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The Story of the Saba, Rabbi Yisrael Ber Odesser

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

also Tzaddikim.

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!

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