Sunday, 6 November 2016



The Breslov Movement was originally very small in terms of numbers and followers. Rabbi Nachman (1772-1810)  never had more than a few hundred followers his lifetime. The movements was persecuted by both Chassidim and Mitnagdim and was at one stage was almost on the verge of ‘extinction’. However, over the past twenty years or so it grown so large and popular with many sub-sects and nuances that it has arguably become unrecognizable.

(I maintain strong personal connections with one of the core teachers of the mainstream Breslov community, but now sadly feel that the movement has been hijacked, distorted and has lost much of its truth and wholesomeness.)

Incidentally, the name Breslov is an adaption of the original name Bratzlav. The Chassidim preferred the name Breslov as it is a play on the Hebrew words Lev Basar (‘heart of flesh’ – as opposed to ‘heart of stone’) which will dominate during the messianic era. R. Nachman only arrived in the town in 1802, eight years before he passed away.[1]


There is one startling chapter in the Breslov tradition which offers a fascinating narrative about a ‘secret scroll’.

This is the story:

Just over 200 years ago Rabbi Nachman  was riding in a carriage between Ladizin and Breslov with some of his closest disciples including R. Natan and R. Naftali.[2] During this trip, Rabbi Nachman spoke in great detail about his view concerning the advent of the Mashiach (or Messiah).

After the ride, none of those present could remember the details of the talk except for R. Naftali and R. Natan (his closest disciple) who wrote down what he had heard in coded form or ‘hints, acronyms and abbreviations’. This was because Rabbi Nachman told his travelers not to reveal the contents to anyone. Thus the text would be in existence but its content would not be decipherable except to those who knew how to crack the code.

Sometime later, in 1809, Rabbi Nachman repeated his messianic discourse and again it was recorded by R. Natan. The second talk took place in the study hall which was next to Rabbi Nachman’s house and it was so secretive that they waited for the Rav of the city to depart from the building before they began the discussion.

Both these recorded versions were put together in a single coded manuscript which became known as Megilat Setarim (or Secret Scroll).[3]

This scroll became a closely guarded secret and was handed down to only one Breslover follower in each generation.

In what may have been an attempt at distracting anyone from trying to find the secret scroll, an editor of R. Natan’s memoirs added in his own words that “the holy manuscript of Megilat Setarim was stolen or lost and we still do not know where it is.

That should have put paid to the quest of ever discovering the manuscript. - But it didn’t.

According to a relatively recently published work on the oral traditions of Breslover Chassidut known as Siach Sarfei Kodesh[4], it appears as if the coded scroll was passed on to R. Aaron Lipvetzker[5], who in turn passed it on to R. Avraham Chazan.

Then, in what may or may not have been another attempt to throw people off the scent, the story took another twist:

While R. Chazan lay on his deathbed, the daughter of R. Lipvetzker, Tzirel, accosted and rebuked him (R. Chazan) for not transmitting the code and interpretation of the secret scroll to the next generation. But R. Chazan had already lost his faculty of speech and, while the coded scroll survived, he died taking the secrets of its interpretation to his grave.

Then amazingly, in 1963 the Megilat Setarim surfaced again when it was smuggled out from behind the Iron Curtain by R. Gedaliah Fleer.[6] The scroll was given to him R. Michel Dorfman, a leading Breslover personality living in Moscow at the time (who had spent almost 7 years in Siberia and was only released on Stalin’s death). He was afraid the manuscript would be confiscated by the Russian authorities so he asked R. Fleer to take it to Israel.[7]

Back in Jerusalem R. Fleer showed the manuscript to R. Lippel[8] (a student of R. Avraham Sternhartz[9], another major exponent of Breslov, who had escaped from the Soviet Union in 1940). R. Lippel claimed R. Sternhatz taught him how to break the code of the script while the two of them were still in the Ukraine.

At first R. Lippel refused to divulge the code to R. Fleer but eventually did, on the condition it remain a secret[10]. R. Fleer made copies of the text which he distributed to some members of the Breslover community in Israel but withheld the ‘code’ and interpretation as to its meaning.

Sometime later with the emergence of the popularity of the once tiny and close knit group of Breslovers, word leaked out of the existence of the elusive Megilat Setarim, and the secret was no longer a secret.

Researchers, such as Dr. Zvi Mark[11] from Bar-Ilan University have tied to crack the code and the following picture - which paints a young,  very gentle and universal Messiah - emerges:

The Messiah, according to text, would begin his work already as a young child. He would then marry while in his teens and assume a leadership role. Far from being a vengeful religious leader with a destructive apocalypse he would instead take lead the world without any violence whatsoever.

On the contrary, he would use music and healing of illness through innovative new medicines, to unite all humanity, Jew and non-Jew, in peace and goodwill.

There is also a reference to a ‘general redemption’ as well as a ‘personal redemption’ that will occur in messianic times. The latter is when Mashiach will reveal to every individual their personal spiritual status as well pointing out which spiritual aspects and traits need to be improved upon.

Allegedly, the exact date of the Messiah’s arrival is missing from the current text and it seems that was lost with the passing of R. Chazan.



Rabbi Nachman had much to say, in his published writings, about the Messiah:


Apparently Rabbi Nachman believed the Messiah would come soon after the birth of his son, Shlomo Efraim. Accordingly, his son would play a part in, if not actually be, the Messiah himself. But when his young son passed away  one year and two months later, he said that Mashiach would be delayed by more than a hundred years.


Although extremely controversial, subject to much interpretation and admitted censorship, the work describing the life of Rabbi Nachman, Chayey Moharan, contains the following passage:

He (Rabbi Nachman) presented the teaching at the morning meal...he said there are seventy nations divided between the domains of Esau (Christianity) and Ishmael (Islam). Each of these domains is composed of 35 kingdoms, and they will be conquered in the future by the two messiahs Mashiach ben Yosef and Mashiach ben David. 

And there is one tzadik in whom these two messiahs are combined.

He said several other things, more than have been printed.

At that point the table broke because so many people were pressing around him.”[12]

The inference being that whenever the expression ‘there is one tzadik’ was used, his disciples knew exactly to whom he was referring – possibly to himself as Mashiach ben Yosef – the precursor to Mashiach ben David.


Not all of Rabbi Nachman’s famous stories have been published. One of them is the ‘Story of the Bread’, which describes among other things how Rabbi Nachman allegedly ‘received the Torah into his own body’. This material has also been recently published by one of the new populist Breslov groups that have emerged who believe that now is the time to ‘reveal all’.


I counted 10 references to Megilat Setarim in Siach Sarfei Kodesh. Here are six of them (my loose translation follows):

R. Natan said;The (apocalyptic) war of Gog and Magog is not mentioned in Megilat Setarim. The implication being that the (battle will instead an ideological one) directed against the spirit of atheism that will be prevalent at that time.’”[13]

In Megilat Setarim, R. Natan and R. Naftali reveal the order of the arrival of the Redeemer. It is known that our master (Rabbi Nachman) said; ‘In the future nothing will remain of the great Russia except for a small mound and a small tree’. “[14]

“...It is written in Megilat Setarim that during the lead up to the Messianic age there will be (world) leaders and kings who will not want to partake in warfare and will rather desire to dwell in quiet and tranquility...but they will be forced to do battle against their will.”[15]

R. Lipvetzker once asked R. Naftali; ‘You heard Megilat Setarim from our master (Rabbi Nachman). What is its status now?’ R. Naftali responded firmly; ‘Have you not studied our master’s other books? We have a tradition from him that that when his books are widespread throughout the world then Mashiach will come.’ (R. Naftali was reluctant to reveal any more to his questioner, but) after some time he eventually handed the text (of Megilat Setarim) over to him.”[16]

R. Hazan said; ‘Beware of the year TRZ”V, which have the same letters as tzarot (travail).’ –This turned out to be the year Nazis rose to power. It was also the year the Communists closed down the shul in Uman. The Chassidim understood that he knew all this from the Megilat Setarim.”[17]

When the Radziner Rebbe published his book which dealt with the blue (tzitzit) thread, R. Chazan said he had no need for his arguments (in favor of the blue thread) because he had older (and more authoritative) proof, which appears to have come from Megilat Setarim.”[18]

[1] After accidentally spilling wine from Kiddush one Shabbat shortly after his arrival in the town, Rabbi Nachman said; ‘Today we have planted Bratzlaver chassidim!’
[2]This event took place on the 5th of Av 1806.  
[3] This was a combination of Megilat Setarim haRishon and Megilat Setarim haSheni.
[4] This work was first published in the 1980’s. (Incidentally my Breslover teacher did not entirely trust the authenticity of the publication. He mentioned this to me when I was in the process of translating parts of Siach Sarfei Kodesh into English. I subsequently discovered that the compiler issued a prohibition against translating the book into any other language.)
[5] R. Natan did not pass the coded scroll on to anyone because he was outlived by R. Naftali. It was R. Naftali who passed it on to R. Lipvetzker. R. Lipvetzker was a considered a holy man who was apparently born as a result of a blessing his parents received from R Nachman. See Siach Sarfei Kodesh vol. 2, i-258, p. 82.
[6] R. Gedaliah Fleer was originally from Brooklyn, and was the first ‘westerner’ to visit Uman, the burial place of Rabbi Nachman in the Ukraine, after the Second World War. He also was one of the early writers to introduce Breslover teachings to the English speaking world. (I obtained a copy of one of his books about thirty years ago and it left a profound impression upon me at the time.)
[7] According to Arthur Green in his Tormented Master p. 20, note 5. (a book not much admired by those within Breslover circles): “A most important work...Megilat Setarim, which was long thought to have been destroyed, is quoted by N. Z. Koenig, Niweh Zaddikim . pp. 87ff., and apparently still exists.”
According to R. Gedalia Fleer, in his book Against all Odds, the manuscript he personally received from R. Michel Dorfman in Moscow was copied by R. Alter Tepliker directly from the original copy written by R. Natan himself. The actual copy was known as Megillat Setarim Katzar (abbreviated Megilat Setarim). See Against all Odds, p. 216 for a comprehensive reading of more details of the story.
[8] R. Lippel claimed the copy originally belonged to him when he was still living in the Soviet Union. He even said that he had bought it from R. Alter Tepliker’s son for 50 rubles. When he was about to leave the Iron Curtain he gave it to R. Avraham Sternhartz who then gave it to R. Michel Dorfman (who gave to R. Gedalia Fleer who brought it to Israel).
[9] D. 1955
[10] The cracking of the code also took place in the presence of R. Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld (R. Gegalia Fleers’s teacher).
[11] See The Revealed and Hidden Writings of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, by Zvi Mark.
[12] Apparently an uncensored version of Chayey Moharan is in the possession of some within the Breslov community.

[13] S.S. K. vol 1, TRZ, p. 299
[14] S.S.K. vol. 3, KC, p 49
[15] S.S.K. vol. 3, 3-KYG, p. 51 (The last sentence appears to contradict the peaceful tenor of our understanding that Megilat Setarim refers to a non-apocalyptic messianic age.)
[16] S.S.K. vol. 3, 3-KPZ, p. 83
[17] S.S.K. vol. 3, 3-TKYD, p. 192
[18] S.S.K. vol. 3, 3-TKNT, p. 201 

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