hassidic hat 58.
(photo credit: Illustrative photo)
Rabbi Yitzhak Eizek Taub of Kaliv (1751-1821) is probably the most famous
Hungarian hassidic master. He served as the rabbi of the Szabolcs district,
residing in the northeastern Hungarian town of Nagykallo. He was a popular
leader, renowned for his ability to work miracles. He was said to magically
travel to Safed every Friday afternoon together with his attendant, so that he
could dip in the mikve of the famed kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572).
Once the Kaliver Rebbe returned to Hungary, leaving his attendant behind. When
the attendant emerged from the mikve, he was startled to find himself so far
The master from Kaliv left no written works, though recently
statements attributed to him have been compiled into a book. Besides the tales
of his miraculous exploits, his legacy lies primarily in his music. He would
adapt Hungarian folk songs, adding Hebrew words or Jewish themes and explaining
that these tunes were really from Temple times that had regrettably been lost
and adulterated in foreign hands. It was his holy work to redeem the music and
return it to the Jewish people. According to hassidic lore, once a gentile would
teach the Kaliver Rebbe a song, the gentile would promptly forget the melody.
The song most commonly identified with the Kaliver Rebbe is “Szol a Kakas
There was once a wealthy person who would travel to Nagykallo every
Rosh Hashana to hear the sincere and melodious prayers of the Kaliver
rich man would wait in eager anticipation for him to recite the Unetaneh Tokef
prayer, for this passage, as chanted by the hassidic master, moved him
other did. Every year he would return home and rave about the Unetaneh Tokef
the Kaliver Rebbe, promising his wife that next year she would travel
to hear his prayers.
Alas, as each Rosh Hashana arrived, there seemed to
be a new reason preventing the rich hassid from taking his wife.
cold, wintry day the holy Kaliver Rebbe arrived in the town of the rich
The purpose of his journey was to raise funds for a needy bride, and
wealthy hassid got word of this he hatched a cunning plan that he shared
When the Kaliver Rebbe arrived at his home, the wealthy hassid
made him an offer that he thought he could not refuse: “My dear master, I
desire that my wife should hear your powerful prayers. If you would
chant the Unetaneh Tokef
passage, I will guarantee the entire sum you wish to
raise and you need not continue on your arduous journey through the
countryside of Hungary.”
The Kaliver Rebbe did not reject the tempting
offer outright: “I need to consider your proposition,” he told his host.
have an answer for you in the morning.”
The host was overjoyed; surely
the master would acquiesce to his generous suggestion, for everyone
gain: He would share the moving experience of the Kaliver Rebbe’s prayer
his wife, the rebbe would be spared the travails of the journey and the
bride would be assured of financial stability! How could the Kaliver
refuse? The next morning the wealthy hassid entered the rebbe’s room,
pounding in excited anticipation. He turned to the hassid: “Indeed, your
is more than generous, and it would be fantastic to receive the entire
expediently. I would certainly save valuable time that could be
Torah study and I would be able to joyfully return home instead of
along snowy roads and byways. Alas, I cannot accept your offer.
say the Unetaneh Tokef
sense that the heavenly court is in attendance.
And when I say that angels hurry this way and that, gripped by fear and
trembling, I see them before me just as I described.
“This is the
commotion I cause in heaven with my prayers on Rosh Hashana and on Yom
It would hardly be right to trouble the angels and cause such a tumult
mundane weekday. If I fulfilled your request, as the angels bustled they
ask: ‘What is going on?’ ‘Didn’t you hear? Eizek is saying Unetaneh Tokef
on Rosh Hashana, just to raise some money.’ ‘That is why he is bothering
they would ask incredulously.
“I, too, would be embarrassed, as I would
hear them say: ‘For 300 coins he is bothering the entire heavenly
court?’ I am
sorry, my dear friend, I cannot fulfill your wish. There is an
for everything.”The writer is on the faculty of Pardes
Jewish Studies and is a rabbi in Tzur Hadassah.