The city of Krakow is famous for the great scholars and Torah giants who lived and guided its Jewish community. Among those great men was Reb Heshel, whose wisdom and sharpness of mind were so astounding that he was given the rare honor of a double title, The Rebbe, Reb Heshel.
Tales Of Childhood
Reb Heshel, a direct ancestor of the great Rav Yechezkel Landau (Noda B’Yehudah), was known from childhood for his phenomenally sharp mind.
Thus, one Friday afternoon, his father, Reb Yaakov, chief rabbi of Krakow, told him, “Heshele, here is a bottle. Go and get some wine for kiddush for Shabbos.”
The little boy – only four-years-old – took the bottle and asked his father, “Where shall I get the money for the wine?”
His father smiled and teased him, “What is so great about being able to get wine for money? Let me see if you are clever enough to get wine without money.”
Heshele took the bottle and left. Within minutes he returned and gave his father an empty bottle.
“What is this?” his father asked him in surprise. “What am I supposed to do with an empty bottle for kiddush?”
To which the little child answered, “What is so great about being able to fill a kiddush cup from a bottle of wine? Let us see if you can use your wisdom to fill the kiddush cup from an empty bottle.”
Yet another time, Reb Yaakov noticed his son’s shoes were torn.
“Heshele,” he said, “look at the difference between you and me. I went one whole year before my shoes started to tear, whereas you have torn yours within six months.”
The four-year-old looked at his father and replied, “Father, what kind of a comparison is this? You are big and I am small. For every step you take I have to take two. Naturally, I wear out my shoes in half the time.”
Fair Is Fair
One morning he asked his mother to give him herring and bread for breakfast. His father heard this and placed before him the head and tail of the herring.
“Here is your herring,” he said. “Now go and daven. Afterwards, you can eat.”
The boy left the room and within three minutes he was back.
“What is this?” his father asked in surprise.
“I finished davening,” said the little Heshele.
“You finished already?” asked the father angrily. “I ask you, what kind of tefillah is that?”
“Well,” said Heshele, “if the head and tail make up a whole fish it is only right that my saying Ma Tovu (the first prayer) and Aleinu (the last prayer) should make up Shacharis.”
A One-Legged Duck
One time, Heshele returned from school to find a delicious, cooked duck in the kitchen. He was unable to overcome his yetzer harah and he walked over to the duck, tore off a leg and finished it off within minutes.
Some time later, his father came into the kitchen and saw what had happened.
“Heshele,” he called, “come in here, please. Can you tell me, perhaps, what might have happened to the duck’s other leg?”
Heshele immediately replied, “I would say that it appears as if this particular duck was born with one leg missing.”
His father said nothing and the next day, as they were walking together, they suddenly came upon a duck standing on one foot.
“See father,” said little Heshele, “there is another duck that was born with one foot.”
He father stopped and picked up a twig and threw it at the duck. The frightened bird lowered its other foot and ran off. “You see, Heshele, the bird had two legs all the time. It is foolish to say that a duck is born with only one leg.”
Far from being embarrassed, little Heshele replied quickly, “In that case, I am sure that if you would have thrown something at the duck in our kitchen it would have also lowered its other leg and run away.”
Heshele’s memory was unbelievable. It is said that he was once sitting at home when an important guest arrived.
The father welcomed the guest and then introduced little Heshele to him.
“So this is the little boy they speak so much about,” said the guest.
He then said, “Tell me, Heshele, what food do you usually take with you to school?”
“Bread,” answered the boy.
Before the guest could continue, Heshele’s father came back into the room and took the guest away with him.
Two years passed and the same guest returned to the home of Reb Yaakov. As he walked into the house there was little Heshele standing in the room.
Without any introduction, the guest asked Heshele, “And with what?”
Without hesitation, the little boy replied, “With butter.”