#560 (s5768-50 / 18 Menachem-Av 5768)

Brick by Brick

One cold winter afternoon in Tsfat, the Ridvas arrived in shul for mincha earlier than usual.

Brick by Brick

During the last years of his life, from 1905 to 1914, the Ridvaz -- Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Wilovsky -- lived in the holy city of Tsfat. Before that, he served as chief rabbi of Slutzk, Poland and in the early 1900's of Chicago, USA. He was considered one of the Torah geniuses of his generation.

One cold winter afternoon in Tsfat, the Ridvaz came to shul for Mincha earlier than his usual time. It was his father's yahrzeit. He walked up to his shtender, planted his elbows on it, and stood lost in thought. As he stood there for long moments, musing, his eyes filled with tears.

The other men coming into shul for Mincha saw the Ridvaz crying. Knowing that it was his father's yahrzeit, they kept a respectful distance from him. They assumed that their rabbi was immersed in memories from the past.

One close friend did approach him, however. "Why are you so sad?" he asked. "Your father was 80 years old when he passed away -- certainly not a young man. And he died fifty years ago! Do our sages not tell us that it is decreed that the grief over the dead fades from the heart?"

"I will tell you," said the Ridvaz quietly.

"I've been thinking about the time when I was a young boy, and my father arranged for the best teacher in town, R. Chaim Sender, to become my private tutor. R. Chaim's fee was one ruble per month -- a very steep price in those days, especially for my father, who was a poor man. It was a struggle to come up with the money each month.

"My father supported us by building ovens. One winter, there was no cement or plaster to be found, so my father could not build any ovens. He could not afford to pay R. Chaim Sender's fee. Three months passed in this way. Finally, I came home one day with a letter from my tutor saying that he would not be able to continue teaching me unless he received his salary by the next morning.

"When my parents read the letter, the world turned black in front of their eyes. For them, my Torah education was everything!

"That evening, my father went to shul as usual. There he heard a certain wealthy man complain that the contractors who were building a house for his son and future daughter-in-law had been unable to get hold of an oven because of the shortage of cement and plaster. The rich man offered six rubles to anyone who could get him an oven. In Russia, an oven was an absolute necessity, used for heating the houses, for cooking, and for baking.

"My father returned home from shul and discussed the matter with my mother. The came to an agreement: My father would dismantle our own oven, brick by brick, and use the materials to build a new one for the rich man's son. Then they would have six rubles for my tutor.

"My father put the plan into action at once. He brought the oven to the rich man and received six rubles in return, for me to pay to R. Chaim Sender.

"'Tell the teacher,' my father said, 'that three of these rubles are for payment I owe him, and the other three are for the next three months' tuition for my Yankel Dovid!"

"It was a very cold winter, and we continually shivered and froze. And all this, so that I would have the very best teacher and would grow in Torah!

"It was cold outside today," continued the Ridvaz, "and I thought that maybe I would arrange for a minyan to come to my house instead of my going out to shul. Then I decided, in my father's honor, that I must make a special effort to go to shul today, and not to pray at home.

"When I got here a short while ago, I thought about my family's suffering during that long-ago frigid winter -- suffering for me and my Torah. That is why I cried. I recalled my parents' endless love and devotion, all dedicated to making sure that their son would learn the holy Torah! If it were not for their sacrifice, I would never have grown be able to write my commentary on the Talmud Yerushalmi."

[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from
"Stories my Grandfather told me" (Mesorah) by Zev Greenwald]

Biographic note:
Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Ben Ze'ev Wilovsky (1845 - 1 Tishrei 1914), known by the acronym of his Hebrew name, Ridvaz, was a renowned rabbi, scholar and educator who authored an important commentary on most of the Talmud Yerushalmi. Born in Kobrin, Russia he held rabbinic positions in several cities, including the post of Chief Rabbi in Slutz, Poland, and in Chicago from 1903 till 1905 when he moved to Tsfat, Israel. The building that hosted the yeshiva that he founded in Tsfat is today the bottom floor of the largest Lubavitch yeshiva in Israel.

Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages.

A 48 page soft-covered booklet containing eleven of his most popular stories may be ordered on our store site.

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