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Breslov and the Holocaust
By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman ben Ya'akov © January 27, 2022

The following is excepted and edited somewhat from from Jbooks.com. And myjewishlearning.com

When Rebbe Nachman of Breslov died in 1810 no successor was installed, therefore the group came to be known as the "toite Chasidism," the Chasidism of the Dead [Rebbe]." The name didn't stick.

Unlike other Chasidic groups, whose communal activities center around a living Rebbe and shared institutions, the Chasidism of Breslov affirmed their identity through study and practice of their Rebbe’s teachings. This is still unusal among Chasids, although after the death of Reb Sneerson CHABAD did the same. Breslovers are "religious" about visiting Rebbe Nachman’s grave in the Ukrainian town of Uman, especially on Rosh Hashana; the Rebbe himself declared that those who pray at his burial site, recite the Tikkun HaKlali, and give a bit in charity, would merit great blessings.

Most of the previous generation of Breslovers was murdered in the Shoah, along with the vast majority of other Chasidism, but Breslov Chasidism is undergoing a remarkable resurgence today. The Breslov movement is growing by spreading its teachings, attracting Jews across the spectrum, from other Chasidic communities to the formerly secular and recent converts, and even many non-Jews. The flourishing of Breslov is especially pronounced in Israel, where Breslov posters adorn the city walls, and devotees dance on hilltops across the country.

Much of Breslov’s appeal traces to its deep mystical orientation, an interest in much evidence these days. And in many ways, it is easier to become a Breslover Chassid then it is joining any other Chasidic sect. There is no Breslover-centralized neighborhood comparable to Satmar or Bobov, in which one is expected to live, and no reigning Rebbe around whom that community adheres and to which one pays homage–one becomes a Breslover by studying and practicing the 200-year-old precepts of Rebbe Nachman.

Unlike other Chasidic groups, there is no dress code that marks membership–some Breslovers dress in traditional garb, but many, especially recent affiliates, wear clothes that would be more at home in hippy San Francisco of the 1960’s than Chasidic Galicia of the 1860’s. And while Rebbe Nachman always valued community, he also stresses the importance of a personal approach to God. The notion of Hitbodedut, private prayer and meditation, is a key practice in Breslov Chasidism, and many people today find this individualistic-spirituality compatible with their own religious inclinations. No doubt, too, many appreciate the Breslov insistence on joy in Rebbe Nachman’s succinct formulation, "It is forbidden to be sad," he teaches us.

Rebbe Nachman was born in 1772 in the Ukrainian town of Medzoboz, the cradle of the Chasidism. He was the great-grandson of the movement’s founder, the Baal Shem Tov, also known by the acronym the Besht. Although it is difficult to substantiate the claims of his followers, it seems the future Rebbe Nachman demonstrated a mystical proclivity even as a child. Married at 13, he nonetheless spent much of his time secluded, praying in fields and mountains. In his 20s he became an itinerant teacher and undertook an arduous trip to Israel, a rare expedition in those days. After taking four steps in the Holy Land, he declared his mission accomplished and his readiness to return home, though, in fact, he remained there for a half year.

Upon his return to Breslov, Rebbe Nachman’s fame spread. At first, his illustrious Chasidic pedigree and innovative insights helped him gain the endorsement of other Chasidic leaders, but soon his challenges to strict orthodoxy engendered much enmity. Indeed, Breslov has always remained a camp of its own, proceeding on the margins of the dominant Chasidic movements.

In 1810, a few months after moving to Uman, Rebbe Nachman died of tuberculosis. He was 38. And yet he declared that his fire would continue to burn until the coming of Mashiach. His fire is still bring today and enlightening more and more people to the Love of God and His Torah.

Rebbe Nachman taught his approach to Judaism as "applied mysticism." When applied, his teachings impact all forms of human interaction: textual commentary, legal rulings, formal discourses, informal conversation, prayer, music, epigrams, and narrative. Along with his honorable Chassidic lineage and creativity, the Rebbe was also blessed to have an extraordinarily talented, loyal, and prolific disciple, Reb Noson. Reb Noson diligently transcribed Rebbe Nachman’s work and talks and after the Rebbe’s death, printed and disseminated his teachings. Reb Noson collected these lessons in a book called the Likutei Moharan, an anthology that is the central text of this sect and ranges from simple everyday advice to Kabbalistic esoterica.

For many, the easiest entry to Breslov thought is through the Rebbe’s stories. Beginning with the Besht himself, storytelling has always been honored in Chasidism, but nowhere more so than here. Rebbe Nachman considered storytelling to be a form of prayer as well as a path to the soul: he reminds us, "While it true a story can put one to sleep, a story can also wake one up."

The typical Rebbe Nachman story-line has the structure of a fairy-tale. It features similar protagonists as well: banished princes and princesses, mysterious beggars, and poor men and women rewarded for their piety.

The most famous and well studied of his stories is "The Seven Beggars." It tells of beggars with a respective physical defect–blindness, say, or deafness–wherein each supposed blemish is presented as a gift–thus, one is deaf to the inanities of the world and so forth. Other stories are more straightforward, although even these have particular mystical or Chasidic spins. One tale, for example, is about a man who lives in a small hut in a small village who has a dream of a buried treasure in the big city. He goes to the city and meets someone who recounts his own dream of a treasure buried behind a hut in a small village, describing precisely the home of the poor visitor. The lesson? Each person already owns his own treasure, but to discover it, we all need all spiritul assitence.

Rebbe Nachman said that all his stories were designed to instruct, not merely to entertain, and each is laden with scriptural and Kabbalistic allusions and obscure meanings. These fables ask to be interpreted not by self-proclaimed experts, but by the individual who receives them. The Rebbe frowned on official interpretations of his works, insisting that the Ruach HaKodesh or spirit of God would supply each sincere person his needed insights.

Why did I choose this topic for my D’var Torah today? It is because we lost an entire generation of Breslov teachers and tzadikim to the Shoah. Imagine what these righteous people might have offered the Jews and the world had they survived. It behooves every Breslov talmid to study the Rebbe's works and to expand the wisdom he reveals to us to a lost and dying world. It is in honor of their memories that I chose this topic.

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