וְדַע, שֶׁהָאָדָם צָרִיךְ לַעֲבֹר. V’da, she-ha-adam tzarich
עַל גֶּשֶׁר צַר מְאֹד מְאֹד l-avor al gesher tzar m’od m’od
וְהַכְּלָל וְהָעִקָּר שֶׁלֹּא יִתְפַּחֵד כְּלָל. v’hak’lal v’ha-ikar she-lo yitpacheid k’lal
…and know that a person needs to pass over a very, very narrow bridge.
The essential and important thing is to not be afraid at all.
From Likutei Moharan Tinyana 48
I could be wrong about this…
Many of us are familiar with the song, “Gesher Tzar M’od.” You know, the one that says, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, but the essential thing is no to be at all afraid.” It’s sung at numerous summer camps, youth group retreats and synagogue services and functions. The melody, by Baruch Chait, has been arranged by many composers and in the great tradition of our youth, there are even hand movements that accompany the words.
These words are almost always attributed to Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772 – 1810). If you are not familiar with the Rebbe you should know that some would consider him to have taken the leadership position of a Chasidic community to a beautiful and torturous art form. From his parables, stories, and deep mystical, kabbalistic and dense teachings Rebbe Nachman clearly demonstrates a mastery of Chasidic philosophy, ideology and spiritual practice. Despite his reputation for being bi-polar, Rebbe Nachman’s teachings are poetic, musical and deeply powerful. They are truly soulful.
Before my father (may his memory be a blessing) passed away, he and I would spend time together studying the teachings of Rebbe Nachman, in the original Hebrew. My father, Rabbi Daniel Franzel, was humble in his mastery of the Hebrew language which he loved with a passion. I had always been amazed that he never used Hebrew to English dictionaries in his studies. He used voluminous, scholarly Hebrew to Hebrew dictionaries, shipped to him from some tiny man in Israel, to make sure he understood every nuance of a word or phrase. He also checked every scriptural citation in the Torah or the other books of the Bible. I would be proud to have even a tenth of his abilities and fluency in the holy language.
For more than ten years, twice a week my Dad and I would read and translate Rebbe Nachman’s teachings and discuss their meanings. This is incredibly significant to me. We studied with a commitment to learning some truth, but more important, we studied with a commitment to being together. Not only did I have a meaningful connection with my father, it was like taking a 20 semester class in the Holy Tongue. I am grateful to continue my studying because it makes me feel close to him, like a bridge connecting us between worlds.
Getting back to the song, Gesher Tzar M’od, one of my pet peeves is an incorrect or not factual citation of the source of words to a song. I have been guilty of this many times. I confess that in my past as a song leader I had not become familiar with the sources of the songs I sang. For some reason it wasn’t important to me. But since my days at the Hebrew Union College it has become an obsession with me to always know as much as I can about the music I learn and utilize in my pulpit. I am not always accurate in this practice but I always aspire to the ideal.
Many years ago, in my studying Rebbe Nachman, I came across words that seemed to be very familiar to me. It was in his Magnum Opus, Likutei Moharan. In the middle of the second section I found the words quoted above. They were too familiar to the lyrics of Gesher Tzar M’od to be a coincidence, in my mind and after all, this citation from Rebbe Nachman was from his major text and teachings. I tried to find in his other books, the phrase “kol ha-olam kulo, gesher tzar m’od,” but to no avail. It became clear to me that I had come across the source of the words for the song.
In the context of a serious teaching, the quote is referring to the fact that in the service of the Ultimate Truth one traverses many journeys and withstands many trials and tribulations. These events in the course of our lives are distractions in our pursuit of the Ultimate Truth. Therefore in a spiritual practice one needs to be aware that the path to the Gates of Holiness crosses over a narrowness with distractions and tests on all sides. It is very easy to get knocked off a skinny overpass so in our practice, we should be strong and not fear because everything that has happened to get us to this point is now coming to our aid, helping us across that very narrow bridge. May we all get to the other side in health, safety and love.