One of the greatest Chassidic masters of pre-war Poland was Rabbi Kalonimus Kalman (1889-1943), the Master of Piaseczno. He would say that children at five years old already need a mentor: they need somebody to connect their souls to heaven. So in his Polish city if Piaseczno he founded one of the largest Jewish schools in Poland, gathering around him a kingdom of children. He ran a school with thousands of children, and he was their father, their mother, their best friend. In 1940, Rabbi Klonimus Kalman was deported with his family by the Germans to the Warsaw ghetto. There he wrote a most precious book called "The Holy Fire", Eish Kodesh, which recounted the teachings he gave in the darkness of the ghetto. He buried the book in a milk barrel underground the ghetto. In 1943 He was short near Lublin. His entire family too was exterminated. After the war, his manuscript was discovered by a construction worker in Warsaw and was given to the Warsaw Jews. In 1957, someone finally realized what it was; it was sent and published in Israel in 1961.
To Do a Favor
The famous Jewish composer Rabbi Shlomeleh Karlebach related this story:
When the book Eish Kodesh came out after the war was over, I couldn’t believe its beauty, it so pierced my heart. I asked everyone, “Where are those kids? The precious children who heard these teachings every week in Warsaw? I’d love to speak to them.” I was told that nobody survived.
But one day, a few years ago, I was walking down rechov Yarcon, a street near the beach of Tel Aviv. And there I saw a hunchback, he looked so broken and crushed. His face was beautiful, so handsome, but his body was misshapen. He was sweeping the streets. I had a feeling this person was special and so I said, “Shalom, peace unto you.”
He replied to me in the heaviest Polish “Alaichem shoolem.” I asked if he was from Poland. And he says, “Yes I’m from Piaseczno.” And I couldn’t believe it—Piaseczno. I asked if he had ever seen the holiest Kalonimus Kalmun, Piaseczno’s master. He said to me, “What do you mean, have I seen him? I was a pupil in his school from the age of five until I was eleven. When I was eleven, I went to Auschwitz. I was so strong they thought I was seventeen. I was whipped and hit and kicked and never healed---that is why I look the way I do now. I have nobody in the world. I’m all alone. My entire family was murdered.” And he kept on sweeping the streets of Tel Aviv.
I said, “My sweetest friend, do you know, my whole life I’ve been waiting to see you, a person who saw the Master of Piaseczno, a person who was one of his children. Please, give me one of his teachings.”
The hunchback glared at me. “Do you think you can be in Auschwitz 3 years and still remember teachings?!”
“Yes, I’m sure of it,” I said. “The Master’s teachings—how could you forget them?”
And so he said, “Well, wait.” He went to the water fountain to wash his hands. He fixed his shirt, put on his jacket, and then said to me one more time, “Do you really want to hear it?”
“I swear to you, I’ll share the teachings all over the world.”
So he began. “I want you to know that there never was such a Shabbos as this one in our childhood town of Piaseczno. We danced, hundreds and maybe thousands of children, and the master was singing a song to greet the holy angels, and at the meal he would teach between every course. After every teaching this is what the master would said:
“‘Kinderlach, gedenkt zshe, de gresteh zach in der velt iz tuen emetzen a tovah – Children, remember! The greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor.’”
The hunchback sighed. “You know, my parents are gone, my whole family, no one exists anymore. And so I was in Auschwitz and all alone and I wanted to commit suicide. At the last moment I could hear my master say, “Kinderlach, children…do somebody else a favor. Do somebody a favor.’”
He looked me directly in the eyes. “Do you know how many favors you can do in Auschwitz at night? People are lying are on the floor crying, and nobody even has any strength to listen to their stories anymore. I would walk from one person to the other and ask, ‘Why are you crying?’ and they would tell me about their children, their wives, people they’d never see in this life again. I would hold their hands and cry with them. Then I would walk to the next person. And it would give me strength for another day.
“When I was at the end again… I’d hear my Rebbe’s voice. I want you to know I’m here in Tel Aviv and I have no one in the world. And I take off my shoes, go down to the beach, I go up to my nose in the ocean, ready to drown, and I can’t help but hear my Rebbe’s voice saying, ‘The greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor. Remember, my precious children, the greatest thing in the world is to do somebody else a favor.’”
He stared at me again for a long time and said, “You know how many favors you can do on the streets of the world?”
And he kept on sweeping the street.
It was the end of summer and I had to go back to the States for Rosh Hashana. But when I returned to Tel Aviv, I went searching Yarcon, looking for my holy hunchback. I couldn’t find him. I asked some people, who told me, “Don’t you know? He left the world just after Sukkos.”