Nachman of Breslov
Grave of Rebbe 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: ? ), also known as Reb Nachman of Bratslav, Reb Nachman Breslover (Yiddish: ? ?), Nachman from Uman (April 4, 1772 - October 16, 1810), was the founder of the Breslov Hasidic movement.
Rebbe 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. Rebbe 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.
Rebbe Nachman was born on April 4, 1772 (Rosh Chodesh of Nisan) in the town of Mi?dzybó?, 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.
Rebbe 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 Rebbe Nachman was named. Rebbe Nachman had two brothers, Yechiel Zvi and Yisroel Mes, and a sister, Perel. Rebbe 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, Rebbe 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, Rebbe 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 Rebbe 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.
In 1802, Rebbe Nachman moved to the town of Bratslav, also known as "Breslov" and "Brac?aw". 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 Rebbe Nachman's formal lessons as well as transcribing the Rebbe's magnum opus, Likutey Moharan. After Rebbe Nachman's death, Reb Noson recorded all the informal conversations he and other disciples had had with the Rebbe, and published all of Rebbe Nachman's works as well as his own commentaries on them.
Rebbe 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, Rebbe 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, Rebbe Nachman contracted tuberculosis.
In May 1810, a fire broke out in Bratslav, destroying Rebbe 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, Rebbe 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. Rebbe 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, Rebbe 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 Rebbe 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, Rebbe 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 Rebbe Nachman's grave, even during the Communist crackdown.
In 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. His contributions to Hasidic Judaism include the following:
Another prominent feature of Rebbe 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) Rebbe 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.
Rebbe 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, Rebbe 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 Rebbe Nachman in his early years but began to oppose him after he moved to Zlatipola, near Shpola, in September 1800. Breslov tradition records that Rebbe 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 Rebbe 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 Rebbe Nachman, leading him to relocate to Breslov in 1802.
The Shpoler Zeide saw Rebbe 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 Rebbe Nachman was moving in on his territory and taking disciples away from him. Still others claim that Rebbe Nachman was a threat to other rebbes because he opposed the institutional dynasties that were already beginning to form in the Hasidic world. (Rebbe 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 Rebbe 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.
Rebbe 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 Rebbe 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. Rebbe 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)."
Rebbe Nachman's Torah lessons and stories were published and disseminated mainly after his death by his disciple, Reb Noson:
Another mysterious document that Rebbe 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.
Rebbe Nachman also wrote Sefer HaGanuz ("The Hidden Book") and the Sefer HaNisraf ("The Burned Book"), neither of which is extant. Rebbe 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". Rebbe Nachman never showed the Sefer HaGanuz to anyone. In 1808 Rebbe Nachman burned all the copies of the Sefer HaGanuz and the Sefer Ha-nisraf.
Rebbe 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."
About Rabbi Nachman