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Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik

Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, when still the Rav of Slutsk, happened to meet a former student of his from the yeshiva of Volozhin, whom he had not seen for many years.

Greeting him heartily, he engaged him in brief conversation and then asked him, "What are you doing?"

"Thank G-d," answered the student, "I am well and in business, which is going very well."

"What are you doing?"

"As I say," said the young man, "praised be G-d for having given me health and a good business."

A Third Time

Once again, Rav Yosef Ber was silent for a moment and then said for a third time,

"What are you doing?"

The young man could not restrain himself and said, "Rabbi, forgive me, but I cannot understand why you keep asking me what I do. I have already told you twice that I am in business and doing well and that I am healthy. What more do you want to know?"

What You Do

"I know that I asked you this question three times now," replied Rav Yosef Ber, "but I cannot help it, for you do not answer me. I keep asking you what are you doing and you keep answering me about what G-d is doing.

"I asked you what you are doing and you answered me that you were in business and that it was fine, that you were healthy, etc. These are not your doings, these are the doings of the Almighty. He is the One who gives you health. He is the One who makes sure that your business is going along well.

"I, however, asked you what you do. Do you set aside time for Torah study each day? Are your doors open to the poor? Do you engage in acts of charity?

"These are your deeds that are up to you, and these are the things I mean when I ask what you are doing."

Choosing A Rav

Many communities in Europe would approach Rav Yosef Ber and ask him to help them find a Rav with proper qualifications.

It happened that the city of Karlitz was seeking a rav and wrote to Rav Yosef Ber for help in finding a distinguished scholar and a great personality to serve as their spiritual leader.

When Rav Yosef Ber received the letter he answered by saying that in his own town of Brisk there was just such a person.

A Delegation Is Sent

When the people of Karlitz received the letter they were overjoyed and immediately sent out a delegation to hire this person on the spot.

When they finally arrived in Brisk they set off immediately for the beit din (the courtroom) of Rav Yosef Ber. When they arrived, they found the room empty except for a young man standing near the bookshelf, carefully scrutinizing one of the books.

"Pardon me, young man," they said. "Where is Rav Yosef Ber?"

"He just .stepped out for a while," answered the young man, "but he will be back at any moment."

All the while, the young man had not raised his eyes from the book that he was reading. Now, as the delegation sat to await the arrival of Rav Yosef Ber, they eyed the young man carefully.

He was almost shockingly thin and his face was pinched from lack of food and sleep. He was dressed in worn-out clothing with countless patches running through them.

Surely this is one of the beggars that drops by every day, the two men from Karlitz thought. Just at that moment, however, Rav Yosef Ber arrived.

The two men leaped to their feet, and rav Yosef Ber said, "Shalom aleichem. From where do you come?"

"We come from Karlitz,' answered the two men.

"From Karlitz? You must be the delegates, then, that were sent to hire a rabbi. You are in luck; here is your next rabbi, standing before you."

And turning to the shabby, thin young man, the great Rav said, "Rav Eliyahu Baruch, the people of Karlitz have come for you."

The delegates were stupefied. They looked down at the ground in great embarrassment. This thin, emaciated man should be their rabbi? Surely Rav Yosef Ber was mocking them!

"We do not doubt that this young man is a great scholar, if you say so. But the people of Karlitz would not be happy with him. You see, we are used to rabbis who are healthy and of imposing stature. This young man, on the other hand..."

The Butcher

When Rav Yosef Ber heard these words he called to his shamash (helper), "Yaakov, take these two Jews with you to the main butcher store and let them see our head butcher."

The two Jews looked at each other in bewilderment and then asked Rav Yosef Ber, "Why should we want to see your chief butcher?"

Rav Yosef Ber looked at them angrily and replied, "Do you want to have a rabbi who is amply endowed with flesh, who is of imposing stature? I promise you that you will have to go far to find a man with as big a belly and as much flesh as this butcher. He should make an excellent rabbi for Karlitz."

The men from Karlitz turned red as they realized their sin and begged forgiveness from Rav Yosef Ber.

"Very well," he said. "Now take this young man for your rabbi and do not worry about his looks. He will be a great rav some day."

Thus did the great Rav Eliyahu Baruch Kamay come to Karlitz.


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