Reading Adin Steinsaltz’s presentation of Rebbe Nachman’s tales makes me understand far better why Martin Buber took the stories, trimmed them, glossed over parts, in general, fiddled with the content, form, theme and outcomes.
By and large, the Rebbe’s stories are complicated. Part fairy tale, part Kabbalistic and Midrashic symbolic fun fest, the stories defy neat categorization. Definitely, there are themes. Kings, daughter who get lost, sons who go into exile. The Rebbe is not afraid to complicate matters. There are stories within stories (and sometimes stories within those stories). Often a story simply ends without a clear resolution.
Frankly, without the commentary by Rabbi Steinsaltz at the conclusion of each story, many of these tales would be incomprehensible. The world of Rebbe Nachman was replete with allusions to books very few read anymore, all in Hebrew and Aramaic, and part of a milieu that has passed most of modern society.
So why read them? Foremost, they are like a blueprint for understanding his other works. Secondly, they have an odd, inexplicable appeal. We KNOW Rebbe Nachman is telling us mysteries of the Torah and the Cosmos. Even if we don’t understand all his allusions, the intuition is there. And that can be a spark that starts more investigation. We want to know more. We want to feel more.
I have an idea that was the Rebbe’s plan in telling them in the first place.