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Tuesday, May 23, 2006

 
REBBE SHMUEL ELIYAHU OF ZVOLIN - BEARER OF WARNING

Like High Voltage, sometimes a Niggun can be dangerous. See below.


Tuesday night and Wednesday, the 26th of Iyar, is the 118th yahrzeit of Rebbe Shmuel of Zvolin, son of Rebbe Yechezkel of Kuzmir, and father of the first Modzitzer Rebbe, the Divrei Yisrael.
Upon the passing of Rebbe Yechezkel [Chatzkaleh] of Kuzmir Zt"l, his son Rebbe Shmuel Eliyahu was called upon to lead the Chassidim. Rebbe Shmuel Eliyahu lived in Zvolin, Poland. From his youth, he was outstanding in his Torah scholarship and his musical abilities. He was called a "Menagen mafli pla'os", a wondrous musical talent. When he davened before the amud in his father's Beis Medrash, the place shook. People then said that they experienced the meaning of "and the entire nation saw the sounds" [a description in the Torah to describe the giving of the Torah].

The Zvoliner Rebbe composed many niggunim, especially for Shabbos and Yom Tov that were known throughout Poland and attracted many people. He was the first of the Polish Tzaddikim to concentrate his creative powers in negina. With his awesome memory, he was able to remember everything he composed.

His attitude towards Negina was as if the singer were standing in the Beis HaMikdash, and the Leviim were accompanying him in the shira v'zimra. He passed away on the 26 of Iyar 5648 [May 8, 1888], leaving behind five sons: Rebbe Moshe Aharon, who succeeded him in Zvolin; Rebbe Yisrael of Modzitz; Rebbe Yaakov of Radom. The other two sons, R. Ovadia and R. Chaim Binyamin, did not have a Chassidic following.

***

Rebbe Shmuel Eliyahu’s yahrzeit is on the sefira of Yesod sheb’Yesod, the ultimate in Foundation. Yesod is also the ‘trademark’ of the Tzaddik, as it is identified with Yosef HaTzaddik, the sixth of the seven Holy Shepherds; as the verse says, “Tzaddik yesod olam – the tzaddik is the foundation of the world” [Mishlei/Proverbs, 10:25].

One of my favorite expressions of the Zvoliner also relates to Yesod. Our Sages tell us that “Kol has’chalos kashos,” which usually translates as, “All beginnings are difficult.” However, the Zvoliner interprets it that all beginnings must be solid and strong. Just like the yesod [foundation] of a building, which is made of strong stones or concrete, is the means by which the building which is built upon it can be stable, sturdy and strong; and if the foundation is wobbly, everything can fall. So it is in our avodas Hashem [Divine service]. This denotes the importance of Rosh Hashana, the New Year; and Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of each month at the New Moon.

***

Finally, Rebbe Shmuel Eliyahu’s attitude towards Negina has puzzled many people. I would like to offer a possible means for understanding it, with the following preface, to be followed by the Rebbe’s own words.

Everything that is lofty contains a danger of harming someone if it is misused. In the physical realm, we can see this with fire, which can give light and warmth, but can also destroy whole buildings and even towns. We know that the Chassidic movement was faced with fierce opposition at its outset, led by the Vilna Gaon and others. A few generations later, the author of the “Aruch HaShulchan,” R. Yechiel M. Epstein, paid a visit to the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe. He noted that the Rebbe was learning Shulchan Aruch with the commentary of the Vilna Gaon.

The Tzemach Tzedek related that he once remarked to his grandfather, the Baal HaTanya that something good came out of the sharp opposition that the Gaon had towards Chassidus, for without that opposition, Chassidus might have retreated from where it was – the Torah could have been “scorched” from the fire of Kabbalah and Chassidus. “The opposition of the Gaon led the leaders of Chassidus to feel without a doubt that the Shulchan Aruch is the yesod of Judaism and not to budge from it. This prevented any mistakes in later generations.”

***

Although Rebbe Shmuel Eliyahu of Zvolin was a “wondrous musical talent” and composed many niggunim, it wasn’t before long that he stopped davening before the Amud [leading the prayers], to the dismay of the Chassidim. Precisely because he understood the value of niggun, he refrained from singing.

Once in the middle of the niggunim that were being sung at Shalosh Seudos, the third Shabbos meal, Rebbe Shmuel Eliyahu interrupted and said:
“Let us discuss the praise of Negina. Many worlds are found in the Heichal HaNegina. There are niggunim of joy, ecstasy, dveykus, victory, and thanksgiving. On the other hand, there are niggunim of crying and of longing.
On the opposite side there are secular songs which can lead one to a path of evil. The matter of Negina is therefore very serious, requiring much effort and caution. The first letters of the verse, “Heitivu nagein b’Terua [Tehillim, 33:3] – express it in music, with deep inner emotion,” spell the word “Bina”, understanding. The intention is that one who sings should not suffice with the fact that he sings well, even if he has an excellent voice and other qualifications for being a proper baal tefilla. He must understand how to sing to cause nachas ruach [satisfaction] on High. Just like ‘life and death are in the tongue [speech]’, so it is that the rise and descent of the soul depend on the Niggun. It all depends of the menagen [the singer or instrumentalist] - what he plays and how he plays it. A niggun can bring one up on its wings to the highest heights, together with the Songs of the Angels, if sung with a pure heart, a spiritual intent, and without alterior motives.
On the other hand, [chas v'shalom] a niggun can bring one down to Sheol Tachtis - the Depths. Many troubles and punishments come to us because of ruining a niggun. One can say that a Niggun is the source of everything. Therefore, there is a tremendous responsibility on the Menagen and he should prepare and purify himself thoroughly.
In addition, one should not deviate one whit from the niggun, for one can be in violation of not adding or detracting [bal tosef / bal tigra]. A niggun consists of a combination of sounds, and each niggun has a soul which the menagen-composer has infused into it. Like any living thing, a niggun has youth and old age. Therefore, whoever takes away a note [or section] from a niggun is as if he caused a wound to the body, and whoever adds to it is as if he has added to the 248 limbs of the body. Thus the responsibility for a niggun’s completeness is great and one should not treat this lightly, for a niggun is like any living creature of substance.
Is anyone prepared to endanger his soul with a song that was not sung with the proper intent and to cause it to descend to Sheol? Is it permitted to bear such a heavy responsibility for a niggun which is part of Hashem Above, and to endanger his soul merely because of the temptation of his evil inclination? Is anyone prepared to face the consequences for distorting a niggun and take upon himself the self-sacrifice for the completeness and purity of a niggun?”

You can imagine the awesome effect these words had. In fact, many of the baalei tefilla who heard them voluntarily withdrew from their positions. After this, there was a dramatic improvement in the appreciation for musical notation amongst Chassidim, who viewed it as a form of protecting the niggun from distortion or changes. However, the Zvoliner's withdrawal from singing and davening before the Amud was not adopted by his descendants. In fact, the Chassidus of Modzitz became world-renowned for its service to Hashem through Negina. To this day, thousands of niggunim have been notated, recorded and preserved via Modzitz and its Machon L’Negina.

Zechuso yagein Aleinu v’al Kol Yisrael!


Comments:
You write:
We know that the Chassidic movement was faced with fierce opposition at its outset, led by the Vilna Gaon and others. A few generations later, the author of the “Aruch HaShulchan,” R. Yechiel M. Epstein, paid a visit to the Tzemach Tzedek, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe. He noted that the Rebbe was learning Shulchan Aruch with the commentary of the Vilna Gaon.

The Tzemach Tzedek related that he once remarked to his grandfather, the Baal HaTanya that something good came out of the sharp opposition that the Gaon had towards Chassidus, for without that opposition, Chassidus might have retreated from where it was – the Torah could have been “scorched” from the fire of Kabbalah and Chassidus. “The opposition of the Gaon led the leaders of Chassidus to feel without a doubt that the Shulchan Aruch is the yesod of Judaism and not to budge from it. This prevented any mistakes in later generations.”

I love this history, can i copy it?
 
Ilan,
You may use it. I did get this info from certain sefarim, but I don't have that info readily available.
 
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