Rabbi Yosef Zundel was a disciple of the Gaon Rabbi Akiba Eiger. As humble and modest as was Rabbi Akiba Eiger, still, he was not, in the opinion of some, as modest as Yosef Zundel.
Once Rabbi Zundel built an amud, a lectern with an enclosed closet for his tallis and tefillin. Zundel would place his siddur or sefer on top of it and pray or learn while standing. (Rabbi Zundel followed the advice of the great gaon, the Vilna Gaon, who advised people to pray only by reading from a siddur, and not by heart, for this way there was less chance of errors and one can concentrate better.)
One day another member of the congregation saw the lectern and moved it over to his bench where he studied over it. Zundel didn’t say a word to him but he waited until he finished studying and then he moved the heavy shtender back to his bench. When this continued for a few days, Rabbi Zundel asked the scholar if he would be kind enough to return the lectern to its place when he completed his studies.
This person was hot-heated and when he heard this mild request, he exclaimed: “You mind your own affairs; I will do as I please!”
Rabbi Zundel was taken aback so he humbly begged his forgiveness if he unintentionally insulted him. But the other man became abusive and angry and began to insult Rabbi Zundel. Rabbi Yosef Zun-del ascended the pulpit and knocked on the table for attention.
In a crying voice he exclaimed to all of the congregants: “Rabbosai! I have just insulted this scholar and I caused him to become angry. Therefore, in front of this congregation I humbly beg for his forgiveness and ask that he pardon me.”
Only then did the “scholar” forgive Rabbi Yosef Zundel.
Insulted And Yet Begs Forgiveness
Once while Rabbi Yosef Zundel was walking through one of the streets in Jerusalem, a merchant met him. Mistaking him for one of his competitors, the merchant began to scold and ridicule him.
Soon a crowd gathered to listen to this harangue. When one of the people recognized the gaon, he attempted to interfere with this brash merchant for daring to speak so harshly against this humble gaon. Rabbi Zundel stopped him and allowed him to continue his harangue.
That night Rabbi Yosef Zundel paid a visit to this merchant and begged him for forgiveness for causing him so much aggravation, even though he was the innocent victim.
The Life Of Privation
Many of our gaonim, our righteous sages, suffered a poverty stricken life of privation, but they never complained as long as they were able to devote their time to the study of the Torah. The gaon, Rabbi David of Navardok, truly knew the meaning of our Sages in Pirkei Avot, who advocated only eating a crust of bread with salt and sleeping on the ground. For although he was one of the leading sages of his generation his congregation was very poor and many times he suffered the pangs of hunger.
“Thank G-d that He gave us the opportunity of fasting Monday and Thursdays,” he used to say. “Otherwise I would starve, for so little is my income.”
The arguments, however, could never appease his wife and one Thursday she came to him for money to purchase food for Shabbos. Rabbi David kept quiet and paid no attention to her requests, for he didn’t have a penny in his pocket.
The poor woman realizing the situation exclaimed in a bitter tone, “Look at the difference between myself and the next door neighbor! Her husband is a tailor, an ignorant person and yet his wife has already prepared all the food for Shabbos. She has already cooked the fish and meat. While I, the wife of the great rabbi of the town, haven’t even a penny to buy a challah for Shabbos.
“True,” answered the humble sage, “but look at the difference between your husband and her husband. Your husband sits and studies the Torah all day while her husband doesn’t. Isn’t that bigger compensation?”
Paid For Knowing Nothing
The Gaon, Rabbi David, would sit all day in the Beis Hamidrash studying the Torah. From far and wide, questions pertaining to law (dinim) of the Torah would come to him and Rabbi David would answer every request.
One day, one of the prominent merchants of the town enters the Beis Hamidrash and asked the Gaon, “I would like your advice about a business transaction which I am about to enter into.”
“Sorry,” answered the Gaon, “I know very little about business.”
A few days later the same man again approached the Gaon and asked him, “Could you give me some advice about a certain shidduch (a marriage proposal)?”
Again the Gaon answered him, “Sorry, but I know nothing about shidduchim.”
The man became angry and said, “Rabbi, I wonder why the congregation pays your salary. Is it because you know nothing?”
The Gaon, Rabbi David, answered him jokingly, “On the contrary. The congregation pays me for the very little I know for if they were to pay me for what I do not know all the kingly treasures could not suffice.”
The Soup Didn’t Taste As Good
Rabbi David would study the Torah every day until after midnight. He would then return home to eat. His wife would usually leave a pot of soup on the oven and she and the rest of the family would be asleep when he came home. Rabbi David would then take a piece of bread and together with this soup it would make up his meal for the night.
One night his wife was washing the clothing and she forgot to spill out the dirty soap water. She left the pail on the stove near the pot of soup. That night as usual, Rabbi David came home to eat before he retired. He accidentally took the pail of wash water instead of the pot of soup and drank it all.
The following morning when he saw his wife he said, “Do you know that the soup last night didn’t taste so good. I didn’t enjoy it at all. It might have had too much salt or other spices.”
When his wife would complain about their extreme poverty, Rabbi David would say, “Do you know why certain people never have enough money? Because they are never satisfied with the amount they have. If they are satisfied with their lot, they would always be content and would have more than they need.”
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