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In “in the footsteps of the kuzari,” Shalom Rosenberg writes:

“Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was well known for composing remarkable stories, full of Kabbalistic and philosophical allusions. He also taught us to pay careful attention to ancient tales, which contain deep secrets as well, even though those who relate them have lost the keys to understanding them. Not only have the keys been lost, but the very awareness that there is a lock to be opened, that the story contains a secret to be sought, has been lost as well.”

He then goes on to interpret the tales of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and The Ugly Duckling in light of Jewish redemption. Firstly, does anyone know where Rav Nachman says this? And what of the idea of giving credence to old folk tales such as Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty? Do we really believe they contain “sparks of Judaism,” as if, in them?

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  • @user6591 Doesn’t address my question May 11, 2023 at 13:15
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    Jordan Peterson would approve of this point. Very interesting thank you for bringing it. It's changed the way I think about things. Looking forward to answers
    – Rabbi Kaii
    May 11, 2023 at 15:02
  • The question becomes could any story be "interpreted" to make Jewish points?
    – Double AA
    May 11, 2023 at 15:13
  • @DoubleAA it states in the question that it's not "any" story. It may be fuzzily defined but it's not identical to "any"
    – Rabbi Kaii
    May 11, 2023 at 18:05

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Beginning on page 7 of the English translation by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan z”l of Rabbi Nachman's Stories, it brings the introduction of Rabbi Natan ben HaRav Naftali Hertz which says:

Before [the Rebbe] began telling the first story in this book, he declared, “Many hidden meanings and lofty concepts are contained in the stories that the world tells. These stories, however, are deficient; they contain many omissions. They are also confused, and people do not tell them in the correct order. What begins the story may be told at the end, and the like. Nevertheless, the folk tales that the world tells contain many lofty hidden mysteries.

The Baal Shem Tov (May the memory of a Tzaddik and holy man be a blessing) was able to bring about a Unification (Yichud) through telling a story. When he saw that the supernal Channels were defective, and it was not possible to rectify them through prayer, he would rectify and unify them by telling stories.

In general, this is following the idea like is presented at the end of 38b and the beginning of 39a in Sanhedrin concerning Rabbi Meir. That Rabbi Meir would include as one third of his lectures, explanations from parables, meaning fables, as in Aesop's Fables, like the Fox and the grapes, the Fox and the Crow, the Fox and the Lion and many others. See also on this the commentary Yafeh To’ar to Kohelet Rabbah 1:3:1 which says:

על הדין תעלה. לפי שהשועל פקח שבחיות אמרו עליו משלים הרבה וכדאיירי' בפ"א דיני ממונות ש' משלות שועלים היה לו לר' מאיר ואנו אין לנו אלא ג' אבות אכלו בוסר כו' מאזני צדק כו' צדיק מצרה נחלץ כו' ופירש"י משל הוא שהשועל רימה את הזאב:

As to this tradition being continued especially in the teachings of Chassidut and in particular within Chabad Chassidut, it derives from language of the Haggadah of Passover which says:

עבדים היינו כו׳ ואפילו כלנו חכמים כלנו נבונים כלנו זקנים כלנו יודעים את התורה מצוה עלינו לספר ביציאת מצרים. וכל המרבה לספר ביציאת מצרים הרי זה משבח.

That Chachamim, Navonim and Yoda’im emphasize Chachmah, Binah and Da’at (Chabad) and even if we are wholly Chabad meaning fully dedicated and given over to the path of Chabad, it is a mitzvah upon us to relate the stories, meaning the fables, for the sake of the redemption.

This explanation is like is found in the introduction to Kovetz Sippurim with clarifications and instructions in regards to the service of G-d which was collected from the talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

For an example of this, see the Chassidic Discourse from the Lubavitcher Rebbe which he said during the first 3 days following the passing of his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka which begin with the words, Zeh yitnu m'chatzit HaShekel...

The Rebbe begins the fox tale from Rabbi Meir starting at the bottom of page 352. This discourse is explaining the concept that this generation will see the complete and final redemption via Moshiach, including the resurrection of the dead. The fox tale concerns the concept of Moshiach, who is the fox in the fable, eliminating death from the world by descending to death himself and then returning, meaning being resurrected.

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I remember reading a similar idea in the translator's introduction to "Rabbi Nachman's Stories," translated by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan.

He said that, according to Rabbi Nachman, all these folk tales are based on deep truths, except they've become distorted.

It was a long time ago when I read it, and I don't have this book. But if I remember correctly, it was heavily foot-noted. I don't want to send you on a wild goose chase, but there's a chance it might have the exact answer you're looking.

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He also taught us to pay careful attention to ancient tales, which contain deep secrets as well, even though those who relate them have lost the keys to understanding them. Not only have the keys been lost, but the very awareness that there is a lock to be opened, that the story contains a secret to be sought, has been lost as well.

This was brought in the name of Rabbi Nachman by Rabbi Natan, who wrote the introduction to Sefer Sipurei Ma'asiyot:

"Before he told the first story in this book he spoke up and said: In the story tales that the world tells, there are many hidden things and very lofty matters — but the stories have been spoiled because much is lacking from them and they are also mixed up, and they do not tell them according to the order, telling at the end what belongs in the beginning and vice-versa and so on. But really in the stories that the world tells there are very lofty concealed matters." (Hebrew, English).

Rabbi Natan did not explain why ever should folktales conceal sparks of Torah secrets in them in the first place, but noted prior to that that "so was [the custom] long ago in Yisrael, regarding redemption and regarding exchanging, that when they wanted to speak of the hidden things of God, they would talk in the manner of riddles and similes, and they clothed the hidden things of the Torah, the treasuries of the King, in many, many different clothes and garments, as it is conveyed after the tale of the King's Son and the Maid's Son, where Rabeinu z"l said then, that in the early days, when the friends would talk and speak Kabbalah, they would speak in such language, because until Rashbi they would not speak Kabbalah openly etc." (Hebrew, English)

Rabbi Nachman's explanation for why non-Jewish tales contain sparks was brought in Sichot Ha'Ran no. 52:

"It is written, “The whole earth is filled with His glory” (Isaiah 6:3). God’s glory cries out from all things. Even the stories of all nations ring with God’s glory. This is the meaning of the verse, “Let the nations tell of His glory” (Psalms 96:3). It is even reflected in their tales. [...]"

For more info on Rabbi Nachman's views of the importance of non-Jewish tales, I recommend this essay (in Hebrew) by Ariel Schwartz which gives a good rundown of the subject.

And what of the idea of giving credence to old folk tales such as Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty? Do we really believe they contain “sparks of Judaism,” as if, in them?

Evidently Rabbi Nachman thought so, though to find those sparks, preliminary research into the original, true form of the tale was necessary, as well as being very familiar with Kabbalistic terminology. I don't know if everyone thinks so, but Rabbi Nachman's position is very much in line with the general Chassidic position of borrowing cultural materials from non-Jews and "kosherizing" them. Take, for example, niggunim such as Hupp Cossack and Niggun Shamil.

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