C. and L.C., plus T.Z. L.C. is a Breslev rabbi associated with the Breslev Shul in Meah Shearim, who is simply continuing the long tradition of hating Rav Berland and all the non-Yiddish speaking newcomers he’s introduced to Breslev chassidut.
Y.T.C.’s story is more complicated. For a period of time, he was actually a student at Shuvu Banim yeshiva, and also tried to get very close to the Rav. Shortly after the Rav left Jerusalem to go up North in 2011, Y.T.C. set himself up as a ‘peacemaker’ between the Rav and the group of people who had been persecuting the Rav and trying to control him for more than a decade within the Shuvu Banim yeshiva itself.
(That’s a story for another time - you’ll have to buy the book to hear more about that.)
In a recording of a conversation between Y.T.C. and Rav Berland from that time, you can clearly hear this Y.T.C. trying to take advantage of the Rav’s trait of nullifying himself to others to continue to manipulate him and control him for his own advantage. In that recording, Y.T.C. can be heard telling the Rav:
“Swear you won’t do anything without my permission…They [the other students at Shuvu Banim] don’t deserve you…You should only be with me…I believe you are the Moshiach.”
If Y.T.C. strikes you as being an emotionally-disturbed individual, you’ll be pleased to know that the great Kabbalist known as the Milkman, Rav Chaim Cohen, came to the same conclusion.
Shortly after Rav Berland returned to Israel in July 2016, the Milkman released a statement publicly naming Y.T.C., and describing him as a person who was filled with a: “spirit of dangerous insanity”, and warning others to stay away from him.
THE EXTREMISTS’ HAND IN THE LIBEL OF RAV BERLAND
While it’s hard to know exactly how much of the terrible libels against Rav Berland can be laid specifically at each door, what is clear is this:
Y.T.C., his brother L.C. and T.Z. were the people behind the forged recordings of the Rav’s so-called ‘confession’, and were also responsible for another forged clip of the Rav where they tried to portray him as inciting his followers to blow people up.
They sent these clips to the secular media, and also worked hand-in-glove with the Israeli police, giving the Israeli government the excuse they needed to keep the elderly, unwell Rav Berland in police custody as a ‘dangerous threat’ to the Israeli public.
Over the years, this group also unsuccessfully attempted to have the Rav and his followers condemned and excommunicated by a number of religious courts around the country.
‘ONLY IN BRESLEV DO YOU FIND THIS SORT OF MURDEROUS HATRED!’
The full story of what occurred at this period of time will be told in the book, but for now this is what Rav Yaacov Meir Salmanovitch, the former Rebbe of two of these persecutors, had to say about them:
“Who knows if the final redemption of our people hasn’t been delayed solely because of this terrible machloket, which has spread strife and the defamation of God’s name across the whole globe? I’ve heard so much chillul Hashem coming from every corner of the world, as a result of this machloket. People are saying, even if what happened actually happened (God forbid, as though that could actually have happened) - where is all this terrible, murderous hatred (lit: murder) coming from?
They say only in Breslev do you find this sort of murderous hatred!
“Gevald, how could you do such a thing?! Did you learn this from Rabbenu?! What we learn from Rabbenu is only to love [our fellow Jew]! And only to bring them closer!...I’m aware of all your complaints, but they are nonsense and vanity. It’s still possible to rectify everything! You both know very, very well how you can settle matters properly, if you want to.”
RAV MOTTA FRANK SPEAKS OUT
When the horrendous forged recordings were widely publicized across the secular media, and the Rav continued to be imprisoned as a result, many Breslev leaders broke their silence, and decided to speak out against this group of Breslev extremists. One of them was Rav Motta Frank, one of the contemporary leaders of Breslev chassidut in Jerusalem.
Addressing the extremists directly, he said:
“You decided, and others like you decided, that he [Rav Berland] and his people, and all those who support him are ‘Sabateans’ [i.e. followers of a modern-day ‘Shabtai Tzvi’, or false messiah].
“And it seems that only because of this…that Rav Lazer is a modern-day ‘Shabtai Tzvi’ [i.e. a false messiah], Heaven forbid, they’ve apparently permitted themselves to stoop so low, and to try to kick a person while they’re already down. And they’re not embarrassed to stoop to the very lowest of levels, and are trying to make other people go to secular court, too, to testify against Rav Lazer, to participate in the investigation by the police, who are known to hate religion, about issues that have nothing to do with the investigation, solely with the aim of trying to make more trouble for Rav Berland.
“And the most terrible thing of all was to go to such a low level to publicly cause the embarrassment and humiliation of Rav Lazer, and all of his people in this way, to pass around a recording of a ‘false’ video (as is evident to everyone who really knows Rav Lazer), which they brought out in a back-handed, deceitful way, made up of old footage of Rav Lazer.
“Anyone who has even a little bit of understanding about everything that is happening around us knows with certainty that the Rav is being persecuted, and is an innocent man. And more than this, that there is a lowly group that will not stop at anything, even the most degrading things, against this Tzaddik, the foundation of the world.”
THE RAV HAS ALWAYS DEALT KINDLY WITH HIS OPPONENTS
It cannot be overstated that the Rav had been dealing with continual persecution, opposition, lies and slanders since at least 1989, many decades before the events that became international news headlines. As has always been his way, the more others have tried to hurt, insult or humiliate him, the more kindness, love and forgiveness the Rav has typically shown them.
A leading figure in the Breslev community, Rav David Rubinstein explains more:
“Over the years, a lot of people have come through the yeshiva, and some of them even became vocal critics of the Rav. The amazing thing is that the Rav remembers these formers students who are now his opponents just as fondly as if they were still in the yeshiva.
“The Rav always used to tell us: ‘Don’t get involved in any machloket (strife)’, and he was very, very strict about this. Once the Rav commented: ‘Those people who are fighting my critics, I’d prefer that they’d fight me, instead of fighting my accusers.’
“On another occasion, he said: ‘Those people who are fighting back [against his accusers], they won’t last the distance, and in the end they’ll also become critics. Our way is only to pray. Our accusers are giving us presents, and we need to love them.’
“Throughout the years, the same people who have criticized the Rav have received the most compliments, titles and money from him. One time, the Rav even commented about one of the people who was at the head of the people attacking him that: ‘My best friend is Rav so-and-so, he’s the continuation of Rabbenu in our generation, and everyone should listen to him.’
“And he really is the Rav’s ‘best friend’, because he gave the Rav the thing that he most loves in the world, namely humiliation and insults.
THE RAV GIVES MONEY TO HIS PERSECUTORS
Rav Yosef Assulin, one of the Rav’s former attendants, shared the following story:
“The Rav has given more money to his opponents and persecutors than to almost anyone else. I’ve seen the Rav give envelopes full of money to many of the people who have spoken against him and insulted him.
“One Erev Rosh Hashanah, the Rav gave me $5000, and told me to give it to an individual who was one of the biggest persecutors and opponents of the Rav. To be honest, I didn’t so much feel like giving this guy the money, so I pushed it off and I took my time to get around to it.
“A few hours later, the Rav asked me if I’d done what he asked, and I told him I hadn’t got around to it yet. The Rav rebuked me: ‘My daughter is currently hovering between life and death, and you’re playing around with my tzedaka! Go immediately and do what I asked you!’ At that time, one of the Rav’s daughters was in labor, and the Rav felt that she needed a lot of Divine mercy to make it through OK.”
SETTLING OLD SCORES
This group of Breslev zealots is still going strong, and emboldened by their latest ‘successes’ against Rav Berland and Shuvu Banim, they have a number of additional plans to try to smear the Rav, and to make even more trouble for him and his followers.
They look like rabbis, they talk like rabbis, many of them even ARE rabbis - but in essence they are the antithesis of what a true Jew, and a true Breslever should be.
- This group hates Sephardim. If it was up to them, amazing Rabbis like Rav Shalom Arush and Rav Ofer Erez would have never been brought closer to Breslev, solely because they didn’t speak Yiddish or look Ashkenazi.
- This group hates baal teshuvas. No ‘returnee to religion’, however sincere and holy they may be, is good enough for them and their ‘pure Breslev’ creed.
- And this group also hates the truth. There is no low they haven’t stooped to, no lie they haven’t told, to try to tarnish and damage Rav Berland and his followers.
Following the Rav’s plea bargain to save his life and avoid him mouldering away for many more years in prison without a trial, this group and their spiritual allies are going to go all-out to try to pull more people against Rav Berland and his community.
It’s the spiritual test of birur that has to occur before Moshiach comes - and I can already tell you now that many, many religious people, both within the Breslev community and without, are going to fail it.