The Opportunity

A number of years ago, two Jewish brothers-in-law, partners in a business, got involved with the Russian mafia. The mafia demanded an immediate payment of $160,000 and threatened the lives of their children, Rachmana litzlan, if the money wasn’t paid. To show that they were deadly serious they sent a hoodlum who beat up one of their employees.

One of the partners had a wealthy father-in-law who was capable of putting up his half of the money. The father-in-law of the other worked as a klei kodesh and there was no way that he could readily come up with such a large amount of cash. He did have, however, a very good friend who was a wealthy man.

On Erev Yom Kippur in the afternoon he went hat-in-hand to his friend’s house. His friend was still not home from the office. He went home, davened Minchah, got ready for Yom Kippur and returned to his friend’s house.

His friend welcomed him warmly and asked him what important mission would prompt such a visit minutes before Kol Nidrei. The father-in-law poured out his heart and told him his problem. He asked to borrow the $80,000 without any plan to repay it. He would cut back on his already meager lifestyle and scrimp and save until, week by week, he could save up money and ultimately repay the loan. He then held his breath to wait for the response.

It didn’t take long for the wealthy friend to respond positively. “No problem,” he said. “Right after Yom Tov you can come and pick up a check. You’ll pay me back when you can.” With a sigh of relief and a tremendous expression of thanks the father-in-law was able to enter Yom Kippur.

As it turned out, the money was not necessary. A different solution was found for the mafia. The check was never picked up.

When I heard the story, I couldn’t help but think that what really happened was that this wealthy friend needed a zechus for Yom Kippur. The Ribbono shel Olam engineered the whole story so that he would walk into Yom Kippur with the zechus of helping a ben Torah save his grandchild’s life. Once he had made that commitment, and had that zechus, the story could end.

I thought of this incident last week as I sat with a group of prominent Roshei Yeshivos to discuss the economic crisis of the yeshivaleit in Eretz Yisrael. I asked whether the American baalei batim were responding with larger contributions. The response was that unfortunately, with only a few exceptions, the response has not been significant. One Rosh Yeshivah then said something that made me think. “I don’t think that they can feel the pain because they don’t know what it means to be hungry,” he explained.

My good friend Rabbi Avrohom Rubinstein, the mayor of Bnei Brak, shared with me the effects of some of the Yair Lapid cutbacks. Schools for children-at-risk are losing their grants and will have to close. In addition to the fact that the children and their families will not receive the services and the rebbeim and teachers will lose their jobs, as mayor he has to worry about the cooks and janitors who will not have food on their table.

Do we, in truth, feel their pain? Does Hakadosh Baruch Hu want to give us the opportunity to walk into Kol Nidrei with the zechus that we resolved that we will use our resources to lighten the pain of our brethren in Eretz Yisrael? If we make that resolution will Hakadosh Baruch Hu, like the story of the Russian mafia make the tzarah disappear?

I don’t know the answer.

What I do know is that there are families in Eretz Yisrael going to bed hungry and bnei Torah who are having their meager incomes cut even further. So far, we haven’t seen an overwhelming response from America. It is an opportunity that no one asked for, but now that it is here I hope we can capitalize on it to ensure that everyone in Klal Yisrael has a gmar chasimah tovah.


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