Breslov writings have always spoken to my heart & soul, even though we are not Breslov chassidim.
I would even like to go to Uman myself to say Tikkun HaKlali at Rebbe Nachman's grave site.
On the other hand, I also had questions about leaving Eretz Yisrael for Uman to daven Rosh Hashanah by the kever (grave site) of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.
(Like, if you want to spend Rosh Hashanah in a holy place, then what's wrong with the Kotel or the grave sites of Rachel Imeinu or Rebbi Shimon in Meron? Why davka Uman?)
Likewise, it's not clear whether Rebbe Nachman included those living in Eretz Yisrael in his directive to spend Rosh Hashanah at his grave site in Uman.
In fact, some Breslovers conduct a special gathering in Eretz Yisrael for Rosh Hashanah.
(For more on this, please see Rav Itamar Schwartz briefly discussing the issue here: question.bilvavi.net/blog/2021/10/09/uman-rosh-hashanah-5782/)
At the same time, I cannot deny the powerful experiences many encounter during Rosh Hashanah in Uman.
(A really absorbing compilation of the most extraordinary of these experiences can be found in The Stolen Light.)
Fortunately, one of my teenagers went to Uman for Rosh Hashanah this year (2021/5782), so we received a lot of insight into the whole dynamic.
Swept along by the Spirit of Rosh Hashanah with Rebbe Nachman
But never this one.
Yet around 3 weeks before Rosh Hashanah, he suddenly expressed a desire to go to Uman.
My husband & I offered to help him financially (even though he was working & could manage it), but we didn't think the trip would work out. After all, he didn't even have a passport.
But he simply started the process & it was so weird how things went.
Obstacles kept popping up, then immediately evaporate.
For example, the only appointments left for passports were after Rosh Hashanah.
Fortunately, a friend's mother worked at the passport office in Ministry of Interior, and she offered to help.
Unfortunately, she ended up not being able to get him an appointment.
Fortunately, there was another way to do it at the airport (a couple of weeks before the day of departure).
So he and his God-fearing motorcyclist friend got to the airport & waiting on line until the early morning hours.
Then just before his turn, they stopped accepting one kind of payment & only accepted a kind of payment he didn't have with him. (Can't remember which way it went, but it was credit card vs. cash).
He quickly said Rebbe Nachman's Tikkun HaKlali, and literally the turn before his, they decided to accept his form of payment.
"Rabbeinu was with me," said our son later. "Rabbeinu helped us."
My husband and I looked at each other. Did this kid just say "Rabbeinu"?
(Rabbeinu — our rabbi — is how Breslover chassidim refer to Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.)
They managed to get a flight with a 4-hour stopover in Turkey. (This was ridiculous because the flight was well under 2 hours from Eretz Yisrael to Istanbul & then again from Istanbul to Kiev.) But no direct flights were available at that point.
I was concerned because he gets headaches & dizziness when he doesn't eat properly & regularly, plus he doesn't like fruits or vegetables, which is all there is to eat for kosher food outside Jewish centers.
(But he ended up being fine from beginning to end, baruch Hashem. Lots of siyata d'Shmaya.)
A week before the flight, he came down with a cough. And travel regulations also necessitated a covid test.
"I'm sure it'll come out positive," he moaned.
I thought so too.
Then he didn't get the results back on time. So up until the day before he needed to leave, we didn't know if he could actually go.
His flight was around midnight Saturday night and he only got the results back Friday afternoon.
And the test came back negative.
So off he went with his God-fearing motorcyclist friend and a few others to Uman, via Istanbul & Kiev.
The English-reading night-course he'd been taking came in very handy as he ended up being the only one in his group who could read or speak English.
Terrific Turkish Airlines
Or maybe by now, they're simply used to all kinds of Jews traveling between Eretz Yisrael & Kiev at this time of year.
For example, the flight crew told the passengers the plane would only take off in another 40 minutes.
So one of the Breslovers decided that was a good time to daven Shemoneh Esrei.
And he was right.
Rather than standing during the flight or blocking a passageway, it's better to utilize the delay time on the ground.
Except that...the flight suddenly got bumped ahead & take-off was happening in another 10 minutes.
How often does that happen, that you end up taking off much EARLIER than announced?
The flight attendant tried very nicely asking the Breslover to take a seat & belt up, but he didn't even seem to hear her amid his lofty davening.
So my son nicely explained to her what was going on & approximately when the guy would be finished.
Unlike the American airlines making headlines in recent years, not one flight attendant yelled at or attacked the unwitting Breslover, nor called the police to have him removed.
They adjusted to the situation, the Breslover finished & sat down, and then the plane took off without further ado.
On all my son's Turkish Airlines flights (4 in all, round-trip), the flight attendants showed a lot of sensitivity & accommodation toward the Uman-bound passengers, most of whom did not speak English. (My son ended up translating a lot.)
All the Uman-bound passengers were nice, but just did not always understand what was going on.
And yes, we later wrote a letter to Turkish Airlines praising them for their excellent service & outstanding flight attendants.
Also, the atmosphere was extraordinary.
And back home, we could actually feel it!
I know that sounds weird, but we felt that a close family member in Uman uplifted our Rosh Hashanah back in Eretz Yisrael.
I guess it's the soul connection.
Not only that, but our son managed to get right up against Rebbe Nachman's tomb on the first day and say Tikkun HaKlali several times for each of us.
Because everyone else around him was davening at the top of their lungs, singing at the top of their lungs, and dancing for all they were worth, my son felt perfectly comfortable shouting each word of Tikkun HaKlali at the top of his lungs.
He is usually a pretty reserved fellow.
But that is the power of Uman: a certain spiritual liberation, a certain freedom of expression.
Anyway, it takes a long time to say 10 Psalms in that manner, but he felt great every moment of it. And he did it several times.
Ukrainian Culture & Covid Tests
He also adapted well to the Ukrainian mentality.
For example, while using an ATM machine, which he'd set to English, everything suddenly reverted to Russian.
And he could not extract his credit card.
At that moment, a Ukrainian man passed by, so my son asked him for help.
After scanning everything, the Ukrainian claimed he didn't understand it either, and prepared to go on his way.
So my son handed the man 5 Ukrainian hryvni (60 agurot/19 cents). And suddenly, the man understood how to work the ATM!
He extracted my son's credit card with no problem.
Who knew understanding could be bought for only 5 hryvni?
My son also learned one should not look any of the numerous patrolling Ukrainian soldiers in the eye. If you do, they immediately ask you to empty your pockets & search you for contraband. Or whatever.
His cough subsided somewhat & immediately upon coming back to Eretz Yisrael, another mandatory covid test came back negative.
Then his coughing stopped completely, and yet another mandatory covid test given a week after his return came back positive.
"I don't get it," I said. "Now that he davka feels good, he's sick?"
(That is a story for another time.)
Some Insights Gleaned from the Whole Saga
- Rebbe Nachman's Promise
Before he passed away, Rebbe Nachman called upon 2 of his close disciples to witness a special vow:
"If someone comes to my grave, gives a coin to charity and says these ten Psalms, I will pull him out from the depths of Gehinnom. It makes no difference what he did until that day, but from that day on, he must take upon himself not to return to his foolish ways."
While the condition about refraining from returning to "foolish ways" goes lost on many, the promise itself proves undeniably compelling.
This is a strong pull for anyone serious about self-improvement & feels genuine concern about what will be with him in the Next World.
- What's so special about Uman?
Uman is a place where you can let it all hang out, spiritually.
You can shout prayers at the top of your lungs, sing out, dance in the streets, and so on.
Any inner joy you feel can be expressed freely at any moment, with no embarrassment or any other kind of restraint.
No repression whatsoever.
Total freedom of spiritual expression.
No one looks askance at you for praying with loud fervor or for singing religious songs & dancing in the street.
Religious emotion experiences complete liberation.
This means someone like my son, a generally more constrained & quiet fellow, can access the heart in a way he never could before.
This also means you're never bored in Uman.
For example, there are always people dancing in the street. So if you feel bored at, say, 2:43 in the morning, you can simply get up and go join the guys already dancing there.
Another appealing aspect of Uman (which connects to the unbridled spiritual expression) is the unconditional acceptance of every Jew there, regardless of how he looks or his flaws or background.
You can go there as you are with all your issues...and feel comfortable.
And yes, this "anything goes" attitude enables unfitting behavior too.
There is always a downside to any good thing.
Klippah (spiritual impurity) always seeks to attach itself to holiness & spiritual purity.
But for someone who wants the truly spiritual experience particular to Uman (especially around Rosh Hashanah), that truly spiritual experience is terrifically accessible & almost impossible to access anywhere else.
- What is so special about Rosh Hashanah in Uman?
Because of the atmosphere described above, the davening ends up being an unparalleled experience.
It's much longer than at most other shuls around the world, but the atmosphere makes it exhilarating so you don't feel like, "Oy, this is so long! When do we get to eat already?"
Even guys who don't generally like davening or who don't even make it to a Shabbat minyan regularly find themselves heading out to daven with anticipation & then davening every single Rosh Hashanah tefillah with gusto.
Like my son said, there is nothing like answering Kaddish with 20,000 (more or less) others shouting the same words at the same time.
Think about it: It's praising Hashem with one heart & thousands of voices together.
Also, because it's Rosh Hashanah, everyone is more or less in the same frame of mind, which contributes to the whole atmosphere.
- The Reality of the Post-Rosh Hashanah Uman-Attendee
Here was the big chiddush for me:
I realized, despite many compelling stories to the contrary, one should NOT expect a person to do teshuvah in Uman.
Even after Rosh Hashanah in Uman—and even though Rosh Hashanah is all about self-transformation & renewal at the deepest levels.
Miracles or salvations?
I've personally known people who found a shidduch after davening by Rebbe Nachman in Uman or claimed to be cured of a disease.
I personally experienced spiritual "lifts" or little salvations when people davened for me in Uman—even before I knew they did it.
But for someone do actually do teshuvah in the way we think?
Well...listening to my son list all the people he met in Uman got me thinking.
Some of the people were in a good place spiritually speaking, and some were not.
Of the ones not in such a good place spiritually (and whom I knew from their better days), many had been to Uman before, yet remained in their less spiritual state (as far as appearances go, anyway).
Furthermore, I've known people taken as boys to Uman by their fathers, and who went to Uman as teenagers or older, and they either didn't stay so frum. Or they aren't frum at all. Or they even went to jail for some offense or another.
I'm not saying that's the majority—it's NOT!
But it seems the experience of Rosh Hashanah in Uman is the experience itself, and not any visible long-term imprint on the person himself.
Meaning, we all know tons of people who did teshuvah after:
- visiting the Kotel (that happened to me)
- spending Shabbat amid Orthodox hospitality
- listening to a Torah class
- attending a Torah class
- attending an Orthodox seminary or yeshivah
- reading a Torah book
- coming to Eretz Yisrael
- getting mentored by a caring frum individual
- seeing authentic frum behavior (kiddush Hashem, good frum Jews living their normal frum lives, etc.)
But we often don't know people (whether already frum or secular) who made a huge long-term change in themselves after Rosh Hashanah by Rebbe Nachman in Uman.
Come to think of it, I also don't know anyone who did teshuvah after davening at Kever Rachel Imeinu in Beit Lechem or Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron.
Again, it's important to differentiate between:
- having prayers answered
- self-transformation/improvement (teshuvah)
I asked my husband & sons about this too.
(That sounds pretty narrow, but my sons are all different from each other with access to different crowds in society, plus my husband knows lots of different people around the country.)
One of my sons used to hang around with Breslovers & even went a couple of times to daven with the Breslov sunrise minyan in another city (courtesy of his friend's father who drove them there at around 4 in the morning).
And they all said the same thing: They also never met anyone who did teshuvah after davening by Rebbe Nachman in Uman.
So what does that mean?
Are the stories true?
If someone says they did teshuvah, they made a long-term change in their middot or lifestyle after davening by Rebbe Nachman...I believe them!
But I realize now that it's rare.
If it was something likely to happen, we'd know at least one person who did it.
But we don't. (Hopefully, you do. But we do not.)
Why is that important?
Because I wanted to go to Uman myself & send others there for purposes of self-transformation.
And I know others desiring the same.
And now I realize the intended purpose probably won't happen.
Again, it COULD happen. It occasionally happens to others.
But it probably won't & people should realize that before they invest so much time & money into it.
If a person wishes to go Uman to get prayers answered or for a heightened spiritual experience, then that's a very good reason.
Answered prayers & heightened spiritual experience are likely to happen during a visit to Rebbe Nachman's kever.
And that's a good enough reason to go. (Or to send someone.)
But not teshuvah.
Uman, Uman, Rosh Hashanah!
I would love for all my sons & my husband to experience at least one Rosh Hashanah in Uman.
There's profound value in extremely heightened davening, especially throughout such a critical time of the Jewish year.
Like I said, we could feel it back in Eretz Yisrael because we had a son/brother there.
The achdut & achvah & chessed & joy permeating the atmosphere (both emotionally & practically), plus the unparalleled opportunity for unfettered spiritual expression & truly accessing the heart (which Rav Schwartz says in harder for men than for women — and this is exactly what Uman gives men)...
...that is extremely precious.
And such powerful davening will always stay on a person's cheshbon, no matter what.
It stamps an imprint on the person's soul.
No matter what, he'll always have that spiritual heart experience in his portion, with all the reward & benefits that entails.
And I think that's very valuable & worth it.