Rabbi Yosef Rosen - The Genius of Rogatchov
A little game of numbers - A glimpse into the life of the famous Rogatchover Gaon, a true Talmudic genius
The Rogatchover Gaon, Rabbi Yosef Rosen, was born in 1858. Even as a young child he was known to be a genius, renowned for his wit and broad knowledge of the Torah. In fact, he was able to connect just about anything that happened to the words of the Talmud. One time he was journeying through Poland by train with some of his disciples. Wherever the train stopped there were hordes of Jews waiting on the platform eagerly trying to catch a glimpse of the holy rav and perhaps even get a brachah.
On the same train was a government minister who was growing tired of watching the same scene repeat itself at every station. The swarms of Jews trying to push themselves onto the train were getting on his nerves. Turning to one of his companions, he asked why everyone was clamoring to see this particular rabbi. When the man explained that the Rogatchover was considered the smartest Jew in the world, he asked to meet the rabbi. “I hear that you are very smart,” the minister said to the Rogatchover. “I want you to do something to demonstrate it.” The Rogatchover told him to take out a paper and pencil and write down a series of numbers; after he was done, he would repeat them backwards and forwards from memory. The Rogatchover then began to recite dozens of random numbers in no discernible order.
The minister wrote down pages and pages of numbers. Now it was time for the Rogatchover to say them back. A crowd began to gather as the Rogatchover started rattling them off as promised. Then he did it again in the other direction, not omitting a single one. The minister was amazed. He couldn’t believe it! The Rogatchover had done what no human being could possibly do.
Before leaving the train, the minister told the Gaon that if he ever needed anything from the Polish government he would take care of it. The Rogatchover nodded and went back to his learning. A few minutes later he overheard his talmidim marveling over what had taken place. “You can stop marveling,” he told them. “It really wasn’t such a big deal. I’ll tell you my ‘trick.’” The Rogatchover then explained that he had gone through the daily davening from Ashrei until Az Yashir and translated it into gematriyos. Alef was one; beis was two; shin, 300 and so on. “So you see,” he told them, “there was nothing to it. What’s so hard about that?” Everyone smiled, as only the Rogatchover would think that other people could do it too!