Part Three: A Soulful Boy in the Soulful City

Soulful Stories for Shabbos: Becoming a Soulful Man


Dear Friends,


Many of the gedolim – great sages – of Jerusalem noticed Shmuel Aharon’s outstanding qualities and potential, and made a point of studying with him after his bar mitzvah. Through spending time with each of these great rabbis, Shmuel Aharon gained a sense of their special attributes, which he successfully integrated into his own outlook and religious practice.


One of these great rabbis was Rav Zalman Baharan, the son of the famous Rav Dovid Baharan. Rav Dovid was one of the ten prominent Torah scholars chosen by Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin, the Brisker Rav, to establish his distinguished yeshiva in Jerusalem. When Rav Zalman Baharan was a young child, Rav Yeshoshua Leib gave him a blessing that he would grow up to be an ehrlicher Yid – a Yiddish term for a Jew of true integrity. As the following story reveals, the blessing began to be fulfilled when he was still a boy:


When one of the gedolim of Jerusalem, Rav Hirsch Michel Shapiro, suddenly lost consciousness during the week of Succos, the Jews of Jerusalem rushed to the various holy places to pray for his well-being. Later that afternoon, after everyone had returned home and Rav Hirsch Michel was already on the way to recovery, Rav Dovid Baharan noticed that his young son, Zalman, had not come back home. In fact, Zalman did not return until the following afternoon. And when he finally did turn up, he arrived on a donkey. To everyone’s amazement, he was barefoot, while somehow balancing the four plant species for Succos in one hand and a pair of shoes in the other. “Where have you been” asked his father, Rav Dovid. “And why aren’t you wearing your shoes?”


Zalman explained that he and his friend had rented a donkey and traveled to Chevron to pray in the Me’aras HaMachpelah – the cave where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah are buried. The two boys had spent the entire night there, praying with deep concentration, and then, in the pre-morning darkness, they had gone to immerse in the waters of the local mikveh before praying in the vasikin (sunrise) minyan.


Afterwards, Zalman and his friend had mounted the donkey and set out for Jerusalem. When the boys had traveled about half the distance, Zalman became aware that his shoes were bothering him. It was only then that he realized that, in the predawn darkness, he had accidentally put on someone else’s shoes while getting dressed after the immersion in the mikveh. Zalman had begged his friend to return with him to Chevron so that he could find the owner of the shoes and return them. But his friend had refused for the following reason: They had rented the donkey for twenty-four hours, and if they were late in returning it, they would have to pay an enormous fine. Left without any choice, Zalman rode on the donkey with his friend on to Jerusalem, but he removed the shoes to avoid taking advantage of property that did not belong to him.


When, his father, Rav Dovid, heard this story, he looked at his son in shock. “What kind of excuse is that” he asked. “You should have let your friend return the donkey while you walked back barefoot to Chevron to search for the owner of those shoes. You know very well that you should not neglect a mitzvah that comes your way.”


Zalman replied, “It is still not too late.” He immediately dismounted from the donkey and set out, barefoot, to walk all the way back to Chevron.


Rav Shmuel Aharon, a disciple of Rav Zalman, became known as an ehrlicher Yid. The following is just one of many examples of his integrity: Rav Shmuel Aharon would not allow any of the books he authored to be sold until he had personally checked every single page to make sure that there were no printing mistakes. He spent hours of his time to ensure that he would not sell a faulty book.


Rav Shmuel Aharon, who had very limited income, was also known for his devotion to tzedakah and for his many acts of loving-kindness, including hospitality. For example, his house was open to many different types of people, including beggars. Once he noticed that one of the beggars who ate at his table had lost all his teeth and was having difficulty chewing his food. Rav Shmuel Aharon immediately took him to a dentist and had him fitted with a set of dentures. (The money for such mitzvos usually came from his own contributions and from contributions from other Jews who, like him, had very limited income, but who were willing to help those who were poorer than they were.) His loving-kindness extended to other creatures; thus, before sitting down to eat a meal, he always made sure to feed the chickens that he raised, as the Torah teaches that we must feed our animals before we eat.


He was also very careful to fulfill the mitzvah not to waste anything. For example, he would not allow his family to throw away food that was still edible, including bread crumbs, which could be used as chicken feed.


Jewish tradition teaches that we should show appreciation and honor to those who benefit us in any way, and Rav Shmuel Aharon also applied this teaching to those who brought him good news. When something good happened, people came, one after the other, to inform Rav Shmuel Aharon, the noted sage and tzaddik, of the good news, and each messenger thought that he was the first one to deliver the good tidings.


Rav Shmuel Aharon listened attentively to each and every one, never letting on that he had already heard the news from someone else. He later explained to one of his disciples that he did not want to diminish the joy each messenger felt when he thought that he was the first one to bring the good news.


When the Rav of the Batei Horodna shul (synagogue) passed away, the officials of the shul approached Rav Shmuel Aharon and asked him to deliver a discourse on Yom Kippur, just prior to the Yom Kippur service. They pointed out to Rav Shmuel Aharon that this would be an excellent opportunity for him to help an entire congregation perform the mitzvah of teshuvah (spiritual return and renewal). Rav Shmuel Aharon, however, refused, and he explained:


“Although I might be able to bring the entire shul to tears of teshuvah, there is one person whose tears I do not want. Every year, before Kol Nidrei, the late Rav of the shul would give an inspirational derashah (Torah discourse), and every year, his Rebbetzin would listen proudly. This year, I am sure the Rebbetzin will be sitting in the women’s section as usual. And if she were to hear someone else deliver the derashah, it would intensify the suffering, and I, for one, do not want to be the cause of the tears she will shed.”


Our tradition stresses that we should put our trust in Hashem; thus, we should not go to fortune tellers in order to determine what our future is. When one of Rav Shmuel Aharon’s children told his father that he had gone to see a palm reader, Rav Shmuel Aharon rebuked him and refused to even hear what the palm reader had to say.


It is written, “Hashem is close to all Who call upon Him, to all who upon Him sincerely” (Psalm 145:18). In this spirit, Rav Shmuel Aharon often reminded his family that we have direct access to Hashem, our Father, and that we should turn solely to Him.


Rav Shmuel Aharon’s mother, Shaina Miriam, usually came to Jerusalem to spend Pesach (Passover) with her son and his family. During these visits, Rav Shmuel Aharon spent many hours listening to her as she told him countless stories. One year, when Shaina Miriam was close to ninety years old, she spent Pesach with one of Rav Shmuel Aharon’s sons. Even though his mother was not at his home, Rav Shmuel Aharon made a point of visiting her every day, sitting with her as she spoke to him about various things.


One afternoon during that Pesach Festival, he arrived just minutes after his mother had fallen asleep. He refused to leave without speaking to his mother, even though he would miss an appointment. He explained to his son that if he were to leave without seeing her, she would become upset later when she heard that she had missed his visit. So Rav Shmuel Aharon waited patiently for two hours until his mother woke up from her nap. And she enjoyed his visit immensely.


 Have a Good and Sweet Shabbos,

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


Related Insights:


Rav Shmuel Aharon was part of the Lithuanian yeshiva community in Jerusalem that followed the teachings and customs of the Vilna Gaon; however, his greatness in studying Torah and in living Torah gained him the deep respect of Torah-committed Jews from other communities, including Chassidim, non-Chassidic Jews from Western and Central Europe, Sephardim, and Yemenite Jews. They especially admired his purity and holiness which was the result of his ability to consecrate all aspects of his existence to serving the elevating and life-giving purpose of Our Creator. For example, a leading Chassidic Rebbe, the Beis Yisrael of Ger, once pointed Rav Shmuel Aharon out to his Chassidim and said, “If you want to see purity in a Jew, look at Rav Shmuel Aharon.”


2. The above information about Rav Shmuel Aharon is found in the recommended book, “In Every Generation” – The Life and Legacy of the Gaon and Tzaddik, Rav Shmuel Aharon Yudelevitch. The author is Dovid Yudelevitch, a son of Rav Shmuel Aharon.


The opening section of this book tells the amazing story of the journey of Rav Shmuel Aharon’s grandfather, who at age ten, together with his two younger brothers, set out on a journey from Ponevezh, Lithuania to Jerusalem!


The publisher of the book is Feldheim:  

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