Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Problem of Distillation

Rebbe Nachman left behind much writing, and his followers dutifully copied much of what he said, including his famous stories, leaving behind what would become a kind of canonical Bratslav corpus.

Rebbe Nachman made little attempt to systematize his writing (a common trend in early Chasidic, with the exception of Chabad) .  Topics flow as the need arises, is dropped, only to be taken up again many pages, or another book later.

This has led to a cottage industry of books which select passage from the Rebbe’s work.  The Chambers of the Palace:  The Teachings of Rebbe Nachman, edited by Y. David Shulman is just such a work.  Shulman culls Bratslaver books and arranges them by topic.

This is excellent, as it brings a sometimes difficult writer to a wider audience.  It is unfortunate in that it strips the bewildering complexity from the Rebbe’s teaching.  Shulman is quite honest about this in the introduction, explaining how difficult it is to distill Bratslav teaching. 

So, keep this in mind when reading such works.  We are getting the Rebbe, but just a piece of him.

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