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July 28, 2015 / 12 Av, 5775
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A Gaon In Middos


Tales of the Gaonim-logo

The Gaon Reb Yosef Ber Soleveitchik avoided criticizing anyone. When once he did criticize a person he felt so bad about it that he later asked for his forgiveness.

Once a butcher in town was not behaving properly and the Gaon reprimanded him in front of other people. The following week the Gaon visited the butcher and begged forgiveness for speaking against him.

“I don’t understand,” the butcher said. “Why are you begging for my forgiveness? On the contrary, I should beg for your forgiveness, for I had done wrong; you reprimanded me and I didn’t listen to you.”

“That is the reason I have done wrong as well,” replied the Gaon. “I shamed you in front of others and that is a great sin. Please forgive me.”

A Heart Of Gold

Besides being a pious person, Reb Yosef Ber had a heart of gold. His door was always open to the poor and the downtrodden. Even though many times he didn’t have enough for his own family, he always made sure the poor person who came to him for help never left empty handed.

Once, a visiting rav from another town came to the Gaon for help. The Gaon invited him in for a meal, and while he was eating discussed Torah with him. Before the rav left, Reb Yosef Ber gave him the last few dinarim he had. Then he noticed that the rav’s shoes were torn and tattered. Calling over one of his sons he whispered, “Son, take off your shoes and give them to him.”

Would Not Hurt A Person

Reb Yosef Ber would never say a bad word nor hurt the feelings of any person. The leaders of the town once held a meeting and decided to discharge the shammes of the beis din as they felt he was not doing his duties in the proper manner. They notified Reb Yosef Ber of their verdict and directed him to tell the shammes of their decision.

Reb Yosef Ber ignored them and did not notify the shammes. The leaders then reproved the Gaon for failing to do their bidding.

“You are the Av Beis Din, the leader of the town and the shammes is your employee. Therefore, it is your duty to carry out our mandate,” they said.

The Gaon replied: “You all know the story of how Avraham was told to take his son, Yitzchak, and sacrifice him. This order was not given by a malach or by a messenger, only by Hashem Himself. Yet, when it came the time to tell Avraham not to sacrifice his son, it was done through a malach. As the Torah says (Berashis 22:11), ‘And a malach Elokim called out from the Heavens and said, ‘Touch not the child, etc.’

“The question arises, why didn’t Hashem use a malach to notify Avraham in the beginning to take his son for a sacrifice; why did He have to do it himself? The answer is G-d did ask the malachim to notify Avraham but they all refused saying, ‘Lord of the Universe! If you want to slaughter a Jewish person, please leave us out of it. Do it yourself. We will not be a party to hurting or harming a person.’

“Gentlemen, the same applies to me,” concluded Reb Yosef Ber.

The Hesped Of A Gaon

Reb Yosef Ber became world-renowned and people from many different countries sent him Torah questions. He never turned anyone away and his house was open to everyone.

When he died the people called upon the famous maggid, Reb Yisrael of Minsk, to deliver the eulogy. All the great leaders in world Jewry attended the funeral and they thought it befitting to ask the maggid to participate. Imagine their surprise when he refused the honor.

“I’m ill,” he said, “I cannot deliver a eulogy for this great Gaon.”

The following day a wealthy miser whom the people disliked, died and the maggid Reb Israel, delivered the eulogy for him.

The leaders of the community were incensed.

“Yesterday, when we asked you to deliver a eulogy for one of the greatest Gaonim of our day, you refused because you were sick. Now, suddenly, one day later you are able to deliver a eulogy for a person whom everyone despises,” they shouted.

Reb Yisrael replied: “Don’t compare both cases. To make a hesped, a eulogy for an ignorant and mean person is a simple matter. I could do it even if I am sick for no one cares what I say. But to make a hesped for such a great person, whose loss to this world is irreplaceable, is an impossible thing to do. Words can never express his greatness and I became sick at the very thought of it. Even when I am in the best of health I can find no words to describe the greatness of the Gaon Reb Yosef Ber Soleveitchik.”

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