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."


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