The Golden Mountain, by Meyer Levin, , at sacred-texts.com
p. 178 p. 179
Click to enlarge
THE TREE OF THE BAAL SHEM TOV. Drawing by Meyer Levin
Udel, the daughter of the Baal Shem Tov, had watched his scholars dancing at the Simchas Torah feast, and had given her shoe to Yehiel when he dropped his own shoe; then Udel and Yehiel were married, and of their union three children were born.
One was Baruch, who remained in Medzibuz, and became known as Reb Baruch of Medzibuz. Another was Moses Chaim Ephraim who became Rabbi of Salidikov. And their daughter was named Fiege. Fiege grew to be a woman of wonderful understanding, for in her was the spirit of holiness that had been in her mother Udel, and in her grandfather Rabbi Israel.
In Horodenka there lived a Chassid named Rabbi Nachman, who had a son called Simcha, which means joy. Simcha was not learned, but a simple-hearted man; and Simcha married Fiege.
Their son was called Nachman. In him there flamed again that strange and wondrous glory that had been in his great-grandfather, Rabbi Israel the Baal Shem Tov, for the stream of glory flowed unbroken through the generations.
Nachman was born in Medzibuz on the Sabbath of the first of the month of Nisan, in 1772. As soon as he could go about alone, the boy would creep away to the grave of his great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov, and by the graveside he would remain, sitting quietly, with the far smile of one who listens to pleasant words. A stream was not far away, and the burial place was soft with long grass and shaded with trees; it was not a place of death but of life; all day the sunlight shimmered among the trees.
The boy Nachman could read almost as soon as he
could speak. So great was his love of learning that when his teacher arose to leave at the end of their hours of study the boy would run and fetch his own pennies, and give them to the teacher, that he might remain a while longer and explain another page of the Talmud.
Then he learned of piety, and of fasting, and of the rigours of the purifying bath called the mikweh. On the coldest night of winter, the boy Nachman crept from his house, and stole into the house of the mikweh. He broke the ice over the water, and descended into the purifying bath, and remained there long, as in a pleasant summer stream. In the day, the elders saw the marks of his bare feet in the snow.
A great feast was held in the household in Medzibuz when Nachman reached his thirteenth birthday, and was ready to perform the service of manhood. At that time, his uncle, Rabbi Moses Chaim Ephraim of Salidikov, examined him in learning, and was astounded at the knowledge of the boy. "He will be the greatest of all the Tsadikim," his uncle said.
The next year, Nachman was married to the daughter of a wealthy merchant of Husiatyn, in Podolia, and he went to live in the house of his father-in-law while he continued his deep studies. It was then that he gave himself over to the study of the mysteries in the Cabbala, and of the writings of the great Cabbalist Isaac Luria, who lived in the Holy Land from 1534 to 1572. Bible, Talmud, and Cabbala he studied together. Often he performed the great fast from Sabbath eve to Sabbath eve, and purified himself by the severest rigours known to the ardour of the Chassidim,
that he might be worthy to receive the deepest secrets.
Then he came to the truth that the Baal Shem Tov had known. And he found the living Joy everywhere, he heard the melody that hovered about the trees and stones, that came from the tall reeds that grew by the river. The woods became as filled with delightful mysteries to him as was the Book of the Zohar; and he went often into the forest, to meditate.
Sometimes he rode there on a horse; but he would get down from the horse, and walk about, and muse, and lose himself; and sometimes the animal would return alone to Husiatyn, while Nachman remained many days in the forest, without food.
Nachman had a small boat, and often he would float upon the river, and go close to the shore, and lie in his boat among the reeds.
After a few years, he left the village of his father-in-law and went to live in Modvediovka, where he soon became known as a Tsadik. Here, too, he was much in the fields and in the hills, for there he felt himself nearest heaven. "I go upon a way where no man has passed before," he said, "but even though the way is new, it is very old." And this is found later, in one of his wondrous fables.
It is told that once he had to pass the night in a cabin newly made of hewn logs. The following morning he was asked how he had slept. "I could not sleep," he said, "for there was moaning all about me all night long." No one knew where the sounds of moaning might have come from; but he knew. It was the moaning of the trees that had been cut down in their prime; of their logs the cabin had been built.
Nachman remained in Modvediovka until 1798. On Passover Eve, in 1798, Nachman remained long in the mikweh. When he came from the purifying waters, and spoke the words of the holiday ceremonial, "Next year in Jerusalem," there was deep meaning in his words.
That year he told his household that he must journey to the Holy Land. He had no means with which to make the voyage, for he was poor, having always given away whatever possessions came to him. There was not even money for his wife and daughters to live upon while he was away. Therefore he sent his wife to be a cook, and his daughters took places as servant girls, and Nachman went on his way on foot to Odessa.
There he took ship to Stamboul, and there again he took ship for Haifa. But the fleet of the Emperor Napoleon was in those waters, and the ship became entangled amongst the fleet, and there was great peril of death.
At last Rabbi Nachman came to Haifa, but among the Arabs he was thought to be a spy of the Emperor's forces, and they made great hardships for him. But on Rosh Ha-Shana of 1799 he was free in Haifa, and he remained the whole winter of that year in the Holy Land. He went on foot to the grave of the great Cabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria, and to the grave of the father of Cabbala, Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai.
Then, he declared, a new life began for him. "All that has been before was as the life within the fruit before it is ripe." For now he saw the teaching of his great-grandfather in its truest light, and he saw that his own teaching had its roots in the same source as did the teaching of Moses. And he was not afraid to
number himself among the greatest of the Tsadikim. "Since the Jews were dispersed from the Holy Land," he said, "there have been four great periods of learning, and at the centre of each epoch stood a chosen one. These are the four chosen teachers: Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai, Rabbi Isaac Luria, Rabbi Israel, and Rabbi Nachman."
He returned to Podolia, and there it was known that he judged himself the leader of the Tsadikim. But the other Tsadikim were strong against him, and hostile to his power. The great Tsadik known as the Seer of Spohlia mightily opposed the teachings of Rabbi Nachman, and was so violent in his attack upon the returned pilgrim that Nachman fled to the town of Zlotopoli, and at last journeyed to the powerful Rabbi Levi Isaac of Berditchev to ask for his aid against the Spohliar Zaydeh.
In 1802, Nachman left Zlotopoli for Bratzlaw, a city strong in Chassidim, and there he began his greatest work.
"A teacher must clothe his thoughts in wonderful raiment," he said, and so he began to tell his wondrous fables.
Many have their source in events of his own life; others in the books of mystery. The tale of the Wind that Overturned the World tells of a King and his Court, all together they comprise ten personages, corresponding to the Ten Sphiroth known in Cabbala, and those who know may find further meanings in those realms.
Rabbi Nathan of Nemirow, the most faithful of Nachman's disciples, often wrote down Nachman's
tales as they had been told, word for word, "for each word is holy," he said, "and great mysteries are contained in these fables." Many tales were never written down, for Nathan was not always present; and many tales were repeated to him and written down after they had been told. The tales are so filled with hidden and visible holiness, that they may be related as prayers in the House of Study.
Rabbi Nathan remembered how some of the tales came to be told. "At the end of the year 1806," he says, "after the death of his son Solomon Ephraim, Rabbi Nachman journeyed to Modvediovka; and it was there that he began to relate the first tale, of the child that was lost. When he came home from Modvediovka, I visited him, and he said, 'On the way, I told this tale.'" And so the tale of the Lost Princess was told again, for it was the tale of a precious child lost to its father.
Another time, one of the disciples spoke to Rabbi Nachman of the upheaval brought into the world by Napoleon, "a man of low birth who has become an emperor!"
"How do you know," said Rabbi Nachman, "whose soul is within him? For it may be that his soul was exchanged in the nurseries of heaven, and is truly the soul of an emperor!" Then he began to tell the tale of the King's Son and the Servant's Son, that they might understand his meaning.
Once, it is remembered, he told a tale that lasted for two hours. All who heard it were so rapt in wonder and exaltation that when they came out of the dream of the story, they could remember only fragments of what they had heard.
On the eve of a holy Sabbath, the scholars were discussing a letter in which Rabbi Nathan of Nemirow had written that "they should be joyful." Rabbi Nachman heard their discussion and said, "I will tell you how once they were joyful." Then he began to tell the tale of the Seven Beggars.
Rabbi Nathan was not there, but a fellow-scholar hastened to Nemirow and told him that the Master had begun the relation of a new tale, more wondrous, more intricate than any of the other stories. And the scholar repeated to Rabbi Nathan the beginning of the tale. "I trembled with wonder and excitement," Rabbi Nathan wrote, "for I had heard many marvellous tales from the mouth of our Master, blessed be his memory, but none of them compared with this. So I hastened to his home." Rabbi Nathan ran from Nemirow to Bratzlaw, and remained there to hear the entire fable. For the story of the Seven Beggars took many days to tell.
In 1807 Rabbi Nachman visited several cities: Austroha, Zoslov, Dubno, Brody, and everywhere he was received with great honour, for his teachings were becoming known. But that year, consumption overtook him. He had been frail, and the journey to the Holy Land had used much of his strength. Now he was weak.
After Rosh Ha-Shanah of the year 1808, he went to Lemberg, and this voyage is veiled in mystery, but it is thought that he went to combat the teachings of Krochmal and Erter and the leaders of the movement for new learning and worldly speculation. Then he sent his faithful Nathan to prepare the publication of his teachings, in the book Likkute Maharan. This
was done in 1808 and 1809, when Rabbi Nachman returned to Bratzlaw. But his illness was great, and he was made restless. He went from one town to another. In 1810, a fire burned down his house in Bratzlaw; and he knew that he himself was near death.
"I will not die here, but in Uman," he said. For once there had been a great slaughter of Jews in the town of Uman, and of the thousand who had been suddenly killed, many were not ready, and had not yet found strength for their journey to return to heaven; now their souls hovered wearily and homeless about the graveyard of Uman. But if a great Tsadik were to die in that town, his soul might lift all those remaining souls, and carry them with it to heaven.
Therefore Rabbi Nachman wanted to die in Uman. On the fourth day of Succoth in 1810 he called all his disciples to him and said, "When I die, burn all that I have written, and burn it upon the very ground where I lie."
When Rabbi Nathan saw his Master in the death agony, he cried, "Rabbi, Rabbi, in whose care are you leaving us?"
"I am not leaving you," Rabbi Nachman replied. "I shall remain with you, in my grave."
Early in the afternoon of the third day of the week, the Master, Rabbi Nachman, died. About him were his three most beloved disciples, Rabbi Nephtali, Rabbi Simeon, and Rabbi Nathan.
THESE TALES CONTAIN WONDERS AND MYSTERIES THAT
ARE HIDDEN IN SECRET MEANINGS, FOR NOT ONE WORD
HERE WRITTEN IS WITHOUT DEEP PURPOSE YET
EVEN THE SIMPLE READER UNLEARNED IN THE
SECRET OF WORDS MAY READ THESE TALES
WITH AWAKENING, FOR THEIR POWER IS SO
GREAT THAT NO MAN MAY READ THEM
IN VAIN, AND EVEN THE SIMPLE MAN
MAY SEE BEYOND THEIR FIRST
MEANING AND GLIMPSE THE
ETERNAL DELIGHTS AND
WONDERS IN THE