Monday, February 11, 2008

True Humility

The Nodah B’Yehudah, zt”l, would always pray neilah for the congregation in Prague every year on Yom Kippur despite the fact that he wasn’t an accomplished singer. In fact, it was well known that the gadol could barely carry a tune. Even so, in deference to the prevailing custom in Prague and at the insistence of the roshei hakahal, he faithfully led the neilah prayers from year to year.

One year, a certain poor man prayed in the great shul and heard the Nodah B’Yehudah sing the neilah service, and after Yom Kippur he went from door to door to collect. Instead of offering the regular pitch, however, he decided that he would capitalize on his natural gift of impersonation. While speaking to one baal habayis, he made a little routine out of mimicking the Rav’s characteristic nusach and saw that the man found him quite entertaining and proved willing to give him more money than usual. Since it had worked once, the beggar decided to try it again, and when this imitation was considered hilarious by all who heard it, he made it a part of his regular pitch.

When the roshei hakahal got wind of his disrespectful behavior they were furious and threatened to forbid the man from collecting charity.

The poor man ran to plead before the Rav, “Everyone knows how poor I am, and people are giving me so much more money now! I mean no offense to the Rav; I’m just trying to be entertaining so that people will open up their hearts and pockets a little.”

The Nodah B’Yehudah was completely unconcerned with his own honor. Not only did he allow the poor man to continue his antics, he even gave him a letter of approbation: “This man is free to support (l’chalkel) himself by imitating my m’chalkel!”

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