‘Tis the season when Yids either bash or bask in the idea of going to Uman to the tziyun of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev for Rosh HaShanna.
So, I thought I’d at least get one thing straight: Rebbe Nachman was not from Uman or from Breslev. Surprise!
The amazing and short life of Rebbe Nachman is detailed in the books Shivchei Haran, Chayei Moharan, and Peulat HaTzaddik.
On Shabbat Rosh Chodesh Nissan, 5532 (April 4, 1772) Rebbe Nachman was born in the very house of his great-grandfather, the Ba’al Shem Tov in… not the town of Uman… and not the town of Breslev… but in Medzhibozh, in the Ukraine.
Rebbe Nachman’s paternal grandfather and namesake, Rabbi Nachman Horodenker, had been a ben bayit and close student of the Besht, and his mother Feige was the daughter of the Besht’s daughter Adel.
On both maternal and paternal sides of his family, Rebbe Nachman was a descendant of King David. His grandfather, Rabbi Nachman, was a 7th generation descendant of the Maharal of Prague, descendant of Zerubavel ben Shaltiel (one of the men of the Great Assembly, the Knesset HaGedolah, and descendant of King David) and also 7th generation descendant of Rabbi Avraham Chaim from Apta. Rabbi Chaim traced his lineage to Rashi, who was the 33rd generation after Rabbi Yochanan HaSandlar, great-grandson of the great Tanna Rabban Gamliel HaZaken, and also a descendant of King David. The elder Rabbi Nachman was also one of the Besht’s chassidim who made aliya and was later buried in the old cemetery of Tiberius.
Rebbe Nachman was known for his photographic memory, and it was told that all the sefarim hakedoshim were before his eyes as if laid out on a table before him. Already in his youth, he knew the entire Shas, Poskim, Tanach, Zohar, Tikkunei Zohar, all the writings of the Ari, Ein Yaakov, Reisheet Chochma, and mussar books, and had gone through all four sections of the Shulchan Aruch three times. Even though he had a photographic memory and knew all the sefarim by heart, he said that it was not until he actually read through all four sections of the Shulchan Aruch the third time that he attained its kabbalistic meaning. By age 20 he was an ordained rabbi.
In 1802, Rebbe Nachman moved to the Ukrainian town of Breslev. On his way to Breslev, he passed through the town of Uman, visiting the old Jewish cemetery there. In 1768, the Haidemacks had wiped out the Jewish population of Uman. The peasant revolutionary Maxim Zelieznak, together with Ivan Gunta, the then Cossak commander, attacked the city, and proceeded to go on a three-day killing spree, massacring some thirty-thousand Jews. They had placed a canopy in front of the town synagogue with a cross and said that any Jew who would approach and bow to the cross would be saved. Not a single Jew succumbed to this test of idolatry – all were then killed al kiddush Hashem. [Not a single Jew should ever bow, in any way, to this same idolatrous cross – especially today.]
Two pits were dug that became common graves for all thirty-thousand martyrs. When the Rebbe visited the cemetery, it was then that he expressed his wish – and which he stood by even on his deathbed – that, although he was then moving to Breslev, he wanted to be buried in Uman right in the middle of these two mass graves, to be with these kedoshim until techiyat hametim, the Resurrection of the Dead.
Rebbe Nachman then resettled in the town of Breslev and was then that he expressed his desire that his followers always be known as “Breslever Chassidim”. He explained that the name of this Ukrainian town has the letters BReSLeV, which have the same letters as ‘LeV BaSaR’ – ‘a heart of flesh’ – from Ezekiel’s prophetic description of the Jew after the arrival of the Mashiach: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will remove the heart of stone out of your body, and I will give you a heart of flesh” (36: 26).
Moreover, the name Breslev also contains the letters Lev Bosser, as per the Midrash on this above-mentioned verse. This term, lev bosser, also refers to the description of the Jew-to-be, in that by having all he needs after the geulah, he will not even have eyes for anybody else’s lot.
Therefore, although he was buried in Uman after his death on the second day of chol hamoed Succot, 18 Tishrei 1810, at the age of 38, the Rebbe wanted to be called Rebbe Nachman of Breslev.