A rov in Poznan, R. Akiva Eiger was an incredible gaon, yet unpretentious. While traveling to the health spas in Karlsbad, the Mitteler Rebbe visited him and was impressed by his great humility.
Reb Akiva Eiger was born on Yud Daled Cheshvan, 5522 (1761). After relocating several times, he was appointed as the Rav and Rosh Yeshivah of Poznan. He was one of the outstanding acharonim, and left a strong impact on the study of Gemara and Halacha. He was known to be very modest and exceptionally humble. He passed away on the Yud Gimmel Tishrei, 5598 (1837).
In the summer of 5585 (1815), the Mitteler Rebbe traveled to the health spas in Karlsbad at the instruction of his doctors. On his way there, he stopped in Poznan and met with Reb Akiva Eiger. In a letter to his son-in-law, the Tzemach Tzedek, he reports his impression of him:
“In Poznan, I visited the elder gaon Reb Akiva whose last name is Eiger. He is a genuine person and knows nothing of worldly matters, wearing a simple kapota and torn shtreimel (though his wife and children are surprisingly dressed like the German Jews). He greeted us with great honor as he is humble and unpretentious with all people.
“I asked him for a bracha. He shared a thought on a possuk and I shared with him its kabbalistic meaning that I had heard from my father [the Alter Rebbe]. He enjoyed what I said, but had a hard time hearing.
“He asked me to tell him about my father, since he had heard of him. I gave him two volumes of my father’s Shulchan Aruch, Tanya, and my seforim. He accepted them gratefully and we parted with great honors.”
When Reb Akiva Eiger came to the city of Poznan to become Rav, he was brought in a chariot, harnessed to strong stallions. With him, sat his son-in-law, the Chasam Sofer, who had married his daughter two years prior. The entire city came out to great them and stood cheering at the sides of the road.
The Chasam Sofer, who understood that this entire honor was meant for his father-in-law, on his appointment as Rov, climbed down the chariot and joined the crowds at the roadside. But after a bit of time, he looked up at the other side of the wagon and to his astonishment saw his father-in-law, Reb Akiva Eiger also walking at the side of the now empty wagon, convinced that all this honor was being given to his illustrious son-in-law…
The two great geonim, Reb Akiva Eiger and Reb Yaakov of Lisa (author of the Nesivos), were once strolling together, when they passed two youngsters sitting on a bench. The young men noticed the two geonim but ignored them and did not stand up.
Reb Akiva Eiger shared his surprise with his colleague: “This is surely the era before the coming of Moshiach, when ‘chutzpah will thrive…'”
Reb Yaakov responded, “Not yet! When we will be sitting on the bench and the two youngsters will pass by demanding that we stand up for them, then that ‘chutzpah will thrive.'”
One winter night there was a frantic knock at the door of the famed Reb Akiva Eiger. His son, Reb Shlomo Eiger opened the door and saw two women in tears. “We must talk to the Rav,” the older woman insisted. He led them to his father’s study and the woman explained that her son, this young woman’s husband, was late paying the local squire and is now being beaten in jail. “If we don’t bring the ransom tonight, he won’t be alive in the morning!” Reb Akiva Eiger assured the women that he’d bring them the money and invited them to wait in his study until he returned.
As they walked through the cold, dark streets, Reb Shlomo asked his father where he intended to raise a large sum of money at such a late hour. “There’s one place where I know we have a chance.” Before long, they arrived at a casino on the outskirts of town. All eyes turned to the two unlikely visitors as the Rav and his son walked directly to a table full of non-observant Jews playing cards.
“May I have a word with you?” he asked. “What about?” they grunted. “You’ve come to give us a musar drasha? If we wanted to hear it, we’d come to shul.” “I didn’t come to give you mussar, I just have an urgent request.” They acquiesced, and after the Rav told his story, one by one they emptied their pockets. Then, with money in hand, Reb Akiva talked to them about the self-destruction they’re committing with their way of life and urged them to return to the ways of Torah and mitzvos.
As they rushed home, Reb Shlomo asked his father why he gave mussar after he said he wouldn’t. Reb Akiva Eiger explained: “Truthfully, I didn’t intend to give them mussar because I knew they wouldn’t receive it. But once they did this great mitzvah, their hearts and their neshamos were wide opened so I seized the opportunity.”
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