“The great souls feel in the depths of their being their connection to all existence, to all creatures and especially to all humankind…they announce the lights of new life…The Godly song is awake in the souls of the great tzaddikim…the delight of song overwhelms all. They draw the delight of the supernal song to the world of actions and to the practical Torah…The higher a soul the more it feels the unity that is in all…and these souls are full of love and compassion and their desire is filled with good.” (Orot Hakodesh 1: 203,206,708)
Rabbi Avraham Itzchak HaCohen Kook(1865-1935) was the spiritual revolutionary whose teachings, illumination and leadership offered the most holistic and enlightened understanding of the Torah than has ever been presented in Jewish history. Inspired by Lurianic Kabbalah, he integrated all that preceded him as he led and enabled the spiritual return to Israel and the world stage.
“The Baal Shem Tov says that whatever you think of yourself is what you think of God. What we have to do is to stop being so small. We have to have a heart as big as the world, and also a soul which is shuffling back and forth between heaven and earth, and then deeper than our heart and soul, our life has to be filled with something, so deep, so heavenly and so sweet, because there’s so much bitterness in the world. The world just needs one drop of sweetness.” (Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, in an interview in 1988)
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (1925-1994) was the spiritual revolutionary whose teachings, stories, songs and activities offered a sweet taste of the Garden of Eden to a world largely wracked in suffering. He traversed the world sharing the light of Torah and its loving and hopeful song with multitudes of Jewish and non-Jewish people.
I am blessed to be a student of both.
I first met Reb Shlomo at the Kotel on a Friday night in early 1974. He began to sing Lecha Dodi and I felt my spirit rise and my heart open. From that moment, he was an important and joyful part of my life. His visits, teachings and concerts in whatever city I was living in at the time were beloved highpoints in my spiritual growth and experience. One of my great blessings (and responsibilities) in my life was receiving semicha-ordination from him in 1992. His passing was one of the saddest days of my life. His songs and teachings continue to teach and inspire me and many others profoundly.
I first met Rav Kook in the summer of 1980 in a sunlit cottage in Winnipeg Beach, Canada. I sat down to read from the ‘Kook book’-Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser’s wonderful translation. Rav Kook wrote in a state of illumination and as I read his words, I experienced an internal expansion, an inner recognition. I felt my soul stirred, touched by an extraordinary consciousness. His grasp of the brokenness and wholeness of existence and the possibilities for perfection was breathtaking and clear.
I felt I was tasting of the Torah of Eden.
Since that light-filled afternoon, I have often been deeply inspired by the writings of Rav Kook-known by some as Baal Ha’Orot-The Master Of The Lights. One of my greatest blessings is to learn and share his teachings at his historical home, Beit HaRav Kook in Yerushalayim.
I have dedicated my life to sharing his song with the world.
As my learning of Rav Kook’s Torah deepens, I have come to the conclusion that Reb Shlomo was perhaps the most profound exemplar of Rav Kook’s teachings in our time.
His connection to Rav Kook is deep both historically and spiritually.
In 1915 when Rav Kook was exiled in Switzerland, he and his son Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda stayed at the house of Shlomo’s grandfather, Rabbi Dr. Asher Michael Cohen, the Chief Rabbi of Basel. There was consideration of arranging a shidduch between Tzvi Yehuda Kook and Rabbi Cohen’s daughter, Pessia. It did not occur and she ended up marrying Rabbi Naftali Carlebach and giving birth to Shlomo Carlebach.
When Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Z’L first met Reb Shlomo he thus told him “I was supposed to be your father”. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda understood and supported Reb Shlomo.
Rabbi Yochanan Fried, the Chairman of Beit HaRav Kook, was a central student of Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda. He recounts: “Rav Tzvi Yehuda valued Reb Shlomo very much. Very much. A few times I remember him saying very clearly ‘Reb Shlomo is reaching to merchakim/distant places that no one is able to get to. To people that no one else is able to talk to/with. And to distant souls……I know what people may think about him- they don’t understand him. I will not accept any lashon ha’rah about him. I really know the value of what he is doing. There is no one else in the world doing anything like that.’
After the first House of Love prayer in Kiryat Yovel, Jerusalem-it began and didn’t go so well [it was burnt down a number of times]. Reb Shlomo came with his students to see Rav Tzvi Yehuda. Rav Tzvi Yehuda later told his students that ‘Reb Shlomo is taking people to the mikveh so that they’ll be clean and this is something very important.’
Another story: Rav Tzvi Yehuda has a Wednesday night shiur with his main students -Rabbi Chaim Drukman, Rabbi Eliezer Waldman and others every Wednesday night at his house. One time we were all kept waiting outside his door for over an hour. This was very unusual. Suddenly Rav Tzvi Yehuda came out with Shlomo and accompanied him to the street though it was very hard for Rab Tzvi Yehuda to walk at that point. They parted with hugs and kisses. When we came in together, he explained in very strong language that ‘you don’t yet know who Reb Shlomo really is, how much Reb Shlomo really is’.
In Elul 1959, Shabbat Parshat Ki Teitzeh/Re’eh at Beit HaRav…it was the Aliyat to the Torah of the children of two important students-Rabbi Yaakov Ariel who is today the Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan , and Rabbi Yaakov Friedman -Founder and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Tifrach. I brought Reb Shlomo from the Melachim Hotel. All the important rabbis were there …When Tzvi Yehuda saw him he said ‘he’ll doven Musaf’.
And so it was, all the Rabbinic families had great chazanim there but Tzvi Yehuda insisted that he doven …and it was there that he composed the Keter/Shma Israel -’Mimkomo Hu Yiten Rachamav…
After the Tefilla Rav Tzvi Yehuda said (Rav Kook and his son dovened Nusach Ashkenaz) how much he appreciated that Shlomo brought the Keter…”
Reb Shlomo had a deep appreciation of Rav Kook and his importance. As he said in a talk to Yeshiva LeZeirim-Youth Yeshiva connected to Mercaz HaRav Kook: “There is no tzaddik and holy person in the world who speaks of love of Israel like our holy rabbi HaRav Kook…and there is no tzaddik in the world who explains that through love of Israel we come to love the entire world. Everyone disregards this. A Jew has to love the entire world, to repair the world…and how can you repair the world without love?…
Rav Kook was the greatest in relation to love…There is not a tzaddik in the world who ever exhibited the qualities of being of Avraham Avinu like our holy Rabbi, Rav Kook…Rav Kook believed in perfect faith that it is possible to speak to the lowest Jew, the Jew of Sdom and to make them into a complete tzaddik, and he also believed this about the entire word…I would say the closest to a Rebbe I would come to would be Rav Kook. To Rav Kook I would definitely go… Rav Kook is one of the only people who mamesh had prophecy for today. Mamesh prophecy…”
Spiritually Shlomo was an inheritor of Torat HaRav Kook in many significant ways. There is much that they shared. Without comparing their level of Torah knowledge as Rav Kook’s was incomparable- they both emerged from deep Torah learning (Volozhin and Lakewood) to bring to the world a unique illuminated blend of the Jewish and the universal.
Their commitment and dedication to Jewish survival, growth and learning was legendary. “Our people will be rebuilt and established, and be renewed in all aspects of its life through the expansion, vitalization and perfection of its religious faith…the divine dimension of its life.” (Orot HaTshuva 15;11)
They both taught the Torah of love. Their caring for the well being of all peoples and nations was outstanding and a tremendous contribution to the renewal of Jewish participation in tikkun olam-world repair. As Rav Kook wrote: “The heart must be filled with love for all. The love of all creation comes first, then comes the love for all humankind, and then follows the love for the Jewish people…All of these loves are to be expressed in practical actions by pursuing the welfare of those we are bidden to love and to seek their advancement.” (Midot HaRayah:Love 1,2)
They both taught that kindness, understanding, and a deep commitment to fixing the broken- inside and out, personal and universal – must accompany all our ways and means. In Rav Kook’s words: “The higher holiness abounds with love, compassion and tolerance, as the mark of its most radiant perfection. Hatred, sternness and irritability result from forgetting G-d and the extinguishing of the light of holiness.” (Orot HaKodesh, 3:317)
They both rose high and pointed us to a greater future. Again, Rav Kook: “The understanding that dawns on a person to see the world, not as finished, but as in the process of continued becoming, ascending, developing- raises one from being ‘under the sun’ to being ‘above the sun, from the place where there is nothing new to the place where there is nothing old, where everything takes on new form…In this luminous perspective one looks at all the world, at general and human development, at the destiny of each creature, at all the events of all times.” (Orot HaKodesh 2:220)
They both expressed the depths of their inner understanding in new and original ways that continue to teach and inspire the generations that follow them: “Understanding reached by one’s own mind is the highest expression of spiritual progress…The uniqueness of the inner soul in its own authenticity is the highest manifestation of the seed of divine light…from which will bud and blossom the fruit of the tree of life.” (Orot HaKodesh, 1:180,177)
They both taught and creatively demonstrated in many ways that the free unfettered song of the inner soul is our divinity in expression. As Rav Kook declares: “The soul sings always…a person must raise themselves to the height of meeting their own soul, of recognizing its spiritual imprint, the rushing of its wings that abound in the majesty of the holy of holies. Then one will always be ready to listen to the secret of its holy discourse.” (Orot HaKodesh-174)
Shlomo’s holy discourse integrated Torat HaRav Kook and he was one of the first to speak of Rav Kook publicly in English and outside of Israel.
He taught pieces of Torat HaRav throughout his life. Someone who accompanied him regularly told me that sometimes if he saw Haredi Jews in the group, he would make a point of teaching Rav Kook.
As one of the final major teachings of his life, he taught a series of classes at Jerusalem’s Yakar on Rav Kook’s Orot HaTshuva-The Lights of Return”. He told his students there: “I want you to know that every word that Rav Kook wrote touches on the deepest secrets of Kabbalah, Midrash and Talmud.”
Shlomo embraced the Dati Leumi/Religious Zionist movement that emerged from Rav Kook and they embraced him. He performed for them all over Israel, including Yehuda ve Shomron. At the previously mentioned talk to the Yeshiva Tzeirim he said to the students: “I bless you that you be true chassidim of Rav Kook.”
Reb Shlomo was a true chassid of Rav Kook and his largest and most universal teachings. We and the whole world were blessed by his song.
In his honor and dedicated to his great light, I’d like to conclude by sharing one of Rav Kook’s most famous and poetic teachings. I offer it as a tribute to Reb Shlomo’s multifaceted gifts to the world.
The piece is based on the Tikkunei Zohar teaching that the Divine 4 letter Name YHVH (Yud,Heh,Vav,Heh)-is a שיר מרובע-a fourfold song.
“Yesh she’hoo shaar shirat nafsho-there is the one who sings the song of his soul…”
The violin (or perhaps guitar) of Reb Shlomo’s soul brought him to Olam HaNigun/The World of Song…Tehillim was his ladder, David HaMelech his mentor and his guitar his loyal friend. He told me that he only learnt a few chords, but as his first teacher later admiringly said to him: “you’re my best student because nobody ever did so much with 3 or 4 chords.”
“VeYesh she hoo shar shirat ha’ooma- And there is the one who sings the song of his people…”
Am Yisrael Chai– those 3 or 4 chords became hundreds of songs. Reb Shlomo began to sing and the Jewish people began to sing with him.
He never stopped. Airplane after airplane; to wherever he was invited- synagogues, summer camps, youth groups, JCCs, Hillel Houses, kibbutzim, settlements and living rooms. Inviting everyone to Israel and inviting everyone in Israel to sing and dance with him.
And we still are. Every Friday nite tens, if not hundreds of minyanim welcome Malkat Shabbat with his nigunim. His spot at the Kotel is stronger than ever. We have a very popular ‘Carlebach Minyan’ at Beit HaRav Kook. Hundreds of holy hippelech with happy hasidim and everyone in between drawn to ‘sing a song of Shabbos’.
And not just on Shabbos. Weddings have not been the same since he showed us how to sing with ’kol chatan ve’kol kala’. Every day, his songs are sung, his stories are told, and more and more of his deep and broad Torahs are coming out. He continues to be a major Jewish inspiration for many young people.
‘Ve’yesh-And there is the one who expands their being beyond the boundary of Israel la’sheer et shirat ha’adam-to sing the song of humankind.’
He truly sang with all humankind. In concert halls, churches, ashrams, festivals-all over the world. He predated the World Wide Web with his own Whole Wide World singing harmony. He sang in Germany and Austria and sent children and grandchildren of Nazis to volunteer in Israel after they tearfully approached him at concerts. When asked on Israeli radio how he could return to sing in those countries, he answered ‘If I had two hearts, one of them could afford to hate…’
‘Ve’Yesh..And there is the one who rises toward wider horizons uniting with all existence, with all creatures, with all worlds, ve’eem koolam omer shira-and he sings his song with all of them’.
HeHarim rakdu ke’eileem, gevaot kee’vney tzon- Reb Shlomo led us in singing and dancing with the moutains and the rams, the high places and the lambs…..be’yemeenee Michael –with the angels on every side…….ve’al roshi, Shechinat El -and above all, above all, the Shining Face of El.
‘Ve’Yesh…And there is the one who rises with all these songs together in one ensemble, they all join their voices together, harmonizing their melodies..‘
He invited all to ‘Give me harmony’ and brought so many to sing together.
He gave us so many songs:
‘Kol sasson ve’kol simcha-songs of joy and gladness;
Kol tzahala ve’kol rina-songs of jubiliation and celebration;
Kol chedva ve’kol kedusha-songs of ecstasy and holiness.’
As a Holy Rebbe, he truly integrated:
‘Shirat Ha’Nefesh-the song of the soul,
Shirat Ha’Ooma-the song of the people,
Shirat Ha’Adam-the song of humankind,
Shirat Ha’Olam-the song of the world.’
Showing us how ‘ישראל –Israel is truly שיר אל -Shir El-the Song of God.’
He gave us:
‘Shir pashut-one chord songs,
Shir kaful-two chords songs,
Shir meshulash-three chord songs,
Shir merooba-four chord songs.
Shir HaShirim Asher Le’Shlomo–The Song of Songs of Holy Reb Shlomo
Le’Melech ShehaShalom Shelo–To The Holy One of Shalom’
יהי זכרו ברוך-May his memory be a blessing.
This article first appeared in the wonderful Carlebach anthology prepared by Rabbi Joseph Schonwald, Shlita- “What Do We Know?” (2017) https://www.abebooks.com/What-know-Carlebach-Anthology-Schonwald-Rabbi/30832802754/bd