“Rabbi Eliezer would say: The honor of your fellow should be as precious to you as your own, and do not be easy to anger. Repent one day before your death…” ~ Pirkei Avos (2:10)
With the above mishna in mind and in honor of Reb Shlomo’s yartzheit this Wednesday night, I wanted to share this incredible article about Shlomo Carlebach’s last day on earth.
It was an ordinary Brooklyn fall day, Thursday, October 20, 1994 when Rabbi Yosef Wineberg (a grandson of the Slonimer Rebbe of Yerushalayim) left his office at 1310 48th Street to buy some lunch. He walked a block away to Weiss’s luncheonette near the corner of 47th Street and 13th Avenue. The owner, Meir Weiss, a Hungarian Jew, made heimishe essen, home-style Hungarian tasting food, which spoke to the hearts, minds and bellies of many people in Borough Park.
The community had a large population of chassidishe Yidden from Hungary. In those days you could still hear two older women speaking Hungarian between themselves as you passed them in the street.
Weiss’s was a popular eatery in the community because Meir was friendly, spoke the common language and understood the mentality. Yossel came into the store and waited on line to order his lunch. There were about ten others on line in this cramped little “mom and pop” shop.
When Yossel got his lunch and was ready to pay Meir, R’ Shlomo Carlebach walked into the eatery. Both were near one another on line and Shlomo turned to Yossel in his usual warm manner, saying, “Friend, how are you?” He also mentioned that he had just come from Manhattan and was on his way to the airport.
Shlomo stretched out his hand to Yossel, greeting him in the traditional Jewish manner with shalom.
Yossel pulled back his hand and did not give it to Shlomo. He said that he was not his friend. People in the store heard this, became nervous, but remained silent.
Shlomo was taken aback and asked Yossel why he did not give him his hand. Yossel inquired of Shlomo if he really wanted to know. Shlomo thoughtfully stopped for a moment and then replied that he wished to know. Yossel retorted, “You make so many baalei teshuvah, help so many non-Orthodox Jews become Orthodox, but one baal teshuvah you have not made (a hint to Shlomo). Why?”
Shlomo lifted his head and eyes, becoming lost in thought. After a minute, he said “You are right.”
Yossel then took the opportunity to push his point further. He quoted part of a verse from Yeshayah, “Ein shalom amar Elokei…” (“There is no peace, says G-d for the…”)
Shlomo knew and understood Yossel’s quote well. The last word of the verse, which Yossel did not quote, is the word, l’reshaim, to the wicked.
Shlomo’s face turned white and serious because Yossel, by quoting the verse, said to Shlomo “I do not want to shake your hand because you are wicked,” referring to Shlomo’s break from halachic issues with women.
Shlomo’s asked Yossel what he needed to do for him so that he would extend his hand to him in shalom.
Yossel quickly retorted that Shlomo needed to do teshuvah, to regret his behavior, and to accept upon himself to stop doing what he should not be doing.
Shlomo thought again for a moment and asked Yossel that if he did teshuvah, would he give his hand?
Yossel said yes.
Shlomo then asked how he should do teshuvah.
Yossel indicated that it should be done by saying and thinking right then, “I accept upon myself to do teshuvah.”
Shlomo became serious once more and then loudly and clearly, in front of everyone in the store, answered “I accept upon myself.”
Yossel then gave Shlomo his hand.
Shlomo took out a business card, wrote his private number on it, and told Yossel that he was on his way to Toronto and from there would be going to Israel. He asked him to call at a later date in order to get together and talk.
Yossel agreed and left the store.
That evening, Yossel returned to his office and noticed his answering machine was blinking. He retrieved the message. It was from a person who was also at Weiss’s with Yossel and Shlomo, stating that Shlomo Carlebach had just died.
Yossel was shocked beyond belief. The words “Boruch Dayan Ha’emes” fell from his lips.
He sat down thinking about his encounter with Shlomo earlier that afternoon, and realized that what had happened was Divine Providence. He confessed that it is not his nature to make a scene and embarrass a person in public. He could have easily given his hand to Shlomo, or even if he did not want to do that, he did not have to get into a dialogue with him. He could have simply avoided him by not saying anything.