“Know! a person must travel to the Tzaddik in search of what he’s lost. For prior to a person coming out into the air of this world, he is taught and shown all that he needs to do, work at, and achieve in this world. But as soon as he comes out into the air of the world, he immediately forgets it, as our Sages teach.” —Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (LM 188)
We were all sitting in the airport in Kiev, except for two travelers. They were still in baggage claim, hoping their missing suitcases would appear. But the suitcases didn’t appear.
I had spoken to both these women at length before the trip. I knew that traveling to the Tzaddik was no ordinary adventure for either of them. I prayed that nothing would go awry. And now this.
For one woman, this was her first time leaving the United States. She had always been a spiritual trailblazer, seeking Hashem’s truth despite living in an alienating environment. After Uman she was planning a month-long visit to Israel. Everything for her stay in the Holy Land was in her missing suitcase.
The other woman had lost her beloved husband. He’d been her rock, she relied on him for everything. She had never traveled alone before. Still, she had tremendous reserves of emunah and joy.
Both these women blazed through their fears and fueled their journey with emunah and grit. And now they’d be facing it with just the clothing on their backs.
Garments of the Soul
Rebbe Nachman urged us not to wear stained, torn, or raggy clothing and encouraged us to dress respectably. Although the Rebbe was not concerned with “mere” externals, we must understand that clothing does often reflect the state of the soul. Therefore, damaged, shabby or immodest clothing (or extremely-fashionable or flashy clothing–the opposite of Breslov simplicity and humility), reveals more about our neshamas than we might expect.
Clothing can indicate merit, too. The commentary on Parshas Shemos says we were led out of Egypt because we stuck to our Jewish names and language, as well as our unique Jewish way of dress. We learn from this that clothing has some spiritual substance.
What does it mean if we lose our own clothing? It’s akin to losing our identity. In prison they take away your personal items including your clothes. You wear a uniform and lose your individuality–you become a number.
But being without one’s personal clothing isn’t always a negative. A newborn arrives without clothing. She is born ready to receive. She takes her first gulping breath of the air of this world and then begins to cry. She is immediately swaddled, the pressure of the swaddling cloth and the embrace of her mother overlapping, wrapping her in comfort. Her mother chooses her clothes for now, but one day, she’ll choose her own.
Still, losing one’s clothing is a test. As Rebbe Nachman says:
“The Evil One and the forces of the Other Side grab people by their clothes. They burden people with all kinds of worries about clothing. The trouble people have to go to for various items of clothing they need can easily become a serious distraction from religious devotion. Someone who is firm in his faith will not be concerned about this. Even if he has nothing to wear he will still do what he can to serve Hashem to the full extent of his capability. In the end, Hashem will look down from the Heavens and see what he needs.” —Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (Likutey Eitzos-Advice)
The Other Side tries to destroy our desire to come close to Hashem. It tries to strip us of our emunah and bitachon. However, faith is largely a product of our own will. If we strongly desire it, we’ll make room for it in our lives.
Finding Our True Identity By The Tzaddik
What did our two beloved sister-travelers lose? A part of their identity perhaps. Did that identity have to be stripped away to make room for a new identity? What were these women seeking? What would they receive?
Maybe they sought one of the things sought by travelers to the Tzaddik: A stronger connection to Hashem. Understanding and meaning. Reinvigorated faith. Teshuvah and forgiveness. Self-knowledge and truth. Direction. Connection and belonging. Love.
The Traveling Uman-Women’s Boutique
I’m not sure exactly when the conversation first began or who started it, but it was shortly after we learned that we’d all be traveling together, minus two suitcases. It wasn’t hard to imagine how vulnerable our newly-met fellow travelers must have felt.I suppose each of us women remembered how carefully we had packed for this trip–a favorite Shabbos outfit, a pair of comfortable shoes, a jaunty scarf, a silky tee. Most of us packed extras, too. Just in case.
But in that moment, the Traveling Uman-Women’s Boutique was born.
One by one the rest of the women invited our two luggage-less sisters to their rooms to choose outfits. “Come shopping in my room,” said one woman. “Let me help you,” said another.
When they finally appeared, glowing in unfamiliar clothing, it was fun guessing who had given them this skirt, that top. We learned a lot about each other, too–who was tastefully coordinated, who packed enough for any eventuality, who loved bright colors, who was a minimalist.
On Shabbos, these two were adorned in splendor as together we welcomed the Shabbos Queen. The love that went into helping them dress was evidenced by their elegant dresses and head-coverings. No skimping. No sense anything was second-hand or cast-off.
Lost & Found
The lost clothing was lost for all of us. It inspired us to come together and share, at the most basic level. After all, clothing is one of our most basic requirements, yet also one of our delights.
The Tzaddik revealed to us other, spiritual items each of us had lost, whether or not we were aware of this. Some deeply personal things were found on this journey. One thing certainly found by all was an intense Ahavas Yisroel, a love for each other. Twelve almost strangers, each as different, yet as related, as the twelve tribes. Also found at the Traveling Uman-Women’s Boutique was a richer emunah, light-filled simcha, and some new-old friends.
For more information about the BRI Experience for Women visit BRI/Breslov.org or contact UmanWomen@breslov.org. We can also organize tours for your group to the Tzaddikim and other sites of Jewish interest in Ukraine.