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A Spotlight on Rabbi Akiva Eiger zt"l

By Rabbi Michoel Stern

This article first appeared in the Lift Magazine, a journal of Torah thoughts written by the Rabbis and students of Kollel Menachem Lubavitch, Melbourne Australia. Design, typesetting & layout by Creative Chinuch. Read it inside here.


This article is based on the book

“Chut Hameshulash”

Written by Shlomo Sofer.

Published by Machon Daas Sofer.

A brief biography


Akiva Ginz was born on the 1st of Cheshvan, 1761, in the city Eisenstadt, Hungary. He was the first-born son to Moshe Ginz and Gitel Eiger. Akiva was named after his mother’s father, Rabbi Akiva of Halberstadt, who was a highly regarded Rabbi in Germany and the author of Mishnas Rabbi Akiva Eiger. Later on in life, Akiva adopted his mother’s maiden name, and became known as Rabbi Akiva Eiger.


From a very young age, Akiva was known as a child prodigy. At the age of twelve, Akiva left home for Breslau to learn under his uncle, Rabbi Binyomin Wolf Eiger, the Rosh Yeshiva of Breslau. During his years learning in Yeshiva, Akiva exhibited extraordinary intelligence. His skill at understanding the nuances of Talmud Bavli was unparalleled and his breadth of knowledge was astounding.

When Akiva turned twenty, he married Glikel, the daughter of a wealthy resident of Lisa. Gilkel’s father supported Akiva and provided him with a large house, including a rich library of seforim. While living in Lisa, Akiva befriended Rabbi Meir Posener, the author of Beis Meir.

In 1790, a large fire destroyed the Eigers’ house in Lisa. Akiva was forced to find a new place to live, and in 1791, he accepted a rabbinical post in Markisch Friedland, Germany. While in Markisch, Rabbi Akiva wrote hagahos (notes) to Shulchan Aruch as well as some of his most famous Teshuvos.


A few years later, in 1796, tragedy struck; Gilkel Eiger passed away. After a few years, Rabbi Akiva remarried.


In 1812, tragedy struck once again when Akiva’s son-in-law passed away, leaving his daughter, Sara, a widow with two children. Rabbi Akiva wrote to the Chasam Sofer in Pressburg asking if there is an appropriate widower to marry his daughter. In an interesting turn of events, Sara Eiger married the Chasam Sofer himself. Rabbi Akiva ended up becoming a father-in- law to one of his close contemporaries who was only one year younger than him.The Chasam Sofer and his wife Sara had eleven children. Thus, the members of the illustrious Sofer, Rabbinic dynasty are also descendants of Rabbi Akiva Eiger.


In 1841, Rabbi Akiva became the chief Rabbi of Posen, a position he held until the end of his life.


Rabbi Akiva Eiger passed away at the age of seventy five on the 13th of Tishrei, 5638 (1837).

Rabbi Akiva’s greatness


Rabbi Akiva Eiger is widely considered as one of the greatest Torah personalities of the past two hundred years. His seforim are acknowledged as the works of a genius, and any rabbi worth his mettle is well versed in them.


The following is a collection of short stories and anecdotes highlighting the impact Rabbi Eiger had on the Torah world:


Rav Chanoch Padvah of London once said, “in the Gilyon Hashas (the most famous work of Rabbi Akiva), Rabbi Akiva concludes most thoughts with a ‘tzarich iyun’ (needs in-depth analysis) or ‘tzarich iyun gadol’ (needing a great deal of in-depth analysis.) Seemingly, today there are numerous answers for every question. One should know that Rabbi Akiva Eiger could also have come up with the answers that we give, but he wanted to teach us that although many times during learning one has questions, one should not sit on a question for too long. Write the kashya (strong question) down on the side of the gemara and continue learning. Someone will eventually come and answer the question.”


The Klausenberger Rebbe once related during a shiur that when Rabbi Akiva Eiger would answer the kashya of Tosfos, he would never say “With this explanation we can answer the kashya of Tosfos.” Rather, he would say with humility, “Ribono Shel Olam, I have not merited to understand the kashya of Tosfos. I have not fully comprehended their holy words, for according to the way I have learned, their question is not a question.” The Klausenberger Rebbe concluded, “This is a different approach to learning. One must understand that Tosfos is definitely correct and it is I who does not understand his words.”


The Chazon Ish is quoted as saying, “Rabbi Akiva Eiger could have been in the generation of the Rashba, however the Aibershter had rachmonus upon us and placed him in our generation.”

When the great scholar Reb Boruch Ber would mention Rabbi Akiva’s name during a shiur he would say, “Der heiliger Rabbi Akiva Eiger.” In Reb Boruch’s eyes, mentioning Rabbi Akiva was like referring to one of the Rishonim; “Der heiliger Rashba.”


Reb Boruch Ber once said a sevara (Talmudic reasoning) in the name of Rabbi Akiva Eiger. Rabbi Boruch’s son heard the sevara and immediately raised a question. Instead of answering the question, Rabbi Boruch admonished his son and refused to listen. Rabbi Boruch’s reasoning was that his son had not paused momentarily with simcha (joy) and hispaalus (excitement) when hearing the novel sevara by Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Boruch then told his son, “Anyone who does not dance from simcha after hearing such a sevara is not a mentch.”


The Anvnei Nezer often spoke very highly of Rabbi Akiva Eiger. He once said, “One can tell from the way Rabbi Akiva Eiger explains things that he never had a nidnud (iota) of an evil thought, even during his youth.”


The story is told that Rabbi Shlomo Heiman once saw a young bocher in yeshiva holding the sefer Chidushei Rabbi Akiva in a disrespectful way. He called the bocher over and said, “Yingel come over here, let me teach you how to hold a sefer of Chidushei Rabbi Akiva Eiger; with two hands, writing up and close to the heart.”


It is well known that the Rogatchover Gaon did not suffer fools gladly. In many instances he was mevatel the words of Acharonim. On one occasion, a bocher came to the Rogatchover to discuss learning. Assuming that the Rogatchover did not hold of Rabbi Akiva Eiger (as he was an Acharon), during the conversation, the bocher spoke in a disrespectful manner regarding a halacha of Rabbi Akiva Eiger. To the bocher’s surprise, the Rogatchover immediately stood up and gave him a patch, saying, “Stop being mevaze (embarrassing) a Talmid Chochom!”

Connection with Chabad.


Rabbi Akiva had a unique connection to the Chabad Rebbeim throughout the generations.

In the summer of 1826, the Mitteler Rebbe travelled to the health spas of Karlsbad. On the way, he stopped off in Posen and met with Rabbi Akiva Eiger. Later on, the Mitteler Rebbe wrote a letter to his son-in-law, the Tzemach Tzedek, describing his trip:


“Rabbi Akiva Eiger is an ish tam v’yashar (wholesome and just man) and knows nothing about this physical world. He received us with great honour. He is an onov, shoful, and a pashtan (a humble well received man) with everyone. During our conversations, he asked that I tell him about the mahus (essence) of my father, the Alter Rebbe, and the plight of the Jews in Russia. I told him about the sinas chinam of the Misnagdim to the Chasidim. I then gave him two volumes of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch, the Tanya, and my seforim. He accepted them happily and we parted.” The Mitteler Rebbe concluded, “Halevai that all Rabbonim from Volen and Lita would be like him.”


(An interesting anecdote: In 1975, Rabbi Yehoshua Mondshine published the Mitteler Rebbe’s maamar, “Al tatzer es Moav”, which is an extremely lengthy mammar. In the introductory page Rabbi Mondshine wrote, “This mammar was said before Rabbi Akiva Eiger in Posen, Parshas Devarim, 5685.” After sending a draft to the Rebbe for approval, Rabbi Mondshine received a ma’ane (response) from the Rebbe, “Tamuah the arichus before Rabbi Akiva Eiger.” This meant that the Rebbe did not think it was mistaber (probable) that the Mitteler Rebbe would say such a long maamer before Rabbi Akiva Eiger.”)


Years later, when mentioning Rabbi Akiva Eiger in a teshuva, the Tzemach Tzedek referred to him as, “Hagaon Rabbi Akiva Eiger naro yair (his light shines forth)”


The Rebbe had great respect for Rabbi Akiva Eiger. In one instance, when asked by an Israeli rabbi about using the date of the secular calendar, the Rebbe responded, “I don’t know the custom in Yerushalayim; however, in America the practice is to use the secular date if there is a necessity. We do not have anyone greater than the Rama, Rabbi Akiva Eiger, and the Chasam Sofer, who allowed the use of secular dates when necessary.”


Rabbi Aharon Chitrik published the sefer Chiddushi HaRid in 1962. Shortly thereafter, the Rebbe asked him in yechidus if there were any comments about the sefer. Rabbi Chitrik answered that Rabbi Feldman of Baltimore had sent him a letter saying that according to the Rid, we can answer one of the kashyas of Rabbi Akiva Eiger in Gilyon Hashas. After hearing Rabbi Chitrik’s response, a look of great satisfaction could be seen upon the Rebbe’s holy face.

Rav Moshe Tzvi Neria relayed, “During my first visit to the Rebbe in 1957, I told the Rebbe a saying from Rav Kook that Rav Izak Homler is ‘the Rabbi Akiva Eiger of Chabad.’ The Rebbe responded, “Maybe even more.”

***

Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s name is synonymous with geonus and the study of Talmud Bavli. More than just another commentator, Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s derech halimud is his most endearing quality. Many Rabbonim were blessed with sharp intellect, but few manage to raise questions on the pirushim of the great rishonim, while simultaneously remaining humble.

May we be blessed that next time we open a gemara, we should not only be able to learn Rabbi Akiva Eiger’s commentary, but also have the proper respect for the holy words of our ancestors. Only then will we be truly following in the footsteps of the gaon, Rabbi Akiva Eiger.


This article first appeared in the Lift Magazine, a journal of Torah thoughts written by the Rabbis and students of Kollel Menachem Lubavitch, Melbourne Australia. Design, typesetting & layout by Creative Chinuch. Read it inside here.



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