Monday, May 12, 2008

“And from the Desert, a Gift”

A prerequisite for Torah greatness is true humility: the “gift” of Torah can only be received by the person who makes himself barren as the desert as we learn from the verse, “and from the dessert, a gift.[a]” It is only afterward that a person can come to greatness. The Gedolim were always filled with this precious middah of humility.

When the Ahavas Yisrael of Vizhnitz, zt”l, was already elderly, he felt ill and consulted a doctor. The doctor said that the Rebbe should go to the famous Carlsbad spring to convalesce. When the Rebbe arrived there, Rav Sofer, a grandson of the Chasam Sofer, was also there for his health. One of Rav Sofer’s friends recommended that he should take advantage of the opportunity and go to see the famous tzaddik. Rav Sofer decided to take this advice and made his way to where the Rebbe was staying. When he arrived, he saw an elderly man learning.

Before Rav Sofer had time to open his mouth, the old man said, “What does your honor, a grandson of the holy Chasam Sofer seek?”

“I have come to where I understood the Rebbe of Vizhnitz is staying since I would like to meet with him,” Rav Sofer answered.

“What for?” interjected the old man. “Who is the Vizhnitzer after all? An elderly man who knows a how to learn a little, put on a long coat, and became a Rebbe. Why waste your time visiting him? Wouldn’t you be better off learning a daf Gemarah instead?”

Nu, nu,” acceded Rav Sofer. And he returned to his rooms.

A little while later, the same friend told him that the Rebbe was in shul and asked him to join him for a visit of his own. Rav Sofer acquiesced once again.

When they arrived, he was surprised to find that the Rebbe was the very same elderly man who had dissuaded him earlier!

Rav Sofer protested, “The Rebbe tricked me with his words earlier.”

The Vizhnitzer Rebbe shook his head and replied, “Not at all. I know the Rebbe better than anyone, and you can take it from me that every word I told you was absolutely true!”

[a] Nedarim, 55.


yitz said...

I've heard two alternative versions to this story:
1. About the Chafetz Chaim. In this one, a man is riding to Radin to see the CC, who happens to be in the carriage as well. The CC denigrates himself, & the man gets angry & hits him. When he later goes in to see the CC, he is so embarrassed! The CC tells him, "Don't worry! I now have learned that one must not tell Lashon Hara even about oneself!"
2. About the Rebbe Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk. B'kitzur when they meet up, the Chassid apologizes & the RRE says, "No need. You were right, & I was right."

Micha Golshevsky said...

Thank you for the comment.
Although the Chafetz Chaim said one must not tell lashon hara about oneself, this is not actually prohibited (assuming there is no possibility of causing a fellow Jew to sin through one's self denigration.)
The Rebbe Rav Meilich was right because he was talking about a high level where tzaddikim are judged on a much higher standard.
The other yid was correct k'pshuto.
Similarly, he would proclaim that he was the worst Jew. This means along the lines of what he could have done been had he truly fulfilled his potential, not literally.