Reb Shlomo of Karlin

Born: 1740 in Poland
Died: 22 Tammuz, 5552 (1792) in Ludmir, Poland

Rabbi Aharon Hagadol, the founder of the Karliner chasidic dynasty, died at a young age. Reb Shlomo, who was his closest disciple and destined to become his successor, did not want the position of Rebbe. Many of the chassidic rebbes of his time  insisted that he assume the mantle of leadership, saying that if he were to assume the position he will be granted the power of seeing all the wanderings of souls in their various incarnations.” Reb Shlomo could not resist the great temptation of this offer – to be able to read the past lives of all souls! This compelled him to succeed his beloved teacher and he consented to their pleas and became the Karliner Rebbe. Immediately afterward R’ Shlomo was able to see the destinies of all human beings on earth. He knew their past lives, their present accomplishments, and all they needed to do to mend their souls. It was indeed an awesome spiritual gift!

That very same day, a messenger brought Reb Sholomo a kvittel (a written prayer request) along with a great sum of money as a donation. The sender was a prosperous merchant, one of the towns philanthropists. He lay dying and wanted the Rebbe to perform a miracle and save his life. No sooner had Reb Shlomo read the kvittel, when a second messenger arrived with another prayer request, this time from a midwife on behalf of a destitute pregnant woman. This poor woman had been laboring in childbirth for several days, but was unable to deliver her child. The midwife could do nothing for her. Could the Rebbe help? With his newly-acquired mystical insight, Reb Shlomo immediately saw that the soul of the dying philanthropist was destined to be reborn into the body of the poor unborn child. Alas, the poor child could not be born until the rich man had died! 

“So be it,” sighed the new Rebbe. “May the will of Hashem be done.” Within moments, word of the rich man’s death and the beggar child’s birth arrived, one upon the heels of the other.

A few years later one of the sons of the deceased man celebrated his son’s bar mitzvah. As was the custom, the poor were all invited to the feast. So too the poor women and her ragged son went along with the others. As soon as they arrived at the large house, the six-year-old boy’s whole manner began to change completely. He took on an air of importance, and refused to sit at the pauper’s table with the rest of the beggars. In a loud, arrogant voice, he demanded to be seated at the head table in a place of honor. The child made such a great disturbance that Reb Shlomo stepped in and said, “Let’s just humor the boy, so we can continue the celebration in peace.”

But the rabbi knew there was more to it, because he had recognized the boy as the reincarnated soul of the bar mitzvah boy’s grandfather. “He is really the master of the house, and those are his sons,” thought Reb Shlomo to himself. “All he is doing is asking for what is rightfully his.”

When the meal was served, the same thing happened; the boy refused to take the plain foods offered to the poor and insisted upon getting the best cuts of meat and the choicest morsels from the head table. 

Once again Reb Shlomo said, “Let him have his way, so he doesn’t disturb the feast.” But the other guests were getting upset with the boy. How dare he, a mere beggar’s son, insult the prosperous brothers like that. They asked his mother, “Does your son always behave like this?”

“Why no,” she replied, as puzzled as they were. “He’s always been such a very quiet and well-mannered child. He’s never done anything like this before. I don’t know what’s gotten into him!” At the end of the feast Reb Shlomo begged Heaven to take away his miraculous powers as he could no longer bear the thought of spending his life watching such tragic scenes.

Following are some well-known quotes of Reb Shlomo:

“To help another Jew who is stuck in the mire, a person must be willing to immerse himself in mud up to the neck in order to drag him out.”

“I wish I could love the greatest Jew as much as Hashem loves the lowliest one.”

Reb Shlomo used to say the following parable: “A king needed to reach a very high place to get an object but he did not possess a ladder that reached high enough. He gathered several servants together and had them stand on each other’s shoulders until the servant at the top was able to reach the object. It can never be said that the servant on the very bottom is unnecessary! Without him the entire group would collapse! The same is true regarding holiness. We cannot grasp Hashem’s greatness without the 600,000 souls of the entire congregation of Bnei Yisroel (the Jewish people) and although among them there are some simpletons, without them even the most learned cannot grasp Hashem’s loftiness.”

The Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) writes that it is best to use olive oil for the kindling of the Chanukah lights because of the clean, pure flame it produces. Reb Shlomo of Karlin would use candles and he would say, “the dripping wax leaves a mark of Chanukah all year. Oil, however, burns so cleanly that a day after Chanukah, nothing of the festival adheres to the home!” One year he could not procure candles and he was forced to light the Chanuka lights with oil. Yet miraculously a mishap occurred. The flames from the Karliner Rebbe’s menorah started a small fire which left burn-marks on one of the walls of his home. Reb Shlomo was overjoyed. A residue of Chanukah would now linger on until its lights would be again kindled next year!

In the month of Tammuz 1792, a war broke out between Russia and Poland. R’ Shlomo who was living in Ludmir (Poland) at the time, feared for the safety of the Jews in Poland and expressed his willingness to be an atonement for all the Jews. The Russians put down a revolt of the Poles in the region where R’ Shlomo was living. The Russian commander who had entered the town, gave his men permission to loot at will for two hours. It was a Shabbos day (parashas Balak), 17 of Tammuz and the Jews were gathered in the House of Prayer. Reb Shlomo was praying in such ecstasy that he heard nothing and saw nothing that went on around him. He was in the middle of theMussaf (Kedushas Keser) when a cossack came limping along, went up to the window, looked in, and shot Reb Shlomo in his side. Despite his injury and pain he continued with his regular shabbos service. When they brought him to his house, he had them open the Zohar to a certain passage and prop it up in front of him while they bound his wound. It stayed there, open before his eyes until the following Wednesday, when he died. Many of his contemporaries said about R’ Shlomo, that he was Mashiach ben Yosef and therefore he was killed in such a manner.

R’ Shlomo was well known for the extraordinary fervor and enthusiasm with which he prayed and studied.

The most well known students of Reb Shlomo were: Rabbi Asher of Stolin, Rabbi Mordechai of Lechavitch and Rabbi Uri of Strelisk, known as the Saraf (burning angel).