Right before Rosh Hashanah in Uman, this year, I heard a story that still gives me the chills when I think about it. It is a story that can help anyone to believe in the power of the famous tzaddik, Rebbe Nachman of Breslev.
Rebbe Nachman made a bold promise that no other tzaddik ever made. He said that for any person who visits his gravesite (even once), gives a penny to charity, and says the ten special chapters of psalms that he selected, he would rescue that person from the fires of hell.
On a scale of one to ten, what level of certainty did I have in the Rebbe's promise?
Admittedly I did not have the same level of certainty in the Rebbe's promise that I had in certain natural phenomena, for instance that the sun will rise and set every day - I believed that with perfect certainty.
It began at 5:30 am on erev Rosh Hashanah. I knew that face. It was my old friend from Monsey, New York - Mendy Wurtzberger. Following the morning prayers, as we walked through the street together, there was a steady stream of people greeting Mendy warmly with utter amazement on their faces.
Feeling a bit lost, I asked Mendy what was going on. He said that something miraculous had happened to him in the last two weeks and that the story had gone viral on the web.
What Mendy proceeded to tell me over a cup of coffee is nothing less than the most amazing modern day Uman story that I've ever heard. There are a number of versions of this story going around; but I heard this one directly from Mendy - so it's the real deal.
Mendy was a successful businessman. He ran a huge plumbing company that had a contract with a Wall street firm. When the firm went belly-up about five years ago so did Mendy's business. It was about that time that someone gave Mendy the idea of spending Rosh Hashanah at the gravesite of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev in the Ukraine.
Prior to coming, Mendy received a phone call from a troubled cousin who said asked if Mendy could meet with a young man from a very religious family who had strayed very far from his Chasidic roots. The young man was married to a woman whose story was similar to his own. Neither of them had had any connection to Torah Judaism for fifteen years.
Good natured Mendy agreed and struck up a friendship with the young man. Since Mendy was heading to Uman in the hope of a blessing from the tzaddik to re-establish his business, he decided to take the young man with him. Reluctant at first, ultimately the young man acquiesced and accompanied Mendy on the arduous journey to Uman.
Mendy told me that the young man did not observe the Shabbos that preceded Rosh Hashanah that year but on Rosh Hashanah itself, he saw him spend the entire first day at the tzaddik's gravesite under his tallis (prayer shawl) pouring his heart out in heart-felt sobbing.
But when they returned to New York, nothing seemed to change for either Mendy or his young friend. Mendy's business situation only worsened, and the young man went back to life as usual apparently unaffected by his brief spiritual awakening.
Eight months later the young man was found in a Florida swimming pool - dead.
There were many more details that I cannot relate here, but this is how the story continued:
It was the day of the funeral somewhere in a religious section of Brooklyn. Mendy was there. He said that a heated controversy ensued between the young man's wife and his religious brothers. The wife wanted her husband to be cremated. The religious family wanted him to be buried according to religious law and tradition.
He was buried.
What surprised everyone, however, was that the deceased left behind a hefty life-insurance policy which his wife now used to bring lawsuits against the chapel, the Rabbi and her late husband's family.
In court, her attorney argued that her husband had not been living the life of a religious Jew for more than 15 years. The other side argued that this didn't matter - he was born a Jew and he had a right to die and be buried in the ways of his ancestors.
The case went to a Jury trial and schlepped out for more than two years. In the end, the decision fell to a non-Jewish Black judge.
About three weeks ago. Mendy was approached by Lazer Shiner, another quiet tzaddik in this amazing tale. Reb Lazer Shiner is the undisputed King of Hachnosis Orechim, (hospitality to guests). Over the years, "Shiners" has given out probably more than a million delicious meals - free - to the guests of Rebbe Nachman at Uman.
Rebbe Nachman has a penchant for quiet unassuming types who say little and do a lot of good. During my ten years in Monsey, I prayed literally five feet away from Reb Lazer Shiner and during that entire time, I had no idea how world famous he was for his massive chessed (literally: kindness) operation in Uman. Like Mendy Wurtzburger, Lazer Shiner was also picked by Rabbenu (our teacher Rebbe Nachman) for a star role in this amazing saga.
About three weeks ago. Lazer Shiner asked Mendy Wurtzburger what he was doing for Rosh Hashanah this year. Mendy said that he wasn't doing anything special. He was staying home. Lazer Shiner couldn't accept that. He said, "C'mon Mendy, I'm inviting you to Uman this year. I want you to be my personal guest."
"Nothing doing," said Mendy. "I've been there and done that. I was in Uman four years ago - Uman didn't do anything for my livelihood." Mendy continued:
"THE ONLY WAY THAT I'M GOING BACK TO UMAN IS IF REBBE NACHMAN HIMSELF INVITES ME!"
Within 24 hours of Mendy's tongue-in-cheek request that nothing short of a personal invitation from Rebbe Nachman would be enough to get him to Uman - the following occurred:
Mendy Wurtzberger was in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn at the time. He walked into a restaurant for lunch. As he went to sit down he saw a group of religious looking men sitting at a table. They were extremely solicitous towards Mendy, inviting him to sit down with them.
He recognized them as the brothers of the young man who passed away.
Mendy could not understand the great warmth with which he was being received by the brothers. They were showering praise and honor upon him from deep within their hearts.
"What did I do?," asked Mendy innocently. "I tried to help your brother. I'm just sorry that, in the end, it didn't work out."
They said to Mendy, "What are you talking about, 'you tried to help our brother?,' haven't you heard what happened?"
Obviously Mendy hadn't heard the end of the story.
Back in court, it was now up to that Judge to decide whether the young man should remain in the ground or be exhumed and cremated at his wife's request. According to Jewish law cremation is strictly forbidden and can delay or prevent a person from ever receiving his eternal reward.
Then the judge asked a brilliant question.
He said: "I am not a Jew, but I know that Rosh Hashanah is the day of Judgment for the Jewish people. TELL ME ONE THING - WHERE WAS THE DECEASED ON THE LAST ROSH HASHANAH OF HIS LIFE?"
Of course when the Judge was told that he had been in city of Uman, this alone didn't mean much to him. But when the Judge googled Uman he saw a large gathering of religious looking Jews. The Judge also saw the Rebbe's promise posted at the top of the page:
"For anyone who visits my gravesite (even once), gives a penny to charity and says the ten chapters of psalms that I designated - I will pull that person out of hell and he will enjoy everlasting bliss".
Upon reading this the Judge ruled in favor of a proper Jewish burial. The brothers won the law suit.
Mendy had heard enough.
This is the story of how Rebbe Nachman of Breslev personally invited his beloved son and trusted servant, Mendy Wurtzberger to Uman. The Rebbe's promises are for real!
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Dr. Zev Ballen, Psy.D. has been a practicing psychotherapist for more than 30 years. He is the founder and developer of Emuna Therapy, a faith-based method of counseling based exclusively on the teachings of Rabbi Shalom Arush. Dr. Zev has the endorsements of Gadolei Yisrael such as the Nikolsburger Rebba, Rabbi Yitzchok Fagelstock, Rabbi Shalom Arush, and Rabbi Lazer Brody. You can see Dr. Zev's live video broadcast every Wednesday at 5pm Israel time here on breslev.co.il. You can write in with questions to Dr. Zev at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can call him at: 845-362-8600 (US) or 054-840-9499 (Israel). Dr. Zev resides in Jerusalem, with his family, where he learns in Rav Arush’s Kollel and maintains a part-time private practice. You're also welcome to visit Dr. Zev's personal blog, Emuna Therapy.