Just who exactly is Rebbe Nachman?
Depending who you ask you may get many different answers. A Chassidic master. A controversial luminary. A gifted story teller weaving fables of princesses and castles in far off lands. All these titles may be true, but to those truly connected to the Rebbe they will tell you he’s something far more profound. They’ll tell you he’s the one who really changed their life… or maybe even saved it. So what is so unique about this special tzaddik who died over 200 years ago before reaching the age of 40 that helps him to serve as the guiding light to people in this day and age?
The Mishna in Rosh Hashanah opens up describing the four Rosh Hashanas of the year. The first of them is Rosh Chodesh Nissan which is the New Year for the festivals and for kings. It was on this Rosh Hashanah of kings that Rebbe Nachman was born on Shabbat of April 4, 1772 (5532) in turn receiving his brit milah on Shabbat Hagadol 1. To say he comes from illustrious ancestry would be a bit of an understatement. Not only was he the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov and grandson of his famed daughter Udel (as well as a grandson of the Besht’s prized student Rabbi Nachman Horodenker) but he was also a descendent of the Maharal and even David Hamelech (King David) from both sides of his family. However despite this he said the extraordinary levels he achieved were not due to his lineage such as descending from the Baal Shem Tov 2. Far from teaching that G-dliness is restricted to a select few with the right background or family tree, he would instead often speak about how the most important thing is how much an individual works on themselves, saying that anyone with enough hard work and perseverance could reach high levels of closeness to G-d 3. And reach amazing heights he did.
Even outside of Breslov circles great tzaddikim would speak of the amazing heights of spirituality the Rebbe attained, such as the Baba Sali. His son the Baba Meir passed away while he was still alive and the Baba Sali revealed to his grandchildren that their father had come to him in a dream. When the Baba Sali asked his son what it’s like in the next world he answered that “all the tzaddikim in heaven are going to hear Torah from Rebbe Nachman!” 4
Yet one could say it’s all nice and well that the Rebbe was a great tzaddik, and very holy and learned, but what does that do for me? And that is precisely the point! The Rebbe constantly strove to reach higher and higher levels of kedusha not simply just to bask in Hashem’s light, but rather to gain the power to shine that light lower and lower into the depths of spiritual darkness. His personal struggles in holiness were in order to be able assist us in ours. We all each have our individual struggles. We each have fallen down to wherever we’ve fallen. Often life can be so dark that it just doesn’t seem like there could ever possibly be any light and happiness in it again. Sometimes when trying to climb the mountain of success no sooner do we seem to be getting somewhere and then we slip and fall down lower than where we started from. Yet through his ruach hakodesh (divine inspiration) the Rebbe was able to peer into not only the struggles of his generation but of future ones as well and reveal teachings that have the power to completely lift us out of the shmutz and the darkness. Rebbe Nachman said, “HaAish sheli tukad ad biyat haMashiach – my fire will burn until the coming of the Mashiach.” 5 One can rest assured that from the Rebbe’s lifetime until the final redemption there won’t be any challenge or obstacle that doesn’t have a solution or advice found somewhere in his writings.
Timeline at a glance
The Rebbe was here to help us – each and every one of us. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done wrong, how many mistakes we’ve made or how disgusted or disappointed we may feel when we look in the mirror. Even if we feel like there is no conceivable way G-d would ever be interested in us or that we could have anything to do with holiness the Rebbe doesn’t give up on us and doesn’t allow us to give up on ourselves either. All we have to do is try to come close via all the teachings he revealed in his holy writings. He himself said the only reason he came to this world was to help Jewish souls come closer to Hashem but that the only ones he can help are those who come to him and tell him what they need 6. So come into his teachings – come with an open mind and an open heart and look for what you need. If you can even manage – come to his grave in Uman to connect to the tzaddik himself. Through all this you’ll see just how much he can help.
If you believe you can destroy, then believe you can fix it.
~Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
Some have a hard time believing that all this could really be true for them. Reb Noson, the Rebbe’s main pupil and the one who published his works, said that often people make the critical error of assuming that when the Rebbe made promises of helping lift people up he was referring to others but that those words don’t apply to them. Reb Noson says that’s simply not the case! The Rebbe’s words apply to all Jews at all time. Rebbe Nachman said of himself, “I’m a river that cleanses from all stains.” 7 There is simply no sin in the world that can stain our soul to the point where the Rebbe can’t help us to make it clean again. He also taught, “If you believe you can destroy, then believe you can fix it.” 8 Rebbe Nachman not only teaches us how to pick ourselves up out of the lows, but he also teaches us how to stay positive as he says, “Mitzvah gedolah l’hiot b’simcha tamid – it’s a great mitzvah to be happy always.” 9 Additionally, Rebbe Nachman made a promise unlike anything ever stated by any previous tzaddik in history – in front of two kosher witnesses no less. He declared that whoever would come to his gravesite, give a coin to charity and recite the Tikkun HaKalali, he would traverse the entire length and breadth of the creation to intercede for that person in heaven (see “What is the Tikkun HaKlali for more information). 10
Ask those connected to Rebbe Nachman and they will tell you that he somehow seems to know them better than they know themselves. There may be other rabbis and tzaddikim who can inspire and encourage, but nobody else seems to consistently “get us” the way he does.
This is illustrated by a special story he tells 11, of a merchant who was once travelling with his assistant taking a shipment of fine Hungarian wine on a wagon. The wagon driver complained of the long journey and asked the merchant that he should let them have a taste of the high quality wine to which he agreed. Several days after that the merchant’s assistant was in a certain town where people were drinking wine and praising how good it was claiming it to be fine Hungarian wine. The assistant asked for some and upon tasting it told them it wasn’t fine Hungarian wine at all. The people became upset with him and wanted to kick him out, however he kept insisting, “I know! I was with a merchant who had real Hungarian wine which he let me taste, and I can tell this isn’t the real thing!” As much as he tried to convince them they wouldn’t listen to him. The Rebbe then said that someday when Mashiach comes, people will be served lesser wines and will be fooled into thinking it to be fine Hungarian wine. He said however that those close to him have already tasted the real deal and won’t be fooled by anything else.
So come open your life up to the teachings and books of Rebbe Nachman. Open up your hearts to be connected to someone and something greater then you’ve ever been apart of.
Come taste the fine vintage wine… 🙂
Please note: We spent much time and effort to bring the inspirational teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov as accurately as possible in this article. If you find any mistakes in translation or have trouble understanding the article, please let us know! Feel free to comment below.We bless the viewers to be connected to Rebbe Nachman and to his teachings, and to always be happy and inspired…