Within the hallowed walls of the Pressburg
shtub," the anticipation was palpable. One mighty
voice roared forth, teaching Torah, instilling
middos and ingraining life's true values. The
Chumash shiur of the holy Chasam Sofer
zt"l, was not confined to imparting the knowledge
of the posuk, Rashi and Ramban. In
addition, it was used as a tool for weaving in the all-
important messages that he included in the pshat.
Stories and anecdotes culled from a span of many
generations were spread as if on a platter, giving
flavor to the shiur and engraving on the minds
and hearts of the pupils the correct way to live. As
the Chasam Sofer would often say, "We must learn about
what our fathers endured during the Spanish Inquisition
and the subsequent exile for if, choliloh,
history were to repeat itself, we have to know how to
Indeed, his talmidim were imbued with a firm
emunoh that insulated them and kept their faith
steadfast during the physical and spiritual chaos that
was to follow with both world wars.
One day, the Chasam Sofer brought in lessons from the
example of Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi, zt"l.
Rabbi Eliezer lived in the 17th century, in Egypt,
where he was a top-ranking officer and a close
confidant of the king. As a token of their friendship,
the king gave R' Eliezer a valuable, exquisite ring.
This aroused the envy of the gentile nobles in the
king's court and of one noble in particular.
On the day of the king's birthday, R' Eliezer was on
his way to the palace to bestow his blessing and good
wishes. As he crossed the bridge that spanned the River
Nile, the aforementioned noble met him and asked to see
his ring. As soon as he had finished studying and
admiring it the man, with a flick of his hand, threw
the ring into the air, intending to lose it in the
murky depths of the river. He had not reckoned,
however, with R' Eliezer's alacrity and speed. The
rabbi deftly caught the ring in midair and continued on
his way to the palace.
There, he was accorded great honor by the king, who sat
him right at his side. The anger and jealousy of all
those present was not lost on R' Eliezer and in the
middle of the session he excused himself and left the
Seeing his perturbed and drawn face, his family was
concerned. What could have happened? R' Eliezer
recounted the incident with the ring and of the honor
the king had showered him with, but this only
exacerbated their question. Weren't both cases cause
for joy, not worry and sadness?
Quoting a posuk in Mishlei, R' Eliezer
replied, "Lifnei shever gaon," before Hashem
brings a calamity on a person, He raises him high.
"Since I'm now in such an exalted position, I am
fearful of the calamity that may come."
So saying, the Rabbi packed a small suitcase with the
basic necessities and added some valuable stones and
pearls. He fled on the first boat, leaving for an
unknown destination. His flight was none too soon. That
very night, an angry king, persuaded by his advisors
that his Jewish friend was no friend but was plotting
against him, sent for R' Eliezer. The King's messengers
returned empty-handed, as the ship with their quarry on
board was on its way across the ocean.
After a few days of smooth sailing, there was an abrupt
change of weather. Gale force winds whipped up angry
waves into a fury, dwarfing the ship with their stature
and might. The wooden vessel was no match for such a
storm and before long was battered and sunk. R'
Eliezer, clinging to a single floating plank of wood,
was the sole survivor to wash up on the shores of
Bereft of any material possessions — his case full of
stones was lost in the ocean — he saw his plight as
the Finger of Hashem, punishing him for all the
bitul Torah he had incurred while in his former
high position in the king's court.
Accepting the reproof with perfect faith, he now
applied himself fully to limud Torah lishmoh.
A poor widow agreed to give him a room where he could
lodge and learn, and she shared with him her meager
provisions. Thus R' Eliezer learned Torah
mei'oni, destitute and alone.
One day, as the widow handed him his food, a cockroach
fell onto the plate.
R' Eliezer pushed it aside in disgust, but then to the
puzzlement of his hostess, a huge smile spread across
his face. What was the cause for joy here? Had he not
just reached the lowest ebb of poverty, when his food
was fare for bugs?
But that was exactly the point that R' Eliezer
explained. "I can fall no lower. If I have reached this
point, then surely Hashem's help is close at hand."
That very day a national announcement was made in the
streets. The king's friend had died and he longed for a
new companion with whom he could be challenged at a
game of chess.
Anyone who considered himself a champion should present
himself to His Majesty immediately.
The Jew, standing in tatters before the king, did not
seem to be a likely candidate. However, after
recovering somewhat from his initial shock, he
challenged him to a game. With a few clever moves, R'
Eliezer had the king's queen and then his king too.
Once again, R' Eliezer found himself favored by
royalty, with money and gifts lavishly bestowed on him.
Every day he would enter the palace at the same hour to
allow the king the pleasure of his favorite pastime.
This time, however, R' Eliezer learned from his past
experiences. Any time spent with the king he made up
with Torah study late into the night, extending even to
the early mornings and barely stopping.
His taxing schedule became increasing difficult and one
day, during a game of chess, extreme fatigue overtook
him and he fell asleep, pawn in hand.
Not only was the king not angry at this affront to his
honor, he even ordered a cushion to be brought and
placed gently under his chess-mate's head.
Upon awakening, R' Eliezer jumped up in consternation
and, seeing the pillow, thanked the king profusely. The
game was soon over and R' Eliezer, leaving the palace
once again, had a sense of foreboding that this
greatness could once again be followed by a
"shever," a drastic fall, as in the past.
Quietly, unobtrusively, he once again left on a self-
imposed exile. Subsequently, R' Eliezer reached Posen,
becoming the rov there.
In the sefer Shem Hagedolim Hasholeim, a
talmid of Rabbi Shimon Sofer, rov of Cracow,
writes the following phenomenal story:
When Reb Shimon Sofer, zt'l, accepted the
rabbonus in Cracow, he made his way to the courtyard of
the Remoh Shul to daven at the graves of the
tzaddikim buried there.
The dignitaries of the community accompanied the new
rov to the gates of the cemetery, waiting there
respectfully for R' Shimon's return. As he stepped out,
the rov reported joyfully, "Boruch Hashem, I
prayed at the kivrei tzaddikim, including that of
Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi, zt"l."
The roshei hakehillah looked at each other,
questioningly. Never had they known of or seen the
grave of R' Eliezer Ashkenazi in that area. To this
day, its appearance remains a mystery. Now it can be
clearly seen in its newly refurbished state.