A furor erupted over Prime Minister Netanyahu’s admonition to the pilgrims visiting the gravesite of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, located in Uman in war-torn Ukraine. During Sunday’s cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister stated that, “Israeli citizens who are traveling to Ukraine need to bear personal responsibility at this time. G-d did not always protect us, not on European land and not on Ukrainian land.” [emphasis mine]
As the last non-hassidic rabbi of the last non-hassidic synagogue in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn, I was invited on many occasions to join the hassidic pilgrims fromSatmar, Belz, Pupa, and of course Breslov, spending Rosh Hashanah in Uman. I always politely declined and here is why.
To the anti-Zionist Satmar hassidim that were running to visit Uman, I asked a simple question: why did Reb Nachman ask his disciples to visit his grave davka – specifically - on Rosh Hashanah? What was so significant about that date? They had no clue; they knew only it was a “chassidishe” thing to do, so, leaving their families behind for the holiday, they flew to Uman to pray at the shrine without question.
By way of background: Reb Nachman (d. 1811) was a great-grandson of the founder of the hassidic movement, the Ba’al Shem Tov. On his deathbed, he asked his disciples to visit his grave on Rosh Hashanah. In deference to the request of this holy man, tens of thousands of hassidim make the pilgrimage every Rosh Hashanah. Now, however, in the middle of the Ukrainian counter-offensive against Russia, this pilgrimage is particularly dangerous, and it was to that point that the Prime Minister was referring.
Perhaps here is what Mr. Netanyahu should have said: The reason that Reb Nachman asked his disciples to visit his grave on Rosh Hashanah is that he held that day as a personal holiday, his personal private Yom Tov. For you see, it was on that day in 1798 that his ship arrived in Akko, and the date of his arrival in Eretz Yisrael warranted a special celebration.
It is perhaps ironic that the anti-Zionist hassidim flock to Uman for what is essentially the most Zionist of reasons.(Except, of course, that being religious and anti-Zionist means being against the founding of a Jewish state before the arrival of the Messiah, while Religious Zionists believe that building the land is the way to achieve Redemption, but the dispute has nothing to do with loving the Land of Israel itself.)
Mr. Netanyahu should have said: In the age of the Geulah Shleimah, the Ultimate Redemption, the proper way to honor Reb Nachman’s memory is to celebrate Reb Nachman’s Aliyah on Rosh Hashanah in Eretz Yisrael, at our ONLY shrine, the Temple Mount.
Shanah Tova; may this year be sof v’ketz l’chol tzaroteinu, bring an end to all our troubles and travails, Amen.
Rabbi Mizrachi is the author of the recent book: Holistic Judaism: A Radical Rethinking of Our Service to Gcd and our Fellow Man in the Messianic Age. Available on Amazon.com and Kindle. He can be reached at [email protected].