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Sing a Niggun

Sing a Niggun


A chassid came to see the Karliner Rebbe because he was depressed. “I don’t know what to do,” he said. “I’m not a good Jew. I don’t study enough, I don’t know enough; all I do is work, work, work. But I want to study more. Rebbe, I have a question. What do our great and holy rabbis study on Friday night?”

“Well,” said the Karliner, “some study Kabbalah.”

“Oh,” said the chassid, “that is not for me.”

“No,” said the Karliner, “that is not for everybody. But I am sure you study Talmud regularly. How does it go?”

“Rebbe, I am ashamed to admit it, but I do not study Talmud regularly. You see, I grew up poor. I had to work from an early age to help out my family. I did not get much of an education. I find the Talmud very difficult.”

“And if you study together with a friend?” asked the Karliner.

“My friends also work very hard; they don’t know much either. Besides, I have no time to sit in the study hall for hours. What else can I do?”

“Working hard for your family is a mitzvah,” said the Karliner. “You can study the weekly Torah reading with Rashi’s commentary and with Midrashim.”

“Oh no,” said the man. “I always found Rashi very difficult. As I told you, I hardly got an education. I struggle through the Parshah each week, but it doesn’t uplift me. I am a failure. Besides, I am really not a scholar. I prefer to work with my hands. My family is big, and I work long hours.”

“No Jew is a failure,” said the Karliner sternly. “Every Jew can learn. And every Jew should learn. I know something for you. You certainly will enjoy telling beautiful stories about our great sages and tzaddikim (righteous people) to your friends and with your family!”

“I am bad at telling stories,” objected the chassid. “I always forget the important points, I mix them up, and I am not a good talker either. Please, I can’t do that . . .”

The Karliner leaned back in his chair. He closed his eyes and he began to hum. He hummed and he swayed back and forth, and the chassid listened in amazement. This was beautiful. What a melody! And he began to sing along. He never had felt so wonderful before, so close to G‑d.

After a long time the singing stopped. The Karliner opened his eyes and looked at the chassid intently.

“Rebbe,” the chassid exclaimed, “I understand. Oh yes, I do! I don’t feel depressed any more. Thank you, thank you!”

And he went home, and every Shabbat he sang the most beautiful niggunim. But most of all, he loved the niggun of the Karliner Rebbe. And he did not feel depressed anymore.

Text and image by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher. To view or purchase Ms. Brombacher's art, click here.
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Discussion (12)
January 18, 2013
A response to a question
A niggun, is a kind of music that is identifiable as "Jewish" in its style and manner of composition, is a typical expression of the Jewish soul, dating back to medieval European Jewish history. Because of its unique quality of expression, it touches Jews today in the 21st century exactly as it did centuries before. It's Jewish. It kvetches. All Jews kvetch. Vhen ve kvetch, ve sing ha niggun. The words are the same, regardless of the tune ve sing: the words are: "Oy, Oy Oy!!"
Boca Raton, FL
January 18, 2013
The importance of Niggun
I haven't listened to niggun in a long time and readily once I have a hardship I start to feel the echo of the niggun in my hole body is like G-d's instant response, the vibration of niggun really changes the atmosphere of any sadness and depression and give us clarity to follow through a solution. Thank you Jabad!
Paola De Los Angeles Granados Chavarra
Costa Rica
January 17, 2013
Sing A Niggun
Yes, depression is an undesirable feeling. Sometimes depression is caused by mental illness, but sometimes are traumas inflicted by abusers. Women are very vulnerable to these abuses more than men. Sexual abuse causes a lost of identity in women as well as men. There are so many people who are abused on a daily basis. I never thought this happened to so many. Therapy is helpful. But my personal opinion is that Hashem, the All Knowing of secrets, is the only One who can heal us from this evil inflicted by this perverts. Working hard, so hard, like the subject in this story, is not the cause of his lack of understanding Torah. I believe this man was under oppression because of his been poor. Like the Israelite in Egypt their toil, and oppression was so harsh that they could not even grasp the redemption coming from their freedom. Their bodies and soul were in pain. Many of us feel this spiritual pain. Our hearts ache, then our bodies & mind hurt.
January 16, 2013
In response to Depression
True, a niggun can have deep effect on our emotions; however, if you are under medical care and prescribed medication, do heed the mitzvah to guard your health, and do not take into your own hands the responsibility of replacing medication with music. If you feel that you're no longer needful of the medication, be sure to discuss it with your physician.
Bronya Shaffer
January 15, 2013
This is a perfect intro for singing a niggun at my Shabbos table in Ft Myers.
Malka Forshner
Ft. Myers, Florida
January 15, 2013
In Chabad, a 'niggun,' we always understood,was that which reached depths words could not reach. In fact, in Yiddish Chassidim would refer to 'saying' a niggun, not 'singing' a niggun. Neither words nor instrument could access that place; only the human voice 'saying' the niggun.
Bronya Shaffer
October 19, 2006
Listening to Chassidic music has done more to releive my depression than any prescribed medicine, soon I won't need the medicine anymore, Praise G-d and your beautiful music...
September 20, 2006
Sing a Niggun
Thank you very much for that story. I, too, often feel like I do not do enough, do not know enough (but do we ever?), and my current medical & financial situations have made for some rough times that have left me feeling very sad and depressed.
Your story has reminded me that if I sing a niggun - even one my heart makes up as I go along - I always feel at least a little better.

I thank you deeply for reminding me of that.
Portland, OR/USA
June 8, 2006
Sing a Niggun
What is the source for this story? thanks so much.
June 7, 2006
Beautiful! The calligraphy, the drawing, the story.... all part of the whole. "Sh'ma".... Thank you, Shoshanna!
Houston, TX