People ask: why go to Uman? Why go out of Israel? Can't you do all that stuff here, by the Kotel, or in Hebron?
The answer is yes and no. Some stuff - like talking to God, and spending time at holy graves trying to strip away all the lies and obfuscation about what's really going on in our lives can of course be done in Israel - and everywhere else in the world!
Taking the time to actually go and visit these places, and to actually spend some serious time talking to Hashem about our lives, is of course not so straightforward, especially in the time of i-Phones, when 'staying connected' to people and the news takes precedence over really staying connected to our own souls.
What can we do - it's a huge test, and one that I also fail in sometimes.
But there's something that happens in Uman that just doesn't happen anywhere else. First, there's Rebbe Nachman's promise that whoever comes to his grave, recites tikkun haklali and gives a coin to charity, Rebbe Nachman guarantees he will move heaven and earth to get that person out of Gehinnom.
Gehinnom can also be this life, right now, and all the suffering all of us have to contend with on a daily basis.
No other tzaddik has ever made that promise, and that promise alone is enough to make the trip to Uman - with all its expense and frustration and time commitment - the most worthwhile thing you will ever do you in your life. Unless you are a tzaddik gomor (complete tzaddik) you WILL be spending some time in Gehinnom, and it's good to plan ahead and to do whatever you can to make that process a bit easier and faster.
(And if you think you are a complete tzaddik, let me explain gently that you're fibbing to yourself, because complete tzaddikim don't read other people's blogs, even great ones like this....)
So that's the first reason.
- The modern orthodox couple who came back to thank Rebbe Nachman for showing them last time around that they were completely caught up in their own lives, and being 'selfish'. This couple left Uman after their first visit last year, and started an organisation to try to bring more people from different backgrounds together in Israel. The man said he never realised how 'inwardly focussed' he was - in not such a nice way - until he got to Uman.
- Someone else on the trip who was overweight explained how she'd suddenly got a powerful insight that she's fat because she's scared of life. She's been on every diet on the planet, unsuccessfully, and this insight clearly blew her away. Sure, now she has a lot of work to do to try to 'raise' her fears back to Hashem, but to know what the root of the problem was an enormous breakthrough for her.
And of course, some examples from myself and my own visits over the years, where Uman showed me clearly:
- When I was being an arrogant 'religious' phoney, who (wrongly...) thought I was better than other people
- When I wasn't as bad as I thought I was, and that everything was really going to turn out OK
- When I needed to make some big changes in my life, including moving home, letting go of poisonous ideas and unhealthy people, or spending my time focussing on particular areas of life that I'd neglected without realising.
This time around, I got two clear messages from Uman about what I need to be doing with myself and my time, and also, that my biggest thing to work on is GRATITUDE.
Part of the reason I've been moaning so much about my straitened circumstances is that I've been missing all the amazingly good stuff God has packed me life full of. I'm so grateful that I live in Israel, that my kids are growing up as frum Jews, that my husband can walk in the street with tzitzit and payot swinging, that the Kotel is 15 minutes away from my front door, that I'm around people who are REAL, and who aren't scared to admit that they sometimes feel like the biggest losers in the world.
(It's a post for another time, but one of the speakers on this trip was a very successful, frum, Israeli filmdirector who gave a whole bunch of classes on how she feels like a loser so much of the time, and how to deal with that problem spiritually in a healthy way. Who would ever dream of saying something like that publicly, in anglo circles? Apart from yours truly....)
Of course, being grateful is work, BIG work spiritually. I have my work cut out for me, as it really, really doesn't come easily, which is why I've been ignoring it for years. But in Uman - whap! Rebbe Nachman shoved it right in my face and I couldn't run away from myself.
As though to underline that message, the first email I opened just now was this one:
There is no such thing as coincidence.
I have seen this happen so many times, it's not surprising any more, but it's still exhilirating. On this trip, there was an Israeli man who'd spent the last year and a half going from one party and dance 'festival' to another, completely disconnected from his Yiddishkeit.
Then, at a German week-long festival that was held in some Bavarian forest, a German non-Jewish girl gave him a copy of Rebbe Nachman's stories in Hebrew, and insisted he translate it for her. A few months' later, the guy was back in Israel, and trying to keep the Torah to the best of his ability. He came to Uman with his girlfriend (who had a nice 'bull ring' pierced through her nose) - and man, they were the most 'lit up for Hashem' people there!
Where else except Uman do you find people with multiple piercings and tattoos discussing deep ideas about Torah and Hashem like they'd spent the last 20 years in a beit midrash in Meah Shearim?
Answer: no where else.
There's more to say - there's always more to say. But it saddens me so much that so many anglos still haven't given Uman a try. I've been going 8 years, and I'm still the only anglo on my trip.
Each time, I come back knowing that without Uman, and without all the insights I get about myself there, and all the help I get to face up to my inner issues, I would be in such a huge, enormous mess spiritually.
And so would my kids. And so would my husband.
So ladies (and any gentlemen reading this....), please book your trip to Uman!
Yes, it's scary, frustrating, time-consuming, expensive, difficult, full of mesirut nefesh to go.
But the rewards?
The rewards are SO big, especially if you're grappling with all the inner demons so many of us have that we can't seem to 'slay' any other way.