Dei'ah veDibur - Information & 

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Kislev 5773 - November 29, 2012 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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HaRav Eliezer Ashkenazi, zt"l, Author of Maasei Hashem

In honor of his yahrtzeit, 22 Kislev

Within the hallowed walls of the Pressburg "shiur 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 react."

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 palace.

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 Constantinople.

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.


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