Friday, July 27, 2012

Rebbe Nachman's Wisdom

Here it is, Rebbe Nachman in all his shame and glory, for all to see.  Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom is a compendium of his sayings and teachings, taken from a wide variety of sources.  Most come from his students, taking notes while he speaks.  This can become quite post-modern at times.  The note takers will comment on the text, explain that there was more the Rebbe taught, but that they can’t remember it.  At other times they explain that the Rebbe read their notes, and made changes.  What he have is a fluid fusion of texts (of sorts), the very kind of production one can expect from early Hasidic sources.  

(In a way, it is much like the treatises of Aristotle. His two ethical works, the Eudemian and Nicomachean Ethics, are notes taken by his students.  Consensus is that Nicomachean is the more complete and fleshed out.  Was Nicomachus a better note taker, or did Aristotle just have a bad lecture day when Eudemus was in class?)

So much for the structure of Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom.  The content varies widely.  There are silly things like the Rebbe’s advice not to eat raw onions.  There are lots of pseudo-scientific theories of health and nutrition.  The Rebbe is against modernity, and not afraid to sound ignorant and bull-headed when on that topic.  His attitudes toward sex in all its forms most people would find abhorrent or at least down right stupid.

Yet for all this, Rebbe Nachman delivers many fresh and new insights into being Jewish.  His ideas about the centrality of the tzaddik, the holy man, and isolation and individual prayer, in itself are a radical departures from standard forms in Judaism. Jews going off into the woods to talk to God?  Yes, that is radical for Judaism where community usually supersedes the individual.   Where group forms of worship are the norm.

It is all here, unadulterated.  Dive right in; this is a rich mine to plumb. 

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