By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
Rav Shmuel Eliezer HaLevi Eidels, more commonly known as the Maharsha, was a rosh yeshiva in Austroha. At one point, due to the great influx of talmidim to his yeshiva, the community decided to erect a larger building. A plot of land was purchased and construction was ready to begin. A gala cornerstone-laying ceremony was held with all the townspeople in attendance.
As the city’s gabbai was about to auction off the mitzvah of the cornerstone-laying, someone whispered to him, “I want to purchase that mitzvah at all costs, but please don’t reveal my identity. Please bid for me.” The bidding commenced and the winning bid was 500 rubles. Everyone wondered about the identity of the generous donor, but the gabbai would not divulge the secret.
When it was time to actually lay the cornerstone, the gabbai surreptitiously approached the winning bidder and asked him about his intentions. The man said, “Please honor the Maharsha with the laying of the cornerstone.” The townspeople left disappointed that they never found out the identity of the anonymous benefactor.
After the ceremony, the Maharsha called the gabbai and requested that he ask whether the donor would be agreeable for his identity to be divulged to the Maharsha alone. When the donor heard that the Maharsha himself wanted to know his identity, he immediately consented as long as it otherwise remained a secret. The Maharsha then summoned the donor into his study.
The donor did not appear to be a man of means. He explained to the Maharsha that in fact he was not a wealthy man, and that the 500 rubles he had paid for the cornerstone-laying constituted nearly his entire net worth. He had prayed incessantly to be blessed with children and was not yet answered. He thought that perhaps in the merit of secretly donating so much tzedakah, Hashem would bless him with children.
The Maharsha was touched by the donor’s words and blessed him that he should have a son who would study in the new yeshiva. Within a year, the donor’s wife gave birth to a boy. When the child reached bar mitzvah age, his father brought him to the Maharsha’s yeshiva. The gabbai, however, rejected him on the grounds that he was too young for yeshiva gedolah. The father then introduced himself and his son to the Maharsha, who immediately accepted the boy into his yeshiva.
Rav Moshe Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik commented that in fact the Maharsha based his blessing for a son on a Gemara in Moed Kattan 9a.
The Gemara says that when the first Beis HaMikdash was completed, the Jewish nation rejoiced for seven days. One of those seven days was Yom Kippur, and they even ate and drank that day, based on the counsel of the sages. Nevertheless, they were nervous that they would be punished for this infraction until a Heavenly voice proclaimed, “You will all merit the World to Come!” Further, the Gemara notes that all who participated in the festivities merited to have a boy that year.
According to Rav Soloveitchik, the Maharsha reasoned that if someone who took part in the chanukas Beis HaMikdash merited a son, then someone who had such an integral role in the inauguration of a beis midrash would likewise merit a son.
One might ask that perhaps all those who celebrated the completion of the Beis HaMikdash rejoiced solely for the sake of heaven and therefore merited sons, whereas this individual gave charity with the ulterior motive that he merit a son. The Maharsha notes that the Heavenly voice proclaimed, “All of you will merit the World to Come.” The Maharsha explains that the term “all of you” comes to include even those who ate and drank on that particular Yom Kippur not for the sake of heaven, but rather for their own gastronomic pleasure. Even they will merit the World to Come. It is clear from the Maharsha’s comments that not everyone who rejoiced back then did so solely for the sake of heaven, yet they still merited having a boy.
My father pointed out that there is a Midrash that expresses a somewhat related idea. The Midrash Tanchuma in Parashas Emor says, “Rebbe Tanchuma expounded the verse (Iyov 43:3) ‘Who came to meet Me? I will pay [his reward]. Everything under the heavens is Mine.’ This refers to a bachelor who lives in the country and pays the wages of the teachers of Torah and mishnayos. Hashem says, ‘I will pay the reward for his exertion to grant him a son.’”
According to the Maharsha, the reward for paying the wages of rebbeim is not just that if he is married he will have a son, but if he is unmarried he will find a wife as well. ϖ
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.