Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A True Baal Chesed

Last Shabbos - Chol HaMoed Pesach - my wife and I had the pleasure of enjoying the morning Seudas Shabbos with her sister and her husband. An elderly neighbor of theirs was invited to join us. During the course of the meal she recounted an inspiring true story about her son that happened about forty years ago.

Her son was then in his late teens - making him about my age. He was a student at a Yeshiva in New York and on his way back to Chicago to visit his parents. While at New York’s LaGuardia Airport he suddenly realized that he had inadvertently packed his ticket into his checked baggage. There was no way to retrieve it and the airline had no record of it.

The young fellow had no cash or credit cards and panicked. From a distance he saw what looked like a religious Jew. He ran over and indeed it was. He wore a large black Kipa on his head and had a trim red beard. He looked rather distinguished – like a Rav, a Rebbe or Rosh Yeshiva.

The young man tried to impress upon this Rav that he was in legitimate trouble and not some sort of scam artist. He even told him what Yeshiva he attended hoping that he would be believed and somehow helped. After hearing this young fellow, the Rav immediately took out his wallet and gave him money to purchase another ticket.

It turned out that the Rav was going to Chicago too - and - on the same flight. So they boarded the plane and flew to Chicago together.

When they arrived at O’Hare Airport the Rav asked if the young man had arranged a ride home. He had not. The Rav told him to stay with him as his son was going to pick him up. When his son arrived he told him to take this young man home first. His home was at least two miles out of the way.

When they arrived the amount of gratitude the young man had was beyond expression. He asked if the Rav would wait a moment so he could run in and get money from his mother to pay him back for the ticket. He ran in and begged his mother to give him the amount of the fare and he would explain it all later. That she did.

That is a measure of true greatness. He did not know this young man. He was not a part of his community. But that did not matter.

This was a man who thought of others first - giving little thought to his personal welfare. He did not hesitate a moment to help out a fellow Jew with money out of his pocket.

What was his attitude about money? ‘Money is Bloteh’! (mud) …he once told his son-in law, Rabbi Raphael Marcus, ZL. R’ Marcus on a particular visit explained that he flew separately from his wife in order to save money on airfare. One should never fly separately from one’s wife just to save money he was told.

Nor did his own life matter when it came to saving a fellow Jew. He had to be restrained from going into a burning building to try and personally save some students that were in there. Fortunately no one died or was even hurt in that fire.

And now… the rest of the story (…as I pay homage to Paul Harvey).

The woman who told us this story did not know me. We never met until last Shabbos. She certainly didn’t know I was a student of that Rav… Rav Ahron Soloveichik who had recently become the Rosh HaYeshiva of HTC. She only wanted to tell an inspiring story about her son and Rav Ahron - the man who brought him home.

Just one small story of many in the inspiring life of a Gadol.

Good Yom Tov.