“To always be happy is a great mitzvah.” These famous words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov have inspired the followers of his teachings to strive to achieve true simcha (happiness) in their lives.
The Breslover Chassidim are a unique subset of the Chassidic world. Rabbi Nachman, a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, had his own following of chassidim by the time he was 30.
The Breslover Rebbe, the aforementioned Rabbi Nachman, died in 1810 at the age of 38 (from tuberculosis), eight years after arriving in the town of Breslov (Bratslav), Ukraine. No successor was ever named.
Breslov Chassidut is focused on serving God with sincerity and joy. Their prayer includes singing and dancing, as well as clapping, to express their joyful desire to connect to the Divine. Breslov chassidim also try to fulfill Rebbe Nachman’s advice to engage in hitbodedut (literally, self-seclusion), a term used to describe a daily, private conversation with God. To achieve a more meditative state, some Breslovers will use a mantra, chanted over and over, such as Ribono Shel Olam (Master of the Universe).*
Another unique facet of the Breslov chassidic movement is the annual Rosh Hashana pilgrimage to Uman, the Ukrainian city in which Rabbi Nachman was buried. These pilgrimages, which began in 1811, ended with World War I and did not have a true resurgence until after the 1989 fall of Communism. Today, tens of thousands of men and boys go each year.
*One group associated with Breslov chants Na, Nach, Nachma, Nachman Meuman, a mantra based on the Rebbe’s name. This group is a break-away from Breslov, and the mantra is not approved by mainstream Breslovers. This group is known for their work in outreach, and members are identifiable by their large, white knitted skull caps.
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