BY D. COHEN
Reb Avrohom Meir Carlebach needed a job.
It was time to move on after four years of working in property management, his first job after six years in kollel. So Avrohom Meir put together a resumé and began to explore his options. He let the word out that he was in the job market and attended a local networking event where he met with some ten different employers.
As is often the case, one fellow there knew another, and soon a number of different offers were coming Avrohom Meir’s way. Just two weeks ago, one well-to-do and highly connected businessman let him know of a very good opportunity. In fact, to help things along, he sent Avrohom Meir’s resumé to the company he had in mind.
Very shortly after, Avrohom Meir’s cellphone rang. He was sitting across from his chavrusa at night seder at the time, and he quickly dashed out of the beis medrash when he saw the call coming through. Avrohom Meir answered the phone to find this was no human resources director scouting him out; his resumé had gone right to the top, and the owner of the company himself was on the line.
He was eager to talk. Avrohom Meir stood outside in the cold as the conversation unfolded.
The company owner opened the impromptu “interview” with a candid question: “What are your strengths?”
Avrohom Meir had a ready answer. “Organization and management.”
“I was hoping you’d say that,” came the response, “because those are the two things we need for this position.”
He gave a detailed outline of the job. It was technology oriented and involved managing all the different departments and troubleshooting major issues in the large company. The job was perfect for Avrohom Meir. Both he and the boss were excited.
Then discussions of salary began. “For the first six months,” the owner said, “you would receive an average salary.” It was a respectable number for a starting salary — close to $100,000. But that, the employer was quick to explain, was only for starters.
“After that,” he predicted, “the numbers could start flying up quickly. You could realistically make a million at this job.” It was a successful company, and this position meant working directly with the people at the top.
It was a very exciting prospect, to say the least, and the way the conversation was going, it sounded like a done deal. The two continued to speak for close to an hour. Eventually, Avrohom Meir saw his chavrusa make his way to the parking lot and head for home.
The discussion was already winding down, nearing a virtual handshake, when the head of the company asked one last question: “Which model phone do you have?” It was a “by-the-way” sort of inquiry, a final minor detail to check off the list of requirements.
Avrohom Meir responded candidly, “I have a kosher phone.” It was a flip phone with a hechsher, a basic little model that didn’t do much more than make and receive calls.
The company owner was more than a little surprised. “A kosher phone? Oh, no, that’s not going to work here. You’re in the business world — don’t you have a smartphone?”
Avrohom Meir didn’t have a smartphone. But that wasn’t happenstance.
- • •
Back before cellphones were anything more than a mobile means of talking to others, Avrohom Meir was on his father’s company phone plan. He had the same standard phone that all employees had. And then one day everyone got Blackberries.
Avrohom Meir also got one — a brand-new, fully loaded Blackberry. It had been his for a few months in 2012 when the Citifield internet asifah took place. Avrohom Meir went. He sat in the stadium on Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan with thousands of other Yidden, davened, said Tefillas HaShelah, and listened to the impassioned pleas of Gedolim.
But for him, the climax was Harav Ephraim Wachsman’s address. The dramatic picture of the kedushah and taharah that could be attained — and the fact that all of it could be compromised by something as small as a phone — struck Avrohom Meir deeply. He was astounded by the potency of technology and by the steps he could take to limit its influence.
At 11:30 that night, Avrohom Meir walked out of the stadium, put his phone under his car and drove over it.
The next day he went to get a kosher phone. “Why spend the money at a store?” his friends asked. “Why not order a cheap phone on Amazon?”
“In the time it takes to come,” Avrohom Meir responded, “I’m afraid I might go back to the same kind as my old one.”
And that was how he came to have a simple flip phone.
- • •
Rav Wachsman’s speech never left Avrohom Meir. He thought about it frequently, and the realization of how serious the matter of technology was made it anathema to him. He knew a smartphone wasn’t even an option. This was an area where he wouldn’t compromise.
Four years earlier, upon accepting his first job, he had told his boss, “I don’t want a smartphone — and if I need one, I’ll find another job.”
At the time, he was, in his own words, “fresh out of yeshivah, and not interested in going that route.” And so, his simple flip phone accompanied him through his four years in property management. Eventually, had it become imperative, he might have been open to getting a filtered smartphone, but he had managed to avoid that.
And after four years, when he knew it was time to move on to new employment, his trusty flip phone was still in his pocket.
But now, he was told, that was no longer an option. Avrohom Meir would need a smartphone — an iPhone 10 to be precise. “You need to have the most updated technology there is,” the company owner stated. “For this job, you must be very involved in technology. You’ve got to have the absolute latest model phone, and when a new phone comes out you’ll have to get it. You need to be totally on top of every aspect of technology.”
“Well, maybe I could get the right phone with filters,” Avrohom Meir suggested.
But the boss dismissed that out of hand. “For this job, you need an unfiltered smartphone. When guys have filters, it slows them down; that’s not going to work.”
Avrohom Meir was silent.
“The job is yours,” the owner continued. “I’ll hire you on the spot. This is the only thing you’ve got to do.”
But Avrohom Meir wasn’t agreeing so quickly.
The company owner was bemused by his vehemence. “I feel bad for you,” he said. “You have a family to support; you’re going to turn down a great job over this?”
Avrohom Meir was ready to answer in the affirmative. But just in case, if perhaps there was something that he was overlooking or misunderstanding, he told the owner he’d get back to him soon.
Then he got into his car and drove across town to speak to his Rosh Yeshivah.
When Avrohom Meir arrived at the yeshivah, the Rosh Yeshivah was in the middle of giving his shiur. He waited outside the beis medrash until it was over and the Rosh Yeshivah welcomed him into his office. Avrohom Meir apologized for showing up late at night without warning and explained the pressing nature of his dilemma.
The meeting wasn’t long. His Rosh Yeshivah confirmed Avrohom Meir’s initial response. Having an unfiltered phone was “not nogeia.” There was no way he could take this job.
Avrohom Meir called the company owner and conveyed his final decision.
The boss was still determined to make the relationship work. He had finally found the perfect person to fill a crucial position, and he wasn’t about to let him go that easily. He called the company’s technology point man and they brainstormed about ways they could accommodate Avrohom Meir’s insistence on a filter. But even, the IT man explained, if they got the weakest filter, that would still work for only the first six months of the job…
It wasn’t to be. They both saw that, and the company owner regretfully wished him well.
Avrohom Meir went home and told his wife about his long roller coaster of an evening. She firmly supported his decision and expressed no misgivings about what they were passing up.
So the Carlebach family moved on, hardly giving the occurrence a second thought. It was simply another possibility that had failed to pan out. Pragmatically, Avrohom Meir turned his attention to other prospects.
In fact, he might have even forgotten about the whole incident had he not, in passing, told the story to his neighbor.
This neighbor, a local Rebbi, didn’t just let it go. He was so awed by the convictions and strength of character Avrohom Meir had displayed that he invited him to come over with his family on Shabbos for a small kiddush in honor of their major decision.
Then he repeated the story to the neighborhood Rav. On Shabbos morning, when the Carlebachs went next door, they joined their neighbors, their Rav, and a guest their community was hosting for Shabbos: Harav Avraham Ber Blatt, the Rosh Kollel of the neighborhood’s “adopted” kollel in Kiryat Sefer.
The Rav and Rosh Kollel were both effusive in their praise of Avrohom Meir’s firm stance. And while he’d thought almost nothing of his decision at the time, he started appreciating that perhaps his choice was a bigger deal than he realized.
But the inspiration he would generate had only just begun. The next day, Avrohom Meir got a call from a man he’d never met before.
The caller greeted him by saying, “I’m a Rebbi in New York. I live in Monsey, and I want to drive to Lakewood just to give you a hug and kiss and get a brachah.”
The man had heard the story from Avrohom Meir’s Rav who had related it in New York; he was duly impressed.
“Really, you don’t need to come all the way to Lakewood,” an abashed Avrohom Meir insisted. “I’d be glad to give you a brachah over the phone.”
But the Rebbi insisted on coming in person. “In my grandfather’s day,” he explained, “the nisayon was shemiras Shabbos. If my grandfather told me that he knew of a Yid who had given up a job because he refused to work on Shabbos, I would ask him, ‘So what did you do? Did you go meet him, did you get a brachah from him?’ I would have been incredulous if he had known someone like that and done nothing about it. I feel like for such a person I have to do something.”
Two hours later, the Rebbi showed up at Avrohom Meir’s house — and he had brought his brother-in-law with him. He embraced Avrohom Meir and gave him chizuk. He asked for a brachah and told the Carlebach children what a tzaddik their father was.
And on a practical note, he sent Avrohom Meir’s resumé to his brother who holds a prominent position in a Manhattan firm.
The story continued to travel. The next call Avrohom Meir received was from a Menahel. “Our entire yeshivah is talking about what you did,” he said emotionally. “And eleventh-graders are all saying Tehillim that you should find a job. You made a whole mehapechah in the yeshivah.” Then he invited Avrohom Meir to speak at the yeshivah’s Chanukah mesibah.
Avrohom Meir came to the yeshivah one week ago, early on the seventh day of Chanukah. Before he spoke, the Menahel presented him with a plaque inscribed with a beautiful message lauding him for being omed b’nisayon.
Then Avrohom Meir told his story. He elaborated on a Midrash about Yaakov Avinu’s struggle with the Sar of Esav while retrieving the pachim ketanim. According to the Midrash, this in fact refers to the pach shemen that would figure in the nes of Chanukah.
The passuk describes Yaakov Avinu as remaining alone when he was attacked. When a person is in a makom nisayon, Avrohom Meir explained, he is often alone, especially in these matters of temptation — it’s just between him and the Ribbono shel Olam. Yaakov Avinu’s returning to get that bit of purity instilled it within each member of Klal Yisrael, so that today anyone who faces a nisayon has that inner light and strength to provide siyatta diShmaya. And that will help us in our struggles ad alos hashachar — until the coming of Moshiach.
After the speech, a large group of bachurim surrounded Avrohom Meir wanting to tell him how his sacrifice had impacted them. Some 15 bachurim had made changes in their own lives because of his decision.
Word of mouth continued to spread the tale through Lakewood, New York, Kiryat Sefer and beyond. Some who heard offered their assistance with job searching. One large company owner was so impressed that he declared that he must find this man a job and called Avrohom Meir to come for an interview.
A satisfying story would have an idyllic ending, with the protagonist finding the ideal job as a result of his sacrifice. The fact is that the perfect proposition has yet to materialize. But Avrohom Meir isn’t worrying. Turning down the job of a lifetime brought him more prospects than he ever thought possible — certainly in the business world, but even more so in the real world, where a moment’s decision and a life of conviction can bring dividends whose worth far exceeds millions.