Nachman stared in astonishment at the sight of the broken idol lying in a heap of rubble at the bottom of the city walls
A chassid and his illustrious rebbe emerged from the mikveh building and stood outside. The rebbe turned and stared at his chassid with piercing eyes.
“This year I will certainly be in Eretz Yisrael.”
These words, spoken by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, were the beginning of an incredible journey filled with tremendous danger and would become one of the most inspiring pilgrimages to Eretz Yisrael ever recorded. The great chassidic rebbe, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, needed to reach the holy shores of Eretz Yisrael, and he was willing to travel through fire and water to get there. So much depended upon it.
The journey to Eretz Yisrael in those days meant risking danger from threats at sea and foreign lands, including endless warfare in the ocean, Jew-hating sailors and soldiers, and storms. There were no first-class cabins, only a tiny room at the bottom of a ship that was totally unlike the sturdy, dependable ships we travel in today. The ships often carried coarse, thieving soldiers going out to wage war with enemy forces. Most of these men would not think twice about killing a weaponless passenger in order to steal their few belongings.
Despite all this, Rebbe Nachman was not afraid. He remembered well the days of his childhood, when he would take a small rickety raft down to a river, far from society, and set sail in the turbulent waters.
As the waters would toss his boat in all directions, he would raise his hands to the sky and scream out from the very depths of his neshamah, “HASHEM!”
As the river would sweep him farther away from the shore, and his small body would be flung from side to side, he would further give up on his own powers and instead recognize that only Hashem has any power. In fact, there is only Hashem. Ein od milvado. There is nothing that exists in the universe, only Hashem. So, if one is in danger, from where can help come? Only from One Source, the Source of everything, HaKadosh Baruch Hu.
And somehow, someway, the young child named Nachman would make his way back to shore. Time and time again. The frightening waters of the river did not extinguish the fire in his heart to become closer to Hashem, they only caused the flames of longing to burn stronger.
“Hashem, please send me a sign,” Nachman would cry, pouring out his heart to Hashem, talking as one would to a close friend, as he walked through huge, empty forests. “There is a statue of an idol which I have to pass every time I come to the forests to speak with you in privacy. It is positioned on top of the city gates, on the wall leading out to the road.”
When Nachman next passed the place of the idol he stared in astonishment at the sight of the broken idol lying in a heap of rubble at the bottom of the city walls.
“There was a freak storm, lightning and thunder unlike I’ve ever seen,” a passing gentile remarked. “It came out of nowhere! Like a storm sent by G-d. And the statue was destroyed.”
And no one ever rebuilt the statue, because it was obvious to even the biggest non-believer that the statue was struck down by Divine Providence.
There were other signs Rebbe Nachman davened for and received. His relationship with Hashem continued to grow, and unknown to even his own parents, he would pay his Torah tutor extra money from his own pocket in order that he should teach him more.
As a young child growing up, he would sit by the fireplace in his house in Mezhibuzh and listen to stories of his great-grandfather, the holy Baal Shem Tov. Although he had never met him, young Nachman felt as though someone were lighting a flame inside of his neshamah as he learned of the Baal Shem Tov’s self-sacrifice to come closer to Hashem and bring the entire world with him. The Baal Shem Tov taught about the importance of even the most unlearned Jew and his or her ability to serve Hashem in the most incredible manner. Young Nachman decided then that he would transcend any obstacle in the world and work on himself, no matter how hard, in order to break down the barriers between himself and Hashem, and through this, elevate himself and also elevate every Yid. He would indeed become a champion and beacon of hope to the most pious, learned sages, and to the most ignorant, sinful Jews.
And now, as Eretz Yisrael and it’s unfathomable kedushah called for Rebbe Nachman, he prepared to travel across the great oceans to find his way even closer into Hashem’s embrace.
Word traveled quickly throughout the city that Rebbe Nachman required funds to begin his journey to Eretz Yisrael. He would be traveling with only one other person, a chassid whose identity remains unknown, even to this day.
“Please, you must donate money for the Rebbe’s expenses!” The Rebbe’s attendant explained breathlessly as he stood at the door of one of the wealthier men devoted to Rebbe Nachman. “He says he must begin traveling this instant, there is not even one moment to delay!”
“What? A trip to Eretz Yisrael required months, even years of planning! How can the Rebbe leave in a split second?” The potential donor was shocked. “Are you sure this is true? No one was told anything! Has his family agreed? His wife, children?”
“They were also just informed. He told his daughter he would sell everything in the house in order to help cover some of the costs of the trip and he gave instructions to her as to what each member of the household is to do while he is away. Now please, don’t hold me here any longer. The Rebbe says that it’s urgent that we leave immediately!”
The donor gave what he could, as did many others throughout the city. As if fleeing from a wildfire, the Rebbe and his attendant left immediately. There were reasons why Rebbe Nachman would not delay his decision to travel to Eretz Yisrael for even one extra moment, but he kept them strictly to himself. He also knew that many great tzaddikim, including the greatest chassidic and litvish gedolim, had attempted to touch the shores of Eretz Yisrael, but the satan prevented them.
“I must go right now, even if I don’t have a single coin in my pocket! I also know that every step toward Eretz Yisrael is a risk to my very life, but I will not be deterred!”
And so, on Lag B’omer, 1798, Rebbe Nachman and his attendant set forth on their journey. Rebbe Nachman was only 26 years old at the time. The danger they expected was not long in coming.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 818)
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