Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov spent most of his youth in the village of Ossatin near Medvedevka, where his father-in-law lived. This was near a large river with many reeds and rushes growing on its banks. The Rebbe often took a small boat and by himself rowed along the river. He could not control the boat very well, but would still take it beyond the rushes where he could not be seen. It was here that he secluded himself in prayer before G-d. The Rebbe himself writes that it was here that he attained what he did.

Although he could not control his boat very well, the Rebbe often took it to the very middle of the river, straying far from the shore. The boat would rock violently in the heavy current and seem ready to sink. The Rebbe had no idea how to remedy the situation, and would lift his hands and cry out to G-d with true devotion.

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The same thing happened later when he was in Tiberias. Attempting to escape the plague, he found himself on a narrow wall, hanging by his fingertips. When he felt that he would surely fall, he also cried out to G-d.

The Rebbe constantly repeated these stories. They were a lesson that he wanted to impress on our hearts and minds. Imagine that you are in the middle of the sea, with a storm raging to the very heart of the heavens. You are hanging on by a hairbreadth, not knowing what to do. You do not even have time to cry out. You can only lift your eyes and heart to G-d.

You should always lift your heart to G-d like this. Seclude yourself and cry out to G-d. The danger is more than imaginary. As you know deep down in your soul, every person is in great (spiritual) danger in this world.

Understand these words well.

(Sichos HaRan 117, translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom (reprinted with permission from Breslov Research Institute.)

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Rabbi Nosson Rossman is a rabbinic field representative for the Orthodox Union. He can be reached at nathanlrossman@gmail.com.