Women in Breslev, Part 2
Rebbe Nachman's mother, Rebbetzin Feige (d. 19 Adar 5561/1801) was a grand-daughter of the holy Baal Shem Tov, and the sister of Chasidic masters Rabbi Baruch of Medziboz (author of Butzina D'Nehora) and Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sudylkov (author of Degel Machaneh Ephraim). Her brothers held her in such high regard that they called her “Feige the Prophetess.” It is said that the Baal Shem Tov taught his daughter, Rebbetzin Udel, certain combinations of Divine Names (yichudim) by which she could commune with his soul after his passing. She, in turn, passed down these yichudim to her daughter, Rebbetzin Feige.
After marrying Rabbi Simcha, a son of Rabbi Nachman Horodenker who had been raised by the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbetzin Feige inherited the Baal Shem Tov's house in Medziboz. There, Rebbe Nachman, as well as his brothers Yisrael and Yechiel Zvi and his sister Perel, were born and raised (Nevei Tzaddikim, p. 10).
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According to tradition, it once happened that Rabbi Simcha, an ascetic who spent much time practicing hisbodedus in the forests and fields, did not return home for several weeks. As Shabbos drew near, Rebbetzin Feige attempted to use her knowledge of Divine names to find her missing husband — but to no avail. At last, she fell asleep. In a dream, her mother, Rebbetzin Udel, appeared to her, accompanied by the Matriarchs Sarah, Rivkah, Rochel, and Leah. “Don't worry,” they told her. “Your husband will be home for Shabbos.”
Then they guided her to the heavenly “Chamber of Souls,” where she beheld the resplendent soul of the Baal Shem Tov. Walking on, she was shown an even more luminous soul.
“Who is that?” she asked.
“This soul will be given to you,” they replied.
Returning home, she found that her husband had already arrived, safe and sound.
“What happened?” she asked.
“It was getting close to Shabbos, and I was lost in the woods, far from home,” he explained. “Then, suddenly I found myself here in Medzhibuzh!” Rebbetzin Feige went to the mikveh that night, and conceived the child whose soul she had already seen: Rebbe Nachman (Until the Moshiach, pp. 324-325).
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Rabbi Simcha and Rebbetzin Feige were renowned for their hospitality. Disciples of the Maggid of Mezeritch and the Toldos Yaakov Yosef, as well as many simple good Jews, often traveled to Medzhibuzh to pray near the Baal Shem Tov's grave. They knew that they could always refresh themselves from their journey at the home of Rabbi Simcha and Rebbetzin Feige. Rebbe Nachman later remarked that the company of these worthy guests made a profound impression upon him as a child. The stories of tzaddikim they told entered his heart, and inspired him to strive for the spiritual heights (Nevei Tzaddikim, p. 12; Sichos HaRan 138)
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During the last year of her life, on Rosh Chodesh Elul 5560/1800, Rebbetzin Feige attended the wedding of Rebbe Nachman's daughter Udel to Rabbi Yoska, son of Rabbi Avraham Dov of Chmelnick. (The latter was a prominent disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch and Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye.) She mentioned that she saw the soul of the Baal Shem Tov at the chupah (wedding canopy) (Chayei Moharan 114). It is said that due to his mother's great spiritual merits, the Rebbe asked that his followers refer to him as “Nachman Ben Feige” in their prayers or when submitting pidyonos (requests for Heavenly intercession).
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Someone once asked Rebbe Nachman why the Baal Shem Tov held their daughter, Rebbetzin Udel, in such high esteem. The Rebbe explained, “My great-grandfather greatly admired his daughter (Feige) because all day long she went about with a heart full of yearning for G-d, and constantly asked herself, 'What else can I do to please the One Above?'“ (Siach Sarfei Kodesh 11, 1-72).
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In the winter of 5565 (1805), the Rebbe traveled to Medvedevka for Shabbos Shirah, as was his custom, in order to visit his Chasidim and to give a Torah lesson. At that time, their four-year-old daughter Chaya, who was then in Medvedevka, developed sties on both eyes and could barely see. Upon his arrival, the Rebbe was informed of her condition. He then gave the discourse, “And G-d led the people circuitously…” (Exodus 13:19), later published as Likutei Moharan 1:62. This lesson cites a teaching of the Zohar (Mishpatim, 95a) about a “beautiful maiden who has no eyes.” Through this, his daughter was healed (Chayei Moharan 26).
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In the year 5565/1804, their daughter Miriam married Rabbi Pinchas Segal of Volochisk. The Chasan was a son of Rabbi Leibush Segal, the Rav of Volochisk and a disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch. On the Shabbos before the wedding (Parshas Noach, Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan), the Rebbe danced all day long. In Chayei Moharan, Rabbi Noson remarks that never did he see the Rebbe dance the way he danced that Shabbos.
The Rebbe drank a little wine, as is customary in celebrating a coming wedding. At one point, he supported himself on his disciple, Rabbi Yudel, and continued to dance. They were singing a very beautiful and inspiring niggun (melody), which was one of awe. The Rebbe danced to this niggun. (Usually when he danced, it was to a niggun of inspiration and awe. According to tradition, this was the melody that Breslover Chasidim still sing for the Blessing of the New Month.) The Rebbe also said that this melody is one of “calling and summoning”; it is used to call everyone to gather for the wedding ceremony. They were calling the souls of all the family's holy ancestors – the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman Horodenker, and the Rebbe's mother, Rebbetzin Feige. As the Zohar states, the souls of departed relatives all gather together at a wedding (Pinchas, 219b, 220a).
During the Third Meal, the Rebbe sat with the entire company, and led the singing of Bnei Heichalah. He remarked, “One who knows how to drink can atone for sins.” Then he delivered a profound discourse on this subject, later published as Likutei Moharan I:177 (Chayei Moharan 117).
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Rebbe Nachman's daughter Sarah married R. Yitzchok Isaac, son of Rabbi Leib Dubrovner of Kremenchug. Although the Rebbe was already living in Breslov, the wedding took place in Medvedevka on Rosh Chodesh Nissan 5563/1803 (which was Rebbe Nachman's birthday). After ceremony they spoke about the Moshiach, and the Rebbe mentioned allusively that he would be one of the newly married couple's offspring.
On Shabbos Sheva Berachos, during the Third Meal, the Rebbe delivered the lofty discourse, “He set a tent for the sun in their midst” (Psalms 19:5), later published as Likutei Moharan 1:49. (When the Rebbe first gave over this discourse in the presence of the bride and groom, he began with the last half of the verse (ibid.): “And he will come forth like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy.”) This lesson weaves together the concepts of Nissan, Sarah, Yitzchak, a bride, a wedding, Shabbos, and the Moshiach.
Rebbe Nachman danced at great length before their daughter Sarah. In praise of the Rebbe's dancing, Reb Noson states: “Whoever did not witness his dancing never beheld goodness in his life. Although many tzaddikim have fulfilled the mitzvah of 'dancing before the bride,' the Rebbe's dancing was beyond compare. Everyone present surely was moved to genuine repentance for all his sins” (Yemei Moharnat 3, Chayei Moharan 116).
To be continued.