How to begin? I don’t know how to effectively put in words what I experienced and what I feel now but will try. These thoughts are a stream of conscious and might not be exact, specifically if/when quoting others, so please forgive me for any misrepresentations if they exist. Last please do not jump to conclusions about myself, Breslov, or anything represented below. The thoughts are incomplete and are not fully explained but rather words coming from a very private and personal place in my conscious.
First is a thank you to my wife for whom these words never could have been written. She sacrificed immense amounts of herself to allow me to be zoche to take this journey for myself and our family.
Emet. A word we are all deeply grappling with in a world of concealed darkness. How does one properly convey it? It’s only felt in the deepest recesses of the neshama. A feeling of pure joy and comfort that is perhaps a slight taste of Olam Haba ?
Many years ago I left my job for 4 months, sold my car to pay for my apartment, and went to Eretz Yisrael to attend Aish Hatorah then Bircas Hatorah in Jerusalem. I had hit a point in my growth of trying to become a Torah observant Jew. The only way I felt I could go completely over the edge was by going to Israel. I walked onto an El Al plane, put on my Kippah, and said “this is it; I accept the yoke of Torah”.
Baruch Hashem, many years have passed since then with much bracha in my life. A wife, children, home, etc. I have an amazing chabura, I found a Rav, and some friends. As my life moved forward though I have always been searching for a derech that fulfilled a lack of depth and/or completeness in Torah. As I keep learning more I feel I have always been lacking this depth. A depth that was so well described by my friend Binyomin in the following writing article titled “Going Down the Rabbit Hole” included in the sefer “The Ger After Geirus”:
“Over time, I learned how to learn Torah from the original sources, but there was something about the Gemara and Chumash (Five Books of Moses, i.e. Bible) that did not completely satisfy me. I often found teachings in the Gemara which screamed out to me that there was a deeper meaning to the text. As Rashi always says, “This verse says nothing but, “Expound me!” “
I look at a Gemara every day and many times ask myself “this is the word of Hashem, the deepest secrets are locked in these words, but I am blind and can’t see”. I would learn “pshat” and think, this isn’t “how far the rabbit hole goes!” How do I first get to the hole and then take that dive and reach the Emet my neshama is yearning for? In other words my neshama was just not satisfied.
It's always been how I have felt about depth. It's always missing for me but I know it's there. Depth here means trying to understand beyond a halachic discussion (I am not limiting the profound impact/need of the halachic discussion) the purpose of the spiritual meaning behind chazal’s statements. For example, in the third perek of Masechta Sukkah (I believe Daf “Mem”) a discussion exists on the effects of verbal declarations transferring kedushah shvi’it from one item to another for various purposes. There are of course major halachic ramifications but deeper one can see how chazal is pointing to something very deep and profound. Our speech could have the ability, in certain parameters, to alter the holiness of an object! Verbal frequencies could perhaps alter spiritual dimensions, WOW! Now to think about the opposite, in regard to Loshon Hara, and how speech can be so destructive. This is a another dimension of chazals words that, for me, bring full circle the halacha with one of many deeper and much needed dimensions.
When I opened Likutey Mahoran (more below) my Neshama said this is it providing the depth and nourishment needed completing this full circle of practical application of mitzvot and spiritual implications. I have felt this way to an extent from Nesivas Shalom and Shem Mishmuel, and recent Torah from R'Weinberger and specially R'Wolfson but there has been something about R'Nachman''s Torah that feels complete to me. A depth that reaches the pinnacle of Emet completing this circle of the practical with the spiritual.
For many reasons I have attended and listened to many shiurim by R’Weinberger of Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, NY. His teachings of Chassidus nourished me as many of us. This past year I attended the Hillula of the Aish Kodesh (listen here). R’Weinberger’s words that night reached a deep point in my neshama. A point that pushed me to understand what I really needed is Penimias Hatorah and that I shouldn’t be afraid of but rather embrace this need. I am ever grateful to R’Weinberger for speaking so openly and emotionally that evening. Your Torah that night, R’Weinberger, had a profound impact on at least one Jewish neshama.
The next morning I went out and purchased the first Likutey Moharan in English by the Breslov Research Institute (buy here). Breslov had a special place for me for many reasons including my late father in law R’Binyomin Chaim. I opened up the Likutey Moharan Sunday morning. It was the first time, since my first trip to Eretz Yisrael on Birthright and my later learning at Bircas Hatorah , I had felt such an exalted level of Emet. Emet equal to my first feelings that Torah was from Hashem. In other words, I felt I was truly reading the words of the Ribono Shel Olam. Who was R’Nachman and what was this sefer that opened my eyes to such exalted purity?
The need for Uman
Fast forward…I have been zoche to start learning R’Nachman’s Torah with a special and private Talmud Chocham and Breslov Chassid. I started learning more about the Baal Shem Tov, Chassidus, Rebbe Nachman, and even starting saying Tehillim daily. I knew about Uman and started asking questions. Why Uman? The answer was simple but hard to swallow, “Emunah in Tzaddikim”. If you believe in the emet of the Rebbe’s Torah then you need to have Emunah that when he says to come to Uman you go. The next several days were torturous for me. The questions I wrestled with touched many of the same questions when I was on a road to become a Ba’al Teshuvah. Do I believe or not? If I don’t believe what I am saying about Torah? About a Tzaddik? About Emet?
I asked my wife permission to go to Uman and she graciously said yes. I purchased tickets, found an apartment, and registered for events with Breslov Research Institute. What came next was unexpected but gratefully familiar. A wave of backlash, or knee jerk reactions from certain people as the news spread. “Uman? Oy Vey, what’s wrong with you?!” What I experienced was a similar reaction when I made the choice to become frum. A wave of disbelief, confusion, and even some hatred. This time around all of this came from Torah Yidden! I first became frustrated and then was filled with joy as I reflected on my years becoming frum. Why joy? Perhaps I had found Emet again as when I first started my journey to Torah but this time a Emet needed at my stage in my life/growth?
This trip was a physical representation of a spiritual journey. My anticipations were high. I was nervous to leave my family and more nervous of the unknown. Would this journey change my life? Was the sacrifice by my wife for nothing?
I am not going to chronicle a play by play of Uman. I could literally write a book on it. However here are a few experiences pertinent to share:
Erev R’H at the Tzion: I went to say Tikkun Klali, daven at the kaver, and bring prayers from others. A line was formed so you could go up to the kaver and briefly daven. A wave of emotion surged into me bringing tears to my eyes as I touched the kaver and realized I was about to fufill R’Nachmans ask to his followers to come to him for Rosh Hashanah. I have been to many holy places in my life. The only other time I have felt this wave of intense emotion was on Birthright Israel, January 2000, my first night in Jerusalem seeing the Kotel at night. It was what initially opened my neshama and propelled me to become frum.
Friday Night Shabbos: I went to the Kloyz. The main shul where thousands of yiddden daven. The singing was overwhelming but what made this Kabbalas Shabbos different was the level of simcha that I had never experienced before. So exalted and so pure. The reason? Achdus. All stripes all Klal Yisrael were holding hands and singing words of praise to the Ribbono Shel Olam TOGETHER. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I have seen. Perhaps a taste of the Geulah when hate will be abolished and we will look at our similarities rather than our differences in Avodas Hashem.
Shabbas Afternoon Shiur at the Breslov Research Institute (BRI) : R’ Chaim Kramer, the founder and head of BRI had a Q&A session. A question was asked why in Likuety Tefilos does R’Noson continually write about finding the True Tzaddik if R’Nachman is the Tzaddik Emet? Meaning, if we believe Rebbe Nachman is a True Tzaddik why is R’Noson continually writing tefilos asking to find the True Tzaddik? Is Rebbe Nachman not a true Tzaddik then? What’s the intent?
R’ Kramer’s answer as I remember it was deep and profound. He said (loosely quoted) “R'Noson was saying if you think you found the emet of R'Nachman you haven't. You need to keep searching for the True emet of him”. What R’Kramer seems to be saying was so powerful. What R'Noson is trying to convey, I feel, is that R'Nachman reached such an exalted level that he was bound to and one with Hashem, literally reaching the highest level possible for a physical body in this world. Therefore Rebbe Nachman’s Torah represents the closest translation we can have of the spiritual Pinemias Hatorah to this physical world. Therefore if you think the emet you feel now is the essence of Rebbe Nachman it’s not the pinnacle. The pinnacle is as deep as the Torah Hakadosh and therefore you need to daven to be bound to the deeper emet of the True Tzaddik to be zoche to reach the pinnacle which is attaining a understanding of Hashem at the highest level in our physical world. Yes deep and yes you might think I am crazy but it makes me take a deep breath every time and replay R'Kramer saying this and thinking of what R'Noson felt and who R'Nachman was and how we have no idea just how deep his emet is.
As when I started my journey to becoming a Ba’al Teshuvah and accepted the “Yoke” of Torah I realized how misinformed all my not yet frum friends were about the beauty of Torah. The Emet and how this Emet can bring such immense joy and purpose to our lives and the world.
Coming back from Uman I feel the same about Breslov and the attachment to Tzaddikim. While this statement is over generalized it’s clear to me how little knowledge frum yidden have about the true derech of Breslov. The Emet and R’Nachman. There is clear lack of knowledge which leads to ignorance and therefore leads to opposition and in some cases hatred. As with becoming frum, if you approach something with honesty and an open heart you will find the Truth.
While R’Nachman and his Torah might not be the derech for all yidden I finally feel that I might have found mine.
I only wish everyone reading this is zoche to bind themselves to a Tzaddik and his Torah that speaks to their neshama. The Tzaddik Emet that is/ was zoche to reach the highest levels of understanding while limited to a physical world. Through binding ourselves to our unique Tzaddik we can then be zoche to see the Emet of Hashem brought down to a level meant for our physical world.
Gmar Chasima Tova.
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