24 Av 5781 / Monday, August 02, 2021 | Torah Reading: Re'eh
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Uman All Year Long    

Uman All Year Long

The blacksmith worked long enough to earn that same day's bread with one extra kopeck; he saved the extra kopecks in a jar all year long, used them to travel to his Rebbe...


My maternal great grandfather, Reb Yankev ("The Blacksmith") Podrub from Grodno, Belarus (formerly Poland) was a legendary figure in the annals of the Stolin-Karlin Chassidim. He arms were like twisted steel, but his disposition was extremely gentle. Although he was a blacksmith, he was also a Talmudic scholar. He worked so that his brother, Arie Leib, could attend rabbinical yeshiva. Ultimately, Arie Leib became the head rabbi of Meretch in Lithuania.

The renowned "Yanuka" of Stolin, the famous Rebbe Yisroel Perlov of blessed and saintly memory who had over 20,000 Chassidim, would stay in Reb Yankev's house every Shabbat Chanuka when he'd visit his chassidim in Grodno. Even more, The Stoliner Rebbe - who loved horses - insisted that only Reb Yankev shoe his horses.
What was so special about Reb Yankev? He never spoke small talk. Even at work, he'd mumble tehillim and mishnayot. Also, he'd only work long enough to earn that same day's bread with one extra kopeck; he saved the extra kopecks in a jar all year long, and then at the end of the year, he'd use the money to travel to his Rebbe in the town of Stolin near the city of Pinsk for Rosh Hashanah. As such, my great grandfather lived his connection with the tzaddik all year long. He was in Grodno, but his heart was with his Rebbe two-hundred-fifty kilometers away in Stolin.
The minute Reb Yankev finished his day's work, he'd fly up the stairs to the Stoliner shtiebel, the tiny synagogue and learning center conveniently located on the second floor over the smithy, and open up a Gemara. Grodno lore holds him as one of the hidden tzaddikim of the area, may his blessed memory be cherished always.
I heard the above stories and many more from my grandmother Kailie of blessed memory, from Rav Yitzchak Kulitz of blessed memory, former head Rabbi of Jerusalem, who as a little boy saw my great grandfather, and from Rav Benyamin Adler shlit'a of Jerusalem, whose uncle knew my great grandfather well, and from the elderly Stolin-Karlin chassidim of Jerusalem.
* * *
Trying to emulate my great grandfather, I set aside twenty dollars every single week and put them in a special envelope marked, "Uman - Rosh Hashanah." That way, I live Rosh Hashanah with my beloved Rebbe, Rebbe Nachman of Breslev, all year long. The daily savings and the daily prayers, together with a year’s worth of yearning, give my annual trip to Uman a completely different dimension. Rabbi Eliezer Berland, may Hashem bless him, once told our beloved teacher and spiritual guide Rabbi Shalom Arush that anything we attain without prayer isn’t beneficial for us.
The opposite also holds true – anything we attain with prayer is very beneficial for us. That’s why I feel so very special when I come to Uman – my trips are a culmination of a year’s worth of prayers and savings.
Therefore, today, I'm doubly happy, for while you’re reading this, I’m right here in Uman with the holy kibbutz, the yearly gathering of Breslever Chassidim in Uman for Rosh Hashanah, to pray together with the Rebbe, just as he told us to. If just hearing the name "Rebbe Nachman of Breslev" is enough to kindle a fire in my heart, imagine what it feels like to be here on his holy gravesite...
I know that alte zaidie (Yiddish for great grandfather) has nachat (gratification) that his great grandchildren are continuing on in the way of Torah and Chassidut. I pray that all my offspring – as well as the offspring of all my cherished brothers and sisters wherever you are – grow up in strength of mind, body, and conviction in the path of Torah and in the light of emuna. Do you know what that means? Hitler, western assimilation, and all the other enemies that plot against us lose the battle. We win. With Hashem’s loving help, we shall continue to overcome. May Hashem inscribe you and yours for a happy and healthy New Year, amen.

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