The Heart of a Gadol

by | Oct 25, 2013 | 0 comments

When I was a young Yeshiva bochur I was impressed with intelligence. I looked at the Gedolim and was in awe of their intellect. They seemed to know everything. Now, as I get older I’m less impressed with intellect and much more taken with their kindness. People tell me stories about how much this Rav knows and what kind of miracles their Rebbe can perform. It is interesting, but, when I hear a story about a Rebbe that went out of his way to help a fellow Jew in spite of his difficult schedule and often ill health, that is where I’m taken, that’s where I’m sending my kvitlach.

Abraham was a great man by any standard. He was a leader, a warrior, a hero, a prophet and most of all the progenitor of the greatest people ever to arrive on the face of the earth. The things he thought about were esoteric, mystical and holy. But suddenly he came down to earth. He had to get involved in a common area of life. He had to marry off his son. He had to think about compatibility, religiosity, culture, and what would make his son happy. Finding a suitable mate for your child is no kids play; it’s serious business.

He sent his servant Eliezer traveling to look for a mate. He blessed him and promised him that G-d will perform miracles to help him. Eliezer arrived at Aram Naharayim and spoke to G-d. “I will find a wife for Yitzchok by the well” he said. Sure enough, Eliezer stood by the well and behold a beautiful young lady from exactly the right family is standing by the well. Wild! Her charm pours out and Eliezer immediately develops a wonderful feeling about her and a miracle happens, instead of Rivka raising the barrel of water from the well, the water automatically raised to her. Bashert! Eliezer hit the jackpot. Here was the Kalla exactly as G-d said, exactly where Eliezer stipulated, exactly as Abraham wanted and exactly as was right for Yitzchok. She was right, she was beautiful, and a miracle occurred which showed that Rivka with her spirituality mastered over the physical, so she was holy too… what else is there?

The answer is Chesed. Kindness and good heartedness. Eliezer needed to find out if Rivka was a baalas chesed. She may be beautiful and have the right yichus (lineage), she may be holy and may even perform miracles but that doesn’t mean that she has a good heart. It doesn’t even mean that she’s a mentch.

During the recent mourning period of Rav Ovadia Yosef ZT”L, the Rabbi’s physician told the following story:

A number of years ago the Rabbi went to the doctor for a checkup. The doctor discovered a blockage in the Rabbi’s heart and instructed Rav Ovadia to proceed immediately to the hospital to have a cardiac procedure done.

The Rav explained that he clearly understood the severity of the situation, but nevertheless he insisted that he must go home first for a few hours. He explained that he is in the middle of writing a complicated Halachic decision to free a particular woman from her state of “Agunah”. (Her husband was missing in action which can bar her permanently from remarrying.) Rav Ovadia declared that he does not think that there is anyone else in the generation that can finish this responsa properly, and he himself may die in surgery. He needed to make sure that this woman was taken care of before the surgery begins.

There are so many factors that go into a good relationship. There are so many variables that have to be right. The scary part is that as we go through life many if not all of those variables change. None of us look the same as we looked 20 years ago. Most of us don’t live in the same place that we used to live; most of us are not in the same physical or financial situation. So when it comes to a relationship what is the constant? What can we rely on?

The answer is a good heart. If we can develop a lev tov, if we marry someone with a good heart, if we develop a good heart, it will take us through the most trying circumstances. Through health and illness, rich or poor, holy times and not so holy times – you can rely on a good heart.

Two of my favorite Gedolim of the last generation met. The Rogatchover Gaon was a young man and he traveled to the great Rav Tzadok HaCohen of Lublin. They discussed Talmudic topic after topic on a level impossible to imagine. Before the Rogatchover left, Reb Tzadok told him, “You are a great genius, perhaps the greatest in the upcoming generation. I too was considered a prodigy but I eventually learned that scholastic abilities are wonderful but real greatness lies in a lev tov.” The Rogathover reported that that statement changed his life.

What is a good heart?

A good heart sees the good in others.
A good heart smiles easily.
A good heart opens up their heart when someone stretches out their hand,
A good heart is able to bond with another good heart to create a home for
the Shechina.

Hashem put Avrohom through so many tests but at the end defined Avrohom’s greatness with one sentence. “I found his heart trustworthy”.

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Yaacov Haber has been a leading force in Jewish community and Jewish education for over forty years. He lived and taught in the United States, Australia and in Israel. He is presently the Rav of Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun, a vibrant community in the center of Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel, and serves as the Rabbinic guide to many of its wonderful organisations.


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