Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Breslov tradition can be divided into two main groups. There
are those who believe Rebbe Nachman is the one and only Tzaddik
for all generations and those that believe other Rabbis in between are
Rabbi Yisrael Ber Odesser is certainly one of the figures loved
and respected by most of the people from both sides of the equation.
He’s always been a mystery and became known as the Saba
(grandfather) for his outstanding wisdom and refusal to be called a
Throughout his life, he faced great povery and opposition by
many leading rabbis. Yet, Hashem in his great mercy made many
miracles for him, since the day he was born. His mother Rivka had
entered sudden labor when she was in the outskirts of the city. No
one was nearby and the baby fell in a pit of mud. Suddenly
mysterious man came and saved young Yisrael from the pit. It was an
even greater miracle because that location was reserved for women
and no one expected a man to come.
Named after the holy Ba’al Shem Tov (Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer)
and Rabbi Dov Ber (the Maggid of Mezritch), the Saba actually
became a follower of Rebbe Nachman “by chance”. Young Yisrael
used to study at a Hasidic Yeshiva near Rabbi Meir Ba’al HaNes’
gravesite and once found a worn-out book called Hishtapchut
HaNefesh (the overgrowing of the soul). He didn’t know it was a
Breslov book but it guided him in developing his Avodat Hashem and,
later, he found out about its origins.
Though the movement didn’t start until later, the NaNach
revelation came when he was 24 years old. At that time, he claimed
to have received a letter from Heaven from Rebbe Nachman himself.
The letter, called “The Petek” (literally, “note”) taught the widespread
niggun “Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman”, which he disseminated
among Jews of all stripes.
Obviously, there were some controversy to the authenticity of
the letter, as evidenced from opposition of many rabbis at the time.
Rabbi Odesser deflected all attacks against it and even received the
approval of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein when they met early in 1980. The
Petek’s niggun, according to Saba contained the last song of the
Redemption, which the sages said was going to be revealed at the end
of days. It also contained many Kabbalistic secrets alluded in its
It also happened that Breslov was a much rejected Hasidic
group back at that time. Rabbi Odesser had to face great challenges
with the Tiberias community, where he lived. Even his father, Shlomo
Isaac Odesser tried to persuade him to abandon the Breslov path but
gave up on his own son. This happened when, for the first time in life
young Yisrael disobeyed his father’s orders to choose any Hasidic
path except for Breslov, and kicked him out of his house during
Rabbi Odesser, together with his mentor the great Rabbi
Yisrael Karduner used to visit Kivrei Tzaddikim a lot and many
miracles were performed on their behalf. He stressed the path of
simplicity during personal prayer and screaming loudly like the
Hasidim of Karlin. He also made great efforts to nullify himself to the
teachings of Rebbe Nachman as much as possible.
It was known that Rabbi Odesser became a close friend with
Rav Shlomo Eliezer Alfandri (known as the Saba Kadisha, literally
“The Holy Grandfather”), the chief rabbi of Tzfat and a huge Kabbalist
in his own right. Rabbi Odesser was young, but he already displayed
great potential, and asked Rav Alfandri to become his servant. Yet,
this servitude didn’t last long because, as soon as Rav Alfandri saw
the young Yisrael saying Tikkun Chatzot (the Rectification of
Midnight) with incredible power, he turned him into a colleague and
refused to be served by him. In one occasion, Rav Alfandri asked
Rabbi Odesser what he thought about a certain book he received to
give his Haskamah (approbation). Rabbi Odesser claimed it
contradicted some of the teachings of the Arizal and Rav Alfandri was
thankful for being saved from giving his signature.
Rabbi Odesser’s wisdom was astounding not least because
people didn’t see him studying so much. Surprisingly, he was not
known as prodigious child in his youth, but displayed a deep
commitment to searching for the truth. He was known to already at
the age of six engage in the practice of Sigufim (self-affliction) in
order to distance himself from physicality.
Many relate that his main Avodah (service) was in prayer and
that was very accurate. Once a student asked him “Rebbe, how do
you know so much? We barely see you studying!”. The Saba replied
“You are right, but when I pray I can see all the knowledge opening
up before me during the little time I study.”
He is buried in Har HaMenuchot and his Hilula is on the 18 th of
Cheshvan where he is constantly visited by admirers and followers.
One peculiar mark of his humility was the fact that he instructed the
Chevra Kadisha to not state that he was a Breslover in his tombstone
since he missed a few of the nights from reciting Tikkun Chatzot.
This article was written and published in the zechut of all Emuna Builder Partners. May they have complete emuna and continue spreading emuna!