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10 most common Gadol stories

norman lamm gadolI love gadol biographies, I find myself sitting in shul most every shabbos delving into the stories, lies, fabrications, and mythology surrounding the stories of the shtetl and all those illui’s who knew shas by the age of 13 and became the next gadol hador. If you read enough gadol biographies, you start to notice that many of them contain rehashed versions of the same stories involving their favorite gadol. I find it hard to believe that the Chofetz Chaim, Baruch Ber Leibowitz, and Rav Shimon Shkop all had the exact same childhood experiences. Yet, I’m consistently shocked into submission because the stories are so damned good, no matter how foolish they sound. I’ve pretty much read every Artscroll gadol novel there is and I’ve been onto the more obscure ones now. My favorites are the one for Rav Yaakov, Rav Yehuda Zev Segal, and Elchonon Wasserman.

For all of these stories you can insert your favorite Gadols name and you can pretty much guarantee that someone will have heard the story before.

1) One of the Gadols former talmidim sent a request for a letter of recommendation (or semicha, or shidduch, or job, etc…) and the Rosh Yeshiva called me into his office to look over the letter. It was so perfect, I wondered why he would have called me in. He explained to me that this talmid wronged him in some way and he didn’t want it to affect his letter.

Another version of this story is that the gadols daughter was engaged to this former talmid, broke off the engagement and then requested some sort of letter of recommendation.

2) When this gadol was a kid, he was once playing with some friends and they all stole apples in the market. Coincidentally, he learned about geneiva and went to the lady to pay for an apple, he than put the apple back and ran back to his study of shas.

3) Random gadol was too small and young for the big learned boys in Slobodka or Mir or Kaminetz and he persisted until one day the rosh yeshiva said “get out of here, come back when you’re bar mitzvah” and this gadol responded that he was here to learn, not make a minyan. Other versions of the story include sneaking into shiurim and responding with novel chiddushim that made this 11 year old the envy of all the other boys.

4) When traveling to America to raise funds for the yeshiva (which was so poor that we can’t even imagine the mesiras nefesh) the gadol refrained from honors, but was told that this was the only way to raise money. Then at some point on the trip they collected a large sum of money, only to be told that the shul had mixed dancing or that the president didn’t keep shabbos. The gadol tore up the check right there, to the shock of their hosts who tried to convince them to take the money because they needed all the mitzvahs they could get in the treife medina.

5) The gadol smelled the winds of Haskallah and when someone tried to open a gymnasium (modernishe school that taught things other than mussar or gemara) the gadol gave a fiery speech about how damaging this would be for our yiddishe neshamas. He knew of several yeshiva guys who were spreading haskallah around and he promptly told them that they had to dedicate their lives to the yeshivas gospel or leave the yeshiva. The ones who stayed became great talmidei chachamim and the ones who left, all became reform and their children married shiksas and died young.

6) The gadol once told several students that it was better to break shabbos to avoid the draft than to attend university. At least breaking shabbos wasn’t putting yourself into a place of avodah zorah.

7) Back in the day when they used to do essen teg (which was when guys used to eat at families in the community) this one gadol would eat at this ladies house every day because she was honored to have such a genius at her table. Later on when he took his wife there she mamish couldn’t eat the food for it was inedible. His wife couldn’t believe that her husband ate there for so many years and never tried to get a different place to eat.

8) Once the gadol was stranded somewhere on pesach and he didn’t trust his hosts kasharus standards so he told him that he didn’t eat gebrokts. He spent that whole pesach eating potatoes and matza. He actually did eat gebrokts, but he didn’t want to embarrass his host and so he adopted the minhag of non-gebrokts. There are a million versions of this story.

9) The evil government passed a law that made all the schools, including yeshivas, teach the language of the land to its students. Rather than force their native language upon the yeshiva, the gadol closed the yeshiva. He foresaw the destruction and negative influences that would come if the yeshiva guys could read a menu or newspaper. The story can also be about secular classed as well.

10) The gadol and his family suffered abject poverty for the sake of Torah. Even when he was offered positions as Rav of random towns, he turned them down because teaching Torah he deemed as more important. His wife stood behind the decision to starve the family and kill them off young, in exchange for Torah. Because who needed food when you had Tosfos and the Rosh.

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{ 31 comments… add one }
  • amrilusaguy April 28, 2014, 10:42 PM

    There is some gezeira hanging over the head of the village that will be enforced after yom kippur. The rebbe of the community calls for everyone to pray very hard to ma’avir the roa gezeira. Before neila the rebbe give a speech screaming with tears in his eyes on how no one is praying, the gezeira is still hanging over them in shamayim, and then at the very end of neila just as the entire congregation starts to say Shema Yisrael, the little kid who was never really OK yells out from the back of the shul ALEPH!, BAYIS!

    And this amazing calm falls over the rebbe because he can see in shamayim that the gezeira was cancelled.

    • Dumpster Diva April 28, 2014, 10:52 PM

      I heard it was an unlearned hippy. Also, a surfer. In shorts and flip flops. 🙂

    • disqus_NqKzYdWxI6 April 29, 2014, 12:05 AM

      It’s never the frummie who cancels the gezeira, always the drop out. We need more Am Haaretzim to make it through galut. I’m going to the yob on the street for a blessing.

  • Dumpster Diva April 28, 2014, 10:45 PM

    One day a poor man came to the Chofetz Chaims door (or to the door of the Baal Shem Tov or Shneur Zalman of Liady) asking for tzedakah.
    The Chofetz Chaim, et al., invited him in, and offered him a full meal. When the
    man was finished eating he left. As the Chofetz Chaim, et al., was cleaning up,
    he realised this man had stolen a spoon. The Chofetz Chaim, et al., ran into the
    street after him calling, Wait, wait, dont forget the spoon is fleishig. Cuz, yanno……they were real generous like that in those days.

    • Dumpster Diva April 28, 2014, 10:45 PM

      And the spoon didn’t match the rest of the silver anyway….

      • disqus_NqKzYdWxI6 April 29, 2014, 1:02 AM

        Hahaha v.good!

        • Dumpster Diva April 30, 2014, 3:20 PM

          Really – google the story. It is true!

  • disqus_NqKzYdWxI6 April 28, 2014, 11:55 PM

    Has anyone heard of the story, somewhere in Europe (pre WWII), a wedding hall including bride, groom, their families and all the guests being swallowed up korach style because the wedding was on Shabbos? Since then no wedding has ever been held on Shabbos. Heard it a few times now. Making its rounds in London.

    • Michael Sedley April 29, 2014, 1:26 AM

      yeah i was there – at the wedding, it was on shabbos about 120 years ago. We all got swallowed up into the earth, it was terrifying yet spiritually uplifting and we all did tshuva (except the guys who were crushed to death), then everyone was turned into a newt, fortunately I got better.

      • disqus_NqKzYdWxI6 April 29, 2014, 1:39 AM

        Was the food good at least? Smorgasbord?

        • Michael Sedley April 29, 2014, 3:46 AM

          It was to die for (sorry – I couldn’t resist)

        • Talia bat Pessi April 29, 2014, 1:19 PM

          The Viennese table was great.

    • zach April 29, 2014, 6:04 AM

      That’s related to the story of the chasan who disappeared before his wedding, never to be seen again. You see, it was in the Old City and there was going to be music at the chasanah. But music was prohibited because R. Meir Auerbach had a dream vision about the 1865 plague that killed so many talmidei chachamim. A kabbalist explained his dream; the plague was a punishment for music being played at the site of the churban. A gezeirah was thus made against music at weddings, and the chasan was thus punished to violated the decree.

      It is puzzling that there are no seforim or newspaper articles from the time period that discuss that story. There are also numerous other explanations for the prohibition. Including – of course – the lack of tznius that resulted from men & women mixing together because of music.

      • disqus_NqKzYdWxI6 April 29, 2014, 6:26 AM

        Poor Chasan. Parents make the shidduch. Plan the wedding. Many people involved. There’s also a kallah – takes two to tango. The band plays the music the guests dance together. The caterers agreed to cater, the hall owners agreed to hire it out. And God takes out all his wrath on the poor chasan.

        • zach April 29, 2014, 12:41 PM

          God’s not picky as long as SOMEBODY pays.

    • Jack April 29, 2014, 10:23 PM

      The legend is that it happened during the times of Rema. Google: legend of wedding swallowed in earth Cracow

      • disqus_NqKzYdWxI6 April 29, 2014, 11:47 PM

        Comes under the heading of “European Fairytales”. It’s amazing… If it happened a few hundred years ago in a shtetl then add the name of a rabbi re-tell the story over a shabbos meal it becomes real and everyone believes it word for word, everyone laps it up. BTW when typing that into google other fairytales popped up including Tom Thumb.

        • Dumpster Diva April 30, 2014, 12:50 PM


    • cdg April 30, 2014, 11:59 AM

      they made the wedding on fri but it lasted until shabbos it’s either the rama or maharal

  • Shragi April 29, 2014, 7:24 AM

    One day Reb Boruch Ber was sitting in a speech and he had to go to the bathroom, but he held it in because he didn’t want to embarrass the speaker, but he really needed to go, you know? So finally he just fainted instead.

  • dstaum April 29, 2014, 10:02 AM

    Some villagers in the shtetl were passing by the shul at midnight and they heard wailing inside. So they went in, and lo & behold, it’s little 10 year old Moishy/Chaim/Yossi clutching onto the aron kodesh and crying as he says tikun chatzos. And this boy grew up to be Harav XXXXX, Shlita

  • zwe April 29, 2014, 12:19 PM

    These are what we call AGG (Any General Gadol) stories.

  • Alter Cocker April 29, 2014, 2:14 PM


  • efraim April 30, 2014, 12:36 AM

    i didn’t know that dr r lamm was considered a gadol

  • -LFD April 30, 2014, 6:27 AM

    Years ago, I used a Gadol story for a Purim newsletter. I just deleted the names, towns and segulas/mitzvos and it was an AWESOME mad-lib! Comes out funnier each time. “So when Rabbi__ gave __ a bracha to healthy baby____. The town was zocheh to see a ____!” “And they thought they knew who the old man was, but it couldn’t be him because he has ____ ten _____ ago. Really, it was____.” -See? this stuff just writes itself!

    • zach April 30, 2014, 11:09 AM

      Love it! This could be a regular Frum Satire feature & folks could submit their mad lib answers. What about it Heshy??

      • Tuli April 30, 2014, 12:44 PM

        Let’s not and say we did.

  • Joshie Berger April 30, 2014, 4:20 PM

    no offense but you mailed this one in

  • Eli May 1, 2014, 7:48 AM

    Now all we need is a Ten Most Common Rasha Stories.
    1. The guy told the Russian govt about the Jew who wasn’t paying taxes
    2. The guy who converted to Christianity
    etc etc.

    • Rabbi Moishe Shmoishe May 14, 2014, 11:12 AM

      3. The guy who borrowed his friend’s smart phone, saw a picture of a woman’s elbow, had a keri emission and became tumeh.

  • Peetum haclitoyris September 30, 2014, 3:49 PM

    We all know the reason he kept going back to her house…..(in story 7)
    She needed a man to make kiddush and haMotzei….(zera livatala)

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