Rabbi Avraham Shemuel Binyamin • “The Ketav Sofer”

Many years had passed, and Rabbi Moshe Sofer, the Rav of Pressburg, still had no children. After the death of his wife, the Rebbetzin Malka, he married Sarah, the daughter of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, and with her he merited to establish a great dynasty.

On the first of Adar 5575 (1815), the Rebbetzin Sarah gave birth to a son, and the residents of Pressburg welcomed this news with the greatest of joy. It was as if a prince had been born after a wait of many years. Rabbeinu Moshe was 52 years old at the birth of his firstborn son.

Legend has it that when the Rebbetzin was about to give birth and the delivery was proving to be difficult, some of Rabbi Moshe’s disciples came to see him to ask that he pray for her to have a speedy delivery and that her suffering stop. Rabbeinu Moshe, the author of Chatam Sofer, replied by saying, “Do you not know the teaching of the Sages on the verse: ‘The sun rises and the sun sets’ [Ecclesiastes 1:5]? Before the sun of one Tzaddik sets, the sun of another Tzaddik arises. I am filled with hope that a Tzaddik will be born to me, and I do not want to shorten the days of another Tzaddik because of my prayers for this one.” When the child was nine years old, he fell ill and his remaining days seemed few. Even the doctors felt that his case was hopeless. Rabbi Moshe, however, placed himself before the desk that contained his writings and implored G-d to have pity on the child. His prayer was accepted and his son survived.

Even though his father did everything to prevent this oldest son of his from becoming famous, Avraham Shemuel Binyamin was known from the age of 11 to possess the mind of a genius. By nature he was very diligent, and he studied Torah day and night.

At the age of 17 he was already corresponding with great rabbanim on matters of Torah, and everyone was aware that a great light was rising in the firmament of Judaism.

At that time he married a young woman by the name of Chana Leah, the daughter of the renowned Rabbi Yitzchak Weiss, the Rav of Garlitz. Since his father-in-law was wealthy, he promised to support the couple for six years so that his son-in-law could settle in the tent of Torah and study in peace and tranquility.

During the first year of his marriage, the Ketav Sofer lived with his father and helped him in his holy tasks. Rabbi Moshe took advice from his son and asked him for his help in all his undertakings. Many times, he also let him respond to questions of Halachah. The Chatam Sofer would then reread what his son wrote and sign it as “the father of Shemuel.” On Tishri 25, the day of Rabbi Moshe’s passing and the end of the Chatam Sofer’s era, a new chapter opened in the life of the Pressburg Jewish community, one written in gold – the chapter of the Ketav Sofer.

Rabbi Avraham Shemuel Binyamin was 24 years old when he assumed the position of Rav, yet his abilities enabled him, despite his young age, to command the people’s authority. Not long afterwards, he amazed the entire community by his firm and resolute conduct. He closely observed everything that was happening in the city and safeguarded the observance of all his father’s customs and decrees. He also devoted himself to the yeshiva with all his heart and all his soul, and there he introduced new regulations that met the needs of the time. He would rise early in the morning to prepare courses that he gave in the yeshiva, and he loved to say that there is no greater pleasure than rising at dawn to study Torah with a clear mind.

Besides his greatness in Torah, the Ketav Sofer especially distinguished himself by his acts of generosity. He put aside a tenth of his money for Tzeddakah, financially supported many Talmidei Chachamim, and in honor of the holidays he would customarily send wine to all who studied Torah. He also donated large amounts of Tzeddakah secretly, so as not to embarrass those who received it.

Above all, however, the Ketav Sofer grew with his students in the Pressburg yeshiva. He loved them enormously, and he strived to help them in every way possible. If he saw that someone was looking pale, he covered the costs of his recovery. He gave new clothes to his poor students, and he also helped them to find wives and attended their weddings, exactly as if they had been his sons.

His battles against the destroyers of the religion, who wanted to introduce reforms into Israel’s Torah, played a large role in his life. He went to see kings and ministers to defend the holy values of Israel by means of his gentle words, ones that emanated from a heart that was pure and holy, and which always made a great impression on his listeners. A king once told him, “I am pleased to receive such a great and noble man in my palace today.”

The Ketav Sofer directed the community of Pressburg for more than three decades, and he saw great blessing in everything he undertook. He then suddenly took ill, but still had time to send the first part of his responsum on Orach Chayim to get printed. Nevertheless, he felt that his days were numbered and that the hour had come to depart from the community. Thus he ordered that his son, Rabbi Simcha Bunim, replace him.

On Tevet 19, 5632 (1871), after having been the Rav of Pressburg for the same length of time as his father, 33 years, and even though he was not even 57 years old, the Ketav Sofer’s pure soul ascended to Heaven. Rabbi Simcha Bunim, the author of Shevet Sofer, took his place as the Rav of Pressburg.

The following story is often told concerning the Ketav Sofer:

A large gathering was taking place in the home of the Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi Avraham Shemuel Binyamin, the Rav of Pressburg. All the great rabbanim of the generation were present, and in his desire to honor his guests, the Rav of Pressburg showed them a special gold coin. He told them, “Please examine this precious coin that has been in my family for many years. It was among those fashioned by King David, and there is none like it in the world.”

The rabbanim admired this ancient coin and examined it in detail. It was passed from hand to hand, and each person thanked the Rav for the great honor he showed them by allowing them to look at such a precious object. Then all of a sudden, without anyone realizing how, the coin disappeared! The rabbanim were looking at each other in astonishment, not knowing what to do, for it was impossible to imagine that one of them had stolen it.

When people began feeling that finding it was hopeless, one of the rabbanim stood up and said, “Gentlemen! We have not yet done enough. Everyone here should check his clothes in case the coin fell into a pocket.”

Everyone complied, but even then the coin could not be found. Once again someone in the gathering stood up and said, “As long as we have not found it, we are all under suspicion of theft. We are therefore obliged to search each other so as to leave no room for suspicion.”

Everyone was in agreement except for one person, a very honorable man who was older than anyone there. He stood up and said, “Gentlemen! Let us not do such a thing, for it entails an element of insult to the honor of the Torah. Let us wait a little. Perhaps it will be found.”

A half-hour passed, and the coin was still missing. Then the master of the house rose up and asked in a trembling voice for everyone to search the other, as had been suggested. At these words, the great and honorable older man grew pale. When the Chachamim saw him, they begin to suspect in their hearts that he had taken the coin.

At that moment, the door opened and one of the residents of the household came in and announced that the coin had fallen into one of the plates that had been removed from the table, and that it had been found when the dishes were being washed. Everyone felt relieved, and the gathering ended in a good and joyous atmosphere. The elderly man then stood up, and from his pocket he took out a coin that was exactly the same as the Rav of Pressburg’s. He explained that he also possessed a coin like his, one that he had inherited from his forefathers and which he always kept with him because of its holiness. However when the master of the house, the Rav of Pressburg, had shown his coin to everyone and said that it was the only one of its kind in the world, he kept quiet so as not to upset him. Thus when the coin disappeared and a search was proposed, he was in great disarray, for who would have believed his story if they had found the coin on him? This is why he prayed for G-d to get him out of that predicament, and his prayer was answered.

The Gaon and Tzaddik Rabbi Avraham Binyamin Sofer, the Rav of Pressburg, stood up and said: “Do you know why we are assembled here today? It is to learn the meaning of the Mishnah: ‘Judge every man favorably.’ When an accused man stands before you, even if you believe that he is probably guilty, you must nevertheless strive with all your might, before rendering a decision, to give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps you will be able to. And if you put effort into it, you will succeed!”




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