Page 79 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

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B
erger
— T
h r e e
P
a th s
in
H
asidism
73
his followers to study philosophical works, such as the
Guide
of the Perplexed
of Moses Maimonides. Suffering from a melan­
choly disposition, he breaks through it by ecstatic dancing and
singing. Rabbi Nachman sees for himself a possible Messianic
destiny, though temporarily in “hiding,” suffering and mis­
understood. He envisioned himself as the last in the great suc­
cession: Moses, Simeon ben Yohai, Isaac Luria, Israel Baal Shem
Tov and himself. Rabbi Shneor Zalman is said to have remarked:
“Rabbi Nachman is an heroic person, but he is challenging
temptation.”
Nachman’s real struggle, however, was not so much against
tangible temptations but rather against spiritual doubts. In his
works he developed the Kabbalistic notion that God withdrew
from Himself in order to create the world. On the other hand,
as a good hasid he found it inconceivable that there could be
any place devoid of God. This paradox, he felt, could only be
resolved with the coming of the Messiah. Meanwhile it might
appear as though this world is deliberately God-forsaken. All
disbelief, he held, stems from the void primordial space which
is our Cosmos. According to Nachman, the very nature of the
Cosmos makes it impossible to supply a logical answer to dis­
believers. The only answer is faith.
Rabbi Nachman’s works and especially his sayings strike many
a modern chord in us with their problems of Being, Evil, Time,
Estrangement, Faith and Paradox. However, it is his tales which
have the most universal appeal. They are still being published as
the master instructed, in Hebrew and in Yiddish. They are now
available in paraphrases by Martin Buber and by Meyer Levin.
A French scholar has called the tales of Rabbi Nachman the
work of a great religious genius. A Jewish historian, on the other
hand, considers them the product of a sick mind in a sick body
and finds it futile to look for any meaning in their confused
pattern.
Outwardly, some of the tales deal with characters and situa­
tions usual to fairy tales—a lost princess, a search for the golden
mountain, mistaken identities, magicians, robbers, pirates, and
mendicants. Other tales deal with characters prevalent in folk­
tales, often in a realistic and satirical vein. Actually, they are
concerned with love, faith, and fear, idolatry and redemption.
Like the contemporary German romantic poets, of whom he was
probably unaware, Rabbi Nachman felt that the tale is the
greatest vehicle for ideas.
It is possible, of course, to find many parallels to these tales
in the tales of other cultures. It is even possible to study them
in the manner John Livingston Lowes studied Coleridge’s
Kubla
Khan
in his “The Road to Xanadu.” Nachman himself was
fully aware of the influence of Midrash and Kabbalah on his
works and we can trace to those sources many facets of the stories