The Piety Of A Sage
The humbleness, piety and good deeds of the Gaon and Tzaddik, Rabbi Chaim Soleveitchik were well-known throughout the Jewish world. The door to his home was always open, and rich and poor would always stream through it. The rich sought advice, and the poor asked for help. No problem was too small or large, to which the Gaon did not offer help and money where it was necessary.
All the years in which the Gaon was the Rabbi of Brisk, the congregation provided for his needs. They supplied oil for his lamps and wood to heat his home. Once the congregation made an accounting of the wood they were supplying Rabbi Chaim, and they were amazed to discover that it ran to over 500 rubles. For one home this was a gigantic sum.
They made an investigation and found that the woodbin was located outdoors behind his home, was unlocked, and all the poor of the town were taking wood for their own use. They immediately attached a lock to the woodbin and they gave the key to the shammes with the instructions not to allow any stranger to take the wood. When Rabbi Chaim heard of this, he immediately ordered the shammes to remove the lock for the bin.
The officers of the congregation reproached Reb Chaim saying, “Rabbi, we can’t afford to support all the poor of the city.”
“If that is the case,” replied the Gaon, “then don’t give me any wood either, for how can I remain sitting in a warm house when I know that many poor in town are freezing?”
The lock was removed for good.
Anguish Knows No Station In Life
Reb Chaim was known specifically for his kindness and help to the poor and the people suffering from misfortune. He would never differentiate between a great person or a small person, an educated person or an ignorant one.
Once, an official of his congregation saw Reb Chaim holding a long conversation with an ignorant person, whom all the important people looked down upon. He was sitting in a corner of the Beit Hamidrash and conversing with him for a long time, thus keeping away everyone else who wanted to see him.
“Rabbi,” said this official, “why are you wasting your time in conversation with this ignorant boor?”
“You and the likes of you think that you are important people,” answered Reb Chaim, “and it is below your dignity to talk to someone below your station. But you forget what our Sages say (Gemara Yoma 75a), ‘When a person has worries and troubles he shouldn’t keep it within himself, but should talk it out.’ This poor person has no one to talk to, therefore I have the mitzvah of listening to him.”
Don’t Blame The Woman For Her Anger
Reb Chaim was very humble; whenever he had to travel outside of his city, he would never reveal that he was a rabbi. When he entered a synagogue to pray, he never sat up in the front rows, but always amongst the common people. He always joined in their conversation, for perhaps he could help some unfortunate person with some good advice. His love and pity for his fellow Jews were boundless.
Once he had to sit in judgment on a case which involved a poor woman. But unfortunately the woman was wrong, and Reb Chaim had to decide against her. Out of anger, the woman began to insult and curse the Gaon.
“Be quiet, you spiteful woman,” shouted one of the members of the court.
Reb Chaim quieted him and said, “Don’t call her names. This poor person is a true and kosher Jewish woman, but unfortunately she hasn’t too much money, and this verdict galls her no end because she still thinks she is right. Therefore, let her call me all the names she wants. This way she will get the anger out of her system, and she will begin to feel better.”
Accommodates The Army
Once before the holiday of Succos a regiment of soldiers arrived in the city of Brisk. All the Jewish soldiers were invited to share the tables of the many congregants in the city. But it seems that there were too many soldiers and not enough baalei batim to accommodate them.
Erev Yom Tov, a man ran into the home of Reb Chaim and was worried. “Rabbi,” he said, “We still have many Jewish soldiers to accommodate and we can’t find enough homes for them. What should we do?”
“How many are there?” asked Reb Chaim.
“Forty soldiers,” he answered.
“What are you worrying about,” answered Reb Chaim. “Bring them to me, I’ll take care of them.”
“Rabbi,” he replied in amazement, “how can you accommodate so many people?”
“Time is very short,” Reb Chaim said, “Don’t argue with me. Bring them in and let us all enjoy Yom Tov.”
And during the entire week of Succos, 40 soldiers enjoyed the hospitality of Reb Chaim.
Redeeming The Prisoner Was
Once, before Kol Nidre was about to begin, Reb Chaim was told that one of the prominent people in the city had gone into debt, and as a consequence he was put in debtor’s prison. His family – his wife and children were in terrible anguish that he could not be with them for Yom Kippur. He needed 5,000 rubles to pay off his debt and only then would he be released from prison.
Reb Chaim immediately ascended the pulpit and stopped the cantor from beginning the services.
“My fellow compassionate Jews, whose greatest virtue is their pity, which they always show to others,” said Reb Chaim. “One of our fellow Jew is now languishing in jail, because he needs 5,000 rubles to pay his debt. I have made a vow that I will not allow the services to begin until we raise the sum here tonight. For if we don’t raise it, then all of our prayers are worthless. For this money to help this man is worth more than the entire Yom Kippur.”
The response was spontaneous, and within a short time the full sum was realized, and only then did Reb Chaim allow the cantor to begin the Kol Nidre services. That year the Jews of Brisk were sure that their prayers were acceptable to G-d.
Don’t Embarrass The Thief
The doors of Reb Chaim, as we said before, were always open to the poor. Whoever wanted to enter for a meal was always welcome. Once, a known thief entered his house, and when he left they discovered that the silver snuff box was missing. This box was given to Reb Chaim by one of the wealthy members of his congregation.
Reb Chaim’s family knew who stole the box and they were about to lodge a complaint with the police.
But Reb Chaim stopped them saying, “If you will accuse the man, he will be embarrassed in public and our Sages have warned us (Berachos 3b) that it is better to jump into a fiery cauldron than to embarrass a person in public. It is better that I suffer the loss of a simple snuff box rather than embarrass one Jewish person.”
(If only our fellow Jews would take this moral to heart, the Messiah would come today.)
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Page last updated - 07/06/2006