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Translations and original material copyright (c) 1998 by Yaacov Dovid Shulman (unless otherwise noted)
* Rabbi Nachman's Journey
One day, toward the end of the winter of 1798, Rabbi Nachman
announced, "I have a journey to go on." [Rabbi Nachman was then
sixteen years old.]
When Rabbi Shimon, the loyal friend, student and servant of Rabbi Nachman heard this, he laughed. He thought that this was a joke of his rebbe. But when he saw that Rabbi Nachman was serious, he prepared a horse and wagon and supplies, and they set out on their journey.
Rabbi Nachman ordered that they travel through the small village of Vochovitz. There, they took along another traveller.
Then Rabbi Nachman ordered that they travel to Mezhibozh. In Mezhibozh, they first visited Rabbi Nachman's parents. His father, the scholar and Hasid, Rabbi Simchah, and his mother, Feiga the prophetess, rejoiced greatly, for they had not seen their son for a great while. After their initial joy and greetings, Rabbi Nachman's mother said to him, "My son, when will you go to your great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov?"
"If Grandfather wants to see me," Rabbi Nachman replied, "let him come to me."
Night fell, and everyone lay down to sleep. In the morning, Rabbi Nachman's mother stood at her son's bedside and told him, "Grandfather was with you. When will you go to his gravesite?"
Rabbi Nachman answered, "Not now, but when I return, I will."
Before they had come to Mezhibozh, Rabbi Shimon had grown very ill. Rabbi Nachman [now] went to him to learn how he was. Rabbi Nachman told him, "I must leave."
"No, rebbe," replied Rabbi Shimon, "I will not let you go unless you promise me by your holy word that when you return, you will find me healthy."
Rabbi Nachman promised that it would be so.
Rabbi Shimon asked him, "When you left home, you said that your journey may take a week or two, a month, a quarter year, half a year or even an entire year. When will we see each other again?"
"When I left home," Rabbi Nachman replied, "I did not know where I was going and how long my journey would take. Today, I know clearly that I am travelling to Kamenetz (Kamenetz-Podolsk), and I will not stay there long. The Baal Shem Tov appeared to me and told me to go to Kamenetz."
When Rabbi Nachman travelled to Kamenetz, he did so not as a rebbe with his aide, but as a merchant with his servant. According to the recollection of Rabbi Nachman's followers, at that time Jews were not allowed to live in Kamenetz--not even to spend the night. They would engage in business during the day, and spend the night in houses outside town.
Rabbi Nachman came to Kamenetz with his "servant." When night fell, Rabbi Nachman told his servant to leave, and he remained there alone for the night. The next day, the servant returned and met Rabbi Nachman. The two of them visited many homes, under one pretext or another. What Rabbi Nachman did then, and what he was doing in Kamenetz altogether, no one knows.
People have debated the purpose of that trip. Some say that he travelled there to find teachings that the Baal Shem Tov had secreted in a rock. Others have made other conjectures.
Rabbi Nachman laughed at these speculations. Regarding the idea about the Baal Shem Tov's writings, he said that he did not need them--and if he did, they would have come to him at home.
One thing is clear: Rabbi Nachman's journey to Kamenetz is directly linked with his later journey to the land of Israel. Rabbi Nachman himself alluded to this in a pithy statement: "Whoever knows why the land of Israel was in the hands of Canaan before the Jews conquered it also knows why I was first in Kamenetz, and only afterwards in the land of Israel."
Why particularly Kamenetz? How did he spend the night there, when no Jew was allowed to do so? What was the connection between the journey to Kamenetz and the journey to the land of Israel?
The best conjecture is that Rabbi Nachman, whose entire life was devoted to helping bring people back to G-d, intended to bring about the repentance of Frankists who lived as Christians in Kamenetz-Podolsk (which was the center of the Frankist movement).
This corresponds with the statement that the Baal Shem Tov made when the Frankists first converted to Catholicism: "As long as the diseased limb is attached to the body, there is hope; but when it is cut off, every hope is lost."
The conversion of many Frankists was not whole-hearted. They were like the Donmehs in Turkey (secret followers of Shabbatai Tzvi) who lead a double life. Just as the Donmehs were ostensibly Moslems but believed in their own dogmas and kept many Jewish commandments and customs, so these Frankists, although outwardly Christian, remained loyal to Sabbatian-Frankist teachings and perhaps also kept a few Jewish customs and rules.
As mentioned in a previous chapter, Rabbi Nachman never ran from a test, but would put himself into dangerous situations, certain that he would never, under any circumstances, not even under pain of the worst torments, act against the will of G-d; he strove for the redemption of the entire world through the redemption of Israel; he strove to be not only a redeemer of the living, but also a redeemer of the dead, of those souls who wander in the worlds of chaos without rectification; he struggled to come to the land of Israel in the hope that there he might attain that most illuminated realization that must bring with it the coming of the messiah. Before setting out to spiritually conquer the land of Israel, he found it necessary to subjugate the most persistent husk of evil and the deepest impurity: Frankism. Since Kamenetz-Podolsk was the stronghold of that impurity, he attempted to conquer it by inducing the most important of the Frankists to repent. Before one can build the land of Israel, one must conquer Canaan.
An indication of this approach can be seen in Rabbi Nachman's manner in the last years of his earthly life, when, living in Uman, he constantly met with the leaders of the new secularists. Rather than fleeing these people, rather than pushing them away with both hands, as did the other rebbes--who did not allow themselves to enter into long arguments with them, for, one may not engage in argument with a "Jewish heretic" since "he will become an even greater heretic as a result"--Rabbi Nachman engaged in long talks with these people, believing that he would ultimately arouse within them faith, shame before the King of the universe, repentance and regret.
Rabbi Nachman said, "When very wicked people come to the true tzaddik, when they subjugate themselves somewhat and pay him respect, that alone brings about a great rectification. Because they are so evil, even the slightest subjugation brings about a very great rectification. Several times a day, Jews recite the verese, 'Hashem is greater than all gods.' There is not such a great commotion in heaven as a result of this. But when Yisro announced, 'Now I know that Hashem is great,' the Zohar tells us that G-d's name was exalted above and below. It is precisely when someone comes from such a distance, from the depths of the husks of evil, and subjugates himself before holiness, that G-d's name is uplifted and made great."
And on another occasion, Rabbi Nachman said of these secularists, "When one of them bows his head, the heavens bow as well."
from Reb Nachman Breslover
THE WHIP by Avraham Stern
translated by Yaacov Dovid and Shoshana Shulman
There was once a wagon-driver, a man who conducted himself as is typical for a man in that profession.
One night, as he was driving home alone on his empty wagon through the forest, he heard a wail. He rode towards the sound until he came to a Jewish hobo lying in the snow next to a heavy bundle, almost frozen to death by the severe cold. The wagon driver grabbed the man, placed him in his wagon and covered him with his warm fur coat. He drove to the nearest inn and told the people there to rub the frozen Jew with snow and hot water until he revived. He left money for them and, if need be, for a doctor. Then he rode home, because he had to take travellers and goods on a journey the following morning.
As our sages state, one good deed draws another after it. When the wagon driver came home late at night, he refrained from waking his wife. Instead, he ate a cold supper and fell asleep, alone in his bed. (Translator's note: For a simple person like the wagon driver, not waking his wife was an unusual act of compassion. It appears from the tone of the text that the narrator also finds this behavior extraordinary.)
In heaven, the wagon driver's act of saving a life caused a great commotion. "Whoever sustains a Jewish soul is considered to have sustained the entire world" (Sanhedrin). With that one deed, he earned entry to the world-to-come. Were he to awaken and continue to live in this world, he would again ruin things, as he had done before. Thus, the heavenly host decreed that the wagon driver should go to his final rest immediately so that he might enter the next world cleansed of all sins.
And so it happened. And when he arrived at the world of truth, all the gates of the Garden of Eden were open to him. The Gemara states that "the righteous sit in the Garden of Eden with their own crowns on their heads, enjoying the spiritual enlightenment" (Berachos 17a). Why is it emphasized that each righteous person has his own crown?
The holy texts explain on the basis of a teaching in Pirkei Avos: "This world is like a vestibule. Prepare yourself so that you may enter the palace." Prepare yourself with keeping the commandments and performing good deeds so that you will have something to bring to the next world. This means that if a Jew learned Torah in this world, in the next world he is given the volumes from which he had learned. If he recited Psalms, "maamados" or prayers from Shaarei Tzion, that is what he is given in the next world. If he performed the commandments and good deeds, he is given the opportunity to carry those out as well. It is from this that the righteous derive all their joy and peace of spirit in the world-to-come.
That is why the Gemara emphasizes that each righteous person wears his own crown: he enjoys the specific reward connected to his specific merits.
Because the wagon driver had merited the world-to-come by the use of his wagon, and the emblem of a wagon driver is his whip, he was given a great whip in heaven. He went about al the chambers in the Garden of Eden snapping his whip, and he had great joy in hearing it crack. Wherever he appeared, snapping his whip, laughter rang out. The wagon driver thought that people were rejoicing in his whip-snapping.
Eventually, the wagon driver's father--who was already long- dead--purified himself and entered the Garden of Eden. When he saw his son walking throughout the Garden with his whip in his hand, he told him, "My son, your fate is a kind of Gehinnom in the middle of the Garden of Eden. Come with me to the court of the heavenly host. I will get a better heaven for you."
The heavenly host considered the case and delivered the judgement that, because the wagon driver had attained his merit by saving a Jew from certain death, he should again use his horsewhip in the service of saving a Jewish life. Therefore, he was sent as an emissary to the innkeeper, when the innkeeper's son was close to death. And the bottle that the wagon driver brought with him contained medicine from the Garden of Eden.
All of this the Hasidic innkeeper was able to draw down from heaven as a result of his complete faith in the tzaddikim.
This is the story that Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov told those gathered at the shalosh seudos table.
After relating this narrative, Rabbi Nachum (the first Shtifinish rebbe) concluded: "This is what I meant when I said, 'Only not with a whip.'"
And I myself heard this story from a Sadegere-Boyaner Hasid, a departed friend of mine, Reb Abbele Shlam from Shebreshin. from Chasidishe Maasiyos
THE WORDS OF THE SAGES by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook
The oral Torah exists within the essence of the nature of the Jewish people. And received our blessing with the heavenly revelation of the written Torah.
As it appears, the oral Torah is lesser than the written Torah. It is the written Torah that provides the chief method of discerning the path of the oral Torah. That path consists of the supernal relationship of the Jewish people with supernal divinity, with the goal of goals, with the might and glory in the worlds, and higher than their totality.
But on an inner level, the Torah was given to the Jewish people precisely due to our inner, supernal special quality [which is identified with the Oral Torah]. This divine, hidden special quality caused the [written] Torah to be revealed to us from heaven.
And so, the oral Torah is more exalted in its root than the root of the written Torah.
"The words of the sages are more beloved than the words of Torah."
THE TASTE OF THE NEW BARREL by Yaacov Dovid Shulman
The taste of the new barrel
All translations and original material. Copyright 1998