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Shavuot in Egypt

by Chaim Kramer

Today Rebbe Nachman’s teachings are known far and wide, but in the early 19th century his sphere of influence was limited to Eastern Europe. Reb Noson began introducing the Rebbe’s books to Jews in other lands during his pilgrimage to Eretz Yisrael in 1822.

In Alexandria Reb Noson was directed to the home of the chazan of the synagogue. There he met Reb Aharon, a visitor from Salonika, who asked him if he had any new books. “I told him right away that I had a new book that no one in that country had seen yet: Likutey Moharan,” Reb Noson later wrote. “There I was in exile in Egypt, in Alexandria – a place I never in my life thought I would ever visit – and I had the privilege of mentioning the Rebbe’s holy book. If this was the only reason I had come there, it was enough, especially as I now saw that I would be able to sell some books, as indeed I did.”

In Alexandria Reb Noson was introduced to the unique customs of the Sephardim. He sat on straw mats with his hosts, eating noodles and cheese with his fingers, as they did. He listened as a number of young men came in to read the weekly Torah reading of Bamidbar in the Sephardic cantillation.

On Shavuot, Reb Noson and his companion stayed up the entire night, which was nearly twice as long as a Ukrainian summer night. They recited the Tikkun Leil Shavuot and joined the Sephardim in songs and praises to God. “All over the world, Jews are singing to God and praising Him,” thought Reb Noson. One of his greatest joys was that he was able to develop some original thoughts about the Giving of the Torah.

As soon as Yom Tov was over, Reb Noson asked the Rav of Alexandria for help in collecting funds to cover his expenses for the final leg of his journey to Eretz Yisrael. The Rav agreed, and he also bought a number of books, including Likutey Moharan and The Aleph-Bet Book. Reb Aharon bought the same books to take back to Salonika, where there were even more Jews than in Istanbul.

What brought Reb Noson the greatest joy of all was the fact that Rebbe Nachman’s teachings were beginning to spread far beyond the Ukraine to the Jewish world at large.

From “Through Fire and Water: The Life of Reb Noson of Breslov”

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