How can one get close to a גדול בתורה, someone who is great in Torah and a real tzadik, in order to be able to learn from him and grow?
The question is how can we get close to the Gedolim, the real tzadikim. But before you answer that question, you have to ask, “Who are the Gedolim?” That’s number one. I’m not saying they’re not Gedolim. ברוך ה׳ we have Gedolim. Absolutely! I know Gedolim. I won’t tell you who they are though. Because the other ones will be jealous and they’ll get upset at me – why didn’t I tell you their names also.
We have many Gedolim and tzadikim today too. But you have to find them. And then, when you discover a Gadol and a tzadik, make it your business to live near him. Your wife will say that you can’t afford the rent. We can’t move. I want to live near my mother. Whatever it is, you’ll find difficulties.
But if you’re able to live near a true עבד ה׳, someone who is really serving Hashem, then when he walks in the street, ask him, “Can I walk along with you?” Ask him. Maybe he’ll let you. You know, that you’ll be a very lucky man to find a Gadol like that.
You know that there was once a boy – I think I told you this story once already. There was a boy who saw a Gadol walking outside the town frequently. So the boy followed him. And because he followed him, he became a Gadol too. It was Rav Yosef Zundel Salanter. He used to walk outside the town by himself. He was talking to himself. He was walking and talking to himself. And this little boy, Yisroel, saw him and he followed him. He saw that he was talking. Now, Rav Yosef Zundel was a decent man, a sane man. But he’s busy talking. So Yisroel went closer to him. He used to follow him. And one time, the old man turned around and said, “Yisroel, זאלסט ווערען א ירא שמים?” “Yisroel, you want to be someone who fears Hashem? Then learn Mussar.” Rav Yisroel Salanter said that it entered his heart like an arrow. When his Rebbi said that – “Yisroel, you want to be a ירא שמים? Learn Mussar,” it went into him like an arrow, and he became a talmid of Rav Yosef Zundel. Rav Yisroel Salanter said that Rav Yosef Zundel was a סולם מוצב ארצה וראשו מגיע השמימה. He was a ladder planted on the ground, with its head reaching the sky. He looked like a plain man walking around and talking – on the ground. He was a ladder on the ground, but his head went up to the sky. He was a very great man.
If you can find a man like that, make sure to follow him. Make it your business to go after him. How?! You have to use all your cunning in order to be close to him.