Refreshing the soul, with Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.
The last few days, I was really feeling the heat allegorically and physically.
My landlady has been telling me since last Summer’s 43o heatwave that you ‘don’t feel the heat’ in Jerusalem – but of course, she’s wrong. And since L’ag B’omer, I was sitting in my house slow roasting along to constant 40o plus heat for weeks already – and I was starting to crack.
Then there was all the ‘regular’ madness if you can call it that. So much to do every day, so many chores to take care of, so much stuff on the boil, personally and nationally.
So I told my husband: we need to go to Uman for Shavuot.
Despite our lack of cash, he borrowed some money and made it happen, God bless him. Then there was another wrinkle in the plans: women weren’t allowed in the Kever for the whole of Shavuot. Did I mind? Of course, yes I did. But I had to get there one way or another, so I made up my mind to have a different sort of Uman trip, minus Rebbe Nachman’s actual grave.
The hotel was understated but quite nice, quite quiet (relatively…) food was simple buy yummy. I had three whole days to try to get my head in order. There was yet another ‘wrinkle’ in the plans, inasmuch as we made plans to head out to Uman the same night that Rabbi Berland then called his atzeret in Hevron last week.
So, we figured we’ll go early to Hevron stay for half an hour, then bomb it back home, try to catch some sleep for an hour a half, then roar off to ben Gurion. In the meantime, there was another wrinkle in that plan, too: when I got home at 11pm Thursday night, it turns out one of my kids needed some urgent help to get her bagrut art project done and turned in on time.
So (long story…) I spent two hours sewing body parts together for 18 felt dollies, before spending 10 minutes packing my case like a madwoman, before departing for Uman.
Obviously, our taxi man didn’t show up in Kiev. Or rather, he did, but just not where we were expecting him, so we had to spend an hour combing the carparks to find him.
But when we actually got to Uman it was nice. Like, pretty much almost ‘normal’ – which was so weird to me, I spent the first day and a half trying to work out how to react to it. Usually, I hit Uman and I get the massive stomachache, the massive challenge, the massive insight, the massive something…. This time, nothing massive.
This time, just lots of walking around and around Uman itself, as I couldn’t get near the Kever and I couldn’t stay in a hotel room for 3 whole days without going totally bonkers. So I discovered all sorts of back alleys and new places in Uman that I’d never been to before, and certainly never by myself.
On Isru Chag, I decided to spend the day walking around Gan Sofia.
In the past, I’ve seen extending walks around Gan Sofia as something only ‘lightweights’ do, instead of pulling all-night prayer sessions by the kever, but as the Tzion was still barred to womenkind, it struck me as just the thing to pass the time. I spent the best part of a day just walking under trees that were three storeys high, bathing my eyeballs in luxuriant green and Victorian water features, and felt so very lucky.
Hey, there’s something to this, after all….
Walking back from Gan Sofia, I got some insight that Rabbenu’s grave is very chazak spirituality – so chazak, it can and does fry people’s brains out of their heads, sometimes. In our spiritually-dead days, most of us need a jolt like that, an electric shock of kedusha like that, to try to get the soul back from its flat-lining position.
But this time around, I also got why Rebbe Nachman used to request that his followers also visit Gan Sofia when they come to Uman, too.
Gan Sofia is total gashmius – the polar opposite of the intense kedusha that is the Tzion.
But we need both, in order to serve God properly.
But in the correct order and dosage, i.e. first the spirituality, and only as an after-thought or a dessert, the gashmius and materiality.
Second day in, I had this amazing dream that Moshiach is coming into the world next week.
I woke up in a really good mood, and it seemed like a ‘real’ dream to me. I needed that good vibe, as I came home to a tip.
We let a teenager have the house with her friends, and one of them managed to shatter the shower door all over the bathroom floor. There’s no milk in the house, they’ve moved all my stuff around…
But I got another ‘message’ from Uman this time around, which was to shower my teenagers with as much love and compassion and understanding as I can, whenever I can, because in this dark generation, unkind words can just propel our children straight into the clutches of the tumah, God forbid. So I kept my temper and didn’t go off into rant mode.
The world is very hard to ‘be’ in at the moment, especially if you’re trying to put at least some focus on kedusha and God.
The filth is literally seeping in under the doors and through the walls. It’s permeating the atmosphere and degrading everything it comes in contact with. It’s hard to continue, some days. It’s hard to think straight. It’s hard to pray.
Before I went to Rebbe Nachman in Uman, current events had made me feel more than a little despairing about being able to raise my children in anything like a ‘healthy’ spiritual environment. We’re in a little bubble here in Jerusalem, but even here, the cracks are starting to deepen and the tumah is seeping through.
There is a relentless and effective ‘war’ being waged against the soul, and against kedusha, and against God, especially by the media. It’s claiming so many casualties, it’s truly frightening to witness how fast the moral fabric of the world is unravelling.
Which is where Rebbe Nachman really came in to his own.
Torah is eternal. Tzaddikim are eternal. Mitzvot are eternal. The Jewish people are eternal.
Even though the battle for the Jewish soul is currently very intense, if we stick close to our true tzaddikim like Rebbe Nachman and Rabbi Berland, they will act like spiritual bulwarks, absorbing and deflecting most of the ‘cack’. So somehow, us and families can come through the fighting unscathed.
But without that bulwark?
I dread to think.
You might also like these articles about Uman: