The Beit Aharon of Karlin: The Safest Minyan of All

Rebbe Aharon Perlow of Karlin-Stolin was the fourth Rebbe in the Karlin dynasty. He was the son of Rebbe Asher of Stolin (who grew up in the home of Rebbe Shlomo of Karlin, the disciple of the Great Rebbe Aharon of Karlin) and the grandson of the Great Rebbe Aharon of Karlin. After the passing of his father, he was appointed to lead his congregation in Karlin. Rebbe Aharon was very connected to the Land of Israel. He raised money for charity for Israel and supported his chassidim in Tiberias and Jerusalem. His book, Beit Aharon, includes the Torah teachings of his grandfather, his father and himself. It is a fundamental work of Karlin Chassidic thought and one of the basic works in the Chassidic library. Rebbe Aharon passed away on Motza’ei Shabbat, 17 Sivan 5632 (1872) on his way to his granddaughter’s wedding. He is buried in Melinov, Ukraine. Rebbe Aharon’s son, Rebbe Asher, succeeded him.

The chassid S.S.P told the following story. He heard it from Rabbi Yaakov Shemesh, who heard it from his mother, who heard it straight from his grandfather, who was the assistant of the holy Beit Aharon of Karlin and lived to be one hundred years old. The assistant related that he merited to reach an advanced age in the merit of the blessing of the holy Rebbe Aharon.

Rebbe Aharon never prayed without a quorum (minyan). Once, he had to have surgery and he was given general anesthesia. Before the surgery, Rebbe Aharon and his followers prayed the afternoon prayer. They agreed that they would pray the evening prayer after Rebbe Aharon would awaken from the anesthesia. They had ten men, necessary for the quorum, waiting for the Rebbe to wake up. The Rebbe, however, did not wake up on time, and eventually, the men prayed the evening prayer without him.

When the Rebbe woke up, he asked his assistant when they would be praying the evening prayer. The assistant exited the Rebbe’s room and began to say Kaddish and Barchu, as if there was a quorum of men praying with him.

Some time later, after the Rebbe had recovered and was out for a stroll with his assistant, the assistant turned to him and said, “Rebbe, there is something weighing heavily upon me.”

“What is bothering you?” asked Rebbe Aharon.

The assistant told the Rebbe what had transpired with the prayer. “May you live a long life!” Rebbe Aharon blessed him. “Danger to life overrides every other commandment. At the time, I would not have been able to bear the thought of not praying with a quorum.”

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Praying with a Quorum – the Service of Abraham

The Divine service of every tzaddik includes the three Patriarchs (who are representative of God’s chariot). Rebbe Aharon excelled at the attribute of “truth for Jacob -” so much so, that his in-law, the holy Rebbe of Ruzhin, said that if Rebbe Aharon would know that the truth was buried eight cubits underground, he would dig with his bare hands in order to unearth a piece of it. Rebbe Aharon would also say, “When I go out into the street and return safely and see that all my limbs and organs are whole and healthy, I sing a song of praise to God.” This is the attribute of Isaac, who fulfilled the directive to “live in the land” (Genesis 26:3) and was “imprisoned in his home” at the end of his days, when he sensed that his main focus should be on the inner service of God and that, “all the paths [outside] are considered dangerous.” Our story above, however, expresses Rebbe Aharon’s deep connection to Abraham – an elemental factor in the Divine service of a person named Aharon (after Aharon, the High Priest, who like Abraham is described as a man of lovingkindness).

Aharon the High Priest (Avot 1:12) “loved peace” (meaning that he loved the people) and “pursued peace” (meaning that he prayed for the people). The core of the service of prayer is love. Thus, “Abraham who loves Me” (Isaiah 41:8), our first patriarch, is the first to institute prayer – the morning prayer, as the sages learn from the verse, “And Abraham awakened early in the morning.”[1]  Abraham did not have a quorum of Jews with whom to pray. But the potential for all the public prayers of all Israel is in him.

The inner dimension of public prayer is to approach prayer with the love of God, which reaches its ultimate goal when we love that which the beloved loves.” This means to love all of God’s beloved children. This is why, prior to prayer, we say, “I accept upon myself the positive commandment, “Love your fellow as your self” (Leviticus 19:18). We do so in order to connect with the entire congregation and all the souls of Israel on an authentic, inner plane. In the merit of that connection, the prayer (which also serves as a sacrifice) is like a complete sacrifice, reflecting the completeness of all the souls  (not missing any limb or organ, God forbid). This is the secret of God’s directive to Abraham, “Walk before Me and be complete.”[2]

The Devotion of the Assistant

When a tzaddik (every Jew is a tzaddik, as the prophet says, “And Your people are all tzaddikim”; Isaiah 60:21) sacrifices himself for a mitzvah or a custom, he merits special heavenly help to be able to fulfill it. In this story, the self-sacrifice is expressed – beyond the daily prayer in a quorum – by the fact that prayer in a quorum touches upon the very essence of Rebbe Aharon’s soul and is a matter of life and death for him. Unexpectedly, the heavenly help in this story comes in the form of, “a sin so that someone else can merit.” The assistant sinned by creating a false impression in order to merit his Rebbe. The Rebbe is an all-inclusive soul and his merit of keeping his thrice-daily custom of praying in a quorum is also the personal merit of everyone who is truly connected to him. The assistant’s decision to pretend that there was a quorum for the Rebbe was an example of, “a sin for the sake of Heaven is greater than a good deed not for the sake of Heaven” (Nazir 23b and Horayot 10b), which the sages learn from the verse “Know Him in all your ways,”[3] – the mode in which Abraham conducted himself.

Ultimately, it turns out retroactively that the assistant’s decision also conformed to Jewish law (for danger to life overrides all commandments of the Torah), as we have seen in many other instances of rabbinical directives that apply to particular emergency situations (hora’at sha’ah). This is also typical of Aharon, who would alter the truth a bit in order to promote peace. By doing so and not telling the harsh truth and encouraging strife, he was actually consistent with the inner dimension of truth, which, in his merit, can then appear in external reality, as well.

In the merit of the assistant’s loving devotion to the attribute of Abraham, he merited the blessing of Abraham, “And Abraham was old, coming of days.”[4]

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[1] Genesis 22:3.

[2] Genesis 17:1.

[3] Proverbs 3:6.

[4] Genesis 24:1.

 

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