In the Footsteps of our Fathers
In the Footsteps of our Fathers
Avos Perek 6 Mishna 9
By Harav Y. Reuven Rubin Shlita
Now let me see, it has been a long time since I last heard this one, so it might be a bit rusty. I’ll try to remember it just as I heard it.
In the “heim” lived a special Yid who sat and learned his whole day through. He was well regarded as a batlin, a soul that devoted his time to learning and davening. His name was Reb Chaimke and everyone respected him. However part of the job of being a batlin was that you didn’t have two pennies to rub together, no matter, Hashem would watch over him.
Well, there he was, living his life of poverty with great finesse, for to him the only thing that was important was the service of Hashem. After some time, he realized that he had to somehow finance the marriage of his eldest daughter. Without so much as a qualm, he went along to the richest Yid in his town and asked for a loan of some one thousand rubbles. The gentleman, the renowned Reb Noach, was a kind-hearted soul and asked, “Why are you asking for a loan? You will never be able to repay it?” Chaimke turned red, “Reb Yid, I have never asked for charity, and I won’t start now. Just loan me the money and I’ll repay you.”
Well the rich businessman figured if this is a loan, let’s do it right. “I’ll give you the loan if you get a guarantor for the amount.”
“No problem,” replied Reb Chaimke, “give me the promissory note and I’ll return it tomorrow.” And with this our hero took the promissory papers off to shul. That night when everyone had left, the poor Yid went over to the aron kodesh and opened it up. He started to weep and plead for Hashem’s help. After some time, he took the note and where it had a space for the guarantor to sign he wrote, Li hakesef, veLi hazav, Ne’um Hashem! This is a passage from Chaggai and can be found in this mishna, it says, “Mine is the silver, Mine is the gold, so says Hashem.” With that he closed the aron and went home with a light heart. The next day he returned to the financer’s office with his paper. The fellow read what had been written and chuckled. The poor fellow had written what was a play on the words. “Ne’um” can also mean witnessed, or agreed to, and is used in legal documents to show who the guarantor is. Reb Chaimke was saying that Hashem would make good on his loan. The wealthy Reb Noach was so impressed with the other man’s wit, that without a second thought he gave him the money, and took the ‘promissory note’ for his records.
Now most loans, unless otherwise specified are due in thirty days, and so it was. Thirty days later a tall, distinguished gentleman came into the Reb Noach’s office and asked to see him. He was away on business, but his wife came forward and asked if she could help. The stranger put on her table one thousand rubbles and said it was in repayment for the loan made to Reb Chaimke. She didn’t think anything more about it and placed the money in her husbands draw. That evening Reb Noach asked if anything happened in the business while he was away. His good lady mentioned that the only thing to happen was that Reb Chaimke’s loan had been repaid. “What? Where did that poor soul get the money to repay such a sum? I never meant him to repay me.”
With that Reb Noach put on his coat, braved the cold winter night and went to the shul where he knew Reb Chaimke would be learning. Seeing him huddled over a Gemara, Reb Noach went over and asked, “Reb Chaimke, why did you repay that note? I never meant you to take it seriously, especially after you gave me a guarantor signed with a passuk from the Torah.”
Reb Chiamke looked up at the richly attired businessman, “Reb Noach believe me I have no idea what you are talking about. Not that I don’t intend to somehow repay you one day, but today wasn’t that day. I don’t have money for food much less to repay your generosity.”
The two stared at each other in wonder. Who had paid Chaimke’s bill, and why?
Well in those days people would take all their queries to the Rav, and this town was blessed to have as its Rav none other than the Apter Rebbe, the Oheiv Yisrael. The Rebbe heard their story, listening to each detail – how Chaimke davened that night, how the stranger looked, everything. He then turned to Reb Noach and said, “It’s a simple matter. The note was for thirty days. Reb Chaimke wholeheartedly gave Hashem as his guarantor because he knows the truth – all the silver all the gold, everything is Hashem’s. Now you Reb Noach, you are a good soul, and you loaned him the money never thinking you would see it again. So, when it came due Elijah the Prophet came to return it, you weren’t worthy to see his face because you didn’t really believe the note, and so your choshuva wife saw him instead.”
Now I said that I wasn’t sure of all the details of this story, but one thing is still very clear in my mind: When the Bobover Rebbe, zy”a, told us this story he would say over and over again that special passage, Li hakessef veLi hazahav ne’um Hashem. His eyes would look upward, and you could see that this was not just the sweet punch line to a lovely story. It was a Torah truth that was meant to become part of who we are as Yidden.
This mishna tells us another story, something that is a bit unusual in Perek. It tells us how Rav Yosi ben Kisma was walking on the road and the mishna recounts, “and a man met me and greeted me and I returned his greeting. He said to me: ‘From where do you come?’ I replied: ‘I come from a great city of Sages and scholars.’ He then said to me: ‘Rabbi, if you would be willing to live with us in our vicinity, I would give you a million golden dinars and precious stones and pearls.’ I replied: ‘were you to give me all the silver, gold, precious stones, and pearls in the world, I would not live anywhere except in a place of Torah.’”
The Sage is not saying he refuses to go to a place where perhaps his Torah standing could help bring others closer to Hashem, no, he is saying that ‘you cannot start by thinking you can buy me. All that is material in this world is Hashem’s, and what I have is what Hashem gives me. You seem to think that you own all that money and can therefore get me to move to your city. I tell you that this attitude would prohibit any real spirituality in your home.’
As proof, the mishna brings the passage we have quoted from Chaggai, yes, Li Hakessef veLi hazahav ne’um Hashem. It really is Hashem’s, and we should internalize this knowledge.