About Rebbe Nachman
Who was Rebbe Nachman? If you'll ask any Breslever, he'll tell you that Rebbe Nachman is his prime source of spiritual guidance – his Rebbe, although he is no longer alive. A great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman's lessons, conversations, parables and sayings express Torah wisdom in a totally original way and continue to inspire searching souls throughout the world. His unique ability to take deep Torah concepts and make them available to the man on the street is one of the reasons for his growing popularity today.
Rebbe Nachman's personality – his inner essence - remains a mystery. Even Reb Natan, Rebbe Nachman's closest disciple, writes that Rebbe Nachman was closed and hidden from everybody, and that he, as others, could fathom but a tiny drop of the Rebbe's greatness.
In presenting this short biographical sketch, we realize that we are only providing a glimpse into the outer trappings of the Rebbe's greatness.
Rebbe Nachman was born on Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, 1772) His father, Reb Simcha, the son of Rabbi Nachman Horodneker, was a leading disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. His mother, Feiga, was the daughter of Adil, the Baal Shem Tov's daughter. He had two brothers, Reb Yechiel and Reb Yisrael Met, and a sister Perel. His uncles, Feiga's brothers, were the renowned Chassidic figures, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Efraim, author of the Degel Machaneh Efraim, and Rabbi Baruch of Medzeboz.
Rebbe Nachman was born at a time when the Chassidic movement was beginning to ebb. A week after his birth, the opponents to the Chassidic movement issued a "cherem" (decree of excommunication) against the Chassidim. About half a year later, the Maggid of Mezritch, the Baal Shem Tov's successor, passed away.
Rebbe Nachman grew up in Medzeboz. At age thirteen, he married Sashi, the daughter of Reb Efraim of Ossatin (as was then the custom). He attracted his first disciple, Reb Shimon, on his wedding day. Though older than Rebbe Nachman, Reb Shimon remarked proudly, "I left all the older gutter Yidden (good Jews, a euphemism for Tzaddikim), and attached myself to a yunger man (young man).
After his wedding, Rebbe Nachman moved to his father-in-law's town, Ossatin, and lived there for about five years. From there, he moved to Medvedevka, where he began to attract a large following, some of whom were to become his closest followers: Reb Dov, Reb Shmuel Isaac, Reb Yudel, Reb Aharon the Rav, and Rabbi Yekutiel, the Maggid of Terhovitza.
The Rebbe had eight children, six daughters and two sons. Of these, only four daughters survived him - Adil, Sarah, Miriam and Chayah. Miriam moved to the Holy Land in 1809, where she passed away childless. Adil, Sarah and Chayah had children
In 1798-1799, Rebbe Nachman made his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In 1800, shortly after Adil's wedding, he moved to Zlatipolia, and then to Breslev in the summer of 1802.
It was while living in Breslev that Rebbe Nachman met Reb Natan, who was to become the Rebbe's prime disciple. Reb Natan lived in the nearby village of Nemirov. Although his family was opposed to the Chassidic movement, Reb Natan was attracted to their fervent devotions. Together with his friend, Reb Naftali, Reb Natan traveled to Breslev to visit the Rebbe. The two men were so inspired by Rebbe Nachman's devotions and teachings that they promptly joined his following and before long became the Rebbe's most intimate disciples.
Rebbe Nachman's daughter, Sarah, was married in 1803, and Miriam in 1805. (Chayah married after the Rebbe passed away.)
In the winter of 1807, Rebbe Nachman traveled to the cities of Novoritch, Dubno, Brody and Zaslov. In Zaslov, where the Rebbe spent the Shavuot holiday, his wife passed away. Before Rosh Hashanah, he married the daughter of Reb Yechezkel Tractenburg from Brody. Shortly afterwards, he contracted tuberculosis, which took his life three years later.
In 1808, Rebbe Nachman traveled to Lemberg for medical treatment. While he was in Lemberg, the first volume of Likutey Moharan was published. He had already started telling his famous stories and had also revealed his Sefer Hamiddot (The Aleph-Bit Book).
After his return from Lemberg, the Rebbe spent the next two years in Breslev During this period, he revealed the Tikkun Haklali, and many far-sighted teachings for the Chassidic group he had founded.
As the tuberculosis continued to consume his body, Rebbe Nachman became very weak and frail. He realized that his death was near and started making arrangements to move to Uman, where he chose to be buried. The Rebbe considered traveling to the Holy Land, but feared that he lacked the strength for so difficult a journey. He also wanted his followers to have access to his gravesite, something which might be impossible were he to be buried in Israel. Therefore, he chose the city of Uman, where there had been a huge massacre of some 20,000 Jews by Ivan Gunta and the Haidemacks in 1768. Rebbe Nachman said, "There are many kedoshim (holy martyrs) buried in Uman and it would be good to lie among them" (Tzaddik #114).
Shortly after Pesach, 1810, a major fire in Breslev destroyed the Rebbe's house. A day later, word arrived that negotiations for welcoming the Rebbe had been concluded and accommodations arranged. Hearing the news, the Rebbe's face turned red. He understood that he was being summoned to Uman to die.
Rebbe Nachman arrived in Uman on May 9, 1810. It was there that he issued his famous call, "Never despair!" and exhorted his followers to gather for Rosh Hashana. He passed away on the fourth day of Sukkot, 18 Tishrei, 1810.
During the six months that Rebbe Nachman resided in Uman, he spent much of his time with Jews who were far from orthodoxy. It was at then that he made such bold statements as, "If the Tzaddikim don't follow me, I must appeal to the wicked. Perhaps I can make them into good Jews!" Was he planting the seeds that would enable these men's ideological descendants to find an affinity in his ideas? Today, many Jews are discovering the beauty of their heritage through Rebbe Nachman's teachings. Perhaps this was the intent of the Rebbe's words, "I have accomplished and I shall accomplish."