Rav Matisyahu Salomon shlita says that one cannot be a maamin (a believer) unless he is first ne’eman (faithful). One cannot believe in the Torah and the word of Hashem unless he himself is a person who values a word. If it means nothing when I say something, then when Hashem says something, why should I believe it? The more trustworthy a person is and the more meticulous he is about his own words, the more he will be faithful to the word of the Almighty.
One year, late on the Friday afternoon of the shortest Shabbos of the year, there was a great flurry of activity outside Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, as people rushed about trying to hail taxis and squeeze themselves into the final bus of the day. Inside, the hospital lights are fluorescent, the climate is controlled, and the slow-paced tranquility of the Shabbos schedule has already descended upon the near-empty corridors of this urban medical facility.
Out of the corner of his eye, Rav Michel Gutfarb, the renowned Gabbai Tz’dakah of Jerusalem who was a regular visitor at the hospital, thought he had seen a very famous personage padding down the hall. “Can’t be,” he reasoned to himself, quickening his gait. But just to make sure, he looked again. And yes, he was correct. Scarcely an hour before candle lighting, the great poseik and gaon, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, was making his way to the elevator bank. Their eyes met and Rav Shlomo Zalman rerouted himself to catch up with Rav Michel. Needless to say, Rav Michel practically galloped over to the venerable sage to spare him the exertion, and reverently inquired what had brought him to the hospital. Rav Shlomo Zalman explained that he had come to visit someone two hours earlier, but when he had seen how lonely the patient was, he felt he could not abandon him after just a normal-length visit. He decided to stay longer.
“Since I’m already here,” Rav Shlomo Zalman added, “maybe you know of someone else I can go and visit?”
Rav Michel glanced quickly at his watch. It was 65 minutes before candle lighting, little time for the Gaon to get home and prepare for Shabbos. On the other hand, someone in the hospital was indeed aching for just such a visit.
After some brief deliberation, Rav Michel gently guided Rav Shlomo Zalman along while relating to the sage what had just happened at Shaare Zedek. “I was walking through one of the wards when I noticed a new fellow with a yarmulke on his head. I walked over and asked him if he had a chance to put on t’filin today, implying that I would be happy to help him if he so desired. The fellow contorted his face into a grimace as though he’d just been stabbed in the back. I didn’t know what to say or what I had done to make him respond thusly. The man was obviously suffering, and I realized that whatever I would have said or offered would have elicited a similar response. “Whom do you think you’re talking to?” he muttered at last through clenched teeth. “Do you take me for an am ha’aretz (ignoramus)? Did you know that I attend a weekly shiur by Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach himself?” Well, I apologized, attempting to gratify the infirm man’s ego and beat a hasty retreat. Rebbe, I think it would mean a lot to this fellow if the Rav would pay him a brief visit.”
Rav Shlomo Zalman quickly agreed and followed Rav Michel through the hospital wards until they arrived at the room of the injured party. But his bed was empty. The two men looked at each other in perplexity, until a neighboring patient volunteered that the man had just been released. The two thanked the informant for the update and hastened out of the hospital. As they neared the entranceway, Rav Michel offered to call a taxi for the Rav, but Rav Shlomo Zalman declined. Instead, he stepped over to a pay phone to glance at the telephone directory.
Two weeks later, Rav Michel Gutfarb happened to notice that very same ex-patient on a bus. He told him that on that fateful Friday, he’d missed a visit from a very distinguished individual.
The older man stared at him for a moment, trying to recall the day. Then, it came to him. “Oh no, I didn’t,” retorted the man. With obvious pride, he recalled how, 40 minutes before Shabbos, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, in the flesh, had arrived at his house to visit him, apologizing profusely that he hadn’t managed to catch him in the hospital!