Sunday, August 20, 2023

Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky: Why he erred in thinking the Maharsham was senile

Recently events have caused me to recall an interesting story I heard from Rav Yitzchok Berkowitz. I believe Rav Berkowitz said that this story was told by Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky at an Agudah Convention many years ago.

When Rav Yaakov Kaminetseky was a yeshiva bachur he happened to be traveling by train through the city that the Maharsham lived. Being a great admirer of the Maharsham , as well as other gedolim, he decided to take the opportunity to meet with the Maharsham - who at that time was a very old man. He said to himself, "Who knows if I will have another opportunity to meet him."

When he met the Maharsham, he raised a question in Yevamos that had been bothering him for a long time and which he had found no satisfactory answer in the standard commentaries. The Maharsham listened carefully to the question and then said, "You will find the answer in Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim." He gave him the precise simon. Rav Yaakov thanked him for the answer and for giving up some of his precious time to talk with him.

As Rav Yaakov was walking back to the train station, he sadly thought to himself. "What a pity such a great man was suffering from senility. How absurd to say that I should look at Orech Chaim for the answer to a complex question from Yevamos. Everybody knows that Orech Chaim doesn't deal with such questions."

The more he thought about the tragedy of the loss of the Maharashm's mind, the more an inner voice struggled to be heard. It said, " If a gadol tells you something - you should take it seriously and don't be so hasty to dismiss it."

In deference to the inner voice he stopped in a beis medrash and looked up the source that the Maharsham had proposed. Much to his astonishment and shame, the source in Orech Chaim did in fact answer the complex question of Yevamos. 

With a feeling of great embarrassment and degradation, he ran back to the Maharasham's house to apologize for his terrible mistake in thinking the Maharasham was senile.

The Maharsham of course greeted him gently and told him not to be so upset about his misjudgment. He told Rav Yaakov to go to his bookcase and take down the first volume of his set of Shulchan Aruch. He then told him to open to the inside cover. There Rav Yaakov saw there was about 100 marks inscribed there. The Maharsham said, "Those marks are the number of times I have fully reviewed the Shulchan Aruch. You should know that even if I had become senile - because of my intimate familiarity with the Shulchan Aruch that has resulted from constant review - I still would have been able to give you the answer to your question.

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