As we saw last week, Rav Avraham Abush, the rav of Frankfurt, was in possession of a totally sincere and fantastic modesty. He truly did not believe himself to be a great Torah scholar and could not understand why others so considered him.
He had been rav in several lesser-known communities, such as Vizhnitz, Yanov and Mezeritch, before being asked to serve as the spiritual leader of the great city of Frankfurt, which was a bastion of Torah in those days.
When he rose on his first Shabbos in Frankfurt to deliver his maiden speech, he stated, “In reality, I have three difficult questions. One concerns myself, the other the leaders of this community and the third, the Almighty Himself.
“I ask myself how I dared to accept the lofty position of rav in this community when I know that I am not worthy of it.
“I ask the leaders of the community how they could have made such a decision to choose me, and do they not realize how they lower themselves by so doing.
“I ask the Almighty, Who is the great matchmaker and Who brings together the proper parties, whether He could not have found among the great rabbanim of Israel a better match for the city of Frankfurt?”
And the humble and modest rav then answered his own questions by saying, “As for myself, I can only answer that the yetzer hara has persuaded me to take the position because of the honor.
“As for the leaders of the Frankfurt community, I can only say that – since they are only human – they made a mistake in choosing me because they thought that I was truly worthy of it.
“But the third question, the puzzling problem of how the Almighty Himself could find no better choice, the answer to this still eludes me. It remains a secret of Heaven that a person such as myself cannot fathom …”
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Reb Aryeh Leib
Reb Aryeh Leib, the Shaagas Aryeh, lived during this same period of time and was also an amazing Torah scholar.
Those who have gone through his sefer can glean from it the immense sharpness of mind and depth of intellect that the author possessed. And truly, there were few in Jewish history with the brilliance of mind and clarity of the Shaagas Aryeh.
His depth and grasp of all areas of Torah was so vast that he towered over the other giants of his time and he refused to overlook their weaknesses. Rav Aryeh Leib held only one man in the highest esteem, the Gaon of Vilna.
A Difficult Question
One time, Reb Aryeh Leib was passing through the city of Vilna and decided to stay there for several days. On his way out of the town, he stopped off at the home of Rav Shmuel, the av bet din of Vilna, to take his leave. As is the proper procedure, one should take leave of someone with a discussion of Torah, and Reb Aryeh Leib posed a very difficult question.
Rav Shmuel began to pace the floor, deep in thought, thinking about the question. Around the room he walked mulling over the question, unable to answer it.
The Shaagas Aryeh, left him considering the question and went to see the Vilna Gaon. Entering, he posed the same question to the Gaon who gave an immediate answer.
Reb Aryeh Leib’s face lit up as he heard the answer and exclaimed happily, “Rav Eliyahu, may the blessing of G-d be upon you. Had you not answered me as you did I would have consigned you to the other ‘great rabbanim’ of our time …”