Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Nissan 5762 - March 20, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
The Maaseh Rav Haggodoh

Selections from the Maaseh Rav Haggodoh that was compiled and edited by HaRav Sholom Meir Wallach.

The Haggodoh states: "Even if we are all wise, we are all sage, we are all venerable, we all know the Torah. [Yet] it is a mitzvah to retell the story of the exodus from Egypt, and whoever exceeds in telling of the exodus from Egypt is praiseworthy."

Following are several different incidents and insights about this passage and what it means to be "wise, sage and venerable" -- chachomim, nevonim, yod'ei Torah.

Why did the author of the Haggadah preface his statement with the triple adjectives of wise, sage and venerable when he could have simply stated, "And even if we all know the Torah"? Because the Torah knowledge of the wise and sage is a different type of knowing.

HaRav Shlomo Heiman zt'l used to say in the name of HaRav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk zt'l, that in encyclopedic scope, he did not fall short of the knowledge possessed by the author of Ketzos Hachoshen. The difference was that the Rashbo of the Ketzos was an altogether different Rashbo!

(Chiddushei R' Shlomo)

HaRav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman zt'l, the Ponevezher Rov, told of the case of an inheritance of a childless man who bequeathed his fortune to his relatives. The question arose: What was the far limit for which one could claim relationship?

Naturally, the more immediate relatives sought a narrow definition while those more distantly related desired a broader one. The godol hador, R' Chaim Ozer zt'l, set up a beis din which included R' Chaim Brisker and another halachic expert of that generation who was a big boki. The Ponevezher Rov avidly wished to hear the court's deliberations and was allowed to be present; he later conveyed his impressions. The erudite authority (the third dayan) took one side and upheld his opinion with proofs from sources all over the Torah. His expertise and knowledge was truly phenomenal.

When he had finished presenting his case, R' Chaim began challenging one proof after the next. He delved deeply into the matter and proved that the very sources quoted previously actually pointed to the opposite conclusion!

(From hearsay)

HaRav Yitzchok Blazer zt'l, rabbi of St. Petersburg, told the following story: A great scholar, an acquaintance of HaRav Yisroel Salanter zt'l, once saw the latter about to leave his house with a large sum of money and asked where he was headed. R' Yisroel said that he was headed to the home of a certain person.

"Why don't you send it by messenger?" he asked.

Replied R' Yisroel, "The gemora obligates me to deliver it in person."

"If there were such a law in the gemora, I would surely know of it, too," said the guest.

"Perhaps," answered R' Yisroel, "it does not appear in your Shas, but in mine it is so written."

The guest begged R' Yisroel to explain what he meant and R' Yisroel duly provided the source. "I have a certain claim against this particular person and wish to reprove him concerning it. We find in Yevomos 78b that when Hashem sought to punish Israel for Shaul's having killed the Givonim, He mentioned Shaul's righteousness and demanded justification for his not having been eulogized sufficiently.

"Therefore, when I wish to rebuke this man for something amiss, I must first show an appreciation for his Torah knowledge and defer to him respectfully. This I shall accomplish by delivering the money in person."

Indeed, the Shas of R' Yisroel was broader.

(Nesivos Ohr, 58b)

"We are all wise, we are all sage, we all know the Torah . . . "

HaRav Chaim Halevi Brisker once said: A moreh horo'oh must possess three attributes: a good memory, scholarship and worldly wisdom. If he does not remember, he cannot possibly know what the law is. If he is not a learned scholar, he is liable to compare things that brook no comparison and are not in the least analogous. And if he is not wise, he will not know what information to draw out from the litigants, that is, details which were omitted for various reasons.

And if you wish, these are the selfsame three traits: `We are all wise' and clever enough to understand what to ask; `we are all sage' -- we are learned and fluent in the laws, and `We all know the Torah' -- and remember what we have learned.

(Facts and Practices of the Brisk Dynasty Part IV, p. 28)

"We are all venerable," that is aged, is not necessarily a compliment unless it is prefaced with praises of wisdom and understanding. They tell the story of HaRav Eisel Chorif of Slonim who was about to print his work Emek Yehoshua when he met up with a man who considered himself a Torah scholar.

"I am very surprised at you," the latter said to him. "Chazal teach us in Shabbos 152 that the older Torah sages grow, the wiser they become. Thus, I expected this later work to be superior to your previous one, that is, more incisive and profound. But it seems to be just the opposite: poorer in quality than its predecessors."

The Gaon rejoined on the spot, "The truth is that this work is really superior to the previous ones. But if it appears the opposite to you it is because Chazal also said that ignoramuses become more ignorant as they age, and you are apparently unable to grasp the greater depth in this latter work."

(Otzar Sichos Tzaddikim, p. 255)

"We are all venerable . . . "

When the Alter of Slobodka wished to deliver a particularly acerbic mussar talk to the students in the yeshiva, he began by saying, "By what right do I stand here before you to give you reproof?

"We find a similar question in Tehillim when we turn to all the creations in the world and exhort them to give praise unto Hashem. We say, `Praise Him . . . the great fishes and all the ocean depths . . . the beast and the animal . . . kings of the world and all nations . . . old men together with youths.' We cannot help asking why human beings are not mentioned first before the alligators and creeping things, the beasts and animals? The answer is that the alligators were created before man and deserve precedence. Thus, I, too, shall take advantage of this privilege and since I supersede you all in age, I shall speak before you . . . "

(Hameoros Hagedolim, 68)

"We are all venerable, we all know the Torah . . . "

In his later years, HaRav Boruch of Leipnik zt'l, author of Boruch Ta'am, was virtually blind and would grope his way around the house. Incredibly, when he sat before his disciples expounding his daily shiur, he was able to read directly from the gemora and the works of the rishonim and poskim fluently, including even the small print. His students were amazed at this selective kind of blindness and one day, they decided to test him, and placed the gemora before him upside down. He read from it in the usual manner . . . They understood that in his humility, he did not wish to let on that his expertise encompassed the entire Torah verbatim, his having committed it to his phenomenal memory years before!

One time, he was heatedly arguing in Torah with an erudite scholar of his city. He brought a decisive proof from the Rashbo, but his sparring partner brazenly challenged him to prove his point from the text itself. When R' Boruch showed him where it was written black on white, the scholar did something unforgivable: he deliberately misread the text aloud to conform with his own position.

Upon hearing those words issuing from the man's mouth, R' Boruch immediately announced that he was discontinuing to deliver the regular shiur before his students. No amount of pleading availed; he was determined to dissolve the very yeshiva. People quickly called upon R' Boruch's son, HaRav Yehoshua Heshel zt'l, rabbi of Komarna, to prevail upon his father. The latter hastened to come and attempted to appease the rosh yeshiva.

"Why are you so insistent on breaking up the yeshiva?" he asked in alarm. "Is this not the way of the Torah? One posits and the other negates; one constructs and the other demolishes. And if that scholar was right in his argument, is that reason for an entire yeshiva to suffer so drastically?"

The great man replied, "You don't understand the issue at all, my son. I have a tradition assuring that whoever studies Torah for the pure sake of study will not forget what he has learned. And now that I was shown that I don't remember the wording of the Rashbo verbatim, it is clear to me that I have not been studying Torah as I should have, all along! How can I possibly reconcile myself to such a state? How can I continue to disseminate Torah to students if I know that I have not studied Torah lishmoh? Let the yeshiva go and seek some scholar who does study Torah for its pure sake."

Upon hearing this, R' Yehoshua Heshel hastened to look up the Rashbo quote in question and, upon reading it from the text, saw that his father had been correct, after all. He read the words to him, whereupon R' Boruch became convinced that his memory had not failed him. Appeased and reassured, he went back to the yeshiva to deliver his regular shiur as always . . . "

(Rabbenu Hakodosh miShinova, vol. I, chap. 6)

A fundraiser for Yeshiva Novardok once arrived in Karlin and went to pay his respects to the author of Beis Dovid zt'l, who was very advanced in age, over ninety, and prone to forgetting. His lapse of memory was selective, however, for he continued to remember everything he had learned. Since he had virtually lost his sight as well, he would review what he knew verbatim.

The fundraiser greeted him and received a greeting in return. "Who are you and what do you want?" asked the Karliner and was told that the man raised money for the Novardoker Yeshiva. The author of Beis Dovid then asked him what his usual donation had been in previous years. The fundraiser told him, received the sum, and watched as the venerable scholar resumed his study in a sweet, melodious voice.

He was so captivated by the sound of the study that he sat himself at the edge of the table and continued to listen as the Beis Dovid chanted the gemora and interwove the Rashi and Tosafos commentaries into the text, going on to the Rishonim and Acharonim commentaries.

At one point, the Beis Dovid lifted his eyes and became aware of the man. He had already forgotten his visitor and asked him once again who he was and what he wanted. The stranger repeated that he was a collector for Yeshivas Novardok, and that the Rov had already given his usual contribution. Satisfied, the Beis Dovid resumed his study, but after several minutes, looked up, realizing the presence of the stranger in the room. The fundraiser reassured him that he had already taken care of him. At this point, the Beis Dovid said with a deep sigh, "I hope that you are spared what I am suffering. I am beset by progressive forgetfulness; I actually forget things from one moment to another! But thank G-d, I still remember Shas as I knew it when I was sixteen!"

The fundraiser was duly impressed by what he had seen, so much so that when his travels brought him to Radin, he went in to the Chofetz Chaim zt'l and related the incident.

Time passed and the Beis Dovid passed away from this world, sated with years and days. The fundraiser received a cable from the Chofetz Chaim stating that a eulogy was being organized in Radin and would he be so good as to come and tell what he had witnessed for the benefit of the people? The fundraiser hastened to comply to the summons, but went to the Chofetz Chaim and demurred. "I am but a simple person. How can I address the public and eulogize such a great man when others are much more fitting for this privilege?"

Said the Chofetz Chaim, "You need not eulogize him, for I intend to do that. I only want you to get up before me and tell the story as it happened."

(Taken from She'al Ovicho Veyagedcho, p. 137)

When the dayan of Eishishok, HaRav Eliezer Torcher zt'l, became ill shortly before his death, he asked that the Chofetz Chaim be summoned to his bedside. When the latter arrived, he said, "My time to ascend to Heaven is nigh and I will be called upon to make a reckoning of my life. Since I was a dayan, I will be asked if I was expert in halochoh, in which event I want to be sure that I will be able to give a proper reply." He asked the Chofetz Chaim to test him.

The Chofetz Chaim sat by his bedside and asked him questions on the entire Choshen Mishpot of the Shulchan Oruch for many hours. The dayan answered all the questions satisfactorily. As he left the room, the Chofetz Chaim burst into tears, saying, "True, he knew everything, but what will I be able to say for myself when my times comes?"

Hechofetz Chaim Ufo'olo, part I, p. 253)

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.