Today – the 24th of Elul – is the Yortzite of Rebbe Yisrael Meir Kagan, widely known as “The Chafetz Chayim.”
There have been many, many books written by and about this great luminary and Tzaddik, and they can all be summarized in the following few tales about his life.
1. When the rabbi was young, a few local children would fill up the water carrier’s buckets with water at nightfall so that he would find them frozen over in the morning. The young Reb Yisrael knew that he wouldn’t be able to talk them out of their prank, and he understood the terrible pain, physical exertion, and lost time that the water carrier would suffer if the children’s plans were successful. In order to spare the elderly water carrier from anguish, Yisrael Meir came up with a plan. Every night, the young Tzaddik would sneak off into the dark in order to dump out the water before it could freeze over.
2. There was a discussion amongst the sages regarding the Chafetz Chayim’s scholarship in comparison to his scholarship. Their conclusion was that although he was a tremendous Talmud Chacham, he was even more of a Tzaddik! The rebbe composed books on many aspects of purity – from that of speech, to the importance of a woman going to the mikveh, to the greatness of men studying and spreading Torah. He wrote the Mishna Brura, which is one of the greatest halachic works in history! Yet, his sensitivity for others and his sterling character outshone even his great wisdom – a wisdom that illuminates our world up to this very day! Our great rebbe showed the world how to fulfill “Derech Eretz Kadma LaTorah. Even when his Torah knowledge was greater than most of the world, he never let it get in the way of his angelic interpersonal conduct.
3. The rebbe once became extremely ill when he was just nearing the end of his middle age. He was close to his death and then pleaded to Hashem with a very interesting point. He said, “Hashem, I have made it my life’s work to spread the laws of Shmirat Halashon. The verse in Tehillim, in discussing purity of speech, states ‘who is the man who desires life…’ what will people say when they see me die young? They will mock Your Torah and say ‘don’t you see that what the Torah says isn’t true? They very person who taught us that proper speech guarantees life has died young!’ In order to sanctify Your Name and uphold the honor of Your Word, please grant me life!” Hashem accepted the rebbes plea and in fact, the rebbe survived and even lived for a few more decades!
4. Reb Yisrael once asked a member of the community how he was doing overall. The man replied “oh you know, everything is more or less fine, but it could be better.” The Chafetz Chayim immediately replied “if it could be better, it WOULD be better!
5. The rabbi had a well in his backyard, from which he let people draw as much water as they wanted before Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. He would say, “if I have ever stolen anything from anyone, even unknowingly, let this be the repayment of my debt.
May we all merit the ability to emulate the behavior and outlook of this righteous man. His sensitivity, warmth, and deep faith set an example for every Jew. May we all merit to follow Rav Yisrael Meir’s example and live life the way it should be lived!