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Rav Nasan Adler

Rebbe Of A Great Talmid

Rav Moshe Sofer, the Chasam Sofer, was a great gaon and scholar, arguably one of the greatest leaders of his generation. He was also a talmid muvhak of Rav Nasan Adler. How that came to be is an interesting story.

An incident occurred when Rav Moshe was just ten years old that changed the entire course of his life. Rav Moshe was delivering a drasha in Rav Nasan's beis medrash in the presence of Frankfurt's most notable talmidei chachamim. During the course of this shiur, Rav Moshe refuted one of the insights of his grandfather, the Maharshah. Rav Moshe's father, Rav Shmuel, became upset and immediately slapped his son in the face.

Rav Nasan called Rav Shmuel aside and said: "I command that Moshe leaves your home. I will take care of him and teach him myself."

Under Rav Nasari s tutelage the Chasam Sofer's knowledge of Torah and kabbalah grew and he imbibed his teacher's saintly ways. He studied in a small room near where Rav Nasan answered sha 'alos, and in this way he witnessed Rav Nasari’s encounters with gedolei Yisroel and had shimush.


Sometimes it is hard to recognize true greatness. Sometimes a neshama descends from such a lofty place in Shamayim that it never really lands on earth. It doesn't adjust to life in this world. Its unconventional ways alienate the people around it and it ends up spending its time here distanced from the masses known as humanity. Such a neshama was Rav Nasan Adler.

Rav Nasan was born in Frankfurt in 5502 / 1741. When he was a mere ten vears old, the Chida, Rav Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai, who was in Frankfurt collecting money for Eretz Yisroel, said about him the same words that the Isha HaShunamis said about Elisha, "I now know that there is a Holy man of Hashem among us".

His main Rebbe was Rav Dovid Tevele Shiff who later became the Chief Rabbi of England. He also learned under Rav Yaakov Shimon HaKohen, a talmid of the Pnei Yehoshua.


Rav Nasan and his students studied kabbalah. They also davened according to the Sephardic nusach and his minyan did birchas Kohanim every day. Because of these customs and because their use of kabbalah was making the community at large fearful, the rabbanim gave him an ultimatum to either disband this group or be excommunicated. Rav Nasan ignored the challenge to his ways and openly went against the kehila.

Rav Nasan became rav in the city of Boskowitz but there as well, there were people who could not get used to his ways, and ultimately he was forced to leave.

Grief With Simcha

The Chasam Sofer once referred to Rav Nasan as a malach, an angel. When asked why, he related the following story.

Rav Nasan had a young daughter, the light of his life, an exceptional girl who was bright and filled with yiras Shamayim. She was niftar suddenly at the age of 14. Rav Nasan, the Chasam Sofer explained, did not complain and accepted the decree with a Simcha that one did not see by the greatest of people on Simchas Torah. On the Shabbos during the shiva, he removed his mourning clothes, dressed is his Shabbos clothing and went to shul with no sign of aveilus. However, when he was called up for maftir a single tear escaped his eyes during the reading of the haftorah. He quickly wiped it and returned to his happy self without a trace of sadness.

Even Animals Feared Him

The Chasam Sofer related another story: once he was riding in a carriage with Rav Nasan, when the horses reared in fright. They were on the verge of being attacked by a wild bear, and the driver could not control them. Rav Nasan looked out the window and the bear saw him and ran back into the woods.

The Chasam Sofer asked for an explanation, and Rav Nasan replied, "Hashem made man in His image and, as our Sages tell us, at the beginning of Creation even wild animals were afraid of man's G-dly nature. It seems that I still have some of that tzelem Elokim, so the bear was afraid to harm us."

And A Dog Came

When Rav Nasan was rav in Frankfurt, he once journeyed to a certain city. He hid his identity, but found that certain people there had gotten nosey and were talking about him.

He approached them and said, "Here is a question on "Chad Gadya." The cat was wrong to eat the father's goat, so the dog did right when it bit the cat. Therefore, the stick did wrong, the fire did right, the water did wrong, the cow did right, the shochet did wrong, and the Malach HaMaves did right. If so, why did Hashem punish the Malach HaMaves?"

Good question, everyone agreed.

Said Rav Adler: "From another perspective, everything becomes clear. When the cat ate the goat, the father should have taken action, not the dog! Why did the dog get involved with an affair that was none of its business? It was wrong, the stick was right, the fire was wrong, the water was right, the cow was wrong, the shochet was right, the Malach HaMaves was wrong, and Hashem was right!"

Rav Nasan's listeners understood his message!

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