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Front cover of one in a generation Volume 1, biography of Rabbi Berland

I’m into the final drafting of the One in a Generation book now, and I had the urge to re-read ‘Through Fire and Water’, the biography of Rav Natan, Rebbe Nachman’s main pupil, who also went through what’s now known in Breslev circles as ‘The years of oppression’, which began late in 1834, and finally ended more than three years’ later, in 1838.

During those years, Rav Natan’s persecutors had him imprisoned by the secular authorities, regularly tried to beat him up, and even sent a contract killer after him, who murdered a different ‘Rav Natan’ who also lived in the town Breslev by mistake.

They also went all over the place telling rabbis, the Jewish public, and anyone who would listen that Rav Natan had been caught doing immoral things with women he wasn’t married to (is any of this sounding familiar???) and demanding that he and his community should be excommunicated.

At that time, one of the Rebbe’s other senior followers, and a major kabbalist in his own right, Reb Yudel, took nine men with him to the Rebbe’s tomb, and put Rav Natan’s opponents in to cherem, in order to protect Rav Natan’s life and prevent his persecutors from actually killing him.

As he left the Rebbe’s tomb, Reb Yudel said:

“There’s a merit that protects a person for a year, a merit that protects a person for two years, and a merit that protects him for three years. [This is a quote from the Gemara, in Sotah 20a). But, no longer!”

Three years’ later, one of Rav Natan’s main persecutors keeled over and died in the Russian governor’s offices as he was trying to prevent Rav Natan from moving back to Breslev.

Another persecutor, the Savraner Rebbe, got implicated in signing-off on the murder of a Jewish informer, and became a broken exile and lost all of his communal influence. And then others of Rav Natan’s persecutors – and their families – all started dying weird and peculiar deaths, all at once.

When that occurred, Rav Natan’s other persecutors and the people who’d slandered him, libeled him, talked lashon hara about him on Facebook, and perjured themselves to the secular authorities came crawling to him begging for forgiveness, scared that they’d be the next ones to depart from the world, because of how they’d treated Rav Natan.

There’s a merit that lasts three years, but no more.

I have the feeling things are going to start getting interesting.

You can buy One in a Generation on Amazon and on The Book Depository.

One of the more perplexing of Rebbe Nachman’s statements, at least for me, is the one where he says that the world will be amazed at the love that exists between his students.

To be blunt, I’ve been on the outskirts of different Breslev communities and groups for years, and I haven’t been feeling the lurve particularly strongly. But a few days’ back, I read something said by Rav Levi Yitzhak Bender, in a new set of books I picked up from the Meah Shearim Breslev Bookstore called: ‘Words of Faith’ that explained what’s really going on.

There, Rav Bender explained that to friends:

“it’s forbidden to tell what passed over you.” He continues: “Know this: To join a friend in personal matters – especially sins and iniquities, does much damage.

“However, it is fitting that friends encourage each other with soul-restoring words. But chalila to dig after mistakes – even if you mean well. This is absolutely prohibited.

“We often see people dig for another’s wounds. This is a very great defect. Relations between people should only be in chizuk, happy talk, encouraging words or Torah and doing good. And to seek the good points in each other. But it is forbidden to make sins known – except to Hashem Yitbarach alone.”

The real definition of ‘friendship’

This was a tremendous revelation to me, because I’d always believed that the hallmark of a close friend was that you could bare your soul before them, tell them everything going on with you, and that this would only strengthen your bond and connection.

Trouble was, in real life normally the opposite would happen:

It would get far too intense too fast; I’d find people dumping their biggest, most heart-wrenching problems straight in my lap; I’d get overwhelmed by all their troubles; and then sooner or later, I’d just want to run away.

This has happened so many times, and yet, until I read the wise words of Rav Levi Yitzhak Bender, it never occurred to me that my paradigm for true friendship was warped.

True friendship doesn’t mean you know all the deepest secrets, and darkest corners of your friend’s life. Rav Bender summed it up like this:

“I go in my way, he goes in his way. I have no interest to check after how he runs his personal life. What I have to say to him is only this:

My Brother – Be strong! Hold on and do not be discouraged by anything!…

“This is the whole point of speaking amongst friends. To unearth and illuminate your friend’s unique good points. And to shine to him from your special point. But not more than this.”

There’s a load more to say, and I may well come back to this topic in another post, but in the meantime, these few simple sentences have solved a massive difficulty, or kushia, that I’ve been wrestling with for years.

As Rav Bender makes clear, heart-to-hearts, where you spend a few hours moaning about your finances, or your husband, or your kids, or your work, or your in-laws, actually don’t  build friendships and people – they do exactly the opposite.

Just I didn’t know.

Now that I do, I’m going to ask God to help me avoid these types of ‘deep and meaningful’ conversations that always seem so holy and healthy, but usually lead to me getting enmeshed in trying to solve other people’s problems for them.

That’s not my place. That’s not my job. What I do need to do is to tell my friends and acquaintances:

My sister – be strong! Hold on and do not be discouraged by anything!!

And then, politely change the subject.