Rav Noach Paley is not “only” a renowned Israeli rabbi, educator, journalist, and musical composer; he is also the coordinator of the Daf Hayomi b’Halacha in Odessa. Rav Paley related this awe-inspiring story about one of his students there.
Oren was in Odessa studying for a degree. He had grown up in a secular home in Israel, went through the Israeli school system, had served in the Israeli army, and knew nothing at all about his Jewish heritage. Yet when the Jewish educational organization “Dirshu” in Odessa approached him and asked him if he would be interested in joining classes in the Daf Hayomi b’Halacha, he agreed.
His group began by studying the laws of Shabbat. He enjoyed these classes and despite his intense academic work load, Oren made sure not to miss any of them. It didn’t take long before he decided to implement what he was learning. Although he didn’t know many of the halachot, he began to observe Shabbat as well as he understood.
Months went by and the academic year was coming to an end. His final exam loomed near and he was determined to do well. The university offered two exam dates, one earlier and one to be announced. Oren chose the second option so that he could have even more time to prepare for this crucial exam. Oren couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the date that was published on the bulletin board: it came out on Shabbat! His pulse raced, and his forehead throbbed as he read and reread the date in disbelief.
He had been slowly observing more and more of the laws of Shabbat over the months as he learned them. He had begun to love the Holy Shabbat and honored it as well as he could by refraining from work and by donning his best jeans and joining in the Shabbat communal meals. How could he regress now and desecrate the Shabbat by writing his exam on the Holy Day?
He turned to his lecturer and explained that it was against his religion and his conscience to write the exam on Shabbat. The lecturer reminded him that the test was offered on two dates and that Oren should have taken it on the first date. He suggested he speak to the head of the department.
Oren pleaded with the department head to allow him to take this final exam either on Friday or on Sunday. His laconic reply was that this had never been allowed before and therefore could not be allowed now. Oren then applied to the head of the faculty who warned him that if he didn’t take the final exam when scheduled he would forfeit his degree.
Oren didn’t hesitate. He informed him that under no circumstances would he write the exam on Shabbat, no matter what the cost. His religious beliefs and observance were of supreme importance, and he was willing to sacrifice his studies in order to uphold his convictions. The head of the faculty tried to convince Oren that his stubbornness was foolhardy. How could he harm himself by throwing away this opportunity in which he had invested so much time and effort?
Oren stood firm in his convictions. His rabbis in Dirshu expected to see a despondent pupil that Shabbat. Instead, Oren glowed with empowerment. He told his rabbis that he had passed the “real” test, which was to observe the Holy Shabbat as a Jew who knew what the halacha required of him.
Word of Oren’s valiant action spread throughout the university. A few days later, he was called to the Office of the Dean of the university. Oren was apprehensive and did not know what to expect as he stood stiffly in front of the dean in his plush and expansive office. After scrutinizing the young man in front of him, the dean coughed mildly to clear his throat before he proceeded.
“I was informed of your adamant refusal to take the final exam last Saturday. Since I understand that you were acting according to the strict dictates of your conscience, and that your intentions were pure, I would like to stray from the rules of this university for the first time in my career. You are invited to write your exam now, here, in my room. And I wish you continued success!”