Most of Lublin’s residents lay fast asleep, yet its venerable rabbi hardly noticed the time. Rabbi Shlomo Luria sat in one of the synagogues, immersed in Torah study, his gaze rarely moving from the book in front of him. The absolute silence of the past few hours was suddenly interrupted by a faint noise. Rabbi Shlomo paused his learning and listened, trying to place it. Although soft and mellow, he quickly recognized it as the sound of Torah learning emanating from the floor below, a thought which caused Rabbi Shlomo to sit up a little straighter.

Under the synagogue was the small store where Reb Avraham Kashi sold the townspeople vegetables and buckwheat (kasha), earning him the Kashi moniker. Reb Avraham was known to be a kind but a simple and almost illiterate Jew, barely able to follow the prayers or read Tehillim.

Rabbi Shlomo walked over to the open window, where he was able to discern that it was indeed Reb Avraham’s voice, explaining the text with such startling clarity that the Talmudic complexities unraveled almost effortlessly. For several minutes, Rabbi Shlomo remained transfixed by the window, savoring the fact that unbeknownst to anyone in Lublin, a rare genius was holed up beneath the synagogue.

Soon after morning prayers, Rabbi Shlomo requested that Reb Avraham appear before him. “I called you here because of a difficulty that arose during my studies. I myself failed to find an answer, so I’m hoping you can help me.”

“Is this a joke?” frowned Reb Avraham. “It’s useless to seek such answers from a simpleton like me.”

Rabbi Shlomo tried to convince him to drop the veil of ignorance, but Reb Avraham squirmed, dismissing the suggestion as laughable. But Rabbi Shlomo would not be deterred. He continued to urge until Reb Avraham hung his head and agreed to take a look. Rabbi Shlomo slid the Gemara over. After reluctantly skimming through the text, Reb Avraham looked up and offered a novel explanation. Rabbi Shlomo immediately countered it, and the two debated for a while, elaborating, clarifying, and distilling until they reached a mutually satisfactory conclusion.

Though the exchange left Rabbi Shlomo beaming, it very much worried Reb Avraham. His secret was no longer his alone. He pleaded with Rabbi Shlomo not to reveal it, and Rabbi Shlomo agreed, although his heart ached to see such a rare scholar groveling away his days as a buckwheat vendor.

But true to his word, their secret endured throughout the ensuing years. Every so often, the pair would convene late at night to study together, their relationship never extending beyond that. Shortly before his death, Rabbi Shlomo drafted a will, and when the time came, the elders of Lublin opened it and discovered his recommended successor: Reb Avraham Kashi, the buckwheat vendor.

Feeling completely lost, the elders approached Reb Avraham. Hoping for clarity, they informed him or their rabbi’s designation, but he merely shrugged, reaffirming he was just a simple Jew. Despite their confusion, they believed Rabbi Shlomo’s consideration for Lublin’s future held significant import, and they continued to press Reb Avraham until, to their immense relief, he agreed.

“My agreement is predicated upon three conditions,” he explained. “One—my salary will not come from the community’s funds as I intend to support myself. Two—rather than sitting together with all the notables at the front of the synagogue, I will continue using my seat among the common folk in the back. Three—You may call me moreinu (‘our master’) but I will not be addressed with the honorific, moreh moreinu (‘master of our masters’).”

Seeing no other choice, the elders accepted Reb Avraham’s conditions. With time, his wisdom and erudition became readily apparent, and the community invented creative ways to show respect to their leader, while still complying with his three conditions.

When Reb Avraham opened the store each morning, community members immediately purchased all of his stock to free up the rest of his day for the important matters of the community. Instead of moving his seat to the front of the synagogue, the rest of Lublin’s rabbis and lay leaders moved theirs back into the congregation, alongside his. Even the common honorific he had agreed to became unique, as all other rabbis were addressed as simply chaver (‘peer’).

Reb Avraham Kashi never grew accustomed to the honor shown him and carried himself as modestly as before. Before his death, he asked to be buried near the cemetery’s outskirts, beside his father, a simple and unlearned man. He also asked not to have a large structure built over his grave.

During death, as in life, his instructions were duly followed.

Adapted from Shem Hagedolim 1:76, as well as Sichat Hashavua #1444.