Rav Avraham Gershon of Kitov was a scholar in the beis medrash of Brodi. This modest and unassuming man possessed such wondrous qualities that the great Nodah B’Yehudah, in a responsum, referred to him, in part, as follows: “The complete and all-encompassing scholar, the hallowed pious one, light of Israel, the pillar of the right hand, mighty hammer…”
Rav Avraham Gershon was, as were all scholars of Brodi, a strong opponent of Chassidus. Ironically, however, his sister married the Baal Shem Tov. At first this made no difference to Rav Avraham Gershon, yet, as the days passed and he came to know his brother-in-law intimately, he began to behold the great and noble qualities that made the Baal Shem Tov the leader he was. Soon after, Rav Avraham Gershon became one of the Baal Shem Tov’s staunchest supporters. Indeed, it was he who was sent to Eretz Yisrael to lay the foundation for Chassidus in the Holy Land. The tale of how this came about follows.
In those days Rav Chaim Ben Attar, the Ohr HaChaim, moved from Morocco to Eretz Yisrael. This gaon, known to the wise men of his generation as “similar to an angel of the Lord,” was of firm views and never flattered or bowed to any man. Nevertheless, when it came to the community of Israel he maintained an attitude of respect and awe.
Despite his refusal to bow to people, Rav Chaim was a humble and patient man and forgiving to those who insulted him. It is related that once when he was involved in a Din Torah, he ruled that the defendant was liable for damages.
When the defendant heard the ruling, he flew into a rage and began to insult the Rav, going so far as to impugn his honesty. Rav Chaim sat quietly, never growing angry or answering the man. Later his students, who were shocked by the affair, asked him, “Rabbeinu, where is the staunch spirit for which you are so famous?”
“What, in your opinion, should I have done?” asked Rav Chaim.
“We feel that this man deserved to have been condemned and driven out of the house and a ban placed on him until he apologized,” the students answered.
Rav Chaim laughed and replied, “And yet, consider this. The man has been found guilty and his soul is bitter because of it. Nevertheless, the general public will understand this and certainly not suspect me of anything. They fully believe that I have judged the case fairly. What would happen, however, if I placed him under a ban?
“If I did that, if I angrily punished him for insulting me in his time of bitterness, then the people would begin to question my objectivity and my judgment.”
The Ohr HaChaim’s fame spread as far as Poland, and the Baal Shem Tov longed to meet him and create a center of Torah in Eretz Yisrael with him. However, obstacles arose that prevented him from fulfilling his greatest dream. Thus, he asked Rav Avraham Gershon to go in his place.
This great scholar was only too willing to comply. His love for Eretz Yisrael was enormous and he left immediately to settle in the city of Chevron. His love for the Holy Land was embodied in the following statement:
“Chazal in Menachos 44a said, ‘One who rents a house in the Diaspora is free from the obligation of affixing a mezuzah for 30 days. Only after that period of time is he obligated. If one, however, rents a house in Eretz Yisrael one must affix a mezuzah immediately.
“We see from this that one day in Eretz Yisrael is comparable to 30 days in the Diaspora. I say, however, that one day in the Holy Land is as dear and important in the eyes of the Holy One Blessed Be He as 30 years in the Diaspora…”