Nachman of Breslov
Nachman of Breslov
Nachman of Breslov
4 April 1772 (Rosh Chodesh Nisan 5532)
|Died||16 October 1810 (18 Tishrei 5571)|
|Spouse||Sashia, daughter of Rabbi Ephraim of Ossatin|
daughter (died in infancy)
|Main work||Likutey Moharan|
Nachman of Breslov (Hebrew: נחמן מברסלב), also known as Reb Nachman of Bratslav, Reb Nachman Breslover (Yiddish: רבי נחמן ברעסלאווער), Nachman from Uman (April 4, 1772 – October 16, 1810), was the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.
Reb Nachman, a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, revived the Hasidic movement by combining the esoteric secrets of Judaism (the Kabbalah) with in-depth Torah scholarship. He attracted thousands of followers during his lifetime, and his influence continues today through many Hasidic movements such as Breslov Hasidism. Reb Nachman's religious philosophy revolved around closeness to God and speaking to God in normal conversation "as you would with a best friend". The concept of hitbodedut is central to his thinking.
Reb Nachman was born on April 4, 1772 (Rosh Chodesh of Nisan) in the town of Międzybóż, which is in the Podolia region of the then Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and which is now in Ukraine. In the same year, the First Partition of Poland was agreed on, and the region and surrounding ones were taken over by the Russian Empire.
Reb Nachman's mother, Feiga, was the daughter of Adil (also spelled Udel), daughter of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidic Judaism. His father Simcha was the son of Rabbi Nachman of Horodenka (Gorodenka), who was a seventh-generation lineal descendant of Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel and one of the Baal Shem Tov's disciples, after whom Reb Nachman was named. Reb Nachman had two brothers, Yechiel Zvi and Yisroel Mes, and a sister, Perel. Reb Nachman told his disciples that as a small child, he avoided the pleasures of this world and set his sights on spirituality. He paid his melamed (teacher) three extra coins for every page of Talmud that he taught him, beyond the fee that his father was paying the teacher, to encourage the teacher to cover more material. From the age of six, he would go out at night to pray at the grave of his great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, and immerse in the mikveh afterward.
At the age of 13, he married Sashia, daughter of Rabbi Ephraim, and moved to his father-in-law's house in Ossatin (Staraya Osota today). He acquired his first disciple on his wedding day, a young man named Shimon who was several years older than he was. He continued to teach and attract new followers in the Medvedevka region in the years that followed.
In 1798–1799, he traveled to the Land of Israel, where he was received with honor by the Hasidim living in Haifa, Tiberias, and Safed. In Tiberias, his influence brought about a reconciliation between the Lithuanian and Volhynian Hasidim.
Shortly before Rosh Hashana 1800, Reb Nachman moved to the town of Zlatopol. The townspeople invited him to have the final word on who would lead the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur prayer services. The man chosen to lead Neilah, the final prayer service of Yom Kippur, did not meet the Rebbe's approval. Suddenly the man was struck dumb and forced to step down, to his great embarrassment. After the fast ended, Reb Nachman spoke in a light-hearted way about what the man's true intentions had been, and the man was so incensed that he denounced Reb Nachman to Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Shpola, known as the "Shpoler Zeide", a prominent Hasidic rabbi and early disciple of Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, who was a leading figure in the first generation of Hasidut. Thus began the Shpoler Zeide's vehement campaign against Breslov Hasidism. During this time he visited many synagogues, including the Great Synagogue in Dubno in Volhynia (now Rivne region), with the largest one in Ukraine and the graves of relatives in the same city.
Move to Bratslav
In 1802, Reb Nachman moved to the town of Bratslav, also known as "Breslov" and "Bracław". Here he declared, "Today we have planted the name of the Breslover Hasidim. This name will never disappear, because my followers will always be called after the town of Breslov."
His move to the town of Breslov brought him into contact with Nathan Sternhartz ("Reb Noson"), a 22-year-old Torah scholar in the nearby town of Nemirov, eight miles north of Breslov. Over the next eight years, Reb Noson became his foremost disciple and scribe, recording all of Reb Nachman's formal lessons as well as transcribing the Rebbe's magnum opus, Likutey Moharan. After Reb Nachman's death, Reb Noson recorded all the informal conversations he and other disciples had had with the Rebbe, and published all of Reb Nachman's works as well as his own commentaries on them.
Reb Nachman and his wife Sashia had six daughters and two sons. Two daughters died in infancy and the two sons (Ya'akov and Shlomo Efraim) both died within a year and a half of their births. Their surviving children were Adil, Sarah, Miriam, and Chayah. Sashia died of tuberculosis on June 11, 1807, the eve of Shavuot, and was buried in Zaslov just before the festival began. The following month, Reb Nachman became engaged to a woman from Brody whose father was the wealthy Joshua Trachtenberg. (In recent years, a descendant of the Trachtenberg family informed Rabbi Leibel Berger, formerly of the Breslov-Uman Vaad [Committee] of America, that this second wife's name was Devorah [Deborah]. However, this claim remains unverified.) Right after the engagement, Reb Nachman contracted tuberculosis.
Move to Uman
In May 1810, a fire broke out in Bratslav, destroying Reb Nachman's home. A group of maskilim (Jews belonging to the secular Haskalah [Enlightenment] movement) living in Uman invited him to live in their town, and provided housing for him as his illness worsened. Many years before, Reb Nachman had passed through Uman and told his disciples, "This is a good place to be buried." He was referring to the cemetery where 2000 (or by some accounts as many as 20,000) Jewish martyrs of the Haidamak Massacre of Uman of 1768 were buried. Reb Nachman died of tuberculosis at the age of 38 on the fourth day of Sukkot 1810, and was buried in that cemetery.
During the Rebbe's lifetime, thousands of Hasidim traveled to be with him for the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana, Chanuka, and Shavuot, when he delivered his formal lessons. On the last Rosh Hashana of his life, Reb Nachman stressed to his followers the importance of being with him for that holiday in particular. Therefore, after the Rebbe's death, Reb Noson instituted an annual pilgrimage to the Rebbe's gravesite on Rosh Hashana.
This annual pilgrimage, called the Rosh Hashana kibbutz, drew thousands of Hasidim from all over Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and even Poland until 1917, when the Bolshevik Revolution forced it to continue clandestinely. Only a dozen or so Hasidim risked making the annual pilgrimage during the Communist era, as the authorities regularly raided the gathering and often arrested and imprisoned worshippers. Beginning in the mid-1960s, Hasidim who lived outside Russia began to sneak into Uman to pray at Reb Nachman's grave during the year. During "Perestroika" in Soviet Union in 1989, the gates were reopened entirely. In 2008, approximately 25,000 people from all over the world participated in this annual pilgrimage.
In April 1810, Reb Nachman called two of his closest disciples, Rabbi Aharon of Breslov and Rabbi Naftali of Nemirov, to act as witnesses for an unprecedented vow:
"If someone comes to my grave, gives a coin to charity, and says these ten Psalms [the Tikkun HaKlali], I will pull him out from the depths of Gehinnom!". "It makes no difference what he did until that day, but from that day on, he must take upon himself not to return to his foolish ways".
This vow spurred many followers to undertake the trip to Reb Nachman's grave, even during the Communist crackdown.
In his short life, Reb Nachman achieved much acclaim as a teacher and spiritual leader, and is considered a seminal figure in the history of Hasidism. His contributions to Hasidic Judaism include the following:
- He rejected the idea of hereditary Hasidic dynasties, and taught that each Hasid must "search for the tzaddik ('saintly/righteous person')" for himself — and within himself. He believed that every Jew has the potential to become a tzaddik.
- He emphasized that a tzaddik should magnify the blessings on the community through his mitzvot. However, the tzaddik cannot "absolve" a Hasid of his sins, and the Hasid should pray only to God, not to the Rebbe. The purpose of confiding in another human being is to unburden the soul as part of the process of repentance and healing.
- In his early life, he stressed the practice of fasting and self-castigation as the most effective means of repentance. In later years, however, he abandoned these severe ascetisms because he felt they may lead to depression and sadness. He told his followers not to be "fanatics". Rather, they should choose one personal mitzvah to be very strict about, and do the others with the normal amount of care.
- He encouraged his disciples to take every opportunity to increase holiness in themselves and their daily activities. For example, by marrying and living with one's spouse according to Torah law, one elevates sexual intimacy to an act bespeaking honor and respect to the God-given powers of procreation. This in turn safeguards the sign of the covenant, the brit milah ("covenant of circumcision") which is considered the symbol of the everlasting pact between God and the Jewish people.
- He urged everyone to seek out his own and others' good points in order to approach life in a state of continual happiness. If one cannot find any "good points" in himself, let him search his deeds. If he finds that his deeds were driven by ulterior motives or improper thoughts, let him search for the positive aspects within them. And if he cannot find any good points, he should at least be happy that he is a Jew. This "good point" is God's doing, not his.
- He placed great stress on living with faith, simplicity, and joy. He encouraged his followers to clap, sing and dance during or after their prayers, bringing them to a closer relationship with God.
- He emphasized the importance of intellectual learning and Torah scholarship. "You can originate Torah novellae, but do not change anything in the laws of the Shulchan Aruch!" he said. He and his disciples were thoroughly familiar with all the classic texts of Judaism, including the Talmud and its commentaries, Midrash, and Shulchan Aruch.
- He frequently recited extemporaneous prayers. He taught that his followers should spend an hour alone each day, talking aloud to God in his or her own words, as if "talking to a good friend". This is in addition to the prayers in the siddur. Breslover Hasidim still follow this practice today, which is known as hitbodedut (literally, "to make oneself be in solitude"). Reb Nachman taught that the best place to do hitbodedut was in a field or forest, among the natural works of God's creation.
- He emphasized importance of music for spiritual development and religious practice.
Another prominent feature of Reb Nachman's teachings is his Tikkun HaKlali ("General Rectification" or "General Remedy") for spiritual correction. This general rectification can override the spiritual harm caused by many sins, or one sin whose ramifications are many. On Shavuot 5566 (May 23, 1806) Reb Nachman revealed that ten specific Psalms, recited in this order: Psalms 16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, and 150, constitute a special remedy for the sin of wasting seed, which defiles the sign of the covenant, and, by extension, all the other mitzvot. Most Breslover Hasidim try to say the Tikkun HaKlali daily.
Reb Nachman lived at a time of strife between Hasidim and their opponents, the Misnagdim, rabbinic Jews arrayed against Hassidic practice and philosophy. It was also a time of friction between Hasidim and a growing population of Jews influenced by the Haskalah (Enlightenment) desiring emancipation as equal citizens in Europe's liberalizing nation states. (In 1816, Joseph Perl wrote a denunciation of Hasidic mysticism and beliefs, in which he criticized many of the writings of Nachman, who had died six years earlier. Austrian imperial censors blocked publication of Perl's treatise, fearing that it would foment unrest among the empire's Jewish subjects.)
During his lifetime, Reb Nachman also encountered opposition from within the Hasidic movement itself, from people who questioned his new approach to Hasidut. One of these was Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Shpola, known as the "Shpoler Zeide" (Grandfather/Sage of Shpola) (1725–1812), who, according to Breslov tradition, had supported Reb Nachman in his early years but began to oppose him after he moved to Zlatipola, near Shpola, in September 1800. Breslov tradition records that Reb Nachman had insulted the cantor who had led the service for Yom Kippur that year in the town's main synagogue, saying that he sang only "to impress his wife". The insulted cantor went to Rabbi Aryeh Leib to complain the next day, possibly also upset that Reb Nachman had changed some of the customs of the synagogue which had been instituted during the eight years that R. Aryeh Leib had been the shamesh of the synagogue. Eventually, nearly the entire Jewish population of Zlatipola turned against Reb Nachman, leading him to relocate to Breslov in 1802.
The Shpoler Zeide saw Reb Nachman's teachings as deviating from classical Judaism and from the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. Some postulate that the Zeide felt threatened because Reb Nachman was moving in on his territory and taking disciples away from him. Still others claim that Reb Nachman was a threat to other rebbes because he opposed the institutional dynasties that were already beginning to form in the Hasidic world. (Reb Nachman himself did not found a dynasty; his two sons died in infancy and he appointed no successor.)
According to Breslov tradition, a number of prominent figures of Hasidut supported Reb Nachman against the Shpoler Zeide's opposition, including Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, Rabbi Gedalia of Linitz, Rabbi Zev Wolf of Charni-Ostrov, and Rabbi Avraham of Kalisk. Breslov traditions further relate, that at one point, a number of Hasidic rabbis gathered in Berditchev to place the Shpoler Zeide in cherem (a rabbinic form of excommunication) for showing contempt to a true Torah scholar. Their effort was nixed, however, when someone convinced Rabbi Levi Yitzchok that it would give the city of Berditchev a bad name.
Reb Nachman never claimed that he was the Messiah. He taught the general Hasidic concept of the tzaddik ha-dor (tzadik of the generation or era), which is the idea that in every generation, a special, saintly person is born who could potentially become the Jewish Messiah if conditions were right in the world. Otherwise, this tzaddik lives and dies the same as any other holy man. Toward the end of his life, he said, "My fire will burn until the coming of Mashiach" — indicating that the Messiah had not yet arrived. Breslover Hasidim do not believe Reb Nachman was the Messiah, but they do believe that the light of his teachings continues to illuminate the paths of Jews from many disparate backgrounds. Chayey Moharan #266 states that Rabbi Nachman said "All the benefits Messiah can do for Israel, I can do; the only difference is Messiah will decree and it will happen, but I -- (and he stopped and did not say more) [alternate version: I cannot finish yet]"
The Sabbateans based their teachings on the same Zohar and Lurianic kabbalah that are considered part of classical Judaism by Hasidism. Where the Sabbateans diverged from accepted teaching was in believing that Sabbatai Zevi was "the Messiah" and that the Halakha (Jewish law) was no longer binding. Reb Nachman did not do the same. He did not claim he was the Messiah, and when asked, "What do we do as Breslover Hasidim?" he replied, "Whatever it says in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law)."
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Reb Nachman's Torah lessons and stories were published and disseminated mainly after his death by his disciple, Reb Noson:
- Likutey Moharan ("Collected Teachings of Our Teacher, Rabbi Nachman") (vol. i., Ostrog, 1808; vol. ii., Moghilev, 1811; vol. iii., Ostrog, 1815)—Hasidic interpretations of the Tanakh, Talmud and Midrashim, Zohar, etc. This work has been completely translated to English and annotated in fifteen volumes by Rabbis Chaim Kramer and Moshe Mykoff of the Breslov Research Institute.
- Sefer HaMidot (The Aleph-Bet Book) (Moghilev, 1821)—a collection of practical advice gleaned from Torah sources, presented as epigrams or maxims and arranged alphabetically by topic.
- Tikkun HaKlali ("General Remedy")—Reb Nachman's order of ten Psalms to be recited for various problems, plus commentary by Reb Noson. Published as a separate book in 1821.
- Sippurei Ma'asiyot (Tales of Rabbi Nachman or Rabbi Nachman's Stories) (n.p., 1816)—13 story tales in Hebrew and Yiddish that are filled with deep mystical secrets. The longest of these tales is The Seven Beggars, which contains many kabbalistic themes and hidden allusions. Several fragmentary stories are also included in Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's translation of the complete tales, Rabbi Nachman's Stories.
Another mysterious document that Reb Nachman dictated to Reb Noson is the Megillat Setarim ("Hidden Scroll"), which was written in a cryptic combination of Hebrew initials and brief phrases. Prof. Zvi Mark has researched and attempted to decipher this document, based on disclosures from prominent members of the Breslov community. His findings have been published in Hebrew and in English translation, along with facsimiles of discrepant manuscript copies.
Reb Nachman also wrote Sefer HaGanuz ("The Hidden Book") and the Sefer HaNisraf ("The Burned Book"), neither of which is extant. Reb Nachman told his disciples that these volumes contained deep mystical insights that few would be able to comprehend. While he dictated the Sefer HaNisraf to Reb Noson, the latter said that he did not understand it at all; later he said, "What I do remember is that it spoke about the greatness of the mitzvah of hospitality and preparing the bed for a guest". Reb Nachman never showed the Sefer HaGanuz to anyone. In 1808, Reb Nachman burned all the copies of the Sefer HaGanuz and the Sefer Ha-nisraf.
Reb Nachman first ordered the two manuscripts of the book Sefer HaNisraf to be destroyed in a bargain for his life during a phase of his tuberculosis which preceded his death by two years. He believed that the illness was a "punishment from the upper-world--for writing a book".
Two years later, from his deathbed, he ordered a chest full of his writings, presumably containing Sefer HaGanuz, to be burnt.
"On the evening of the last day of his life, Rabbi Nachman gave his disciples the key to a chest. "As soon as I am dead," he told them, "while my body is still lying here on the floor, you are to take all the writings you find in the chest and burn them. And be sure to fulfill my request."
- "It is a great mitzvah to be happy always."
- "If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix."
- "Gevalt!!! Never give up hope! There is no despair."
- "When a person realizes that he is on a very low level and far from God, this itself is a reason to feel encouraged. Before this, he was so far from God that he did not even know it. Now at least he knows it, and this itself is a sign that he is drawing closer."
- "Worldly desires are like sunbeams in a dark room. They seem solid until you try to grasp one."
- "It is very good to pour out your heart to God as you would to a true, good friend."
- "You are never given an obstacle you cannot overcome."
- "The essence of wisdom is to realize how far from wisdom you are."
- "All the sages of Israel are in my estimation like a garlic peel."
- "Wherever I go, I'm always going to Israel."
- "All the world is a very narrow bridge, but the main thing is to have no fear at all."
- "As the hand held before the eye conceals the greatest mountain, so the little earthly life hides from the glance the enormous lights and mysteries of which the earth is full, and he who can draw it away from before his eyes, as one draws away a hand, beholds the great shining of the inner worlds."
- Shragai, Nadav (3 November 2008). "Singing a different tune". Haaretz. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
- רבי נחמן מהורודנקא [Rabbi Nachman of Horodenka]. mytzadik.com (in Hebrew). Retrieved Aug 16, 2016.
- Until the Mashiach, p. 2.
- Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom: His Praises #1.
- Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom: His Praises, #4.
- Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom: His Praises, #19.
- Until the Mashiach, p. 7.
- Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom: His Pilgrimage to the Land of Israel #19.
- Until the Mashiach, pp. 60-61.
- Tzaddik #12.
- Until the Mashiach, pp. 330-341.
- Until the Mashiach, p. 140.
- Until the Mashiach, pp. 143-144.
- Tzaddik #114.
- Until the Mashiach, pp. 204-206.
- "Hasidic Jews celebrate holiday in Uman" Archived 2010-05-14 at the Wayback Machine Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 2008-10-02. Retrieved 31 July 2009.
- Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #141
- Tzaddik #122.
- Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #26.
- Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #235.
- AZAMRA! Likutey Moharan I, 282 . Cf. Nigun.
- Kaplan, Aryeh. Until The Mashiach; Rabbi Nachman's Biography: An Annotated Chronology. (Breslov Research Institute, no location listed, 1985), pp. 60-62. (Kaplan cites Chayay Moharan 27b #11 and #114.) The same story is referenced also in Kramer, Chaim. Through Fire and Water: The Life of Reb Noson of Breslov. (Breslov Research Institute, New York/Jerusalem, no date listed), pp. 31-32.
- Tzaddik #19.
- In s:The Seven Pillars of Faith by Rabbi Yitchak Breiter, it is explained that the Tzaddik referred to in Rabbi Nachman's writings is Moshe Rabbeinu-Rasbhi-The Arizal-Ba'al Shem Tov-Rabbi Nachman himself
- Chayey Moharan #360
- — Nachman of Breslov - Reb Noson
- Rabí Najmán de Breslov EL LIBRO DEL ALEF-BET Sefer HaMidot (El Libro de los Atributos) - Rabí Najmán de Breslov. El Libro del Alef-Bet (Sefer HaMidot - Versión Completa): Aforismos del Rebe Najmán sobre la Vida Espiritual Breslov Research Institute, Jerusalem/New York 2017
- Sears, Dovid (2010). Breslov Pirkey Avot. Jerusalem:Breslov Research Institute. ISBN 978-1-928822-16-5. p. 36.
- "The Story of the Seven Beggars, by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov". Yeshivat Shuvu Bonim. 2000. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
- Siach Sarfei Kodesh I-699, quoted in Through Fire and Water, p. 144.
- Tzaddik #66.
- Greenbaum, Avraham (1987). Tzaddik. New York/Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute. p. 77. ISBN 0-930213-17-3.
- Kamenetz, Rodger (2010). Burnt Books. New York: Nextbook/Schocken. p. 79. ISBN 9780805242577.
- Likutey Moharan II, 24.
- Likutey Moharan II, 112.
- "Likutey Moharan" II, 78.
- "Likutei Moharan" II, 68.
- Sichot HaRan #6.
- Kochavey Ohr, Anshey Moharan #4.
- Likutey Moharan II, 46.
- Likutey Moharan II, 83.
- Chayey Moharan 290.
- Spero, Ken (26 January 2002). "Crash Course in Jewish History #62: Return to the Land of Israel". aish.com. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
- Likutey Moharan II, 48. This saying has been set to music in Hebrew as the song "Kol Ha'Olam Kulo" (MIDI: ) (MP3: )
- Green, Arthur (1992). Tormented Master: The Life and Spiritual Quest of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav. Jewish Lights Publishing. ISBN 1-879045-11-7
- Greenbaum, Avraham (1987). Tzaddik: A Portrait of Rabbi Nachman. Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute. ISBN 0-930213-17-3
- Kaplan, Aryeh (1973). Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom. Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute.
- Kaplan, Aryeh (2005). The Seven Beggars: & Other Kabbalistic Tales of Reb Nachman of Breslov (Nahman, Nachman). Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publications for the Breslov Research Institute. ISBN 1-58023-250-7
- Kaplan, Aryeh (1985). Until the Mashiach: The Life of Rabbi Nachman. Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute.
- Kramer, Chaim (1989). Crossing the Narrow Bridge. Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute. ISBN 0-930213-40-8
- Kramer, Chaim (1992). Through Fire and Water: The Life of Reb Noson of Breslov. Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute. ISBN 0-930213-44-0.
- Sears, Dovid (2010). Breslov Pirkey Avot. Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute. ISBN 978-1-928822-16-5.
- Mykoff, Moshe (2003). 7th Heaven. Woodstock: Jewish Lights Publishing, with the Breslov Research Institute. ISBN 1-58023-175-6
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Nachman of Breslov
About Rabbi Nachman
- NaNach.org Information Site
- Breslov Research Institute
- Emunah Channel Breslov teachings based on Rebbe Nachman's Likutey Moharan by Rav Dror Moshe Cassouto
- Who Was Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav? by Dr. Henry Abramson