Why Uman

Why Uman?


Copyright © R.Levy, 2013.

Contact: reuvenorrivka@hotmail.com.

Why Uman?

Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld Z’tl (a gadol of the previous generation, who used to have a chevruta with the Lubabitcher Rebbe and was one of four Rabbanim that R. Feinstein Z’tl would consult before his major Halachic rulings), said “There is nothing more important for a person to do in this lifetime than to go to the kever of Rabbi Nachman in Uman. There is nothing a person can do or achieve in this world which can affect the past and future of his Neshama as visiting R. Nachman’s grave.

What did Rabbi Nachman say about it?

Rabbi Nachman took an oath in front of two kosher witnesses and said “whoever comes to my gravesite, recites the Tikkun Klali and gives a peruta (small coin) to charity, I will take that person out of Gehinnom”. This refers not only to the Gehinnom we face in the world to come, but also the Gehinnom which we struggle with in this world.

Not for all the money in the world…

A story is told of Rabbi Shmuel Shapira (one of the leading Rabbis of previous generations) who once met with Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz. Rav Horowitz had successfully managed to get to the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman, which was very hard to reach in those days, as Ukraine was at that time behind the Russian ‘iron curtain’. Rabbi Shapira requested from Rabbi Horowitz that he sell to him just one of the times Rav Horowitz had visited the grave of Rav Nachman. In return, Rav Shapira offered to pay him with a great spiritual gain from his own mitzvot.

“Of course,” Rabbi Horowitz explained, “I assume we’re not talking about one of my visits to Rabbi Nachman’s grave on Rosh Hashana, “there is no sum in the entire world that I would sell one Rosh Hashana. However, for one visit to the kever on a normal weekday, let me hear what you have to offer?”

Rabbi Shmuel Shapira replied that in return for receiving the merit of one visit to Rav Nachman’s grave, he would give to Rav Shapira, written on signed document, a transfer of all of the mitzvot that he had ever done in his entire life until that day and all those mitzvot he would do for the rest of his life and, in addition, all of his Olam Haba!”

All those present at the time trembled when they heard this. The Olam Haba of Rav Shmuel Shapira! of whom the Admor of Gur testified that two thirds of the world stood in the merit of his (R. Shmuel Shapira’s) Shmirat Enayim!

When he saw that Rav Horowitz was wavering, Rav Shmuel Shapira continued, “and not only all of my mitzvoth and all of my Olam Haba, but I also agree to take on my own responsibility all of your aveirot, and all the aveirot of your decendants too. All this, for just one visit to the kever of Rabbi Nachman.”

Rav Horowitz stepped backwards and cried out, “no, no. I am fooling myself. I am not prepared to sell for anything in this world, for any price which you could offer me, such a great thing as this.”

Can Rabbi Nachman really pull me out of Gehinnom?

A person might think that Rav Nachman’s promise to pull him out of Gehinnom is simply a ‘turn of phrase’ or ‘mashal’ (parable) for some spiritual teaching, but this is not correct. Rabbi Nachman was very clear in his words and he knew the severity of making a false oath.

In fact, the concept of pulling someone out of Gehinnom is not new. It is explicitly written about in the Gemara (Chagigah, 15b). There, Rabbi Yochanan explains to the Rabbis that when he dies he will go into Gehinnon and pull out Acher (the holy sage Elisha Ben Abuya, who had become a heretic after entering the ‘Pardes’ with R. Akiva). “Who will stop me if I take him out by the hand?” R. Yochanan explains. When Rav Yochanan subsequently passes away, the Gemara testifies that the smoke which had until that point emitted from Acher’s grave stopped. They then said in eulogy to R. Yochanan, “even the watchman at the entrance [to Gehinnom] could not stop you, Rabbenu.”

In the World to Come, the world of truth, the Zaddikim are in charge of the angels. Fortunate is a person indeed who binds themselves to the true Zaddikim whilst he is in this world, and who will then merit their protection in the next.


Saved from the Heavenly tribunal…

There are a number of occurrences of people who, after have been to Uman, subsequently suffer a clinical death, eg following road traffic accidents (I’m aware, bli neder, of at  least three such occurrences). At the Heavenly Tribunal, where all looked very black and onerous, on each occasion, Rabbi Nachman walked in and simply took the person out of the Court Room. No one stopped him. “Leave him,” R. Nachman is quoted as saying, “he is one of mine”. These individuals then returned back to life, and subsequently (and not surprisingly) made complete teshuva.

One such story was told by a man who came to Uman on Rosh Hashana just for the ‘party’. He never once went into the Kever, and his only connection to Rabbi Nachman was that as he was getting into the taxi to leave Uman, he turned towards the Kever and said “see you later Rabbi!”. He later said that was what had saved him.

All the more so, one who tries to bind himself to the Tzaddik by learning his teachings and following his advice. For such a person, Rabbenu promises to rectify his Neshama from its root in Adam HaRishon all the way to its final gilgul (reincarnation) in Yemot HaMashiach.


Rabbi Nachman writes that the practice of Hitbodedut (personal prayer) surpasses all other forms of avodat Hashem. It is the greatest expression of our own individual, personal service of Hashem.

Many people have a built-in resistance to talking to G-d. They say that they’re too busy, or they don’t know what to say, they feel bored, frustrated or stupid. Dr Zev Ballen, an eminent psychologist, writes in his new book Emuna Coaching, that whatever the excuse, our resistance to talking to G-d is actually rooted in a fear of finding ourselves and not liking what we find.

However, talking to G-d is not at all difficult. Even two words (or just one word – “HASHEM!”) count as an act of personal prayer. Once a person gets used to the idea, he can truly rectify his soul simply through personal prayer each day. When a person speaks out the innermost thoughts and feelings of his heart to the Creator of the World, like he would speak to a good friend, Hashem guides that person along his own unique path to lead him to his ultimate soul correction.

There’s no better place to practice personal prayer than at the Kever of a Tzaddik, and nowhere more so than the Tzaddik that introduced the practice back into Judaism. “Let me teach you a new way which is really an old way”, Rabbi Nachman explained to his students. After all, this was the original form of Tefilah practiced by all of our Avot and Gedolim throughout the ages.

What do I say in Hitbodedut?

The following are suggestions, as each person’s personal prayers are really a unique expression of his own Neshama.

–        Thank You: it is very good to thank Hashem for all the kindnesses he does for us every moment of every day. From our health, to our parnassa, to our wonderful family, we truly have a lot to be very grateful for. It is very good for us to tell Hashem, personally, and at length, how grateful we are.


–        Teshuva: it’s very beneficial to try to do Teshuva at the grave of a Talmid Chacham. Rabbi Nachman writes in Likutei Moharan (Lesson 4) that when a person confesses his sins before a Talmid Chacham, the letters which make up those sins are removed from being engraved on his bones and are used by the Talmid Chacham to build Hashem’s malchut (kingship). Even though the Talmid Chacham has passed away from this world, as the Gemara testifies (Hullin, 7b) Tzaddikim are more powerful once they leave this world than when they were bound by the limitations of the physical body.


–        Bad Middot: yes, we have bad middot. It’s good to admit the truth. The Gemara teaches us (Succah, 52b) that without Hashem’s help it is impossible for a person to beat his Yetzer Hara. So in our personal prayer, we ask for Hashem’s help to beat the Yetzer Hara. Whether its anger, sadness or I the case of men, lust for women (which R. Nachman, quoting the Zohar, explains is the main midda men came down to this world to fix), or any other of our bad middot, it is impossible to succeed without His help. Now is the perfect time to ask for help.


–        Our Spouse and Kids: we all need Shalom Bayit, and prayer is the most effective way of achieving it. Likewise, we want the best for our kids. Personal prayer is a great opportunity to speak to Hashem about each one of them, spending time to ask Hashem for the specific needs of each individual child. If we don’t yet have a spouse or children, we can join the many who found success simply by asking Hashem.


–        Spiritual and Material Requests: perhaps not top of the list of conversation openers with Ha Kadosh Baruch Hu, but still far better to ask that all our success, spiritually and materially, comes from Him, and not from ‘kochi v’ozi yadi’ – the power and might of my own hand.

Remember that no prayer goes unanswered and Hashem cherishes every single word we manage to speak to Him. ‘Karov Hashem le kol kora’av, le kol asher yekrautu b’emet’ – Hashem is close to all those who call out to him with truth.

Try it and see. You may be amazed at the results.

What results can I expect from a visit to Rabbi Nachman?

No two people are the same. No two Neshamot are the same. No two people’s tasks in life or their tikkunim are the same. So too, the results of a visit to Rav Nachman are not the same for everyone.

Some people have amazing spiritual experiences at the Kever. Some see visions of Rabbi Nachman, some hear him speaking to them, others break down in tears. Still others can visit every year for 10 years, and feel nothing special at all.

One common phenomenon that may be experienced is that a person may apparently not feel any particular change in Uman, but when he gets back home…

We can illustrate this with a parable told by Rabbi Nachman. A man has a dream. In the dream he sees there is treasure under a certain bridge in Warsaw. He wakes up, ponders the dream momentarily and then ignores it. However, he keeps having the same dream each night. Eventually, he decides he has to go to Warsaw to see if the treasure really exists. He arrives there and finds the bridge which he dreamed about and starts to dig under it. A local policeman sees him and comes over, demanding an explanation as to why he is digging under this bridge. He realizes that he has no choice but to tell him the truth about his dream. The policeman hears the story and starts laughing. ‘Stupid Jew’ he tells him, “do you really believe in such nonsense?” “I myself had a dream last night that there was treasure under the floor of a certain Jew living on Pushka Street in Breslov. Who believes such nonsense!”

The man, who lived on Pushka Street in Breslov, realized the policeman was talking about his house and rushes home. He looks under his own floor and finds there the treasure.

What’s the parable teaching us? Sometimes you have to travel to a distant place to realize that the treasure you seek is actually right there at home.

In the context of our journey to Uman, sometimes the results don’t start to show until we get back home.

But, if I left it just there, I may be guilty of withholding information from you. The truth is that our real treasure is getting closer to the Creator of the World. Growth, personal, spiritual growth is knowing and feeling that Hashem is part of our lives; that He is truly with us at every moment. But this level of awareness can come at a material price. You see it is difficult (not impossible, but difficult) to hold onto both this world and the World to Come. Sometimes we have to make a choice, surfing Facebook or surfing Shas? Advancing my career or advancing my Torah learning? Filling up my bank account or filling up my Neshama?

Sometimes, we make this choice without even realizing it – and I’m not talking about those times when we make the wrong choices by mistake, I’m talking about actually making the right choice, but not realizing it.

What do I mean? The following parable will explain.

There was once a man who made his living by collecting copper. Each day he would search around the marketplace looking for scraps of the metal to sell. One day he came across a pile of gold, just lying there, waiting to be taken. What did he do? He dropped the copper and ran to pick up the gold.

The above parable speaks about us. We may go around filling our lives with relatively lowly pursuits (such as pursuing the materiality of this world through seeking career or financial success). However, when we merit seeing the true value in this world, such as Torah, Mitzvot and getting close to Hashem, we then drop our previously held materialistic desires and just run after the truth.

This can happen on a conscious level (for example, a person sees clearly the truth of Hashem’s holy Torah and makes a conscious decision to dedicate his life to fulfilling Hashem’s will) but, it can also happen on an unconscious level. The Gemara says in a number of places (eg Megillah, 3a) “ee lo chazi, mazlei chazi”, meaning “even if the person doesn’t see, his soul sees”.

In other words, we can arrive at the kever of a holy Tzaddik and come away without any apparent spiritual lift. However, our Neshama was, without us realizing it, on fire, dancing and singing in the holy light which radiated from the Tzadik. We’ve changed, but we haven’t, at that point, become consciously aware of it. Suddenly, however, the materiality of the world loses its appeal, and we start to have thoughts of sincere teshuva.

Chopping off the arms and legs of aveirot

Rav Nachman said that he can ‘chop off the arms and legs of our aveirot’. A story is told of a chasid who brought his secular friend to Uman. This friend had been known for his partying and womanising. He wasn’t terribly interested in being in Uman and did not have a particularly inspiring experience there. However, not long after he returned to Israel, the secular friend called up the Chasid, and exclaimed to him “What have you done to me!?! I can’t enjoy it any more!!” (meaning he had suddenly lost all his enjoyment from his partying).

Our journey in this world is only a temporary one. The delights and temptations which the Yetzer Hara places in front of us offer a temporary high, but an ultimate low, as we lose both this world and the World to Come as a result.

Conversely, there is no greater pleasure than forsaking the false gods of this world and choosing the real G-d. The reward then is life both in this world and the World to Come.

May Hashem give us the strength to run only after the truth.


Uman-ChoveretClick to download PDF file

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Pilgrimage to Rebbe Nachman’s grave


Tomb of Nachman of Breslov

Tomb of Nachman of Breslov

Every Rosh Hashana, there is a major pilgrimage by tens of thousands of Hasidim and others from around the world to the burial site of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, located on the former site of the Jewish cemetery in a rebuilt synagogue. Rebbe Nachman spent the last five months of his life in Uman,  and specifically requested to be buried here. As believed by the Breslov Hassidim, before his death he solemnly promised to intercede on behalf of anyone who would come to pray on his grave on Rosh Hashana, “be he the worst of sinners”; thus, a pilgrimage to this grave provides the best chance of getting unscathed through the stern judgement which, according to Jewish faith, God passes on everybody on Yom Kippur.

The Rosh Hashana pilgrimage dates back to 1811, when the Rebbe’s foremost disciple, Nathan of Breslov, organized the first such pilgrimage on the Rosh Hashana after the Rebbe’s death. The annual pilgrimage attracted hundreds of Hasidim from Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania and Poland throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 sealed the border between Russia and Poland. A handful of Soviet Hasidim continued to make the pilgrimage clandestinely; some were discovered by the KGB and exiled to Siberia, where they died.[citation needed] The pilgrimage ceased during World War II and resumed on a drastically smaller scale in 1948. From the 1960s until the fall of Communism in 1989, several hundred American and Israeli Hasidim made their way to Uman, both legally and illegally, to pray at the grave of Rebbe Nachman. In 1988, the Soviets allowed 250 men to visit the Rebbe’s grave for Rosh Hashana; the following year, over 1,000 Hasidim gathered in Uman for Rosh Hashana 1989. In 1990, 2,000 Hasidim attended. In 2008, attendance reached 25,000 men and boys.  In 2009, over 25,000 Jews came on Israeli El Al chartered flights.



Short History of the Annual Kibutz in Uman on Rohs Hshannah

A Little History

We have been witnessing remarkable events lately. History has suddenly come alive, and is no longer confined to school texts and dust-covered history books. The drama is continuing to unfold before our eyes in Eastern Europe and what was once the Soviet Union. Newspapers have been filled with pictures of one massive statue after another being toppled by a crowd that has had enough. We can’t keep up with the dizzying pace of events that has put books, maps and even newspapers out of date before they are printed. In Uman a tiny dot on the map a gate has cracked open. [wpex Read more]
According to the normal scheme of things it should only have been a matter of time before the Breslov movement disappeared after Rebbe Nachman’s passing. He did not leave a successor as such. In most chassidic groups, when one Rebbe dies, a new one is chosen to succeed him, often his son or another close relative. Rebbe Nachman had two sons, but both died in infancy. There was no other candidate for rebbe that his followers felt to be on anything like the same outstanding level as he was. One might have expected that the Rebbe’s followers would have eventually drifted apart and gone their separate paths.
Which indeed they could well have done had it not been for Reb Noson, only thirty at the time of the Rebbe’s passing. After the Rebbe’s burial that Sukkos of 1810, all the chassidim who had been with him in Uman journeyed back to their respective home towns to confront their private thoughts as the harsh Ukrainian winter set in. Although not the most senior of his chassidim, Reb Noson had been closest to the Rebbe during his lifetime, and was of course devastated by his early passing. He could not accept that this was the end of the story. As the weeks passed, all kinds of statements the Rebbe had made over the years kept running through his mind especially about the power of visiting his gravesite. Within a few months, with the snow still thick on the ground, Reb Noson hired a carriage and journeyed from village to village picking up those who had been Rebbe Nachman’s followers for their first pilgrimage to Uman to pray at the Rebbe’s Tzion (grave) on Rosh Chodesh Shevat (January), 1811.
When Rebbe Nachman first became sick, he told his followers that if they would continue to follow his pathways and work to develop and purify themselves, even people who had not known him in his lifetime would become attached to them, and they in turn would make more followers …for I have accomplished and I will accomplish. In the years after his passing, the Rebbe’s promise began to come true. His leading followers all had many disciples of their own, and so the Breslov movement began to grow. Because of the draw of the Rebbe’s Tzion, it was natural for Uman to become more and more of a focus. This was especially so after 1866, when Reb Noson’s leading pupil, Reb Nachman of Tulchin, moved there. The Breslov community in Uman became a vibrant center of spirituality and devotion. Seeking Jews would travel to Uman from all over Ukraine, White Russia, Lithuania and even as far away as Poland in search of the living Torah of Rebbe Nachman.
Then the darkness descended. The Russian Revolution in 1917 made it ever more difficult to get to Uman. In 1919 successive waves of troops passing through the town perpetrated a series of pogroms in which hundreds of Jews lost their lives. The new Soviet regime made every effort to repress Jewish religious life, and in 1937, after years of persecution, the authorities finally closed the Breslover synagogue in Uman, converting it into a metalwork factory. When the Nazis marched into Uman in 1941, they deported the entire Jewish community, murdering some 17,000. They also made it their business to do as much damage as possible to the cemetery, attempting to blot out any memory of Jews, alive or dead. After the war, the Soviets announced that since the cemetery had been devastated the entire area would be given over for suburban housing.
That should have been it, but it wasn’t. Under Stalin you did not put in an appeal to preserve a Jewish cemetery if you valued your life. Still, in the rubble left after the Nazi desecration, Reb Zavel Lubarski was able to find traces of two poles which had stood at the head and foot of the grave to support a rail. The plot of land containing Rebbe’s grave was then acquired by a Breslover Chassid, Reb Daniel, the ger (convert). The exact position of the grave having been located, the house was designed in such a way that its exterior wall would run alongside it, and the grave was thus inconspicuously protected in the private yard of the house. After Reb Daniel emigrated to Israel, the house came into the hands of a non-Jewish couple, who have lived there, until the property was purchased by the Vaad in 1997.
The successive ravages of the Bolsheviks and the Nazis and the rigors of Stalinism forced the remnants of the Breslover Chassidim in Ukraine to go underground. Any visits they made to the Tzion had to be covert. But in the meantime those who had emigrated had established new Breslov centers in Israel and America, and these were expanding rapidly. Until the 1960s all access to Uman was completely barred to Jews from outside Russia, but that did not prevent people from studying and practicing Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, and hearing from their elders about what Uman stood for.
The first little chink in the Iron Curtain opened up in the summer of 1963, when a student of the late Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld met with Reb Michal Dorfman in Moscow and told him of his wish to travel to Uman, an impossibility at that time. Reb Michal agreed to meet him in Kiev and accompany him to Uman. Being caught would have meant immediate exile to Siberia, but the trip came off, opening a door to Uman for the first time in over thirty years.
The following winter a group of eleven people from the United States traveled to Uman under the leadership of Rabbi Zvi Aryeh Rosenfeld. More trips followed, but owing to the presence of military installations nearby, the Soviets circumscribed the visitors in every conceivable way. You had to travel all the way to Kiev just to apply for the special visa required to visit Uman, and visas were as often as not refused. Even when they were granted, it was forbidden to visit Uman unaccompanied, and certainly not to stay in the town overnight.
Reb Noson once said, Even if the road to Uman were paved with knives, I would crawl there just so I could be at Rebbe Nachman’s grave. For the most devoted Breslovers, visiting Rebbe Nachman’s Tzion was the dream of a lifetime. People resorted to all kinds of stratagems to get around the Soviet obstinacy, sometimes putting themselves at considerable risk to travel to Uman even without a visa. One of the main principles of Breslov teaching is that the obstacles to any holy goal are only sent in order to increase one’s yearning and determination to achieve it. How many prayers flowed forth in the endeavor to get to Uman! And they were answered. One way or another, there was a steady trickle of visitors to the Tzion. No where was this more evident than in the desire of the Breslover Chassidim to be by the Rebbe for the Rosh HaShanah kibutz (“gathering”).

The Kibutz
Every year Rebbe Nachman’s followers used to travel to be with him for Rosh HaShanah. Hundreds came for his last Rosh HaShanah in 1810. It was then that he made his strongest statements ever about the importance of coming to him for Rosh HaShanah. No one should be missing, he said, Rosh HaShanah is my whole mission (Tzaddik #403). Eighteen days later Rebbe Nachman passed away leaving his chassidim to ponder, among other things, why he had spoken so much that year about the importance of coming to him for Rosh HaShanah since he must have known it was going to be his last one in this world.
It was Reb Noson who spelled out what the Rebbe meant. Just as his chassidim had come to him for Rosh HaShanah during his lifetime, so they should in the future come to his gravesite. When Reb Noson arranged the first pilgrimage to the Rebbe’s Tzion in the winter of 1811, one of his main intentions was to impress this on the other chassidim. Hwever, out of the hundreds that had come for the Rebbe’s last Rosh HaShanah, only about sixty travelled to Uman the following year. Even so, this was enough to encourage Reb Noson to feel that the Rosh HaShanah gathering could continue, and indeed with each year the numbers grew.
At first the Breslover Chassidim would pray in the local synagogue. Within ten years, however, there were so many visitors that they could not all be accommodated there. Each year somewhere else had to be found to hold the services. Reb Noson used to make the arrangements, and it soon became clear to him that the only practical solution was to build a Breslover shul in Uman. The enormous costs involved made this an awesome undertaking, but by Rosh HaShanah 1829 Reb Noson realized he had no alternative. He feared that if Rosh HaShanah came and he was unable to secure a large enough place, the overcrowding would discourage people from coming, which might put an end to the annual Rosh HaShanah gatherings.
The next few years brought many trials: a succession of bitter winters, several serious epidemics which took a heavy toll on many Breslover families, and an armed conflict between Poland and Russia which made life precarious and travel for fund-raising nearly impossible. Yet despite the difficulties, Reb Noson managed to secure a suitable property, gained planning permission, purchased the necessary timber and other materials, and started building. By the summer of 1834 the Breslov shul it was known as the Kloyz was sufficiently advanced that it could be used for the coming Rosh HaShanah. Reb Noson purchased a beautiful Sefer Torah, books and everything else needed in a shul. He was overjoyed….
But the joy was short-lived. With uncanny timing, the forces of hatred against Breslov Chassidus, which had for years been simmering and fermenting more or less underground, finally erupted into open warfare. Antagonism to Rebbe Nachman’s teachings had always existed among those who found them too much of an assault on their own complacent attitudes. After the Rebbe’s passing, the opposition was directed against the Breslov Chassidim in general, but especially against Reb Noson, who was doing more than anyone to spread the Rebbe’s teachings. It was now unleashed with unmitigated fury. What followed was, unfortunately, not one of the finer moments in Jewish history. Reb Noson’s opponents denounced him to the Russian authorities as a false prophet whose activities were against the interests of the Czar and therefore treasonable. Reb Noson was promptly arrested, exiled to Nemirov, the town of his birth, and placed under house arrest.
A week before Rosh HaShanah 1835, Reb Noson secretly left Nemirov in the middle of the night to go to Uman. His hope was that if he was already there, his opponents might at least leave him in peace for the Days of Awe. Undeterred, they reported him to the authorities, and the night before Rosh HaShanah, the police arrived with drawn weapons in order to capture Reb Noson, who was led through the streets like a common criminal. However, due to the intervention of Uman’s leading maskilim, whom the authorities knew and trusted, and with whom Reb Noson had always maintained a relationship, a deal was struck permitting him to remain in Uman for Rosh HaShanah. Later, whenever Reb Noson would recall the suffering he endured to spend that Rosh HaShanah in Uman, he would say that it was more meaningful than any other Rosh HaShanah he had ever experienced.
With the steady spread of Rebbe Nachman’s teachings, the annual Rosh HaShanah gatherings attracted visitors from further afield. By the early 1900s people were coming from Poland and even from Israel, where the beginnings of a Breslov community were forming. Despite the hardships of pre-modern travel, Uman remained fairly accessible until 1917, when the Russian border was closed. The chassidim in Poland then started holding their own Rosh HaShanah gathering in Lublin, while the Breslovers in Jerusalem established another. In the 1940s Rabbi Avraham Sternhartz, a grandson of Reb Noson who had moved to Israel shortly before the war, started an annual gathering in Meron at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, author of the Zohar.
The violent repression of Jewish religious activity in Russia forced the Rosh HaShanah gatherings in Uman underground. Nevertheless, even after the Second World War, the few remaining Breslover Chassidim in Russia continued holding a secret Rosh HaShanah minyan in Uman despite the risk of imprisonment. However, with the shift of the Breslov movement to Israel and the U.S., the main Rosh HaShanah gatherings were those held in Israel. By the 1970s and ’80s the gatherings held in Meron and Jerusalem were each attracting many thousands, while smaller gatherings were held in New York, and later in Manchester, England.
The gatherings in Meron and Jerusalem were major events, involving a whole organizational infrastructure to arrange accommodation, meals and so on. The two days of intense prayer, communal eating, chassidic study sessions, song and dance created a unique atmosphere that made a deep impression on many who had never been in Uman and never dreamed that they would ever go. From time to time during the Rosh HaShanah dancing, a few people would sing the traditional Breslover song, Uman, Uman, Rosh HaShanah… But the idea of actually being in Uman for Rosh HaShanah was as laughable as Avraham and Sarah having a baby in their old age.
Yet they did! And so too the Breslovers came back to Uman in spite of the Iron Curtain! The draw of Rebbe Nachman’s Tzion never lost its hold over the imagination of the Breslover Chassidim. By the early ’80s more and more organized groups were traveling to Uman from the U.S., Britain and even Israel. The Russian authorities turned down all requests to arrange a tour to coincide with Rosh HaShanah they still wouldn’t even allow visitors to stay in Uman overnight but the Breslovers kept on asking… and praying…
And in 1988 it happened. After protracted negotiations, the Soviet facade began to crack, and the authorities finally gave permission for two hundred-fifty people to spend Rosh HaShanah in Uman. Even after agreeing, they kept on changing their minds, creating innumerable difficulties along the way. Nevertheless, by a miracle, it came off. Uman’s one and only hotel an old, shabby, delapidated building more like an army barracks was innundated with chassidim, who sang, danced and poured out their hearts in prayer, leaving the bemused locals to stare at the strange specter in total wonderment.
The following year, over a thousand people came. A large, empty factory site was rented some ten minutes walk from the gravesite. The production halls were hastily converted into a synagogue, dining hall and dormitories, and food was flown in from Israel. Elderly Jews who had lived their entire lives in Uman began stepping forward out of nowhere to join the festivities. The sight of so many of their emancipated brethren literally dancing in the streets finally convinced them that they could at last drop the paranoid attitudes which had perforce become second nature during the long years of Stalinist, Nazi and post-Stalinist persecution. By Rosh HaShanah 1990, the number of visitors had doubled to two thousand, and an even larger factory site was acquired two minutes from the gravesite. As Rebbe Nachman once said: Every year people say that previous years were better and times are not as good as they were before. But the opposite is true. God now directs the world better than ever (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #307) [/wpex]

Rosh Hashanna With the Tzadik

…Rosh HaShanah
Rosh HaShanah is an extraordinary day. When you add Rebbe Nachman’s unique flavor to it, the picture comes into sharp focus, enabling us to view the day with a new clarity. We suddenly realize that a Rosh HaShanah with the Rebbe is not one to be missed: it gives us a chance to tap into the intrinsic power of the day itself. And, with the Tzaddik’s help, we can get the most possible benefit opportunity awaits us.
To help put this in perspective, traveling to the tzaddikim is hardly a new idea our Sages allude to it in the Talmud. In the time of the Holy Temple, the shofar was not heard on Shabbos except in the Temple [where the Sanhedrin sat]. When the Temple was destroyed, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai instituted the custom of sounding the shofar wherever a bet din (rabbinical court the tzaddikim) convened (Rosh HaShanah 29b). Thus the custom of traveling to spend Rosh HaShanah with the tzaddikim goes back thousands of years. [wpex Read more]
That his followers should travel to him for Rosh HaShanah was one of the things Rebbe Nachman was most emphatic about. Although many other chassidim traveled to the Tzaddikim for Rosh HaShanah, there was no one who was as insistent about the matter as Rebbe Nachman (Tzaddik #23). He said, “My Rosh HaShanah is completely new. God gave me the gift of knowing what Rosh HaShanah is” (ibid. #406). Rebbe Nachman said that on Rosh HaShanah he was able to help people in certain ways that he simply was not able to the rest of the year (Tzaddik #406). He put so much stress on the importance of his Rosh HaShanah that he exclaimed, “My very essence is Rosh HaShanah!” (ibid. #403).

The Head
Yet before we can fully appreciate the meaning of Rosh HaShanah with the Tzaddik, we first have to understand a little of what Rosh HaShanah itself is all about what sets this day apart from the rest of the year. Rosh HaShanah literally means the head of the year. The year is like an organic entity, with a head, a heart, arms, legs and so on. The head is at the top the first day of the year. Just as the head directs the body, so too, one’s Rosh HaShanah will determine the outcome of the rest of the year. Thus, our Sages teach: On Rosh HaShanah it is decreed what will be at the end of the year (Rosh HaShanah 8b). Whatever takes place up till the very end of Elul, the last month in the Jewish calendar, was already decreed at its head, at the very beginning of the year.
Rosh HaShanah has an entirely different character than Pesach, Shavuos or Sukkos. It is the Day of Judgement. Our health, our wealth, indeed our very lives are at stake. In a sense, Rosh HaShanah is a repeat of Creation. In order to create anything new, there is always an element of judgment. What form should this new creation take? What will be best, taking all the different factors into account? Should we go ahead at all? Rosh HaShanah is no different. It requires, from God’s side, a new creation: a New Year. The year to come has not yet been, and needs to be brought into existence. Creation. Just as construction of a building requires a blueprint, so too, the construction of the year needs a specific plan. Just as an architect draws up the blueprints for the building, so is God the architect for the year. His plans are prepared and drafted on Rosh HaShanah. So Rosh HaShanah is not merely the first day of the Jewish calendar. It is the outline for the entire year. Aside from his many other considerations, Rebbe Nachman places paramount importance on Rosh HaShanah because he wants to impress upon us the significance of the head what we can accomplish if we attempt to begin the year properly and have our heads our thoughts in the right place. Therefore, Rebbe Nachman teaches: We must be wise on Rosh HaShanah we should only think good, positive thoughts: that God will be good to us and give us a good year, and that we will do our best to live the way we know we should. And, because Rosh HaShanah is associated with thought rather than speech, the Rebbe also counsels us to be very careful to speak as little as possible on the first day of Rosh HaShanah (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #21).

The Shofar
The Torah commands us to sound the ram’s horn on Rosh HaShanah. The Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, as well as all the later writings, offer numerous insights to explain the connection. Among those upon which Rebbe Nachman puts particular emphasis are that the shofar blasts sweeten the severity of God’s judgment (Likutey Moharan I:42), and that they arouse people from their spiritual sleep, preventing them from idling away their days (ibid. I:60). Hearing the shofar sounded by a man of true piety evokes awe of Heaven in the heart, putting extraneous fears and worries to flight and moving us to rejoice (ibid. I:5,3). Thus, when we include the blowing of the shofar by a pious person in the blueprint of our year, we can look forward to fear of Heaven and a joyous heart throughout the entire year.

The Honey on the Apple
We can see now that Rosh HaShanah is the day that the rest of the year depends on even the rest of the world. As the Rebbe said: “The entire world is dependent upon my Rosh HaShanah” (Tzaddik #405). So what is it that Rebbe Nachman wants us to gain from this day? Rosh HaShanah is actually a marvelous goodness to the world, and as the Rebbe teaches, God gave Rosh HaShanah out of great kindness (Likutey Moharan II, 1:14). When we begin to fathom the remarkable role that the tzaddik can play on this day, we realize why it is considered such a goodness and, in fact, presents us with a unique opportunity.
On Rosh HaShanah, all of creation comes before God to be judged (Rosh HaShanah 16a). We are judged for every act, every word, even every thought. If we truly believe this, we know that we have cause for concern. Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichov used to say, “When Elul comes around, I feel the fear in my shoulders” (Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Rosen).
So what are we to do? Repent! Yes, but if things are as bad as we think they are, what chance do we have? The charge sheet may be pages long. The credit sheet is at best so-so. Rebbe Nachman teaches that people should travel to the Tzaddik for Rosh HaShanah. Why? Since decrees pertaining to the entire year are issued on Rosh HaShanah, this is the best time to mitigate and sweeten any decree. But how can this be done? Each individual decree has a precise and specific way of its own to be mitigated. A decree can only be sweetened at its source found in a specific place in God’s thought (the Upper Wisdom). If we want to turn every judgment into compassion and kindness, we need to rise to each one of these sources individually. This is the concept of the honey in which we dip the apple, for traveling to the tzaddik is the means of sweetening the decrees for the entire year.
This is quite an undertaking for anyone, but Rebbe Nachman tells us that there is a level of Divine Wisdom where all individual wisdoms are merged in unity an all-inclusive Wisdom so exalted that it encompasses the sources of all individual judgments. Since all individual decrees ultimately emanate from this all-inclusive Wisdom, someone who is able to rise to this level actually has the ability to sweeten all decrees without having to mitigate each and every one individually. Certain outstanding Tzaddikim have this power, and this is why people go to them for Rosh HaShanah. Each person comes with his individual problems, his personal limitations, his own good and bad. The Tzaddik, because he can rise to the highest source, can take each constriction, each judgment and decree, and sweeten it, and thus kindness and compassion are aroused for the entire year (Likutey Moharan I, 61:6,7).
Rosh HaShanah is a day of judgment, when dire decrees can be issued against a person or his family, God forbid. Yet it also contains its own antidote against strict judgment. Therefore, even if a person fell short of what he should have been during the year, he has a chance, a good chance, to make amends and begin afresh. The New Year brings with it an opportunity for a new start, so that even if the charge sheet is indeed long, the seemingly impossible task of setting everything right can be made much easier by traveling to the Tzaddik. [/wpex]

Spiritual Preperations for Rosh Hashannah

Getting Ready

The practical business of getting to Uman can involve a great deal of thought and preparation, yet this should not allow us to neglect the spiritual preparations necessary for the Day of Judgment. Elul, the last month of the Jewish year, has an intrinsic quality that makes it particularly conducive to repentance, and the spiritual advances we make in this period prepare us beautifully for the Day of Judgment. [wpex Read more]
Cleansing. Getting ready for Rosh HaShanah is much like preparing to meet the King. Few of us today have had any exposure to true royalty, nor have we grown up with that sense of respect and reverence for kings and powerful rulers that previous generations had. Today our impressions of those who rule are all too often colored by the widespread scandals surrounding so many leading figures and our awareness of their true nature. This may make it difficult for us to imagine the awe evoked in a person who comes before a king. Yet we are not, of course, even talking about being brought before an earthly ruler. On Rosh HaShanah, we are brought before the King of the Universe, who will scrutinize us in profound and uncomfortable detail. We have to be ready!
One goes before a king dressed appropriately. The clothes a person wears and the way he wears them are among the greatest indicators of his personality and what he has made of himself. Just as we have physical clothes, so too we have spiritual clothes. These are made up of our thoughts, words and actions, which literally envelop our soul, giving exact expression to who and what we really are. Coming before the Almighty, our spiritual garments must be scrubbed as clean as they can be. The month of Elul is specifically the time when we concentrate our energies on cleansing our spiritual selves.
There is no more effective way to cleanse ourselves than through taking care about the way we speak. What we say, and the way we say it, accurately reflects our inner essence, because it is speech that expresses our da’at our mind and inner consciousness. Speech is the mother of action, since the way we articulate our inner thoughts and desires has a decisive influence over the things we do. Speech is the intermediary between thought and action. Thus the way we speak is an indication of the degree to which our lives are devoted to the holy. There are people who have made themselves a world where not a word they say concerns God. Their mouths are full of criticism, ridicule, cynicism and sarcasm, and they only have ears for similar talk from others. The exquisite Godliness which exists in all things remains hidden and unrevealed to them.
The one truth is the existence of God. If we can stick to the truth, and use our language to assert and reveal His presence, we thereby have an awesome power to channel Godliness directly into the mundane world we live in. Godliness can then dwell in the world. As a start, this can be as simple as making it a point, when something good happens to you, to acknowledge where it came from!
Hisbodedus. Thanking God for the good in our lives is one of the best ways to start a session of Hisbodedus the private prayer and meditation in one’s native tongue, that Rebbe Nachman advocated as the highest level of devotion. It is particularly important to set aside time for this practice during Elul. It can be a very rewarding experience to make a detailed list of all the things we have to be grateful for, from our health, strength, faculties, family, home, livelihood… to the mitzvos we have the privilege of performing every day… and the very fact that we are Jews, with a holy soul that will endure for ever. By focusing on the good and developing a positive outlook we put ourselves in a far stronger position to grapple with the evil within us.
Hisbodedus is the time to take a calm, honest look at ourselves to see where we need to improve. Changing entrenched habits can be difficult. The first step is to ask God to help. The essence of hisbodedus is simplicity to express ourselves to God in simple, straightforward language the way we would talk to an intimate friend. Shortly before Rebbe Nachman passed away, when he was seriously ill, his grandson, Yisroel, came into him. The Rebbe said: Pray to God that I should become well again. The little boy went aside and said: God! God! Let my zeida be well! The adults in the room started smiling, but Rebbe Nachman said: This is how we have to ask things of God. What other way is there to pray? (Tzaddik #439). Hisbodedus is the key to repentance: each session is a practical workshop in self-cleansing.
Study. Rebbe Nachman suggested to some of his followers to read through the entire TaNaKh (Bible) during the period from the beginning of Elul up till the end of Sukkos (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #251). The study of the Zohar and Tikkuney Zohar is also extrememly beneficial during this period: the very language used in these works is so holy that it has the power to motivate us to serve God. The same holds true of the teachings of Rebbe Nachman in his Likutey Moharan, The Aleph-Bet Book, Rabbi Nachman’s Stories and Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom (see Kokhavey Or, p. 77f #26,27). Some Breslover Chassidim try to go through all of these works during this period. Another important aid to repentance is reciting Psalms (Likutey Moharan I, 73).
Pidyon Nefesh Redemption. The day before Rosh HaShanah is a very good time for presenting a pidyon charity money given to the Tzaddik in order to redeem oneself in the eyes of Heaven and cleanse one’s soul (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #214). Nowadays, Breslover Chassidim give this redemption money to an elder of the community.
Our sages teach: On Rosh HaShanah, three books are opened; one for Tzaddikim, one for the completely wicked, and one for those in between. Tzaddikim are inscribed immediately for a good life, and the completely wicked for a bad life, while those in between are given time to repent until Yom Kippur (Rosh HaShanah 16b). Reb Noson writes: Those who are attached to the Tzaddikim are inscribed together with the Tzaddikim (Likutey Halakhot, Nezikin 5:17). May we all be granted this year and every year to be inscribed and sealed in the Book of the Righteous, Amen. [/wpex]

Difficulties & Obstacles; Encouragement & Advice

Uman Uman Rosh Hashannah
Rebbe Nachman’s Rosh HaShanah starts long before the first of Tishri. The Rebbe himself said that as soon as one Rosh HaShanah is over, he already started waiting for next year’s (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #215). But for most people, serious practical preparations start in the early summer. The first thing almost everyone has to confront is obstacles of one kind or another, whether from within themselves or from the world outside. This has been true from Rebbe Nachman’s time until today. Reb Noson wrote: “We learned how determined we have to be to break the obstacles that stand in the way of any holy action, especially the barriers against being with the Rebbe for Rosh HaShanah (Tzaddik #406).” It seems that the only way to receive the unique spiritual uplift that comes from being in Uman for Rosh HaShanah is through first having had to fight for it a bit. [wpex Read more]
This applies even to those who have already had a taste of an Uman Rosh HaShanah and who normally find it hard to imagine ever going anywhere else how much more does it apply to those who are contemplating going for the first time. Today the trip to Uman ought to be almost as easy as booking your tickets and packing a suitcase. Even so, while the collapse of the Soviet Union eliminated many of the obstacles that existed, others cropped up.
Few people are in the happy position of not having to wonder how to finance such a trip. One of the first things to do is to pray for the necessary funds… and then start saving! The Breslover Chassidim of old used to put aside a special savings box at the beginning of the year and add at least a few coins every so often. For those whose yearning to go is very strong, the necessary funds often have a way of appearing at the very moment when things seem most hopeless. Rebbe Nachman explicitly stated: “I have already made it my business to take care of the expenses of those who come to me for Rosh HaShanah (Siach Sarfei Kodesh 1-27).” Many today can testify to this as an actuality!
Another obstacle most people come up against is their sense of responsibility to their families, community and the like. Understandably, wives have always had great difficulties with the idea of being left at home with the children on this holiday. Yet it is important to point out that the husband, as in many other realms of Jewish life, is considered the family’s representative in the long term, the benefits from the trip to Uman are enjoyed by the rest of the family as well. As for the short term, Reb Noson once remarked: “It is one of God’s miracles that Yom Kippur comes right after Rosh HaShanah. This way, the members of the family have to forgive each other!” (Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Rosen; Siach Sarfei Kodesh 1-665).
Some people feel torn about the idea of leaving Israel in order to travel to Ukraine for Rosh HaShanah. From America, England, France or any of the other places in the Diaspora where there are Breslover Chassidim, this might seem logical enough. But to leave the Holy Land? Yet Rebbe Nachman taught that the holiness of the graves of the Tzaddikim is in the same category as the holiness of the Land of Israel (Likutey Moharan II, 109). “Thus, those who travel (from Israel) to the graves of Tzaddikim are actually traveling from the Holy Land… to the Holy Land!” (Rabbi Shmuel Shapiro).
Even after dealing with all the other issues, there may well still be a nagging voice inside that keeps saying, I can only get a good night’s sleep in my own bed… I won’t be able to eat the kind of food I’m used to… the davening will be so crowded… wouldn’t it be just as good to stay at home? Surely my kavanah in davening will be much better I won’t have the distractions of an unfamiliar place! These were exactly the points one of his followers put to Rebbe Nachman, saying he much preferred being with him when things were quieter. The Rebbe responded: “Whether you eat or don’t eat; whether you sleep or don’t sleep; whether you concentrate on your prayers or you don’t concentrate properly… just make sure you are with me for Rosh HaShanah”. Reb Noson adds: “All the distractions the man mentioned were purely imaginary. They were the promptings of the evil inclination because thank God it was perfectly evident that in the main people prayed with deeper concentration among the assembled chassidim on Rosh HaShanah than they would have done if they had prayed in their own home towns” (Tzaddik #404).
Every effort and sacrifice, large or small, that we make in our journey to the Tzaddik is precious. Two of Rebbe Nachman’s closest followers, Reb Yudel and Reb Shmuel Isaac, used to travel long distances to get from their homes to the Rebbe. At one point they wanted to move to the same region so as to be close to him all the time, and so they did. The Rebbe then told them he greatly missed their journeys to him. With every single step they would take on their way an angel was created. They said, But what about all our efforts and running before we finally hired the coach to bring us? They are also included, replied the Rebbe. Every one of those steps also creates an angel. Just before his last Rosh HaShanah in Uman, the Rebbe spoke about this again and said: “Oh to have the merit to see the clear, radiant light of the roads you travel to be with” (Tzaddik #291). [/wpex]