Parashat Vayeira Print Version
18th of Cheshvan, 5779 | October 27, 2018
Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik
Rabbi YY Jacobson Leading with Wisdom and Warmth
It happened at Yeshivas Ohr Yisroel, led and directed under the auspices of its rosh yeshiva, Rav Yaakov Naiman zt"l. As a masterful pedagogue who exuded wisdom and warmth, it was not surprising that so many boys wished to create a personal relationship with him. But the way that materialized was not always in the expected, conventional way. Sometimes, in fact, it came about in a rather interesting, yet ever impactful way.
“Rebbe,” one boy remarked one day to Rav Naiman. “I feel the need to tell you for the sake of all of us in the yeshiva that one of our students goes to the movie theater every Saturday night. He surreptitiously hops on a bus and makes his way to the theater.” Rav Naiman was quite surprised to hear this, though he didn’t panic or react in shock. “Next Saturday night, when the boy is about to leave, just tell me,” requested Rav Naiman.
Sure enough, the following week, as the boy began preparing for his weekly outing, Rav Naiman was notified and began doing the same. It was a cold, wintery night and the boy quickly boarded the bus and took a seat. Minutes later, Rav Naiman followed suit and flagged down a taxi, asking to be taken to the same movie theater.
Now, as he was accustomed, Rav Naiman wore a heavy, cushioned fur coat, the likes of which clearly indicated its wearer was someone of prominent stature. The scene of therefore Rabbi Naiman walking into the theater was clearly out of place, although he had an important purpose in mind.
By this time, the boy had already comfortably settled in his seat and was just about ready for the film to begin. But such comfort was soon to change.
Suddenly, the boy noticed an eerily familiar face. And that was because it was familiar. It was Rav Naiman. The boy froze in his seat, filled with both confusion and apprehension. He had been “caught.”
The boy looked at Rav Naiman and Rav Naiman looked at him. One moment seemed like a millennium. “I don’t understand!” blurted out Rav Naiman. “Where is your coat? It’s extremely cold outside!” The boy, unsure if he had heard what he actually thought he heard, fumbled with his words. “I…I… didn’t take one,” he replied. Rav Naiman looked at him with a stare that sent a message. “You need to stay healthy, strong and warm! I can’t afford having any of my students getting sick!” The boy could not believe what was happening. Not even in his wildest dreams did he imagine that his Saturday night would be spent with Rav Naiman at his side in a movie theater.
“It looks like you have a long night ahead of you,” continued Rav Naiman, “so I’ll tell you what…” Rav Naiman proceeded to take off his hefty pelt coat and hand it to the boy. “Wherever you got tonight, wear this. It will keep you nice and warm. Don’t take it off…” “But Rebbe,” piped up the boy, “what about you? You also need a coat…” “I’m already on my way back to the yeshiva. Tomorrow morning, just leave it on my office.” Rav Naiman proceeded to give the boy a hug and a kiss and wish him well. And with that, Rav Naiman headed out.
Years later, as the grown up boy would recount this story, he would always emphasize, “I in fact did stay to watch the movie for the next couple of hours. But throughout it all, all I could think about was the big fur coat I was wearing. My eyes saw the film, but my mind didn’t. It was elsewhere, replaying the gentle words of my Rebbe, “This coat will keep you nice and warm; don’t take it off…” I may have been sitting in a theater breaking yeshiva’s policy, but I sure learned one of my biggest life lessons that night. And that is what it means to be a teacher and an educator. It doesn’t merely mean teaching classroom lessons, but life lessons. It means that you understand the soul, sensitivities and struggles of a child, and show that you love them and care for them. Those lessons will last far beyond the classroom; they will last for life.
“Rav Naiman figured that I would probably continue on to watch the film that night, but he wanted me to remember, all the while, who I deep down was. I was a Jew who lived identified by Torah values and principles and viewed life through the prism of what Hashem wanted me to do. And Rav Naiman knew that such a message would make a far greater impact on my present and future life if he would couch it with figurative and literal warmth, than were he to scold and censure me. I would learn the important lesson of never to escape from yeshiva again and go to the theater, and the even more important lesson of never to escape from who I could rise to be as a Jew. And to this very day that loving lesson warms my heart.”
It was Shabbos in Israel as cars drove up, down and around the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot. With large crowds of religious Jews likewise filling the streets, it frequently became a source of contention and protest as cars would pass by. “Shabbos!” they would yell. “Shabbos!”
But for Rav Zaks, grandson of the Chofetz Chaim, such reactions to the breaking of Shabbos fell short. There was a far better and more effective way of impacting and impressing upon others the importance and beauty of Shabbos. “Come with me,” he once told a group of students on Shabbos, “let me show you what you can do.”
And so, one Shabbos, Rav Zaks led a number of boys outside and stood at a strategically positioned corner where cars were sure to pass by. “The next car that passes by,” he said, “one of you remember the first three digits of the license plate and another remember the last four digits of the license plate.” And so it happened.
When Shabbos came to an end, Rabbi Zaks, prepared with the full license plate number, headed to police station where the location of the car with those numbers was eventually tracked down. And with that, Rabbi Zaks headed to the home of a supposed irreligious Jew.
After tapping on the door, a young secular boy opened, only to see Rabbi Zaks flanked by a few other boys dressed in their accustomed yeshiva clothes. It was certainly an unfamiliar sight to the boy, who summarily called upon his father. “How can I help you rabbi?” asked the irreligious fellow.
After some brief introductory remarks, Rav Zaks got to the point. “After the war, my family along with many others moved here and began rebuilding our lives. Our religious life in Europe had been rich and vitalizing, yet new challenges have arisen in Israel. We have a shul and community, yet there is something that has been particularly disturbing here for some time. I don’t want to tell you what to do, but the cars disturb us and disturb the serenity, and it is an affront to our Shabbos. We are not going to throw anything, but I just wanted to let you know that this is how we feel, and perhaps if you choose to drive, you can take an alternate route that avoids traveling through the main Jewish neighborhoods.”
The fellow looked at Rav Zaks, a certain twinkle in his eyes. “I don’t exactly know what I am going to do, but I like your approach and I appreciate it.” And with that, the conversation ended and Rav Zaks and the irreligious fellow bid each other farewell.
A few months later, the same man tracked down Rav Zaks’ phone number and gave him a call. “Rabbi Zaks, my son is turning thirteen soon and we would like him to receive a bar mitzvah. I do not know how to approach the subject and was wondering if you could help me navigate through it.” Rav Zaks was pleasantly surprised to hear from the man again and went on to help him and his son purchase tefillin.
Shortly thereafter, the man called once again, this time with a different question. “My wife and I never grew up in a home with a Kosher kitchen and we decided that we would like to buy some new dishes and turn our current kitchen into one that is Kosher. Would you be able to help guide us?” Sooner than later, the bar mitzvah boy was registering in a yeshiva and the family began keeping Shabbos and slowly observing more and more mitzvos.
Such was the kiruv approach of Rav Zaks, the grandson of the Chofetz Chaim. One which humbly and subtlety guides the way to change and replaces berating and rebuking with inspiring and beautiful words of empowerment and enrichment.
Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser If You Had 500 Shekalim…
It was not an easy situation. With a growing family and tight financial situation, the daily grind for one Torah scholar and his family took its toll and caused a fair share of uneasiness. Yet, at the same time, such dire straits brought in its wake an ever-increasing degree of trust and faith in Hashem.
But then matters became only more difficult and complicated. One Shabbos, one of the children required immediate medical attention and could wait no longer. Rushing the boy to the hospital, he was led into a room where he awaited the doctor. But there was something that needed to be taken care of before anything would happen.
“The hospital must be paid before we examine the boy,” expressed the doctor. “I’m sorry, but we’re going to need 500 shekalim upfront now if you’d like me to look at him and possibly carry on with any necessary procedure.” The father was not up against an easy situation. Not only was he not financially off, but more importantly, it was Shabbos and writing a check would mean transgressing Shabbos.
But what could he do? Familiar with the laws of Shabbos, the father went on to write the check with as minimal violation of the prohibition of writing as possible. He then handed the check to the doctor. The boy went on to receive the immediate and important medical treatment needed, after which he was discharged from the hospital.
Yet when the doctor returned home and removed the check from his pocket, he was surprised by what he saw. The check was not written out to 500 shekalim, as supposed, but 1,000 shekalim. The doctor was confused, but quickly dismissed any concerns as he was sure that the man had misheard and mistakenly believed the payment was 1,000 shekalim. The doctor would correct the error tomorrow.
The next day, the doctor phoned the man and informed him that he had mistakenly written out the check for 500 more shekalimthan needed. “It wasn’t a mistake,” explained the father. “You see, as a religious Jew, I wondered what the best method to write out a check on Shabbos was. Aside from some other nuances which went into me writing the check, I knew that were I to pay 500 shekalim, I would need to write chamesh mei’ot. Yet, were I to pay 1,000 shekalim, I would be able to write elef, which would be one less word of ink. And so, I decided that it was worth the 500 shekalim to save me from writing another, second word.”
The doctor was stunned. He couldn’t believe what he had just been told. “You mean you paid 500 additional shekalim just to avoid writing a few more letters?” “Yes,” the father mumbled in affirmation. “I can’t believe you did that,” exclaimed the doctor, “but I now understand why the check was written out as such. Yet nevertheless, we cannot accept more than we initially asked you. We would like to return the extra money to you.” But the father wouldn’t budge. “What I paid you is what I paid you. I decided to act as I did, and I consciously wrote that amount. I don’t want anything back.”
The doctor was now even more perturbed. Something did not sit well with him. Here the father was asked to pay 500 shekalim, and he deliberately wrote 1,000 in recognition of Shabbos and now he didn’t want anything back? The doctor, who was clearly irreligious, curiously began wondering what was so special and significant about this law of writing. And so, he purchased a few Jewish books that helped shed light on the topic.
The rest is history. From there the doctor began perusing through other laws and topics of Shabbos, which led to a greater interest in the overall laws of Shabbos, which from there led to an unquenching thirst to learn all about about Judaism. Today, because of that 500 shekalim, the doctor is an observant Jew.
When we look at 500 shekalim or dollars, how much value do we really give it? Do we ever think that it could mean so much as to impact and inspire someone to become Torah observant? If we would be told that donating 500 shekalim would lead to these results, we would all likely jump at the opportunity.
The same applies to every action we do. With something that is relatively small, we can accomplish something so big. The only drawback is that we underestimate our power and potential. But just remember this story. Something that the father never imagined would come from his decision became a reality. And the same is true of all our decisions and actions too. They create ripple effects and leave profound impressions on others in ways well far beyond all expectations.
A Short Message From Rabbi Yitzchak Feldheim
Interestingly, Shabbos shares many similarities to marriage. The Jewish people welcome and embrace the Shabbos Kallah, the Shabbos Queen, mirroring the loving embrace of a husband and wife. We are as well commanded to honor Shabbos, just as a husband is required to honor his wife more than himself (Yevamos 62b). I thus often remind young adults entering the shidduch phase of something often overlooked or never even considered. When looking into a prospective shidduch, inquire as to how the other party relates to Shabbos. How does the person spend his or her time when all is quiet? The way a person respects and treats the Shabbos Kallah is often indicative of how they will relate to their spouse. If they are able to sit still and bask in the moment of silence, simplicity and spirituality, such behavior will likely transfer over and form the loving and attentive relationship a future husband and wife will enjoy.
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