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This April marks the 250th anniversary of one of the most important religious authorities in the Jewish world, who today possesses many thousands of followers and whose teachings go on inspiring huge masses of people.
Rabbi Nachman from Bratslav was born on the first day of the Jewish month of Nisan, 5532 /April 4, 1772/ in the town of Medzhibozh. He was the great-grandson of the Hasidism’s founder, Rabbi Isroel Baal-Shem-Tov. Since early childhood, Nachman loved to seclude in nature's lap, trying to hear "herbs bless the God’s name." At a very young age he was made to get married. Having moved to his father-in-law's house in the shtetl of Medvedevka, he entirely devoted himself to spiritual development, to serving the Almighty. By the age of eighteen, he was the head of a Hasidic court already, surrounded by numerous followers, which caused a lot of envy among other Hasidic rabbis. In 1798, Rabbi Nachman visited Eretz Israel. He saw the towns of Tiberias and Safed, but, evidently, he never reached Jerusalem. On returning to Podolia, he settled in the town of Bratslav. There he was surrounded by devoted Hasidim, and there he found his faithful friend and helper Noson Sternhartz. In 1806-1807, Rabbi Nachman lost two sons and a wife, who died of tuberculosis. He got infected, too. Anticipating his imminent death, Rabbi Nachman moved to Uman in order to be buried among the Jews who had ascended Kiddush Hashem (self-sacrifice in the name of faith) during the Uman massacre (Koli’ivshchina, 1768). Rabbi Nachman died in Uman in 1810. Up to this day his grave is one of the most popular objects of mass pilgrimage for Jews around the world.
These are some fundamentals of Rabbi Nachman’s teachings:
· A Tzadik (righteous one) is the basis of the world;
· A person must overcome his ego, his instincts and devote himself to the service of the Almighty;
· A person must be content with little; he must not strive for material wealth, because this world is only a very narrow bridge to the true world...
In the history of Jewish literature, Rabbi Nachman has taken a place of honor as a superb storyteller. He left behind a lot of frequently quoted sayings, several books, among which "Sipurey maasiyot" - a collection of allegorical philosophical tales with a deep hidden meaning.
The multicolored, monumental figure of Rabbi Nachman, as well as his followers, are being noticeably reflected in Yiddish literature. His stories and their subjects have inspired many other authors.
For example, a rather detailed picture of the Bratslav Hasidim’s life can be found in the historical novel "Di mishpokhe Mashber" ("The Mashber Family") by the Soviet Yiddish writer Der Nister (1884, Berdichev - 1950, Abez GULAG camp). The novelist has painted an extensive picture of Bratslav Hasidim, pointing out that they occupied the very bottom of the Hasidic courts hierarchy, often causing hostility among them:
“By that time in the town N, among a plenty of noisy and rich Hasidic sects, there was one, barely noticeable and small Bratslav group. It comprised no more than two dozens of artisans who, the most importantly, were the poorest of all…
Most of them lived by prayers and fasts. During the day they did not live like everyone else, they were not occupied with ordinary, everyday affairs; they spent nights on the graves of the city's righteous ones. To do something for this world, for themselves, for their own families – that was of little interest for them, they completely forgot about this.”
Among Rabbi Nachman’s philosophical tales, "Mayse me-ha-zayin betlers" (“The Story of the Seven Beggars) deserves to be mentioned in particular. It consists of six stories. Each of the beggars has some physical handicap. He comes to the wedding and tells his philosophical story to cheer the bride and groom. Only the seventh story remains untold...
This motif was used by the Yiddish poetry classic Itzik Manger. During the Holocaust, in 1942, he wrote a short poem "Tsum bratslevers zibetn betler" ("To Rabbi Nachman’s seventh beggar"):
Zibeter betler, farendik di mayse!
Mir zaynen di letste herer,
Azoyfil yidn hobn zikh nisht dervart,
Tsu vos zhe vartstu merer,
Zibeter betler, du drimlst, du shvaygst.
Un di volkns vern shverer -
Mir vartn, dertseyl. Tomer s’vet zayn tsu shpet,
Ver veln zayn di herer?
(The seventh beggar, finish your story!
We are the last listeners.
Lots of Jews have not lived long enough to hear it,
So what are you waiting for?
The seventh beggar, you are dozing, you’re silent.
And the clouds are getting heavier -
We are waiting, tell us. If it gets too late,
Who will hear you then?)
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