Rav Yosef Ber Soloveichik, the giant of Torah from the yeshiva of Volozhin, was accepted as rav in the city of Slutzk. That city well understood the importance of Torah and the great honor bestowed upon it when it was able to attract a rav of Rav Yosef Ber stature.
Thus, on the appointed day of his arrival, a large crowd gathered to wait for the horse and carriage. When, in the distance, they saw them approaching, a great shout went up and the people rushed forward. Unhitching the horses they, themselves, pulled the wagon with the rav and his rebbetzin inside.
The people realized that the rav was very weary from the long journey and did not ask him to deliver a Torah discourse. One of the men, however, who was bold, approached the rav and asked:
“Rebbe, it has been a privilege for us to give you so much honor and we are overjoyed to have done it. But there is one thing I would like to ask you.
“You are deserving of all the honor that we give you because you have struggled long and hard to acquire Torah. You give of your days and your nights to learn and we must honor you because of it.
“But why, I ask, must we also honor your rebbetzin? After all, while I am sure she is a fine woman, she is no greater than other women. Why do we have to honor her also?”
The rav smiled and replied: “It is my obligation to answer any questions that concern me but as far as any questions that concern the rebbetzin, that is up to her to answer.”
“Very well,” said the rebbetzin, without hesitation. “I have always wondered why a rav deserves honor from his congregants. If, as has been said, it is because he has learned Torah, he will get a reward for that in the World To Come, in Paradise! This is not the place for him to be rewarded.
“The answer however, is that we honor him because of the other aspect of his role. No human being is perfect and each of us makes mistakes. We sin and we err and we always need someone to criticize and guide us. This is why we hire a rav. He sees our imperfections and guides us along the proper way.
“But the question arises: The rav is also only human. Who is to guide him and correct him when he makes a mistake?
“The answer is the rebbetizin. She sees his faults and tells him what is wrong. Because of this you honor her.”
An Interesting Custom
In those days it was the custom on every Yom Tov for the congregants to accompany the rav from the shul to his home.
One Shavuos, the people of Slutzk walked their beloved rav home and ate with gusto the foods that the rebbetzin had cooked. When they had finished they waited for the customary divrei Torah.
Rav Yosef Ber however, realized that the people were more interested in getting home and eating than in listening to Torah and he said: “Now is not the time for Torah discourses. I will just explain to you the reason for the custom of walking the rav home after davening on Yomim Tovim.
“As we all know, a yom tov should be divided into two parts – half for Hashem and half for ourselves. Thus, the first part of the day we devote to Hashem by going to shul and davening with a great deal of kavanah.
“Then we go home and spend the next part of the day for ourselves by making kiddush and eating delicious foods.