The Ring Was Worth More
The piety and humbleness of our gaonim was legendary. There was many a sage who lived in meager circumstances, yet would extend himself to help his fellow man.
Rav Shmuel Shmelkis, who was known for his Torah and piety, was also famous for his many charitable deeds. His house was always open to the poor, and streams of visitors were usually seen entering his home day and night.
One day a poor person came asked the gaon for money to purchase the Shabbos meal for his family. Unfortunately, that morning the Rav was very short of cash. He couldn't t find a penny in the house. The Rav told the poor man to wait while he went searching through all the rooms.
Entering his bedroom, he saw his wife's diamond ring lying on the table. He took the ring and gave it to the poor man.
"Here is this ring," he said, "sell it and with the money you can buy enough food to last you a long time."
The poor man gratefully accepted the ring and departed. A few minutes later when the Rav's wife went to her room to put on her ring, she discovered it was missing. Rushing out she told her husband about it, who then explained that he had given it away to a poor man.
"What!" she cried. "Didn't you know that the ring contained an expensive diamond, which was worth many hundreds of dollars?"
When the Rav heard this he immediately called his shammes and whispered to him instructions to rush out and look for the poor man. The rebbetzin waited hopefully for the shammes to return.
A half-hour later, the shammes returned and announced that he had found the poor man.
"What about the ring?" asked the rebbetzin.
"I'm sorry, but the Rav did not tell me to take back the ring," answered the shammes.
"You fool," raged the rebbetzin, "did my husband only send you to inquire after the welfare of the poor man?"
The Rav told me to look for the poor man and tell him that the ring he had given him was worth much more than he had thought," answered the shammes. "Therefore, he should be very careful that when he sells the ring he should ask for a higher price and he should not be cheated as to its value."
The Strong Belief In G-d
Once, when the tzaddik, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev became gravely ill, the Chevra Kadisha, the burial society, visited his home to prepare for his petira. They lit candles and retired to the next room to say Tehillim (Psalms).
Suddenly they heard a loud noise coming from the room. Frightened, they rushed into the room and saw their rebbe lying on the floor, seemingly unconscious. They picked him up and placed him back on the bed.
The next day, the rebbe's illness became worse. Again they began saying Tehillim only to be interrupted by the repetition of a loud noise. Again they found the rebbe on the floor, and they had to put him back into the bed.
On the third day, while waiting outside, they again heard a noise from the room. Entering, they were amazed to see the gaon sitting at the table studying the Gemara. He appeared to be completely cured from his illness and looked as if nothing had happened to him.
When they questioned the tzaddik, he explained as follows:
"When I first became very ill," said Reb Levi Yitzchak, "the thought came to me that perhaps G-d was testing me to see if I had a strong faith in Him. For G-d, the Creator of all living creatures surely had the power to heal me. My conscience then warned me that I really did not have the supreme faith in Him, and I replied that I did. As proof, I thought, I would attempt to get off the bed and walk to the table and begin to study Torah.
"The first time I tried it, my faith was not strong enough, and I fell down and fainted. The second time, I did not firmly believe I was well, and so I fell down again. But the third time I was so determined to believe that G-d would help that I got off the bed and began to study Torah. And the All-Merciful G-d seeing my firm belief in Him. helped me, and I immediately became well.”
Never Embarrass A Person
The Chasam Sofer would always admonish his disciples never to pose a difficult question to a stranger or a person they knew may not know the answer. This is because it could embarrass him, and for this terrible sin a person may lose their share in the World to Come.
He cited the following story which occurred to him once while he was traveling to another town in the company of an elderly gentleman whose majestic figure, long, well-kept beard, immaculate gabardine and proud bearing gave him a scholarly appearance. However, his education had been woefully neglected, and he was completely ignorant of the Torah.
They stopped off in a small town and entered the local synagogue where they came upon a group of Talmudic students who were wrangling over the interpretation of a difficult passage in the Talmud. Seeing the scholarly-looking gentleman, the hoisterous conflict was at once hushed.
Question The Stranger
"Let us ask that gentleman to explain this difficult passage to us," they said to one another, pointing to the immaculately dressed but ignorant gentleman.
In a moment, the patriarchal gentleman was surrounded by a score of eager students, who set forth their various opinions as the exact meaning of the noted passage and entreated him to kindly tell them what the right interpretation was.
The bearded gentleman, although ignorant of the Torah, was a very wily person and was not at all disconcerted. With a reproachful look in his eyes, he addressed the young students as follows:
"Look here, my children," he said. "I think you have very bad manners. Fortunately, you happened to approach a lamdan (a Talmudic scholar) who is in a position to answer you. But suppose you asked this question of an untutored man, you surely would have embarrassed him. Therefore, I am not going to tell you the answers to these questions, just to teach you a lesson in manners."
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