Sometime, in the lull between one turbulent era and the
next, in the small town of Gombin, Avrohom was born to
Rabbi Chaim, zt"l of Gombin and his wife. The
innocence of his youth was brutally shattered by the
pogroms of Charnetzcki in 5415 (1655) in the wake of
Chmielnicki and his Cossack hordes who pillaged in 5408-
9 (1648-9). Avrohom's parents were among those murdered
in cold blood al Kiddush Hashem.
Young Avrohom, a teenage orphan left to fend for
himself, escaped together with some other villagers.
After wandering homeless from place to place, he came
to the city of Kalish which, though it too had suffered
pogroms, had already rebuilt somewhat anew.
There in Kalish he grew in Torah but managed to remain
unobtrusive and unrecognized — just another refugee.
Eventually he married and, though his wife appreciated
his madreigoh, she too kept it private. For a
living, R' Avrohom became a melamed. This took up
most of his daytime hours, while the nights were
dedicated to his studies.
The chiddushei Torah of the Mogen Avrohom,
a major commentary on the Shulchan Oruch, are
written in extremely concise form, so that various
works have been written about them. Noteworthy among
others are the sefer Machatzis Hashekel and
Eishel Avrohom of the Pri Megodim.
Perhaps R' Avrohom had originally intended to write a
revised edition of his chiddushim, but such was
his poverty that he could not afford to buy more paper
on which to write. He would approach the local
bookbinder at the end of a day's work and ask if he
could spare a few pages for which he would pay a
minimal amount. When he hadn't earned even those few
coins, he wrote on the table so that his
chiddushim would not be forgotten.
Due to his great humility, it did not occur to him to
publish his works even though his greatness was already
known by then. However, after much pressure from the
gedolei hador, he yielded. His first sefer
came out in print before he was thirty years old!
Much as he tried to conceal his greatness and remain
anonymous when he was young, it was only a matter of
time before his true nature was revealed. When R'
Avrohom was twenty-three years old, a famous and
distinguished guest arrived in Kalish. The Shach came
to town for the wedding of his son to the daughter of
R' Shmuel Kalisher, zt"l, and it was he who
uncovered Rabbeinu's secret. The story has a few
variations, all with a similar twist.
Upon his visit to Kalish, the Shach was honored with
giving a droshoh. The great talmidei
chachomim and lomdim, who had prepared
themselves well according to the references the Shach
had given them in advance, sat in the front row, ready
and eager to hear, understand, ask and argue. In a far
corner of the back row sat the Mogen Avrohom,
unobtrusively listening in.
In the course of the droshoh, the Shach posed a
difficult kushya. Having waited for this moment,
the learned men in the front immediately tried to
answer. Each solution, however, was rebutted by another
question from the Shach, whose point became steadily
strengthened and reinforced. After a while, the lively
discussion subsided, as each one found himself at a
loss to answer. In the ensuing perplexed silence, a
clear voice from the corner in the back row presented a
crystal clear solution. The Mogen Avrohom had been
According to a different version, the Mogen Avrohom,
being one of the simple folk and "only" a melamed
in cheder, couldn't even attend the Shach's
drosho. However, one of his pupils attended and
was able to present the answer to the Shach, as he had
learned it from his Rebbe.
A third girso relates that while the Shach was in
Kalish, a father brought his young son to him to be
tested by the world-renowned Torah scholar. Upon
hearing the profound and clear knowledge of the boy,
the Shach immediately asked who his teacher was. He
then sent for the melamed and, after talking with
him at length, revealed to the elders of Kalish that
this was no simple melamed but an extraordinary
Subsequently, when the Mogen Avrohom returned to his
poor home in the basement of an apartment building, the
Shach followed him there and together they spent many
hours talking divrei Torah. Word soon spread that
the Shach was learning with the melamed and so
his fame grew.
The elders of Kalish note that the story continues
further. During their intense discussion, the Shach was
informed that in the same building there was a gentile
who was a goses and could die at any moment,
posing a problem for the Shach who was a Kohen.
He was advised to hurry out so he that would not be
defiled by the tumah of the dead body.
The Shach, who was enjoying himself immensely,
delighted to find such a rare talmid chochom of
this caliber, calmed those present. "The Torah we are
now talking is very dear to me. The goy goses can
wait a while to die." So saying, he resumed the
discussion he had begun. Only when he had finished and
had left the building did the man die.
Close to Pesach, a difficult practical sheiloh
arose in Kalish, to which none of the dayonim had
a solution. When the melamed, R' Avrohom, solved
the problem with ease, the Jewish community of Kalish
knew they had a unique dayan. His efforts at
refusal were not accepted and the Mogen Avrohom became
a dayan in Kalish for matters pertaining to
The Apter Rov zt"l, author of Ohev Yisroel,
once said that he heard from his Rebbe, Reb Elimelech
of Lizhensk, that the Mogen Avrohom was one of the
greatest authors, who wrote with ruach hakodesh
and merited to see Eliyohu Hanovi.
Reb Leib Sarah's last words before his passing were
reported to have been concerning the Mogen Avrohom. He
was heard to say that Reb Abele Kalisher was a true
gaon, a true tzaddik and a true
mekubal — and with that Reb Leib closed his eyes
and was niftar.
In the sefer Toldos Odom, it is brought that Reb
Zelmale of Volozhin used to comment, "His honor the
Mogen Avrohom, although one of the Acharonim, is
as great in my opinion as one of the Rishonim.
In addition to his sefer Mogen Avrohom on
Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim, Rabbeinu wrote six
other seforim, of which only some remained whole.
Others were burned or stolen, and only small parts of
them survived. In Kalish one of his works, a
kinoh — lament — of 92 verses yearning for the
return of Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdosh,
was recited every year on Tisha B'Av.
Tragically, Rabbeinu never reached the age of fifty. In
his 46th (some say 49th) year, he passed on from his
short but fulfilled life.
In a sefer that was written two hundred and fifty
years later, a resident of Kalish writes that on
Shushan Purim each year a throng would go to the
tziyun of R' Avrohom (Abele) Gombiner to
daven on the Yom Hilulah.
In his humility the Mogen Avrohom bade that no praises
be inscribed on his matzeivoh. In fact, he
instructed that a simple stone be set up with the
words, "Here lies R' Avrohom Abele Ben R' Chaim Halevi,
Zechuso Yogen Oleinu!