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The Forest and the Rose

The Forest and the Rose

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Shabbat had ended. Silver stars twinkled in the black sky. The Chassidim had all returned to their homes, and their rebbe, Rabbi Leib Sarah's (so called such because of the extraordinary deeds of his mother and the exceptional circumstances surrounding his birth, but that's a story for another time) had also left his synagogue to conduct the havdalah ritual marking the end of the Shabbat for his family.

Shortly after, he returned to the synagogue. Agitated, he paced back and forth, muttering "Oy, Oy" over and over again. Suddenly he stood still, and then a tremor passed through his body. "Whatever happens," Rabbi Leib said with finality, "I must do something."

Stepping outside, he summoned his coachman. In a short time they were off. The tzaddik whispered something in the coachman's ear, and then switched places with him, taking over the reins while the coachman went to sleep inside the carriage. When the coachman woke, the sun had already risen on Sunday morning, and he was amazed to discover that they had actually crossed the border and were deep into Hungary. He could barely believe the evidence of his eyes.


Little Isaac was only ten years old, but was already the man of the house. His father, Yosseleh, had recently passed away, and his mother Reizel desperately needed him to help support the family. She took whatever meager work was available to her, while little Isaac took care of their tiny flock of geese.

Actually, Isaac liked his job. Every morning he rose early to pray in shul and say kaddish for his father. He would then lead the geese to one of the fields outside of town. He loved the quiet and peacefulness there. After carefully counting his meager charges, he would sit against the trunk of a tree and enjoy the cool shade under its big, leafy branches.

Many thoughts would race through his little head, some joyous, some sad. In those moments when his young soul was bursting with a variety of different feelings, he would open his knapsack and seek the soothing comfort provided by his beloved flute. Quickly he would extract from it a medley of folk tunes, passed down from generation to generation in the Hungarian countryside, which he had picked up from the other shepherds in the fields. Of his whole repertoire, he liked best the song whose words went:

Forest, forest, how vast you are
Rose, oh rose, how far you are
If the forest were but smaller
Then the rose would be closer
If you would take me from this forest
Then we could be, the two of us, together

Whenever he played the notes of this tune, he would close his eyes and allow the lyrics and the music to carry him off to a world of distant pleasurable visions.


Little Isaac was startled in the midst of his song by the regal appearance of the bearded Jew who appeared suddenly from behind him. "What are you doing here, little boy?" the man asked gently. "Helping my mother by tending to our geese," Isaac answered. "But what about learning Torah in school like the other boys?" the man continued.

Isaac looked away. "Not so long ago, I was still went to cheder. And I was doing pretty well too. But ever since my father died, I've had to help my poor mother support our family."

Leib Sarah's immediately went to visit the poor widow, Reizel. After introducing himself, he asked her for permission to take her Isaac away with him. "Know that your son has a very lofty soul," he explained, "and he can become very great. But for that he must be brought up in the right way, and that means he has to study Torah intensively." He promised her a monthly stipend to more than make up for any loss of income that the boy's departure would entail.

It took a lot of entreating, but finally Isaac's mother agreed. Leib Sarah's took little Isaac to Nicholsberg, to the Yeshiva of the great rabbinical authority and Chassidic Rebbe, Reb Shmelke, a friend of Leib Sarah's and one of the inner circle of disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch. He said to him: "I have brought you a special soul from the Chamber of Melody. I hope you will help it to realize its full potential in this world."

The boy remained in the yeshiva for many years, and thrived and grew great in Torah and Chassidut.


Years later, when throngs of Chassidim would crowd into the shul of the great Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac of Kaliv, he would sometimes relate to them the long path of his development from a goose-tending childhood to the present. He would also tell them about his favorite tune when he played the shepherd's flute: the Ballad of the Forest and the Rose.

On these occasions, he always mentioned his great debt to the tzaddik Leib Sarah's, who went to such trouble to "discover" him and to redeem the holy melody which had been languishing in captivity for centuries.

"Now, however," he would always conclude, "the words are a little different." The Chassidim would listen intently, for the Rebbe's musical talents were well-known.

Galut, Galut, how vast you are
Shechinah, Shechinah, how far you are
If only the Exile were shorter
Then Your Presence could be closer
If You would take us from this Exile
Then we could be, the two of us, together

This song is still sung by Kaliver Chassidim, in Hungarian, untill this very day.


Biographical notes:

Rabbi Leib Sarah's (1730-1796) was held in high esteem by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov. One of the "hidden tzaddikim," he spent his life wandering from place to place to raise money for the ransoming of imprisoned Jews and the support of other hidden tzaddikim.

Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Taub of Kaliv (1744-1821) was a leader in the dissemination of Chassidism in Hungary. He was known as "The Sweet Singer of Israel."

Translated-adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from the Hebrew weekly Sichat HaShavua. Rabbi Tilles is co-founder of Ascent of Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the Ascent and Kabbalah Online websites.
Image by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher. To view or purchase Ms. Brombacher’s art, click here.
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ruth housman marshfield hills, ma December 21, 2010

Out of Eden This is a beautiful story. I also know about roses and forests, and I know that wherever we are, the same truths, deep and profound truths are available to us all. I could be a housewife all the days of my life,
one my knees shining and loving that shine, and study dust, and I would discover the One. I could live in the forest, feeling the deep and sensitive beauty of all that life around me, and I could be a tzaddik. I could spend my life tending to my garden, with tenderness and love, and I would learn the greatest truths about love. I am saying this story, about love is available to all of us, and that, often, within the deep eternal serenity of those pines, are the greatest of all possible truths under that vast canopy of stars. The reaching comes from within. Reply

Anonymous Tzefat, Israel May 13, 2010

Re: the "yiddish" lyrics The original is Hungarian, not Yiddish. Reply

Amichai Heppner Deerfield Beach, FL May 12, 2010

The Forest and the Rose I'd like the yiddish lyrics and the music to Rabbi Taub's song/poem. Also, I think there are more verses. I heard there is one, for example on the Sea: "Sea, Sea! How deep you are." Can anyone supply these? Reply

Yerachmiel Tilles Tsfat, Israel June 3, 2009

a video of the kalever rebbe singing this Click here Reply

chaim June 2, 2009

can we get the music and the lyrics ive seen a youtuve video of the kalever rebbe singing this Reply

Anonymous November 5, 2006

Very sweet story. Reply