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Rav Chaim Tzanzer


Tales of the Gaonim-logo

From the remarkable beis midrash in the town of Brodi came forth a dazzling number of Talmudic chachamim, many of whom went forth to greatness. The most famous was the great Nodah B’Yehuda, Rav Yechezkel Landau, who was the rav of the Diaspora during his lifetime. But there were other towering scholars who were members of the famous beis midrash. One of them, a giant in his time, was Rav Chaim Tzanzer.

Rav Chaim (not to be confused with Rav Chaim Halberstam of Sanz, author of Divrei Chaim) had two occupations. One was the study of Torah and the other was the doing of good deeds and charity. As to the first, not only his days, but his nights, too, were devoted to study. His candle never went out and it was his custom to sit before a table that had on it two glasses of water. As he learned, one hand would be immersed in one of the glasses. If he ever began to doze off the glass would overturn and the sound would awaken him. He would then wash both his hands in the other glass and resume his learning.

He would often ask, “Why is it that all the tractates of the Talmud begin with page two and not page one?

“The answer is that although a Jew sits day and night in the study of Torah, he should not become arrogant in his knowledge. For he should always remember that in reality he has never even learned page one and he still must start at the beginning.”

A Snowy Night

One evening, Rav Chaim, as was his custom, sat before his Talmud while outside the cold wind blew and the snow came down in fearsome fashion. It was a night when only the foolhardy would be out. Yet, as Rav Chaim sat in study, he was startled to hear a loud pounding on his door and someone frantically calling, “Open, for the sake of heaven, please open the door!”

Rav Chaim went swiftly to the door and opened it to find a half-frozen man covered with snow and shivering from head to toe. He hurriedly sat him down by the blazing fire and got him some strong wine to warm his trembling body. Then, Rav Chaim brought him supper and prepared a bed for his guest.

“A thousand pardons, Rebbe, for my interrupting you from your studies,” the man said, “but as I was on my business travels the storm caught up with me and I saw no light burning in the entire town except for yours. I was nearly frozen to death and was forced to knock on your door.

“Now, you are doing too much for me, even preparing a bed.”

“There is no need to say anything,” interrupted Rav Chaim. “If it will make you feel better, you should know that I am not preparing the bed for you, but for myself – in the World to Come.”

Hope For Him?

The Jew understood what Rav Chaim meant and he asked, “Rebbe, and what about me? Is there any hope for me in the World to Come? Behold, in this world I have no pleasure at all. I work like a horse, wandering from town to town and never knowing peace. Will I at least know it in the next world?”

Rav Chaim looked at him and sighed, “You ask a good question and you must consider it carefully. If in this world, where you put in so much time and effort, you still are unable to find enjoyment and peace, how can anyone who does not bother at all to prepare for the World to Come hope to find pleasure there?”

Help For One Who Fell

It was in the doing of good deeds and the collection of charity for those in need that Rav Chaim especially excelled. He would not only give liberally of his own money, but he would go to the homes of the wealthy to get money for the poor who were ever-present guests in his house. He was, of course, always careful on these collections to adhere to the admonition of the Talmud (Baba Bathra 8b) that charity should always be collected by two people and not one. Therefore, he was always accompanied by one of the heads of the community or the officials of the town.

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When the soldiers heard this they exclaimed happily: “You mean this is the sacred Jewish fruit? Hurry, get on the horse. You are coming with us to the palace.”

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