How To Use This Book
Rebbe Nachman intended his teachings as practical pathways for our day-to-day spiritual work. Reb Noson explains: The Rebbe often told us, “I have a great desire that you act in accordance with my revealed teachings.”
Take a lesson and seek out its practical advice. Follow it for two or three months, making use of it to strengthen your devotion and fear of God. When you meditate, pray to God to help you achieve the ideals explained in the lesson. Then when you have completed one lesson, work on another (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #297).
To work on a lesson effectively, one needs a measure of discipline. Essentially, this means making a commitment of time and sticking to it. If you see that a lesson can help you, fix regular times when you can take a break from other activities. First, study the lesson and the accompanying commentary. Then work out how you can apply it in practice, with God’s help. Rebbe Nachman called this latter activity hitbodedut (personal prayer or meditation).1
1 For a discussion of the techniques of hitbodedut, see p. 30. For a complete, “how-to” guide to hitbodedut, see Where Earth and Heaven Kiss: A Guide to Rebbe Nachman’s Path of Meditation, published by Breslov Research Institute.
When working with a particular lesson, try to understand what that lesson is saying. What are its main ideas? How do they relate to you—to your own life and ideas? Are you near or far from the ideals expressed? There may be things about the lesson that you understand only partially or not at all. Try to formulate your questions, maybe by writing them down. You will often find that as you advance in your work, things that at first seemed obscure become clearer. Sometimes you will have a flash of understanding and see how relevant they really are. You may also examine your own ideas on the subject and clarify them in the light of what you can draw from the lesson. Our ideas have a major effect on the way we lead our lives.
In Tsohar, the basic theme is truth. Ask yourself: Where do truth and truthfulness come into your relationships with others, your work, your leisure pursuits, your prayers and meditation, your Torah study, your mitzvot? See how all the different things you are involved in and all the issues you are currently dealing with are related to the ideas
in the lesson.
You may wish to keep a notebook as a way of giving focus to your work. You could summarize and jot down the main points of the lesson and how they relate to your personal issues. You might devote a separate page to your questions about
the lesson or other problems—and over time you should see how at least some of them are clarified. You could also use a part of the notebook to write down your own prayers. Record your progress and see your success. It is important, however, that hitbodedut not become secondary to the notebook. The main thing is not to think or write about the ideals, but to live them in practice. The key lies in your will. Develop the will to incorporate the teachings of the lesson in every detail of your life. This is the essential work of prayer: to motivate and mobilize oneself to want to follow the advice in practical life. For, “Study is not the main thing, but action” (Avot 1:17).
In some areas of your life, it may be easy to apply the advice in the lesson. But in other areas it may be very difficult, even when you have a strong desire to put the lesson into practice. You may find obstacles in yourself or in the outside world. Overcoming these obstacles may take effort and, first and foremost, prayer—appealing to the Giver of life to help you succeed. Don’t be shy to ask!
At times the obstacles may even seem insurmountable. You may find yourself sidetracked, and start to think that this lesson is the last thing you need right now and you really should be concerning yourself with quite
different issues. Sometimes this may be true, and you do need to work on other areas more urgently. On the other hand, these obstacles may be a sign that you are making real progress with the lesson at hand. The very fact that you have encountered resistance means that you are grappling with the forces that inhibit your spiritual growth. Often things get hardest just when you are on the verge of a major breakthrough. Find any way you can to keep up your efforts. Pray in your own words however you can, explaining your problems to God and appealing for help. If you fall away from your goals or you feel you have failed, don’t let it discourage you. When learning to walk, a child falls down many times. But he gets up again each time, until he succeeds!
Tsohar also applies to the times when you want to pray, but the words just don’t come. You know the way you’re supposed to pray: with sincerity and concentration, hearing the words and feeling them in your heart. But you can’t. You can’t concentrate and your mind is everywhere except on the words. A stormy sea of thoughts seems to hem you in. You are surrounded and confined by your own self! Is there a way out? Yes! Rebbe Nachman begins his lesson by addressing someone who has already sinned.
What should he do to try and get closer to God?
The sinner is more cut off than anybody, yet Rebbe Nachman shows him a pathway. We too
can use this pathway as we acknowledge our own distance from God and the barriers we put up against Him. By shining the light of truth into our lives, we will be able to come closer to God than ever before.
An outstanding classic of Jewish religious literature, Likutey Moharan is a collection of Rebbe Nachman’s major Torah lessons and the primary source book for all his principal teachings. These lessons were
given on different occasions in Rebbe Nachman’s life and were written down by his pupil, Reb Noson, under the Rebbe’s direct supervision. With references ranging over the entire length and breadth of the Scriptures, Talmud, Midrash, Halakhah and Kabbalah, Likutey Moharan is especially noted for its brilliant exploration of the interrelationships between words and concepts in the Hebrew language. The exact date when Rebbe Nachman first gave over the lesson of Tsohar is not known. It was some time after the festival of Sukkot in the early winter of 5563 (October-November 1802). This was the first winter that Rebbe Nachman, then thirty years old, spent in the town of Breslov. Shortly before, Reb Noson,
a twenty-two-year-old Torah scholar, started coming to the Rebbe. At this point, the young Reb Noson had experienced the excitement of his first Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot with his new Rebbe. Rebbe Nachman had given him spiritual advice, and Reb Noson had returned to his hometown of Nemirov to work on putting the Rebbe’s advice into practice. One day Reb Noson stood up to pray, but just couldn’t. “Breslov is so near,” he thought, “and there