Scanned image of the page. Keyboard directions: use + to zoom in, - to zoom out, arrow keys to pan inside the viewer.

Page Options


Something wrong?

Something wrong with this page? Report problem.

Rights / Permissions

The University of Michigan Library provides access to these materials for educational and research purposes. These materials may be under copyright. If you decide to use any of these materials, you are responsible for making your own legal assessment and securing any necessary permission. If you have questions about the collection, please contact the Bentley Historical Library at bentley.ref@umich.edu

October 05, 1984 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-10-05

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.


habbat was almost over. The
streets of Vraspopol were
empty. The houses, the
yards, the walks: all empty.
Such is Shabbat in Vras-
popol, when everyone meets
to hear the Rebbe, to sing
songs of Torah. Shabbat was almost
over and the streets were empty even of
songs echoing from the shul. No one
sang, no one spoke. Even the Rebbe was
> silent. Inside, Reb Shlomo stood tower-
ing above the congregation as if 85
'years meant nothing to his tired frame.
Reb Shlomo the Storyteller had not told
a story in 20 years. For 20 years he had
been silent, leaving the story telling to
others, assuring himself that when he
died there would be others to tell each of
tales. All but one. Shabbat was al-
most over, as was Shlomo's life. This
is the last story he told.
Every man, every woman, every
child, has a nigun, a song of the heart.
These songs have no words. They are
Jmelodies, simple harmonies. It is said
that when the angels sing praises to
God, they sing nigunim. And when
they sing nigunim their lips do not
move. The songs lift straight from
their hearts. Children are too young to
hear such songs inside them, but the
8ongs are there. When a child can hear
his heart's nigun, then he is truly an
adult. We expect adults to know their
nigunim and to sing them. Here is my
Bim, bim, born. Bim, bim, born. Yi
(-1.e dy de dy de dy.
In Yarintog there was a man who
did not sing. They called him the
Madman of Yarintog, the Man With-
out a Nigun. But he was the only sane
man in Yarintog. The people were just
deaf to his song.
They have a custom in Yarintog.
Every Friday the city becomes one
'home. The women and children pre-
pare the houses for Shabbat, each fam-
ily helping any other in need. The
women also do their husband's work,
freeing the men to go to the study
house. The men study all day prepar-
_ing themselves for the Sabbath. Each
man studies alone, chanting his per-
sonal nigun as he reads Talmud and
Torah. When someone finds a particu-
larly important or beautiful verse, he
stands up on his chair and the study
house becomes quiet — although no
-one looks up — to hear the verse
chanted. Meanwhile, the women and
children work swiftly. Once they are
finished they crowd into the study
house to hear the verses and melodies.
When I heard of this custom I
=wanted to see it, participate in it. Such
a sight! One-hundred melodies blend-
ing with each other, blending with
Talmud-Torah, blending with the
nigunim of centuries. Finally, a man
stepped on his chair, the crowd
hushed, and we were treated to his ni-
- un. We heard many melodies all day.
- g
Then, in the early afternoon, the
Madman of Yarintog mounted his
chair. Not a chant was broken; not a
soul would listen. No matter. The
Madman rose and said, "When the
Messiah comes each day will be a Sab-
bath unto the Lord." There was no
sound, no melody, no nigun. The
madman said his verse and no one had
Between the Erev-Shabbat Study
and the afternoon service I was told
that every week this madman recites
the same verse. He never sings it. The
'Th madman studies only the laws of


A short story about

a man who really
knew how to pray

Special to The Jewish News


Shabbat, none else. He keeps no other
laws, prays no other prayers, save
those of Shabbat. No one has seen him
do anything else. Where does he live?
Does he eat, sleep, laugh? No one asks.
After all, the way he acts he must be
I was offered a place to stay for
Shabbat. It was a nice home with a
kind family, but I stayed hoping only
to see the madman again. I didn't.
Wherever he lives, he did not return to
town for Shabbat. When the Shabbat
ended I decided to spend a little more
time in Yarintog trading stories so I

might bring new ones back to Vras-
popol. That I did, but all the while I
kept watching for the madman.
Somehow, I managed to spend the
week in Yarintog. Erev-Shabbat came
and the madman returned for the
study. Again, I heard nigunim, songs
which teach meaning hidden in verse'.
And again the madman rose to say,
When the Messiah comes, each day
will be a Sabbath unto the Lord." No
song, no melody, no nigun. No one lis-
tened. I followed the madman five
miles out of town to his hut, a one-room
shack with one table, one chair, and a

Friday, October 5, 1984


straw bed. The but was already pre-
pared for greeting the Shabbat. Can-
dles and a kiddush cup decorated the
table. The madman took a kettle out-
side, made a fire, and depoSited the
kettle in the flames. He swept his but
one last time. He found another place
setting and a chair from somewhere
inside. The madman had seen me!
Walking toward the tree where I had
hidden, he said, "Come. Do not spend
Shabbat alone."
We prayed outside his hut. Some-
how I knew the arrival of Shabbat
would bring out his nigun, a melody
for the Sabbath Queen. I listened for
this song, but I was wrong. He did not
sing. The sun finished setting as we
ended our prayers. We went inside and
shared some soup and soup meat from
his kettle. There wasn't much, but his
songs and stories sustained me. Again,
I felt certain his nigun would well up
out of these Sabbath songs, a melody
for Sabbath peace. Again, I was wrong.
He sang plenty, but he did not sing his
nigun. We sang together until I fell
When I awoke, he was still sing-
ing and praying. He had stayed awake
all night. Later, as he dished out an
other meal, I asked him why he did not
sleep. If you had one day each week
with your most beloved treasure,
would you sleep?" During the meal we
sang again. When the song settled into
work of The Law and we began to
study, I felt perhaps the townspeople
were right. Maybe he had no nigun.
Still, I listened. Soon his words slipped
back into song and the sun began slip-
ping toward the horizon. As the sky
slowly darkened an urgency filled his
eyes, his eyes filled his voice, his voice
— at last — formed his nigun.
Bim, bim, born. Bim, bim, born. Yi
de dy de dy de dy.
The first part of his song was a cry
for past exiles, for the pain of everyday
life. His body moved back and forth in
rhythm with his song.
The second part of his nigun was
Shabbat. His movement became a
swaying. He sang for the glimpse of
heaven on Earth we see only once each
week. The table, the room, the whole
world seemed to move with him.
The final part of his nigun was his
prayer. He pleaded with God to send
the Messiah so that the Sabbath would
not end. He begged God to use his
might to stop the movement of the sun
to keep Shabbat from ending. The
trumpets of the Lord did not sound.
The sun was still setting. As it set, the
madman's nigun got louder and
stronger as if he thought the very
strength of his song could hold the sun
motionless in the sky. But the sun fi-
nally set. As it slipped past the horizon
the madman's song turned into tears.
His tears put out the Havdallah can-
dle. The madman would have to wait
another week for Shabbat to come
Shabbat was almost over. In the
Vraspopol shul the Rebbe began a ni-
gun. Slowly at first, but then with
greater urgency, people joined the song.
No one had taught it to them, they just
knew it. The song became a hope, the
hope became a prayer, the prayer be-
came a vision of the Messiah and Elijah
the Prophet debating whether this, at
last, was the time. Shabbat was almost
over. When the Sabbath ended Reb
Shlomo would die. He knew it, but he
smiled. The congregation had learned
Reb Shlomo?s nigun, the nigun of his
story, the nigun of his heart.

Back to Top

© 2021 Regents of the University of Michigan