By Rabbi Yitzchok Fingerer
Much of the world has devolved into a competitive, cut-throat and ruthless society. Many people are money hungry, greedy and avaricious.
As Shlomo HaMelech said (Koheles 10:19), “Money is the answer to everything.”
The fact that so many people would readily exchange principle for dollar and sell their souls for profit, makes the following story all the more amazing and inspiring.
He was a typical secular Jewish boy being raised in Brooklyn.
Bright and studious, he took his high school studies seriously but otherwise was
indifferentiable from his peers in public school. He wore jewelry, enjoyed the party scene and moonlighted as a waiter to save up for college. He dreamt of driving a fancy car and having all the frills and thrills that life has to offer. He had no inkling of what it meant to be Jewish.
When several of his relatives married out of the faith, his parents took no umbrage and participated in the weddings. The message from his parents was clear: We value success. Our greatest pride is for you to acculturate and assimilate into American culture.
The Baal Shem Tov teaches that every Yid has a pristine and holy Neshama. Every Neshama has embers waiting to be stoked, a flame begging to be ignited.
Despite all the freedom, allure and trappings of life as a public high school student, something profound began percolating within his soul. Questions about purpose, questions about life, questions about fate, questions about destiny, questions about eternity.
He began attending classes at BJX. We learned together. Shabbos and Kashrus observance followed. Then came the decision to enroll temporarily in Yeshiva, prior to starting college.
His parents were aghast. They were appalled. Their dreams were shattered. This was not the American dream they envisioned and hoped for.
In order to pacify his parents and allay their concerns I offered to give their son a paid internship for learning in Yeshiva. He would be on “salary” while learning in Yeshiva. This would also help the young man and calm his nerves. He was sacrificing a job which would have given him the money for a down payment for his car. Now the choice to learn in Yeshiva would be less onerous.
After six weeks in Yeshiva, we sat down to learn together. We tackled the inyan of “Yesh Shevach Eitzim Bepas,” a complicated sugya in Maseches Pesachim. I couldn’t believe the transition. From not even knowing the Aleph Beis to shteiging over a Tosfos! I cannot describe the feeling of elation and Nachas.
Then came the defining moment. I pulled out his pay check and handed it to him. It was the money I solemnly promised him for trading in a job for Yeshiva. He passed his bechina with flying colors and deserved every dollar.
He refused to touch the envelope. He said, “Rebbi, there is no way I can accept the money.” I told him he must take the money. It was rightfully his. “Rebbi, I tasted the bliss and joy of Torah learning. Torah is oxygen. I cannot take remuneration for oxygen. I should be paying you for giving me life.”
The earth stood still. I was shocked and floored. You are giving up all that money?! I was convinced that I was sitting with one of the 36 Tzaddikim, upon which the world stands. “Tov Li Toras Picha, M’Alfei Zahav Va’Kesef.” There are still people out there who appreciate the world’s greatest commodity. Right in our own backyard.
When Moshiach comes, I would like to personally deliver the envelope and ask him how much this envelope is worth in Shamayim.