Sunday, November 14, 2010

Precocious Children

The Chiddushei HaRim, first Gerrer Rebbe, was known as an iluy (young genius). His father brought him to the Maggid of Kozhnitz for an assessment. The Maggid said to the young Yitzchak Meir, "I'll give you a gold coin if you could show me where G-d is." Young Yitzchak replied, "I'll give you two gold coins if you could show me where G-d isn't!"

As a child, Reb Yitzchak Meir learned with the son of the Maggid of Kozhnitz, Reb Moshe. Once, after quite some time deliberating an intricate matter, Reb Moshe asked young Yitzchak what he thought. He gave an astounding answer that solved the matter at hand, and Reb Moshe gave him a kiss on the forehead. Reb Yitzchak complained to his family, "I want a teacher who's going to rend the flesh off my bones, not one who is going to give me a soft kiss on the head." Soon after he left Reb Moshe to look for a new teacher.


Reb Baruch of Mezhibuz was the grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov. As a child, he was present when his grandfather was visited by an old man who posed a question. "The Torah relates that after the third day of his circumcision, Avraham saw three men standing above him. We learn that they were Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. But how could Avraham be standing before Avraham?" Young Baruch jumped in, "this old man is very silly. Obviously these three men, who were angels, represet the three attributes of the avos (patriarchs): chesed, gevurah, and tiferes (kindness, strength, and glory)."


The daughter of, I believe, the Mitteler Rebbe, Reb Dov Ber of Lubavitch, was very precocious. Once, as a toddler, she threw a crying fit. Reb Dov Ber gave her a candy and put her on his lap. Sucking on the candy, she said, "you only think I stopped crying but I'm just taking a break!"


It was the custom of Reb Moshe Leib of Sassov to arrange a meal every Sunday for the poor people of the city. He once visited the city of Brodt, and arranged his customary meal there. The Divrei Chaim of Sanz was a young boy, just one and a half years old at the time, and when a bad fire had broken out in the city of Ternigrad, where the family had lived, they were forced to travel to Brodt. Reb Chaim's wet nurse took him to the fesitve seudah (meal) thrown by Reb Moshe Leib. Young Chaim caught sight of the Reb Moshe Leib, and immediately propped his chin upon his wet nurse's shoulder so that he could get a full view of the Rebbe. He couldn't take his eyes off of Reb Moshe Leib. In fact, he recalled that his chin was hurting him for about an hour after the event. So what do we see from here? Was it that young Chaim was so spiritually attuned at the young age of one and a half that he was able to perceive the holiness exuded by Reb Moshe Leib, and therefore went to great pains to watch the tzaddik's every move? Or was the aura of Reb Moshe Leib so great that even a boy of one and a half years old could sense his eminent level of ruchnius (spirituallity)? It must have been a mixture of both, but there is certainly no denying the Divrei Chaim's spiritual nobility at such a young age.

The Divrei Chaim liked playing with wooden sticks in his youth, both during the week, and on shabbos. When he got older he was pained to learn that it is not permissible to do so on shabbos, because the sticks are considered muktzah (one may not touch them). Later he learned that if one arranges them before shabbos then he is allowed to touch and play with them on shabbos itself. But then it occurred to him! That even as a young boy he had arranged the sticks every week on the eve of shabbos. And about this, the Rebbe of Tziashnov said, "from this we see that a tzaddik (righteous person) is guarded from heaven even from the time of his youth." Even though he did not know that such a thing was prohibited, the knowledge was present in his heart, and he therefore arranged the sticks before shabbos.

The Divrei Chaim told that in his youth he had no money to buy seforim (religious books). He asked the seller at a local seforim store if he could sit in the store after hours, and spend the night learning. It was agreed upon, and one night he learned the entire hilchos melichah (the laws of salting meats to render them kosher, a very difficult subject), and he remembered them for the rest of his life.


Reb Eliezer of D'zikov, son of Reb Naftali Ropshitzer, once pulled a prank on his father. When Reb Naftali berated him, he answered, "what do you want from me? It's not my fault! The yetzer harah (evil inclination) made me do it! I didn't do anything wrong." "And that's exactly who's example you should be follo," said Reb Naftali. "The yetzer harah's example. He is commanded to follow a certain path, and that's the path he follows, without veering." Answered young Eliezer, "that's right, the yetzer harah doesn't veer, and that's because the yetzer harah doesn't have a yetzer harah! But we do. So what do you want from me??"


An iluy in a European city was summoned by the local bishop. The bishop had apparently heard of the child's consummate genius, and having complete faith that he would defeat the child in a religious argument, called upon him to appear at the church. "It says in your Torah that a majority rules, correct?" asked the bishop. "Yes, correct," answered the child. "Then you and all your brethren have to convert to Christianity! Because the majority of the world's population is Christian. Majority rules!" "Majority comes into play only in a case of doubt," answered the boy with great composure and coolness (since there's no doubt that the path of Judaism is the correct path in life, there is no argument in the first place!).


The brothers Reb Shmelke of Nickolsburg and Reb Pinchas of Frankfurt were very precocious children. At the age of five or six, they were already delving deep into gemara (talmud) with their father. A month before Purim they would begin mashechta (tractate) Megillah, in order to be finished in time for Purim. And immediately following Purim they would begin mashechta Pesachim, in order to be finished in time for Pesach. Immediately following Pesach their father asked young Shmelke, "and what should we begin to learn now my son?" Reb Shmelke responded, "Why, of course, we should begin to learn masechta Shavuous since the holiday of Shavuous is next." His father let out a chuckle, and remarked, "but surely Shmelke, you know that masechta Shavuous is not about the holiday of Shavuous, but rather about oaths." "Yes, and that's exactly why we should learn masechta Shavuous for the holiday of Shavuous," answered Shmelke. "Because on Shavuous we received the Torah, and we did so by taking an oath that we would keep the Torah and observe its mitzvos for all time. So therefore it's appropriate to learn about oaths for Shavuous. And, furthermore, there are forty-nine pages in masechta Shavuous, and forty-nine days from Pesach to Shavuous"


Once, when Reb Simcha Bunim of P'shischa was a child, his father had three guests in the evening. The three were talmidiei chachomim (Torah scholars), and were deep in discussion of Avraham Avinu and his primary trait of hachnasos orchim (hospitality to guests) since it had been at the time of parshas vayeira. Young Simcha walked into the room, and his father smiled at him, and said, "I would like you to think hard Simcha, and come up with a new interpretation on the mitzvah hachanasos orchim. Perhaps you could come up with a chidush (original Torah thought) of some kind." Young Simcha went into the next room, and half an hour later, as the four men got up from the table, Simcha's father called into him, and said, "OK Simcha, let's see your chidush on the mitvah of hachnosos orchim." And in the next room were three beds with three pillows and three sheets and covers for the three men in case they needed to spend the night.


When the Belzer Rebbe, Reb Aharon Rokeach, was a young boy, he was given a watch as a gift. His joy could not be concealed. When asked about his tremendous glee he replied, "there are two good things about a watch. One, it shows you the time, minute by minute, second by second, so that one knows what he is doing at every moment. It calls out, 'do not waste your time, do not waste your time, because the current moment is all but gone.' And two, by having a watch I can help out other Jews. If they ask what time it is I could tell them." The chassidim were impressed by the young boy's insight. One of them asked the boy the time, and he responded down to the exact minute and second. The chassid asked, "are you trying to show me that you could tell time?" to which young Aharon replied, "when I do a favor for a fellow Jew I do it with love and with perfect detail."


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Charata (regret) and gaivah (haughtiness)

Let's look at a beautiful Kehillas Yitzchak from last week's parsha, parshas Chayei Sarah, and then a story of Reb Zusya and Reb Pinchas Koretzer that is loosely related, and then one involving Reb Dovid of Lelov.

"Vayavo Avraham lispod l'Sarah v'livkosah - And Avraham came to eulogize Sarah and to cry over her." The word "v'livkosah," he cried over her, is written with a small letter "caf," leading one to ask what the meaning of this is. And the Kehillas Yitzchak offers a wonderful interpretation. Avraham has just come back from the akeidah (the binding of Yitzchak). In the most difficult of his ten trials, Avraham is told by G-d to bring his son, Yitzchak, to Har Hamoriah, raise a knife to his neck, and offer him as a sacrifice to G-d. As difficult as it, Avraham is at that point, wielding the knife in his right hand, when an angel calls down to him, and tells him, essentially, that it was only a test. He lifts his eyes, and sees a ram caught in the thicket, and offers it up to G-d in Yitzchak's place.

Back home in Be'er Sheva, the Satan informs Avraham's wife, Sarah, of what has gone on. But, he leads her to believe that her son was actually sacrificed in the process. She lets out three cries and three wails, and then dies out of grief. And here is where the small letter "caf" comes into play. When Avraham and Yitzchak return home, find Sarah dead, and then find out why she has died, Avraham begins to experience a mix of emotions. He feels that he may have directly been the cause of Sarah's death. If he didn't bring Yitzchak to the mizbeach (altar), then she would still be alive. And so, says the Kehillas Yitzchak, he may have experienced at this point charata (regret). But charata and the performance of a mitzvah don't go together. The charata can actually take back the mitzvah retroactively. It is easy enough to understand how the Satan works against us before the performance of a mitzvah. In this case, the Satan created a stream of water on the way to Har Hamoriah, where Avraham was to take Yitzchak. But as they crossed the stream it became deeper until it was a small river. The water was up to their necks, but Avraham outsmarted the Satan, and they crossed successfully. This is how the Satan places an obstacle before us when we are on our way to do a mitzvah. And by making us feel regret is how he attempts to get us to lose the mitzvah after the fact. In order not to show that he did not have charata for bringing Yitzchak to the mizbeach, the word "v'livkosah - and he cried" is written with a small letter, in order to draw us to the fact that his crying was not excessive, not to lead people to believe that he had any regret for bringing Yitzchak to the mizbeach.

And this is the pshat in the davening when we say "v'hoser satan milifneinu umeiachareinu - and remove the Satan from before us and from after us." After us, meaning giving us a sense of regret, which if we do feel, will take back the mitzvah that we just carried out."

Another "after the fact" or "after the mitzvah" danger is contained in the following story. Reb Zusya needed to raise money for his daughter's chasunah (wedding). Now, he wasn't exactly the type to look for handouts, even though he was a poor man himself, so this didn't make for an ideal situation. He went to houses, to businesses, and to people on the streets, but he could barely raise a penny. He ran into Reb Pinchas Koretzer, who was passing through town, and told him the story. Reb Pinchas asked how much he needed: $500. He assured Reb Zusya that he would raise the money for him in a week's time.

And so it was. He delivered the money to Reb Zusya, who thanked him profusely. On the way home, Reb Zusya spotted a small crowd. Upon closer inspection the people surrounded a woman sitting in the street, wailing that her husband would kill her and that they would be ruined financially. Upon inquiry, it turned out that the woman helped her husband in business, and after a huge business deal she was walking home when she realized that the money was gone: all $500. Reb Zusya walked away from the crowd, and contemplated what he was about to do. Now, since Reb Zusay walked around as a pauper, he was not known in these parts. By name, of course, he was known as the great tzaddik Reb Zusya, but not in appearance. Without much deliberation he cut through the crowd, and said, "I found $500 in the street! It must be yours." The woman got up from her place, and the look of life began to show in her face, once again. Reb Zusya handed over the money. She began to count it, but as she got to the last few bills...there was only $490! "Didn't you say that you found $500??" asked the woman. Reb Zusya replied that since he found the money, he wanted schar (reward). He felt as if he should be entitled to $10. The crowd began to bustle, and soon they were yelling at Reb Zusya. "Just give her back the $10. What kind of guy are you? Who do you think you are?" He said, no way, no how, he's keeping the $10 as reward for finding the lost money. They dragged him to the Rav of the town, who looked at him incredulously. "How could you do this?" he asked. "What kind of person are you?" And again, not knowing the big tzaddik that he really was, they threw him out of the town on his head.

A few weeks later, when talk of the incident died down, Reb Pinchas was passing through town, and an acquaintance began telling him of this absurd story of this guy who would not give back the $10. Reb Pinchas asked, "could you please describe him?" It was him, he realized. It was Reb Zusya. He quickly set out to Hanipoli to find Reb Zusya. "Even though I raised that money for your daughter's chasunah," said Reb Pinchas, "what you did is still a great mitzvah. But why did you give her only $490? If you were going that far then why not the other $10?" Answered Reb Zusya, "you see, I know well, that if I did the COMPLETE mitzvah of giving this woman $500 which is really my own money, then I would become the epitome of gaivah (haughtiness). How many people would give away $500? For the rest of my life I'd be patting myself on the back saying 'Reb Zusya, do you know what a great tzaddik you are? You give away $500 intended for your daughter's chasunah to a broken woman on the street? What a tzaddik you are!' And so I kept $10 to tell myself that I'm not 100% good. If not, I would be taken over by pride."

Reb Dovid of Lelov was on a fast. We hear stories of tzaddikim of yesteryear who went on incredibly long fasts, sometimes shabbos to shabbos. For Reb Dovid, this happened to be a three day fast. On the third day, as he was taking a walk on the road in the heat of the day, beads of sweat began to trickle down his face. Dressed in his complete chassidishe levush (chassidic clothing) he felt his face burning up. Soon his forehead and face became soaked. But then he noticed something up ahead on the road. It was a spring. He began walking toward it excitingly when he remembered that he made this forbidden to himself three days back. And so he realized what was going on. The Satan had placed this spring before him so that he would drink and thereby break his fast. He resolved to strengthen up as he passed the spring, and he did just that. But after he passed the spring he stopped in his tracks. "The Satan didn't place that spring in my path so that I would drink," he said to himself. "There is something all together different going on here. The Satan WANTED me to walk past the spring, because then I would become so proud that gaivah (haughtiness) and pride would overtake me, and the humility I have tried to cultivate all of these years would be buried." And so he walked back to the spring, and took a good few gulps.