Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Column: The Lost Princess

Last week I was reading Rabbi Nachman’s story, “The Lost Princess” and I understood it in a way that I never did before and I write about it in the hope of giving honor to Rabbi Yisroel Ber Oddesser, whose yartzeit is on the 18th of Cheshvan and whose insights and teachings brought me to mine.

The story starts like this (the whole story can be found here http://www.breslov.org/princess.html):

“The Rebbe spoke up and said, "While on my journey I told a story. Whoever heard it had a thought of repentance." (And this is the story):

There was once a king who had six sons and one daughter. This daughter was very precious to him and he loved her very much. He spent much time with her. One time, he was alone with her on a certain day and he became angry at her. He inadvertently said, "May the Evil One take you away!" At night she went to her room. In the morning, no one knew where she was. Her father was very upset, and he went here and there looking for her. The viceroy realized that the king was very upset. He stood up and asked that he be given a servant, a horse, and some money for expenses, and he went to search for her. He searched for her very much, for a very long time, until he found her. (Now he tells how he searched for her until he found her.)”

So what was my insight?

It starts with a question -- who is the Lost Princess?

Rabbi Yisroel Ber, in his book of letters, Ebay ha Nachal, gives small and passing hints, keys if you would, into seeing the stories as he understood them. The English translation of Ebay ha Nachal, Blossoms of Spring, can be found here:


I find a subtle hint through Rabbi Yisroel Ber’s choice and juxtaposition of the first two teachings of Rabbi Nachman’s discussed in Ebay ha Nachal. First, the relevant part of the first letter:

“On the Last Rosh Hashanah before his passing, Rabbi Nachman, of blessed memory, said the awesome teaching in Likutey Moharan II, 8, which says that one must seek and search very much for the holy and prophetic spirit of the True Tzaddik and Leader and that the main perfection of faith, which is the essence of Judaism, is through him specifically.”

Now, what could this have to do with the story?

Stated most simply, Rabbi Nachman is the Lost Princess – whose spirit must be searched out by all of us, we being represented by the viceroy.

Two questions on this come to mind. One has to do with the fact that one of the standard interpretations of the story is that the Lost Princess is the shechinah, or divine presence, and so there seems to be a contradiction here with that standard interpretation. The other is the question of gender, why would Rabbi Nachman represent himself, if he indeed was speaking of himself here, in the feminine?

The second source discussed in Ebay ha Nachal (in the Hebrew version) that I mentioned earlier answers these questions in a way that I find more than satisfactory.

That source is from Likutey Moharan I, 70. It speaks of the humility and humbleness of the True Tzaddik and how, since he makes himself as dust and ashes, he has the power to draw everyone towards him, as the earth has gravity that pulls everything towards it. This quality of the True Tzaddik is why he is called the Tzaddik Yesod HaOlam, or the Tzaddik that is the foundation of the world – the one with the power to draw to him that resembles the power of gravity. His humility also draws the Divine Presence, or the shechinah, down, as Moshe merited through is humility which exceeded all men. Rabbi Nachman also speaks there about how the word Mishcan, or the tabernacle, the place where the shechinah rests, is of the same root as the word Mishcon, which means a guarantee -- a Mishcanta being the Hebrew word for a mortgage. He teaches that we see from the root of the word Mishcan that Hashem promises us that he will be with us in every generation – even in the depths of the exile when there is no physical Mishcan or Beit HaMikdash – and that the shechinah is found by the True Tzaddik who makes himself as dust and ashes and draws the shechinah down.

Both questions on my interpretation are answered. First, there is no contradiction between the seeing the Lost Princess as the shechinah and as Rabbi Nachman because they are interrelated as explained. Secondly, the use of the feminine is not problematic because when he speaks of himself he is also speaking of the shechinah, as explained, and the shechinah is described as feminine.

Perhaps I should have prefaced all of this by saying that while we are told to search for meaning in the stories we are at the same time warned not to limit their meaning – which in their deepness and secrets are completely beyond us. Still, the insights of Rabbi Yisroel Ber are to be given special attention and respect and I hope that my attempt to interpret in his fashion does honor to him and to Rabbi Nachman.


Blogger Philly Farmgirl said...

I really enjoyed reading your insights. Rebbe Nachman's stories are so deep that I am sure there are many facets to each of his diamonds.

12:58 AM  
Blogger Barry Freedman said...


Thanks for reading and commenting. Been travelling around Israel for more than a week and was happy to see your comment when I arrived back home. Say hi to Philidelphia for me. It's been a while.


12:54 PM  

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