Just Because It's the Right Thing to Do
by Jonathan Rosenblum
July 16, 2009
Rabbi Berel Wein was once invited to a meeting with the editor of the Detroit Free Press. After introductions had been made, the editor asked Rabbi Wein whether he was an Orthodox rabbi. Assured that Rabbi Wein was an Orthodox rabbi in good standing, the editor told him the following story.
His mother had immigrated to America from Ireland as an uneducated, eighteen-year-old peasant girl. She was hired as a household servant by an Orthodox family. The head of the house was the president of the neighboring Orthodox shul.
Mary, the servant girl, knew nothing about Judaism, and had probably never met a Jew before arriving in America. The family went on vacation Mary's first December in America, leaving Mary alone in the house. They were scheduled to return on the night of December 24, and Mary realized that there would be no x-mas tree to greet them when they did. This bothered her greatly, and using the money the family had left her, she went out and purchased not only an x-mas tree but all kinds of x-mas decorations to hang on the front of the house.
When the family returned from vacation, they saw the x-mas tree through the living room window and the rest of the house festooned with x-mas lights. They assumed that they had somehow pulled into the wrong driveway and drove around the block. But alas, it was their address.
The head of the family entered the house contemplating how to explain the x-mas tree and holiday lights to the members of the shul, most of whom walked right past his house on their way to shul. Meanwhile, Mary was eagerly anticipating the family's excitement when they realized that they would not be without a x-mas tree.
After entering the house, the head of the family called Mary into his study. He told her, "In my whole life no one has ever done such a beautiful thing for me as you did." Then he took out a $100 bill – a very large sum in the middle of the Depression – and gave it to her. Only after that did he explain that Jews do not have Christmas trees.
When he had finished telling the story, the editor told Rabbi Wein, "And that is why, there has never been an editorial critical of Israel in the Detroit Free Press since I became editor, and never will be as long as I am the editor."
SIMILAR STORIES ABOUND. Rabbi Naftoli Neuberger once had a meeting with a senior State Department official in connection with his efforts to help Iranian Jews escape after the Islamic Revolution. The official showed little interest in Rabbi Neuberger's request until a subordinate entered the room and greeted Rabbi Neuberger with unusual warmth. From the respect that his colleague showed to Rabbi Naftoli Neuberger, the official understood that the rabbi across the table was a person of exceptional stature, and eventually responded positively.
What lay behind the second official's warm greeting? Many years earlier, he and Rabbi Neuberger met at a conference. Rabbi Neuberger noticed that something was bothering him and inquired, just as Yosef HaTzaddik asked the royal cupbearer and baker why they looked so downcast (Bereishit 40:7).
The man replied that he had recently learned that he had a serious medical condition. Rabbi Neuberger had very wide connections in the medical world, and he immediately put all those connections at the service of his new acquaintance.
Another example. The creation of AARTS, the accreditation agency for yeshivos gedolos, which has enabled American yeshivos to receive tens of millions of dollars in government student loan money over the last 35 years, would likely never have occurred without the assistance of John Profitt, the Department of Education official in charge of recognition of accreditation agencies. Over nearly a decade, Profitt consistently exercised his administrative discretion in the most flexible manner possible in order to bring AARTS into existence.
At the very end of the process, he wrote to Rabbi Moshe Sherer of Agudath Israel of America, who had served as the representative of the yeshivos gedolos with the Department of Education, "My efforts should be simply considered as a small partial acknowledgment of the value which I place upon your friendship and that of many other persons of the Jewish faith who have befriended me in the past. I do especially prize your friendship, and regard you as one of the small group of superior persons I have come to know."
THE PRESIDENT OF THE ORTHODOX SHUL did not react to Mary's mistake with sympathy and gratitude, rather than shouts and anger, because he dreamed that one day her son would the editor of a major metropolitan paper, and thus in a position to aid Israel. (Israel was not yet born.) And Rabbi Neuberger did not inquire why someone he had just met seemed downcast or offer the man assistance in finding the proper medical care because he thought that twenty years later the man might be in a position to assist desperate Jews half way across the world. They acted as they did because it was the right thing to do.
Of course, Rabbi Sherer did know that John Profitt's positive attitude was of crucial importance. But the friendship he established with Profitt had little to do with that. He showed a similar concern to everyone with whom he came into contact, whether Jew or gentile.
Once he noticed that something was bothering the superintendent of the building in which Agudath Israel had its office. The man told him that he had lost an immigration hearing and he and his family were soon to be deported. Rabbi Sherer immediately went to work using his political connections to have the decision reversed. And not because he expected the superintendent to one day render some great service to the Jewish people.
In public careers of nearly 60 years, both Rabbi Neuberger and Rabbi Sherer interacted with thousands of individuals. I am convinced that not a single non-religious Jew or gentile ever came away from that interaction without a greater respect for Orthodox Jews.
That is a goal to which we can all strive.
Related Topics: American Jewry & Continuity, Chareidim and Their Critics, Jewish Ethics
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free jewish media resources mailing list