Between the Heart and the Spring: Nahman of Bratslav, Paul Tillich, and the Theology of Anxiety, by Benjamin Resnick

To read Nahman's work solely as a poetic recapitulation of earlier mystical ideas is to dramatically shortchange the text in front of us. Nahman was more ambitious, his mind more restless. And the literature he left behind is much more than simply a kabbalistic paint-by-numbers.

Nahman, after all, understood himself, as did many other kabbalists throughout history, as a mythical figure. Very much like his Christian contemporary William Blake, Nahman created an elaborate mythological universe in which he himself was a seminal figure. For Nahman (and so too for his followers), his life and work represented a spiritual endeavor of the very highest order, a religious project, which sought to effect nothing less than a mythological re-ordering of reality. Though Nahman was plagued, throughout his short life, by searing moments of doubt and self-loathing, he saw himself, quite self-consciously at times, as a transformational figure in the whole history of the universe, the last reincarnation of a very great soul (that is, the soul of Moses) who had the potential to bring about the final reparation of the broken cosmos. Thus, from the perspective of the Bratslav tradition, the inimitable life of the Rebbe, along with the literature that he left behind, are artifacts of singular significance, mystical ciphers against which the careful student might decode something of the very core of religious experience.

But what, precisely, is the spiritual vision that Nahman wants to communicate?

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