The Manhig Ruchani had been facing Chaim as he spoke. It was therefore Chaim on whom the onus fell to reply to his query.
“It is all very simple.” “Yossie,” – Chaim was now pointing to his friend – “was telling me about the Chumash lesson he had had today. He claimed that the whole lesson was focused on this one short Rashi.” For my part, I had failed to see how an entire three-hour lesson could possibly confine itself to so short a span of words.”
At this point, Yossie chimed in.
“Yes, it’s true,” he said. “My rebbi dwelt on this single Rashi endlessly. He tried and tried again to plumb the true essence of its meaning. His discussion was way too intricate for me; and I lost track of his train of thought rather toward the beginning. I was left sitting all throughout in a thoroughly befuddled state.” “You must understand,” Yossie pleaded, “it was a totally discomfiting experience for me”
Much to Yossie’s relief, the Manhig Ruchani let loose a noticeable smile. Suddenly, he glanced at his watch. Realizing the time, he abruptly told the boys that the conversation would have to be temporarily interrupted. Mincha was about to begin. He asked the boys if they’d care to join the minyan, in response to which they indicated that they had already davened. The Manhig Ruchani asked them then if they could wait till the conclusion of the davening and resume the discussion they had begun. But the boys explained that they were expected at their respective homes and had therefore to depart the premises presently. Nodding his understanding, the Manhig Ruchani mentioned that they were free to return the next day for a resumption of the discussion. He intimated that he was particularly eager to make a significant contribution to the topic at hand. Perhaps they could prearrange with their families for them to arrive home just a little later than usual. The boys, in turn, offered their interest.
Off Yossie and Chaim went. As they strode through the winding walkways leading to their houses, they were overcome by a recognition of the immense interest that the Manhig Ruchani had taken in their conversation. It seemed to them as if the Rashi in question had possessed a far deeper gravity than they could possibly have fathomed.
The next day, the two of them met during their lunch break. Each confirmed to the other that permission to arrive home later than usual had been secured. After school, they would meet again and head straight for the beis medrash, they decided. They wondered in anticipation what the Manhig Ruchani would have to say.
The school day had come and gone. Meeting at their usual after-school spot, the boys set right out for the beis medrash. Walking briskly, they muttered barely a thought. It seemed to them as though a major development was going to extricate them from their irrepressible curiosity – so absorbed by it had they been. Hardly able to suppress their excitement, their gait steadily picked up speed. And in the event, they didn’t have long to wait. Even as they approached from the distance, they could catch a glimpse of the the Manhig Ruchani, as he stood adjacent to the opening of the edifice's surrounding gate. He may have been expecting them, they thought out loud. As they approached, he rang out “How good to see you. I was expecting you.” Looking at each other, the two were amused that he had confirmed their momentary ruminations. Ushering them into his private office, he motioned for them to take a seat.
On the Manhig Ruchani’s desk lay a sefer that bore the title, prominently displayed in Hebrew, Shem Hagedolim. Lifting it, the Manhig Ruchani looked right in the direction of the boys.
“This is a sefer by the Chida,” he exclaimed. “It provides biographical information about the great sages of our people’s past.”
Clueless as to the identity of the Chida, the boys sat there speechless. Sensing their puzzlement, the Manhig Ruchani immediately proceeded to assuage it. He said that the Chida lived some two-hundred years ago in Yerushalayim of Eretz Yisrael. Not only did he live in Yerushalayim, he lived in Chevron as well. And not only in Eretz Yisrael but also in Egypt and in Italy. He elaborated that he, the Chida, was recognized as a prodigious Torah scholar and especially noted for his erudition in Kabala. A beloved community leader, he wrote many sefarim and traveled far and wide in pursuit of untold worthy causes. The Manhig Ruchani also let on that the Chida’s imposing reputation was such as to open many an otherwise closed door especially to him.
Chaim and Yossi gave voice to their impressedness. But they remained utterly bewildered as to the reason for the Manhig Ruchani’s bringing up the whole matter of the Chida and his sefer. Finally, Chaim mustered the courage to get up from his seat and ask forthrightly: “Ok, but what has this got to go with the discussion we were having the other day about the Rashi in Chumash, the one that had occupied so much class-time?”
The Manhig Ruchani could contain his silence no longer. He opened the sefer to a certain page and pointed to a passage where this very statement of Rashi was the subject of discussion. The Manhig Ruchani then went on to provide some background.
“You see,” he said, “the Shem Hagedolim’s approach is to proceed in an encyclopedic fashion. It contains individual entries, one for each personage that comes under the scope of its coverage. Rashi, of course, is one such personage. Accordingly, an individual entry is devoted to information just about him. What is so striking is that the Chida sees fit to embellish the entry on Rashi with information pertaining to the upheaval caused by the very statement of Rashi that has been occupying the two of you. And not only has it occupied you, it has, evidently, occupied a very considerable amount of Yossie’s class time. And if that’s the case, then Yossie’s rebbi must have thought this Rashi very worthy of concentrated, elongated attention. The question is why? And I am proposing that the answer, in whole or in part, is contained within this very entry of the Chida’s Shem Hagedolim.”
Yossie and Chaim now sat spellbound. They were almost in a state of trance. They felt as if they were being let in on one of the true mysteries of the world. All they could do was to urge, in the gentlest but yet in the strongest of terms, the Manhig Ruchani to somehow convey to them exactly what the Chida’s entry on Rashi revealed. It was Yossie, this time, who dared to speak up.
“You have given us all this information. But you have gotten us to the point where we pain for further enlightenment. Please be so good as to give satisfaction to our quest.”
With this, the Manhig Ruchani gestured his approval. He bid Yossie and Chaim come closer to where he was sitting, so that may follow in text of the passage as the Manhig Ruchani was to read it. The three of them clustered together in a linear arrangement, the Manhig Ruchan's reading began.
(To be continued.)