Rabbi Shlomo Gotlieb (1738 - 1792) was the second Rebbe of Karlin-Stolin, a branch of Chassidism that originated in Karlin (a village near Pinsk, Belarus) and then relocated to Stolin for a time.

Alongside his contemporary, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, he spread the teachings of Chassidism in an area that was generally hostile to the movement.

How was he introduced to Chassidism? Already an established Torah scholar with multiple students of his own, he attended a class given by Rabbi Aharon of Karlin, an early Chassidic master who worked to spread Chassidism in the region. In the middle of the class, Reb Shlomo exclaimed, “Where does one go to learn so well?!”

“If you want to learn like this, you must go to the Maggid of Mezeritch,” Reb Aharon told him.

Reb Shlomo eagerly agreed and invited the guest lecturer to dine with him that evening. But Reb Aharon advised, “When one is ready to go to Mezeritch, one must do so immediately.”

In Mezeritch, Reb Shlomo became one of the Maggid’s outstanding students and a talmid chaver (a student who is also a peer) of Reb Aharon.

He Would Elevate Others

His student, Reb Uri of Strelisk, said that Reb Shlomo raise people from the lowest levels of spirituality, to the highest heights, at times taking them along in the wake of his towering spiritual ecstasy. In his worldview, being connected to a tzaddik (such as himself) was sufficient, and it was the role of the tzaddik to raise up his flock.

Indeed, this became a point of contention between Reb Shlomo and his contemporary, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, who insisted that chassidim attain spiritual heights via their own efforts.1

Reb Shlomo was also notably opposed to the consumption of alcohol. After morning prayers, when it was common to have a little drink, he kept a small bottle of spirits diluted with water, and whoever wanted a sip had to donate some money to the poor of the Holy Land.2

He Raised Adopted Children

Many of Reb Shlomo’s students went on to become leaders in their own right, including Reb Mordechai of Lechovitz, Reb Asher of Stolin, and Reb Uri of Strelisk. From these students came the chassidic courts of Stretin, Kobrin, Koidenov, Slonim, and of course, Karlin-Stolin.

In addition to his two sons and three daughters, he also raised adopted children in his home, including grandchildren of the Maggid of Mezeritch, and Asher, the son of his predecessor and his eventual successor.

He Taught His Chassidim to Pray Loudly

Those who are familiar with the chassidim of Stolin-Karlin know that they pray very loudly, with a particular rhythm and tune. Reb Shlomo encouraged this form of prayer.

(I, too, studied in a Stoliner yeshiva in Boro Park, New York, and when my father came to visit he was shocked by the loud prayers – something he had never experienced before.)

Once, an outstanding Torah scholar came to Karlin for a prolonged visit. Reb Shlomo honored him greatly, and they spent much time deep in Torah discussion.

The visitor, however, would rebuke the chassidim for their style of prayer, which he saw as a pretentious and an external show.3

“Why are we allowing this person to influence us?” the chassidim said to one another, and they expelled him from Karlin.

Reb Shlomo praised his chassidim for acting wisely. He explained, “Angels have claimed that you pray loudly only because I tell you to do so and you don’t want to disregard my wishes, even though you would prefer to pray quietly. Therefore, Heaven sent this scholar to test you. You sent him away without asking my opinion because it is important to you to pray properly. This silenced the angels’ claims.”4

“How good it was for us when we prayed with our rebbe, Reb Shlomo,” Reb Uri of Strelisk recalled. “Our hearts flew to one another like the birds in heaven.”5

He Possessed Tremendous Awe of Heaven

On one occasion, Reb Shlomo was traveling in a wagon, led by horses who suddenly rushed downhill. Knowing that in most cases, horses cannot safely run down hills, Reb Shlomo was momentarily overcome with fear. He later repented for forgetting about G‑d during that moment6 and subsequently trained himself not to fear anything or anyone other than G‑d.

Chassidim would say that he could even project that fear of G‑d upon others.

A high-ranking general entered an inn where Reb Shlomo sat with his student, Reb Mordechai of Lechovitz. Everyone but Reb Shlomo stood in his honor. The general approached the table where he was sitting, and Reb Shlomo continued to ignore him.

Frustrated, the general knocked about the salt and pepper shakers on the table to get his attention. Reb Shlomo looked him straight in the eye, and the general became so afraid, he ran out of the inn.

Reb Mordechai would say, “The difference between me and my master is that he wasn't afraid at all, but my face turned white from fear, and the color has never fully returned.”7

He Lived in Extreme Poverty

Reb Shlomo was known to give all his money to tzedakah. It wasn't easy on his family, so well-meaning people used to stand at his door to prevent poor people from coming to ask him for money.

Before he became a leader of the chassidim, a neighbor asked Reb Shlomo, "What do you do for a living?"

Reb Shlomo replied, “I have two kee," using the Yiddish word for cows.

“I want to help Reb Shlomo because he is a holy man,” the neighbor told his wife. “From now on, please buy milk solely from him.”

The wife knocked at Reb Shlomo's home and held out her bucket. “Please fill it with milk.”

Puzzled, Reb Shlomo’s wife explained that they owned no cows.

The neighbor followed up with Reb Shlomo. “Why did you lie to me? You told me you have two kee!”

“I didn't mean that I have two cows,” Reb Shlomo explained. “I meant that my livelihood comes from the verse in Psalms that contains the word kee (“because”) twice: ‘Because (kee) our heart will rejoice in Him, because (kee) we hoped in His holy name.’8 I am sustained by my faith in G‑d."

He Dealt With Antagonism

Reb Shlomo and the Karlin chassidim absorbed much of the antagonism that was fomenting against Chassidism, in part because Karlin was in the heartland of non-Chassidic Lita, near Vilna, the bastion of the opposition.

One of the complaints the antagonists lobbed against the chassidim was their propensity for joy. “Everything the antagonists write against chassidim is false,” said Reb Shlomo, “but they are correct when they write that we live every day as though it is a holiday. It should be that way, because the sages teach that when one overcomes his yetzer hara, it is as though he brought a sacrifice in the Holy Temple. The sages also tell us that the day one brings a sacrifice is a personal holiday. I vanquish my yetzer hara every day, and therefore all my days are holidays.”9

In time, the opposition was so great that, in 1781, Reb Shlomo was forced to escape from Karlin to Ludmir in Volyn, which was much more accepting of the Chassidic movement.

He Earned the Admiration of the Alter Rebbe

When Reb Shlomo visited Dobromysl, which is near Liadi, the Alter Rebbe sent his chassidim. “The tzaddik from Karlin is nearby. Go to him for Shabbat and hear what he says.”

Over the course of Shabbat, Reb Shlomo said very few words of Torah, but nevertheless, the chassidim felt an incredible spiritual elevation. For the next three days, they didn't know whether it was day or night, so engrossed were they in their Divine service.

They returned to the Alter Rebbe and asked why they didn’t have the same experience when they spent time with him. “Who can compare to him?” the Alter Rebbe replied. “He is a tefach above the earth.”10

Once Rabbi Shlomo was expected at the home of the Alter Rebbe, and a dispute arose between the Rebbe's wife and her daughter, Freidkeh. For several years now, Freidkeh had taken charge of all the cooking in the house; now, in honor of the distinguished guest, the Rebbetzin wanted to retake the kitchen.

The case was referred for arbitration to the Alter Rebbe himself, who offered the following compromise: The Rebbetzin will prepare the food, but Freidkeh would add the salt. Since the food will be all but tasteless without her contribution, the privilege of feeding Rabbi Shlomo would be equally hers.

But when the much-contested dish finally reached the table, Rabbi Shlomo found himself unable to continue past the first spoonful. The force of decades-long habit had caused the Rebbetzin to salt the food without even realizing it, and Freidkeh, of course, had not failed to perform her duty. The result was simply impossible to swallow.

But the sodium story of this hapless dish was far from over: a third dash of salt now joined its predecessors, this time cast by the hand of Rabbi Schneur Zalman himself. Upon noticing the neglected plate in front of his guest, the Rebbe figured that perhaps the food is not sufficiently salted to Rabbi Shlomo's taste.

Finally, Rabbi Schneur Zalman asked the Karliner why he wasn't eating; Rabbi Shlomo replied that the food was too salty to eat. Surprized, Rabbi Schneur Zalman took another spoonful from his own plate and swallowed thoughtfully. "You know," he said, "you're right."

"From the time that I journeyed to Mezeritch to my Rebbe" the Rebbe explained "I have not sensed the taste of food."

An Inspiring Teacher

Following the Alter Rebbe's counsel, a businessman named Shlomo Feigin arrived at the home of Reb Shlomo for a visit. He stood outside the door and heard Reb Shlomo pacing in his room. Suddenly, the door opened, and Reb Shlomo said, “Young man, young man, what will be if indeed there is a G‑d in this world?” and he closed the door.

Once again, the visitor heard pacing behind the closed door, then the door opened suddenly, and the rebbe repeated the fiery message, “Young man, what will be if indeed there is a G‑d in this world?” When this episode happened yet a third time, Shlomo Feigin realized that it was exactly this that the Alter Rebbe wanted him to experience.

Years passed, and he strayed from religious observance. He was appointed manager of the government project to set up railroad tracks all over Russia. In the city of Haditch, the tracks were designed to pass over the Alter Rebbe's grave! The chassid, Reb Moshe Vilenker, intervened, and convinced Shlomo Feigin to change the plans.

During their conversation, Feigin said, “You see all of my success, all of my wealth, all of my power? I cannot enjoy it. I constantly hear the words of Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin ringing in my head. ‘Young man, young man, what will be if indeed there is a G‑d in this world?!’”

His Passing

In 1792, the Polish-Russian war came to Ludmir, where Reb Shlomo lived. Many gathered in Reb Shlomo's study hall; they figured that they had a better chance of living if they were near a great tzaddik.

On Shabbat, Rabbi Shlomo led the prayer services and instructed that his concentration not be disturbed. As long as he was thinking about G‑d, they would be spared, he explained.

Cossack fighters shot many times into the study hall but miraculously no one was harmed. But then Reb Shlomo's daughter approached him and asked, “Father, why don't you do anything?”

This interrupted Reb Shlomo's concentration, and a bullet hit him in the leg. Six days later, on the 22nd of Tammuz, he passed away from his wounds.

Even though 22 Tammuz is during the Three Weeks of Mourning, for Karlin Chassidim it is a day of joy, and they make a point to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing.