Although we all know the story of the Netziv, does anyone know any other stories of relatively famous Jewish personalizes who had a difficult time learning Torah in the beginning? I remember hearing Rabbi Orlofsky say in a shiur a long time ago that Rav Elchonon was on the verge of leaving learning because it was too difficult at first.

  • read somewhere the rambam had a tough beginning. not sure if true though – ray Nov 9 '16 at 19:58
  • רב צבי פסח פרנק – kouty Nov 9 '16 at 21:05
  • @ray He fled persecution in Spain and Morocco if that's what you mean. If you mean he wasn't intellectually gifted, that would almost certainly be incorrect. If you meant he didn't come from a rabbinic background, that would be incorrect. If you meant he had a late start, that would be incorrect. – mevaqesh Nov 10 '16 at 4:11
  • Olameinu archives quoting Visions of Greatness write that the Maharsham struggled to learn when he was younger. – LN6595 Nov 10 '16 at 17:15
  • I heard from my teacher that R' Shmuel Wosner was the slowest in his class as a boy. – LN6595 Nov 10 '16 at 17:17

When I was in Ner Israel, I heard the following story several times from HaRav Sheftl Neuberger, which he remembered from his childhood:

There was a doctor who lived in Baltimore who had grown up in Europe, and had left observance. However, he still had a positive feeling towards Torah-observant Jews, and he offered his services to the Yeshiva and was available when needed.

When Rav Elchonon Wasserman came to Baltimore in 1938, he visited Ner Israel, and this doctor was there. The entire Yeshiva poured out to meet the car as it approached the front drive of the Yeshiva, and they danced the car all the way to where it parked. Seeing the incredible display of honor being heaped upon Rav Elchonon, the doctor said to HaRav Naftali Neuberger that it didn't make any sense. "I went to cheder with Elchonon Wasserman, and he was at best average." He couldn't believe, knowing his childhood abilities, that R' Elchonon was a Gadol HaDor.

(R' Sheftel always told this story in the context of how there are some Gedolim who were born geniuses, and some who achieved it through incredible drive and effort.)

  • Good. I heard similar stories about Rav Shach. The narrator added he has from childhood good midot – kouty Mar 29 '19 at 4:04
  • However, the cognitive capacities have a very strong genetic basis and temperament too. There is no miracles in this domain – kouty Apr 1 '19 at 9:33

Perhaps Making of a Gadol is what you’re looking for. It discusses what you’ve mentioned. Although banned properly, it can probably be found at high prices on eBay, or for free with the proper search queries at Google.

  • I searched this book. Is it possible to read it online? – kouty Mar 29 '19 at 11:33
  • @kouty you have to do some clever google searching to find some PDFs of it (probably not the best quality, though) – Dr. Shmuel Mar 29 '19 at 11:35
  • @Dr.Shmuel have you been successful at searching it? Because i haven't. – Moshe Apr 24 '20 at 2:28
  • @Dr.Shmuel Thanks! – Moshe Apr 24 '20 at 9:22

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