Rav Avraham Abush of Frankfurt succeeded in raising the concept of modesty to unheard of lengths. He truly could not believe that he was the great scholar and man others knew him to be, and he could not understand why the people of his time gave him so much honor.
In addition, he was a man of unbelievable charity who would find it impossible to keep money in his pocket when he saw a poor man.
Once his students asked him: “Rebbe, how can you give away so much money to charity? Do we not learn in the Talmud (Kesubos 67b) that one should not give more than 20 percent lest he, too, become a pauper?”
“Apparently, you have not fully analyzed his law,” said Rav Avraham Abush. “Obviously, this law does not apply to a question of life or death since even the holy Shabbos must be desecrated when it comes to this question. Now, when a poor man comes for food and the soul of his family cries out, must we not set aside this law?”
Not only did Rav Avraham give tzedakah himself, but he also sought to get others to give as well.
He used to go from door to door in town and wherever he went he sought alms for the poor. Indeed, once his great concern for the poor was mingled with his modesty and sincerity to give us a beautiful story.
One day, during Aseres Yimei Teshuvah, the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, he passed by an inn and decided to go in and rest. When he entered, he saw a wealthy merchant there who had stopped off during a business trip.
“Here is surely a man who will give money for the poor,” thought Rav Avraham.
Approaching the merchant, Rav Avraham said: “Sir, could you help to alleviate the suffering of the poor with a contribution?”
The merchant looked at the man standing before him and was sure that this was a professional beggar. Since he was in the middle of figuring out some accounts, he grew angry and yelled, “Shnurer, beggar! Get out of here! I have no time now for things like this.”
Rav Avraham Abush was one of those who could be insulted without returning an insult and he quietly turned and left the inn.
Some time later, the merchant prepared to leave, too, and he looked about for his cane. It was nowhere to be found.
“It must be that beggar,” he exclaimed. “He probably stole my cane.”
Running after the departing Rav Avraham, the merchant caught him and began showering him with all manner of insults and curses.
“Thief, swindler! You return my cane immediately. Do you think that because I refused to give you money you can now steal my cane?”
Rav Avraham Abush looked at the angry merchant and tried to calm him by saying:
“Heaven forbid! How can you think such a thing about me? I give you my word that I have not taken your cane I would never take a thing that does not belong to me.”
But the furious merchant would not listen to the words of the rav and delivered two blows across his face.
Rav Avraham Abush suffered the blows in silence, refusing to use his name or prestige to protect himself.
That Shabbos was Shabbos Shuva – the Shabbos which falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The entire town crowded into the main shul to hear their rav deliver the customary sermon and exhortation. The merchant, who was staying in town for a few days, naturally came to shul to hear the famous Rav Avraham Abush speak.
The crowd was dense, and he had to push his way forward in order to get a good look at the rav. Finally, he reached the front and saw the rav standing wrapped in his tallis and addressing the congregation.
When he laid eyes upon the rav, he suddenly realized whom he had struck. His eyes dimmed and he fell over in a dead faint.
The people picked him up and carried him out where he could get some fresh air. When he regained consciousness, he remembered what had happened and he moaned. “Woe unto me, I insulted and struck the rav.”
The people tried to calm him by saying: “What has happened has happened. He is a great man and will not bear a grudge against you. Go to him and ask for forgiveness.”
The merchant finally saw that there was no other choice and he walked humbly to where the rav stood, head bowed, trying to find words of apology.
Rav Avraham Abush looked up and saw him approaching. In his humility he thought:
“There is the merchant. He is probably returning to accuse me again of stealing his cane.”
And the modest rav, never thinking for a moment that the merchant was overawed by his reputation, cried out before everyone: “Please sir, please do not continue to suspect me. I would never transgress the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not steal’!”