December 26, 2012
Beis Moshiach in #862, Stories

Stories and sayings from R’ Chaim Shaul Brook a”h as recorded by his close talmid, R’ Chaim Ashkenazi a”h.


The Alter Rebbe once asked one of the Chassidim if he went to the theater. The Chassid, of course, said that he had no connection with such things. The Alter Rebbe then instructed him to visit a certain theater, and the Chassid did so. As the Chassid sat in the audience he thought – the Rebbe did not tell me to watch what goes on here, only to visit, and so he took out a Tanya and began learning.

He sat and learned Tanya until the show was over, but even after everyone had left he was still sitting there, oblivious to his surroundings. A janitor went over to him and asked: What are you holding? When the Chassid showed the janitor the Tanya, he looked at it and said: A fine book.

When the Chassid returned to the Alter Rebbe, the Rebbe asked him whether or not he had been to the theater. When the Chassid said he had, the Rebbe asked him to tell him about it. The Chassid told him and the Rebbe said joyfully, “I have a haskama (approbation) from him too!”

R’ Shaul concluded the story remarking that it was said that this janitor was one of the big tzaddikim of the generation. I think that R’ Shaul also said that there were those who said that he was from the sitra achra (the side of evil) and he also gave his approbation to the Tanya.


Two of the Vilna Gaon’s talmidim or mekuravim went to the Mezritcher Maggid. The Gaon had told them to check three things: If the students of the Maggid were Torah scholars, if they were in awe of their teacher, and whether or not their teacher had Ruach HaKodesh.

Upon arriving in Mezritch and entering the beis midrash, they saw the talmidim involved in a question about the kashrus of a chicken and they heard ingenious reasoning from them. Then they heard the tapping of the Maggid’s crutches (for the Maggid had problems with his feet). As soon as the talmidim heard this, a dread fell upon them. Later, these emissaries of the Gra went to the Maggid, who immediately said to them, “So, I’m all right with two of the items.” Thus they understood that the third item checked out too.

Later, they heard R’ Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev learning a piece of Gemara in the chapter of Shnayim Ochazin, “If the one who is liable admits, why shouldn’t he have to return it?” and R’ Levi Yitzchok interpreted this as: If the Gra admits there is something here, why doesn’t he come himself?


R’ Shaul Brook said that the Vilna Gaon was not at home when the Baal Shem Tov passed away. A note was found by his descendants, which said regarding what the Baal Shem Tov said that the clocks would stop when he died that this did indeed happened, and nevertheless, he did not believe in him.


R’ Shaul also related that the Alter Rebbe said that he was not afraid of debating with the Vilna Gaon; not only in Nigleh but even in Kabbala.

The greatness in this, that he wasn’t afraid to debate him, is that the Vilna Gaon had visited the Vatican and had seen many manuscripts on Kabbala, and the Alter Rebbe suspected that the Gaon might try to support what he said by saying he had seen it in a manuscript at the Vatican.


There was a city where Chassidim and Misnagdim lived. The Chassidim did not have their own shul and wanted to build one. To cut costs, they considered using a wall of the Misnagdim’s shul. When they asked the Misnagdim for permission, they agreed on condition that the Chassidim did not build a cheder sheini (lit. second room, designated for those who daven at great length), but when the Chassidim built the shul, they built a cheder sheini. The Misnagdim complained that they had not complied with the condition.

They all went to R’ Isaac of Vitebsk for adjudication as, despite his Chassidic affiliation, he was a gaon and accepted by all. When he heard their claims, he said to the Misnagdim: You disagree with the Chassidim about “Hu Echad V’Ein Sheini” (lit. He is One and there is none second to Him, which Chassidim understand to mean that nothing else exists besides for Him), as well as the “Nefesh HaSheinis” (the second [G-dly] soul referred to in Tanya Ch. 2). Since this is the case, you can disagree about the cheder sheini too.


In a city where Chassidim and Misnagdim lived, the Chassidim wanted their own sh’chita. They sent a melamed to the Tzemach Tzedek to ask him about this. The Tzemach Tzedek approved of the idea, but he said it required mesirus nefesh.

The Chassidim resolved to be ready to even give up their lives and began to carry out their own sh’chita. When the rav of the city, a Misnaged, heard about this, he called for the Chassidim and especially the melamed who organized the sh’chita and rebuked them for their chutzpa. He said: You are ignoramuses; what motivated you to do this?

As he yelled at them, the melamed said: Let us see who is ignorant. The rav grew even angrier at this chutzpa and continued shouting. The melamed stood firm and said: Let us, you and me, be tested; let us see who is more ignorant.

The rav agreed that he and the melamed should be tested and each took a Maharsha which was printed on its own (before it was included at the end of printed Gemaras) and opened it randomly. The test would be that each of them had to say what it said in the Gemara, Rashi and Tos’fos, about which the Maharsha they had opened to was discussing, and what the Maharsha said about it.

When they tested the melamed, he knew the material wherever they asked him about it. The melamed said: Now I will test the rav in the same way.

At first, the rav opposed this, but the people present insisted he do as they had agreed. When the melamed tested the rav, he did not know what to answer. The rav asked the Chassidim not to publicize this and he would allow them to have their own sh’chita.

That is when the melamed realized what the Tzemach Tzedek meant when he said he would need mesirus nefesh, for he had to publicly reveal what he had worked so hard to hide for many years, namely that he was a scholar.


R’ Shaul would say: A Misnaged hates a Chassid from afar and loves him up close. A Chassid loves a Misnaged from afar and despises him up close.

He explained: A Misnaged thinks a Chassid doesn’t know how to learn, but when he meets him and sees that the Chassid is a talmid chochom and mehader in mitzvos, he immediately loves him.

A Chassid thinks, at first, that a Misnaged is a Jew like anyone else and just doesn’t know Chassidus, but when he meets him he discovers that he is not the Yerei Shamayim he thought he was, and he despises him.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (
See website for complete article licensing information.