Uman: The Dog or the Lion?
By Harav Lazer Brody Shlit”a – Rosh Hashana 5770
Just as in the holy of holies in the Beit Hamikdash, travelers to Uman must be forewarned that one can encounter both proverbial dog and lion in Uman…
Our sages teach us that the Evil Inclination resides right in the heart of the holy of holies of the Beit Hamikdash, our holy Temple in Jerusalem, just as the good and evil inclinations reside side by side in a person’s heart. When a sacrifice was pleasing to Hashem, the image of a lion came down in a flame from Heaven that consumed the sacrifice on the altar. But, when a sacrifice was unworthy, the image of a dog would be come down in a similar pillar of fire, and its flames would lick the sacrifice. In other words, right there on the holiest place on earth, the epitome of holiness and its dark-side counterpart were side by side. The image of the lion and the image of the dog descended in similar pillars of fire that originated in the same place.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, the “Ramchal” of saintly and blessed memory, explains that the above phenomenon is necessary to preserve free choice – wherever there is holiness, there is also an equal and opposite force of unholiness. Without equal forces, one would be coerced to do good or bad. Within the framework of coercion, then the concept of reward and punishment becomes meaningless.
Uman has the attributes of the holy of holies. From one standpoint, it was the site of one of the greatest sanctifications of Hashem’s name in history. In 1768, only four years before Rebbe Nachman was born, the evil Cossack leader Gonta and his henchman attacked the Jews of Uman. The Jews that weren’t slaughtered in the fierce hand-to-hand and house-to-house fighting were told that anyone who passed under a certain canopy in front of the church would be spared. But, in order to do so, one would have to prostrate oneself before the cross. Not a single man, woman, or child of Uman’s 33,000 Jews agreed to do so, despite the fact that parents were slaughtered in front of their children and children were brutally maimed in front of their parents, all becoming holy martyrs.
Uman is also an aspect of “holy of holies” in that it is the eternal resting place of Rebbe Nachman, who yearned to lie among the martyrs.
Just as in the holy of holies in the Beit Hamikdash, travelers to Uman must be forewarned that one can encounter both proverbial dog and lion in Uman.
We certainly want a “lion’s share” from all the expense, preplanning, and dedication that it takes to make the trip to the holy kibbutz (gathering) of Breslever Chassidim in Uman on Rosh Hashanna. Nobody wants their trip to go to the dogs. In a nutshell, a person must be on strong spiritual guard in Uman, guarding his time, his eyes, and his tongue. One who guards all three will certainly reap all the benefits that the holy pilgrimage to Uman has to offer, including a soul correction for oneself, one’s spouse, and one’s family. Let’s see how:
Guarding one’s time
Time flies in Uman. You never seem to have enough. One of the Yetzer’s (evil inclination’s) biggest ploys in Uman is to rob you of your time. The Yetzer tells you to have long conversations with people, and all of a sudden you either haven’t slept all night or else you’ve awoken late for prayer services.
Don’t get trapped in all the outdoor carnivals in the days and hours before Rosh Hashanna. Uman is not the place to do your duty-free shopping either, for the locals are just waiting to rip you off. If you want to bring home gifts, bring home books and CDs that you’ll find from all the major spiritual guides of Breslev in a tremendous and beautiful assortment. Don’t forget that while you’re roaming around outside, inside the Kloiz are back-to-back Torah lessons from Breslev’s leading rabbis, right there in one place! It’s Heaven on earth, great preparation for Rosh Hashanna praying, and like collecting diamonds off the sidewalk.
Rebbe Nachman said that our Rosh Hashanna eve is like other people’s Rosh Hashanna. Why? Uman is a teshuva factory. But, to be part of the unbelievable personal prayers and teshuva that takes place by Rebbe Nachman’s gravesite on Erev Rosh Hashanna, you must be there praying, saying Psalms, speaking to Hashem, and actively doing teshuva. You can’t be out on the street talking to your buddies from Miami.
Each minute in Uman is therefore a diamond that must be guarded carefully.
Guarding one’s eyes
Even in the short walk from your lodging to the mikva, the Kloiz, or the tziyun (gravesite), if you open your eyes, there will be an abundant assortment of forbidden images that get right in your face. Once again, wherever the lion is, the dog is right there too.
The best way to guard one’s eyes is to stay in the confines of the tziyun, Kloiz, and immediate areas and avoid the locals and their part of town like you’d avoid a plague.
Guarding one’s speech
The Yetzer tries his best to stir up dissension among people in Uman. The rule of thumb is to use your speech for holiness. Don’t get drawn into aimless discussions, and beware of people who try and lure you into badmouthing other groups, rabbis, or people within Breslev. This is none other than the Yetzer trying to get you to say derogatory things about others, which will enable him to say derogatory things about you on Rosh Hashanna, G-d forbid. Whatever you do, guard your tongue and don’t fall into the Yetzer’s trap.
By devoting every spare moment to more prayers, more Torah study, more teshuva and more hitbodedut, your lion will defeat the dog and you’ll be inscribed in the Book of Life for a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year, amen!