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How The Chofetz Chaim Admonished A Fellow Jew

Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan (1835-1933), known as the Chofetz Chaim (named after the title of his book, He Who Desires Life, Vilna, 1873), would travel through many towns in Poland, selling the many books he authored. Once, while visiting the city of Vilna, he stopped at a hotel that was run by a pious Jew. While he was waiting to be served, a rough looking elderly man entered and demanded a bottle of whiskey and a roast chicken.

When this was served, the man grabbed the chicken in one hand and the bottle of whiskey in the other hand and began to gorge himself with the food. He had removed his hat and had not washed his hands before the meal. When the waitress approached him, he leered at her in an obscene manner.

While the Chofetz Chaim was watching the man, the hotel keeper came over and pointing to the uncouth man said, "Stay away from that man, he is a sinner. He uses profane language and violates nearly every commandment of the Torah."

The Chofetz Chaim was disturbed at this news and he asked, "Where does this man come from? Who were his parents?"

"He is no good," replied the innkeeper. "He never studied or went to a yeshiva. When he was a child of seven years he was captured by missionaries who kept him in their monastery until he was 10 years old. Then he was drafted to serve in Czar Nickolas army for 25 years. It is no wonder that he behaves this way! It is a miracle that he never converted and still remains a Jew."

Honors The Man

The Chofetz Chaim arose and approached the man and greeted him. "Shalom," he said, "I am indeed privileged to meet you. Is it true that when you were a little boy you were stolen and raised amongst the Christian monks and then later you had to serve 25 years in the Czar's army? Because of this you were never taught even one letter of our Torah. You practically passed through a living hell on this earth. I shudder at the many times they tried to convert you and yet you stood fast to your beliefs and remained a Jew. I envy you now the great merit you have. You assuredly are going to have a high place in the Future World. I can just picture you seated amongst the great saints and gaonim of the past generations.

"Do you think it is a small thing that you accomplished? To live so many years amongst the missionaries and the rough army of the Czar and stilt remain a Jew. Why, your test was even greater than that of Chananya, Mishael and Azarya, who were thrown into a flaming cauldron. Theirs were only momentary, but yours was for over 36 years."

Hearing these kind words spoken by this pious saint, the first kind words ever spoken to him, made the man tremble and suddenly he began to cry. All the pent up emotion of his past years exploded and the man fell on his knees and began to kiss the feet of the Chofetz Chaim, crying and sobbing hysterically.

Realizing that the spark of yiddishkeit still burned in his soul, the Chofetz Chaim made the man stand up and in a soothing voice said, "A person like you who will be seated amongst the holy and pious saints who have sacrificed their lives for the G-d of Israel, will be embarrassed if you cannot converse with them as an equal. You will feel ashamed that they would know that after you came out of the army, you made no effort to observe the Torah. Come with me to study the Torah and learn how to behave like a true Jew and I can assure that your zechus (merit) will far surpass that of all the saints in Heaven."

The man followed the Chofetz Chaim and he became a true repentant and a great saint. Thus did the Chofetz Chaim show by his actions that a person should never say a harsh or bad word to anyone no matter how big a sinner they may be.


Never Scold the Public

When the Dubner Maggid came to the Vilna Gaon and told him that he had decided upon a career as a preacher and not that of a rabbi, the gaon gave him the following advice:

"Never scold a congregation in public. Privately you may do so but on the pulpit you must only laud them. Our sages (Yoma 86a) discuss this matter. In Psalms 32:1 we find the sentence, 'Blessed is he whose sin is covered (hidden), and in Proverbs 28:13 we find an opposing sentence, 'He who hides his sins will not succeed. Although the Gemara offers various explanations, I explain it to mean that we should reprimand in private only. But in public we say, 'Blessed is he whose sin is hidden. We must not announce the sins of Israel in public.”

The Gaon continued: “The prophet Isaiah was punished because of this. The Midrash Shir Hashirim (chapter 1) narrates that when Isaiah said (Is. 6:5), 'Because I am a man of unclean lips and in the midst of a people of unclean lips I dwell, G-d said to him, 'Isaiah, of thyself you may say 'I am a man of unclean lips' but you are not permitted to say 'In the midst of a people of unclean lips l dwell.' "

"The next sentence (ibid 6) concludes: 'Then flew unto me one the Seraphim, with a glowing stone (ritzpah) in his hands. Rabbi Samuel said, 'The word ritzpah means ruz peh (break the mouth), break the mouth of him who has defamed and insulted my sons.' Never insult a congregation," the gaon concluded. The Dubner Maggid heeded this advice and became famous in Israel as one of the greatest orators of his time.


Embarrassed In Public

Once a preacher came to the gaon, Rabbi Meir, chief rabbi of Tiktin (of whom the Baal Shem Tov said was deserving to have the Holy Spirit of G-d rest on him as it did on Moses but that the generation was not worthy of it), and asked his permission to lecture to his congregation. He was granted permission. The gaon himself sat in the front row to hear the lecture. The maggid (preacher) spoke for hours, condemning the people of the town in general and the congregation specifically for the various sins they were committing. He scolded them for their dishonesty, their lack of Torah and for every known sin he could think of.

Rabbi Meir heard this and he began crying bitter tears. After the lecture the maggid asked him how he liked his speech.

The gaon replied, "Your words of criticism were well deserved. I know I have sinned and I have done many bad deeds in my time but why did you have to reveal it to the public?"

The maggid was thunderstruck. "Does the master think I was referring to him? G-d forbid that I should speak thus to a holy saint. I was referring to the con-gregation," he said in a trembling voice.

"That is a lie," answered the gaon. "The congregation as a whole is pure from all sins. The nation of Israel is a holy people. Therefore you must have been referring to me. I don’t mind being reprimanded but not in public. You should not have to put me to shame in front of all these people."


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