The Singing Tzaddik

When the eye is ready the vision will appear. When the ear is ready, the song will appear. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Visionary, singer, teacher--such a man, Eizik Taub, was born in Szerencz (Zemplen County, Northeastern Hungary), in 1751. Blessed with a melodious voice, each of his songs rejoices, weeps, sheds light on Torah and expects the Messiah at any moment. Like King David, Eizik started out life as a shepherd, who, while feeding his flock, would say, "Master of the Universe, I wish to emulate Your attributes and have compassion on every creature." Unusual words for a simple young boy tending sheep, but read on ...

In Eizik's case, who is the teacher and who is the student? There are at least two schools of thought.

One: Like Jacob who had to come to a place where all the shepherds were gathered before he met Rachael, so too was Rabbi Aryeh Leib Sarah's1 driven to roam around shepherds who were trying spiritually to control their passions in isolated places.

According to Avraham Yaakov Finkel, "Rabbi Leib Sarah's, the great mystic in faraway Russia, perceived that in Hungary there existed an exalted soul that was waiting to be redeemed."2 So he set out on a holy calling, as well as to search out other new adherents for Chasidus.

On such a walk in Hungary he came upon the young shepherd Eizik Taub. Eizik was singing: "Shechinah, Shechinah, how far you are; exile, exile, how long you are. If the exile were not so long, we could be together." After listening for a time, Rabbi Leib Sarah's asked the lad who taught him the song.

"It's a song every shepherd around here knows," said Eizik.

"With the words you sang? asked the rabbi.

"No," explained the lad. "Instead of 'Shechinah,' they say 'beloved.'"

And here Eizik sang the song again, as it once was:

Forest, O forest, how vast are you!
Rose, O rose, how distant you are!
Were the forest not so vast,
My rose wouldn't be so far.
Who will guide me out of the forest,
And unite me with my rose?3

Then he sang it as Rabbi Leib Sarah's heard it.

Exile, O exile, how vast are you!
Shechinah, Shechinah, how distant you are!
Were the exile not so vast,
The Shechinah wouldn't be so far.
Who will guide me out of the exile,
And unite me with the Shechinah?

Deeply impressed, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Sarah's couldn't help wonder whence came this boy's Torah knowledge. In reply, Eizik told the rabbi that until then he had studied under a tutor, Rabbi Yitzchak of Przeworsk. Returning home with Eizik, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Sarah's asked Eizik's mother (his father was deceased) for permission to take the boy to study under Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke Horowitz of Nikolsburg (1726-1778); the mother readily agreed; and the little shepherd's melody quickly became popular with many tzaddikim.

As for Eizik, under the tutelage of Rabbi Shmelke, he became an outstanding Torah and Chasidus scholar. His knowledge of both niglah and nistar, the revealed and mystical aspects of Torah, was legendary. Returning home to Hungary, he became the teacher of the children of Yaakov Fisch, the head of the Jewish community of Nagy Kallo. He married Feigi, the daughter of Ansil Kohn of Tarezak. Within a short time, he was named the Rabbi of Kalev, serving forty years and gaining thousands of new followers for the chasidic movement.

A second school of thought: The Kalever Rabbi learned from the Maggid of Mezeritch4 a melody for the hymn of the Haggadah, "The Mighty In His Kingdom," and was greatly pleased with it. The Maggid said he had learned it from a shepherd.

From then on, the Kalever made it a habit to walk in pastures to listen to the melodies sung by the shepherds. Like his discoverer Rabbi Aryeh Leib Sarah's, the Kalever chanced upon a shepherd surrounded by his flock and singing a Hungarian love song. Different words, but the melody could never be forgotten. Moved to tears by the song, the Kalever insisted on buying the song from the shepherd. Readily the shepherd agreed. At the request of the Kalever who wished to memorize the song, the shepherd sang the song once, then twice, but on his third attempt he could not recall the song at all. Forever after the niggun belonged again to the Jews. The Kalever said, many times about the song, "that it was once chanted by the Levites in the Holy Temple and was in exile among the unlearned common people."

Perhaps it was his ability to be both shepherd and sheep that endeared him to all Jews. His vision and niggunim earned him the nickname of "the Singing tzaddik." So many times did he appear in the cloak of a shepherd and mix with simple Jews that it seemed to many that he came to learn from them. He did. He listened to their concerns, helped them to solve their problems, and thanked them for helping him draw closer to G-d. He also told stories of the great tzadikim. His point: "All are equal in prayer before the Lord."5 He also helped heal many people's illnesses. And he taught, in his own way, that "prayer is greater than sacrifices."6

The Kalever also sang7:

"The rooster crows,
Dawn brightens the sky
In the green forest, in the verdant meadow
A little bird skips around.
Who are you, little bird?
Who are you, little bird?
Of golden beak and golden feet
That waits for me.
Just wait, dear little bird!
Just wait, dear little bird!
If G-d destined you for me,
I will be one with you.
The rooster sings his morning song,
The sun is slowly rising--
Yibaneh hamikdash, ir Tzion temalei
(May the Temple be rebuilt, the City of Zion replenished)--
When, O when will it be?
Vesham nashir shir chadash uvirnana naaleh,
(There shall we sing a new song, with joyous singing ascend),
It's time, O let it be!"

In another version,8 the Kalever sings: "The cock is already crowing. It will soon be dawn. In the green forest, in the open field, a bird is walking. But what a bird. With yellow legs and wings of blue. It is waiting for me there. Wait, my rose, wait, always wait. If G-d willed me for you, I shall be yours. But when will this come to pass? Yibaneh Ha-Mikdash ir Tziyon temalleh ... (May the Temple be rebuilt and Zion will be populated)."

The Messiah is never far from the thoughts and songs of the Kalever Rebbe.

Another niggun, another shepherd. It is almost dusk. The shepherd's flock has finished grazing and lies around waiting for the shepherd to take them home. For some reason he's delayed the departure. And as every Jew, hearing the niggun, now grasps why, it's perfectly clear: he has been watching something in the distance. What? Someone on a donkey is approaching him on a seemingly endless trek. By the looks of it, the shepherd is transfixed and excited; he can't help wonder who the rider is Can it be? ... is it truly the long-awaited Messiah? The donkey and its rider draw nearer and nearer--and as you hear, for instance, this Hungarian niggun of the Kalever Rebbe sung at a Friday night chasidic get-together of the Sanzer Rav or Vizhnitzer Rebbe, every chasid there also wants it to be the Messiah riding the donkey. And when the shepherd leaps up, waving his staff to welcome the long-awaited one. so too do the chasidim ready to march off to greet the Messiah.

But it's not the Messiah. The shepherd--and the chasidim--take it in stride. The man on the donkey is a fellow Jew. Baring his plaint, the shepherd tells the man on the donkey,

The sheep are weeping,
The herders are moaning,
Go, tell the master
The hay needs the flock.

And the man on the donkey, realizing that he had been mistaken for the Messiah, weeps too, for the plight of his fellow Jews. In comfort, he says,

Greetings, dear shepherd,
How are my sheep?

And the shepherd replies,

Your flock will be well tended
So long as I am their shepherd.

The Kalever Rebbe's "melodies expresthe grief of the Shechinah in exile and the yearnings of the House of Israel for redemption."9 Rest assured always through this niggun about the coming of the Messiah that there's hope. The shepherd asks the donkey rider the question on the lips of every longing Jew. "When will the Messiah come?" The answer--and it has to suffice until he arrives: "He's ready to come."

In 1821, the Singing tzaddik passed on. No longer in exile. United once more with the Shechinah.


1. 1730-1791. An itinerant tzaddik who wandered through the countryside of Hungary seeking new adherents for Chasidus.

2. The Great Chasidic Masters, p. 93.

3. Chaim Bloch, Vienna, 1930; see also The Great Chasidic Masters, p. 94.

4. 1710-1772. The spiritual successor to the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Chasidus.

5. Talmud, Exodus Rabbah.

6. Talmud, Berakhot.

7. One of his favorite songs is "Szol a Kakas Mar" - "The rooster is already crowing." The English translation comes from Avraham Yaakov Finkel's book, The Great Chasidic Masters, pp. 94-95.

8. Rabbi Tzvi Rabinowicz, Chassidic Rebbes, pp. 123-124.

9. Ibid., p. 124.

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