A Story for Shabbos



According to the words of a traditional Shabbos song that is sung at the table on Friday night, Shabbos enables us to experience “menuchah, simchah, and ohr” – contentment, joy, and light.


We first experienced contentment, joy, and light in the Garden of Eden, when our entire being was dedicated to serving the life-giving Divine purpose. At the final stage of human history, when we fully regain the spiritual consciousness of the Garden of Eden, we will once again experience this contentment, joy, and light.


The Loving One has given us a special gift which enables us to experience a “taste” of this delightful age of the future. This gift is “Shabbos” – the sacred seventh day which reminds us of the goal of the human journey. The Talmud therefore states that Shabbos is a “Semblance of the World to Come” (Brochos 57b). In Jewish tradition, “the World to Come” has two meanings. It refers to the world that a righteous soul enters after it departs from this earth, and it also refers to the final period of human history (which will be preceded by the messianic age). This final stage of human history is known as “the day that will be entirely Shabbos and contentment for everlasting life" (Mishnah Tamid 7:4).


We therefore yearn for the day when the spirit of Shabbos will go out into the world. In this letter, I will share with you an amazing story about a Yiddish song which expresses this yearning. (This story was first shared with our mailing list several years ago in a letter which was dedicated to Hazon participant, Henry Sapoznik, a noted authority on Yiddish and klezmer music.)


Dear Friends,


In the Fall of 1992, Rabbi Yonah Lazar left the comfortable surroundings of his Torah community in Lakewood, New Jersey, and traveled with his wife and child 10,000 miles away to head a Torah school in Kishinev, the capital of Moldova, formerly of the Soviet Union. The school was called “Yeshivas Kishinev”; it was started in 1990, and it had a division for boys and a division for girls. Rabbi Lazar and his partner, Rabbi Velvel Tabak, taught the boys, and their wives, Mrs. Shira Lazar and Mrs. Aviva Tabak, taught the girls.


Before we continue our story, I need to give you some relevant information about Kishinev: After World War I, Kishinev became part of Romania and flourished as a vibrant Jewish community in which there were more than 70 shuls (synagogues) and a yeshiva known as “Yeshivas Kishinev.” During World War II, Kishinev was taken over by the Germans, who then proceeded to destroy the Jewish population. After the war, this region became part of the Soviet Union, and it is now an independent country - one which gives Jews the right to study and practice Judaism. As a result, a new Torah school was started with the name of the yeshiva which existed before the war.


One Friday night, as the boys at the new school were welcoming the arrival of Shabbos, Rabbi Lazar and Rabbi Tabak taught them the words of an old Yiddish song that is sung to a slow and haunting melody:


Volt Ich geven b'koach, volt Ich in di gassen gelofen, Ich volt geshrein hoich, Shabbos, heiliger Shabbos - If I would have the strength, I would run out into the streets and I would proclaim aloud, Shabbos, Holy Shabbos! 

To the boys, that song was electric! As though charged with vibrations from their inner soul, they responded to the words they could hardly pronounce and at first didn't understand. They sang the song with vigor and each time they repeated it, they sung the words with greater intensity. The boys eventually translated the song into Russian.


There were Friday nights when Rabbi Lazar would watch the boys sway in unison with an exhilarating camaraderie. The intense emotion gave him the feeling of kedushas Shabbos - the holiness of Shabbos - as he had never experienced it before. And he marveled at the way the boys had “adopted” that particular old Yiddish song about the holiness of Shabbos.


In December 1993, Rabbi Lazar and his family left the yeshiva in Kishinev and returned to America.  He eventually assumed a position as the seventh-grade rebbe in Yeshiva Toras Emes in Los Angeles. One Friday night, Rabbi Lazar was reading a book of recollections written by some prewar students of the original yeshiva in Kishinev. They had survived the Holocaust, and were now living in Israel. In one of the essays, Aaron Wasserman recalls with longing the warm Torah atmosphere in prewar Kishinev. He describes Shabbos in Kishinev, as Sadigerer, Boyaner, Tchortkover, and Chernobeler chassidim walked down the streets to their respective shtieblach (small and informal shuls). He writes:


"But more significant than anything else were the boys in Yeshivas Kishinev who were so beloved for their sincerity and total dedication to Torah and Yiras Shamayim (Awe of Heaven). The baalebatim (lay people) in town would make their way down to the dining room of the yeshiva on Friday night, ostensibly to help serve the meal and make sure that each of the students were fed sufficiently. But in reality, we came to hear the boys singing their stirring melodies and provide that holy spirit of Shabbos. Who can forget that modest pious Jew, the Slonimer chassid, Reb Zechariah the watchmaker, who would lead everyone with his rapturous rendition of the well-known song of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev: ‘If I would have the strength, I would run out in the streets and I would proclaim aloud, Shabbos, Holy Shabbos!’ It was then that we felt the holiness of Shabbos - a world that was filled with Shabbos. I can only reiterate that anyone who did not witness that sight has never tasted the savoring flavor of Shabbos."


Reading this in Los Angeles, Rabbi Lazar sat stunned! More than 50 years had gone by since the days when the song of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was heard in Yeshivas Kishinev. There had been physical and spiritual destruction. And yet the souls of the new generation of students were stirred by the very same song.


Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,


Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See Below)


Related Comments:


1. It has been suggested that the Hebrew word “zemer” - melody - is related to the Hebrew word “zamar” - to prune or to shear. This signifies that a melody has the power to shear away physical and/or emotional impediments that prevent us from connecting to the depth of our souls. 


2. The above story about the Shabbos song of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev can be found in “Echoes of the Maggid” by Rabbi Paysach Krohn, page 87. This collection of true and inspiring stories is published by ArtScroll: http://www.artscroll.com/linker/hazon/home . Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's Shabbos song has been translated into Hebrew, and it is sung by many Jews in Israel as they welcome the arrival of Shabbos.


3. I want to thank my friend, Rabbi Yehoshua Friedman, for pointing out a spelling error in the last letter: The melacha of changing the color of a cloth is to be spelled “dyeing” and not “dying”; however, within my spelling error, there is a spark of truth. For in the future age – “the day that will be entirely Shabbos” – dying will be forbidden by the Creator, as it is written, “He will eliminate death forever” (Isaiah 25:8).

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