In the chronicles of Jewish history, few men have shown as magnificent a soul as the great Hillel. For in order for a leader to qualify for greatness, he must be more than merely a great scholar — although that is, of course, the most necessary attribute. He must also possess depth of character and the sweetness and gentleness of soul that will enable him to under stand the needs and sufferings of his people. Without this sensitivity, he can never truly be a great leader.
The Maharil lived during the period of the Hussite wars, which brought misery upon the Jews of the Rhine, Thuringia and Bavaria. The Jews appealed to the Gaon to intercede with G-d for them. The mercenary soldiers entered the Jewish homes at will and took everything they could lay their hands on. Should anyone protest, they would be shot on the spot.
The following story is told about the Vilna Gaon who was called upon to decide a case of a bill that was due a doctor.
The death penalty in Judaism was seldom invoked because of the requirement for prior warning and two witnesses to the act that called for the penalty. Nevertheless, the Torah solemnly prescribes these penalties and through them one could judge the magnitude of the offense.
It was the night of Shavuos, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah, and the Jews in Jerusalem adhered to the custom of remaining up all night and studying the Torah. Not all, however, could do so, and as the night wore on, a few got up to go home.
Rabi Meir was accustomed to remaining in shul each morning until every person left. He was usually the last person to leave. One day, he davened very fast and left very early. Walking outside, he thought to himself, “Why did I leave early? Is it possible that G-d ordained it so that a miracle may occur through me today?”
The Gaon Yosef Ber Solovetichik, while chief rabbi of Slutsk, was in poor ﬁnancial straits. It was a poor community, and there was very little money for the rabbi. Once, a delegation from Mohlev arrived to offer the gaon the position of chief rabbi of Mohlev, which was a larger and wealthier town. The gaon, however, refused the offer.
“Wisdom is better than rubies, and all things desirable are not to be compared unto her” (Proverbs 8:2). Rabi Aha explained in the name of Rabi Tanchuma ben Rabi Chiya: “My desirable things and your desirable things are not to be compared to her.”
This is the story of a staff, the most miraculous staff that was ever created. It was none other than the staff that Moshe used to perform all the amazing miracles in Egypt.
Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev would use the Yomim Tovim as a forum for his continued dialogue with the Holy One blessed be He and as opportunities to demonstrate to the Almighty that His children, Israel, were deserving of both forgiveness and a better fate.
The Gaon, Reb Yechiel Michel Epstein, the author of the Aruch HaShulchan, and the chief rabbi of Novordak for 34 years, was known to be a very liberal person.
The story of Bnei Yisrael in the land of Mitzrayim is a tale that has become tragically repetitive in the history of our people. It is the story of a land which allows Jews to enter, and devote their talents and energies to building it up land and making it strong, only to have the ungrateful inhabitants turn on them through jealousy and greed.
Pesach is synonymous with aiding the poor and the needy. In the city of Kovno where the great Reb Yisroel Salanter was the chief rabbi, there was a special house set aside for the very poor; there they were housed and given food. Unfortunately, the house was a dilapidated one and in massive disrepair.
Chazal thought very highly of a jester, a person who makes people laugh. They say that a special high place is waiting for him in Gan Eden.
The piety of the saint Rabi Chanina ben Dosa was so great that people would often request that he daven on their behalf. Once, the son of Rabban Gamliel became dangerously sick. He sent two talmidim to the home of Rabi Chanina with the message: “Pray to God that my son will get well."
The relatives of the 80 witches whom Rabi Shimon ben Shetach brought to the gallows vowed vengeance as they bided their time for an opportune moment to strike back at the Nasi of the Sanhedrin. It was not long afterwards that their chance arrived.