In Pirkei Avos (1:4), our Sages teach us that the person most worthy of honor is one who honors others. This approach is nicely portrayed in the famous story concerning Rabbi Akiva Eiger zt”l and Rabbi Yaakov Loeberbaum zt”l, the “Nesivos HaMishpat,” who were once traveling in a wagon heading for the same town. The whole community turned out to welcome the two esteemed rabbanim. The Nesivos naturally thought that all the honor was meant for his companion, so he descended from the coach and walked beside it. When he looked over to the other side of the coach, he saw Rabbi Akiva Eiger walking alongside the coach, for he too was certain that the honor was not meant for him, but for the author of the Nesivos HaMishpat. Accordingly, the entire village and the two rabbinic guests all walked alongside an empty wagon into town.
In our day and age, we would be hard-pressed to find individuals of such caliber, but in truth, we don’t have that far back to look. A wonderful story is told about a student from Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore, by the name of Shaya Goldberg, who became engaged and excitedly rushed to his rosh yeshivah, Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman zt”l to ask him to be mesader kiddushin (to officiate at the wedding ceremony). Rav Ruderman wished the boy a hearty mazal tov and then consulted his personal calendar to see if he was available on the day in question. To his regret, and even more so to the disappointment of his student, he realized that he would be unable to make it to the wedding, as he had an important meeting to attend to that day. The boy was dejected and called his father to let him know that Rav Ruderman would be unavailable. Shaya’s father, though, had a personal connection with Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l from the time he had lived in the same building with Rav Moshe, and without even consulting his son, he called and invited him to the wedding, adding that it would be a great kavod if Rav Moshe would be mesader kiddushin. Rav Moshe graciously accepted the honor.
A little less than a week before the wedding, Rav Ruderman called Shaya into his office and told him the good news: His schedule had changed and he would be able to participate in his wedding. Shaya was thrilled and told his father, adding that now his rosh yeshivah will be able to officiate at the wedding. His father then informed him that he had already asked Rav Moshe to do it, and Shaya was none too pleased with his father’s unilateral decision. Someone had to tell Rav Moshe that he would not be receiving this honor, said the boy, and after a bit of haggling, father and son both decided to do it together.
Nervously, they knocked on Rav Moshe’s door. The Rav himself answered the door, took one look at their faces and announced, “I am not coming to your wedding to receive any honor; I’m only coming as a friend!” With a warm smile, he welcomed them into his home and quickly changed the topic. How he knew what they were about to tell him, no one knows, but suffice it to say, Rav Moshe understood the psyche of his fellow Jews, and he acted quickly to set their minds at ease.
On the night of the wedding, the chasan sat regally by the kabbalas panim (groom’s reception) at the head of the table, with his rosh yeshivah, Rav Ruderman, sitting at his side looking over the kesubah (marriage contract). Suddenly, there was a commotion as Rav Moshe arrived and was escorted up to the head table. As he approached, Rav Ruderman quickly announced, “Obviously, you will be mesader kiddushin.” Rav Moshe, however, wouldn’t hear of it. With a smile, he said, “You are the chasan’s rosh yeshivah and you should be mesader kiddushin.” They went back and forth for a few moments, to the amazement of the guests present, until Rav Ruderman finally said, “Rav Moshe, you are older than I am, so therefore, it’s fitting that you should be mesader kiddushin!” He thought he had clinched the argument, but Rav Moshe quickly countered.
“HaRav Ruderman, you are correct. I am older, and therefore, you have to listen to me. I say you should be mesader kiddushin!” Rav Ruderman smiled at the sharp response of the Gadol HaDor, and realized that he had no choice.
A few minutes later, Rav Ruderman picked up the kesubah and handed it to Rav Moshe, requesting the older sage to fill it in. Rav Moshe looked at him in puzzlement and Rav Ruderman explained, “As you said, I am the mesader kiddushin,” he looked at Rav Moshe, “and this is how I am being mesader (arranging) the kiddushin!” In the end, Rav Moshe read the kesubah out loud under the chupah and said the last two brachos, while Rav Ruderman officiated and was “mesader” the rest of the ceremony.