These stories teach us fundamental lessons.
So why aren't these stories discussed more?
- People tend to be impressed by major external accomplishments, like creating a successful yeshivah, cultivating an exceptionally profound knowledge of Gemara, astounding hasmadah, etc., but how a Gadol behaves at the dinner table lacks the "wow" factor (for some people, anyway...).
- People fear that wives will resent their husbands for not living up to the standards of the great Gadolim, and even use it as a weapon against him (i.e., "Rav Ovadia chose to learn in an airless closet just so as not to disturb his wife's sleep, but YOU always leave the bedroom door open when you KNOW the hall light really bothers me!!!")
- People simply don't know the stories. Look, they happened privately & who's to know except the Gadol's lucky wife & children?
However, withholding these stories presents everyone with a lopsided view of the Gadol, which then results in a false example to follow (both for the women who wish to emulate his rebbetzin and for the men who wish to emulate the Gadol).
These stories also help us because we see that the same Gadol who was so nice & helpful outside the home was equally pleasant & altruistic inside his home (unlike non-Gadolim who behave much better with non-family).
And the Gadol who seems serious & taciturn outside the home is actually warmly appreciative & considerate inside the home.
We need to know that how we behave at the dinner table (and other mundane or private situations) defines our true level of character.
Finally, the woman who feels resentment against her own husband when hearing such stories needs to take a look at that emotion & examine what's going on behind it, rather than to either just pretend these stories don't exist or use them as ammunition.
Maybe the wife has good reason to feel resentment or maybe she doesn't—either way, that needs to be addressed with emunah & not treated superficially.
(Also, women who are married to perfectly decent men who don't behave at the level of Rav Elyashiv or Rav Ovadia Yosef can remind themselves that they aren't exactly Rebbetzin Elyashiv or Rabbanit Margalit either.)
After all, the real Gadolim ARE good to their families—and this should be publicized!
Real Gadolim Don't Have Food Issues—and They're Generous with Compliments toward Their Wives
Despite his obvious flaws (and the majority of his children at some point developing some kind of mental illness and/or going off the derech), his community remained ga-ga over him because—well....? Hmm.
I guess because treating a non-Gadol like a Gadol satisfied some inner emotional compulsion.
(Rav Miller opposed this kind of blind adoration, and used the example of Shem ben Noach toward Avraham as a What-NOT-to-Do when dealing with people who impress you. Please see HERE.)
Anyway, one of the more minor annoyances the errant rabbi embraced was his display of detachment from the material.
For example, his wife loved to cook generous, nutritious meals and showed her caring through feeding her family.
So, of course, he made sure to reject her efforts.
He dramatically insisted on eating the very minimum possible (and even then, leaving leftovers), without complimenting his wife's efforts—unless, of course, someone he wished to impress sat nearby (if he remembered to impress the guest in that way; often, he forgot). But when he remembered to impress a guest during a meal, the rabbi called out (in ringing tones) a generic compliment on the meal.
Weary after years of criticism, mind games, and emotional neglect, the rebbetzin usually ignored the compliment (because she knew it was only given to impress someone else).
At that point, the rabbi would inquire in ringing tones, "Did you hear me, Golda? I said that the meal was very nice!"
At that point, Golda, exhausted & wishing to get him off her back, would nod without even looking at him and say, "Yes-yes-I-heard-you-thank-you-very-much."
The rabbi would then sit there and blink in puzzlement (after all, he—the wonderful magnificent star-of-the-show—deigned to offer her a compliment!), then quickly return to whatever he was doing, the pesky nicety now out of the way.
However, if you know that Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv ztz"l, routinely heaped praises upon his wife's toil, using surprisingly flowery phrases, then you judge rabbis who DON'T do that with a more accurate measuring stick.
For example, Rav Elyashiv impressed most people as a serious, reserved, and stoic man of few words—a man completely detached from anything except his supreme dedication to Torah learning & his incredible Torah knowledge.
Yet his family remembers all the years of his behavior during mealtimes:
"He thanked the rebbetzin for the trouble she took & elaborated with complimentary words about the meals she prepared for him: 'like the feast of Shlomo in his time' and phrases like that...even the smallest piece of bread and oil or a tiny piece of chicken was a reason to thank and to praise—to show appreciation for her dedication!"
--Mishkan Shilo magazine, reporting on passages from a biography about Rav Elyashiv, Hashakdan.
He was real.
Also, please note that the above testimony comes from his family, and not guests or admirers.
Furthermore, his children testify that they never heard a word of criticism about the food—not that about something lacking or that something wasn't tasty. Not a word.
His family remembers:
"He expressed gratitude for everything and heaped on praises like: 'all the best of Eretz Mitzrayim'..."
It's also worth noting that Rav Avigdor Miller's son never remembers his father showing any dissatisfaction with any food given to him by the rebbetzin. He simply ate whatever she gave him, and offered her sincere praise & appreciation.
This is how real Gadolim behave during mealtimes.
If your rabbi doesn't do exactly that, he may still be a decent person worth respecting.
But he is likely NOT a Gadol and needn't be treated like one.
Real Gadolim are Zealous Extremists...in Considerate Behavior toward Others
He was stringent about this to the point that the concept of "Bring me" or "Give me" or "Do for me" didn't even seem to exist for him.
Anything that demanded bother or trouble was done by the rav himself.
Even if it wasn't much trouble, he still did it himself. For example, if he needed a book from the shelf, he rose & brought it himself without asking the assistance of anyone else.
Likewise, during a trip to spread Torah in America, Rav Ovadia Yosef & his wife, Rabbanit Margalit, stayed as guests in a private home over Shabbat.
Rav Ovadia requested from his host whether he could leave a light on throughout Shabbat, emphasizing that it needed to be a weak light so as not to disturb the rabbanit's sleep.
The host offered the only option available: a light turned on in the closet, the amount of light let into the room controlled by closing or opening the door as necessary.
Yet Rav Ovadia fretted over this as still too disturbing for his wife's sleep.
Finally, Rav Ovadia decided to place a chair inside the closet and sat himself there with his books, leaving the closet door open just enough to let in some air while he learned until the late hours of the night—all so his wife could sleep well.
What We Don't See with Gadolim: Careful Investment behind the Scenes
Despite the fact that the rav wasn't home much with the children, he listened carefully to his wife's reports & proactively took matters into his own hands—and he did so without saying, "Mommy told me that you..."
Instead, he playfully acted like he found out another way.
In addition, while it looked to outsiders like Rabbanit Margalit took care of everything with regard to the children's schooling, she herself testified that was not true.
After a careful scrutiny of the options available (including a look into who the teachers were & the level of learning), Rav Ovadia chose the schools for his children.
Furthermore, despite the fact that Rabbanit Margalit carried out the school registration, attended the parent-teacher meetings, and communicated with the teacher throughout the school year, Rav Ovadia kept track of each child's situation behind the scenes.
The rav knew exactly what was happening with each child, and dealt with each one according to his or her individual circumstances.
Learning What to Do & What Not to Do
In addition, the above hopefully provides us with lessons on how to behave ourselves, and also offers us some guidance on who is really a Gadol worth swooning over...and who is not (though everyone should be treated with courtesy, regardless).