When R’ Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, zt”l, was the chief rabbi of Yaffo, an immigrant couple from Bialystok came before him. The woman complained terribly about her husband’s behavior and demanded a divorce. After meeting with them for a while, the chief rabbi saw there was no chance of making peace between them and agreed that divorce was the only solution. However, the cruel husband refused to free the woman from the torture she suffered at his hands and would not agree to divorce her. No manner of persuasion was effective. This went on for over two years.
One day, the couple returned to the beis din with good news: The husband finally agreed to give his wife the divorce. Everyone realized the urgency of the situation and R’ Kook rushed to summon the members of his rabbinical court, the sofer (scribe), and the witnesses. Immediately, he asked the couple their complete Hebrew names and the sofer wrote the get (certificate of divorce) in its complete form. However, before the actual ceremony, the chief rabbi suddenly announced that he wanted to daven Minchah first and it must be right now! The people agreed, and they began to pray.
Uncharacteristically, R’ Kook prayed for an unusually long period of time. By the time Minchah was over, the judges on the rabbinical court looked at the clock and announced that since the sun had already set, the date of the get was no longer accurate, rendering it unfit to use. They asked the couple to return tomorrow when it could be rewritten.
The woman’s family was quite upset. It took over two years to get the husband to agree to give the get; who knows if he wouldn’t change his mind by tomorrow. Left with no choice, they had to cooperate with the beis din.
That very night, a man from Bialystok happened to pay a visit to the home of the chief rabbi. He was an old acquaintance of the rabbi and they began to catch up on old times. During the conversation, R’ Kook mentioned the divorce he was in the midst of performing, as both husband and wife hailed from Bialystok. The visitor knew the couple but he was surprised when he heard the rabbi say her name. “Her name is not Rivil, as you wrote in the get. She used to live in my neighborhood, and I know for sure that her name is Esther Rivka!”
Of course, the rabbi grilled his guest, who insisted that he has no doubt as to her real name since she lived near him for many years. R’ Kook realized that the get in its present state was incorrect, and had he gone through with it the couple would not be legally divorced. The consequences of this proceeding could have been devastating for many reasons.
The next day, when the couple returned to the court, the chief rabbi immediately began asking them their complete Jewish names. The woman once again stated that her name was Rivil, but when R’ Kook persisted in questioning her, she admitted that Rivil was really a nickname that her friends called her; her actual name was Rivka.
Word got around and the entire city of Yaffo was humming with excitement at the incredible Divine intervention their chief rabbi enjoyed. It must be a miracle, they claimed. But when someone mentioned this to the chief rabbi himself, he chuckled and insisted it was no miracle. “I will tell you what was going through my mind,” said R’ Kook to the gaggle of followers who were listening. “You see, one of the witnesses who was brought in to sign the get was a prominent member of the community who works at a public institution. Recently, this man had sent me a number of letters pertaining to personal and communal matters and I noticed that the letters were written on stationery of the firm where he worked.”
R’ Kook looked at the people and said, “I thought to myself: according to the Torah, this man is considered a thief – notwithstanding the small amount he is taking without permission from his company. Consequently, he is disqualified from acting as a witness. If I allow the husband to give his wife this get, it will not be valid since it does not bear the signature of two valid witnesses. On the other hand, I did not want to embarrass this man by disqualifying him in public, so I decided to stall for time and reschedule the entire ceremony for the next day when I could invite someone else to be a valid witness.
“Since I was careful not to embarrass a fellow Jew, I received Divine assistance on a matter I was totally unaware of: the real name of the woman!”