A "Simple" Jew
Excerpt from HaRav Eliezer Chrysler's Midei Shabbos BeShabbato:
A 'Simple' Jew
The Ma'asei la'Melech records how the Chofetz Chaim was once travelling in a train. In reply to a question posed to him by a co-traveller, he explained that he lived in Radin.
When his co-traveller heard this, he began to sing the praises of the Chofetz Chaim, who hailed from Radin and whom people described as a perfect tzadik.
The Chofetz Chaim, for his part, began to play the praises down. "Not at all," he countered "that's one big joke. The Chofetz Chaim is really a simple Jew!"
The co-traveller became most incensed at this Jew's chutzpah. How dare he display such gross disrespect towards the Godol ha'dor, who everyone agreed was a tzadik and a Gaon.
But the Chofetz Chaim insisted that he knew the Chofetz Chaim well and that he was no more than an ordinary Jew - not a tzadik at all.
At this point, the co-traveller could restrain himself no longer, and he began to regale the Chofetz Chaim and to call him names.
A short while later, the train stopped at a station, and new passengers entered the carriage. They recognized the Chofetz Chaim and asked him for a b'rochoh.
Imagine the co-traveller's chagrin when it suddenly dawned on him how he had just insulted the Godol ha'dor in his face. So he went up to the Chofetz Chaim and, with tears streaming down his face, begged him for forgiveness.
"Forgiveness?" replied the Chofetz Chayim in surprise. "Forgiveness for what? You thought I was a tzadik, but you did not know the truth. For that you cannot be blamed. But now you know that I am nothing more than a simple Jew. So why do you need to apologize?"
It appears that the one thing that transcended the Chofetz Chaim's abhorence of loshon ho'ra was his unbelievable humility. How is it possible, one may well ask, for a man who had served G-d and Jewry for so many years with total dedication, who had written so many books, taught so much Torah, achieved so much as spokesman of Klal Yisroel, and who had never spoken or listened to a single word of loshon ho'ra, to consider himself so small? And, we might add, he had never spent time with the angels, like Moshe Rabeinu had.
It must be because, although he had never been in Heaven with the angels, he had been - indeed, he always was - before Hashem. So he continually compared himself to Him. On the one hand, he succeeded in constantly growing and strove to perfection, but on the other, he was constantly forced to acknowledge that he was, by comparison, a simple Jew.