Reb Nosson Adler's powerful memory was truly phenomenal. All that he ever learned remained indelibly etched into his mind to the end of his days.
Due to this he never allowed himself to commit his chiddushim to writing. Reb Nosson maintained that the heter to write that which is really part of the oral Torah is only based on the fact that Chazal saw the power of forgetting as a threat to the passing Torah down from one generation to the next. If so, since he himself never forgot, the permission to write did not include him.
Any novellae we have of his, therefore, were written by his talmidim, particularly his talmid muvhak the Chasam Sofer zt"l.
His talmidim related that in his old age Reb Nosson Adler was testing a talmid on his learning. In the middle it seemed to the young student that the elderly Rabbi was falling asleep and he took the opportunity to skip one Rashi and so to finish faster. Immediately Rabbenu prompted him on the piece he had skipped.
Reb Nosson's derech halimud was a style that everyone soon learned to recognize. He would always repeat the mishnayos and lay out in order the words of the gemora and Rishonim according to the mishna. He would then learn the mishna with the gemora, the Rif, the Rambam, the Mordechai and the Shulchan Oruch.
Once when Rabbenu was traveling through Prague, the gedolim of that city, having heard of his derech halimud and unusual memory, gathered to hear him. During their learning, one of the talmidei chachomim wanted to point out that Rabbenu had forgotten to mention the words of the Mordechai. Without a stop Reb Nosson turned aside to the man and explained, "The words of the Mordechai in this mishna are not his own. It was a mistaken talmid who wrote them" — and continued learning.
He would humbly accord the greatest respect to any talmid chochom who chanced to be a guest at his house, which was open to all.
Upon hearing that the Shaagas Aryeh had begun a self-imposed golus, wandering from place to place together with his Rebbetzin, Reb Nosson went to the attendant of the public guest house with a request: If he noticed a talmid chochom with his wife he should notify the Rabbi. Chances are that this would be the Shaagas Aryeh and it would not be fitting to accommodate him in the public guest house.
It was late one night when a strange couple arrived at the guest house. Still, before they retired, the man began to study by the light of a candle. The other residents — a group of simple people — began to protest, claiming that the newcomer was disturbing their sleep, though he had been almost hidden in a corner. The man promptly rose and went outside to learn the rest of the night by the light of the moon.
Daybreak came and the attendant was astonished to behold the newly-arrived guest breaking out in an ecstatic dance. As his wife looked on he said to her, "If you only understood the chiddushim that were revealed to me this past night, you too would dance for joy."
All at once the attendant recalled the instructions of Reb Nosson Adler. This must be the Shaagas Arye — he realized — and rushed to call Rabbenu.
A long Torah conversation confirmed the surmise of the attendant. Rabbenu invited the illustrious rabbi and his Rebbetzin to his home. However once they were there he had a new suggestion. Rabbenu told the Shaagas Aryeh that in his opinion it did not befit a giant of the Shaagas Aryeh's stature to wander around. Rather he should take on a position as rosh yeshiva or even rabbonus.
"Where?" asked the Rabbi.
Turning to a nearby closet, Rabbenu withdrew a ksav rabbonus he had received from the Jewish community in Metz and sat down to write a letter.
"Regarding your letter in which you requested that I become rov of Metz, I would like to recommend a certain talmid chochom who is erudite in the entire Torah and is far better suited to the position than I."
It was only a matter of days before a reply arrived from Metz, stating that since Rabbenu recommends this man so highly they were enclosing a ksav rabbonus for him! And that is how the Shaagas Aryeh came to be rov of Metz.
In the moving hesped that the holy Chasam Sofer wrote about his Rebbe, he related that although no one notified him of his Rebbe's passing, he had a strange dream, wherein he beheld a sefer Torah wrapped in a black cover. "I wondered in the dream why the sefer Torah was wrapped in black, until I was told that the sefer Torah was burning, (which meant) that Rabbenu had ascended to the heavens."
The hesped relates further what happened when a fire broke out in the Judengasse in Frankfurt. Hungry flames licked at the houses, easily devouring everything in their path. It was only after the flames had been doused and the panic had somewhat subsided that the Yidden could take stock of the neis that had occurred. The buildings on either side of Rabbenu's house and those opposite had all been destroyed, while the Rov's house stood out unscathed — literally "an ember saved from the flames."
Furthermore, Reb Nosson Adler had been engrossed in prayer when the fire broke out. Wrapped in his tallis and tefillin, he did not react at all to the commotion around, but continued his tefilloh uninterrupted.
The Chasam Sofer also gives us an exceptional depiction of Reb Nosson Adler's absolute self-control. When his only daughter passed away at a young age, the bereaved father accepted the heavenly decree with love and did not cry. Only when he was called up to the Torah for maftir and then read the Haftorah did he allow one single tear to escape his eye, after which he never referred to the tragedy again.
On another occasion, the Chasam Sofer retold his talmidim of the seemingly magical powers of his Rebbe, which was, in fact, his koach haTorah.
A slanderer once informed the government that Reb Nosson Adler was in possession of a lot of illegal gold and silver. Soon, his studies were interrupted by a rude, loud knocking on the door. The government's agents had come to search the premises. His talmidim panicked — and rightly so, for the sefer Torah of Rabbenu was adorned with exquisite and valuable klei kodesh.
Rabbenu, however, kept his calm demeanor and instructed the Chasam Sofer, then a young bochur, to hold the sefer Torah with all its silver and to stay still.
The agents made their way through the house doing a thorough search, but found nothing.
"The fact that my master and teacher could turn me and the sefer Torah into someone that sees but is not seen is not new to me," recalled the Chasam Sofer later, but the chiddush was that he endangered himself by using the koach hakedushoh all for the sake of the sefer Torah.
When the Chasam Sofer was in Pressburg, a poor man came to the door begging for alms. Upon his departure, the Chasam Sofer broke out into a happy smile. When his talmidim asked the reason for his joy, the Chasam Sofer replied:
"You surely know that my great master and Rebbe suffered because of many Jews who sought to degrade him, which caused me much pain. Seeing this, my Rebbe once reassured me, `Don't worry, in the end each of my enemies will come to your door to ask your favor.' The one you saw here today was the last of my Rebbe's oppressors."