Nachman of Breslov (Hebrew: נחמן מברסלב), also known as Reb Nachman of Bratslav, Reb Nachman Breslover (Yiddish: רב נחמן ברעסלאווער), Nachman from Uman (April 4, 1772 – October 16, 1810), was the founder of the Breslov Hasidic dynasty. Rebbe Nachman, a great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, breathed new life into 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 until today. Nachman was born in the town of Medzhybizh in the Ukraine. His 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), one of the Baal Shem Tov’s disciples, after whom Rebbe Nachman was named. He had two brothers and a sister.
Nachman told his disciples that as a small child, he eschewed the pleasures of this world and set his sights on spirituality. 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. 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 Koritz, who was a leading figure in the first generation of Hasidut. Thus began the Shpoler Zeide’s vehement campaign against Breslov Hasidism. In 1802 Rebbe Nachman moved to the town of Bratslav, Ukraine, also known as “Breslov”. 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” (Tzaddik #115). His move brought him into contact with Nathan of Breslov (“Reb Noson”), a 22-year-old Torah scholar in the nearby town of Nemirov, eight miles north of Breslov, who became his teacher and personal adviser over the next eight years. Reb Noson became the Rebbe’s scribe, recording all his formal lessons as well as transcribing Nachman’s magnum opus, Likutey Moharan. After Nachman’s death, Reb Noson recorded all the informal conversations he and other disciples had had with him, and published all of Rebbe Nachman’s works as well as his own commentaries on them. Rebbe Nachman and 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.
Rebbe Nachman became engaged to his second wife (name unknown) in the summer of 1807. He was then diagnosed with tuberculosis. In May 1810, a fire broke out in Bratslav, destroying the Rebbe’s home. A group of maskilim (enlightened Jews) living in Uman, Ukraine 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 more than 20,000 Jewish martyrs were buried following the Haidamak massacre of 1768. Rebbe Nachman died of tuberculosis at the age of 38 on the second day of Chol HaMoed Sukkot, 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. After the fall of Communism in 1989, the gates were reopened entirely.
Today, more than 20,000 people from all over the world participate in this annual pilgrimage. 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. 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. 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 This vow spurred many followers to undertake the trip to Rebbe Nachman’s grave, even during the Communist crackdown.
Nachman lived at a time of controversy between Hasidim and more traditional Orthodox Jews, known as Misnagdim (opponents) for their opposition to hasidism. It was also a time of friction between Hasidim and proponents of Jewish emancipation and Haskalah. (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 had supported Rebbe Nachman in his early years but began to oppose him after he moved to Zlatipola, near Shpola, 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. ) 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. 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 Rabbi Levi Yitzchak heard about the idea and persuaded them to desist. The Encyclopedia Judaica and other secular academic sources claim that Rebbe Nachman saw himself as the Messiah.
One proof that secular academics offer is that the messianic personality is expected to rectify errant souls. Rebbe Nachman did speak to his disciples about the principle of tikkun (rectification of souls), and even suggested that he was capable of rectifying souls. However, this power was also claimed by Rebbes of other Hasidic sects. The principle of tikkun is also found throughout the teachings of (Rabbi Isaac Luria), who preceded Rebbe Nachman by several hundred years. Some secular academics postulate that Rebbe Nachman was influenced by the teachings of Sabbatai Zevi and Jacob Frank, false messiahs of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, respectively, but that he was not actually a Sabbatean or Frankist. As proof, they note that Rebbe Nachman’s thinking on tikkun olam, the Kabbalistic healing of the universe, bears similarities to the teachings of Sabbatai Zevi. In his writings, Rebbe Nachman refers to Sabbetai Zevi as SHaTZ (an acronym for his Hebrew name, SHabbetai TZvi, and concludes the reference with the expression yimach shemo (may his name be obliterated).
The latter expression is generally reserved for the worst enemies of the Jewish people. Rebbe Nachman never claimed that he was the Messiah. He taught the general Hasidic concept of the Tzaddik Ha-Dor (“Tzaddik of the Generation”), 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 light will burn until the coming of the Messiah” — 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. It should be noted that 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). ” Nachman’s Torah lessons and stories were published and disseminated mainly after his death by his disciple, Reb Noson: Rebbe Nachman also wrote two other books, the Sefer Ha-ganuz (“The Hidden Book”) and the Sefer Ha-nisraf (“The Burned Book”), neither of which are extant. Rebbe Nachman told his disciples that these volumes contained deep mystical insights which few would be able to comprehend. He never showed the Sefer Ha-ganuz to anyone, and instructed Reb Noson to burn the latter’s copy of Sefer Ha-nisraf in 1808. No one knows what was written in either manuscript.