Sleep On It
David wasn’t particularly particular about mitzva observance, but he did enjoy reading Torah thoughts, every now and then. One morning, David sat with a cup of coffee in one hand, and a Torah newsletter in the other. A story about the great Hillel, the tanna (mishnaic sage), caught David’s attention. It seemed there were two men who made a bet with each other, as to whether or not one of the men could make Hillel angry. The man approached Hillel one Friday, as Hillel was bathing for Shabbat, and peppered Hillel with ridiculous questions. Try as he might, the man just couldn’t get an angry reaction out of Hillel.
David pondered the story. “Surely,” he thought to himself “contemporary rabbis are familiar with the story of Hillel. And just as surely, they must teach others this story. I wonder if these rabbis practice what they preach!”
David got right to work. He compiled a phone list of well-known rabbis. At precisely 2:00 a.m., David picked up the phone, and called the first number on the list. When he heard the rabbi on the other end of the line, David innocently inquired “what’s the blessing made on a candy apple?” The rabbi’s response was a terse “can’t you find a better time to ask this question?”
David made his way down the list, calling rabbi after rabbi. Each rabbi, in turn, expressed frustration at being called in the middle of the night to answer a non-urgent question.
It was 3:00 a.m., and David was still keeping at it. Next on his list was Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, zt”l. When the venerable sage picked up the receiver, David inquired “Rabbi, can I ask you a question?”
“Of course” Rabbi Eliyahu replied. “Would it be alright if I wash my hands first?”
David acquiesced, and a minute later Rabbi Eliyahu was back on the phone. “Yes, what was your question?”
David again inquired as to the proper blessing for a candy apple. After giving a detailed response, Rabbi Eliyahu concluded “you can call me and ask me whatever you want, whenever you want!”
(This story comes from Rabbi Tuvia Litzman, from the book Sippurim She’ahavti Lisaper)
Let us ask a question raised by this touching story. Was David allowed to perform this “rabbi test?” Would it change anything if David desired to learn from a rabbi who was very humble, and performed this test in order to determine if the rabbi was a suitable teacher for David?
Answer of Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzal, shlita:
In my opinion, this man is a mazik (one who causes damage). Of course what he did is forbidden. Rabbis also need to sleep. Even if he wanted to test rabbis, to see if he could learn Torah from them, this was the wrong way to go about it. If a person has a real question, he should ask a rabbi. One time, something was wrong with my phone. As a result, a particular Arab was getting all of my phone calls. People kept calling him late at night. The Arab figured out what was going on, and realized that he was getting questions which were intended for a rabbi. He started yelling at the callers “Rabbis also need to sleep! Give them a little peace and quiet!”