Rebbe Nachman is a unique figure in the history of Chassidut, the Jewish revival movement founded by his great-grandfather, the Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name). In his lifetime, the Rebbe was well-known as a Chassidic master, attracting hundreds of followers. Today, over 200 years after his passing, his following numbers in the tens of thousands, making him a vibrant source of encouragement and guidance in today's world.
Rebbe Nachman breathed new life into Chassidut by translating the esoteric teachings of the Kabbalah into concrete,
practical advice that anyone could use to better his or her own life. In addition to his formal teachings, the Rebbe
told stories that contained the deepest mysteries of Torah. He said,
I see that my Torah teachings do not reach you;
I will begin telling stories. Rebbe Nachman's innovations in delivering Torah discourses via his intricate lessons,
as well as the stories that he told, made him a unique figure in the spread of Chassidut.
Rebbe Nachman had a secret that ensured the continuation of his teachings and the growth of his following for generations to come. That secret was his main disciple and scribe, Reb Noson, who guaranteed the survival of Breslov Chassidut for hundreds of years, up to and including our present day.1
Reb Noson Sternhartz was born in 1780 in Nemirov, a city located about nine miles from Breslov (a full day's journey by horse and wagon in Rebbe Nachman's time). A budding young Torah scholar, Reb Noson was the son-in-law of Rabbi Dovid Zvi Ohrbach, the foremost halakhic authority of the western Ukraine (Kaminetz-Podolia).
When Rebbe Nachman moved to Breslov in September 1802, Reb Noson traveled there and was deeply impressed by the teachings and sincerity of Rebbe Nachman and his followers. He immediately began to record the Rebbe's teachings. Later Rebbe Nachman himself asked Reb Noson to record his teachings, saying, "We have to be grateful to Reb Noson, for without him, not one page of my teachings would have remained!"
When Rebbe Nachman passed away in 1810, Reb Noson was perfectly qualified to succeed him. But he preferred to remain the de facto leader, publishing all of the Rebbe's works and guiding the Breslover Chassidim to fulfill the Rebbe's directives. He traveled hundreds of miles each year by horse and wagon to visit and encourage Breslover Chassidim living throughout the Ukraine, and wrote many letters strengthening them to keep following Rebbe Nachman's path.
In the spring of 1811 Reb Noson moved to Breslov and established the annual Rosh HaShanah gathering in Uman. In 1834 he built a new synagogue to accommodate all the attendees. He merited to see the first volume of his own magnum opus, the Likutey Halakhot, printed in 1843-1844. He passed away on 10 Tevet 5605 (December 20, 1844) and was buried in Breslov.