Rabbi Akiva Eiger

The Beit Rubinstein Yeshiva, which was under the direction of the Rav of Poneiwitz, included among its teachers Rabbi Bertchik (Dov) Rickels Zatzal. He was a Torah genius, with a lucid and penetrating mind. In his courses, he always went deeply into the teachings of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, and truly weighed each word and letter of his holy words. He used to tell his students in juicy Yiddish, “My children, everyone makes a sentence out of a word, but Rabbi Akiva Eiger makes a word out of a sentence.” Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s teachings were concise. He was very exacting with the language he used, and he weighed words like people weigh gold.

The son of Rabbi Moshe Guens and his wife Gitel (the daughter of Rabbi Eiger the Elder), Rabbi Akiva Eiger was born on Heshvan 11, 5522 (Nov 8, 1761) in Eisenstadt, which then belonged to Hungary.

From his youth, people could see that he had the makings of greatness. He was a child prodigy who did nothing like others, and he distinguished himself by his extraordinary diligence, rapid comprehension, and his incredibly sharp mind.

People say that by the age of six, he completely knew the six orders of the Mishnah with the commentary of Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura.

During his early years, he was raised primarily by this father Rabbi Moshe, a great Talmid Chacham, and his mother, who was known for her tremendous scholarship.

At the age of 12 he went to study at the yeshiva of the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Yossef Teomim in Breslau, where he remained for six years. During that time he began to gain a reputation as a person who studied Torah deeply. He also began to give courses and showed his students the way that enables a person to arrive at the depths and truth of Torah.

At 18 years of age he married the daughter of the wealthy Rabbi Yitzchak Margalioth of Lissa, and there he devoted himself to Torah study and serving G-d, his mind free from all material concerns. He lived in a holy a pious way, studying intensively while eating and sleeping little.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger was a rabbi for 25 years, first in Märkisch-Friedland (in West Prussia), then in Posen. He had a large yeshiva that students flocked to from far and near to hear Torah directly from him, and he treated them with great affection. In him they saw a father, while in them he saw sons, even going to the extent of finding them wives and helping them obtain livelihoods.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger detested the rabbinate. People say that he would have preferred to be a Gabbai, or even to work in a mikveh.

It seems that one day he learned that in the neighboring town of Posen, a person who worked in the mikveh there died. He hurried to write to his daughter, who was then living in that town, and asked her to try to get him that job.

He wrote to her and stated, “In my old age, I want to earn a living in a permissible way, not in a forbidden one.”

Yet since he was obligated to be a Rav, he did not enclose himself within the tent of Torah learning. He was entirely devoted to his community, for which he performed work that was also recognized by the Government of Prussia as being exceptional.

In 5591 (1831) a plague broke out in Germany and also spread to Posen, where Rabbi Akiva Eiger then lived. More than 600 people died among the Christian population, but among the Jews only a few perished, which surprised everyone. Needless to say, the Jews had been protected by the merit of their Rav. He issued decrees on what they were to do during the epidemic, supplied the poor with food, and even taught his people the basics of hygiene. He also organized special committees to ensure that these decrees were kept. When Emperor Frederic Guillaume III learned of the Rav’s great devotion for the members of his community, he personally decided to send him a thank you letter bearing his signature.

This humble spiritual giant viewed honors with disdain. When the residents of Vilna once asked him to be their Rav, he was taken aback by this. He said in response, “Who am I that I should fill the position of Rav in the city of the Gra? I would like to have the merit of being a Gabbai in Vilna’s synagogue!”

One day, Rabbi Akiva went to Krakow with Rabbi Yaakov of Lissa (the author of Netivot HaMishpat). They entered an inn, and many people came to welcome these two greats of the generation. At one point, while Rabbi Yaakov was absent and Rabbi Akiva was alone in their room, someone came to the inn and knocked on their door. Rabbi Akiva opened the door asked him what he wanted.

As the man trembled with emotion, he said, “I have come to see our Rav.”

“Our Rav,” Rabbi Eiger replied, “is not here right now. He will return soon.”

Rabbi Akiva Eiger was extremely meticulous concerning the mitzvah of hospitality. During Shabbat and holidays, he invited many people to come and eat at his table.

During one Passover Seder, while Rabbi Akiva and his guests were seated at the table and speaking of the exodus from Egypt, the hand of one of guests accidentally hit a glass of win. The glass tipped over and the wine spilled on the white tablecloth.

In order that his guest not be embarrassed, Rabbi Akiva rattled the table to make the glass in front of him spill over. He then said, “I have the feeling that this table is wobbly.”

On Tishri 13, 5598 (October 12, 1837), at the age of 76, our teacher rendered his pure soul to his Father in Heaven.

People say that up to his last moment, the one at which is soul departed, he had on his lips the verse, “My mouth will utter the praise of the L-RD.” And in truth, this verse reflected all his virtues, deeds and manners, for his entire life was an embodiment of praising G-d.

Our teacher left behind seven sons and six daughters. All were great in Torah, starting with his son-in-law Rabbi Moshe Sofer, the author of Chatam Sofer. Many of his commentaries on the Mishnah and Gemara were also published, and up to our day his Torah and wisdom are studied in every yeshiva throughout the world.




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