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Rav Yitzchak Elchonon: A Wise Leader Print E-mail

writingsA tense situation once arose in a particular community between the rav of the town and some of the local talmidei chachamim. As often happens in such cases, the 'opposition' began

to cast a highly critical eye on all of the rav's halachic rulings. They seized upon a previous ruling of the rav which they considered to be mistaken and attempted to use it to testify to his alleged incompetence. The rav continued to insist that he was in the right and the conflict intensified.

The rav's adversaries sent a telegram to the leading halachic authority of the time, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor of Kovna.. Both sides eagerly awaited his reply. Almost immediately, a return telegram was received, in which Rav Yitzchak Elchanan agreed with the rav's opponents. The dissidents had already begun to celebrate their victory with unbounded joy when a second telegram arrived in which Rav Yitzchak Elchanan reversed his previous position and admitted that his first ruling was mistaken. The rejoicing of the rav's opponents came to a quick halt, and they were forced to acknowledge the rav's halachic expertise.

A Rosh Yeshivah observed that the story is hard to understand. Surely Rav Yitzchak Elchanan, the leading authority of the time, had seen immediately which position was the correct one. Why, then, did he first send a telegram siding with the rav's opponents? It appears that Rav Yitzchak Elchanan recognized that the seemingly innocent query was really a trap to prove the rav's incompetence. And he realized that it would not be enough to show that his opponents were wrong in this one instance, as a single setback would not be sufficient to discourage further attempts on their part to undermine the rav's position. In order to bring a quick halt to a dispute that could only diminish the honor of the Torah in the eyes of the masses, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan devised a strategy to silence the rav's adversaries once and for all. By pretending to err with respect to the question sent to him, he showed the rav's opponents that the question was one about which even the gadol hador could make a mistake. That the rav had ruled correctly on such a difficult question was then testimony to his status as a great scholar.

Moreover, by pretending to err, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan indicated that even if the rav were someday to rule incorrectly that would be no justification for embarrassing him before his congregation.

Rav Yitzchak Elchanan was prepared to forgo his own honor as gadol hador in order to preserve the kavod haTorah of another rav. The nobility of this action can only inspire awe and amazement!

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