In honour of the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto – Kalonymous Kalman Shapira’s Yartzeit – 4th Mar Cheshvan
THE HOLY HUNCHBACK by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach
In the Warsaw ghetto there was a Rebbe, the heiliger Reb Klonymus Kalman. He wrote a book and knowing prophetically that he would not survive, he put the manuscript under one of the stones in the ghetto where it was found after the war.
He had a yeshiva not of young people but of children. He was accustomed to say, “My followers eat on Yom Kippur. You know why–they are not bar mitzvah yet.” A great Rabbi would come to him, or an old man and a little boy or girl of four or five. He would say to the older man, “You’ll make it without me. This child needs me.” With older people he would spend five minutes; with children all night. He had thousands of kids. He was their father, their mother, their best friend. After the war, there was nobody left.
My whole life I was hoping and dreaming to see one of these people. A few years ago I was walking on the Yarkon in Tel Aviv and I saw a hunchback–a street cleaner. Do you know that sometimes we are all little prophets? Our heart tells us something. I had a feeling this person was special. He was a real hunchback. His face was very handsome, but every part of his body was disfigured. And I said to him, “Hey, shalom aleichem my friend.” And he answered me in a very heavy Polish-Yiddish Hebrew, “Aleichem shoolum.” I said to him in Yiddish, “Mein zeisse yid, my sweet yiddele, where are you from?” He said, “I’m from Piaseczno.” I said “Piaseczno. Gevalt! Did you ever see Reb Klonymus Kalman?”
“What do you mean, did I ever see him? I was a student in his yeshiva from the age of five to eleven. I was in Auschwitz for five years. I was eleven when I got there. They thought I was seventeen; I was so strong. They beat me up so much I never healed. That’s why I look this way. I have nobody in the whole world, really nobody.”
I said to him, “You know something–my whole life I have been waiting to meet one of the students of Reb Klonymus Kalman. Would you be so kind to give me over one of his teachings?”
He kept on sweeping the street, “You really think that after five years in Auschwitz, I remember the teachings?”
I said, “Yes–the words of the heileger Rebbe penetrate you forever.”
He stopped sweeping. He looked at me and said, “Do you really want to know?”
He touched me so deeply and although you shouldn’t swear, I said to him, “I swear to you, and I mean it with all my heart, that whatever you tell me I shall tell all over the world.”
You know he was a real chasidishe Yid, so he put the broom against a wall and went to wash his hands. And this is what he said: “There will never be a Shabbos as by my holy master, my heiliger Rebbe. Can you imagine–hundreds, sometimes thousands of young people dancing with the holy rebbe in the middle. What a sight! Not until Moshiach is coming. Can you imagine the Rebbe making kiddush sitting with hundreds of children with so much holiness? He gave over teachings between the fish and the soup, between the soup and the meat, between the meat and the dessert and after every teaching, he would always say, “Kinderlach, taire kinderlach, my most precious children, gedenkst shon, remember, di greste zach in di velt ist, zu tun mit emetzin a tova. Children, precious children, just remember the greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor. ”
When I came to Auschwitz, 1 knew my whole family had been killed and I wanted to kill myself. Each time I was about to, I suddenly heard the Rebbe’s voice saying to me, “Gedenkst shon, the greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor.” Do you know how many favors you do in Auschwitz late at night? People dying, people crying; nobody had the strength even to listen to their stories anymore. I would be up all night. A few weeks later I wanted to kill myself again but always at the last moment I’d hear my Rebbe’s voice. Now I’m here in Tel Aviv, but believe me, I’m all alone, there are moments when I decide to commit suicide. I go into the sea until the water reaches my nose. Then suddenly I hear my Rebbe’s voice again and I just can’t permit myself to do it and I run back to the streets. Do you know how many favors you can do on the street?”
My friends, this was before Rosh Hashana. After Succos I came back to Israel and the first morning I went to the Yarkon and I asked the people on that street corner where the hunchback was. They said he died on the second day of Succos.
Listen to me, my beautiful friends, when the Moshiach comes, when all the holy people will come back to the world and the holy hunchback, the holy street cleaner will come back. He will clean the streets of the world. Do you know how he will clean the world? He will go from one corner of the world to the other and he will say, “Yiddelach, gedenkst shon, the greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor.”