"Bayla Hinda, du herst?" called out HaGaon Reb Isser Zalman Meltzer, zt"l to his rebbetzin with wonder and excitement. "This bochur just gave a sevoroh exactly like our Reb Aharon."
The bochur, young in years but already a promising talmid chochom, was Alexander Zvi Freund, better known by all as 'Reb Sender.'
On HaRav Aharon Kotler's final visit to Eretz Yisroel, a grand kabolas ponim was prepared in his honor. As soon as he entered, Reb Aharon's eyes scanned the crowd of eager faces and asked, "Where is the young Freund?"
The shiurim of Reb Aharon were renowned for their fiery bren, as well as their sharpness and depth. Most questions asked by the listeners, if they dared ask, were dismissed with a wave of the hand. However, talmidim relate that when Reb Sender posed a kushya, Reb Aharon listened in concentration and took every word in hand.
It did not take long for Yerushalayim to learn that it had an absolute gaon with a phenomenal memory living in the community. It was common knowledge that every one of the fifty shiurim given by Reb Aharon in Eretz Yisroel were indelibly engraved on Reb Sender's mind. He could repeat them verbatim with no mistakes.
Yerushalmim enjoy relating the story of when Reb Sender 'changed' someone's bar mitzvah date. An acquaintance of Reb Sender invited him to his son's bar mitzvah, giving him details of the date and venue. Holding up his hand, Reb Sender stopped him in mid-sentence.
"I think you have the date wrong. As far as I remember, your son was born a day earlier."
The astonished father checked and verified Reb Sender's words. The amazed bar mitzvah guests were notified to come a day earlier.
Reb Sender was steeped in Torah and hardly aware of worldly needs, let alone comforts or luxuries.
An interesting anecdote illustrating this took place when he was in Monsey, NY, as rosh yeshiva of the Vishnitz Yeshiva.
In Yerushalayim, there was a deposit on every bottle of wine. After he finished the wine, the buyer would return the bottle to the store and receive his deposit back.
Being accustomed to this, Reb Sender would keep glass bottles in a corner of his room in America, too. He was sure that his host would take them, from time to time, to the store and recover his deposit.
His host, on the other hand, thought that Reb Sender was storing the empty containers for use at a later date.
Seeing that the collection was growing, the host asked Reb Sender if he needed the bottles or intended to use them.
Puzzled, Reb Sender shook his head with the revealing answer. "I only kept them so that you could return them to the store and receive your deposit."
"This is not Yerushalayim," laughed the man. "Here in America, empty bottles are just thrown into the garbage."
"When in America, do as America does," — and Reb Sender promptly threw his bottle collection out to where it belonged.
The story doesn't finish here, however. A few weeks after the above incident, on Purim, a few talmidim presented Reb Sender with a mishloach monos. In it was an expensive crystal wine bottle filled with a wine of superior quality. Reb Sender thanked them and took the flask to his room.
A month later, Pesach was nearing and Reb Sender was packing to return to Eretz Yisroel. His kind host was helping him gather his things together and suddenly remembered the wine Reb Sender had received on Purim. He looked around the room for the crystal bottle, intending to wash it out and wrap it carefully for the Rosh Yeshiva to take home.
But the wine decanter was nowhere to be seen. When he asked Reb Sender, the latter shrugged his shoulders and recalled, 'Oy, you told me that here in America you discard the bottles. I finished the wine this past Shabbos and threw the bottle in the waste bin."
Immediately the host ran to the dust bin and, after a few seconds' rummaging, drew out the now dirty — but still intact — decanter.
Another interesting episode transpired in the aftermath of his stay in America.
Reb Sender was standing on a hot afternoon on Rechov Yechezkel in Yerushalayim, trying to flag a taxi to take him home. After several futile attempts, he almost gave up, as each taxi seemed to be occupied.
All at once, salvation arrived in the form of an ordinary car without a taxi sign at all. The non-religious driver leaned over and politely offered to give "the honored gentleman" a ride home. Thanking him warmly in his usual outpouring of gratitude, Reb Sender ventured to ask if the driver knew him at all and what made him stop for him.
"Was the Rabbi ever in America?" asked the driver in reply.
Reb Sender confirmed that he had been rosh yeshiva for two years in Monsey.
"Oh! So it is you. I knew it had to be," exclaimed the man and then explained.
"Some time ago I was in America. Sitting in my hotel room I was watching a program on television. They were describing how people who ascribe life to a Higher source and probe into G-dly ideas can involve themselves totally into their world and lose contact with the world around them. They then showed a shot of you pacing back and forth in front of the Yeshiva Academy in Monsey.
"The sublime picture of your ethereal expression and G-dly radiance left me greatly impressed and stayed as a photographic vision in my mind. Seeing you standing here I recognized the Rabbi at first glance."
Reb Sender was in awe of the Hashgochoh that sent this man to benefit him in the heat of the day.
And we are in awe of the man who was so absorbed in preparing his shiur, that he had no idea that a television crew had set up tripods and cameras and were filming him.
A Yid in Kiryat Sanz, Netanya, once met Reb Sender and was greeted by him in an exceptionally warm manner. As Reb Sender asked the man how he was feeling, about his family, etc., he began to wonder if the Rabbi was mistaking him for someone else. He had on occasion seen Reb Sender when he visited the Klausenberger Rov, but how would Reb Sender know him so well?
Seeing his look of bewilderment, Reb Sender reminded him, "Don't you remember? Eighteen years ago I was here and you gave me a refreshing glass of water on a very hot day. For that I am eternally grateful to you, my dear friend!"
Despite the fact that his photographic memory was common knowledge, Reb Sender tried to hide this strength whenever possible. In the following case, he was caught "red-handed."
During a shiur on Kesuvos, Reb Sender looked into a sefer Shittah Mekubetzes and read out a passage from it. Following the shiur his talmidim wished to recheck the passage for themselves. Opening the sefer, they realized it was a Shittah Mekubetzes on a completely different masechta. Reb Sender had quoted the entire piece by heart and had only pretended to read, so as to hide his brilliance.
Reb Sender never wrote down his wonderful chiddushim. Perhaps he was of the same opinion as Reb Nosson Adler zt"l who also never committed his Torah to writing. The latter maintained that the only heter for writing novellae is in case one forgets. Since Reb Nosson Adler never forgot anything he learned, he reasoned he was forbidden to write.
However, towards the end of his too-short life of sixty-nine years, Reb Sender went over to the seforim shelf to look something up in the Maharsha. He had quoted from there and wished to show his talmid the text inside.
When he had to hesitate for half a moment to think in which masechta to look, he gave a deep sigh. "Oy! I should have obeyed the uncle Reb Zalman Weber, zt"l, rosh yeshiva of Pressburg Yeshiva. He always told me when I was young to write down my chiddushim and not to rely on my memory."
Zechuso Yogein Oleinu.