The Chazon Ish (1878-1953) lived in a modest home in Bnei Brak. He had no Yeshiva, no children, no Shul and no official position. Yet, he was recognized as the Torah leader of his generation. One day in October 1952 the secular Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973), attempted to bridge the chasm between Hareidi Jewry and secular Jewry by paying a visit to the Chazon Ish.
Ben-Gurion came to the meeting wearing a Fedora and a jacket. This was not his usual garb as he usually appeared bareheaded. He covered his head in deference to the Chazon Ish. Ben-Gurion was a strong advocate of only speaking Ivrit – modern Hebrew. At this meeting he spoke only Yiddish in deference to the Chazon Ish who was more comfortable in Yiddish than modern Hebrew.
Ben-Gurion recorded his impressions of his historic meeting with the Chazon Ish in his diary. Here is the entry:
“….Rabbi Karelitz possessed the face and eyes of a spiritual man. The rabbi spoke through the entire encounter in a good spirit and with much laughter, lacking in a zealot’s anger, even though there is definitely something of the zealot about him, although it’s hidden from view.”
This account that the Chazon Ish “hid his zealotry” at the meeting, I have seen corroborated by Hareidi sources. The two men departed with smiles and civility. After the meeting one of the zealots in Bnei Brak audaciously asked the Chazon Ish, “Why didn’t the Rebbe “give it” to the secular Prime Minister? After all, he is not a proponent of a Torah lifestyle. And he deserves strong rebuke!”
The Chazon Ish considered his words carefully. Each syllable was weighed and measured.
The Chazon Ish simply looked at the man and with utter simplicity, which contained great depth, replied with a surprised look, “I don’t understand your question. The man was a guest in my home. Does not the precious mitzvah of hachnosas orchim – (treating a guest with respect and dignity) – apply? He was my guest, you don’t “rebuke” your guest.”
The Chazon Ish remained steadfast in his opinion that, “There is no Torah without Israel, and no Israel without Torah.” However, simultaneously he remained equally strong in his belief of the importance of hachnosas orchim. As the Gemara (Shabbos 127a) quotes Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav, “Gadol hachnosas orchim m’kabbolas pnei haShechinah – hachnosas orchim is greater than speaking with Hashem.”
Ben-Gurion for his part, in a letter written a year after the Chazon Ish had passed away, was still in awe of him. He writes, “Throughout the meeting, he exhibited a remarkable relaxation which I lack the proper words to express. His apartment was very modest; we sat at an empty table in a small room with a book closet and bed. His manner of speaking was tender, his face was of a spiritual man, his eyes were afire with wisdom.”
The Chazon Ish never supported the philosophy of Ben-Gurion, and Ben-Gurion never became Hareidi. Yet, all agree the meeting was dignified, civil and totally peaceful and respectful. Both men did their best to respect the other and not offend the other despite their passionate divergent views.
If only our present “political leaders” could act the same, what a better place the world would be.