For somebody like me, who only read stories of and from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (or Bratslav) the slim volume of “Outpouring of the Soul” is an excellent introduction to his theology and practice of religion. The subtitle of the book is “Rabbi Nahcman’s Path in Meditation.” The book was published (in English) in 1980 by the Breslov Research Institute, one year after the Institute was founded. The 72 numbered pages of the book includes,
- Publisher’s preface: written by Chaim Kramer, explaining why Rabbi Alter of Tepik “gathered all the writings of Rabbi Nachman and his disciple, Rabbi Nathan of Nemerov, that dealt with meditation (hithbodeduth) and published them in a single book… Hishtapchuth HaNefesh (“Outpouring of the Soul”).
- Translator’s introduction: written by Aryeh Kaplan, essentially a short history of the development of Jewish meditation and its connection to prayer. (Sidenote: In the edition I read the date of this introduction is printed as 5780 (2020) and not as the correct 5740 (1980).)
- Author’s introduction: a 12 page long essay on the history and need for prayer/meditation. As is customary in Jewish rabbinic literature the current ideas were put in the context as promoted and practiced by earlier authoritative figures. In this case Rabbi Nachman describes how Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jacob’s sons, Moses, Samson, Elisa, Daniel, Ezra and the Baal Shem Tov all meditated. Why bother?: “He will learn how to ask God for all that he needs, both materially and spiritually. This is the only way that one can receive divine help at all times.”
- The bulk of the book (42 pages) contain 52 lessons, stories, practices or outpouring if you wish.
- The book concludes with a fairly comprehensive index for such a short book, a list of biblical quotations, and a list of the publisher’s other books.
The 52 lessons, the essence of the book range from 4 page length(#1) to 2 lines. (E.g. #21: “After true contrition comes joy. A sign of true contrition is when one is later truly happy.”) Each entry is numbered, has a title and for most, the original source is cited. A few entries are made up from multiple sections from various sources (1, 2, 14, 17, 27, 28, 30, 39, 42, 48.
With the above I am done with the easy part of the review, where I describe the book’s format and structure. The more interesting part is of course the content itself. That’s where I have a bit if a difficulty. One obstacle is that it is all written in third person masculine: he must/should do this or that. I am male, so I can identify with that, but I also feel that this non-gender neutral language is excluding half of humanity. When I am reading such lovely and tempting thoughts the lack of harmony between the meaning and this exclusion bothers me.
My other challenge is that as I have never practiced meditation this is all reads as a theory to me. The ideas here presented as guidelines on how/why/when meditate, therefore reading it as literature is not its intended use. But that’s they way I accessed it and as such it reads a bit of a closed indoctrination system. Closed, because looking at it from the outside it seems to have circular logic: If you meditate you will be happier, which will make you want to meditate more. Meditation is presented both as a mean and as an end. Nevertheless I found the language and the concepts tempting. I experienced inner calmness and relaxation just reading about the topic. It is clear that both the author and the translator had enormous charisma and skill with words.
But the book didn’t convince me to change my lifestyle. What it did was to awaken my curiosity to ask for more. So I will periodically return to this book to read a page or two to “meditate” on. The book is an excellent resource for seekers because of its modular structure. I just need more time to internalize what I can from it. Reading from cover to cover, the way I did it is not recommended.