When the Alter of Slobodka, zt”l, approached Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, and offered him the position of Rosh Yeshivah in Slobodka, Rav Isser Zalman asked who would be serving as Rosh Yeshivah with him.
The Alter revealed that he planned to invite Harav Aharon Bakst, the author of Lev Aharon.
“That is a wonderful choice, but I fear that I will have to refuse the offer,” Rav Isser Zalman declared.
The Alter was surprised, and pressed Rav Isser Zalman for an explanation.
Rav Isser Zalman related that Rav Aharon, one of the brightest stars of the Volozhiner Yeshiva, had once been engaged to his wife’s older sister. During the engagement, the chassan paid a visit on an Erev Yom Tov to the store owned by the kallah’s widowed mother. Seeing the pressures being placed on the widow and her children as they attempted to attend to the customers, the young Reb Aharon decided to give a helping hand. He brought some items down from the shelves, and even waited on some customers.
Sadly, his kind gesture was misunderstood by the almanah, who feared that the chassan’s interest in the store indicated that he intended to go to work after the chasunah, rather than stay in learning. She therefore decided to break off the shidduch, and offered Rav Aharon a sizeable sum of money to compensate him.
Her daughter then married Hagaon Harav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, zt”l, who was also one of the great iluyim of Volozhin. His mother-in-law promised to give him ten years of support.
When that period of time ended, he refused to accept a position in rabbanus. Instead, he began working, though his business ventures were only a part-time affair to support his family, and his primary focus remained limud haTorah.
Ironically, his mother-in-law, had broken the shidduch because she feared that he would not remain in learning. In the end, Rav Moshe Mordechai, whom she had chosen in his place, had been forced to go to work — while Rav Aharon was now a candidate to become Rosh Yeshivah of Slobodka.
“If you take Rav Aharon as Rosh Yeshivah of Slobodka, the Yeshiva will gain a priceless gem,” Rav Isser Zalman explained. “If, however, I too become Rosh Yeshivah, my mother-in-law will doubtlessly press me for details. She will learn that Rav Aharon is the other Rosh Yeshivah, and she will be filled with pain…It is better that I forego becoming a Rosh Yeshivah than causing anguish to an almanah.”
At the end, based on a recommendation from Rav Isser Zalman, the Alter invited Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein to serve along as Rosh Yeshivah with his brother-in-law, Rav Isser Zalman. Harav Aharon Bakst, too, was destined for greatness, as he went on to become Rav in Suvalk, and later Lomza and Shavel.
This week we learn how the Ribbono shel Olam instructed Moshe Rabbeinu regarding the construction of the menorah.
Chazal teach us that Moshe Rabbeinu was perplexed by the way it was to be made. The Ribbono shel Olam showed him a menorah made of fire, but he was still perplexed by the details, so Hashem told him to have Betzalel throw the large block of gold into the fire, and miraculously, it became a menorah.
It seems almost inconceivable that Moshe Rabbeinu should fail to comprehend how to make a menorah, especially when it was the Ribbono shel Olam Who was teaching him.
Rashi in Parashas Bahaloscha quotes a Chazal which teaches that when Aharon Hakohen saw the contributions and offerings of the Nesiim to chanukas haMishkan, he was distressed that neither he personally nor shevet Levi – of which he was the nasi – contributed or offered anything.
Hakadosh Baruch Hu consoled him, saying “Yours is greater than theirs, for you kindle and prepare the lamps [of the menorah].
Many meforshim wonder why the Ribbono shel Olam consoled him with the lighting the menorah and the bringing of the daily korbanos, or the ketoras.
One approach is that the menorah was a symbol of shalom. The three branches on each side of the menorah faced the seventh, middle branch, and together they represented the attribute of unity.
The pursuit of shalom was the middah of Aharon Hakohein, and therefore Hashem consoled him that this attribute was greater than the offerings brought by the Nesiim.
When the Ribbono shel Olam first told Moshe Rabbeinu to return to Egypt and take the bnei Yisrael out of exile, for seven days he found various reason to decline – because he was worried about the feelings of his brother, Ahron Hakohein.
Moshe Rabbeinu saw the menorah as the symbol of his brother’s middah, and therefore felt that everything relating to the menorah “belonged” to his brother. He therefore said that he was unable to comprehend how to make it — even after Hashem showed him a menorah of fire — until Hashem said that the gold should be thrown into the fire and a menorah emerged. (Based on a teaching of the Divrei Yisrael.)
While we have no inkling of the greatness of a Moshe Rabbeinu or an Aharon Hakohein, the extreme caution in regard to not hurting the feelings of another — even inadvertently — is something we all can learn from.