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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

 

SING A NIGGUN - THE ULTIMATE ADVICE


the title page of a first-edition copy of Rebbe Aharon the Second's sefer, Beis Aharon
[Hat tip: A Simple Jew; click to enlarge]

Today, 17 Sivan, is the yahrzeit of Rebbe Aharon of Karlin, son of Rebbe Asher of Stolin and grandson of Rebbe Aharon HaGadol (the Great) of Karlin, who is also known as the Second Rebbe Aharon. When he was only 26 years old he was chosen as Karliner Rebbe. With prodigious scholarship in Torah, and unparalleled piety and humility, he led the Karlin Chassidim; he attracted tens of thousands of followers who eagerly thronged around him, seeking the blessings of a man who was said to be endowed with ruach hakodesh (the spirit of holiness). Some even claimed that he had the soul of King David.

The period of Rebbe Aharon's leadership included the dark days of the reign of Czar Nikolai I [see below], but Rebbe Aharon knew how to cheer up his Chassidim and help them to bear their heavy burdens. However, some powerful residents of Karlin objected to the extent to which song and dance permeated the Rebbe's "Court," and in 1864, the Rebbe himself was run out of town. He resettled in Stolin, and since then, this dynasty has been known as "Karlin-Stolin."

Rebbe Aharon the Second (so called to distinguish him from his grandfather, Rebbe Aharon the Great), was born, according to a family tradition, on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 1802. Rebbe Aharon was the recognized leader of the Karliner Chassidim for nearly fifty years. A gifted organizer, Rebbe Aharon applied himself to strengthening the bonds between himself and his followers. To this end, he used to pay them frequent visits in their towns and welcome them most warmly in his court in Karlin. He also had a striking natural simplicity and sense of humor, and regularly made jokes in the Russian vernacular even while teaching his Chassidim at his table. He mixed freely with people of all kinds, and his confident and imposing presence was admired even in non-Chassidic circles.

***

The period of Rebbe Aharon the Second's 'leadership' coincided with the reign of terror under the Czar Nicolas I, with its persecutions, anti-Jewish decrees, 'kidnappings' and the like. The joyfulness that Rebbe Aharon labored to implant in the hearts of his followers undoubtedly helped them to bear the trials and tribulations of those difficult days. For a long time afterwards popular stories were told about the courage displayed, both in private and public, by Rebbe Aharon's Chassidim in their time of trouble. It was thanks to Rebbe Aharon's encouraging influence that the numbers of the Karlin Chassidim increased still further in his time, over and above the increase that had occurred in the days of Rebbe Asher the First. This was the heyday of Karlin Chassidism. On Yomim Tovim [Festivals] and on Yomim Noraim [Penitential Days], the Chassidim would leave their wives and families and make the pilgrimage to their Rebbe in Karlin. On Shavuos and Simchas Torah as many as three to four thousand -- according to an eyewitness report -- would come thronging to his residence. 'He who has not seen Simchas Torah in the court of Rebbe Aharon' -- so used the Chassidic elders to say -- 'has never seen a real celebration of Simchas Torah.'
Here is the scene as described by an eyewitness:
Rebbe Aharon would be sitting clothed all in white, as was his custom on Shabboses and Festivals, at the head of the long table that stood in the large courtyard next to his prayer-house. Tens of canopies stretched above the court hardly sufficed as shelter for the crowds of Chassidim that came to their Rebbe for Simchas Torah. When, at the Ma’ariv [evening] service, Rebbe Aharon himself led the prayers, the worshippers were carried away by spiritual ecstasy, and the 'circuits' of the scrolls were performed in a frenzy of jubilation that rose ever higher, circuit by circuit, song by song, and dance by dance, as the wine flowed freely. Thus transported, the Chassidim would spend the whole night singing and dancing in the courtyard and the nearby streets.
Out of this fervent rejoicing were born many of the Karlin melodies that subsequently became famous in Chassidic circles and even throughout Jewry. Nor was this the case only at Simchas Torah. Every Festival had its own melodies. Outstanding amongst these were the tunes of the Pesach Seder night of which, according to the Chassidim, Rebbe Aharon used to say: 'In my Pesach melodies, there is not one crumb of chametz [leaven].' In addition to songs and dances, Rebbe Aharon introduced instrumental music and had two orchestras -- one of them made up of his followers from Volhynia -- which used to play at Melave Malka [the Motzaei Shabbos meal], on the intermediate days of Sukkos and on similar occasions.
During these visits to the Rebbe's 'court,' the Chassid would forget the bitter, dreary, care-ridden reality of his daily life and find a refuge for his tired body and weary spirit. Freed for a while of his cares by the general rejoicing, he would be uplifted into a state of self-forgetfulness. This spiritual exaltation and tense expectancy reached their climax on Rosh Hashana before the blowing of the shofar, when Rebbe Aharon, having purified himself in the mikveh and carrying three or four shofars, thrust into the silver gartel encircling his white kittel, would make his way through the throng of worshippers to the pulpit, where, after fervently reciting the forty-seventh Psalm ['To the sons of Korach'], he would perform the commandment of 'hearing the sound of the shofar' – 'hearing is in the heart,' as he preached in one of his sermons on Rosh Hashana. On one of his shofars the words 'Hashem has gone up with a trumpet blast' were engraved.

***

Rebbe Aharon of Karlin said, "I wish I could love a good Jew as much as Hashem loves a wicked one."

***
I don’t know if the following story is about the Second Rebbe Aharon, but it certainly could be. It is from the Chabad website. Another Karliner story is here and here you can find Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s famous Karliner Mincha story.

Sing a Niggun – The Ultimate Advice
by Shoshannah Brombacher
A Chassid came to see the Karliner Rebbe because he was depressed. "I don't know what to do," he said, "I'm not a good Jew, I don’t study enough, I don’t know enough, all I do is work, work, work. But I want to study more. Rebbe, I have a question. What do our great and holy rabbis study on Friday night?"

"Well," said the Karliner, "some study Kabbalah."

"Oh," said the Chassid, "that is not for me."

"No," said the Karliner, "that is not for everybody. But I am sure you study Talmud regularly? How does it go?"

"Rebbe, I am ashamed to admit it, I do not study Talmud regularly. You see, I grew up poor. I had to work from an early age to help out my family. I did not get much of an education. I find the Talmud very difficult."

"And if you study together with a friend?" asked the Karliner.

"My friends also work very hard, they don’t know much either. Besides, I have no time to sit in the study hall for hours. What else can I do?"

"Working hard for your family is a mitzva," said the Karliner. "You can study the weekly Torah reading with Rashi's commentary and with Midrashim."

"Oh no," said the man, "I always found Rashi very difficult. As I told you, I hardly got an education. I struggle through the parsha each week, but it doesn't uplift me. I am a failure. Besides, I am really not a scholar. I prefer to work with my hands. My family is big, I work long hours."

"No Jew is a failure," said the Karliner sternly. "Every Jew can learn. And every Jew should learn. I know something for you. You certainly will enjoy telling beautiful stories about our great sages and tzaddikim (righteous people) with your friends and with your family!"

"I am bad at telling stories," objected said the Chassid. "I always forget the important points, I mix them up and I am not a good talker either. Please, I can't do that..."

The Karliner leaned back in his chair. He closed his eyes and he began to hum. He hummed and he swayed back and forth and the Chassid listened in amazement. This was beautiful. What a melody! And he began to sing along. He never had felt so wonderful before, so close to G-d.

After a long time the singing stopped. The Karliner opened his eyes and looked at the Chassid intently.

"Rebbe," the Chassid exclaimed, "I understand. Oh yes, I do! I don't feel depressed any more. Thank you, thank you!"

And he went home and every Shabbat he sang the most beautiful niggunim. But most of all he loved the niggun of the Karliner Rebbe. And he did not feel depressed anymore.

***

There have been two recordings of Karliner niggunim issued, both called "Ancient Melodies of Karlin." The first volume actually has several Modzitz niggunim on it. I've been told that on one of Rebbe Shaul Yedidya Elazar of Modzitz ZT"L's visits to Eretz Yisrael, he met with some Karliner Chassidim, and taught them some of his and his father's niggunim. In any case, the second volume is beautiful, and contains:
Niggun Rikud Stolin; Ma Yedidus; Yichadsheihu; Niggun Rikud Motzei Shabbos; March Menucha Vesimcha; Niggun Rikud Wedding; Bar Yochai; Niggun Ka Echsof; March Menucha Vesimcha; and Davka.
It should be noted that the words to Kah Echsof were composed by Rebbe Aharon HaGadol of Karlin. In addition to Karlin, other Chassidic groups such as Belz [8th track] have composed their own melodies for it; it is sung by just about all Chassidim.

Zechuso yagein aleinu, v'al kol Yisrael!

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