RABBI NACHMAN AND THE BRESLOV HASIDIM - By Elizabeth Edwards


Rabbi Nachman's "kibbutz" and the original Breslov Synagogue (on right horizon), circa 1922
Image from Breslov on the Internet

Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was born in the Ukranian town of Medzeboz on April 4, 1772 (1 Nissan 5532 by the Jewish calendar).  He was the great-grandson of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, who founded the Hasidic movement of Jewish mysticism in the early eighteenth century.  Born at a moment when the Hasidic movement was first beginning to ebb, Rabbi Nachman founded a group known as the Breslov Hasidim, which is still in existence today in many scattered communities throughout the world.

There are no specific practices, prayers, or dress code unique to the Breslov Hasidim.  Rather, Rabbi Nachman’s teachings focus on living intensely and with joy, taking a positive view of oneself, one’s life, and other people.  He did place special emphasis on the universal Jewish practice of hisbodidus—private prayer and meditation with God discussing personal needs and concerns.   His major teachings were published in 1808, in a book called the Likutey Moharan.  Rabbi Nachman was also known for his prolific storytelling, through which he conveyed many spiritual lessons and insights.  Though he did not write down his stories, many (like “The Seven Beggars” tale on which The Mad 7 is based) were eventually compiled into books by his disciples, and have since been the subject of academic and popular study by Jews and non-Jews alike.

Rabbi Nachman died of tuberculosis on October 16, 1810.  He chose to be buried in Uman, site of a 1768 massacre of some 20,000 Jews, so that he might “lie amongst the holy martyrs.”  His grave is visited by Breslov Hasidim from all over the world even today.  After his death, the teachings of Rabbi Nachman continued to spread through the devoted energy of his followers. 

Unlike many Hasidic leaders (or tzaddikim), Rabbi Nachman did not appoint a spiritual successor prior to his death, and his followers did not identify any among his closest disciples as being worthy to take his place.  Instead, Breslov Hasidim have continued to look to the teachings of Rabbi Nachman for their day-to-day spiritual inspiration and guidance.  Even today, Rabbi Nachman is considered to be the leader of the Breslov movement, earning Breslov Hasidim the nickname “the dead Hasidim” amongst the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe.  Still, his followers consider the spirit of Rabbi Nachman to be very much alive through his teachings, which are interpreted and applied with the help of the most prominent rabbis in each generation of Breslov Hasidim.

(An adaptation of Rabbi Nachman’s original tale “The Seven Beggars” can be accessed here. )