Rabbi Aryeh Leib Ginsburg • “Author of Shaagat Aryeh”

Rabbi Aryeh Leib Ginsburg was like his name (aryeh means “lion”). He had a large head like a lion, eyes bright like glowing embers, and his hair was long and scattered. His appearance aroused fear and respect.

Rabbi Aryeh Leib was born around 5455 (1695) in the region of Minsk. At first he was the Rav and Rosh Yeshiva of Minsk, but by nature he was a man of truth. He had firmly set ideas, and he did not try to win the support of community leaders, which is why he was forced to leave the city.

Some time afterwards, he was named Rav of Volozhin. There he directed the yeshiva and had many students. However Rabbi Aryeh Leib lived poorly in Volozhin. His entire salary amounted to very little, and his wife had to work in a bakery kneading dough in order to earn a loaf of bread as her pay. The Rav had only one suit that he wore on Shabbat as well as on the week.

One day, he asked the leaders of the community for a small raise. They sat down to discuss it, but they found no reason to increase his pay. He then became angry and left Volozhin.

Difficult times began for Rabbi Aryeh Leib, who wrote the book entitled Shaagat Aryeh. He began a period of self-imposed exile, going from town to town like a poor beggar, and carrying a sack upon his shoulder that contained his Tallit, Tefillin, and a book by the Rambam.

What follows are accounts of this period in Rabbi Aryeh Leib’s life.

A villager once had pity on him and gave him a place to sleep in his attic for a few weeks. One night after a meager dinner, Rabbi Aryeh Leib was studying Torah by the light of a tiny oil lamp, while his wife was sitting by a warm stove knitting socks. All of a sudden he began to cry bitterly. “Leib, why are you crying?” his wife asked. “Look at how comfortable we are,” he said, “here in this warm home, with me studying Torah by the light of a lamp while you are sitting by a warm stove knitting socks. Who knows if now we’re not using up our share in the World to Come while in this world?” He then continued to cry.

He usually acted in the following way: Wherever he traveled, he stayed at the “inn” of the poor to spent the night there. Once during the course of his numerous wanderings, he arrived in the town of Breslau in Germany, whose Rav was Rabbi Yechaya Berlin. He went directly to the Rav’s home, entered the kitchen, and gave the Rebbetzin a pan and some barley in which to cook it for him. Rabbi Aryeh Leib was very strict when it came to the prohibition concerning Chadash (the new harvest), which is why he only ate barely. The Rebbetzin was not used to such a guest, so she immediately spoke to her husband concerning this strange visitor. Rabbi Yechaya came to meet him, and a simple look was enough to tell him that this was not an ordinary man. He began to discuss Torah with him, and from what he said, Rabbi Yechaya Berlin realized that he was speaking to the Gaon Rabbi Aryeh Leib. Before leaving town, Rabbi Aryeh Leib addressed himself to him and said, “I am surprised to see a Rav who lives in wealth and honor, yet who knows how to study nevertheless. This is one of the wonders that I have been allowed to see during my life.”

Meanwhile, he published his book Shaagat Aryeh, which accorded him great renown and revealed him to be one whose insight and intelligence were without equal in his generation.

Once, the author of Shaagat Aryeh was in Koenigsberg, whose Rav was Rabbi Aryeh Leib Epstein (the author of HaPardes). Without revealing his identity, he went to the Rav’s home and began to discuss Torah with him. He dominated the discussion, and so the author of HaPardes went to his library and took out the book Shaagat Aryeh to prove one of his points. Rabbi Aryeh Leib smiled and said, “The Rav knows my book, but he doesn’t know its author.” Rav Epstein looked at his guest and trembled. He saw before him a man with the head of a lion and eyes of glowing coals, and he realized that he was speaking to the Shaagat Aryeh himself. He asked for forgiveness in not having welcomed him in an appropriate manner, and he prepared a special room in his home for him. Rav Epstein enjoyed every day that he spent with him discussing Torah.

At around that time, the people of Metz had offered a contract to Rav Epstein to be their Rav. Rav Epstein took this contract and gave it to the Shaagat Aryeh, which is how he became the Rav of Metz at the age of 70.

The people of Metz were very happy to merit having such a great Rav, but their joy was not complete because he was 70 years old at the time. Sensing that their joy was mixed with sadness, the Shaagat Aryeh spoke to them and said, “The days of my life have been miserable. I have been harassed and I have lived a life of wandering, which is why I have become old before my time. Yet I promise you that, G-d willing, I will remain with you as your Rav for at least 20 more years.” His promise was fulfilled, and he remained the Rav of the noble town of Metz for 20 years. The great lion found tranquility there. He studied Torah day and night in holiness and purity. He did not sleep in a bed and consumed no animal products except on Shabbat and during holidays.

He lost his sight when he became very old, and so he studied Torah by heart. His disciple, Rabbi Gedaliah Rothenburg, wrote out his commentaries and published them in a book entitled Turei Even. He also published the book Gevurat Ari in the same way.

When the book Shaagat Aryeh was first published, it was filled with abbreviations because the author was poor at the time and did not have enough money to purchase more paper. He therefore wrote as much as he could using abbreviations. Later on, publishers reprinted it and explained all the shorthand notation, making it easier to read. From his work, it emerges that he bases his Halachic decisions on his own conclusions drawn from the Gemara and the Commentators, without taking into account the opinions of other Poskim. Furthermore, according to the Vilna Gaon he was capable of going through the entire Talmud in only an hour to find a proof that he was looking for.

Rabbi Aryeh Leib died at an advanced age on Tammuz 25, 5545 (1785) at the age of 90. Legend has it, however, that he did not die of old age, but because of the following incident:

One day he was alone in the Beit Midrash where he was studying. At one point he wanted to refer to a book, and so he went towards the library to take it off the shelf. However the shelf and its entire contents of books fell upon him. When it was finally raised off, he said with a smile: “All the books that I was not in agreement with, and whose words I rejected, fell on me. And while I was buried under these books, I made peace with them. Yet Rabbi Mordechai Yaffe, the author of Levushim, did not want to forgive me, and it is because of him that I am now leaving this world.” At that moment, he passed away.




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