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The Chofetz Chaim (Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan) was taking a train back to Radin. I believe it was Radin, as that's where he lived, and had his Yeshiva. None of his Talmidim (students) would drive him. Respecting your rabbi has limits. The roads in Poland aren't paved very well. They asked who would escort their rabbi, around the Yeshiva, and nobody showed up to Shiur that day.
This Jewish guy was sitting next to him on the train. Jews like to sit next to Jews on long trips. It gives a decent amount of time to figure out if they know the same people you know.
This guy visiting Radin jumps right to the Chofetz Chaim. Everybody in Radin knows the Chofetz Chaim. Every Jew religious Jew in the world knows the Chofetz Chaim. If you're going to call that Jewish geography, that's pathetic.
He starts talking to the Chofetz Chaim, not knowing it is he, the Chofetz Chaim. You can't get any privacy on the train. The Jews will find you. The Chofetz Chaim is trying to get some rest, and now he's got to listen to this guy's thoughts on the deli in Lvov. The Chofetz Chaim is thinking, 'Even when they don't know I'm the Chofetz Chaim, they still ask me questions. I can't get away from this. I could be a tailor and they would bother me.'
The guy on the train starts saying how he's going to meet the great Tzadik of Radin, the Chofetz Chaim. If he would've read Shmirat HaLashon, the Chofetz Chaim's book on not speaking Lashon Hara (bad about people), he would know that was Avak Lashon Hara. So, he's going to meet the Chofetz Chaim, without learning his work. You go to meet Stephen King, you read The Shining.
The Chofetz Chaim responded, 'Why are going there? He's not that great. He's just a simple Jew.' And the Jewish guy got angry, started the cursing the Chofetz Chaim and hit him.
He then came to visit the Chofetz Chaim in his house, and he was embarrassed. The Chofetz Chaim is sitting there with a shiner. He's now asking himself, 'How shall I ask the Chofetz Chaim for blessings and advice about having kids? I clocked him pretty good.' He didn't know what to do. He continued asking himself, 'How did I not realize it's you, the Chofetz Chaim... Now that I see his right side, it's him.'
The man asked for forgiveness, and the Chofetz Chaim said that he needn't ask for forgiveness. The Chofetz Chaim was thankful he got hit. He had written an entire book about not speaking Lashon Hara, and he missed the law of not speaking Lashon Hara about oneself.
And the guy offered to hit the Chofetz Chaim again.
And the Chofetz Chaim learned you can't talk to anybody. You can't say anything to people without offending them, even if it's about yourself. From then on, he was afraid to crack jokes. This was before the Will Smith incident.
From then on, The Chofetz Chaim then had to say he was great. But he didn't. As he knows that that's Avak Lashon Hara about yourself.
Lessons of What Followed
The Chofetz Chaim's students realized it was time for a picture of the Chofetz Chaim to get out. So, they had him pose with a big Kippah.
If they had put out a decent photo of the Chofetz Chaim, this whole incident could've been avoided.
All simple Jews were offended. Till now, they thought it was an honor to be a Jew. As they learned from the story, being a Jew is not a very important thing.
The Chofetz Chaim should've smacked him for speaking Avak Lashon Hara.
The real lesson is to never speak about yourself in third person. What's amazing is
that when the Rebbe of Lublin said he wasn't that great, he was praised. The Chofetz Chaim gets pummeled. It goes to show how times change.
Thanks to this guy, now the Chofetz Chaim had to write another book.
We don't know where the Chofetz Chaim was traveling from. It was definitely a violent area.
After leaving town, the guy spread word about how the Chofetz Chaim can take a hit. Word spread and the Chofetz Chaim got a reputation, and nobody messed with him anymore.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe also said one shouldn't speak Lashon Hara about themselves, but he didn't have to take a hit for it.
The Chofetz Chaim left the guy's name out of the story, as that would be Lashon Hara. And thus, we have many beautiful Jewish stories that are never told. When it comes to Tziporah and Moshe, they talk about them. But that's it. And I believe there's a leniency somewhere to talk Lashon Hara about your rabbi, as that's a tradition in all Jewish communities.
Please note that we feel bad telling this story, as it might be Lashon Hara.
***See Alei Tamar on the Yerushalmi. If I got the story wrong, you should blame Rav Yisachar Tamar Alav HaShalom.
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Wearing Israeli flags. Showing their support for Israel at the rally in DC. It would’ve been smarter if they brought coats. Based on experience, flags don’t work as good windbreakers.