Shir Na’im/ Song of Delight

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Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), great-grandson of Israel Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of the East-European Hasidic movement, is considered by many the “genius of Hasidism.” His mysteriously allusive lessons and stories have invited numerous studies, both by his followers, the Breslov Hasidim, and by academic scholars of various stripes. Needless to say, modern spiritual teachers such as the late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and the contemporary Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz have written commentaries to Rabbi Nachman’s stories. Somehow, until now, the one poem from the hand of Rabbi Nachman —ShirNa’im, translated as Song of Delight— has escaped notice.

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Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), great-grandson of Israel Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of the East-European Hasidic movement, is considered by many the “genius of Hasidism.” His mysteriously allusive lessons and stories have invited numerous studies, both by his followers, the Breslov Hasidim, and by academic scholars of various stripes. Needless to say, modern spiritual teachers such as the late Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan and the contemporary Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz have written commentaries to Rabbi Nachman’s stories. Somehow, until now, the one poem from the hand of Rabbi Nachman —ShirNa’im, translated as Song of Delight— has escaped notice.

David Sears’ working hypothesis is that this lone poem, Shir Na’im, believed composed at the end of the Master’s life, encapsulates all of the teachings of Breslov Hasidism, spread over the tomes of prose and fables. What emerges from Sears’ high-powered literary analysis, supported by outlines, diagrams and copious endnotes, is a book that promises to be rigorous and scholarly, as well as spiritual and uplifting.

David Sears is equal to the task he has set before him. While fiercely faithful to the living tradition of Breslov (the book comes with the encouragement and input of Rabbi Elazar Kenig, leader of the Breslov Hasidim of Tsefat), Rabbi David Sears is a man with his finger on the pulse of contemporary society. His previous book, published by Orot, was The Vision ofEden: Animal Welfare and Vegetarianism in Jewish Law and Mysticism, a work that presaged the entire imbroglio concerning the kosher slaughter industry in this country.

An added feature, sure to pique scholars’ curiosity, is the appendix contributed by Bezalel Naor, “Shir Na’im as a Reply to Maimonides,” a lengthy essay that deals with such spicy issues as the “Non-Existence” of God and the legitimacy of the ancient mystical doctrine of Shi’ur Komah (the “Body” of God).

This gem of a book is graced with original artwork by Ann Derman. Her cover painting—a visual delight—portrays many of the themes of Rabbi Nachman’s poem. The poem itself—Hebrew and English translation face-`a-face—is surrounded by a decorative border by Ms. Derman.

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