'The Kaliver Rebbe was the Rebbe of six million'

'There are six large lamps in his synagogue and underneath it says that six million Jews were murdered.'

Dvir Amar ,

Kaliver Rebbe ztz"l
Kaliver Rebbe ztz"l
Flash 90

Rabbi Aharon Leib Aberman, the head of the Lev Malka organization, talks about Rabbi Menachem Mendel Taub, the Kaliver Rebbe, who passed away at the age of 96 earlier this week.

"Before the Kaliver Rebbe entered the gas chambers, everyone said 'Shema Yisrael' (an essential Jewish prayer - ed.)," Rabbi Aberman said. "He was sure that he was about to say his last Shema Yisrael so he turned to the Master of the Universe and said to him: 'Let me live. If you let me live it won't be the last Shema Yisrael. I promise you that I'll say Shema Yisrael together with living people.'"

"And so he did until his death. He said Shema Yisrael three times a day for the souls of the six million. This may have been the essence of the Rebbe's life story," says Aberman.

The Kaliver Rebbe was one of the greatest Holocaust survivors in the religious and haredi communities in the past decades.

"About 40 years ago, the Rebbe asked me to bring a whole school to the north," says Rabbi Aberman. "I asked him, 'Why?' He said to me, 'You'll understand afterward.' We went to the north, gave them lunch, and the Rebbe explained to them what the Holocaust was and what he personally experienced. Afterward, he said Shema Yisrael with them. At the end, he turned to me and said 'I brought them here for only one thing - to teach them what the Holocaust was and Shema Yisrael.'"

"He was constantly emphasizing both in the haredi community and in the secular public, that they shouldn't forget the Holocaust. There are six large lamps in his synagogue and underneath it says that six million Jews were murdered."

The Kaliver Rebbe was born in Margita, Romania to Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac of Kaliv. In his youth, he studied at the Toshand Yeshiva by the late Rabbi Meir Brisk. Before World War II, he got engaged to the late Chana Sara Shifra and married her after the war in Sweden. He then moved to the United States and from there immigrated to Israel. At first, he settled in Rishon Letzion and later in Bnei Brak and Jerusalem.

Throughout his life, the Rebbe led his congregation in arranging tischim (hasidic festive meals with singing and dancing) and giving Torah lessons, but it can be said that his hasidus was a bit different than others.

"He was creative, innovative and groundbreaking," says Yisrael Cohen, a commentator on Radio Kol Barama. "His ideas at the time were considered innovative, such as remembering the Holocaust, which was not an accepted concept at the time. He was already publishing a haredi encyclopedia about the Holocaust to emphasize the Jews' spiritual strength during that period before anyone was even talking about the Holocaust."

"When we were in school, he would come and say Shema Yisrael in memory of the six million who perished in the Holocaust," Cohen said. "At the time, it seemed strange, but today, in retrospect, you realize that he instilled awareness of the Holocaust in the youth, who are now adults. You could say that it was the Kaliver Rebbe who instilled awareness of the Holocaust among the haredi public."

The Rebbe didn't refrain from arguing - even with people from the general public - about his unique path. "He had an ideological struggle with Yad Vashem (Israeli Holocaust museum), and he thought that they overemphasized physical heroism - like the Warsaw Ghetto uprising - while he placed more emphasis on spiritual heroism," Aberman said. Most of the people in his encyclopedia are those who managed to observe the Torah commandments during the Holocaust."

His approach led him to the special status of the Rebbe of the Jewish people. "We don't look at the number of his hasidim, if he had fifty or a hundred. He didn't view things with sectoral eyes. He had a conception of the Jewish people in general. It was not for nothing that they said at the funeral that he had six million hasidim."

"It was his uniqueness, and perhaps a disadvantage, that he didn't have an established hasidus. His number of admirers was huge, hundreds of percent more than his followers. The average Rebbe has his hasidim, and that's his strength - the total number of families. The strength of the Kaliver Rebbe was the Israeli in the periphery, the Israeli with the crocheted skullcap, the Jew in the United States, the haredi in Bnei Brak and the Jew in Jerusalem. He was a Rebbe of individuals."

Rabbi Aberman wishes to emphasize that apart from his efforts to commemorate the Holocaust, the Rebbe invested all his energies in Torah study and spreading Torah. "He renewed the concept of a day of Torah study in Israel and around the world - a day completely dedicated to delving in Torah. His vision actualized this concept in hundreds of places, religious and secular. Before he brought this about, no one was able to achieve this. He made the effort and explained to the public: 'There was such a thing in the past. Let's do it.' And he succeeded."

"The Rebbe's devotion to Torah was the central point of his life," says Rabbi Chaim Binyamin Kirshenbaum, who was the Kaliver Rebbe's attendant for about 55 years. "He had a learning partnership with Rabbi Halberstam and he studied Jewish law with him every day for years. Rabbi Halberstam wrote down the comments that the Rebbe told him, and several books on Jewish law were published from those comments."

The Rebbe's perseverance in learning and teaching Torah continued even in the last period of his life. "During the past six months, great Torah scholars came to him every evening, even though he felt weak and had no strength," Aberman said. "Nevertheless he didn't give up. His Torah study would give him strength and vitality to answer questions."

"I spent time with the Rebbe at a hotel in Italy," says Shmulik Hanano, Chabad emissary at the Holon Institute of Technology. "We would go outside with him to breathe the fresh air, but the Rebbe didn't have a moment's rest. He would sit in a chair in the park, tell a lot of stories and play his hasidic melodies."

Hanuno adds that the Kaliver Rebbe not only constantly thought about the Jewish people, but also about the individual. "He often worried about individuals. He would tell us how much pain he was in because of worrying about others. It was a lesson for us, to see someone who cared about an individual child or adult in a distant place in the world."

"The Rebbe was very strong in performing acts of kindness," adds Rabbi Aberman. "When I established the Lev Malka organization for cancer patients, the Rebbe supported me and said that he would come to the opening. He said to me, 'Any help that you need, I'm here - I'm ready to help you.' He also opened 'Yad Kaliv' which distributed food to needy families before holidays."

Unfortunately, the Rebbe didn't merit to have children. Following the experiments and severe torture he endured by Josef Mengele in Auschwitz, his beard didn't grow and he couldn't have children. "He underwent chemical treatments at Auschwitz, and that's why he had no beard and couldn't have children," says Rabbi Aberman. "He constantly told us that we - his students - were his children."