V’chulom Mekablim (The Kaliver Rebbe)

June 2, 2022

Our daily davening consists of three distinct parts: the first – Birchas HaShachar and Pesukei D’zimra – is an arrangement of praise and thanksgiving to HaKadosh Baruch Hu, the second – Kri’as Shema u’birchoseha – is the acceptance of the yoke of Malchus Shomayim, and the third – Shmoneh Esrei – is the heart of our tefilos and is the apex of the antecedent prayers. Understandably, before we can stand before The King of all kings to express our personal thanks and supplications, we must first acknowledge and affirm His absolute sovereignty.

Before Kri’as Shema (in the bracha of יוֹצֵר אוֹר), we describe the malachim as doing so with the utmost reverence. וְכֻלָּם מְקַבְּלִים עֲלֵיהֶם עֹל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם – It is with great awe and gripping fear that the celestial beings all take upon themselves the Kingship of Heaven. In turn, we proceed to mimic their routine as we prepare to declare and confirm our perfect faith in the Oneness of Hashem with “Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad.”

The three days that precede the Yom Tov of Shavuos are called the Shloshes Yimei Hagbalah – the preparatory period that we were given at Har Sinai before Kabalas HaTorah. I thought we would highlight a classic niggun that can ignite and uplift our souls, readying ourselves for the great day ahead. Before doing so, however, we must first be introduced to its holy composer.

The Kaliver Rebbe, Rav Menachem Mendel Taub, zt’l (1923-2019) was a seventh-generation descendant of the prolific composer and founder of the Kaliv chassidus, Rav Yitzchak Eizik of Kaliv. {See https://jewishmusicalnotes.com/2021/11/12/shalom-aleichem-mbd/ for more information on this saintly singer.}

Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the Kaliver Rebbe got married to Rebbetzin Chana Sarah Shifra, the youngest child of the illustrious Rebbe Pinchas Shapiro of Kechnia. The young couple settled in Vishau, but storm clouds soon darkened the skies. In 1939, the Rebbe’s father was niftar, leaving him solely responsible for his six orphaned siblings. As the war raged on, they fled to Hungary, where they would remain until 1944. In May of 1944, following the Nazi conquest of Hungary, Rav Menachem Mendel, his wife and his six brothers and sisters were apprehended and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

They arrived three days before Shavuos.

On his first morning in Auschwitz, the Rebbe saw a large crowd of inmates pushing toward a barbed wire fence. They were reaching for a paper on the other side of the dangerous barrier, thin arms outstretched to pull it close. It was a page of Akdomus – ode to the unbreakable bond between Klal Yisroel and HaKadosh Baruch Hu – and the bloodied, beaten inmates were eager to see the words.

While being led to the gas chambers, the Rebbe started to prepare himself spiritually for what seemed imminent. He cried out “Shema Yisroel!” and then had a thought. ‘Ribono Shel Olam, this might be the last time I will be saying Shema. Soon I will be with the rest of my family in Shomayim. But Ribono Shel Olam, what do You gain if I say Shema and die Al Kiddush Hashem? If You give me life, then I promise that I will say Shema Yisroel, declaring Your Oneness and Kingship with all those who will outlive the war!’

Miraculously, he was saved. Again, and again and again.

Over the next few months, the Rebbe would endure the treacherous treatments conducted by the despicable Josef Mengle yemach shemo, the results of which would render him unable to bear children nor grow a beard. Narrowly escaping death at every turn, he made sure to keep his end of the deal. From Auschwitz, he would be sent to the Warsaw Ghetto and then the Breslau concentration camp, until eventually being transported to (and liberated from) Bergen-Belsen.

Six months after the war ended, the Rebbe discovered that his wife had also survived and had made her way to a DP camp in Sweden. The young Rebbe traveled to Sweden and immediately began picking up the pieces. He would circulate the camp, give uplifting lectures and sing with the survivors. His powerful words and comforting melodies helped mend their shattered spirits, and his encouragement eventually brought many back to Yiddishkeit. In 1947, they immigrated to the US where he would commence his life’s calling – memorializing the Kedoshim and rebuilding Torah and Yiddishkeit in Eretz Yisroel and the diaspora – devotedly doing so for the next 70 years.

A constant source of strength and inspiration, the Kaliver Rebbe traveled extensively, speaking to diverse groups – secular and religious, young and old alike – calling for Achdus wherever he went and proclaiming aloud the Shema Yisroel, fulfilling the promise he made to Hashem all those years before.

This original recording of V’chulom Mekablim is from the 1977 album of Kaliver Nigunim sung by the esteemed chazzan, Cantor Benzion Miller. Chazzan Miller himself was born in a German DP camp, and is the son, grandson and great-grandson of prominent pre-war Bobover chazzanim. Benzion’s son, Shimmy, is also a chazzan and choral director, as he continues the chain of Miller family cantorial mastery.

What better way to begin our Shavuos preparations than with this timeless niggun of devotion and faith, united in declaring our readiness to accept Hashem as our One and Only King.

Many of the above details have been adapted with permission from Mishpacha.com

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2 Comments

  1. elisha

    I never heard this rendition before!
    Beautiful!

    Reply
  2. rob shorr

    Absolutely soul stirring, with joy and love of Hashem and His people

    Reply

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