Latest update: July 7th, 2013
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.
“Do you consider the town of Mohlev inferior or is it below your dignity to become a rav there?” the surprised delegation asked.
“On the contrary,” replied the gaon. “Mohlev is a greater town than Slutsk, and it would indeed be an honor to occupy the chair which the Gaon, Malbim had occupied in your town for many years. But, unfortunately, it has been many years since he is gone, and no rav has occupied the seat since.
This is similar to a widow who has not remarried for many years. After a while she gets used to living alone and she will not respect or care for another man. Mohlev has been so long without a rav that they would not know how to honor and respect a new one.”
When the first wife of the Gaon Reb Yosef Ber died, he took another wife who had eight children from her ﬁrst husband. The gaon found it very difficult to support so large a family, but he suffered in silence, never complaining.
Once, one of his relatives asked him why he had married a woman with so large family.
He answered, “I have fulﬁlled the mitzvah of freeing an agunah, a deserted woman.”
“Freeing an agunah?” asked the astonished relative. “She is no agunah. Her husband died and what has that to do with you? Why did you have to marry her?”
“She wasn’t an agunah in the true sense,” replied the gaon. But if I hadn’t married her she would have felt deserted, for who would have taken a woman with eight children?”
The Charity Collector Gives Charity
Once, a charity collector for one of the yeshivos, known as a meshulach, came to the Reb Yosef Ber on an Erev Shabbos. As it was nearing evening, the gaon invited him to spend the Shabbos with him.
“Before you change your clothes for Shabbos, will you please loan me ﬁve pennies?” Reb Yosef Ber asked the meshulach.
The guest didn’t hesitate a minute. He took out ﬁve pennies and gave them to the gaon. Saturday night, after Havdalah, the gaon took out the same five pennies and returned them to his guest.
The yeshiva collector was astonished at the gaon’s behavior. “If the master will excuse my impudence, I would like to ask him a question,” said the meshulach.
“You may ask,” replied the gaon.
“Why did you borrow five pennies from me Erev Shabbos, and now after Shabbos return the exact pennies?” the meshulach inquired.
“It’s simple,” replied the gaon. “You are always traveling around the country, from town to town and from city to city, always borrowing, begging and pleading for money for the yeshiva. You are constantly urging people to give charity, and you are instrumental in providing them with great mitzvos. But you, however, never have the opportunity of gemilas chesed, helping others by loans or charity. Therefore, I wanted you to also have the mitzvah of gemilas chesed, of loaning me money which you so kindly did Erev Shabbos.”
Once a young man entered his study. He was a former disciple of his, having studied under him when he was the Rosh Yeshiva of Volozhin.
Reb Yosef Ber welcomed the pupil with open arms and invited him to have dinner with him. After a while the gaon turned to his former pupil and asked him, “What are you doing now?”
“Thank G-d,” replied the erstwhile student, “I have become a merchant and am very successful. I have made a lot of money during the past few years.”
The gaon listened attentively and he asked him, “What are you now doing?”
The student stopped talking momentarily and he thought that perhaps the gaon did not hear his reply. He again repeated, “Thank G-d, I have become a very successful merchant and I have made a lot of money.”
Instead of acknowledging what he had heard, the gaon again repeated. “But what are you now doing?”
“I trust my rav and master will forgive me, but this is the third time you have asked me the same question and I have repeated the same answer,” said the student in wonder.
“It is true, you have answered me the same thing three times,” sighed the gaon. “But that is not the answer I wanted to hear. You have nothing to brag about regarding money for it all belongs to G-d. G-d gives you life, health, money, riches and all wealth. It is not of our doing. But what are you doing?
“Are you doing good deeds? Do you give a lot of charity? Do you help the poor? Do you devote time every day to the study of the Torah?
“These are the things which you are required to do. Therefore, I ask you, what are you doing? Not what G-d has done for you.”
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