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Attitude of Gratitude   

“‘Hakaras hatov? What hakaras hatov could Rebbi possibly have to me?’”

As told to Shaindy Horowitz by Rav Pinchos Horowitz

AS a resident of Kiryat Unsdorf, I had the good fortune to know Rav Abish Eisen ztz”l, a tayere Yid and a soul-stirring baal tefillah and maggid shiur in Yeshivas Sha’ar Hashamayim (first in nigleh and in his later years in nistar). He was the son of Rav Shalom Eisen ztz”l, who was a renowned dayan in Meah Shearim — old-timers fondly recall the sight of hundreds of men lined up waiting to show Rav Shalom their esrogim before Succos to receive his approval. Just like his father, Rav Abish, too, was a true tzaddik, and a leading figure and role model for his many talmidim and followers.

In spite of the various hardships he endured in his life, he had an especially happy and appreciative nature. He lived in a tiny apartment with his large family before managing to purchase a more spacious, albeit simple and modest, apartment in Kiryat Unsdorf. When he moved into his new home, he literally danced on every single tile on the floor of his house to thank Hashem for his upgraded living quarters. Every Motzaei Shabbos when he came home from shul, he would dance all around the house, into and out of every single room, again — to thank Hashem for the beautiful home He gave him.

I always marveled at his exemplary simchas hachayim and inner tranquility, and then one day, when Rav Abish shared with me a powerful story from his youth, I realized from where and when it might have all stemmed.

“We were sending out invitations to my bar mitzvah to all of our friends and relatives,” Rav Abish related. “While we were working at it, my father mentioned that he was sending an invitation to Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer. ‘He was my rebbi,’ my father explained, ‘so surely I should send him an invitation. I don’t expect Rav Isser Zalman to be zich matriach [put himself out] to come, but certainly I should let him know that I’m making a bar mitzvah!’

“My long-awaited day came, and I had my aliyah l’Torah and recited all the brachos with joy and confidence. There was a kiddush in shul followed by a festive seudas mitzvah prepared by my mother in our Batei Nathan apartment. While we were singing the Shabbos zemiros, we heard the slow thumping of footsteps up our staircase. The footsteps seemed to be getting slower and more labored as they neared the top. When we opened the door, how shocked were we to see Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer standing in the doorway!

“We all knew that Rav Isser Zalman lived very far from us. He lived near the Eitz Chaim yeshivah at the top of Rechov Yaffo, and our apartment was all the way near Meah Shearim and up a few flights. Moreover, Rav Isser Zalman had difficulty walking. During the 1948 War of Independence, shrapnel from a bomb blast had struck his foot, and he refused to allow anyone to get him help lest they get hurt venturing out in that dangerous zone.

“ ‘Why was Rebbi zich matriach to come all the way?’ my father asked in utter surprise. ‘We sent an invitation to honor Rebbi and inform him of the simchah but not to inconvenience him like this!’

“ ‘I came because of my hakaras hatov,’ said Rav Isser Zalman.

“ ‘Hakaras hatov? What hakaras hatov could Rebbi possibly have to me? I should have hakaras hatov to Rebbi, not Rebbi to me!’

“ ‘I’ll explain,’ said Rav Isser Zalman, as he sat down and took a deep breath. ‘When I received the invitation to Abish’s bar mitzvah, I couldn’t believe it. ‘Shulem’ke macht shoin bar mitzvah?’ I marveled. ‘How time is running! I was just at the bris!’ I had such a strong hisorerus from the thought that Shulem’ke is already making a bar mitzvah that I felt indebted to you for bringing it about. Therefore, I had to come all this way to wish you mazel tov and express my gratitude.’”

Rav Abish continued elaborating on the outstanding demonstration of hakaras hatov he had witnessed at his own bar mitzvah — how important it is to appreciate everything, all of our blessings in life, both material and spiritual, however big or small. He spoke with the conviction of one who seemed to have definitely taken this lesson to heart and lived it in practice.

“Look how far Rav Isser Zalman went,” he concluded thoughtfully, “to demonstrate hakaras hatov for a single spiritual inspiration.”


Rav Pinchos Horowitz is the Unsdorfer Rav in Yerushalayim.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 997)

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