Tales of Rabbi Nachman 8
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Rabbi and an Only Son
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Paragraph numberings introduced by translator. Translation based on the Yiddish-and-Hebrew original.
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Simcha H. Nanach Version.
There was once a rabbi who had no children. Eventually, he had an only son whom he raised and married off. The son would sit in the upper floor and study, as was the custom of well-to-do people. He was always studying and praying, yet he still felt that something was missing within him, but he did not know what. He had no taste in his studies and prayers.
He told this to two other young men who advised him to travel to a certain tzaddik. Now, this son had once done a certain good deed for which he had become an aspect of the Smaller Luminary.
So this only son went to tell his father that since he has no taste in his service, as previously explained, and that something is missing but he knows not what, he therefore wants to travel to this tzaddik. The father responded, “How can you come to travel to him? Surely you are a greater scholar than he and come from a more illustrious family. It is inappropriate for you to travel to him. Desist from this way!”
The father thus prevented him from traveling, so the son returned to his studies. And again he felt the inadequacy as previously explained, so he again took counsel with those young men who were mentioned previously, who advised him as they had previously, to travel to this tzaddik. So he again went to his father and the father once again dissuaded him. This happened several times.
Meanwhile, the son continued to feel something was missing, and he yearned greatly to fill this emptiness, though he knew not what it was, as mentioned earlier. So he went to his father again and begged him until his father was forced to travel with him, for the father did not want to let him travel alone, since he was an only son. So the father told him, “Look. I will go with you and I will show you that there is nothing to him.” So they harnessed the carriage and set out.
The father said to him, “With this I will test: if everything goes in order, it is Heaven’s wish [that we go], and if not, it is not Heaven’s wish, and we will return.” And they set out.
As [they were traveling], they reached a small bridge. One of the horses fell and the carriage overturned and they were almost drowned. The father said to him, “You see! Things are not going properly, and this journey is not Heaven’s wish.” So they returned.
And the son returned again to his studies, but again faced this lacking, that something was deficient, and does not know what it was. So he again pressed his father, as above, and the father was forced to travel with him again. As they were traveling, the father again stipulated as above, that if everything goes correctly etc. as mentioned above.
And it happened, as they were traveling , (and the) two axles broke. So the father said to him, “You see! Things are not working out for us to travel, for is it normal for two axles to break? How many times have we traveled with this carriage and such a thing never happened!” So they returned.
And the son returned to his studies as usual, and again felt the deficiency as mentioned earlier, and the young men advised him to make the journey. So he went back to his father and begged him, as mentioned earlier, and the father was forced to travel with him again.
And the son said to the father to no longer put the journey to such a test, because it is natural that a horse can sometimes fall or axles can break — unless it is something very discernible.
So they traveled and reached an inn to spend the night. They met a merchant there, and they began to talk with him as merchants converse, not revealing to him where they were traveling, because the rabbi was embarrassed to say that he was traveling to this tzaddik. So they spoke about mundane affairs until the discussion came around to the topic of tzaddikim, where the tzaddikim can be found — the merchant told them that in such a place is a certain tzaddik, another elsewhere, and another elsewhere. So they began to speak of the tzaddik to whom they were traveling.
The merchant said to them, “Him?? Plainly he is frivolous, for I am traveling from him now, I was there when he committed a sin!”
The father spoke up and said to the son, “You see, my son, what this merchant has said unwittingly, and in fact he is coming from there.”
So they returned home.
The son passed away and appeared in a dream to the rabbi (mentioned above), his father. The father saw that the son was standing very enraged, so the father asked him, “Why are you so angry?” The son told him to travel to that tzaddik (mentioned above, who they had wanted to travel to), “and he will tell you why I am angry.”
The father awoke and said to himself that it was a chance occurrence. Afterwards he dreamed again as describe above, and he said that it is also a vain dream, and so it was until the third time, he understood that there is something to it. So he set out to go there.
On his way, he met the merchant that he had already met when he had traveled earlier with his son. The father recognized him and said to him, “Aren’t you the one I saw at that inn?”
The merchant replied, “Certainly you saw me!” and he opened up his mouth and said, “If you want, I will swallow you!”
The father asked him, “What are you saying?”.
He replied, “You remember, that when you traveled with your son, and at first a horse fell on the bridge and you returned, afterwards the axles broke, afterwards you met me and I told you that this tzaddik is frivolous? So since I have caused your son to die, now you are permitted to travel. Because your son was an aspect of the Smaller Luminary, and that tzaddik is an aspect of the Greater Luminary, and had they met, the Messiah would have come. But since I have caused him to die, you are permitted to travel.” And in the midst of speaking, he disappeared, and there was no one there for father to talk to.
The rabbi traveled to the tzaddik and cried, “Woe! Woe! Woe for the irreplaceable loss! May the Blessed God restore our exiles soon!”
This merchant was himself the Devil. He appeared as a merchant and tricked them, and afterwards, when he met the rabbi the second time, he himself antagonized the rabbi for having listened to counsel, for that is his way, as it is known, that first he entices a person, and when the person listens to him, he himself objurgates the person afterwards, and personally takes revenge on that person for having listened to him.