From AWOL to Uman

People complain to me about their difficulties in getting to Uman on Rosh Hashana. Rebbe Nachman says that the obstacles are merely meant to fan the desire…

3 min

Rabbi Shalom Arush

Posted on 14.08.17

Translated by Rabbi Lazer Brody



People complain to me about their difficulties in getting to Uman on Rosh Hashana. I tell them what Rebbe Nachman says, namely that the obstacles are merely meant to fan the desire. But, with enough desire, one can overcome and shatter all the obstacles, as I'll show you in an example that I'll take out of my mailbox:


Hello, my name is Jonathan, and I'm still a soldier in mandatory military service. A year ago, I was on a maneuver near the Syrian border. I tried to convince my commander to grant me a furlough but he didn't agree. I said thank-You to Hashem that I couldn't go home. That same evening, the commander came to me and said, "You can go home for Shabbat…" I didn't tarry a second and I left the base but I forgot to ask for a pass (written permission for furlough, proving that I wasn't AWOL – Absent Without Official Leave). I was way up on Mount Hermon and there was no longer bus service – it was Friday afternoon already. I started thanking Hashem that I was stuck way up in the Northern Golan with Shabbat only a few hours away. All of a sudden, a car picked me up and took me all the way to the Golani crossroads, west of Tiberias on the way to Afula and all points south.


I grabbed another hitch at Golani crossroads but I didn't know that these were two military cops in plainclothes. Instead of taking me to Jerusalem, they took me to a nearby base and put me in detention, accusing me of being AWOL. They released me and ordered me to appear before a military court a week before Rosh Hashana. Meanwhile, I bought a ticket to Uman.


Two weeks before Rosh Hashana, I received a reminder summons to my military trial where I was charged with being AWOL. The expected punishment was two months in a military prison. I went out to the field, sang and danced and thanked Hashem over and over. I had Rabbi Arush's gratitude "Gems" booklet in my pocket.


The morning of the trial, the army messed up. They sent a jeep very early to pick me up from my base and take me to Tzfat, where the military court was, but there was a long time until the trial. Meanwhile, I had a jeep, a driver and an escort all day long. I took them to the ancient cemetery in Tzfat and we went to the Arizal's mikva. All day long, I was reading them segments of "The Garden of Gratitude." I played them a CD of Rabbi Arush's lessons in the jeep and I was laughing and dancing all day long. The two other soldiers – the driver and my escort – thought I was crazy. They said to each other, "This lunatic is about to get eight weeks in the slammer and he's singing and dancing?" They phoned the base psychiatrist and said, "This soldier is bona fide insane!" I didn't pay any attention to them; I just kept on singing songs of thanks to Hashem. It soon rubbed off on them. They weren't religious but they started thanking Hashem too.


That afternoon, there was a line of soldiers in the military court headquarters waiting to be tried. I kept on singing and dancing there too. When my turn came to stand trial, the military judge look confused. He asked me, "Where you off base without official leave?"


"Yessir!" I answered with a big smile.


"Did the military police have to use force to get you in the car when they arrested you?"


"No sir!"


The judge started telling me jokes about hitchhikers. The military prosecutors looked at each other in bewilderment. No one in the courtroom understood what was happening.


The judge became serious again. "Well, I can't let you off without punishment – eight days in military prison!"


Despite the fact that I was scheduled to go to Uman in a few days, I thanked Hashem on the spot. A military paddy wagon took me directly to jail.


The next day, in prison, I presented the trial protocol to a female officer who was in charge. She looked at it and said, "This is counterfeit – get out of here!" They released me from prison and I went home. Unbelievable!


Now, I had another challenge. I needed a permission paper from the army to leave the country so that I could fly to Uman. If I'd return to my unit, they wouldn't believe that I was released and they might have returned me to prison. I said thank-You to Hashem and I danced some more. I had three days to go until Uman. Anyway, I wasn't afraid and I returned to my unit. They thought I escaped prison and they tried me again. I just thanked Hashem and danced. The base commander tried me and found me innocent. What’s more, my unit gave me a written OK to fly to Uman. I know who the real Judge is and nobody can overturn His decisions!


Jonathan is 100% correct.


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Let’s make the next Uman pilgrimage start from Uman and end, once and for all, inside the Holy City, in our Holy Land, with our Holy Rebbe.