About Rabbi Nachman and His Tales

Rabbi Nachman

Born in Medzhibozh, Ukraine to a distinguished hasidic family descending from the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman was married off at the age of fourteen and went to live with his father-in-law near the village of Medvedevka. There he remained for five years, immersed in study and prayer. He earned a reputation as an independent thinker and outspoken teacher and soon attracted his own substantial following.

Throughout his life, Rabbi Nachman faced a great deal of opposition to his unconventional ideas from many of the leading rebbes in the hasidic world. He was accused of arrogance, messianic pretensions, and propagating semi-heretical doctrines, and he and his hasidim were even persecuted for their views.

In 1802, Rabbi Nachman moved to the city of Bratslav, where he suffered several personal catastrophes, including the death of his wife and several of his children, and produced the major part of his work. He was a prolific writer, but little of his writing remains. Sefer Hamidot, a collection of refashioned short proverbs and sayings from ancient Jewish sources, is the only remaining book that Rabbi Nachman himself authored. The most influential work attributed to him - Likutei Moharan - a compilation of his sermons on the Bible, Talmud, and Zohar - became the primary source text and spiritual guide for the Bratslav Hasidim.

Rabbi Nachman contracted tuberculosis in 1810 and passed away before his fortieth birthday.

His Tales

Of all Rabbi Nachman's teachings, the Tales may be considered the peak of his creative life, both for the originality of their form and content and for the profundity of their underlying ideas. Dating from Rabbi Nachman's last years, these stories, which are essentially fairy tales deeply rooted in Kabbalistic symbolism and Biblical and Talmudic sources, are a mixture of intellectual and poetic imagination, simplicity of form, and complexity of content. On the one hand, any child can read them as one would a tale of ancient days, as the author himself put it; and, on the other hand, one can as an adult read them again and again, analyze and study them, and constantly discover in them layer upon layer of unrevealed symbol and meaning.

Although Rabbi Nachman told his Tales in Yiddish, usually following a relevant talk or sermon, they were written down by his closest pupil and follower, Rabbi Nathan Sternharz, in Hebrew and first published in that language. In an effort to remain as faithful as possible to the original, Rabbi Nathan tried to preserve and duplicate the exact speech of the author in all its precise nuances, resulting in a text that is sometimes choppy