Question & Answer With Rabbi Dovid Sears - “Today I Have Given Birth To You”
A Simple Jew asks:
Shivchei HaRan #3 states:
“When he [Rebbe Nachman of Breslov] became bar mitzvah, his uncle, the holy Rabbi Ephraim of Sudilkov, called him and pronounced over him the verse, ‘Today I have given birth to you.’ (Tehillim 2:7). This speaks of the day a person becomes bar mitzvah, as discussed in the sacred literature. His uncle then spoke to him briefly regarding religious devotion, and these words were as dear to the Rebbe as finding a great treasure.”
Explaining the meaning behind this chapter of Tehillim, Reb Nosson of Breslov wrote the following in Likutey Halachos, Hilchos Milah 4:17-19:
"When a person genuinely desires to return to Hashem and to enter the realm of holiness with a perfect heart, every day and every hour he should contemplate that he was born today. He can strengthen his faith by binding himself to the holy tzaddikim. For they are filled with the spirit of Moshiach, of whom it is written, ‘Today I have given birth to you’ (op cit.). Forget the days and years that have passed. From now on, if you only live with this thought [of being newly born] at every moment, you will be worthy of true closeness to Hashem, and healing will come for all the days which passed. Everything will be transformed to good through complete teshuvah."
Do you think that the Degel Machaneh Ephraim was trying to convey this very message to Rebbe Nachman at his bar mitzvah?
Rabbi Dovid Sears answers:
The teaching you quoted from Reb Noson seems to be a spin-off on Rabbi Nachman’s words in Likkutei Moharan I, 272 (“HaYom Im B’Kolo Tishma’u”), which discusses living in the present moment and indirectly relates this to the Moshiach, who will come “today” – i.e., who personifies this quality.
As is known, a bar mitzvah bochur is comparable to a newborn child, because the Yetzer Tov/Good Inclination associated with the Nefesh Elokis, or Divine soul, only becomes internalized within him on this day. This means that now he can do things because of their inherent virtue, rather than just because he knows that such-and-such is the right thing to do, since his parents and teachers have told him so. He also has a new spiritual capacity for an altruism that previously had not existed for him. (The same thing applies to a girl on the day that she becomes a bas mitzvah, at age twelve.)
As for what the Degel had to say about this concept when he gave the Rebbe his blessing, we have really don’t know. The quote from Shivchei HaRan only states that the Degel invoked this verse from Tehillim. But there is another Breslover tradition that when the tzaddik Reb Nochum of Chernobyl first saw Rabbi Nachman, he commented that the Rebbe had "beautiful eyes" (Siach Sarfei Kodesh II, 237; also ibid. II, 239) -- which was said of Dovid HaMelekh, and which also might be a remez, or hint, to one of the attributes of the Moshiach. This would correspond to Reb Noson's teaching in Likkutei Halakhos, cited above, about living in the present moment being one of the qualities of the Moshiach. So your speculation might not be so far-fetched.
There’s another related teaching about this in Chayei Moharan 568. Reb Noson writes: “The Rebbe once remarked that he revived himself with the aspect of “I have given birth to you today!’ [This indicates that everything is “newborn,” every instant.] God will help us to skip over everything that ever happened to us, and He will reveal the truth at last. We will all return to God, and the former days will fall away; for all time will be nullified and will merge into the category of ‘beyond time,’ where everything is remedied.”
The “good eye” (which I think is synonymous with the concept of “beautiful eyes”) and the ability to live fully in the here and now actually go together. In Rebbe Nachman’s story of the “Seven Beggars,” the Blind Beggar is not really blind, but only appears this way from a materialistic point of view. In truth, he possesses the perfection of vision, which is spiritual vision, cosmic vision – and when the various elders in his story-within-a-story make their various claims about how far back they can remember, the Blind Beggar alone declares, “Ich gedenk gohrnisht . . . I remember Nothing!” -- by which he means the Primordial Nothing from whence all existence derives. That is, he has transcended past, present, and future to live in the “eternal present.” So the Blind Beggar is a sort of perpetual bar mitvah bochur, newborn in every moment.
This is the Blind Beggar’s “wedding gift” to the chosson and kallah in the Rebbe’s story. And as Reb Noson tells us in the section cited from Likkutei Halakhos, living vividly in the present is an avodah that we may all accomplish – and must accomplish – because it is our common destiny. This is how we can live a true life and a “good life,” and it is the Blind Beggar’s wondrous gift to us all.
* The picture above is a replica of the Baal Shem Tov's Shul in Medzhibuz where Rebbe Nachman was first called to the Torah on his Bar Mitzvah.