Friday, December 27, 2013

Regards from Carl


Tonight is the "yartzeit" of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, most often remembered as the author of the holy work called, "Tanya". True to his nature, he refused to publish his "Tanya" until he received approval from two holy sages and colleagues, Rabbi Zusya of Anipoli and Rabbi Yehuda Lieb HaCohen, both of whom are memorialized in the collective memory of the Jewish people for outstanding saintliness and spirituality. Their approvals came in written form and are printed on the early pages of any standard edition of the "Tanya".

Last night, Rabbi David N. Krasnjansky told me that there was a third approval which was not published, because it was entirely oral and came from a mysterious source. As with much of what’s Jewish, this too comes with an interesting story.  

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi had a follower who eked out a pittance of a livelihood teaching children Torah. In a private audience, Rabbi Shneur Zalman guided him to enter into business. In time, his business was very successful. When he visited for his next private audience, he was guided to expand his business. Again, he heeded the advice and his business grew in size and success. With each subsequent visit, Rabbi Shneur Zalman advised him to expand his business yet further and yet further, until he became a fabulously wealthy man - fully beyond his expectations.

Then one day, during an audience, Rabbi Shneur Zalman advised, "I think it would be good for you to do business at the large annual fair in Leipzig, Germany. While you are there, I want you to purchase a theater ticket to watch a show."

This was a strange request, as going to the theater was generally considered a sheer self indulgence - something normally outside the whole framework of a very devout Jewish lifestyle. However, since the request came as part of spiritual advice, he accepted.

Indeed, he traveled to Leipzig and when the opportunity arrived, he attended the theater. Once settled into a plush seat, he relaxed and his eyes closed in exhaustion. By the time they opened, the audience was making their exit. A theater usher casually shuffled by and pleasantly inquired, "Where are you from?"

"From Liozna", came the groggy reply.

"Who's your spiritual master?", inquired the usher.

"Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi", the follower responded.

"Ah yes, I know him. When you see him next, please tell him that Carl sends regards.", smiled the usher.

Back in Liozna, by his spiritual master, the follower sent regards from Carl the theater usher. To the his utter surprise, Rabbi Shneur Zalman's face lit up with a huge smile of celebration. The follower wondered what the joy was all about. It seemed too disproportionate. After all, Carl appeared to him as an ordinary human being, going about his ordinary routine. The joy didn’t seem to fit a simple “hello” from an ordinary acquaintance.

He was even more puzzled when on his next journey to Leipzig, Rabbi Shneur Zalman handed him a bag containing a large loosely bound handwritten manuscript. "Please buy a theater ticket again. When you see Carl, lend him this manuscript and ask him to please return it in the morning.", came the instructions.

In the Leipzig theater, Carl inquired, "How's your holy master?"

"He's doing fine. He asked me to hand you this bag.", offered the follower.

Carl briefly looked over the manuscript. "Can I keep it?, he inquired.

"Sorry, my instructions were to retrieve it in the morning.", came the reply.

They arranged to meet the next morning. In the morning, Carl handed back the bag and smilingly requested, "Please tell your holy master that Carl said that it is very good."

Then they parted ways and the follower made his way back to Lioza.

Once in Liozna, he relayed Carl’s message that the manuscript is “very good”. Again, Rabbi Shneur Zalman's face lit up in celebration. "You've accomplished your mission. Now, you can go back to teaching children.", he smiled.

Soon after Carl's approval, Rabbi Shneur Zalman published his "Tanya". Till today, nobody knows who Carl was. Jewish mystical tradition teaches that each generation has 36 revealed saintly people and 36 hidden ones, who conceal their saintliness. Apparently, Carl was among the hidden ones.


Rabbi Avraham Y. Shemtov advised that this story somehow incomplete without it providing a practical lesson about the “Tanya”. Under the circumstances the best I can provide is what the story meant to me - which may or may not be it’s real lesson.

In previous stories I have heard about the hidden saintly, they always came across as “off personalities” - perceived as somewhere on the spectrum between weird and cruel. I chalk this up to what the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach related when he retold “Shvartze Volf”, that the hidden saintly are absolutely our mirrors. Whatever one projects at them, is mirrored back. So on the encounter, one sees his/her own personality flaws mirrored and mistakenly thinks that they belong to the other. It’s like making ugly faces into a mirror and then accusing the mirror of being ugly.

Interestingly, I noticed that “Regards from Carl” is the very first story I have heard about the hidden saintly where the character is not depicted as an “off personality”, but merely as an “ordinary one” - as a simple theater usher.

Though the “Tanya” was not yet published, the unnamed follower had access to it’s teachings even more fully than someone who has studied the published work. After all, he was under the personal guidance of the author of the work himself. It is my understanding that having been spiritually molded in the style of the Tanya, he was able to view the hidden saintly without anything untoward being projected back at him. Far from seeing an “off personality”, he merely saw an “ordinary one”.

In a sense, he is the true hero of this story. He served as a walking advertisement of his master’s spiritual path. Just by relating to Carl as an “ordinary person”, the unnamed follower might have unwittingly provided Carl with a most satisfying introduction to the value of the “Tanya” - a kind of proof in the flesh. In the follower’s reaction to him, Carl saw how far “Tanya” can go to help a standard person attain purity.


  1. Comments from the original FaceBook posting of this story:

    Rachel: Kelly, do you know if the 36 know that they themselves are the hidden 36?

    Kelly: From what I understand, they are usually not aware. Some may be - not sure. However, as they are so humble they may not believe that they are. Choni or someone else may be able to answer this for us. It is an excellent question.

    Rachel: Wonderful information Kelly, thanks again. I wonder what else the Talmud and the Kabbalah have to say about them?

    Rachel: What does it mean to be not normally self-aware? Kelly, Choni, any examples of this that you can provide would be appreciative.

    Kelly: "According to Jewish tradition, it is believed that in every generation there are 36 righteous ones that are responsible for the continuation of the universe. No one knows that they are the ones who bear all the sorrows and sins of the world. They don’t even know it themselves. It is for their sake that G-d does not destroy the world, even when sin overwhelms mankind.

    The source of the concept of Tzadikim Nistarim (Hebrew: הצדיקים הנסתרים ) , also known as Lamed Vav Tzadikim (36 righteous ones) , can be found in the Talmud: ""As a mystical concept, the number 36 is even more intriguing. It is said that at all times there are 36 special people in the world, and that were it not for them, all of them, if even one of them was missing, the world would come to an end. The two Hebrew letters for 36 are the lamed, which is 30, and the vav, which is 6. Therefore, these 36 are referred to as the Lamed-Vav Tzadikim. This widely-held belief, this most unusual Jewish concept is based on a Talmudic statement to the effect that in every generation 36 righteous "greet the Shechinah," the Divine Presence""(Tractate Sanhedrin 97b; Tractate Sukkah 45b

    Rachel: Wow!

    Rachel: Can they change in a generation? For example can one be demoted and replaced by someone else ? And if so under what circumstances? Or is this a life-time job?

    Continued in next comment ...

  2. In continuation from previous comment:

    Kelly: Not demoted. They are holy, like Moshe or Abraham Rabbeinu. When one dies another is born to take his place or the world would immediately come to a crashing end. There is so much on this. Heaps. The men here probably can find it faster than I can as I did not study this in school but only learned on my own and from stories. I will do some research, though.

    I am thinking Rabbi Yisroel (Israel) ben Eliezer (aka The Bael Shem Tov) would be one. Also, there is a tzadik that I cannot think of his name (cannot even write English!) but he went to marry someone dressed as a beggar but was so holy. Let me think a bit. Name eludes me.

    Rabbis are getting ready for Shabbat but BB Melman is an excellent one to ask. Also, Rabbi Eli Cohen (but he is in Australia and going into Shabbat) or RabbiEliezer Goldstock. I think Choni could also provide answers.

    Rachel: Kelly yes, I believe you are correct on the Baal Shem Tov.

    Rachel: A fascinating subject. Would love to learn more about them.

    BB: I was outed, so I had to move where I am now hidden again, like the Federal Witness Protection Program.

    Kelly: Maybe we can find some info on this and learn together, okay?

    Kelly: It was me. So sorry, Rabbi BB

    BB: Knock it off. I hate moving so much!


    Rachel: LOL

    BB: One literary take on the subject is The Last of the Just, by Andre Schwartz Bart

    Kelly: Oh. Thank you.

    Continued next comment ...

  3. Continued from previous comment:

    Rachel: Thank you BB for this information: The Last of the Just. According to Jewish tradition, 36 "just men" are born in every generation to take the burden of the world's suffering upon themselves. Th...

    Kelly: That is available via Amazon! The Last of the Just. According to Jewish tradition, 36 "just men" are born in every generation to tak...See More
    BB: They are called "the lamed vav Tzaddikim," the 36 Tzaddikim.

    Kelly: GMTA

    Rachel: Kelly what does GMTA mean?

    Kelly: Yes, lamed vav - I know the very, very basics. Girls learned with Rashi in their Chumash when I was in school. Basic but good. Great Minds Think Alike, Rachel. We both found the book for sale at the same time.

    Continued next comment ...

  4. Continued from previous comment:

    Rachel: BB, do you think you have ever met one of the 36?

    BB: I'm not allowed to disclose that!

    Rachel: LOLL!!

    Rachel: are you all the same?

    Rachel: here comes the 36 questions! - i should stop

    BB: We are all sworn to secrecy. This cannot be revealed.

    Kelly: If I may speak for Rav BB, he has been in the presence of some really fine Rabbis. I also personally think we may have some musicians who *could* be holy tzadikum. We do not know. But they could be anyone.

    BB: Although I can say that one of them drives a cab, and another one works as a custodian at Grand Central Station.

    Kelly: This, dearest Rachel, is why we must ALWAYS be kind. Always.

    BB: Shabbat Shalom to all, and have a good night, or day, wherever you may be!

    Rachel: Thank you and Shabbat Shalom to you too, wherever you are !

    Kelly: Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi. I am on the left coast of your continent. Stay warm and well.

    Continued next post ...

  5. Continued from previous comment:

    Choni: Hi Kelly, Rachel & BB: I apologize that I fell asleep soon after writing this story about "Holy Carl" and couldn't participate in this amazing conversation. I guess "better late than never". The way the 36 hidden tzaddikim are typically portrayed in Chassidic stories answers some of the questions. Firstly, they are self aware. Secondly, their lives depend on their secrecy (if they become revealed to regular people, they typically pass away soon after). Thirdly, they seem to have contact with the revealed tzaddikim, as Carl had with Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. Fourthly, unless asked to go public (as happened to the Baal Shem Tov), being a hidden tzaddik is a life long vocation. I hope this comment helps out. There's now a touched up version of this story on my blog. I just need to touch it up a bit more and then I'll add it to this string for you. Shabbat Shalom.

    Choni: To Kelly, Rachel & BB: Here's the touched up version of the story, see my blog. Soul Lite, Holy Carl

    Kelly: Thank you Choni - I will read the new version while my challah rises. I went on Amazon and purchased the book that BB Melman of Brazil suggested. The reviews looked good but I trust his judgement as well. I hope you had a restful sleep. Shabbat Shalom!

    Kelly: Also, Choni - I did not know if they were aware or not aware of who they were. Thank you for clearing that up.

    Choni: My pleasure. If you hear enough of the "hidden tzaddik" stories eventually a pattern emerges that explains some things about their lives. Shabbat Shalom. Enjoy your challah.

    Kelly: Thank you so much. I just read it and am now following your blog. I wish you only good things.

    Choni: Amen Kelly! To you as well.

    Rachel: Choni, when you say they are self-aware, are you saying that they know who they are; ie., that they know they are one of the 36 hidden tzaddikim?

    Choni: Yes Rachel.

    Rachel: Also, are you able to comment further about the emerging " pattern that explains some things about their lives."

    Choni: Very simply Rachel, there are common characteristics that the hidden 36 seem to display in their stories. For example, that they know who they are. Another one, they seem to pass away soon after being discovered by an ordinary person. Yet another one, they don't seem to follow the typical social script of the surrounding Jewish culture. I hope this helps.

    Rachel: it is so very fascinating....yes it does help...thank you Choni!

    Choni: My pleasure Rachel.

    Kelly: Rachel - I ordered the book that Rabbi BB suggested via Amazon. It should be here on Tuesday. It was quite inexpensive (I ordered paperback as it is the end of the month for me!!!!) I think the shipping was equal to the price of the book. I will let you know how it is, okay?

    Rachel: Thanks Kelly, I think that book will be great. I recently purchased 2 books on Amazon, and so right now I think I need to wait. and Yes I would love to hear from you on this, thank you!

    Kelly: I will let you know.

    Rachel: This is the Touch tv series that i mentioned above: Touch (TV series) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Touch is an American thriller television series that ran on Fox from January 25, ...See More

    Rachel: I'm sorry it got discontinued. I watched it online at couchtuner com (without couch potatoe chips )