S.H. came from a wealthy family of lineage distinguished by great tzaddikim.
His wedding took place in Russia.
But then something happened.
As Rav Bender described it:
...he was not successful in the match and it did not end up well.
He was someone very sensitive with a great mind and she was not at all compatible for him.
As a byproduct of the match breaking, he had an awful fall from Yiddishkeit.
Yes, the destructive nets of the Haskalah & Reform movements reached everyone, including the Jews in Uman—and yes, they sometimes reached an innocent Jew via a secretly corrupted spouse.
Furthermore, some opposition to Breslov specifically also chafed in Uman at that time.
But it's not clear what exactly went wrong with this shidduch or what specifically the girl did that ruined this boy so badly—especially without any Internet—only that it clearly ended in an early divorce.
Rav Bender continued:
It is impossible to describe the change that occurred in that young man.
Even though a heart of fervor for Hashem Yisbarach burned in him, but on the other side of the coin, he was subject to terrible deterioration...
And Rav Bender knew him very well.
In addition to all the good Rav Bender did, he & his family also hosted around 20 guests for Rosh Hashanah in Uman each year.
The guests came from all over & comprised tzaddikim along with other good Jews devoted to Hashem.
(After Rav Bender came to Eretz Yisrael in 1949, he recalled those Rosh Hashanah meals with great fondness, struggling to describe the inspiration & sweetness of the intense spiritual pleasure experienced by everyone there.)
This ruined young man also joined Rav Bender & the special guests.
There, Rav Bender remembers the young man participating in their holy discussions with "words that fired up hearts for Hashem Yisbarach" and "Passionate words that shook all hearts"—everything accompanied by a "fervor and inspiration that is hard to describe."
Immediately upon parting from this lofty group & unparalleled spiritual experience, the young man turned into a completely different person the moment he stepped out the back door of Rav Bender's home, leaving Rav Bender musing:
But the great wonder is how one person was composed of two opposite people.
For he only left the back door of the house and he already turned into someone else. Someone in danger each moment, rachmana litzlan...
Nor did the young man ever figure out how to get rid of this "dirt."
So the young man, due to his high level of self-awareness, remained trapped in this terrible conflict raging within.
(And yeah, I still don't understand what his kallah did that caused all this, but the aftershocks clearly had a lot to do with the innate sensitivity of the young man; it seems that, paradoxically, a less sensitive young man could have recovered himself more easily.)
Rav Bender recalled how this young man prostrated himself over the Tsiyun (grave site) of Rebbe Nachman, screaming to Hashem to "take him out of the depths of the klippos that he had fallen into.":
"I'm burning alive!" he cried from the roar of his heart.
"I am burning from what happened to me. I feel as if a fire burns within me. As if a flaming angel stands on my heart and is ready to burn and consume me alive..."
And Rav Bender always believed in the young man's sincerity.
He confirmed how everyone knew how much this young man's heart "burned for his Father in Heaven"—from the side of his yetzer tov.
As Rav Bender stated:
But it was also known how he was in a state of constant dreadful battle.
And in a war, you get hit...
Rav Bender further described what they witnessed of the young man:
He would prostrate himself on the Tsiyun with such screams and roars:
"Save!!! Ratavit!!! Save, save — I am going to be burned alive — ah!"
So that was S.H., whose source was holy and pure from elite lineage, great righteous Rabbis.
And what an end—Gevald!
The whole saga sounds bizarre to us today.
Actually, I think it was also out of the ordinary for back then too, and probably part of the reason why others sometimes viewed Breslov with wariness—because the Breslover tzaddikim were willing to accept people on any level, and especially if people sincerely struggled to work on themselves, regardless of how often failure occurred.
The Breslovers also displayed a certain acceptance of extreme emotion—as long as it was used in service of Hashem.
For example, if screaming like a raging warrior in the throes of death on the battlefield was what the person needed to do as part of his spiritual inner work, then the Breslov tzaddikim were like, "Well, if that's what it takes...then that's what it takes. To each his own."
What's interesting about all this is how although Rav Bender himself did not relate personally to this level of struggle, he was nonetheless able to accept this young man's level of struggle.
Yes, Rav Bender was certainly familiar with spiritual struggles & the challenge of undesirable middot, but not to the extreme of this young man's struggle.
He described the response of himself & the others who witnessed this young man's raging inner conflict:
Nevertheless, despite the tremendous fall that he went through, they did not look at him with eyes of judgment.
Rather they judged him favorably and did not chalila offend him.
Everyone knew of the strong fire that was raging inside of him and they learned a merit on him.
For this reason, he was left in his Jewishness.
He could easily have severed all connection to Torah—as many did in those days—but instead maintained a connection to Torah & mitzvot by virtue of his connection to the Breslov community & his attempts to do teshuvah.
And the community's ability to give him the benefit of the doubt & refrain from mocking or deriding him allowed him that connection.
When Things aren't What They Seem
Let's start with a more subtle insight.
Without knowing what exactly transpired to corrupt the young man, a major reason why his fall proved so severe & ultimately irreparable (the young man apparently never managed to rectify himself before the Nazis came) was because of his innate sensitivity & purity.
A less sensitive person may not have fallen so far or so irreparably.
While modern psychology acknowledges the existence of the Highly Sensitive Personality, this label exists without the awareness of sin vs. mitzvah, and morality vs. immorality.
(Furthermore, even within the Highly Sensitive Personality, gradations exist—with some people being highly sensitive and others highly-highly-highly sensitive.)
Modern people probably look at the story above and label the young man as "neurotic" or "OCD" or a whole host of other labels—possibly accompanied by recriminations against the Breslov rabbis for not reassuring the young man or getting him psychological help.
Yet they did not intervene because Rav Bender makes it clear (without going into details) the young man was indeed sinning terribly AND knew it.
The young man came from a strong & knowledgeable Torah background that did not allow him the luxury of deceiving himself.
So from the outside, the young man looks like he's an innately a lowly person—possibly even Erev Rav—and it looks like his fall merely reveals the innate badness that lay hidden within him all along.
But really, his extreme "hypocrisy" & contradiction developed davka BECAUSE of his innate sensitivity & original purity of soul.
This lies in direct contrast to how he appeared on the outside.
Certainly, some people who act out such extreme contradictions reveal a very real & hidden facet of their personality all along.
But not always.
Sometimes, it's the sensitive personality that exhibits the most extreme behavior.
It's the soul whose pristineness suffers severe stains & cannot deal with the stains & filth, agitating against the tumah as one agitates against thorny burrs or a swarm of inescapable hornets.
Even today, experts (both rabbis & mental health workers) understandably struggle to differentiate between an actual mental health issue and the inner struggle of a particularly sensitive person whose level of sensitivity & self-awareness do not allow them the level of complacency found by others.
So that's one lesson.
(It also seems to me the extremity of the young man's fall should be emphasized by who surrounded him. He dwelt among people on the stature of Rav Levi Yitzchak Bender, Rav Eliyahu Chaim Rosen, and Rav Avraham Chazan—among other great Jews—plus his own Torah knowledge & strong connection to teshuvah & prayer...yet despite all this support & effort, he never managed to extract himself from his fallen state.)
The Secret to Success is in the Struggle, Not the Outcome
And to emphasize: SINCERE struggle.
The paradoxical idea that you can achieve success without ever experiencing success?
I think this idea only exists in Judaism.
Without having carried out a survey of all other belief systems on this particular issue, I can't say for sure...but I think so.
For example, the awareness of the wrongness of stealing or murder exists in other belief systems.
All cultures institute laws against such transgressions (how ever they define stealing or murder).
But the idea that you actually succeed as long as you sincerely try—that you can earn a place in Heaven simply by sincere effort without any actual visible accomplishment?
I think that's only found in Judaism.
Just as a non-Chassidish example, we have a Q&A with Rav Itamar Schwartz regarding a sin Judaism counts as one of the most severe for men:
If a person has a struggle with Shemiras HaBris and he davens a lot about it and sometimes even cries about it to Hashem, but he keeps falling in this area, will he merit the Geulah (Redemption) if he hasn’t yet fixed these sins by the moment the Geulah arrives?
Especially because there are sources that say that only people who are shomer the bris (people who are careful in the area of Bris Kodesh) will merit the Geulah.
If one tried very hard all of his life in this area, and he also suffered because of it, he is not disqualified from the Geulah.
(last question on last page of the PDF)
Internalizing this belief can save a person from falling into despair & giving up completely.
At the same time, the attempt to wrap one's mind around this idea slams into a formidable wall for nearly everyone because it goes against the entire attitude of our surrounding cultures.
Yet the belief that struggle IS success is paradoxically the secret to success—and to meriting Redemption & a good place in the World to Come.
We can leave off with the words of Rav Akiva Rabinovitz as quoted by Rav Ofer Erez in Ahavat Kedumim, page 170:
Hakadosh Baruch Hu holds absolutely no hakpadah [strict condemnation] against a Jewish person who possess evil traits and lusts.
Hakadosh Baruch Hu does not come in accusations about this since He implanted these within him, and He brought us down here for this purpose.
The hakpadah occurs when the Jewish person does not strive to seek out the path and the counsel as to how to get out of [those evil traits and lusts].