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The Elements of Jewish Living

The Gedolim Puzzle

By Rabbi Sender Haber

My seven-year-old daughter recently asked for a puzzle of a Gadol. In the age of ‘Gedolim Memory’ and ‘Gedolim Guess Who’, her request is perfectly reasonable but still slightly odd.

I can’t help but imagine completing a puzzle only to realize that Rav Shach’s Shirt is missing a button or that I need one more curl for the Bobover Rebbe’s peyos.

Do Gedolim puzzles also have blue sky pieces, straight-edged pieces, beard pieces and eye pieces?

Can a Gadol be broken up into pieces and put back together again? What are the pieces that make up a Gadol?

When I was a kid, we didn’t plan to be Gedolim when we grew up. My mother told me to be a big Tzaddik and Uncle Moishy told me to be a big Talmid Chacham. Nobody ever mentioned Gadol. The aperture of Gadol is fairly new to modern parlance.

Despite it’s recent introduction to our vocabulary, the idea of a Gadol has ancient roots. When Avraham celebrated Yitzchak’s second birthday it was called a “seudah gedola” and we are taught that the Gedolim of the generation were in attendance.

An elderly Jew in Jerusalem once explained the concept as follows: an Adam Gadol (a big person) is like a Yeshiva Gedola (a big yeshiva). A big Yeshiva is able to accept all sorts of boys because they are populous enough to absorb even the weaker and less committed among us. A Gadol is, likewise, able to accept all sorts of ideas and values because they are absorbed into his all-encompassing Torah-based weltanschauung.

There is an important lesson here. In our praiseworthy rush to emulate Gedolim, we tend to look at only one or two facets of their behavior. We sometimes fail to recognize the Derech Eretz which is the Sine qua non of all Torah learning and of all great people.

Gedolim are not obsessed with appearances, but they also tuck in their shirts and turn down their brims. Gedolim don’t waste time or money, but they also don’t get speeding tickets or steal. Gedolim are able to guide people wisely, yet they rarely boss people around. Gedolim are deserving of great honor, yet they rarely request it.

We need to teach our children that it takes many pieces to form a Gadol. If they ignore half of the pieces, their puzzle will be incomplete.

One of the fondest weeks of my life was the one in which Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg Shlita came to Australia. I was fourteen at the time and was given the task of assisting Rabbi Scheinberg and making sure that all of his needs were met. At first, Rav Scheinberg was very upset to see me and told my father to send me back to school. He begrudgingly relented to my presence when we promised that my Chavrusa would join me in the dining room so that I could continue my learning while he met with people in an office upstairs.

The highlight of my week came in the form of a glass of fresh mousse with a cherry on top. At the request of the woman of the house (Mrs. Herzog), I took leave of my Chavrusa and brought the delectable dessert upstairs to the Rosh Yeshiva. The Rosh Yeshiva thanked me politely and, for the first time all week, asked if I would do him a favor. Of course I said yes. My excitement turned to wonder as he handed me his spoon and asked me to stay for a few minutes and eat the Mousse. It was delicious and I told him so. He thanked me again and I took leave, taking care to return the empty glass to the kitchen.

I returned to my chavrusa but it wasn’t long before the woman of the house, noting the uncharacteristic speed with which “Rav Scheinberg” had devoured the mousse, asked me to bring up another glass which she had painstakingly prepared.

She confided in me, saying, “I finally found something he likes”. I just licked my lips and smiled.

The rest of the week was as sweet as it was instructive. My role as Rav Scheinberg’s assistant was to arrange his appointments, answer the door, and eat his mousse. My chavrusa was a little jealous when he found out, but I had no intention of sharing my responsibilities.

The word Gadol means big and a Gadol must be big enough to consider everything. Rav Scheinberg wasn’t content to greet visitors all day and let people guess how many Tzitzis he wears - that’s what Jelly bean contests are for. He busied himself considering my learning, his learning, his diet, and the feelings of his hostess.  A Gadol spends his time perfecting every aspect of every moment in his day.

I don’t know if anyone has taken a Jigsaw to Reb Scheinberg yet. When they do, I hope that it captures his entire personalty. I recommend a corner piece showing a small fourteen-year-old boy with pimples eating a delicious chocolate mousse with a bright red cherry on top.

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