Sep 18, 2006


It is that time of year again. Right before Rosh Hashana signs go up all over Israel's shuls offering flights to Uman. There is even a Breslav philanthropist who subsidizes tickets for people who have never been there before.

What is Uman? Uman is a town in the Ukraine. It is the "home" of the Breslav hassidim and the burial place of the Breslav Rebbe, Rav Nachman (of Na, Nach, Nachma, Nachman M'Uman fame). His hassidim, students, fans and those looking for a spiritual boost or just an interesting or good time make the pilgrimage to his grave for the holiday prayers. It is supposed to be (according to Breslav Hassidim) a special "segula" to having your tefillot answered, as supposedly Rav Nachman promised that people who pray by his grave would be answered with his help in bringing the teffilot to Hashem.

Interesting factoid - Rav Nachman died at the young age of 32! He accomplished a tremendous amount of Torah and teaching and writing and achieved greatness by the young age of 32. I am 34 and have pretty much accomplished nothing (other than writing sometimes interesting posts on a blog a few people read). Treppenqitz posted today an interesting factoid noting a similar discrepency - Hertzl died at age 44 having accomplished much writing and thought and having laid the blueprints for a modern Jewish Israel. Check out his interesting post (in the sidebar in my blogroll).

Anyways, back to Uman.

Now is the time of year Breslav Hassidim are in a high. They are going to visit their Rebbe. Many non-Breslavers go as well. I have one friend going with his wayward son, hoping it will bring a bit of a spiritual boost to his son. His son is psyched about going and I hope it works and invigorates him.

I have a friend who is a Breslaver Hassid. I asked him if he is going to Uman this year. He said of course he is, as he does every year. I asked him if Rav Nachman really meant everybody should come to his grave. Was Rav Nachman really intending for his followers to leave Israel to pray at his grave or maybe he was telling his followers living in the Ukraine to come to the grave, never intending for hassidim in a later time living in Israel to come back? His response was even from israel. he told me that Rav Nachman was very clear in writing and giving over that all the hassidim, wherever they are, should daven by his grave. He then told me that Rav Nachman even wrote that Mashiach himself, when he eventually comes to us, will leave Israel to pray by his (Rav Nachman's) grave. I never heard that before and thought that was very interesting.

Rabbi Lazer Brody wrote an interesting piece and linked to an article from a Breslav website about Hassidim going to Uman and how their wives deal with being left alone with the kids for the holiday. It was a very interesting piece and you should check it out (Lazer Beams in my blogroll), to read about another aspect of going to Uman.

A friend of mine told me that somebody he works with will not ever consider going to Uman. She told him, her father barely escaped from Uman during the holocaust. She told him the town had an extremely vibrant and large Jewish community and they were decimated by the local gentiles in the holocaust. She considers it a shonda that people go there now and pay big money to goyim who killed the original residents of the town and stole all their belongings. That people should have to pay many hundreds of dollars for beds in houses that were originally Jewish but stolen during the holocaust by goyim is not even a consideration in her mind.

Having asked a Rabbi what his thoughts were on people leaving Israel to pray by the grave, this was his response. He was not dealing with the issue of going to a grave to pray, he was only dealing with the issue of leaving Israel for this adventure and whether there is something to it. He said that in hassidic thought the average person is not considered worthy enough to have his prayers answered affirmatively by Hashem. It is only by attaching oneself to a Rebbe, someone of great stature who is worthy and has the power to move heavens, that one has a chance of having his prayers accepted. Therefore many hassidim travel around the world to daven with their Rebbe, so their prayers will make the trip to hashem bundled with the Rebbe's prayers. That is why Breslaver hassidim go to Uman - so their teffilot which on their own might not be worthy will be bundled with the multitudes of other teffilot and the push of Rav Nachman and make it to Hashems ears.

There are a number of aspects of going to Uman for the holidays and nothing I said should be taken as a psak halacha one way or the other. It is food for thought and if you are interested in going and are unsure whether it is appropriate or not, you should speak to your own Rav to clarify the issues.


  1. That's interesting, didn't know that before. Thanks!

    And I'm sure you've achieved heaps, just look carefully... it doesn't necessarily need to be on such a famous scale!

    Shana Tovah :)

  2. that's right rafi - you have accumulated piles and piles of.....

    ok, just a little joke from your older bro.

    but, I learned a long time ago, stories like r'nachman and other books about gedolim are cutesy, feel good books. but when you look past the basics, situations were very different. backgrounds, basic skills, pressures were all factors. While the gemorrah tells us that in shomayim, god asks us, why we didn't accomplish, were you poorer than hillel or busier than ?(oops - forgot the name). At the same time we must remember we are us, not hillel nor anyone else. We must accomplish what we can, not what R' moshe or someone else did. B"H, you have smicha in shechita and Y"D, a beautiful mishpacha, a job, and much else. You are also alive longer than 32 years old. accomplishments are based on the individual, for the individual.

    modesty is nice, but insulting yourself isn't. (see chofetz chayim re: loshon horah about ones self)

    kesivah va'chasima tovah.

  3. shaya,

    my memory isn't so great but I think it was "buisier than Yosef?"

    Rafi... nice to see you count your blog as a more loft and worthy accomplishment than your kids.

    As for the praying....I think the lady with the holecaust touched a nerve. More than the issue of paying the goyim, once you allow for the possiblity of intercession in the natural world by outside forces, you need an answer as to how the holecaust was.

  4. dan -
    1. I left out some examples, there were more than the 2 I listed.

    2. I don't think "outside forces" bring questions to the holocaust, I think the holocaust brings it's own questions. I have no problem asking how and why such a thing took place. What I accept is that whether or not there is a god - there is no way to justify what happened, therefore, my faith in god is not shaken because there is no better answer, and it's easier to accept that god had a plan (however strange it may be) than to say man did it on his own and that man can really be that evil all by himself. as well, that so many did nothing but watch.

    getting back on track - sorry for the tangent - throughout judaism we know that praying for help thru an intermediary is common e.g. kever rochel, mi'aras hamachpeila, various gedolim sites, etc....

  5. schaya, rafi, and danny -
    im surprised none of you asked this question -
    doesnt everyone come back from the dead when moshiach comes?
    how/why would the moshiach go and daven by an empty grave.

    also, hes the moshiach for christs sake!!!(haha) you'd think our holy savior would already be at the level. flying on eagles and kickin ass he'd kind of have a direct line to god, dont u think?

  6. shaya and Dan - I was joking with that comment, not self-flagellation. Don't worry, I am not depressed...

    questions like that do not bother me. There are no real answers that are satisfactory and thinking about the question does not interest me.

    Meier- good point. I asked him a similar question (not exactly the way you put it, but similar) and he did not have an answer other than o say that is what Rav Nachman wrote.. so I did not bother including it in the story, as it added nothing...

  7. schaya - when i was in yeshiva i researched the issue of praying by the kever because the idea bothered me. it's a huge machlokes rishonim. some say its pure avodah zorah.

    the ones who permit it say that you are not allowed to talk to the dead guy. the idea is that the place has kedushah, not the soul. like at the kotel you would never ask the wall to daven for you. simply being in the spot makes some wormhole in the spiritual universe wrapping your tefilos in bunker busters and plowing them through the heavenly gates.

    praying THROUGH an intermediary is very not-Jewish.

    rafi - dont get too down. R.Nachman was born from the BESHT's daughter - Udele. when he was born he was basically taken away from Udele and sent to learn under the gretaest scholars of the time.
    and to be blunt, i dont think he was so great. no one understands his writings and he writes that if you think you do, you really dont. so why not teach something that people can understand?
    also, the meditation from breslov is extremely unguided and leads people to "jump high enough to try and catch angels" another very new concept.
    also, he had his talmud - R. Natan - burn most of his writings. seems strange to me that he found a heter to burn holy writings.
    and one more rant - where does hassidus get off telling the masses that they arent good enough without a rebbes intervention. the gemorah says davening with a minyan has more power than davening with a live tzaddik, let alone a dead one. it also says that a single teardrop cleanses the slate. also, it says teshuva can only come from within. sounds like another power trip. and you know what - originally hasidus didnt transfer from father to son. the Besht gave power to the Seer of Lublin who then gave power to the Noam Elimelech. it went from wisest to wisest. not father to son.

  8. meier - all good points. Let me add that the Rav I spok ewith compared that hassidic thought to davening with a minyan. He said a person on his own might not be worthy, but when he attaches himself to a tzibbur, his teffilot have more power and likelyhood of going farther...

    about father to son transference of rebbe-hood, a rebbe (albeit an American rebbe) once told me that in his dynasty which is very branched with numerous rebbes, there are so many rebbes because some anscestor left in his will that every male descendant should be a rebbe. The idea (maybe it was clearly written in the will I do not remember or maybe just explained) was that if the child is a rebbe it is less likely he will go "off the derech"..

  9. How did someone with a Litvish background become a Breslover mouthpiece ?

    Are there not enough tzaddikim in Eretz Yisroel to daven with, if someone desires that ? Are Avrohom Yitzchok and Yaakov at the meoras hamachpeila chopped liver that people prefer R. Nachman and Uman to them ???

    Why should so much money be wasted for such a narishkeit ? Is it because to some people the more outlandish something is, the more attractive it becomes ?

    The fact is that Breslev is a very controversial sect, which was strongly opposed by various Chassidishe Rebbes. It is thought of as being way out.

  10. anonymous - I am yekkish, not litvish, though my yeshiva career is litvish... I am not being the spokesperson for Breslav. I was simpoly pointing out a very popular event that is ahppening right now and mentioning some of the issues involved.
    I do not support going nor am against going. I think, as you do that it is a waste of time and money and there are better places to daven, but I recognize that other people think differently..

    One does not need Chassidic Rebbes to know that Breslav is pretty far out. Just watch a few of them dancing in the middle of the Ayalon highway one day and you will know for yourself...

  11. I am relieved now - at least somewhat - after reading what you just wrote. ;-)

    However, I question your characterization of it as 'a very popular event'. How many people actually go ? The percentage of people going - even from the frum world alone, kal vachomer from yidden bichlal - is actually quite small (and some have their trip sponsored and don't have to pay for it). If, for example, 1.5% of frum Yidden go there this year (I don't know the actual figures, that's just a guesstimate which may not be too accurate) does that qualify it to be classified as 'very popular' ? I think it's more like a pretty small group that just seems to be pretty vocal and demonstrative about their going, thereby giving the impression that it is more popular than it actually is.

  12. If 10,000 people buy the New Avraham Fried cd, does that make it popular? Yes it does, because the Jewish amrket is very small.

    Uman qualifies in my book as being popular, and at least if not popular you must agree it is a matter of interest to many...

  13. You have a point.

    However, one person who buys an Avraham Fried tape can mean that many more people listen to it (e.g. his whole family in the car), and the music is played on the radio. So if ten thousand recordings are sold, rest assured that additional thousands listen as well. There is something like a multiplier effect.

    On the other hand, with regard to a trip to Uman, only those who actually physically go will be there. Only one person can fly on each ticket.

  14. Shaya,

    My point was simply this: if praying by R'Nach createsmiracles then why were his followers wiped out?

    As for God designing the holecaust...well given that god frequently demands that his followers (in this blog 'jews') kill children I have no problem accepting that God designed the holecaust. I accept your logic.

    I personally disagree for numerous reasons. Here are a couple. #1, I'm an atheist. One reason (among many) for my atheism is that I refuse to recognise a god who demands we kill children. But, as an atheist I am forced to accept that man has the capacity for amazing good and terrible evil. I focus the blame where it belongs. Hitler had enough help without god on his side.
    #2, The holecaust was monumentally evil, but so was what happened to the blacks in Africa by the english and the armenians by the turks and the north koreans in the last two decades and the australian aborigonees and the kurds and the mayans and the incans etc. So if god designs holecausts then he is not very picky as to which people he decimates.

    As for prayer in general, some time back on my own blog I posted an article on the scientific study of the old wives tale of prayer helping the sick. When examined under scientific standards the conclusion was that there was absolutely no difference between the prayed and unprayed groups.

    Maybe the parents of the kids god demands we kill should also pray...we can have a slugfest and see which god can kill more kids.

  15. dan

    a- your joke at the end reminds me of a joke. A batter gets up to hit, and as most do, crosses himself. The pitcher looks in, crosses himself, and yells, "there, now what"!!!

    b- god killing children is only a problem morally if you are setting your own moral standards. But considering that if you accept that what god does is correct, then under the guidelines that he tells you, killing children is moral. (yes, your argument becomes - but the nazis said they were only following orderes too). we may not understand it, I have a terrible time accepting it, but it is. YOU decided killing children is immoral. That's you holding god to your subjective standards. It happens in nature everyday. A lion takes over a new pride by killing the leader. The FIRST thing the new boss does is kill the cubs from the pride that he did not sire. some animals eat their own young. some do not. which morals of nature are you guided by? your morals are judeo-christian in nature, but then contradicted by the fact that sometimes what you feel is terrible is allowed.
    There are many frum-oriented blogs that have beat this subject of morals to death, with no clear resolution. I will not attempt to provide one here because I am upset, confused, and puzzled as well. But as you rejected god because your "questions are not answered, and you have contradictions, yet you became an atheist with it's own set of questions and contradictions. ok - good for you. Scientists are no better than rabbis when it comes to playing god. they are political animals as well, and manipulate data and research to support a hypothosis, rather than determinig the truth. Einstein did everything he could to try to destroy the reputation and careers of the 2 young scientists developing the the proof of something smaller than an atom - the quark. Only because it showed he wasn't the end-all.
    True science is like true torah, it's out there, but impossible to find, too many chefs.

    for those reading this mostly boring repartee:

    Rfai, Dan, and I are all close brothers. we obviously have somewhat slightly :) different opinions, but we remain close. I hope for the new year, other frum people can learn from the example (the good ones at least) that our father set for us - "No matter what road yo choose, you are family"! Do not let your issues destry you. It was good advice and I cherish the relationship we have, while pitying those families who chase away siblings who don't conform. While rafi and I are restricted/guided by halacha and may not participate in everything, no one gets offended or insulted and we can regularly behave like biys and kick the snot out of each other, and still be friends. (ask rafi about his tackle basketball games we play, even kids are fair game - danny is that morally ok? lol).

    kesivah va'chasima tovah!!!

  16. sorry all - one thing he didn't teach me was how to type and proof!

  17. Shaya,

    the difference is however, that what a lion does is amoral. What a human does may or may not be moral. Meaning this: Humans claim that we are part yet distinctly seperate from the animal kingdom by our self-awarness/concousness (and opposable thumbs. When a lion kills the cubs of its 'enemy' it is following a normal and natural instinct. If a human leader orders the death of children to prevent future rebellions that follows the same natural instinct;self-preservation. However, while I can readilly accept man's behaviors The issue of morality enters when one claims that it is a mitzvah to kill kids as opposed to saying I am killing these kids for self-preservation.

    And in one case you can hold a man responsible for the choices they've made and in the other they are following moral law. Hamas claims they are following god when they kill. Is the only difference between orthodox jews and hamas the name of their gods?

    As for atheism/secularism having its own issues to deal with; absolutely. However, here is an important distinction: When one believes in god, you accept that existence and that dominion and all must fit into that heirarchy. An atheist, on the other hand, hears a theory and says ok, what evidence do we have to support that theory. Is it a proven theory, like gravity or the existence of earth before 6000 yrs or is it an unproven yet strongly supported theory like global warming or is it just a theory with no supporting evidence like god.

    So if someone says to me there is a god my response is the same as if they say that aliens created life on earth, nice theory do you have any supporting evidence. You can't disprove that which has never been proven. The way an issue is argued is that one side presents their case and the other side deconstructs their case or presents alternate theories which are better supported. There exists as much evidence proving god as there exists evidence that aliens populated the planet.


    Have a happy and healthy new year.

  18. and if you get on the court you better be prepared to step up...I don't care that the kid "accidentally" wandered into our game. He was at least 5 and old enough to know better.

  19. I think the kid was 6 and he was pretty rough himself... he deserved everything he got!!!

  20. what about the old man you abused? - I mean he almost died right there in the driveway - clutching his chest! - Are you commanded to kill the old people as well as the kids?

  21. me - that old man was playing, so if he was not fit enough to take the beating it is his own fault!


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