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.