“Happy is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked … but his delight is in the Torah of God. He shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, and whose leaves do not wither … For God knows the way of the righteous” (Psalms 1:1-6).
Rabbi Acha said, “From where do we know that even a simple conversation of a tzaddik needs to be studied? Because it is written, ‘His leaves shall not wither’” (Sukkah 21b). The Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, explained: Man is compared to a tree. His words are his fruits, and, according to the man, so are the fruits. Thus, the fruits of the Torah scholar are themselves Torah. The leaves of a tree are formed to provide for the fruits and protect them. So too, the leaves of the tzaddik – his simple, everyday conversations – are themselves spoken for the sake of Torah (see Anaf Yosef, ad loc.).
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov founded what has been described as the most original of all schools of Chassidut – and as a result, became the most extensively discussed and quoted of the Chassidic masters. The bulk of his writings – the fruits, as it were – is made up of his mystical stories and parables on the one hand and his formal Torah lessons on the other. These lessons are profound and complex interpretations of the most difficult concepts of the Talmud and Kabbalah. Rebbe Nachman’s writings add new dimensions and brilliance to the rich heritage of Torah literature, forming a perfect composite of all the traditional streams of Jewish intellectual expression.
Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom reveals a different aspect of the Rebbe. This translation of Shevachey HaRan and Sichot HaRan (the life and conversations of Rebbe Nachman) gives us a glimpse of Rebbe Nachman at his most simple and direct: talking informally with those who were closest to him, giving practical spiritual advice to those who came to him for guidance, and so on. His conversations – the “leaves” of the tzaddik – demonstrate how Rebbe Nachman’s entire life and being were made up of Torah and the service of God. Indeed, it often happened that as his apparently mundane conversations unfolded, he was led to some of his greatest revelations and teachings.
“His leaves shall not wither” — such conversations truly need to be studied. Leading teachers in the Breslov movement have seen Shevachey HaRan and Sichot HaRan as a fundamental text. With its basic introduction to Rebbe Nachman’s life, as well as all his main teachings in a simple, straightforward form, it is an ideal introduction to his works.
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s translation of this work was published in 1973 on the initiative of Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld, the leading English-speaking Breslov teacher in the United States. It was a pioneering work, being the first reliable translation into English of any of Rebbe Nachman’s writings. The translation demanded not only a profound understanding of the subject matter, but also a unique approach to give expression to lofty ideals in a manner that would be both accurate and accessible to the general reader.
The publication of Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom opened the way for the translation of other Breslov works. Subsequently, the Breslov Research Institute was founded to undertake the translation and publication of all of Rebbe Nachman’s writings. The appearance of Rabbi Nachman’s Stories and Advice evoked widespread interest in Rebbe Nachman’s Wisdom with a new, comprehensive index.
May the Almighty grant that we see the fulfillment of the words of the Psalm “For God will make known the way of the righteous” (see Yalkut Psalms 3, #620), with the coming of the Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple. Amen.
Postscript to Second Revised Edition
This revised edition contains several new features. Firstly, due to current typesetting resources, we have placed many of the sources within the text, sparing the reader from having to look down on the page for the origin of the quote or paraphrase. Secondly, notes containing errors that crept in during the earlier printing were corrected, and several new notes were added. Additionally, at the time of the first edition, there were no other translations of Rebbe Nachman’s writings or the Hebrew texts currently available which changed the layouts and numbering systems for nearly all of the Breslov writings. In this edition, we changed the sources to the new standards, quoting the available English texts as well as many of the Hebrew editions.
Our deepest thanks to R’ Ozer Bergman for his tireless efforts in making this revised edition a shining product of Breslov translations, and to R’ Yitzchok Leib Bell for polishing that shine. May they and their families be forever blessed with everything good, in this world and the next. Amen.
It seems that it is more than coincidence that I am writing this introduction on the 200th anniversary of Rebbe Nachman’s birth. The more a person studies his life, the more he realizes that everything the Rebbe touched was filled with significance.
Rebbe Nachman is one of the best known and most often quoted of the Chassidic masters. A great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, he added an entirely new dimension to Chassidic teachings. Even after two centuries, his teachings have a meaningful message. Now, as before, he speaks to seeking generations.
To some, Rebbe Nachman is best known by his stories. These may be counted among the great classics of world literature, possessing profound depth that speaks to the very soul.
To others, Rebbe Nachman is the great Kabbalist. His teachings shed light on some of the deepest mysteries, while at the same time enhancing them with meaning for the most average individual.
Still others know Rebbe Nachman through his main teachings. He stresses hitbodedut (secluded prayer before God). He teaches that one should never lose hope, and that good points are to be found even in the most debased individuals. His doctrine is one of joy, stressing that a man must find cause for happiness in everything that befalls him.
To his followers, however, Rebbe Nachman is more than all this. He is “the Rebbe” — the teacher, the guide, the master. His teachings are not the abstract thoughts of a past generation, but living words of inspiration and wisdom for life today.
This work is a translation of Shevachey HaRan and Sichot HaRan, a combined work that was first published several years after Rebbe Nachman’s passing. It contains his most often quoted teachings on subjects ranging from simple, everyday advice to the most esoteric Kabbalistic mysteries. It is where the Rebbe presents a way of life that has both depth and meaning.
Translating such a work into a modern idiom represented a major challenge, especially in view of its wide range of subject matter. One moves from the simple narratives of the mundane world to sublime poetry of Kabbalistic mysteries, often within a single page. Of course, this was Rebbe Nachman’s strength. He could bring the man to the mystery, and the mystery to the man.
This edition is the first one ever to be annotated. The original Hebrew editions offered absolutely no clue as to the origin of the many biblical, Talmudic and Kabbalistic quotations found in the work. To trace every source has been one of the major tasks of the translator.
Our notes are intended to serve a dual purpose. First, they are meant to make this book intelligible to those with a limited background. All unfamiliar terms, personalities and events are explained in detail. We also strove to provide additional insight for the serious student of Breslov. Since many of the Rebbe’s teachings can best be understood in context with his related lessons, parallel sources are cited. The circumstances under which a particular lesson was revealed are also provided where the information is available. In a number of instances, we have been able to logically arrive at conclusions not recorded elsewhere.
We hope to be able to translate these notes into Hebrew and include them in a future edition of the original.
I would like to express my particular appreciation to Rabbi Zvi Aryeh (Leo) Rosenfeld for inspiring this project, meticulously editing the manuscript and comparing it with the original, and helping to track down some of the more elusive sources.
I would also like to thank my good friends, Leibel Berger and Gedaliah Fleer, for their suggestions and assistance.
Above all, my thanks go to my wife, Tobie, for being a continuous source of inspiration and strength during the entire course of this project.
Spending these months immersed in Rebbe Nachman’s works has been a source of inspiration that was, as Reb Noson would say, “beyond the power of words to describe.” It is my hope that they serve as a similar source of inspiration to those who read this book.
Rosh Chodesh Nisan 5732
Herein is told
an infinitesimal portion
of the awesome holiness of our Rebbe,
may a tzaddik’s memory be a blessing,
his goodness, his piety and his holy ways in serving God
Also recounted is his pilgrimage
to the Holy Land
He is the Rebbe, the sainted Gaon,the holy tzaddik, foundation of the world,his eminence, our lord and master,
the precious exalted lamp,
the treasured concealed light –
his glorious holy name is
REBBE NACHMAN OF BRESLOV
may the memory of the holy tzaddik be a blessing;
his praise is hushed —
author of the Likutey Moharan
and other sacred works
I, Reb Noson, son of Rabbi Naftali Hertz of Nemirov, fully realize that an account of our awesome holy Rebbe’s life should be written.
I have therefore recorded a small portion of his saintly ways, from his earliest perception until his departure from this world in peace. I myself heard some of these accounts from the Rebbe’s holy lips. Others were gleaned from those who knew him during his lifetime. Much of what is written here was seen with our own eyes.
The Rebbe had much opposition, and I know full well that many will not believe these accounts. I will not let this deter me. Many people yearn for these words and have urged me to publish this volume.
Deep inside, my thoughts assure me and my innards tell me that these words should be published for the sake of those who would follow them. It does not matter who initiated them — they are obviously pure and holy ways. How can I withhold this volume from those who sincerely thirst for it?
The truth is its own witness. Look at the Rebbe’s writings with an unprejudiced eye, and you yourself will see that he revealed concepts that cannot be perceived with the unaided human intellect. These teachings could only be attained from the highest source, through holiness and purity.
It is impossible to go into further detail. Anything more would only be superfluous. As people say, “It is either unnecessary, or else it is futile.”
At first, my heart beat with uncertainty and I did not know which path to follow. Then I resolved that I would write freely, no matter what the consequences, “that future generations might know … and arise and tell it to their children” (Psalms 78:6). They will see this book and walk in the footsteps marked along these paths.
It is self-evident that these ways are precious and holy. Every man can follow them and bring himself close to God; for they apply to everyone, great and small alike.
No matter how low you are, you can follow the paths charted here. Have pity on your soul and consider your true purpose, and you will be worthy of eternal life, soaring like the Children of the Highest Abode. Just be firm in your conviction, like a firmly-driven stake that cannot be moved, never straying from the path mapped out in this book.
What we have recorded here is less than a drop in the ocean of the Rebbe’s great holiness and outstanding qualities. They tower high above, in a place human intellect cannot reach.
We also have no desire to retell any of the Rebbe’s miracles and wonders. Our only concern is to present ideas that can bring others to fear of God. Let them read this and learn a way.
Everyone who saw our manuscripts praised them very highly. Their hearts were touched with a closeness to God and they urged me to publish them. They prevailed upon me with words (Ezekiel 35:13) until I was bound to complete this task.
May God have mercy on us and may we be worthy to walk in the ways of our fathers who served their Master with awe, until Zion and Jerusalem are rebuilt and all Israel shall fly like doves to their cotes (Isaiah 60:8).
May this be in our days. Amen.
מים עמוקים דברי פי איש
The words of a man’s mouth are as deep waters
נחל נובע מקור חכמה
A flowing brook, a fountain of wisdom
THE PRAISE OF REBBE NACHMAN
1. As a small child, the Rebbe decided that he would detach himself completely from this world. He wanted to break the desire to eat, but because he was young, he thought it would be impossible to forgo his regular meals. He decided that he would swallow his food without chewing it. In this way, he would not derive any pleasure from the food. He continued doing this until his throat became completely swollen.
When the Rebbe recounted this, he mentioned that he was only six years old at the time.
We once heard of a great tzaddik who swallowed his food without chewing it, and this was considered very unique. The Rebbe did this when he was just a child.
2. As a young child, the Rebbe wanted to literally fulfill the verse, “I have set God before me constantly” (Psalms 16:8). He continually tried to depict God’s Ineffable Name before his eyes, even while studying with his tutor. His thoughts were so occupied that he often did not know his lessons, making his teacher very angry.
Despite this, the Rebbe acted like a normal child his age – playing, jumping and taking walks. He behaved this way constantly.
3. When he became bar mitzvah, his uncle, Rabbi Ephraim of Sudylkov, called him and pronounced over him the verse, “Today, I have begotten you” (Psalms 2:7). This verse speaks of the day a person becomes bar mitzvah, as discussed in the holy literature (cf. Zohar Chadash 10c). His uncle then spoke to him briefly regarding religious devotion, and these words were as dear to the Rebbe as if he had found a great treasure (Psalms 119:162).
The Rebbe was married soon after this. Immediately after the wedding, he burned with enthusiasm, deeply yearning to serve God. Day by day, he moved further and further along this path of devotion.
4. While still a child, the Rebbe began to devote every possible moment to his sacred studies. He would pay his tutor three silver coins out of his own pocket for each page of Gemara taught. This was in addition to the regular tuition paid by his father. The Rebbe would add his own bonus for each page so his tutor would exert himself to teach him many pages each day. The Rebbe’s plan succeeded and his tutor taught him a considerable amount every day, collecting his three extra coins for each page.
5. This is the way the Rebbe served God. All his devotions were concealed to such an extent that not a single person knew about them. He kept everything well-hidden, cloaked in great secrecy.
At first, the Rebbe’s way of serving God was one of extreme simplicity. He did not resort to any sophistication, but walked a very uncomplicated path.
When the Rebbe was involved in his devotions, he did everything with great strength and effort. No form of devotion came easily and the Rebbe literally had to lay down his life in many cases. Each thing required tremendous effort, and he had to work hard each time he wanted to do something to serve God. He had thousands upon thousands of ups and downs.
The most difficult thing was to begin to serve God and accept the yoke of true devotion. Each time he would begin, he would find himself falling. He would then begin anew and stumble yet another time. This occurred countless times, over and over again.
Finally the Rebbe resolved to stand fast and maintain his foothold without paying attention to anything else in the world. From then on, his heart was firm in its devotion to God. But even so, he went up and down many times. By then, however, he was determined never to abandon his devotion, no matter how many times he fell. No matter what happened, he would remain devoted to God to the very best of his ability.
6. The Rebbe became accustomed to constantly begin anew. Whenever he fell from his particular level, he did not give up. He would simply say, “I will act as if I am just beginning to devote myself to God and this is the very first time.”
This happened time and again, and each time he would start all over again. He would often begin anew many times in a single day. For even in the course of a day, there were many times when he would fall away from his high level of devotion. But each time he would start again, no matter how many times it happened, even within a single day (see “His Wisdom” #48).
7. The Rebbe devoted every available moment to his sacred studies. He spent much time studying the Talmud, the Shulchan Arukh, the Bible, the Ein Yaakov, and the mystical books of the Zohar, the Tikkuney Zohar and the writings of the holy Ari. He also delved into many other sacred works, especially those involving Mussar.
The Rebbe said that his father’s library contained all the small Mussar books and that he went through every one. He also spent much time with the Reishit Chokhmah, stating that he reread this remarkable work countless times.
The Rebbe’s unique expertise in all of the sacred literature was obvious. He was particularly unique in his knowledge of the Bible, the Ein Yaakov, the Ari’s writings, and the Zohar and Tikkuney Zohar, to the point that literally no one could be compared to him.
He was fluent in the entire Torah. He could quote anything in the sacred literature as if the book were opened in front of him. It was like a table set before him, where he could see everything and choose what he desired. The entire scope of our sacred literature was like this, standing ready before his mind’s eye to be used whenever he desired. This can be seen to some extent in the Rebbe’s writings.
8. The Rebbe told us that all his studies required great effort.
When he began to learn Mishnah as a young child, he did not understand it. He wept and wept until he was able to understand the Mishnah. Later, when he studied more advanced works, he again found himself unable to comprehend them. Again he cried bitterly until he was worthy of understanding. This was true even of such esoteric studies as the Zohar and the writings of the Ari, where understanding came only after long and bitter weeping.
He said that when he began to study any work, he did not understand it. It was very difficult for him and he could not grasp its straightforward meaning. This greatly distressed him. His studies required prodigious effort, but nevertheless he studied a lot by constantly encouraging himself. He achieved it all through his prayer and weeping.
9. The Rebbe engaged in many fasts. Even while still in his teens, he fasted from Shabbat to Shabbat many times (see “His Wisdom” #160-161). There were occasions when he fasted from Shabbat to Shabbat twice in succession.
Although the Rebbe was a child of delights (Jeremiah 31:19), raised in comfort, he was very thin. Still, he would disregard himself completely, fasting and mortifying himself in every possible way. Once he fasted from Shabbat to Shabbat eighteen times in a single year.
10. The main way the Rebbe attained what he did was simply through prayer and supplication before God. He was very consistent in this. He would beg and plead in every way possible, asking that God have mercy and make him worthy of true devotion and closeness.
What helped him most were his prayers in the language he usually spoke, which was Yiddish. He would find a secluded place and set it aside to express his thoughts to God.
Speaking in his own language, he would beg and plead before God. He would make use of all sorts of arguments and logic, crying that it was fitting that God draw him close and help him in his devotion. He kept this up constantly, spending days and years engaged in such prayer.
His father’s house had a small garret that was partitioned off as a storehouse for hay and feed. Here he would hide himself, chanting the Psalms and screaming quietly (see “His Wisdom” #16), begging God to make him worthy of drawing himself close to Him.
Besides this, the Rebbe made use of every published prayer he could find. He went through all the books of prayers available, and there was not a prayer that he did not repeat countless times. He recited them all – the Psalms, the Sha’arey Tzion and the prayers printed in the large siddurim. He poured out his heart in every possible prayer and supplication, even those printed in Yiddish [for women]. Not a single one was omitted. The Rebbe also had the custom of reciting all the supplications following each day’s ma’amodot. He would say the prayers for all seven days of the week at one time.
He also had the practice of chanting only the verses in Psalms that speak of prayer and the cry to God. He would go through the entire Book of Psalms in one stretch, saying only these verses and leaving out the rest.
Beyond all this, the main thing was his own prayers, emanating from his heart in his own language. He would pray and argue before God, making up petitions and arguments as he went along. He would beg and plead that God make him worthy of true devotion.
Prayers such as these helped the Rebbe achieve his greatness. We heard this explicitly from the Rebbe’s own holy lips.