When a person is called a gaon, it is because he is a great scholar, a genius in the Torah. But many of our gaonim, besides their greatness and their scholarly acumen, were also gaonim in their deeds. Their kindness towards their fellow man was unsurpassed.
When Alexander Yannai, king of Judea, was prevented by the sages from becoming the high priest, he issued an order that all the sages of Israel be killed. Many were and the remainder fled. Rabi Shimon ben Shetach, considered the greatest of them all, was saved by his sister, Queen Shlomit Alexandra.
After the Chasmonaim defeated the Greeks their descendants assumed the throne of Eretz Yisrael and ruled over Bnei Yisrael. In the first years of their reign, they followed the path of Hashem and He was good to them.
On the twentieth day of Teves we mark the 808th yahrzeit of Rabeinu Moshe ben Maimon, the Rambam (Maimonides). The Rambam (Maimonides) lived from 1135 to 1204. His scholarly works are world-renowned and it is about him that we say, “From Moses to Moses there never arose so great a person as Moses.”
Ptolemy, King of Egypt, had requested of Elazar Kohen Gadol, that he send sages to his country to translate the Torah. Elazar complied by sending 72 sages. They were wined and dined and then the king put to them 72 questions, to test their wisdom.
King Ptolemy of Egypt had heard that the Jews possessed the Torah, the five books of Moshe, which contained much wisdom and excellent laws. He desired to have this Torah translated into Greek so that he, too, might learn its contents.
Modesty and humility are traits that were usually found in our Gaonim. When the Chasam Sofer was courting the daughter of the Gaon, Rav Akiva Eiger, the chief rabbi of Posen (born Nov. 8, 1761 - died Oct. 12, 1837), he wrote to the Gaon inquiring about the qualities of his daughter.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the struggle between chassidim and their opponents, the misnagdim, reached its peak. In many cases, chassidim were barred from areas where the misnagdim were the majority. Certainly it was unheard of for a city to choose a chassidic adherent as its rav.