Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Rebbe Nachman and the Red Sea
To kick this off, I wanted to mention a brief conversation I had with my son yesterday. He started singing a Rebbe Nachman song he heard at school, which contained themes to the effect that Rebbe Nachman will "save" you, that Uman is an "ir hakodesh" (holy city), and that we look forward to the day when Eliyahu Hanavi comes and Rebbe Nachman "returns".
To be clear, he was singing it in humor. I asked him why he came home early, and he explained that one of the teachers at his school is a Breslover Chasid and flew to Uman to be "by the rebbe" for Rosh Chodesh Nisan.
Then my son asked me (more like prodded me on, since he knows that I tend to roll my eyes at this kind of stuff) about what I think about the whole Rebbe Nachman thing. And I said as follows:
It would be really easy to say, "This is totally crazy." But the truth is, there are a lot of crazy beliefs in Judaism. Is the belief that Rebbe Nachman will save us so much crazier than the belief that the Sea split? Not really. But the difference is that the Sea splitting is written in the Torah itself, and it's a fixture in our mesorah (tradition). So even though it's a crazy thing to believe, we accept it as a part of our tradition, and we deal with it - think about it and interpret it - however we choose to do that. Whereas the Rebbe Nachman craziness is hardly a "fixture" in the tradition. So why add more craziness to Judaism?
Like all such conversations, I'm sure I could've put it differently, maybe better. But what I liked about it was that I was able to "give over" the idea that there are concepts in the tradition which don't make sense rationally, and that it's OK to recognize that (as opposed to defending them as rational), and it's OK as a thinking person to allow such a thing to exist as a part of Judaism. And he was able to hear that.
And that's basically my whole approach to Judaism: Be real and honest about the tradition, and at the same time find ways to enjoy it, to appreciate it, and to make it meaningful.