Rav Yosef Hochgelanter was the rav of the city of Zamushet. He was a great scholar and the author of Mishnas Chachamim. When he was chosen as rav, he was the son-in-law of a very wealthy man who was proud to support him.
As he did not need it, he took the position with the understanding that they would not pay him a salary. However, as had been the custom of the city for many years, he insisted that all the butchers supply him with a set amount of meat each week.
His wife was surprised. “Tell me, my husband,” she asked, “why is it that when it comes to a salary you absolutely refuse to accept money, yet, when it comes to the butchers’ quota of meat, however, you are adamant that they pay it. Why is this so?”
“It is not for myself,” he responded. “Thank G-d, we have enough money to support ourselves and have no need for meat. What, however, will be the situation if the rav who follows me is a poor man? If the butchers get into the habit of disregarding their obligation because I do not insist, they may cause the next rav to suffer terribly.”
It was this Rav Yosef who recognized quite early that his young student, Shlomo Kluger, would grow to be a giant in Torah.
Thus, he took great pains to encourage and show warmth to his young student. It was his custom to invite the best of the students to join him for a seder. One year, little Shlomo was also invited to attend.
When they reached the section of the four sons, one of the students turned to Rav Yosef and asked:
“Why does the Haggadah call one of the sons ‘wise’ and the other ‘wicked’? After all, what is the difference between them? The Haggadah says that the wicked son ‘took himself out of the general congregation of Israel’ since he asked: ‘What is the meaning of the service to you?’ If we look carefully, however, we will notice that the wise son also used this language when he asks: ‘What are the witnesses and commandments and law that the Lord our G-d commanded you?’ Does the wise son not also take himself out of the general congregation when he uses the term ‘you’ instead of ‘us.’”
Rav Yosef answered that according to the Rambam, the version in our Haggadah is, indeed, incorrect and that in reality the wise son says “us.”
Little Shlomo shyly said, “If I may be permitted to add something, I believe that there is an additional difference between the two sons, even according to the version that is found in our Haggadah. Looking carefully we notice that while the wicked son never once uses the name of the Almighty, the wise son does say that ‘the L-rd our G-d commanded.’”
As Rabbi Yosef nodded in satisfaction, Shlomo continued, “A similar difference is found, I believe, in the very first perek in Beraishis where it says, ‘And G-d called the light day, and the darkness He called night.’
“Note that in the description of the light the name of Hashem is mentioned whereas in the description of the darkness, it is not.
“It appears to me that this is the reason that Chazal say, ‘And G-d called the light, day – these are the deeds of the righteous, whereas the darkness in the verse refers to the deeds of the wicked.’ The custom of the righteous is always to speak with G-d on their lips, unlike the wicked.”
Rav Yosef hugged his student and said, “I am positive that this young boy will grow up to be one of the great rabbis of Israel.”
A Judgment In Berditchev
The greatness of learning and the immense honesty of Rav Shlomo Kluger were indeed recognized by all Jewry in the years that followed. From all over Europe, Rav Shlomo’s opinions were asked for. One incident in particular is outstanding.
The city of Berditchev was rocked by a scandal involving the local shochet. Persistent rumors spread through the city, casting doubt and suspicion on his piety and charging him with causing people to inadvertently eat non-kosher food.
The city was torn apart by the dispute and angry groups attacked and defended the shochet. Finally, Rav Shlomo Kluger was asked to come to the city to arbitrate. He agreed, but on one condition: he would not make his decision public until he returned home to the city of Brodi.
And so, Rav Shlomo came to Berditchev. He went to see the shochet, watched him work, and interviewed him. It did not take long for Rav Shlomo to realize that the man was insincere and did not take his work seriously or have the proper piety. Nevertheless, he let no one know what his decision would be. You see, he had received a threatening letter from someone in Berditchev warning him that if he ruled against the shochet the writer would contact the Czarist government and reveal that a foreigner had come to Russia to delve and meddle in Russian internal affairs.
But the people of Berditchev were impatient to find out Rav Shlomo’s decision. The head of the community – Reb Yisroel Halpern, a wealthy and generous man – sat with Rav Shlomo and said:
“Rabi, I am known to one and all as a man who is able to keep a secret. I ask you, therefore, to tell me what your decision is in regard to the shochet.”
Rav Shlomo smiled and said, “I am truly jealous of your ability to keep a secret so well. I shall, therefore, try to emulate and learn from you and I, too, will keep secrets to myself.”