Monday, May 23, 2011

Was FDR a Sufi?

Rav Nachman of Breslov,
as someone dreamed him
As Yeranen Yaakov posts, Netanyahu posited that FDR ('nothing to fear but fear itself') was a chasid of Rav Nachman of Breslov:
Netanyahu continued, "What did he say? כל העולם כולו [All the world is]... Continue!  ... גשר צר מאד והעיקר לא לפחד כלל [...a very narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to be afraid at all].  Do you see?  Roosevelt was a Hasid of the rabbi!"
Very cute. Though it is more like FDR being a chassid of Francis Bacon, who said the line first:
Nil terribile nisi ipse timor.Nothing is terrible except fear itself.
Maybe Francis Bacon was a closet Breslover chassid. Though Rabbi Nachman was born in 1772 and Bacon was born in 1561.  But perhaps President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was actually a closet follower of Sufism (a brand of Islam). I am not so sure that Rabbi Nachman of Breslov innovated this idea. We know he consulted Sufis:

Now, that bit about the world being a very narrow bridge? Sufi doctrine, it would seem:
Belief in the Last Day includes faith in the resurrection of the dead, their reckoning, the weighing of their good deeds against their bad ones, their passing over the high, narrow bridge that spans the hellfire (sirat), and that some will be put in hell out of justice, and some in paradise out of Allah’s pure generosity. Disobedient believers (as opposed to unbelievers) will be taken out of the hellfire after being requited for their sins. 
The bit about not fearing at all? Well opponents of Sufism categorize it as follows:
Sufis habitually reject the doctrine of "the fear of God, the wrath of the Day of Judgment, the fury of the Hell-Fire and the promise of Jannah." Faith based on coercion, they say, is slavery, and God has created man with mind, free will and love. Therefore, the mainspring of Sufism is love not fear and obedience to the religious laws.
And here is an essay at a Sufi website promoting fear in nothing but God:
So what would be the outcome of choosing to fear God instead of the host of others with various demands and expectations on us which usually serves them not us? And what does fear of God require us to do and be? It requires us to do the right thing by ourselves and by others to please God. Doing the right thing is explained in the Shariah (religious law), which in the West is often misunderstood and misrepresented, but in reality it is the first step on the path of fighting against our ego (nafs) in order to become who we really are and what we were created for according to our quiddity ‘fitrat’. Whereas pleasing others and fear of the world and life situations makes us walk in the opposite direction, and if not totally the opposite, at least in a wrong direction, since it is serving the personality and the ego of both self and others. 
Of course, I would say that FDR was neither a Breslover Chassid nor a Sufi.



yaak said...


Ephraim said...

Actually, Bacon and the Sufis were preceeded by Epictetus (55 – 135):

"If we had feared, not Death nor Exile, but Fear itself, we should studied not to fall into what appears to us to be evil"

Anonymous said...

"We know he consulted Sufis:"

How exactly do we "know?"

Hoffman's book that you quote does not cite any source for this claim -- there is no indication anywhere of such a meeting.

joshwaxman said...

i was being lazy, and used the first book i found to substantiate this. so you are right. i don't know his basis for saying this, since it does not explicitly lay it out there.

i've also heard from more than one person that he was very close with a Sufi, and that (iirc) they had made this trip to eretz yisrael together. but couln't find mention in an online accessible text, so didn't make that claim in the post, running instead with what i could partially source.

for more about sufism and kabbalah, see here:



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