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.
The discipline of Kabbalah is generally subdivided into kabbalah ma’asit, practical or applied kabbalah, and kabbalah ‘iyyunit, theoretical kabbalah. In the popular imagination, the kabbalist is a practitioner of the magical arts. However, there is another sort of kabbalist whose way of relating to and interpreting the world is based on a profound system of thought.
Such a comprehensive, all-encompassing thought evidences itself in the spiritual diaries of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook (1865-1935). Gershom Scholem, Professor of Jewish Mysticism at Hebrew University, Jerusalem, wrote: “Rabbi Kook’s great work… is a veritable theologia mystica of Judaism equally distinguished by its originality and the richness of its author’s mind. It is the last example of productive kabbalistic thought of which I know.”