The Langer boys (name changed) — ages 19, 15, and 13 — had lost their father one year before.

In the West Side shtibel they davened in, their father was the first of the American-born mispallelim to pass away. He was one of the founders of the minyan and had davened there for 20 years. Everyone in the shul knew and loved him.

Back then — this was in the early 1970s — almost everyone over 50 in the shul was a survivor and had multiple yahrtzeits for relatives lost in the war. Therefore, there were often multiple yahrtzeits every week.

The accepted practice was that whoever was making the kiddush and had yahrtzeit for a parent (as opposed to a more distant relative) took priority. Those making the kiddush davened in the main part of the shul, while the “secondary yahrtzeit” minyan would squeeze into the back of the shtibel.

That year, for his first yahrtzeit, the Langer boys were sponsoring the kiddush in honor of their father. They were sure that proper protocol would be followed, and were expecting to receive the honor of davening in the main minyan.

But sometimes even the best laid plans go awry. Due to some oversight, without any intentional ill will, and the Langer boys suddenly found themselves shoved to the back of the shul having to make do with an ad hoc minyan hurriedly collected for them.

Their pain and hurt was palpable and real. The oldest Langer boy was beside himself and stormed out; his brothers followed his lead, and they too exited the shul before their kiddush.

About an hour later, the entire Langer family was surprised by a knock at their front door.

As everyone there lived in apartment houses, it was rare to receive a visitor on Shabbos afternoon. Guests would have to schlep up multiple flights to their host’s apartment, and if the building had no doorman, there was no guarantee they could even obtain entry into the building.

Bewildered, the boys ran to open the door.

Standing there, out of breath, was none other than the rav of the shul. The rav, who was no youngster, had hiked all the way to the fifth floor to arrive, “hat in hand,” for the sole purpose of appeasing and apologizing to the boys for the unintended but nevertheless painful insult they had suffered that morning at the slight to their father.

The boys were astounded and moved by his humility.

Yet this was not your regular shul rav.

The rav of the shul was not even a paid rabbi. In fact, in all the years he served as the rav of the prestigious West Side shtibel, he never took a salary. Nevertheless, he had seen enough suffering in his life to know that when orphans are in pain, a Yid responds, even if he is not responsible for that pain.

The Langer boys never forgot the enormity of that momentous apology by the rav of their shul.

Indeed, it left such an impression that one of the Langer boys publicly related this incident, saying it made him realize what true kavod haTorah is.

The rav of the shul was Rabbi Chaskel Besser ztz”l, a beloved askan for Klal Yisrael.

The true giants of our nation are those whose greatness is epitomized by the magnitude of their humility. (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 711)