January 10, 2013
Beis Moshiach in #864, Stories

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


When R’ Shaul wanted to illustrate the absurdity of prideful feelings, he would tell the story about a melamed named Yechezkel who taught the story of Shlomo HaMelech and the case of the two women. The melamed was very impressed by Shlomo’s wisdom and next to the verse “and he [Shlomo] was wiser than any man,” he wrote, “I, Yechezkel the melamed, agree that Shlomo HaMelech was a wise man.”


Rabbi Akiva Eiger once sent a letter to a simple shoemaker. In the letter, R’ Akiva Eiger used many laudatory expressions. The shoemaker came to R’ Akiva with a complaint: Are you making fun of me, a simple shoemaker? Why did you write those expressions?

R’ Akiva replied: What difference does it make? They wrote those expressions about me too.


I once went with R’ Shaul to a Yaroslavsky wedding in Tel Aviv. When they wanted to give him the honor of reading the k’suba, he did not want the honor. He told them all that he did not know how to read Aramaic.


R’ Shmuel spoke about R’ Nota of Maladzyechna (Yid. pronunciation Malastirchena), who was a rav in a small and poor town, which is why his salary was meager. They once suggested to his wife that he take a position in a bigger city so he could get a larger salary. The people of that city spoke to the Rebbetzin first because they figured she could convince her husband.

She wanted her husband to accept the offer, mainly because of the larger salary, and she tried to persuade her husband to agree.

R’ Nota said: Let’s figure this out. Is it worth it?

He gave her an example: Here in this small town, if our chimney get clogged, then I clean it myself and save on the expense of paying someone to do it. He went on to give her other examples. Then he said that in a big city, due to the honor that a rav is given, they would not allow him to do all those jobs himself. He would have to call a workman to do the job for him and so they would remain with the same amount of money. So why should they make the move?


In the time of the Ramban there was talk of a priest who was exceedingly humble to the point that everyone was impressed by him. The Ramban went to see for himself and stayed with him for a while and was duly impressed. He was so impressed that he wondered about the verse that says, “And the man Moshe was exceedingly humble, [more than] all men.” Here was someone whose humility was like that of Moshe Rabbeinu!

The Ramban asked the priest this question and the priest said he wondered about that too. Said the Ramban, if you also found it difficult, then that is my answer.


R’ Menachem Mendel of Horodok once received a written request to be the rav of a large city, which was signed by many people. As soon as he received it, he ordered a wagon so that he would be able to travel to that city and accept the rabbanus, but along the way he changed his mind and returned home.

When he was asked what he thought initially and why he changed his mind, he explained that at first he was happy because he thought he could use the letter as evidence, after 120 years, that many people testified that he was a great man. Upon second thought he realized that the letter was only good if he would be asked what people said about him in Olam HaZeh. But what would he answer if he was asked what he said about himself? Since he thought he was undeserving of all those laudatory descriptions, he immediately turned around.


R’ Shaul said: In the past, the yetzer ha’ra opposed the study of Nigleh, but after some time, the yetzer ha’ra realized that it could continue to operate even with people who learned Nigleh and so he stopped his opposition.

When P’nimius HaTorah was revealed, especially Chassidus, the yetzer ha’ra was frightened. But as time went on, he saw that it is possible to learn Chassidus and still have a strong yetzer ha’ra, so he stopped his opposition. Then the era of avodas ha’t’filla began and the yetzer ha’ra got used to that too.

Today, all that’s left is the bedtime Shma, which the yetzer ha’ra adamantly opposes. This is because with this t’filla he doesn’t find a foothold, because a person takes no pride in it since it is said privately.


There was a perpetual mud puddle in the yard of R’ Boruch Mordechai of Bobruisk. The Chassidim once asked him about it during a farbrengen and he said:

When Hashem showed Adam his descendants, he also showed him Bobruisk. Adam asked: Who will the rav be?

Hashem said: Boruch Mordechai.

When he heard this, Adam spat and said, “Oich mir a rav (loose trans. – “You call that a rabbi?!”).” Since then, and as long as I am the rav, there is a mud puddle formed from his spit.


A father once brought his son to be tested so he could be accepted into the yeshiva in Tel Aviv. R’ Shaul tested him, and he knew the material well. After the test, R’ Shaul pulled the boy by his ear. The father asked: What was that for?! He knew it well!

R’ Shaul said: I am koneh this talmid with meshicha (the halachic way of acquiring ownership of an object by dragging it).


R’ Shaul would say: Although you don’t presently understand what you are being told, review it well, and as the years go by you’ll understand.


R’ Shaul once slapped me and I exclaimed, “What did I do to deserve that?!”

He said, “If you don’t deserve it now, then you deserve it for what you did yesterday and if not for yesterday, then it’s for what will be tomorrow.”


When a talmid was late or had been absent, R’ Shaul would ask him why he had been late or absent. The talmid would give him a reason and R’ Shaul would lash into him saying: I asked you why you didn’t come to learn, and you gave me an excuse.


R’ Shaul once told of a talmid who was absent for a few days. When he showed up to learn, he brought a note from his father, which spelled out the reason the boy had not been in attendance as the same reason that chazanim don’t do t’shuva (despite the fact that it is the job of the cantor to inspire the entire congregation, they themselves remain unaffected). R’ Shaul slapped him.

The talmid asked him why, and R’ Shaul said: Do you know why chazanim don’t do t’shuva? Because they don’t want to.


R’ Shaul would tell the story about R’ Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk who said that his stepmother saved him. When he was young and was orphaned of his mother, his father remarried a woman who had children. She was more concerned about her own children than about R’ Menachem Mendel and she discriminated against him. At mealtime, she would give R’ Mendel her children’s leftovers. R’ Mendel got used to this and accepted this resignedly.

One time, R’ Mendel went home and was very hungry and he took food on his own. He made sure to take only those parts he would usually get, those items that would be left over in any case.

When his stepmother came home and saw that he had taken food without permission, she beat him. When he complained, saying “But I took what I usually get,” she said: Even if you’ll get it anyway, you don’t take it on your own.

This message got through to him. Years later, when he was sitting and learning in the beis midrash, a man appeared and suggested they learn together. Remembering the lesson he had learned about not taking on his own, he told the man he had to consult with his rav.

When he consulted with his rav (either the Baal Shem Tov or the Maggid, I don’t remember), his rebbi told him: Don’t allow him near you because he is the sitra achra and he wants to ensnare you.


R’ Shaul quoted the Rebbe Rashab as saying that this world is so full of questions that there is no room for answers.


On the day his son married, R’ Shaul announced to the yeshiva that as a father, he was inviting all the talmidim to the wedding. But immediately after this announcement, he said that as the mashgiach in the yeshiva, he was warning them that they could not be absent or late because of the wedding.


Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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