Page 78 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

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72
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
man not only absorbed the magic of their words but also tried
to emulate the ascetic feats of his hasidic elders.
He eagerly immersed himself in Bible and Talmud com­
mentaries, and in the ethical treatises and legendary lore that
abounded in his father’s house. He also pored over Kabbalistic
works which had been published for the first time in hasidic
printing presses.
At the age of thirteen he was married, and settled in a village
on the River Zbrucz to continue his studies. In his later years
he described the early joys of gliding along the river in his boat,
or wandering dreamily on horseback in meadows and woods,
or climbing a mountain and hiding in a cave. His avid readings
he wove into garlands of prayers in the Yiddish vernacular.
Before long he acquired followers, and when his modest dowry
was exhausted he allowed them to pay a small stipend for
studying with him. But Nachman was restless. One day, at the
age of twenty-six, after emerging from the
mikvah
he announced
that he was going to Palestine, even at the cost of abandoning
his family to the mercy of God and neighbors.
It was the time of the Napoleonic expedition to the Near East.
A legendary account of his trip tells of his strange behavior on
the way as a hasidic vagabond, and of his many adventures at
sea. After a year spent mostly in Galilee, he was back with his
family and followers. He was a new person in consequence of
the influence of the Holy Land, and he became a sharp critic
of contemporary hasidic leadership.
In 1802 he moved to Bratzlav where he found his true home
and gained many adherents and opponents. It was there that he
met young Nathan of Nemirov, who became his scribe and
secretary. Practically all our knowledge of Nachman’s life and
letters comes to us through Nathan who, after Nachman’s death
in 1810 at the age of thirty-eight, continued to propagate his
master’s ideas and to publish his works, often under great hard­
ships.
Nachman’s major hasidic work was published in 1808, two
years before his death. His tales, unique in Jewish literature,
were published by Nathan in 1815, the same year in which the
corpus of hasidic legends about the Baal Shem Tov was
published.
Nachman once remarked that one can recognize the soul of a
man through his works. Certainly, in his own case we cannot
separate the man from his works. An immersion in his difficult
and often fugitive hasidic teachings, a responsive listening to
the magic of his tales and a sampling of his ethical and psycho­
logical aphorisms, conjure up the very soul of Rabbi Nachman.
In spite of his perennially inquiring mind, and perhaps because
of it, he agitates for a simple and trusting faith, and forbids