When Saralah Goldstein* called me with the good news that her son was accepted in Mesivta, I shared her joy.
When she told me the name of the Mesivta, I was ecstatic and in disbelief.
Her husband had passed away several years ago, and she raised her two boys and two girls by herself.
She was far from a woman of means, and although her oldest son Yanky*, was a fine young man, he was not at the top of the class.
Yanky was bright and capable.
However, the top-tier Mesivta he applied to was known for receiving much more applicants than the yeshiva could accommodate.
The talk on the street was that the Mesivta accepted only a third of the boys it interviewed, and only about half of the applicants were granted a faher.
Yanky, who was not in the top five percentile of the class in intellectual capabilities and had no siblings who ever attended the yeshiva, and had no father to advocate for him, was, in my opinion, setting himself up for failure by allowing his mother to submit his application.
Nevertheless, Yanky was determined, and his mother was his biggest supporter. So she filled out the application and began saying Tehillim daily.
Not surprisingly, Yanky’s application was rejected without an appointment for an interview.
Mrs. Goldstein asked me, the Menahel of his school (and anyone she felt could help), to call the Mesivta on her son’s behalf.
When no positive response was forthcoming, she wrote to the rosh yeshiva.
The rosh yeshivah responded promptly to Mrs. Goldstein in writing.
He patiently explained that the yeshivah had a limited number of spots available.
Although he assured her that her son was a fine ben Torah, based on Yanky’s school records, he could not accept him into the incoming ninth grade.
When Mrs. Goldstein informed me of the rosh yeshiva’s response, I figured the matter was settled. Yanky would attend his second choice.
Mrs. Goldstein said, “I wrote back to the rosh yeshiva.”
I was sure this was Mrs. Goldstein’s last desperate attempt to convince the rosh yeshivah to accept Yanky. I was also sure it would not change the rosh yeshivah’s mind.
Therefore, I was surprised to hear from Mrs. Goldstein that Yanky had been accepted into the incoming ninth-grade shiur.
I asked Mrs. Goldstein, “Are you sure you heard correctly?”
Saralah Goldstein replied, “Rabbi, there is nothing to hear. I have the letter!”
She then read the letter, which stated that Yanky would be joining the incoming ninth grade.
I was stunned.
What changed the equation for Mrs. Goldstein? Had she found someone with protektzia to whom the rosh yeshivah could not say no? Perhaps it had to do with Yanky being a yasom?
I’ve known the rosh yeshivah for many years as a man of unassailable integrity, yashrus, and honesty. I knew he could not be bought.
And I knew if Yanky had been accepted into his yeshivah, there had to be a special reason.
I also knew that whatever the reason was, it would be valuable for me to know.
I called the rosh yeshivah and asked him, “Reb Mordechai,* I just heard you accepted Yanky Goldstein into your incoming ninth grade. However, at first, you rejected him. Can you please tell me what changed?”
“I accepted Yanky because of his mother’s letter,” he said.
I said, “I assume you are referring to her letter in which she pleaded with you to accept Yanky?”
What the rosh yeshivah said next left me speechless.
“No, her letter contained not one word of pleading to reverse my rejection.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Then what did the letter say?”
“She wrote, ‘I accept your decision. And although I am disappointed by the decision, I thank you for writing to me and explaining the situation. I know how valuable the rosh yeshivah’s time is. I am sure the rosh yeshiva gave much thought to my son’s application. I know you did not reject my son without sincere compassion and without considering all sides of the issue. For that, I thank you.’
“R’ Ron Yitzchok, I have been in this position for over thirty years and have had to reject hundreds of boys.
Each rejection causes me pain, and I do it with a heavy heart.
However, in all my years, Mrs. Goldstein was the only person to thank me for my time and completely accept my decision with integrity and understanding.
She was the only person who exhibited no resentment or anger toward me.
She realized that if I did not accept her son, I did not do so in a cavalier or uncaring manner.
She and she alone (as opposed to most people who are filled with resentment and hold grudges) had empathy for me and attempted to understand my point of view.
She realized my rejection was not done haphazardly or without much thought and contemplation.
I told myself, “Such a boy, raised in a home where the mother is such a special and unique individual, I must have in my yeshivah.
A boy whose mother, notwithstanding her disappointment, can look at the world from a perspective other than her own selfish narrative is the type of boy I must have in my yeshiva. That is why I accepted her son.”
I thanked the rosh yeshiva for his time and then sat and thought and thought.
I thought about myself and how I would have reacted to being rejected.
How often do I react with resentment and even anger when disappointed with others’ decisions?
Why am I so often convinced that the other person’s disappointing inability to do what I asked is a personal attack against me?
Why don’t I realize their inability to do what I requested of them was not done out of malice or ill will?
Why can’t I come to grips with the reality that their decision, despite my disappointment, was done with due consideration, and the person no doubt weighed all sides before coming to their final opinion?
Why can’t I look at others and their actions from their point of view?
Why can’t I be more like Saralah Goldstein?
I called Mrs. Saralah Goldstein to wish her Mazel Tov on her son’s acceptance to the Mesivta of his choice.
I then added, “Mrs. Goldstein, thank you.”
“For what?” She asked.
“For making me a better person.”