Rabbi Nachman, great-grandson of the founder of the Hassidic movement, lived and taught in Breslov 200 years ago. The tales he told were cherished and analyzed by his disciples and published as the Sippurey Maasioth in Hebrew and Yiddish in 1816 and again in 1840. The Lost Princess is an English translation of the 19th century stories with original commentary, the first of a two-part reissue of Rabbi Kaplan’s 1983 translation. In the various stories, a viceroy seeks the king’s daughter who disappears when her father speaks in anger, a wronged cripple regains power with a magic diamond, a clever princess thwarts the plans of pirates and kings to separate her from her betrothed, and the sons of a slave and an emperor are exchanged at birth.
To the Rebbe’s followers, these stories about kings and beggars are holy allegories and parables intended to move people toward God with hidden lessons of moral guidance. An early introduction by Rabbi Nachman stated that “every word in this holy book is Holy of Holies, according to the secrets of the Torah.” Annotations from Chassidim at the bottom of each page draw evidence for Kabbalistic meaning and Rabbi Nachman’s concern with repairing the world from sacred and mystical texts listed in the bibliography. Commentary may cover allusions sparked by a single word, such as shoemaker: the low status of shoemakers, the shoe as a symbol of prayer, and speculation that the presence of a long pointed shoe may indicate prayer service reform. A phrase like “next to the queen” leads to over two pages of notes on the status of Israel, slavery, souls of the wicked and saintly, and the free choice of King David. Though the stories themselves are dryly told here, the fact that Rabbi Kaplan has made available both well- and lesser known tales of Rabbi Nachman, along with traditional notes, will be of great religious and historical interest to scholars.
Sharon Elswit, author of The Jewish Story Finder, now resides in San Francisco, where she has been helping students visiting 826 Valencia locations around the city to write stories and poems and getting adults up and retelling Jewish folktales to share with their own spin.