Rabbi Nachman was a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov born April 4th 1772 and died on October 16th 1810. He was an inspirational figure for the Hasidic movement, combining Kabbalah with Torah study. He attracted thousands of followers and his influence continues today notably within the Breslov Hasidic community.
He was born in Medzhybizh, Ukraine. His mother, Feiga, was a grand-daughter of the Baal Shem Tov. His father Simcha was the son of Rabbi Nachman of Horodenka, one of the Baal Shem Tov’s disciples, after whom Rabbi Nachman was named.
In 1798-1799 he went to Israel, where he was received with honour by the Hasidim living in Haifa, Tiberias, and Safed. He was influential within the Jewish community in Tiberias in the 18th century.
A disciple of the Ba’al Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman joined one of the first groups of Hasidim to migrate to Israel. During the voyage a great storm overtook their ship. Fearing for their lives, the Jews prayed desperately. Finally, on Yom Kippur, Rabbi Nachman took a Torah scroll and cried out, ’If it has been decreed in the Heavenly Court that we should all die, then we in the earthly court do not agree!’ In a few hours the storm abated. When the group landed they rested in Haifa.
Rabbi Nachma’sn visit to Israel is surrounded by mysterious adventures and controversy. The nature of his trip is anything but clear as befits the legend of the man who followed faith rather than logic and believed that he possessed the soul of the Messiah and managed to quarrel with all the Zaddikim of his time. Indeed, his personality was a constant source of conflict among his colleagues, questions were raised as to his ‘moral conduct’ and he was accused of following two recent ‘false Messiahs’.
During his long and dangerous voyage, he was suspected by the Turks to be a French spy and was almost not allowed to disembark. Almost as soon as he arrived in Haifa he decided he wanted to return home. His companion managed to persuade him that as they had come they should at least see Jerusalem. Then a delegation from Tiberias persuade him to be their honoured guest in their city. Next follow a series of mysterious meals at an inn in Haifa. Martin Buber writes:
‘Day after day a young Arab comes into the inn when the Rabbi is sitting at his midday and evening meal, sits down beside and keeps talking to him, kindly but insistently, tapping him on the shoulder and showing him his good will in every way. Nachman naturally does not understand a word of what he is saying, and the demonstrations of love make him uncomfortable, but he does not express any impatience and remains seated as if he were listening.
But one day the Arab returns, armed and angry, and marches violently to the Rabbi…Only after the Arab has departed does Nachman learn that he had been challenges to a fight. Nachman is hidden in the home of another Zaddik. The Arab comes looking for him, very upset, and says, ‘Gd knows I love him dearly, I want to give him a donkey and my own horse so that he can go to Tiberias.’
It is finally cleared up but then comes Rabbi Nachman’s famous remark to his disciples when he says that he, “had suffered more from the Arab’s love than his anger.” He also indicated at a mysterious danger which his disciples believe to mean that the Arab was the Satan in person.
Finally, Rabbi Nachman is persuaded to go to Tiberias but falls ill ‘an event of symbolic significance’. Then there is a mysterious informer who frustrates the Rabbis plans. He visits some of the holy tombs where at one causes the disappearance of a snake that had been keeping visitors away. Then one of the great Rabbis of Tiberias presses him to explain the purpose of his visit. He begins to explain but the blood rushes from his throat and he has to stop clearly ‘heaven does not agree’.
A plague breaks out in Tiberias and the Rabbi escapes to Safed via a cave and underground paths. When he finally arrives to the coast to return home he and his attendant board a Turkish warship which they mistakenly believe is a merchant boat. Alas they discover their mistake too late. This is only part of the tales of his trip to Israel during which nothing is as it appears and in which all experiences are seen symbolically and in which life itself becomes a legend. A more mundane explanation of his departure is that Napoleon’s invasion was imminent.
During his short life, Rebbe Nachman achieved much acclaim as a teacher and spiritual leader, and is considered a seminal figure in the history of Hasidism.
‘It is a great mitzvah to be happy always.’
‘If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix.’
‘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.’
Nachman of Breslov, נחמן מברסלב, Reb Nachman of Bratslav, Reb Nachman Breslover, רב נחמן ברעסלאווער, Nachman from Uman