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Shaagas Aryeh

Shaagas Aryeh

(1695-1785)

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The famed Gaon Rabbi Arye Leib, son of Asher, better known as the Shaagas Aryeh, after his outstanding Talmudic work by that title, meaning The Roar of a Lion, was head of the Yeshiva in Minsk (Russia), and later served as Rabbi in Pinsk and Volozhin.

Just at the height of his fame throughout the Rabbinic world, after the publication of his important Talmudic work, and already in his old age, he decided to give up his Rabbinic post and wander forth through various communities in Lithuania and Poland. His wife insisted on going along with him and sharing the hardships of their future life. Try as hard as he did to dissuade her from this idea, he failed to convince her to change her mind. So off they wandered together from town to town.

Most Jewish communities had a public shelter for poor and homeless people, and that is where the elderly couple also stayed, usually for a few days, or as long as they felt they were not attracting too much attention. They did not want it to be known who they were. People took them to be a couple of wandering beggars. Certainly no one even suspected that they were the famed Gaon Rabbi Arye Leib, author of Shaagas Aryeh, and his wife. Arriving in a town, the old Rabbi spent most of the day studying quietly in the Beis Hamedrash, while the wife earned a little money doing housework and similar chores. When her husband came to the shelter in the evening, she would have a plate of warm soup ready for him, as well as a piece of bread, and he would then continue studying late into the night. They had always been poor. and were accustomed to living simply, and they were content to continue that way.

At that time there lived in Frankfurt (Germany) the Gaon Rabbi Nosson Hakohem Adler, who happened to be also a wealthy man. He did not accept a paid Rabbinic position, but headed a great Yeshiva with outstanding students-(among whom was .a brillant young man, Moshe Sofer, who later became famous as the Chasam Sofer, after his important Rabbinic work).

Rabbi Adler (the name means "eagle") got to know that the Shaagas Arye and his wife had taken up a life of wandering about from place to place. It grieved him to think that such a brillant Talrriudic scholar and his wife should suffer such discomfort and hardship in their old age. He decided to make every possible effort to find out where they may be, so that he could take care of their needs, He would bring them to his house and would treat, them with the honor they so richly. deserved: However, his efforts to locate them through his contacts in different communities were not successful. So he had no choice but to wait until the couple would come to Frankfurt as he fervently hoped they would do sooner or later.

To make sure that he would not miss them on their arrival in this city, Rabbi Adler spoke to the manager of the local shelter, and asked him to be on the alert for an elderly refined couple who may come any day to avail themselves of the shelter's hospitality. Should such a couple turn up, the manager was immediately to inform the Rabbi and, indeed, receive a reward for his trouble.

Weeks and months went by with no word from the manager. He had, in fact, forgotten about the whole matter.

One night, at a late hour, an elderly couple arrived at the shelter, each carrying a bundle on their shoulders. The other guests were already sleeping. The man took out a candle, lit it, and sat down to study. The wife took out some potatoes and put them in the still hot oven to bake. After they had eaten, the woman lay down to sleep, but her husband continued learning. Several of the residents complained that the new arrival was disturbing their sleep. One of them angrily blew out the candle. The man said nothing, but took his book to the window where he sat down and continued studying by the light of the full moon.

As dawn was breaking, the man suddenly jumped up and began dancing with joy. He had solved a knotty Talmudic problem and, in the excitement, apparently forgot where he was. His wife woke up and began to clap her hands. The noise woke up others in the house, and the manager came in, asking: "What's going on here?!"

The protests flew at him from all sides: "A couple of crazy people arrived here late last night and didn't let us sleep!"

The manager rebuked them for being so unfriendly to the newcomers. "Everyone is welcome in this place, and should make others welcome, too," he said.

Now, it suddenly occurred to him that the new arrivals might be the couple about whom the Rabbi had asked him to be on the lookout. He lost no time, and went to the Yeshiva and told Rabbi Adler that "they" had arrived. The Rosh Yeshiva turned to his favorite student: "Moshe, come with me. We will go and greet a very important guest! We'll have the Zechus - the privilege and honor - to greet and welcome the Shaagas Arye. You and 1 have often discussed sections of this book in depth; now we'll have the opportunity to discuss some unsolved topics with the author personally!"

Rabbi Adler invited the Shaagas Arye and his wife to accompany him to his home. Rabbi Arye Leib, seeing that his secret was a secret no longer, allowed himself to be persuaded.

An animated Talmudic discussion ensued between the guest and his host on the way to Rabbi Adler's house, while the young Moshe Sofer was thrilled to listen to the two Talmudic giants, "the lion" and "the eagle," as they debated some fine points of the Halachah.

When they arrived at the home of Rabbi Adler, and seeing the long rows of bookcases and shelves packed with books of Talmudic and Rabbinic literature, Rabbi Arye Leib remarked with a smile: "If I had access to these treasures, I would have no need to burden my brains to carry all these books in my head!"

Rabbi Arye Leib spent several weeks in the home of Rabbi Adler. The host invited his guest to deliver a shier in his Yeshiva, which was a great Torah delight both for the lecturer and the students.

Once, Rabbi Adler said to his guest: "Tell me, dear teacher, is it right or fair to withhold so much light and goodness? Isn't it time to end this wandering around from place to place in disguise, and accept a position as Rabbi or Rosh Yeshiva in any of many Jewish communities that would be honored and delighted to have such a teacher and leader? And wouldn't that be a better way to honor the Torah?"

"You are righf, Reb Nosson," answered Rabi Arye Leib earnestly. "Truly, I am somewhat tired of all the traveling, and I should have pity on my poor wife, who has accompanied me so willingly with never a complaint. Indeed, if there would be a suitable Rabbinical position for me in a city with a Yeshiva, I would be prepared to consider such a position seriously."

Rabbi Adler's face lit up. He opened a drawer in his desk and brought out a document.

"This is a formal invitation from the community heads, of Metz, in France, stating that they are offering me the position of Chief Rabbi in that ancient city. I have not yet replied to it, though it is several months since I received it. I was waiting for your coming. If you agree to accept this position, I shall write and tell them-that I have a better candidate for them than I. As a matter of fact, the great titles with which they address me are more fitting for a 'lion' than for an 'eagle,' and I could even add some titles to theirs in your case. The conditions they offer are excellent, both materially and spiritually."

Rabbi Arye Leib read the manuscript and said, "I agree to accept the position."

When the heads of the Metz community received Rabbi Adler's reply and recommendation, they immediately sent a contract to Rabbi Arye Leib, assuring him that the community would be more than happy to have him serve as their Rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva.

Rabbi Adler could no longer keep Rabbi Arye Leib and his wife as his guests. The "lion" and the "eagle" took a warm, friendly leave of each other.

Fully rested from their long wanderings; and well dressed - thanks to their generous host -= Rabbi Arye Leib and his wife left for Metz. A warm and most respectful welcome awaited them on arrival. However, Rabbi Arye Leib noticed that some of the community leaders looked a little concerned when they saw their new Rabbi. The Shaagas Arye understood the reason for their concern. So, in his first public address to the community in a packed synagogue, he concluded his learned and inspiring sermon with the following words: "I have the feeling that you expected and hoped to engage a younger. rabbi, one like my distinguished colleague and friend, Rabbi Nosson Adler. Indeed, our sages of the Mishnah say, 'Forty is the age of understanding.' You would like to have a rabbi who would be able to hold the position for at least 30 years, till the age of 70 years, and not have to look for a new rabbi after ten years or so. Let me, therefore, assure you, good friends, that though I am 60 years old, I hope and am confident that you will have no need to look for a replacement for another 30 years, G‑d willing."

And so it was. The Shaagas Arye held his position in Metz for 30 years, until he died in 1785, at the ripe old age of 90 years.

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