Some days it is difficult to see Hashem’s Presence shining through the cracks. Other days, it is almost impossible to miss. Yesterday was one of those days.
Friends, I would like to share with you the following remarkable story.
My great, great, great grandfather was Reb Shmuel Shmelke Klein zt”l, also known as the Seilisher Gaon (1804-1875). This tzaddik was rav and rosh yeshiva in the Hungarian cities of Balkany, Chuszt, and Selish where he achieved widespread renown and adoration throughout the entire region. In a biography of Reb Shmelke written by a grandson who spent much time with him, the author states that in addition to his genius in Torah, passion in avodah, and refinement in middos, Reb Shmelke was a prolific composer of original music. Each Thursday evening in his large yeshiva, Reb Shmelke would introduce a brand-new song to be sung by Lech Dodi the following night, “in honor of a brand new Shabbos, one the world has not yet seen.”
Growing up, I would occasionally ask my father about these tunes. Could it be that of all these hundreds of melodies, not even one was passed down through the generations? Was it possible that our special family nussach for kiddush and havdalah come from the Zeideh? Was there any way to confirm, one way or the other?
Although, because my father uses the nussach of his father who likely heard it from his father and so on, it is probable that it comes from Reb Shmelke, there was no way to know for sure. However, one thing seemed to be certain. Incredibly, there were no known melodies of which to speak.
Wednesday morning, I received an email from a close rebbe and dear friend of mine, Reb Moshe Perlstein. Aside from many other wonderful things, Reb Moshe is also a proud descendant of Reb Shmelke Seilisher. He had contacted me to say that he had recently been researching his ancestry to determine the exact nature of his relationship with the tzaddik when he came across an obscure Hebrew journal containing a literary portrait of our grandfather. Part of the article contained a picture of what appeared to be sheet music containing musical notation that had been written in by hand. Below the picture, a copy of which Reb Moshe had attached to the email, were the words:
“Notes of the niggun Reb Shmuel Shmelke would sing at the time of smelling besamim.”
My heart skipped a beat. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! Could it be that we had finally found a melody from the tzaddik, Reb Shmelke Seilisher?
I don’t read sheet music, so I sent the picture to a few musician friends. They found it difficult to decipher. However, one friend recorded a video of him playing the melody on the piano to the best of his ability. Although there is some obscurity in the progression, the core “tenu’ah” shines through, loud and clear. I was beside myself with joy. What a treasure! What a gift! After over a hundred years of concealment, this melody had suddenly reappeared, out of the blue!
But this is not the end of the story.
A little over a year ago, my wife and I merited to name our newborn son “Shmuel Shmelke” after the Gaon of Seilish. A few days after the bris, I received a message from a number I did not recognize.
“Hello, my name is Shmuel Shmelke Klein. My friend and old classmate sent me a message that a friend of his just named his baby Shmuel Shmelke Klein and asked if it is after the same person. Well, it is! He forwarded me the beautiful words you sent out in honor of the bris. I read them to my father today. He is 87 years old.”
After thanking this new cousin for reaching out and wishing his father well, we had a pleasant conversation and promised to keep in touch. But life moved on, and we hardly spoke since that initial contact.
After receiving the email from Reb Moshe, a thought popped into my head. Why don’t I reach out to this Shmuel Shmelke Klein and compare notes on the nussach for kiddush and havdalah our families use? Perhaps they sing this very melody by the smelling of besamim!
I quickly pulled up my distant cousin’s contact on my phone and sent him a message asking about the nussach he uses at home and whether his family sings a special tune for besamim. I didn’t tell him about my new discovery; I was saving that as a surprise for later. I wanted to open the conversation up first.
I waited eagerly for a reply. After a minute or two, it came. And this is what it said:
“Reb Yaakov, thank you for reaching out. Unfortunately, we have one less link to our past now, as we are sitting shiva for my father who was niftar yesterday.”
For a second time, my heart skipped a beat.
Baruch dayan ha’emes.
The same day a precious link in this glorious ancestral chain was lost, an old melody for besamim from that very chain reappeared in the world after over a hundred years of obscurity. A gate had been opened. Hashem takes, and Hashem gives.
With a broken heart, I responded with the customary “HaMakom yenachem.”
I then told him about the discovery of the niggun.
“Who knows if your father alav hashalom wasn’t the one who opened the gate for this precious melody? In our darkest moment, Hashem sends us gifts to give us strength, to remind us that He is here. R’ Shmuel Shmelke, I can’t send you the piano recording of this tune. But please let me sing you the besamim melody of your namesake. May this sweet niggun bring you comfort, and may we only share good news in the future.”
אֵיזֶהוּ דָּבָר שֶׁהַנְּשָׁמָה נֶהֱנֵית מִמֶּנּוּ… הֱוֵי אוֹמֵר זֶה הָרֵיחַ
Yehi zichro baruch.
May Hashem wipe the tears from upon all faces.