“Who Is A Great Person” Weekly Story by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon
Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski was the Rov of Vilna, for fifty-five years, from 5645-5700 (1485-1940). Once he heard a Rabbi Meir Yechiel haLevi Halstock, the Rov of Ostrovtse (and author of Meir Einei Chachomim) say a pilpul. Reb Chaim Ozer was so astonished that he said in amazement to Rabbi Meir, You are such a gavrah rabah (great person), and I wasn’t aware of your greatness.
Reb Meir, who was a chassidishe Rov replied, Just because I was able to say a nice pilpul, doesn’t make me a gavrah rabah!
If that doesn’t make a person a gavrah rabah, what does, inquired Reb Chaim Ozer?
Reb Meir replied, “One who takes away the suffering of a fellow Jew, is a great person.”
Surprised at this response, Reb Chaim Ozer asked, where is the source for this innovative thought?
It is stated explicitly in the Talmud, he replied.
Reb Chaim Ozer who as noted was one of the leading Rabbonim was known for his tremendous memory and quickly thought over the entire Talmud, he then asked, “Where?”
The Talmud states (makos 22b); how foolish are some people, who stand up for a sefer torah that is written on parchment, but do not stand up for scholars who are great. The Talmud then continues to explain who is such a great person that if you stand up for a Sefer Torah, you should definitely stand for him. The Torah states one who deserves to be whipped receives 40 lashes, yet the scholars’ greatness is that they state that the maximum amount of lashes that one can receive, is thirty-nine.
The question is, we find this concept (of one number short of what the Torah stated), applied to another halacha as well. The Torah states that we are supposed to count fifty days until Shavuos, yet the sages clarified that we count only forty-nine days.
So my question is, why did the sages use the law of malkus (lashes), to demonstrate the greatness of the cholars, and not the law of counting days?
Reb Chaim Ozer, replied, that is indeed a powerful question. What is the reason?
The answer is very simple, replied Reb Meir. To make a pilpul and explain that fifty actually means fifty minus one, is a nice pilpul. But when the Torah states that a person should receive forty lashes and the sages say we will make it one less and the person doesn’t have to endure any additional pain and suffering, that is a great person.
I heard the above from Rabbi Nissim Mangel sheyichye during his shaboos farbrengen in Ksav sofer, and he added that is the thought of Lag B’omer and Shavuos. There are thirty-two days before lag b’omer, and seventeen days after it until Shavuos. The numerical number in those numbers is Lev (32) Tov (17). Having a good heart and thinking about helping someone else, makes all of us a gavrah rabbah, a great person.
I once again ask if anyone has a good story to share please forward it to me.
Additionally, “Milhouse,” you once commented on a story I write about the boat (HMT Dunera), to Australia that wasn’t torpedoed in WWII. A descendant of one of the survivors contacted me to ask you if you know how they can research it. Please email to me.
I also would like to use this opportunity to request of those who enjoy this column to please extend yourself to help send children to camp by partnering with the Avrohom Eliezer Camp Fund and at the same time, maybe you will be the winner of one of their spectacular prizes in this year’s annual Chinese Auction. You can view their selection and purchase it on www.thecampfund.com The many of you who have already participated, Thank you.
Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. He is available to farbreng in your community and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org