In the mid-1970s, my friend Aaron and I were sitting in the Yeshiva dining hall eating lunch in what was then called Parker’s cafeteria in Rubin Hall at Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon.
Mr. Parker who ran the cafeteria for decades would always be compassionate if you were a nickel or dime short and would say, “Ess, Gezunte Heit, don’t worry about the money!”
Interestingly sitting at the end of the table was Rav Aharon Lichtenstein Zt” L.
Rav Aharon often ate lunch without any pretensions and without any airs about him with the boys in the cafeteria.
Suddenly our friend Barry came over to our table and asked, “Aaron, do you have change for a quarter? I want to buy a Snickers bar and the machine says “no change”, I don’t want to give the machine 25 cents for a 15 cent candy bar!”
We all sympathized with Barry’s dilemma and since he addressed his question to Aaron, he was the one who replied. Aaron said, “Sorry, I don’t.”
Unexpectedly a voice was suddenly heard, “Yes, I do have change of a quarter.”
In awed silence, we watched as “Aaron Lichtenstein” removed two dimes and a nickel from his pocket and handed them to the stunned student.
Barry stammered as he managed to say, “I’m so sorry Rebbe, I wasn’t refereeing to the Rebbe by his first name or asking the Rebbe for change”.
Rav Aharon as was his normative behavior replied in his typically modest and humble fashion, “What’s there to be sorry about? My name is Aaron and I do have change for a quarter.”
The great Torah scholars of our nation, are even greater in Middos Tovos.
On Sunday, May 26th, my Shul held its annual dinner/journal complete with “ads” from congregants and neighborhood people. I hadn’t the time to look at the journal as early Monday morning I flew to Chicago to speak at The Chicago Center for Torah and Chesed, The Zitochover Beis Medrash.
The Shiur was a delight and I was treated royally by the Tzibbur and my hosts.
I felt gratified and privileged to teach Hashem’s Torah and left the Beis Medrash on a spiritual high. I arrived at the airport at one PM for my four PM flight. I would ultimately spend seven hours at O’Hare because of weather delays.
Finally at 6:00 PM word went out that the plane was boarding.
Everyone raced from their corner of the airport only to discover that the announcement that we were boarding was bonafide “Fake News” and we all just stood there dumbfounded.
Nevertheless, lines began to form in anticipation of the boarding of the not yet arrived plane. Everyone was aggressively guarding their place in line and woe to the person who even thought about inching ahead of anyone else on the line.
I stood in silence awaiting the signal to board.
Finally, at 7:30 PM we boarded.
Suddenly, I heard a strong assertive nasty voice from behind me.
“Hey buddy, I was here before you, I just happened to be standing behind you.”
I turned and faced a muscular strapping skinned-head hulk of a man and quickly came to the realization that this was not the time nor place to point out the obvious asininity of his statement.
I silently allowed Mr. Brawny to proceed before me.
He passed me with an unconcealed and vile sneer.
As I was the only observable observant Jew in sight, I felt very alone.
I arrived home after midnight, physically frazzled and emotionally deflated as I went from feeling the Kavod HaTorah in the morning to being the object of derision in the late afternoon.
The next morning in Shul, Hillel came over excitedly, “Rabbi, did you see the journal from Sunday night’s dinner?”
I admitted that I hadn’t as I left early Monday morning.
“Rabbi, You won’t believe this, however, someone name Yaakov Bender took out an ad and said you’re his friend!
Obviously, it cannot be the famous Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Darchei Torah.
Why would he put an ad in our Shul journal and certainly a person of his stature would never write, “I consider it a Zechus that Rabbi Eisenman considers me a friend”. Isn’t that amazing that there are two Yaakov Benders in the world? Isn’t that a rare coincidence? But, don’t worry rabbi, if anyone foolishly thinks that its HaRav Yaakov Bender Shlita who considers you his friend, I won’t shatter their bubble of naiveté by telling them it’s a different Yaakov Bender! Your secret is safe with me! I’ll bet this Bender guy from the ad is just some Pashute Yid in Passaic.”
As I looked at the ad in Hillel’s hands, I knew that the “famous Rabbi Bender” had indeed written it.
Over the past few years, we have cultivated a warm and meaningful friendship originating solely from Rav Bender’s readings of my articles. I was touched how this great man with thousands of students, took the time to write an ad for me!
The sincerity and love which his words exuded were proof positive that “the famous” Rav Yaakov Bender had penned these words.
“Thank you, Hillel. I appreciate you keeping this under wraps as we both know that the real Rav Bender has better things to do than to write an ad for a rabbi in Passaic!”
We parted as an exhilarating feeling washed over me as the realization took hold that I had just witnessed true greatness.
On Sunday in the airport, I observed the debasement man is capable of descending to.
While today I witnessed how man is capable of ascending to unfathomable moral heights, as long as he allows the Torah to saturate his soul, elevate him and make him the type of person who realizes the need to reach out to a rabbi in Passaic and make his day.
This Shavous, allow the Torah to become part of you.
Wishing all a wonderful and meaningful Kabbolas HaTorah