The Kingly Gift
Among our great sages and gaonim was Rabbi Elijah Chaim Maizel, Chief Rabbi of Lodz. Besides being a great scholar he was a giant in humility and kindness. He was born in 1821 near Vilna, and he studied in the famous yeshiva of Volozhin together with the famous gaonim, Rabbi Yosef of Brisk and Rabbi Shmuel Mohliver.
His father, Mordechai, was a great man too. He was a prominent businessman, a scholar and a philathropist. He was well liked by the emperor Maximillian, and as a token of appreciation for his good work in behalf of the government, the emperor presented him with a gold chain which he personally placed around his neck.
Once while walking in the streets of Prague, a poor person who knew him, approached and cryingly told him that he had to marry off his daughter, and he was too poor to arrange the wedding.
Rabbi Mordechai looked through his pockets for some money to give the man, but he couldn’t find even a penny. He suddenly had an inspiration. Taking off the gold chain which the emperor had placed around his neck, he said:
Here, take this gold chain; sell it, and with the money you will receive, you can arrange the wedding for your daughter.”
The poor man hesitated. “I am afraid to take this chain,” he said, “What if the king should hear that you gave away his valued gift? He would consider it an insult. I will stop by your place of business tomorrow, and you can give me some money at that time.”
Rabbi Mordechai replied: “Is not all the money and wealth which I possess a gift from the Almighty? If I can give away His gifts to poor people then a assuredly I can give away a gift from a mere mortal king. Take my advice and accept this chain now. Who knows if tomorrow I will be inclined to part with such an expensive item?”
From such stock came the Gaon Rabbi Elijah Chaim.
The Humility Of A Great Man
When Rabbi Elijah Chaim was retained to be the Chief Rabbi of Lodz, a large parade and party was arranged to welcome him when he was scheduled to arrive in the town. All the people of the town closed the shops and dressed in their Sabbath clothes and awaited the arrival of the stagecoach which would bring the rabbi from his former town of Lomza.
They waited an entire day, and when the stagecoch arrived they saw that the Gaon was not on it. They were very much perturbed. Perhaps he met with an accident, or worse, possibly he had changed his mind and agreed to remain with his former town.
The following day the leaders of the town dispatched a man to visit the other town and inquire why the rabbi did not arrive. He boarded a coach on the outskirts of the town to make connections with another coach which would take him to Lomza. On the coach he saw a man with an imposing appearance, whose greatness and knowledge seemed to radiate from him.
“What town are you from,” asked this imposing person.
“I am from Lodz,” was the reply.
“What is new in Lodz?” asked this prominent looking man.
“What could be new?” came the reply. “It has its rich and its poor people but mainly poor.”
“Does Lodz have charitable societies, hospitals and free lodging places for the poor?” asked the stranger.
“That is our trouble,” sighed the resident and emissary of the community. “We do not have these things. Therefore, we retained an outstanding Rabbi who is a well known gaon, to come to our town and organize all these ventures. But he apparently decided not to come and to remain in his former town. Yesterday the entire community turned out to welcome him but he disappointed us. What surprises me is why he didn’t think of notifying us in advance that he wouldn’t come so we wouldn’t have gone to so much trouble.”
When the coach stopped and the passengers descended, the good-looking stranger turned to his passenger comrade and said: “This much I can tell you now, that your new rabbi is now in your town. You need not look any further for him.”
The stranger then departed. The town’s emissary began to wonder about this remark, and suddently it dawned upon him that he was seated the entire time with his honor, The Gaon. He hurried to the officials of the town and informed them of his experience. They all hurried to the new house which they had prepared for the rabbi. Entering the house they saw the rabbi engaged in the study of Torah with great diligence.
“Rabbi,” they asked in wonder, “why did you disappoint us yesterday? We arranged a gala affair to greet you and we prepared great honors for you.”
Rabbi Elijah Chaim answered them in a humble tone. “It is because of these honors which I had heard about in advance that I postponed my arrival in your town. After all, I didn’t deserve it. I haven’t as yet started to work for you, therefore, how should I be honored for something which I haven’t done?”
The Gaon, used to laughingly say, “In the distant places of Lithuania and Poland, people who do not know me, but have only heard of me, address me with grandiose titles such as, ‘Gaon, Genius, etc.’ In Lodz where people know me, face to face, they call me, ‘Rabbi and Master,’ but my wife who really knows me intimately, my true worth, merely addresses me, “Elijah Chaim!”
Once, while passing a little hamlet, the Gaon, Rabbi Elijah Chaim was invited to attend a wedding which was to be held that night. The town would be honored if his honor, the Gaon, would be present. The Gaon readily agreed to attend the wedding and to partake of this mitzvah.
That evening the entire community waited for the ceremony to start. But a few hours passed and still no sign of the bride and groom. Rabbi Elijah approached the bride’s father and asked him why the ceremony was being delayed.
The man sighed and said: “The groom will not come until I immediately give him his house furnishings which I promised him. Unfortunately, I have no money at the present time to give him what he wants.”
“Come with me,” said the Gaon to the distraught father. The Gaon was on his way home after having purchased silverware and other utensils for his home, which he had packed in cartons in his coach. Opening the door of his coach he gave all of these cartons to the bride’s father and said, “Here, give this to the groom and perform the ceremony.”
The groom was happy on the fulfillment of the pledge and the wedding ceremony was held. They danced and made merry the entire night.
Early in the morning the coachman rushed over to the Gaon and cried, “Rabbi, the cartons of silverware and other goods are stolen!”
The Gaon calmed him, telling him that G-d will surely replace the loss. When they reached home the coachman told the Rebbetzin about the merchandise being stolen. She was very aggravated but she kept quiet, realizing she couldn’t do anything about it. That evening the Gaon was describing his trip to some members of his congregation and he told them about the wedding where the groom refused to enter unless he received his furnishings in advance.
The Rabbi’s wife, hearing this remarked, “It would have been better to have given the groom the furnishings and silverware which you bought, seeing that it was stolen anyway.”
The Gaon turned to his wife and said, “My dear wife, I had anticipated your attitude; therefore, I fulfilled your wish and I did give it to them. It was never stolen. This way we both earned a great mitzvah.”
A Great Mitzvah Through Candlesticks
Once, a poor woman came to the Gaon, Rabbi Elijah Chaim and cryingly pleaded for help. “My daughter is about to be married and I have no money to make the wedding. I am a widow and I do not know to whom to turn.”
The Gaon looked through all of his pockets and drawers but he couldn’t find a penny. Suddenly he saw the silver candlesticks which his wife used every Friday night. “Here take these candlesticks; sell them, and you will have enough money to make the wedding.”
The woman thanked him profusely and departed. That afternoon, erev Shabbos, the Rebbetzin rushed to her husband and complained that her candlesticks had been stolen.
“Fear not,” said the Gaon. “Your candlesticks have gone to perform a greater mitzvah – that of Hachanas Kallah, helping a poor bride. The merit of these deed will shine greater than all the candle lighting of the past years.”
“But how will I now light the Sabbath candles?” she cried.
“Aren’t there enough apples in the house?” he asked. “Bore out the cores of apples and place the candles in them.”
That Shabbos a halo seemed to permeate the home of the Gaon.
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Page last updated - 07/20/2006