Translation:Tales of Rabbi Nachman/3

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Tales of Rabbi Nachman (Sipurei Ma'asiyot) by Nachman of Breslov, translated by Wikisource
The Son Who Could Not Walk

[The Son's Trip to Leipzig, and Ambush by Robbers][edit]

A tale. Once there was a sage. Before his death he called his sons and family and left them a will: that they should water fruit trees [ilanoth]. "You may engage in other needs as well, but this you must constantly do: water trees." Afterwards the sage passed away and he left children. And he had one son who could not walk; he could stand, but he could not walk. His brothers would give him his needs for livelihood, and they gave him so much that he had leftover. He would save up for himself bit by bit whatever remained beyond his needs, until he had amassed a certain amount. He then came to the decision, "Why should I get a stipend from them? Better that I begin some commerce." And though he could not walk, he came up with the solution to hire a carriage, an assistant (ne'eman, lit. faithful or trusted one) and a wagon-driver and to travel with them to Leipzig[1], and he would be able to conduct trade even though he could not walk. When the family heard this, it pleased them very much, and they also said, "Why should we give him subsistence? Better to let him make a livelihood." And they lent him more money so that he could conduct trade.

Thus he did; he hired a carriage, an assistant and a wagon-driver, and he set out, and they came to an inn. The assistant said that they should spend the night there, but he did not want to. They pleaded with him, but he was stubborn with them. They traveled away from there and got lost in a forest and thieves ambushed them. And the thieves had come about according to a story: There was once a famine. Someone came to the city and proclaimed: Whoever wants food should come to him. Numerous people came to him. When he saw that the men who came to him were not useful to him he would reject them. To one he would say, "You can be a craftsman," while to another he said, "You can be a miller." And he chose only intelligent youths, and went with them into the forest and proposed to them that they become thieves: "Being that from here there are roads to Leipzig, to Breslau [a city in Germany] and to other places, merchants travel through here. We will rob them. We will have money." (So did the thief who had earlier made the proclamation in the city tell them.) The thieves ambushed them (that is, the one who could not walk and his men, namely the assistant and the wagon driver). The assistant and the wagon driver were able to flee and they fled; and he was left on the wagon. The thieves came to him and took from him the chest of money and asked him, "Why are you sitting?" He replied he could not walk. And they stole the chest and the horses, and he remained on the carriage.

The assistant and the wagon-driver (who had fled away) came to the decision that inasmuch as they had taken out loans from feudal landlords [poritzes], why should they return home where they could be placed in chains? Better to remain there (where they had fled) and be an assistant and wagon-driver there. Now, the one who could not walk, who remained on the wagon, as long as he had the dry bread that he had brought from home, he ate it. Then when it ran out and he had nothing to eat, he thought about what to do. He threw himself out of the carriage to eat grass. He slept alone in the field and was frightened and his strength was so taken from him that he could not even stand, only crawl, and he would eat the grass that was around him. And as long as he could reach grass and eat, he would eat there, and when the grass around him ran out so that he could no longer reach, he crawled further away and ate again. Thus he ate grass for a time.

[The Son Finds a Diamond Having Four Charms][edit]

Once, he came to an herb the likes of which he had never eaten before. This herb pleased him very much, because he had been eating grasses for a long time, so he knew them very well, and such an herb he had never seen before. He came to the decision to tear it out with its root. Under the root was a diamond. The diamond was quadrangular [Yid. firekig, Heb. meruba`] and each side had in it a different segulah [a charm or special ability]. On one side of the diamond it was written that whoever grasps that side, it would take him where day and night meet together, that is, where the sun and the moon gather in unison. When he tore out the herb with its root (which is where the diamond was) it happened that he grasped that side (that is, the side which the segulah of it was it would take him to the place where day and night come together). It took him there, where day and night come together. He looked around and now he was there!

He heard the sun and the moon talking, and the sun was complaining before the moon, "Inasmuch as there is a tree that has many branches, fruits, and leaves, and each of its branches, fruits, and leaves has a segulah — one is conducive [mesugal] to having children, another is conducive to livelihood, another is conducive to healing this sickness, another is conducive for another sickness; each tiny bit [pitsel] of the tree is conducive to something else — this tree should have been watered, and if it would be watered, it would be very specially potent [mesugal]. But not only do I not water it, I shine on it too and dry it out."

The moon answered and said, "You worry about others' worries. I'll tell you my worry. Inasmuch as I have a thousand mountains, and around the thousand mountains are another thousand mountains, and that [lit. there] is a place of demons, and the demons have chicken-like feet — they have no strength in their feet, so they take strength from my feet and because of this I have no strength in my feet. And I have a powder (that is, a dust) that is a cure for my feet, but a wind comes and carries it away."

The sun responded, "That is what you worry about?! I will tell you a cure. Inasmuch as there is a path, and many paths branch off from that path: One is the path of the tzaddikim [righteous]. Even someone who is a tzaddik here, the dust from that path is sprinkled underneath each his steps, so that with each step he is stepping on that dust. Another is the path of heretics. Even someone who is a heretic here, the dust of this path is sprinkled underneath each of his steps, as mentioned. And there is the path of the insane. Even someone who is insane here, the dust of this path is sprinkled underneath each of his steps, as mentioned. And so there are several paths. And there is a different path, being that there are tzaddikim who accept suffering upon themselves, the landlords march them in chains, and they have no strength in their feet: dust from this path is sprinkled underneath their feet so that they have strength in their feet. So go there, for there is plenty of dust there and you will have healing for your feet." (All this did the sun say to the moon.) And he heard all this. (That is, the one who had no strength in his feet heard all this.)

[The Son Is Healed, and the Robbers Repent][edit]

Meanwhile, he looked at the diamond on another side and saw that it was written there that whoever grasps that side, it would bring him to the path from which many paths go out (namely, the path mentioned above, of which the sun informed the moon). He grasped that side and it carried him away to there (that is, to the path). He placed his feet on the path whose dust was healing for the feet and he was immediately healed. He went and took the dust from all the paths and bound each dust separately in a bundle. (Namely,) he bound the dust from the path of the righteous separately, and likewise the dust of the remaining paths he bound separately; so he made himself bundles from the powders and took them with him. And he came to a decision and went to the forest where he was robbed. When he arrived there, he chose a tall tree near the path from which the thieves go out to rob. And he took the dust of the righteous and the dust of the insane and mixed them together, and spread them on the path. And he went up the tree and sat there to see what would happen with them.

He saw the robbers going out, having been sent out by the elder robber (mentioned above) to rob. When the robbers came to that path, as soon as they took a step on the powder they became tzaddikim and began to cry out for their years and days for having robbed until then and having killed numerous souls. But since it was mixed there with the powder of the insane, they became insane tzaddikim and began to argue with each other. One said, "Because of you we killed," and another said, "Because of you!" So did they argue until they killed each other. The elder robber sent more robbers, and it was also as before and they also killed each other. And so it was each time until they were all killed off, until he (namely the one who previously had no strength in his feet, who was up in a tree) understood that there were none remaining of the robbers except for him alone (namely the elder robber who commanded them all) and one other. He went down from the tree and swept up the dust from the path, and sprinkled only dust from the path of the righteous, and went to sit in the tree again.

Now, the elder robber was very puzzled that he had sent all the thieves and none of them had returned. He decided to go personally with the one that still remained with him. And as soon as he came onto the path (where the son mentioned above had sprinkled the dust of the righteous by itself), he became a tzaddik. He began to cry out to the other bandit over his soul [Heb. nafsho; Yid. seine yar un tag, his years and days], over how he had murdered so many souls and robbed so much. And he tore graves and was penitent and very remorseful. When he (the son who was sitting in the tree) saw he had remorse and was very penitent, he came down from the tree. As soon as the robber noticed a person he began to cry out, "Woe to me! I have done this and that! Woe! Give me penance!" He answered him, "Return to me the chest that you robbed from me." For, it was written by them on all the stolen goods, when it was stolen and from whom. He said to him, "I will immediately return it to you! I will even give you the troves of stolen goods that I have! Just give me penance!" He said to him, "Your penance is just to go into the town, call out and confess, 'I am the one who made the proclamation at that time [during the famine, that whoever wants food should come to me] and made many robbers, and I murdered and robbed many souls.' That is your penance." The robber gave him all his troves, and went with him into the city and did so. Judgment was passed in that town that since he had murdered so many souls, he should be hanged, so people would know: meaning, so that others would be edified.

[To the Two Thousand Mountains with the Demons][edit]

After this he (that is, the one who previously had no strength in his feet) decided to go to the two thousand mountains (mentioned above) to see what takes place there. When he arrived there he stood far from the two thousand mountains, and he saw there were many, many millions and billions of demon families, for they are fruitful and they multiply and they have children as do humans, so they are very numerous. And he saw their kingship sitting on a throne, upon which no one born of a woman (meaning, no human) had ever sat on such a throne. And he saw how they make scoffery: one tells over that he had harmed someone's baby, another tells how he had harmed someone's hand, another tells how he had harmed someone's foot, and other such scoffery.

Meanwhile, he noticed a father and mother [demon] walking and weeping. They were asked, "Why are you weeping?" They answered: They have a son, whose routine was he would go his way and would return at the same time, but now it has been a long time and he still has not come. They were brought before the king. The king ordered to send messengers throughout the world to find him. As they were returning from the king, the parents met up with someone who used to go together with their son. He asked them, "Why are you weeping?" They told him. He answered them, "I will tell you. Being that we had a little island at sea, which was our territory — the king to whom this island pertained went and wanted to build palaces there and had already laid a foundation. Your son said to me that we should harm him. We went and took away the king's strength. He got involved with doctors but they could not help him so he started getting involved with sorcerers. There was one sorcerer there who knew his family. He did not know my family, therefore he could not do anything to me — but he knew his family, so he seized him and is torturing him severely." They brought him (that is, the demon who was telling all this) to the king and he told it over before the king too. The king said: "Let them return the strength to the king [to whom the island pertained]!" He replied, "There was someone by us who had no strength and we have given away the strength to him." The king said, "Let them take that strength away from him and return it to the king!" They answered him: He has become a cloud (that is, the demon to whom they have given away the king's strength has become a cloud). The king said that they should, "Summon the cloud and bring it here." They sent an emissary for him.

[How a Demon Becomes a Cloud][edit]

He (namely, the one who previously had no strength in his feet, who has witnessed all this) decided, "I will go ahead and see how these people [i.e. these demons] become a cloud." He followed the emissary and came to the city where the cloud was. He asked the townspeople, "Why is it [such] a cloud here in town?" They answered him, "Here in town it is just the opposite; never a cloud here. Only for while has such a cloud enveloped the city." And the emissary came and summoned the cloud; it went away from there. He (that is, the one who previously had no strength in his feet) decided to follow them to hear what they were saying. He heard the messenger ask him, "How did it come to be, that you became a cloud here?" He answered him, "I'll tell you a story.

[The Sage-Elder Has No Fear of the Demons][edit]

"Once, there was a sage (Heb. an elder). And the emperor [keisar, Caesar] of the country was a big heretic, and he made the entire country into heretics. The sage went and summoned his whole family and said to them, 'Surely you see that the emperor is a big heretic and has made the entire country into heretics, and some of our family he has already made into heretics. Therefore let us set out for the wilderness so that we will be able to remain in our faith in God, blessed be He.' They agreed on this. The sage uttered a [Divine] Name; it brought them to a wilderness. This wilderness did not please him. He again uttered a Name; it took them to yet another wilderness. This wilderness too did not please him. He uttered another [noch] name; again it took him to another wilderness. This wilderness did please him. And the wilderness was close to the two thousand mountains (mentioned above). The sage went and made a circle around them so that no one would be able to come near them.

"Now, there is a tree which if it would be watered, there would not remain any of us (that is, of the demons). Therefore, some of us stand digging day and night, allowing no water to reach the tree." The other one asked, "Why do they have to stand day and night digging? Once they have dug one time then the water will be unable to come; it should suffice." He answered him, "Since there are gossipers among us, and these gossipers go and instigate disputes between the one king and the other king, and this causes wars, and the wars cause earthquakes, and the earth around the ditches falls in, which allows water to reach the tree; therefore, they must constantly stand and dig. And when there is a new king among us, they make all the mockery before him and they rejoice. One jests in how he harmed a baby and how the mother mourns over it, another shows another mockery, and similarly many various mockeries. And when the king gets into festivity he goes and takes a walk with his ministers and tries to uproot the tree. Because if this tree would not exist at all, it would be very good for us. And the king fortifies his heart exceedingly in order to uproot the tree entirely. When he approaches the tree, the tree gives a great shout, so a great fear falls on him and he must turn around.

"Once, a new king was appointed among us (that is, among the demons, for all this did the cloud tell to the emissary, as mentioned). Great mockery was done before him, as mentioned, and he waxed quite joyous and made his heart very bold, and wanted to tear out the tree completely. So he went out walking with his ministers, brazened his heart exceedingly, and ran to tear out the tree completely. When he arrived at the tree it let out a great cry at him, and a great fear fell on him; he turned around and was very angry. And he was coming back and meanwhile took a look and noticed men sitting (this was the aforementioned sage with his men). The king sent from his people to do something (that is, to harm them, as was their custom). When the sage's family saw them, they were overcome with fear. The elder (that is, the sage) called out to them, 'Do not fear.' When the demons arrived there, they were unable to come close due to the circle that was around them. He sent other messengers but they too were unable to come close. The king came in great anger and went himself and he too was unable to come close to them.

"He asked the elder to let him in to them. The elder said to him, 'Since you request it of me, I will indeed let you in, however it is not customary for a king to go alone, so I will let you in with one other.' He opened a little door for them, they entered, and he closed the circle again. The king said to the elder, 'How do you come and settle on our place?' He said to him, 'Why is it your place? It is my place!' The king said to the elder, 'You have no fear of me?' He said, 'No.' He said again, 'You have no fear at all?' And he displayed himself becoming very big, up to the sky, and wanted to swallow him. The elder said, 'I still have no fear of you at all. But if I want, you will be afraid of me.' And he went and prayed a bit, and big thick clouds formed, and there was great thunder. And thunder kills them very effectively, so all his ministers that were with him were killed, and none remained except for the king and the one who was there with him in the circle. He begged him (that is, the king begged the elder) for the thunder to cease, and it ceased.

[The Demon King Gives the Elder a Book][edit]

"The king replied and said to the elder, 'Since you are such a person, I will give you a book of all the demon families. For, there are miracle workers [ba`alei shemoth] who only know of one demon family, and even that family they do not know completely. But I will give you a book in which all the families are written. For, by the king they are all recorded, and even a newborn is also registered by the king. The king sent the one who was with him for the book. (Hence the sage did very rightly by letting him in with another, for otherwise whom would he send?) He brought him the book. He opened it and saw that inside were millions and billions of their families. The king promised the elder that they would never harm the elder's entire family, and he commanded to bring portraits of his whole family, and even if a baby was born, to immediately bring its portrait, so that they would not harm anyone from the elder's family.

"Afterwards, when the time came for the elder to leave the world, he called his sons and commanded them and said to them, 'I leave you this book. Surely you see that I have the power to use this book in holiness, and even still I don't use it; I just have faith in Hashem Yithbarakh. You too should not use it. Even if there will be one of you who will be able to use it in holiness, he still should not use it, but just have faith in Hashem Yithbarakh.' Then the sage died and the book was passed on as an inheritance and came to his grandson (his son's son). And he had the power to use it in holiness, but he just had faith in Hashem Yithbarakh and did not use it, as the elder wished.

"The gossipers that were among the demons tried to persuade the elder's grandson, 'Since you have grown daughters and are unable to support them and marry them off, therefore use this book.' And he did not know that they were trying to persuade him, and thought that his heart was advising him to do this. So he traveled to his grandfather, to his grave, and asked him, 'Being that you left a testament that we should not to use this book, but only have faith in Hashem Yithbarakh, now my heart is telling me to use it.' His grandfather (who was deceased) answered him, 'Even though you can use it in holiness, it is better that you should have faith in the Hashem Yithbarakh and not use it, and Hashem Yithbarakh will help you.' And that is what he did.

"And the day came to pass, when the king of the country where this grandson of the elder lived became ill. He got involved with doctors, but they could not heal him. Due to the high heat there in that country, the treatments did not help. The king of the country decreed that the Jews should pray for him. Our king (that is, the king of the demons) said, 'Since this grandson has the power to use this book in holiness and he still does not use it, therefore we need to do him a favor.' He commanded me to become a cloud there so that the king (of that country) would be healed by the treatments that he had already taken and the treatments he would yet take. And the grandson knew nothing about this. And that is why I have become a cloud here." (All this is what the cloud told the emissary.)

And the one who previously had no strength in his feet was following them and heard everything. The one who was a cloud was brought before the (demon) king, and the king commanded to take the strength from him and return it to the other king (from whom they had taken away his strength because he had built upon their territory, as mentioned), and they returned the strength to him. The son of the demons (whose father and mother had wept for him, as mentioned) had returned, and he arrived very afflicted and without strength, because he had been severely tortured there. He was very enraged at the sorcerer who had tortured him so much there, so he ordered his children and his family to always stalk this sorcerer. But among the demons are talkers (that is, gossipers), and they went and told the sorcerer that they were waiting to ambush him, so that he could protect himself from them. The sorcerer performed some strategy, and called upon more sorcerers who knew more families, in order to protect himself from them. The (demon) son and his family were very enraged at the tattlers for having revealed his secret to the sorcerer.

[Nothing Remains of the Demons][edit]

Once, it happened that some members of the (demon) son's family and some of the tattlers went together on the king's watch. The son's family went and made false accusations against the tattlers, and the king killed the tattlers. The remaining tattlers were enraged, and they went and made an upheaval (that is, a huge war) between all the kings. And there were hunger, infirmity, murder, and plagues among the demons. So wars were waged between all the kings, and this caused an earthquake, and all the earth [around the tree] fell in, and the tree was watered completely. None of them (that is, of the demons) survived whatsoever, and they became as if they had never existed. Amen.

[Notes Following the Story][edit]

[Rabbi Nachman's words:] "Ashrei ha'ish asher lo-halakh... lo-`amad, uvmoshav leitzim... vehayah ke`etz shathul `al-palgei mayim" — the entire story is alluded to in this chapter [Psalms 1]. Whoever has eyes, let him see, and whoever has a heart, let him understand, what on earth is happening.

[Rabbi Nathan writes:] The secret of this story is alluded to in Chapter 1 in the Psalms:

{v. 1} "Ashrei ha'ish asher lo-halakh/ Fortunate is the man who has not walked..." — the "path of the wicked" and the "path of the just." These are the aspect of the paths mentioned in the story that have the dust that they sprinkle, etc.

{v. 3} "Wehayah ke`etz shathul `al-palgei mayim, asher piryo yiten be`ito we`alehu/ And he will be like a tree planted by streams of water, which gives its fruit in its season, and its leaves...

…Wekhol-asher ya`aseh yatzliach/ and all that he does will prosper" — this refers to the tree in the story, that all of its fruit and leaves, everything in its entirety, are all very beneficial, as mentioned.

Examine and you will find more allusions:

"Fortunate is the man who has not walked" — for, initially he could not walk. "Lo-`amad/ Has not stood" — for, later on, he could not stand either. "Uvmoshav leitzim/ And in the company of scorners" refers to the settlement of the mockers who make mockery, etc., as mentioned.

{v. 4} "...Kamotz asher-tidfenu ruach/ Like chaff which the wind drives away" refers to the wind that carries away the dust.

And all this is just a few superficial allusions that he [Rabbi Nachman] enlightened our eyes with a little bit, in order to somewhat understand and comprehend the extent to which these things reach. But the things are still sealed in utter concealment, for all these stories that he [Rabbi Nachman] told are very, very high above human comprehension and hidden from the eye of all living creatures, etc.


  1. a city on the Poland-Germany border