- Breslov (Hasidic dynasty)
Breslov (also Bratslav) is a branch of
Hasidic Judaismfounded by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov(1772-1810) a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism. Its adherents strive to develop an intense, joyous relationship with God and receive guidance toward this goal from the teachings of Rebbe Nachman. The movement has had no central, living leader for the past 200 years, as Rebbe Nachman did not designate a successor. However, certain groups and communities under the Breslov banner refer to their leaders as " Rebbe".
The movement weathered strong opposition from virtually all other Hasidic movements in the
Ukrainethroughout the nineteenth century, yet at the same time experienced tremendous growth in numbers of followers from Ukraine, White Russia, Lithuania and Poland. By World War I, thousands of Breslov Hasidim were located in those places. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Communist oppression forced the movement underground in Russia. Thousands of Hasidim were imprisoned or murdered during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, and killed by Nazis who invaded Ukraine in 1941. The movement regenerated itself in England, America, and Israelby those who managed to escape Russia.
"Breslov" is the name used nowadays by Breslover followers for the town of
Bratslav, where Rebbe Nachman lived for the last eight years of his life. Bratslav is located on the Bug river in Ukraine(latitude 48.82 N longitude 28.95 E.), midway between Tulchin to the south and Nemirov to the north — 9 miles (15 kilometers) from each.
Prior to his arrival in Bratslav in 1802, Rebbe Nachman lived and taught in other towns in Ukraine such as Ossatin, Moheilov and Zlatipolia and Odessa. But upon his arrival in Bratslav he declared, "Today we have planted the name of the Bratslaver Hasidim. This name will never disappear, because my followers will always be called after the town of Bratslav" (Tzaddik #115).
Later followers said the name of the town dovetailed with the Rebbe's teachings: He encouraged Jews to remove the barriers that stood between themselves and a closer relationship with God. They noted that the Hebrew letters of the word "Breslov" (ברסלב) can be rearranged to spell "lev basar" (לב בשר —the "ס" and "ש" sounds are interchangeable), "a heart of flesh"—echoing the prophecy in Ezekiel (36:26): "I [God] will take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Rabbi
Shmuel Moshe Krameralso noted that the gematria("numerical value") of the Hebrew letters of "Breslov" (ברסלב) is 294, as is the Hebrew spelling of "Nachman ben Faiga" (נחמן בן פיגא) (Nachman son [of] Faiga) -- the names of Rebbe Nachman and his mother.
The Breslov approach places great emphasis on serving God through the sincerity of the heart, with much joy and living life as intensely as possible. Its Hasidim see Torah life as the means to a joyful existence, and their approach to worship is very personalized and emotional, with much clapping, singing, and dancing. Rabbi Nachman said, "It's a great
mitzvah(commandment) to always be happy." Even in the Nazi concentration camps, the Breslovers strove to find joy in life.
Rebbe Nachman also placed great emphasis on
Jewish prayer. Besides the regular daily services in the synagogue, Rebbe Nachman advised his followers to engage in " hitbodedut" (literally, "self-seclusion") on a daily basis. In this distinctively Breslov practice, the individual Hasid engages in a free-flowing verbal communication with God for one hour a day. During "hitbodedut", the individual pours out his thoughts and concerns in his mother tongue, as if talking to a close personal friend. The goal is to establish a close, personal relationship with God and a clearer understanding of one's personal motives and goals.
A few Breslovers also use a form of
mantrameditation by repeating a word or phrase over and over. Rebbe Nachman himself used the phrase, "Ribono Shel Olam" ("Master of the Universe" — i.e., God), which he pronounced with the Yiddish intonation as: "Ree-boy-noy shell oy-lahm." (Some say that the Yiddish pronunciation allows one to pour every possible emotion into the "oy" syllables). A small group of modern-day Breslovers use the Na Nach Nachmamantra, which is based on the Hebrew letters of Nachman's name. This mantra was not used by Rebbe Nachman himself, but was taught in the 20th century by Rabbi Yisroel Ber Odesser. However, this group is not part of mainstream Breslov, and is rejected by most adherents.
Rabbi Nachman always maintained that his high spiritual level was due to his own efforts, and not to his famous lineage or any other circumstances of his birth. He repeatedly insisted that all Jews could reach the same level as he, and spoke out very strongly against those who thought that the main reason for a Rebbe's greatness was the superior level of his soul (see "Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom", Kaplan English edition, page 29).
The Rosh Hashana kibbutz
Another specifically Breslov practice is the annual Rosh Hashanah kibbutz, a large gathering at the grave of Rabbi Nachman in
Uman, Ukraineon the Jewish New Year. Rabbi Nachman himself said:
Rosh Hashanahis greater than everything. I cannot understand how it is that if my followers really believe in me, they are not all scrupulous about being with me for Rosh Hashanah. No one should be missing! Rosh Hashanah is my whole mission" (Tzaddik #403).
During his lifetime, hundreds of followers spent the holiday with him; after his death, his closest disciple,
Nathan of Breslov("Reb Noson") organized an annual pilgrimage to his grave starting with Rosh Hashanah 1811, the year after Rebbe Nachman's death. Until World War I, thousands of Hasidim from Ukraine, White Russia, Lithuaniaand Polandjoined the holiday prayer gathering. The Rosh Hashanah kibbutz operated clandestinely and on a smaller scale under Communism, when public prayer gatherings were forbidden. The pilgrimage was officially reinstituted after the fall of Communism in 1989, and continues to this day, with upwards of 20,000 men and boys arriving each Rosh Hashanah from all over the world.
Breslovers also make individual pilgrimages to their Rebbe's grave at other times of the year. An organized women's pilgrimage has been introducted on
Purim, in honor of the Feast of Esther. Visiting the grave at any time is deemed beneficial, because Rebbe Nachman said:
:"Whoever comes to my gravesite and recites the Ten Psalms of the
Tikkun HaKlali("General Remedy"), and gives even as little as a penny to charity for my sake, then, no matter how serious his sins may be, I will do everything in my power -- spanning the length and breadth of Creation -- to cleanse and protect him. By his very payos("sidecurls") I will pull him out of Gehenna (purgatory)!" (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #141).
Important books of Breslover Hasidism
The main Hasidic texts revered and studied by Breslover Hasidim are those written by Rebbe Nachman and Reb Noson. All of Rebbe Nachman's teachings were transcribed by Reb Noson. Additionally, Reb Noson wrote some of his own works.
magnum opusis the two-volume "Likutey Moharan" (Collected Lessons of our Rebbe), a collection of 411 lessons displaying in-depth familiarity and understanding of the many overt and esoteric concepts embedded in Torah, Talmud, Zoharand Kabbalah.
Upon the Rebbe's instructions, Reb Noson collected all the practical teachings and advice contained in "Likutey Moharan" and published them in:
*"Likutey Eitzot" (Collected Advice)
*"Kitzur Likutey Moharan"
Rebbe Nachman's other works include:
*"Sefer HaMiddot" (The Alef-Bet Book)—a collection of aphorisms on various character traits
*"Sippurei Ma'asiyyot" (Rabbi Nachman's Stories)—13 mystical parables
Tikkun HaKlali" (The General Remedy)—a specific order of 10 Psalms(16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, 150) which counteract the pegam habrit kodesh
After the Rebbe's death, Reb Noson wrote down all the conversations, fragments of lessons, and interactions which he and others had had with the Rebbe during his lifetime. He published these in the following collections:
*"Shivchei HaRan" (Praises of the Rebbe) and "Sichot HaRan" (Conversations of the Rebbe)—published in English as "Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom"
*"Chayei Moharan" (Life of the Rebbe)—published in English as "Tzaddik"
Reb Noson also authored these commentaries and novellae:
*"Likutey Halachot" (Collected Laws)—an 8-volume Hasidic commentary on "Shulchan Aruch" which shows the interrelationship between every
Halakhaand Rebbe Nachman's lessons in "Likutey Moharan".
*"Likutey Tefillot" (Collected Prayers)—210 direct and heartfelt prayers based on the concepts in "Likutey Moharan".
*"Yemei Moharanat" (The Days of Reb Noson)—an autobiography
*"Alim LeTerufah" (Leaves of Healing)— Rebbe Nachman and Reb Noson's collected letters
*"Shemot HaTzaddikim" (Names of Tzaddikim)—a list of the tzaddikim of
Tanach, Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, Kabbalah, Chassidus and Geonim of Torah in General.
Breslovers do not restrict themselves to Rabbi Nachman's commentaries on the Torah, but also study many of the classic texts, including the
Tanakh, the Talmud, the Midrash, and many others. They may also study the writings of Rebbes from other dynasties. Students of Reb Noson, their students, and their students' students have added to the literature with further commentaries on the Rebbe's teachings, as well as original works.
Beginning in the early 1980s, the Breslov Research Institute (headed by Rabbi Chaim Kramer) began translating many Breslov works into English and thus English-speaking readers were introduced to Breslov teachings, accompanied by a growing body of original Breslov works in English.
Prior to the Breslov Research Institute efforts to translate and publish Breslov works in English, there numerous smaller scale similar efforts. Of particular note is Rabbi
Aryeh Kaplan's 'Gems of Rabbi Nachman' published in the early 1970s.
Today Breslover communities exist in several locations in Israel, as well as in major cities around the world with large Jewish populations, including Los Angeles, New York,
Paris, London, Montreal, and Lakewood Township, New Jersey.
Nachman of Breslov
Nathan of Breslov
Levi Yitzchok Bender
Elazar Mordechai Koenig
Gedaliah Aharon Koenig
Na Nach Nachma
Yisroel Ber Odesser
Eliezer Shlomo Schik
Yaakov Meir Shechter
List of Hasidic dynasties
*Greenbaum, Avraham (1987). "Tzaddik". Jerusalem/New York: Breslov Research Institute. ISBN 0-930213-17-3.
*Kramer, Chaim (1989). "Crossing the Narrow Bridge". Appendix B: Breslov Books. Jerusalem/New York: Breslov Research Institute. ISBN 0-930213-40-8.
* [http://www.breslov.org Breslov—Judaism with Heart] The website of Breslov Research Institute, publisher of many Breslov works in English
* [http://www.breslov.org/quest.html Questions and Answers about Breslov] FAQ about the movement
* [http://www.breslov.com/library/ Virtual library of core Breslov literature in Hebrew and English (the texts are in Hebrew)]
* [http://www.breslev.org/pages.php?go=books Virtual library of core Breslov literature in Hebrew]
* [http://www.nachalnovea.com/breslovcenter/articles/article_real.html Will the Real Breslov Please Stand Up?] Article explaining the wide diversity of groups within the Breslov movement today
* [http://www.davidicdynasty.org/susan_tree.pdf Ancestors and descendants of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov]
* [http://www.breslev-midot.com Yeshivat Tikun Hamidot] English/Hebrew Breslov website featuring historical facts, information, pictures, videos, and lectures
* [http://www.mohorosh.org Website of Breslov International]
* [http://www.ilovetorah.com Kiruv website for Jews interested in Breslov Judaism]
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