Yisroel Ber Odesser
Yisroel Ber Odesser
Birth: c.1888
Tiberias, Ottoman Empire (now Israel)
Death: 23 October 1994
Israel
Age: 106+ years
Country: Israel ISR
Centenarian

Yisroel Dov Ber Odesser (c.1888 – 23 October 1994) was an Israeli centenarian and a Breslover Hasid and rabbi.

Biography

Yisroel Ber Odesser was born in 1888 in Tiberias when Israel were under Ottoman rule, to a family which for generations were Karliner Hasidim. (His great-great-grandfather, Rabbi Yekutiel Zalman Leib, was a close disciple of Rabbi Abraham Kalisker, a major disciple of the Baal Shem Tov.) In his youth, Odesser also followed the Karliner way, but felt it was not fulfilling his soul.

Odesser first came into contact with the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov as a young yeshiva student in Tiberias. Someone had ripped the cover off a Hebrew language holy book and thrown it into the garbage. Orthodox Judaism forbids defacing a holy book in this way, so Odesser rescued it with the intention of burying it, as is proper for worn-out Jewish holy books. Before discarding it, however, he decided to read it. This book was Hishtafchut HaNefesh (Outpouring of the Soul) by Alter Tepliker, which contains excerpts from Rebbe Nachman's writings about meditation and personal prayer. Because the cover was missing, Odesser did not know who the author was, but the teachings worked for him. Only later did he learn it was a Breslover book.

The first Breslover Hasid whom he met in person was Rabbi Yisroel Halpern (also known as Yisroel Karduner), who came one day to buy bread from Odesser's parents. The young Odesser knew immediately that he had found his teacher, but his parents were strongly opposed to the Breslover path. Eventually his father threw him out of the house and attempted to stop his upcoming wedding. This did not deter him, and he continued to study with Halpern. The wedding took place as planned. Odesser's wife, Esther, supported him through many sufferings and much ridicule from the local townsfolk.

In those days, it was commonly said among Jews that anyone who became a Breslover Hasid would eventually go insane. This is probably because Breslovers try to spend at least an hour per day in hitbodedut, personal communion with God, which they often performed alone in the woods or fields, often at night, meditating and crying out to God. This was not a usual Jewish practice at the time, and was regarded with deep suspicion. Jews normally prayed indoors with a minyan, not alone in the woods. (The Breslov practice of hitbodedut is in addition to the liturgical prayers.) Moreover, when Odesser would pray in the synagogue, it was with such intense fervor that he often began to clap, dance, and spin ecstatically for hours.

During the time the British entered Tiberias in World War I, a plague broke out in the city. Halpern became very ill and eventually died, along with most of his family. After Halpern's death in 1918, Odesser became a personal attendant of Rabbi Solomon Eliezer Alfandari, the great Sephardi rav and kabbalist known as the Saba Kadisha, who was living in Tiberias at the time. After seeing Odesser recite the Tikkun Chatzot (Midnight Lament over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash one night, however, the Saba Kadisha refused to let him attend him anymore, and instead treated him as a young colleague.

After that, Odesser traveled to Jerusalem, where he studied with the elders of the Breslover community in that city. When he was approximately 24 years old, Odesser came into possession of a document later published as The Letter from Heaven (known colloquially as the Petek).

According to Odesser, he succumbed to cravings during the fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and he ate something. He was severely distraught as a result. For six days he suffered intensely and felt like a dead man. He prayed and had a "powerful thought enter [his] mind" to "Go to your room and open the bookcase, and put your hand and any book…and open it to wherever it opens…and there you will find good things that will enable you to revive yourself; there you will find a healing for your soul!" Acting on this thought, he chose a book, opened it, and found a letter inside containing words of greeting and encouragement, along with a phrase in the Hebrew language based on the four letters of the name Nachman (i.e., Rebbe Nachman of Breslov), added one letter at a time, in a Kabbalistic achorayim form.

Another Hasid by the name of Yoel said later that he had been the one who wrote the letter to Odesser after seeing how distraught he was over having to break his fast. Odesser claimed in rebuttal that his room had been locked and only he had the key, and maintained that this document was miraculously communicated to him.

Odesser's publicizing of Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman was rejected by mainstream Breslovers for many decades. Around 1984, when he was approximately 86 years old and living in an old age home in Ra'anana, Israel, a group of baalei teshuva (returnees to the Jewish faith) discovered Odesser and were attracted to his teachings. He eventually became their spiritual leader. The name and song, Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman was adopted by this subgroup of Breslover Hasidim and has appeared on billboards, bumper stickers, and knitted yarmulkes, as well as in musical compositions of this group (colloquially known as the Na Nachs) ever since.

In his later years, Odesser attracted many new followers to Breslov. Many families made aliyah from France. He spent time living anywhere from a week to a month or longer in the homes of his new followers. He would most frequently reside in Meron, Tzefat, Tiberias, Ramat Gan, Bnei Brak, Beitar, Mevaseret Zion, and in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Har Nof, the Old City, and Neve Yaakov.

Odesser collected close to half a million dollars in tzedaka (charity) money in two years without leaving his wheelchair. People would run to bring him pidyonot. He left the entire sum to establish Keren Yisroel Dov Odesser for printing and distributing the books of Rebbe Nachman at subsidized prices. The Keren was run by Rabbi Amram Horowitz, Odesser's grandson and grandson of Shmuel Horowitz of Breslov fame, until his death in 2009.

Odesser died on 23 October 1994 at the age of 106 years and was buried on Har HaMenuchot (Gush 11, Chelka bet), Jerusalem. On his tombstone is engraved: "Rabbi Israel Dov Ber Odesser, a"h, [who] said, 'I am Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman.'"

References

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