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,
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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)