Reb Aharon Hagadol of Karlin

Reb Aharon Hagadol of Karlin zy”a

Reb Aharon Hagadol was the first Rebbe of the Karlin-Stolin Chassidic Dynasty.  He was one the foremost students of the Maggid of Mezritch.  He helped the rapid spread of chassidism in Eastern Europe, and was the founder of the Chassidic movement in Belorussia, and Lithuania.

During his lifetime his influence was so powerful that all Chassidim were referred to as Karliner.  Reb Aharon’s entire life was filled with a strong yearning and desire for the Almighty and complete attachment to His holy ways.  During his short life of thirty six years, the Rebbe immersed himself wholly in his unique way of Avodas Hashem (service of Hashem) which touched the hearts of everyone he came in contact with and forever changed their lives.  Reb Aharon visited many Jewish communities and according to the great rabbis of his generation, he influenced eighty thousand people to do teshuvah (repentance).  This is even more remarkable when we realize that this was all accomplished during such a short lifetime!

Reb Aharon was also was distinguished for the fiery eloquence of his exhortations.  He composed a song for the Shabbos zemiros “Kah Echsof” which is sung by countless Jews in many circles every Shabbos and continues to inspire them with a strong yearning for the Creator.

Once, on Rosh Hashana, the Maggid of Mezhritch motioned for Reb Aharon to lead the morning service.  When Reb Aharon came to the word Hamelech, the point at which it is traditional to raise one’s voice and intone the words “the King”, his voice failed him and he fainted.  After he regained his composure he continued to lead the service with total enthusiasm in a fervent and clear voice.  After the prayer service had ended, he was asked to explain what caused him to pass out.  He confessed, “When I came to the word ‘Hamelech’ I recalled the incident recorded in the Talmud (Gittin 56A) of the historic meeting between Reb Yochanan ben Zakkai and the Emperor Vespasian.  When Reb Yochanan greeted the Emperor with the salutation ‘may peace be upon you, O King,’ Vespasian became upset.  ‘If I am your king,’ Vespasian retorted, ‘then why haven’t you come to bow down to me until now?” 

Reb Aharon explained that when he reached the word “Hamelach” a whirlwind of fear and trepidation encircled him.  It was as if the King of Kings asked him, “Now, on Rosh Hashana, you have come before Me, and you cry out “Hamelech”?  If I am your King, why haven’t you come before Me all year?”  What could I reply to that?”

On another occassion, Reb Aharon entered the study of his rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritch, to take his leave, for he wished to go home.  The rebbe parted with him but as soon as Reb Aharon left the room, the Maggid sent a few of his “disciples” to stop Reb Aharon from leaving.

Reb Aharon returned to the Maggid again asking permission to leave.  Again the Maggid saw him off, and again he sent a few of his students to prevent him from leaving.Maggid This scenario repeated itself a few times.Maggid Finally, Reb Aharon disregarded what the students were telling him.Maggid He said to them, “If the rebbe didn’t want me to go home, he would have told me himself” and he left. MaggidUpon his return home, he passed away at the young age of 36.  Greatly pained by Reb Aharon’s death, the students took courage and went to ask the Maggid why he had given Reb Aharon permission to leave.  In response, the rebbe sent them to his disciple the Rebbe Reb Zusha of Anipoli.

Reb Zusha answered the students as follows:

“The Torah praises Moshe by saying that ‘in all My house he is trustworthy.’  But what does it mean that someone is trustworthy in Hashem’s house?  Is there anything there that could be stolen?”

“The answer is that Moshe would not tell what he had seen in heaven unless he was given permission to reveal it.  The Medrash teaches that Moshe knew with certainty from heaven that if all the people prayed for him, the decree that he cannot enter Eretz Yisroel would be nullified.  He hinted at this many times.  But since they did not understand, he did not divulge this secret to them even though it was for his own sake (Devarim 3).”

“You must understand that although the rebbe knew everything in advance and looked for ways to keep Reb Aharon from going home, he could not say anything openly.”

Reb Aharon passed away on 19th of Nissan – the fifth day of Pesach.