by R. Jeffrey Saks
The recent discovery of the 12 second video clip of the Chofetz Chaim has rightfully fascinated the Torah world. Indeed, it may be enough to redeem the black hole of inanity which is the Internet, with its click-bait of cats playing with string and Charlie biting fingers. The opportunity to view this “visual talisman” of the most revered tzaddik of the last century has proven very meaningful those of us for whom the Mishnah Berurah serves as a source of daily instruction. The fact that the Chofetz Chaim was largely “visible” to us only through that one much-reproduced, and rather stiff-looking portrait, makes the power of the brief moving image all the more remarkable.
In 1992 I was in Riga with YUSSR. The shul had a large storeroom full of old sifrei kodesh (literally hundreds of dusty volumes), which the shamash asked tourists to buy for foreign currency. For what was probably a fortune of cash to him, maybe it was $10, I took a stack of books, not knowing that among them was an original edition Mishnah Berurah. The endpages are covered in scribblings (including a few arithmetic calculations, it seems to have been used as scratch paper!). When I returned to New York I showed it to a dealer in rare Jewish books, who pointed out that in the upper right hand corner of the inside cover is the Hebrew word “mugah” (checked, inspected). He told me that the Chofetz Chaim himself (and his sons-in-law) inspected each volume as it came back from the printers to make sure there were no mistakes in the binding, etc. That notation, “mugah“, is none other than the Chofetz Chaim’s own handwriting (according to the book dealer).
When teaching halakhah, as I’ve done in various contexts since then, I always bring in the volume to class. I find the effect of having students touch a sefer which was held in the Chofetz Chaim’s own hands to be very powerful indeed.