Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Tonight (and tomorrow), the 18th of Teves, is the Yahrzeit of Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, best known for his sefer on Jewish festivals and seasons of the year, "Bnei Yissaschar." He was a nephew of The Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk, and named after him; he was a disciple of the Chozeh of Lublin and others...
R. Yehoshua Rubin playing his guitar
I am priviledged to share the following story with you, from R. Yehoshua Rubin, (pictured above) a dear friend and teacher, who himself is a talmid of Reb Shlomo Carlebach zt"l. R. Yehoshua has recorded a CD of a Carlebach Hallel called "Mikimi", and authored some books, some of which can be found here.
Nishmat Kol Chai - The Universal Song
The bench creaked as David rocked back and forth. Sitting in synagogue listening to the cantor mumble away was boring. “Abba, can I go down and talk to Karl?”
“Do you think you will be back for the Rebbe’s prayer?” his father asked.
David sighed “No, probably not.”
His Abba’s kind eyes looked deeply at David when he said, “So what do you think you should do?”
David swung his feet underneath the bench, waiting for the Rebbe to take over the prayer service. Meanwhile he thought about his friend Karl. Karl was his best friend, which was sort of strange in here in Dinov, because Karl wasn’t Jewish. The Jews and non-Jews weren’t really friends even though they were friendly when they met on the fields and in the tavern.
It was different between Karl and David. They were good friends. They spent hours playing, most of it down by the creek that ran through their town. They also talked about everything. It seemed to David that they weren’t so different. Karl’s father bought Karl sweets just like his Abba did and Karl’s father got angry sometimes just like his Abba did. What was really different was their G-d songs. Karl and David taught each other their G-d songs. Karl’s songs were sometimes happy and at times slow and mysterious. David was really surprised when he began to teach Karl his songs.
“You don’t need to teach me,” Karl said, “I know them already.”
David stopped playing with his stick. “You know our songs?!”
“Yeah, sure,” Karl replied with a flick of a twig into the creek. “Your Jewish church is right above our potato fields. Karl, very pleased with himself, continued. “Every week when your Jewish priest sings we hear him so I know all your songs,” and he flicked another twig into the brook.
The tap on David’s shoulder brought him back to the synagogue. “David, stand up for the Rebbe,” his Abba whispered. David didn’t need to be told twice. He loved the Rebbe and he knew the Rebbe loved him. In fact David was pretty sure the Rebbe loved everyone. He once asked him, “Rebbe does G-d love everyone?”
The Rebbe’s eyes shone with fire when he answered, “Of course.”
“Even non-Jews?” David continued.
“Of course,” the Rebbe replied.
David was still troubled. “So how come Jews don’t love all the non-Jews?”
“Maybe because they are not enough like G-d,” the Rebbe said with as sweet smile.
“And why don’t the non-Jews love us?”
David could see the regret in the Rebbe’s eyes when he said, “Maybe it is because they do not know us well enough.”
David saw the Rebbe thank the cantor by grasping the cantor’s hand in both of his. The Rebbe lifted his tallit over his head and the community as a whole breathed deeply as the Rebbe took his first meditative breath. Then the Rebbe began to sing. David closed his eyes as the Rebbe began to sing the prayer known as Nishmat Kol Chai – the universal song.
David had never been to the ocean but he felt that he could almost see it when he heard the Rebbe sing, “If the mouths of all people were filled with song like the sea is full of water, and our tongues as full of joyous song as the sea has waves, we still could not thank You sufficiently, G-d who is in Heaven.”
David imagined that he was in the sky as he heard the Rebbe continue. “And our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, or our hands as outspread as eagles of the sky - we still could not thank You sufficiently, G-d who is in Heaven.”
Karl was waiting outside when synagogue was over. He always waited outside because non-Jews were not allowed in the Jewish church. “Come on David, let’s go play.”
“Sure, sure, but wait I want you to meet our Rebbe.”
“Yeah, the Rebbe - you know the one who sings.”
“I know who he is, but you know I am not Jewish.”
“So he is not going to like me.”
“No, he is not like that - you’ll see”
The Rebbe was standing by the door wishing everyone ‘Good Shabbos’ as they left. After everyone had left David and Karl came up. “Good Shabbos, David.”
“Good Shabbos, Rebbe.”
“Who is your friend?” the Rebbe asked.
David whispered to Karl, “Tell him your name.”
Karl took off his cap, held his hand out and said, “My name is Karl, sir.”
The Rebbe held Karl’s hand with both of his. “Hello, Karl.”
David giggled. “What are you laughing at?” Karl gave David a hard look.
“By us, we put a hat on - not off - to show respect,” David explained.
Karl looked at the Rebbe and said, “Oh, I didn’t know. Sorry, sir.”
“That is quite all right. I am very happy David has such a respectful young friend.”
This became a weekly ritual. Every Shabbat morning, David would walk up the hill with his friend Karl to the synagogue of Dinov. The Rebbe, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech, would usher David in, wave to Karl who would then run down to join his parents. After synagogue, David and Karl would greet the Rebbe. “I did not think his hands would be so warm,” Karl would always say.
David and Karl’s friendship or the weekly meetings did not go unnoticed, but they were never bothered either. Everyone thought that they would probably grow out of it as they grew up. But that is not what happened. They stayed friends and Karl became the non-Jewish town expert on Jews and Judaism. He taught his brothers and parents the Jewish songs that they kept hearing every Saturday morning in their fields in the valley right beneath the synagogue. Karl took great pride in knowing the identity of the voice the farmers heard every Saturday morning. “That is their Jewish priest; they call him a Rebbe,” he would say, every time - with great pride.
The Rebbe heard rumors about the gentiles singing his songs but he did not know how much the farmers enjoyed his singing, for as they began to hum along with the Rebbe’s soulful prayers, the sun didn’t seem so hot and the plow so heavy. So although they lived their lives apart from each other, it was on Shabbat morning that all the residents of Dinov were as one, as they hummed along with the Rebbe.
Karl lowered his shovel to button his top button, the days were getting colder, and his mother had warned about not catching the illness that was plaguing the town. It was cold. Cold and quiet. Too quiet. Why was it so quiet? Then Karl realized it was Saturday – and the Rebbe was not singing. Karl was waiting outside when synagogue was over. He always waited outside because non-Jews were not allowed in the Jewish church. “David, how come you didn’t sing today?” Karl asked.
David couldn’t meet Karl’s eyes. “The plague,” was all he could whisper.
Karl was worried. “Who? Who is sick? You?”
Teary-eyed, David replied, “No, not me. The Rebbe.”
For weeks the farmers heard no song. The quiet made the wind blow harder and the plow heavier. In fact, the Rebbe never sang the Shabbat prayers again. David and Karl walked right behind the Rebbe’s coffin as it passed through the street of Dinov. All the gentiles lined up in order to pay their last respects to the Rebbe. “You see,” Karl said to David, “I told them to keep their caps like just like you taught me.”
“Thank you, the Rebbe would have been happy,” was David’s muffled reply.
“I will miss him,” Karl said to David.
“We all will,” David replied.
The bench creaked as David rocked back and forth. His feet swung underneath the bench waiting for the Rebbe to take over the prayer service. But he knew the Rebbe was not coming. The prayers would never be the same with out the Rebbe’s voice and his tunes. Where as before Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech’s song would conjure up images of endless seas: “If our mouths were filled with song like the sea is full of water,” and radiant skies: “our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon,” now the words seemed so lifeless. David could hear the Rebbe’s voice in his mind: “we still could not thank You sufficiently, G-d Who is in Heaven.”
“But how can I thank G-d now?” David wondered.
Down in the field Karl too had a heavy heart. He thought, “Will they ever sing again? I wish they would sing. They should sing,” Karl thought to himself. “They should sing, this quiet hurts too much.”
But all was quiet. Karl lost himself in the soil. Shovel in, shovel out, turning the soil over and over again. In the rhythm of work Karl found himself humming a tune. He couldn’t quite place it. Yet he knew the tune had words. Over and over he hummed the tune and sang the words.
After a while, he realized that he wasn’t the only one humming the tune. His brothers and sisters were humming along with him, as were his parents. With in a few minutes Karl realized that the whole field was singing the Shabbat morning prayers - the Rebbe’s tunes they had heard week after week.
David got up from his bench and opened the window. His father joined him. The cantor stopped and walked over to the window. Everyone got up to open the windows and listened to the Rebbe’s prayers. “Follow me,” the cantor said. Together they stood outside looking down at their neighbors.
The farmers saw the Jews and stopped their work and their singing. “What is going to happen?” David asked his father.
“I don’t know,” he responded.
“Remember the teaching of the Rebbe,” the cantor began. “The holiness of song is that it breaks down all the barriers between us and G-d and even all the walls between us and our neighbors.”
The cantor began to sing Nishmat Kol Chai – the universal song. “If the mouths of all people were filled with song like the sea is full of water, and our tongues as full of joyous song as the sea has waves, we still could not thank You sufficiently, G-d who is in Heaven. And our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, or our hands as outspread as eagles of the sky - we still could not thank You sufficiently, G-d who is in Heaven.”
And there in the small town of Dinov the Jews and non-Jews were as one as they sang together the Shabbat prayers. As they walked back in inside David wanted to know, “Abba is this what will happen in heaven? We will all sing the prayers together?”
His Abba’s kind eyes looked deeply at David. “What do you think?”
“Abba, I don’t know, but the Rebbe said that the holiness of song is that it breaks down all the barriers between us and G-d, and even all the walls between our neighbors and us.”
sefer of the Bnai Yisoschor,there are a few pages of notations of nigunim composed by the Bnei Yissoschor.
The koh ribon,sung at the tish of the Rebbes of bluzhev,Toldos aharon/avrohum yitzcok-is attributed to the bnai yissoschor-and can be heard on the first recording of nigunei Toldos Avrohum Yitzchok-AZAMER
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