A number of years ago, Yisroel Besser wrote an article about the famed Biegeleisen’s seforim store in which he referred to that “most beautiful of addictions,” namely, the “insatiable love of seforim” many Jews have. That’s no hyperbole either: Rav Yaakov Yitzchok Ruderman ztz”l is reported to have described himself as “a shikkur for seforim.”

Nor is this “high” reserved only for gedolim like the Baltimore rosh yeshivah. In the Biegeleisen piece, Besser describes entering the store and meeting “one of the ‘addicts,’ a well-dressed businessman who visits the store ‘if not every day, then every second day, just to see what came in.’ I ask why. ‘Because this is my thing, I am sick,’ he answers, and it’s clear from his smile that he is quite content with his ‘sickness.’ ”

And I must confess here that I, too, am among the afflicted. Sigh. I hear there’s an excellent Tuesday evening support group for our types that I really ought to attend — except that’s when the “New Seforim” table at Z. Berman’s gets in the weekly goods.

One can be, mind you, a talmid chacham, perhaps even a great one, and not struggle with this condition. For some, a Chumash, Tanach, Shas Bavli and Yerushalmi, and Shulchan Aruch are all the seforim they need. And there’s what to envy in that, because some of us who are seforim-smitten might sometimes get more actual learning done if we weren’t. I know I’ve walked into rooms where the shelves lining the walls are just too distracting to be able to sit and learn a daf Gemara before I’ve checked out exactly what’s on those shelves.

Of course, when discussing the effects of seforim-itis, there’s also someone else to consider: the wife. It’s said of a certain great rosh yeshivah that after buying a single sefer, he’d smuggle it into the house and past the rebbetzin under his kapoteh. But things were a bit more difficult when he’d come back from trips to New York with a whole boxful of them, which he’d have to leave in the car until she was fast asleep. (With the imminent start of Sefer Bereishis, my own wife would probably want me to mention that Sefer Matamei Mordechai on Chumash Bereishis and Shemos, which I wrote some years ago, is available in better Jewish bookstores, and, if not, in many boxes in an upstairs closet in our home).

Then there’s the issue of husbands who’ve gone out locally on errands, but disappear inexplicably for hours on end, requiring their spouse to check with hospital wards and the neighborhood precinct.

Even within the society of seforim lovers, however, there’s love and there’s love. Here are two stories I heard recently that help clarify what I mean.

One is about the aforementioned Rav Ruderman, told to me by a respected person who heard it from someone who approached the rosh yeshivah when he was advanced in age and nearly blind. He said, “Rosh Yeshivah, can I borrow such-and-such teshuvos sefer, which is out of print?”

Rav Ruderman had a massive library, with a large collection of responsa seforim, including the one requested, and he said, “Sure, but I’ll tell you, my eyesight’s not good, and I’m not sure I know exactly where it is. Come over to my home tonight and you’ll take my hand and walk me along the seforim shrank I think it’s in. I’ll touch each sefer, and when I get to that sefer, I’ll let you know. I love my seforim so much, I know how each one feels.” And that’s exactly what happened. Then again, such love becomes fathomable when we learn that when Rav Ruderman would return home with a box of newly purchased seforim, he would not place a sefer on the shelf until he had learned through it.

Rabbi Eytan Feiner, the renowned rav of Far Rockaway’s White Shul, related to me that Rav Aryeh Finkel, rosh yeshivah of Mir Brachfeld, told a talmid muvhak of his the following: “Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel was a towering adam gadol and a tremendous baal yissurim, who had the zechus to take the Mir from 700 lomdim to 7,000. But why is the Mir the biggest yeshivah in the world today? It has its roots in the ahavas haTorah of the Zeide, Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel — and Rav Nosson Tzvi would agree.

“I was living with my grandfather, Rav Leizer Yudel, who I don’t think slept more than three hours a night,” Rav Aryeh continued. “In the middle of the night, he would walk over to my bed to make sure I was asleep. One night, and then for several nights thereafter, I pretended I was asleep. I sensed him come over to check on me, and then I watched as he walked over to his seforim shrank, took out every sefer, and apologized to it, saying, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t get to use you today.’ And he kissed and hugged each sefer before putting it back. That’s why the Mir is what it is today.”

After relating this to me, Rabbi Feiner added, “This reminds me of what happened when they brought the first Torah CD to Rav Shach. He’s said, ‘It’s great — but you can’t kiss a CD.’ ” Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 680. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at kobre@mishpacha.com