Friday, October 05, 2007
I FELT THE REBBE…THROUGH HIS NIGGUN!
You can read more about him in last year’s post, A Daring Beginning; as well as my post from two years ago, Rebbe Shloime Twerski, Ztvk"l.
Although my blog is not a typical "diary" style where I record my personal experiences day after day, I do want to share a personal incident which happened to me today. But before that, a brief intro. Musa Berlin, the renowned klezmerist/clarinetist who played for many years with Reb Shlomo Carlebach, has noted that whenever he plays Reb Shlomo’s niggunim, he can feel Carlebach’s presence, as if he’s accompanying him as he did in the past.
But moreover, there’s an amazing story in Yitta Halberstam’s book, Small Miracles for the Jewish Heart [pp. 93-100]. There she recounts a story that occurred during the Shiva [seven-day period of mourning] for her father. She read a poem her father had written in Yiddish, and then, "as I read the poem, my heart ached for my father…and suddenly, as if a spell had been cast over me…I began to write a poem myself…When I finished writing the poem, I shook myself out of a mental state…that I felt was more akin to a trance…Looking at the notebook in my lap, I shook my head in disbelief…What made me tremble in fear was the fact that I, Yitta Halberstam – whom everyone teased about her broken Yiddish…I had just written a piece in flawless literary Yiddish."
The story goes on to relate that two days later she wrote yet another poem in flawless literary Yiddish, and when questioned as to who really wrote the poems, she writes: "And having pondered this very same question myself during the dark nights of longing for my beloved parent, I could only answer them with what I knew was the absolute truth: 'My father.' " [Please read the whole story, for I have only touched its surface here].
Now here’s what happened to me: the Gabbai of our Shul asked me to daven Shacharis [lead the morning prayer] on Simchas Torah morning, which includes Hallel [Tehillim/Psalms 113-118]. Often I try to 'prepare in advance' what niggunim to sing for the various parts of the Tefillos. But since I don’t know when I’ll be called, I often walk to Shul thinking of niggunim I’d use in case I’m called upon. So, among other tunes, I thought of using Rebbe Shloime Twerski zt"l's niggun for Lo Amus - Pischu Li in Hallel. It’s a very soulful and moving tune, and one of a handful that we have from him. In addition, it is somewhat difficult to sing, and also not well-known, which means it’s basically going to be a "solo".
When I got to that part of Hallel [Tehillim 118:17-20], I started this niggun. Somewhere in verse 18, I think it was with the words "and He has not given me over to death," I felt the Rebbe’s presence so strongly that I almost choked with tears as I was singing. I did not close my eyes and see his face; it was just a very strong feeling of his presence very close to me, apparently something like the anecdotes of Musa Berlin and Yitta Halberstam mentioned above.
Of course, I could not allow myself to cry openly on Yom Tov, so I "pulled myself together" and continued the niggun [the hardest part was yet to come] successfully. But for a brief instant, I really felt the Rebbe’s presence. I only realized later that it was right before his yahrzeit…
Zechuso yagein Aleinu v’al Kol Yisrael - May Rebbe Shloime’s merits protect us all!