From the Mafia to Uman
A huge mountain of a man stood directly in front of Rav Shalom Arush; the man had a scary look on his face and his entire body was covered with thick terrible looking scars...
Whenever I go to Rebbe Nachman’s holy grave site in Uman, I always marvel at how many Jewish souls of all types end up making the difficult journey to be together with Rabbi Nachman on the Day of Judgment.
One year, Rabbi Shalom Arush was standing in line at the mikvah (the ritual bath) at Uman, and there was a huge mountain of a man standing directly in front of him. Rabbi Arush couldn’t help but notice that the man’s entire body was covered with thick terrible looking scars. The man felt the Rabbi’s eyes upon him so he turned around and asked:
“What do you think you’re staring at, Rabbi?”
Quickly looking away, Rabbi Arush said: “I’m so sorry, please forgive me!”
The man said: “Are you interested in why I look like this. Do you really want to know how my body became so scarred?
Then he told Rabbi Arush this amazing tale…
He said that he was born in Israel and had never been religious. When he grew up he became a gangster and was involved in a great deal of violence and other criminal activity.
The previous year he and a bunch of his friends felt an inexplicable urge to fly to Uman for Rosh Hashanah… They had no intention of keeping any religious rituals. For them, Uman was a place where they could purchase a number of products and services very cheaply. So they went…
To his credit, when the man arrived in Uman, he went to visit Rabbi Nachman’s grave and said the ten chapters of psalms that are called the Tikkun Haklali (the general remedy). After a few minutes of perfunctory prayers, he left and went to have “fun” with his friends.
After Rosh Hashanah, this man, who had many enemies, went back to his life of violence and organized crime. One day, he found himself cornered by a hired assassin who literally sprayed him with machine gun fire. He was killed on the spot, taken to the hospital, and pronounced dead on arrival.
The man told Rabbi Arush what it was like for him when his soul ascended to the next world and how frightened he was as he stood in judgment before the Heavenly tribunal. The court proceeded to search his life history, but they could find no redeeming qualities that could tilt the scale in his favor. It was decided that he would be thrown into the fire of purgatory. Just then a voice called out:
“Stop. He’s mine!”
It was the voice of Rabbi Nachman of Breslev.
“He came to visit my grave site on Rosh Hashanah, he gave a few cents to charity and he said the Tikkun Haklali. Don’t send him down. Give him another chance!”
The power of a tzaddik such as Rabbi Nachman is so great in Heaven, that the court did not have the authority to overrule Rabbi Nachman’s decision. They sent him back to this world. His soul came back into his body and he stayed in the hospital for a very lengthy period of recovery and rehabilitation.
Even before he was released from the hospital, this man began his process of repentance in earnest. He completely gave up his life of violence and crime and even at the age of almost 60 years old began to live his life in accordance with the Torah of his holy ancestors. Such is the power of connecting oneself to a true tzaddik!