The Gift of Shabbos
“What do I give my children when they go off to their own house? The holy Shabbos. Take it with you. You know what kind of Shabbos I have? I have the Shabbos of my father and my grandfather.”
“Some parents leave their children a little piece of real estate in Switzerland. Thank G-d, my father, Rabbi Naftali Carlebach, zt”l, didn’t leave me anything from this world. My father left me Shabbos.”
Every Friday night, Rebbe Shlomo Carlebach’s father would take young Shlomo and his brother, Eli Chaim, by the hand and walk with them from room to room throughout the house singing Shalom Aleichem [Peace unto you] to the angels.
Their mother, Pessia, would start worrying if by Wednesday they still didn’t have any guests for Shabbos.
When Rebbe Shlomo was only three years old, he would wake up every day and ask, “When is Shabbos? When is Shabbos?”
When Rebbe Shlomo was asked why he always emphasized Shabbos so much instead of some other mitzva, he answered, “Because everyone needs a taste of Paradise.”
Once, at a Shabbaton in South America, a reporter came to Rebbe Shlomo and said, “Shlomo, I don’t want to bother you, but I have just one small question. How do you feel about us Catholics persecuting you for so long?”
Rebbe Shlomo replied, “Right now I am in the midst of Shabbos. On Shabbos, nobody hates me, nobody persecutes me. For this question, you have to come back on Sunday.”
The House of Love and Prayer
There were thousands of young people who came to me on Friday nights in the House of Love and Prayer in California. Once I found a letter in which one of these young people wrote to her parents, “Why didn’t you ever tell me about Shabbos? Why didn’t you ever tell me about the treasures my forefathers left for me?”
Many people thought that the young people who flocked to the House of Love and Prayer were looking for drugs, but they were really looking for something holy. Drugs are about a moment. How about a moment of Shabbos!
In 1966 I was invited to sing at the Berkley folk festival. There I saw thousands of young people whom the world condemned as being dope addicts. I realized that they were really yearning for something holy. Their souls were so pure, so awesome!
The festival began on Thursday morning. On Friday morning I announced, “Tonight I am going to the Synagogue. Anyone who might be interested can join me.” I thought that maybe ten or fifteen people would show up. Over two thousand people came to the small Synagogue!
I thought that the people at the Synagogue would be so happy that so many young people came, but the president phoned me later and said, “This was the most disgusting thing that ever happened.” We had had people staying and celebrating Shabbos, studying, and singing, until four in the morning! The way the Synagogue president responded was a shame. This made me realize that I had to have my own place. So we created the House of Love and Prayer. Every Friday night hundreds of people came.
There was a certain man who came to the House of Love and Prayer for services one Friday night. At the end of the service he pulled out a musical instrument and started to play it. Of course, that is not what we do in an Orthodox Synagogue on Shabbos, but I said nothing because he was coming to be with us on Shabbos and I was glad that he came. He did it again the next week, and the week after that. Then he came up to me and said, “Thank you for not saying anything to me. I was testing your patience, and now I see that you really would accept me here.” Now he is a doctor and the president of the P.T.A. of an Orthodox school. I never, never tell people what to do.
Smelling the Shabbos
Sometimes people would ask Rebbe Shlomo, “Why are you bothering to talk to this person who has such a poor character?” Rebbe Shlomo would answer, “You have to be a ‘nose Jew.’ I can smell the Shabbos they will have five years from now.”
One person recounted: “I remember walking with Rebbe Shlomo one Shabbos, and a truck driver stopped and called out from his truck, “Shlomo!” Rebbe Shlomo walked over to the truck driver, who had a cigarette dangling from his lips, and said, “Hey, holy brother!”
A woman related how she started observing Shabbos: “One Shabbos morning, I was in my yellow Honda looking for a parking space in front of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s Synagogue in Manhattan. Just then, Rebbe Shlomo rounded the corner on his way to the morning prayers surrounded by a small crowd of people. He spotted me and waved happily, calling out, ‘Good Shabbos! Good Shabbos!’ This was a very deep teaching for me. I thought that I would be criticized for not keeping Shabbos, but instead I was very warmly received. Shortly afterwards, I started observing the Shabbos.”
Walking for Shabbos
We left the motel with Rebbe Shlomo in our car and drove onto the Los Angeles Freeway towards the Reform Temple where we were going to have a Shabbaton. Five minutes on the freeway we realized we were in the midst of a huge traffic jam. We later found out that a gasoline truck had overturned, spilling gasoline all over the freeway. We sat there, barely crawling along, for an hour. It was ten minutes till Shabbos and we were twenty miles from the Temple. We all looked at Rebbe Shlomo who sat in the front with his head back on the seat humming a melody. Five minutes went by. Suddenly Rebbe Shlomo yells out, “Let’s go, we’re walking.” We jumped out of the car, locked up our valuables inside, and started walking.
We walked for about an hour, and it became dark. To top it off, it began to rain. Suddenly a car pulled up next to us. It’s a car full of Jews from the Reform Temple. Since we were so late, they had come looking for us. Rebbe Shlomo said to them, “My friends, why don’t you walk with us? Walking for Shabbos is the greatest mitzva [good deed]!” To our surprise, they pulled their car over to the side, got out, and started waking with us.
Now it seems that one of the people at the Temple had connections with a radio station. It was mentioned on the radio that Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was “walking for Shabbos.” More cars pulled up and people jumped out until we had a group of at least fifty people walking with us in the pouring rain. Rebbe Shlomo began to sing, “The whole world is waiting to sing the song of Shabbos.” We all joined in clapping and singing as we walked.
Many songs, stories, teachings, and twenty miles, later, we arrived at our destination. When we arrived, we found that people had set up cots, hot coffee and food. Even the Red Cross was there with blankets and medicine. They had anticipated a weary, exhausted crowd, but they saw something much different. Rebbe Shlomo asked everybody to get in a circle and hold hands, which we did. Then he began to sing Lecha Dodi [Come my Sabbath Bride]. As we swayed back and forth, we forgot the aches in our bodies and the pains in our feet. We could only feel the rapture of our souls as Rebbe Shlomo carried us away into Heaven singing and dancing with all the Angels.
Immersing for Shabbos
One disciple remembers: I once spent Shabbos together with Rebbe Shlomo in a Jewish hotel in Switzerland. On Friday afternoon, Rebbe Shlomo arrived and asked the reception clerk where he could find the local mikva [ritual bath]. The clerk was surprised, “The what? There is no mikva here.”
“What? No mikva? There must be some place in this sweet village where I can immerse.” responded Rebbe Shlomo.
“Well, there is a lake, but it is covered with ice.”
The Swiss winter didn’t prevent Rebbe Shlomo from immersing in honor of the Holy Shabbos.
A Great Shabbos hug
Another disciple of Rebbe Shlomo tells this great Shabbos story: I was walking to Synagogue right before Shabbos HaGadol, the Great Shabbos of Passover. Suddenly I saw a man coming towards me walking two huge, scary dogs. The sidewalk was narrow, and I remember thinking, “I’d better cross the street.” I was about to do that, when I heard a little voice telling me, “Only fear G-d. Keep walking.” I held my breath, and walked fast. “Whew, I made it.”
“Good Shabbos,” I heard. I spun around.
“This is not a good Shabbos, this is the Great Shabbos,” I replied to the shining face between those two dogs. “The Sfat Emet says that it is one thing to be a slave six days of the week and then to have a day of rest. It is quite another thing to be a king all week long and then to have Shabbos. This is the first Shabbos that the Jewish people kept as a free people, as kings. That’s why it is called the Great Shabbos.”
The man had tears in his eyes, and he asked me, “Please, can I have a hug?”
I looked at the man and at the huge dogs, and I thought, “I am a disciple of Rebbe Shlomo. How can I refuse?” I walked past the dogs, like walking through fire, and gave him the biggest hug I could. And the biggest miracle happened; the dogs jumped up, one on my back, and one on his back, and the four of us were hugging in the middle of the street. That was really a Great Shabbos.