The Lost Princess and Oth­er Kab­bal­is­tic Tales of Rebbe Nach­man of Breslov

Rab­bi Nach­man; Rab­bi Aryeh Kaplan, trans.
  • Review
By – August 10, 2012

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 shares tales aloud in a local JCC preschool and vol­un­teers with 826 Valen­cia to help stu­dents write their own sto­ries and poems.

Discussion Questions