Page 92 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
work of scholarship bu t also one tha t is suffused with empathy fo r
a religious leader who all o f his life struggled to grasp the m ean ­
ing o f faith and to find his own place within the chaotic and
labyrinthine cosmos.
G reen’s is a complete and intimate biography and at the same
time a critical study o f a man who rejected rationalism and yet was
attracted to the “En lightenment” which was then making its first
appearance in Eastern Europe. G reen avoids psychoanalytical
ja rgon when he discusses N ahm an’s dream s o f greatness
— Aliya
— and of p lunging into the abyss, to rm en ted by self-doubt and
grief —
Yerida.
He modifies Weiss’ view tha t Nahman was the
example par excellence o f faith-centered “existential” Hasidism.
He demonstrates tha t Nahman was also attracted to mysticism.
He charts N ahm an ’s progress from early childhood in the native
town o f his grea t-g rand fa ther , Israel Baal Shem Tov, to his m a r­
riage at age 13, to the first sprou ting o f his leadership at 18, and to
his enigmatic jou rney to Palestine at the age o f 26. His details also
his struggles against rival zaddikim, his messianic strivings tha t
ended in failure and his final days in Uman.
G reen’s excursus, “Faith, Doubt and Reason,” may be called a
philosophic and analytic commentary on Nahman’s highly vol­
atile thoughts tha t exhibit a tension between faith and reason. In
ano ther excursus, “T h e Tales,” he suggests tha t behind the mask
o f his tales Nahman at times seeks to reveal his own conflicts to a
degree he would not have dared in any direct form o f address. He
also develops an original discussion o f N ahm an ’s attitude toward
medameh
(imagination). In his early Discourses, N ahm an r e ­
garded imagination as opposed to
sekhel
(reason). Later, however,
he added imagination to his armory using it to awaken the hea r t
to the possibilities o f new and redemptive feeling. His direct
messianic endeavors in 1806 having failed, he regarded the Tales
as another, more subtle form o f messianic p ropaganda, bring ing
tikkun
(reparation) to a cosmos damaged by adversaries. G reen
rejects any unilateral in terp re ta tion o f the Tales. He develops the
thesis of the Braslav hasidim tha t the Tales are multilayered. T he
hero o f a tale could be Moses or Israel o r Everyman and at the
same time N ahman himself, as both seeker and teller. T h e
heroine could be the Shekhina, o r Faith. Even the Jung ian ap ­
proach might be valid, the fairy tales being viewed as expressions
o f an inner male-female polarity. In the light o f these possibilities