Translation by Yehoshua Siskin
Today, everyone knows about Rebbe Nachman from Breslov but without Rebbe Natan we never would have even heard of Rebbe Nachman. This evening marks the 176th anniversary of the passing of Rebbe Natan. His acceptance of playing second fiddle to Rebbe Nachman is of particular importance today. Rebbe Natan did not want to be number 1. He did not want to be a rabbi, but a student. Not a rebbe , but a disciple. Rebbe Natan’s acceptance of being number 2 was not about mediocrity, but rather about understanding that to fulfill himself he needed to assume permanent student status. From a young age, Rebbe Natan began a search for a way to bring vitality and joy into Jewish living and, in the midst of this search, he discovered and then clung to Rebbe Nachman, out of great appreciation and with deep humility. He began to record the words of Rebbe Nachman who said, “Without Rebbe Natan, we would not have even one page.”
It is solely in the merit of Rebbe Natan that we can hold in our hands Rebbe Nachman’s “Likutei Moharan” (his guide to living with joy despite life’s challenges), his parables and legends, “Sichot HaRan” (his illuminating conversations outside of Torah sessions), “Likutei Halachot” (a collection of halachot together with their kabbalistic significance), “Likutei Tefilot” (personal prayers of Rebbe Natan based on lessons found in “Likutei Moharan”), and other works. Everything that Rebbe Natan heard he wanted to record in perpetuity and for our benefit. He even set up a publishing house in order that Rebbe Nachman’s teachings would be spread as far and wide as possible. After Rebbe Nachman’s passing, Rebbe Natan steadfastly refused all attempts be appointed as his rebbe’s successor or to inherit the mantle of his leadership.
We could quote much that Rebbe Natan wrote, but it seems to me that his life itself conveys a most important Torah message: in an era when everyone wants to be a leader and an influencer, it is worthwhile to remember someone whose sole desire was to be a student.