“A Palace of Pearls: The Stories of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav” by Howard Schwartz— A Visionary Storyteller

Schwartz, Howard. “A Palace of Pearls: The Stories of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav”, Oxford University Press, 2018.

A Visionary Storyteller

Amos Lassen

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (1772-1810) is considered to be one of the foremost visionary storytellers of the Hasidic movement. He was the great-grandson of the Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of the Hasidic movement. Rabbi Nachman came to be regarded as a great figure and leader in his own right and he guided his followers on a spiritual path inspired by the mystical teachings of Kabbalah. In the last four years of his life he turned to storytelling and shared highly imaginative, allegorical tales for his followers.

Howard Schwartz has compiled the most extensive collection of Nachman’s stories available in English for this volume. In addition to the well-known Thirteen Tales, including “The Lost Princess” and “The Seven Beggars,” Schwartz has included over one hundred narratives in the genres of fairy tales, fables, parables, dreams, and folktales. Many of these are previously unknown or believed lost. There are stories that were never intended to be written down and were only to be shared with those Bratslavers who could be trusted not to reveal them. Eventually Rabbi Nachman’s scribe wrote them yet they have maintained mythical status as a hidden.

Schwartz’s commentary guides the reader through the Rabbi’s spiritual mysticism and uniquely Kabbalistic approaches and we see that Rabbi Nachman is as much a “literary heavyweight” as Gogol and Kafka. Schwartz brings us the rabbi’s allegoric wisdom and insight in a clear, plain, English prose by bringing together intuition and scholarship, love and learning and “recreates the genius of this metaphysical master for the contemporary reader.”

This is the most complete and authentic collection of Rabbi Nachman’s stories. Schwartz’s retellings are more relevant than ever in today’s world. Reb Nachman’s tales were told orally in Yiddish, and now Schwartz has retold them as polished tales. They can be read as fairy tales or folktales but with Schwartz’s commentaries we see the extensive kabbalistic foundation the stories are built on.

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