Understanding the secret message of Rabbi Nachman

“Na, Nach, Nachma, Nachman m’Uman.” It’s a secret message, and if you repeat it, you are promised salvation, miracles and wonders.

 Reb Nachman’s followers drive through Jerusalem’s Geula neighborhood in a van decorated with his image and name. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Reb Nachman’s followers drive through Jerusalem’s Geula neighborhood in a van decorated with his image and name.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)

Wherever you go in Israel, and particularly in Jerusalem, you will see a very strange sign. Usually it is written in Hebrew, but sometimes it’s in English. It says: “Na, Nach, Nachma, Nachman m’Uman.”

You see it on kiosks, on buildings, on garages, sometimes on bumper stickers. You never know where you’ll come across it. And most people have no idea what it means.

It’s a secret message, and if you repeat it, you are promised salvation, miracles and wonders. They say that if you live in Israel and don’t believe in miracles, you are not a realist. So here’s the story:

It was first revealed to the world by Reb Yisrael Odesser, and he insisted it was from Reb Nahman of Breslov, for whom he kept an eternal light burning, a wick in a dish of oil beside his bedside.

Reb Yisrael was born in Tiberias nearly 100 years ago, to a very poor family. His father had a small bakery that barely paid its way. “God blessed me with a soul of yearning,” he told his disciples in 1986 when he first revealed the message. In his twenties, he was a young married member of the Karlin Hassidim, of whom there were many in Tiberias. At the time he had never heard of the Breslovers. One day, he saw in the rubbish heap of the Rabbi Meir Baal Hanes yeshiva where he was studying, a tattered book that had lost its cover. He took it, meaning to put it in the genizah (storeroom for holy books), but the title intrigued him: Hitabhut Hanefesh (The Entanglement of the Soul). He’d never heard of it but it intrigued him, so he began to read it. And the more he read, the more it seemed to give him answers to an unknown longing. He followed the instructions to go out in the fields and meditate, and he found it brought him peace. He did not know that it was a book of the Breslov Hassidim.

 The grave of Reb Nachman in Uman, Ukraine (credit: LORD MOUNTBATTEN/WIKIPEDIA) The grave of Reb Nachman in Uman, Ukraine (credit: LORD MOUNTBATTEN/WIKIPEDIA)

One day, another student saw him reading it.

“It’s forbidden to read such things,” he said.

“But it brings me great peace,” Reb Yisrael replied.

“It’s forbidden,” he was told again, but said he didn’t care, and would never give it up. The other student, who claimed he had thrown it out, began to beat him and wrested it from him. Reb Yisrael felt lost without the book, but at least he had learned the name Breslov, and it became an address for his longing. Although there were no Breslov Hassidim in Tiberias, he went to the fields and prayed to God to send him a message,

A Breslov hassid lived in Meron named Reb Yisrael Cardonner, who would pray every day in the forest and would go to Safed on Shabbat. He began to suffer from severe pains in his arms and decided to go to Tiberias, where there were hot baths that might relieve them. He also felt that God wanted him to go to Tiberias, so he set out one Thursday night on his donkey. When he arrived, he asked someone where he could buy bread, and was directed to the Odesser family bakery.

Reb Yisrael Odesser was the one to serve him. “I was overcome by a feeling of holiness” he said, “and somehow knew he had been sent to Tiberias to help me.” He asked if he could eat bread in the Odesser house, and Reb Yisrael first had to ask his father. He was surprised that his father agreed, because they were very poor and the house was already overcrowded. But his father not only agreed but said he should be offered some soup. However, he only accepted tea and while the water was boiling, Reb Yisrael whispered:

“The Lord sent you to Tiberias for me. Don’t leave me.”

The two went to the synagogue and studied all night. By morning, the whole town knew that he had been studying with the Breslov hassid, and they accused him of being a heretic. His life became even harder. His wife’s parents wanted her to leave him, and when she refused, they beat her. He stayed at his yeshiva, but they gave him only a quarter of the regular weekly stipend. Despite this, he was happy and sometimes laughed, sang, even danced. “Like all the Breslov Hassidim, he’s gone mad!” they said.

In 1919, the miracle was revealed. That year, for some reason, Reb Yisrael did not fast on 17th Tamuz, when it is ordained to commemorate the first breach of the walls of Jerusalem by the Romans before the destruction of the Second Temple. No one knew he had eaten, but he felt very guilty. He went to synagogue and wept, and he heard a voice telling him: “Go to your room. Take any book and open it at random. There you will find a remedy for your soul.”

He did so and took a book from his locked bookcase, and began to read but it didn’t seem relevant. Then he saw a thin slip of paper inside the book. He realized it was a message to him from Reb Nahman of Breslov, the founder of the Breslov Hassidim. It told him not to be distressed about failing to fast. He began to laugh and cry, because it was not of this world. In 1986, Reb Yisrael decided, after 67 years, to make the message public. The reader was instructed to repeat the phrase: “Na, Nach, Nachma, Nachman m’Uman” (Uman is where Reb Nachman is buried). “Whoever does so, will receive salvation, miracles and wonders.” There were other elements to the message, linked to the mysteries of the Zohar, but these remain secret.

Reb Yisrael sent the note to Poland for the Breslov hassidim there to examine, and it was returned on the last boat to leave Poland before the outbreak of World War II. Today, the teachings of Reb Nachman are taught in some universities, even by non-Jews, and by secular Jews as well as hassidim. Reb Yisrael believed that redemption will come when Reb Nachman’s name is known throughout the whole world.

Why did he wait so long to reveal the message? Until a few decades ago, a Breslov hassid in the family could ruin a marriage prospect. There were no others in Tiberias, but today there are many. One of his disciples held a master’s degree in political science; another came from a Hashomer Hatza’ir kibbutz; a third was once a criminal mastermind.

The words of Reb Nachman are constantly being translated, even into English: “It is a great deed to be always joyful.” “If you believe it possible to ruin, then believe it also possible to rebuild.” Reb Yisrael believed that one day the whole world would be Breslov Hassidim.

Reb Nachman’s followers never chose a leader to replace him. They are still a small group compared with other hassidic sects, and are believed to number no more than 1,000 souls. Many of his teachings are still studied in secret.

Does the mantra work? You may laugh at me, but I’ve used it a number of times when I’ve needed help, and in some mysterious way, that help came. If you are in some kind of distress, maybe you want to try it?

Just say “Na, Nach, Nachma, Nachman m’Uman” and see what happens!  ■

The writer is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah. dwaysman@gmail.com