An Improbable Gift
Because magazines like Mishpacha work with advance deadlines my friend Rabbi Aryeh Ginzberg's piece on Yerushalayim shel Ma'alah appeared last week, even though he was sitting shiva for his father Rabbi Avraham Ginzberg, the menahel of Yeshivas Chafetz Chaim for nearly six decades. Reb Aryeh, unfortunately, was back in Yerushalayim far sooner than he could have imagined when he wrote last week's piece for Mishpacha, in order to accompany his father to his final resting place. I would like to share one of the stories Reb Aryeh told of his father, as he sat in Yerushalayim on Motzaei Shabbos before flying back to the United States.
Rabbi Avraham Ginzberg arrived alone in the United States before World War II, and began learning in Yeshivas Chafetz Chaim. He was virtually penniless, and worked nights in a bakery to support himself. While still single, he managed to purchase the bakery, almost entirely on credit. With the profits from the bakery, he was able to bring his whole family to the United States,after the War and the bakery provided parnassah for Reb Avraham's father for the rest of his life.
The business acumen of the young immigrant did not escape the attention of Rabbi Alter Chanoch Henoch Leibowitz, Rosh Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, and he asked Reb Avraham to takeover the day-to-day running of the yeshiva for a period of two years to help put the yeshiva on its feet financially. That dream of financial stability was never fully realized. The Chofetz Chaim educational network spread across America, inspired by the Rosh Yeshiva's educational vision. Yet because a very high percentage of musmachim of Chofetz Chaim went into chinuch and few into business, the yeshiva never developed a large donor pool of affluent alumni.
As a consequence, Reb Avraham's two years extended well over half a century. Each penny the yeshiva raised was far dearer to him than his own money. Reb Aryeh Ginzberg related how classmates once directed him to the foyer of the yeshiva building to see what his father was doing. When he arrived, only his father's trademark worn blue straw hat, with a red feather, was visible above ground. The latter was digging down to uncover a burst pipe before the plumber arrived in order to save the yeshiva the expense of the digging. When the yeshiva honored Rabbi Ginzberg after more than half a century of service, his son told the Rosh Yeshiva not to bother purchasing any kind of gift because his father would refuse to accept anything that depleted the yeshiva's bank account in any way.
The story that made the biggest impression on me involved an older couple who had contributed to the yeshiva at one point. Their only son had passed away, and they were alone in the world. When the husband too passed away, Rabbi Ginzberg undertook to oversee all the wife's needs, which, unfortunately, included numerous calls in the middle of the night to rush to the hospital when she hovered on the verge of death. In her will, she left $250,000 to Rabbi Ginzberg.
The older Rabbi Ginzberg told Reb Aryeh that the money belonged to the yeshiva, as his original contact with the couple arose out of his position in the yeshiva. Reb Aryeh pointed out that the will specified Rabbi Avraham Ginzberg, not Yeshivas Chafetz Chaim. But his father would not budge.
Reb Aryeh first went to Rabbi Leibowitz, who told him that he should take the halachic shayla to the posek hador, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. Reb Moshe ruled that the money belonged to Rabbi Ginzberg, and added that he could certainly give ma'aser to the yeshiva.
Reb Aryeh returned to his parents' home to share Reb Moshe's psak with his father. The senior Rabbi Ginzberg greeted the news with great joy and told his son that he had done him a great tovah. "How would someone in my financial situation ever hope to make a gift of a quarter of a million dollars to the yeshiva?" he explained. "You have made that possible." And he proceeded to write out a check for the full $250,000 to the yeshiva, even though he was then carrying a couple of mortgages on his own home, the proceeds of which had also gone to help pay off the yeshiva's debts.
That story characterized a whole life of thinking nothing of one's own needs, only those of others, particularly the Yeshiva and the Rosh Yeshiva. That model deserves to be widely known, especially now that the hero of the story is no longer here to be embarrassed by its publication.
When one thinks about it, Yisro's advice to Moshe Rabbeinu at the beginning of last week's parashah is quite remarkable. Here is Yisro, the newest member of Klal Yisrael, a recent ger, offering instruction, without the slightest hesitation, to the greatest man who ever lived, the one person who ever spoke to Hashem as one person speaks to another.
And yet far from being critical, the Torah adds an entirely new parshah to record the event, and Yisro gains another name as a consequence of that addition. More, Moshe Rabbeinu immediately recognizes that his father-in-law is correct and implements his advice.
Were there nothing for future generations to learn from the extra parshah, the Torah would not have included it. Something in Yisro's action is meant for emulation.
Often times we see things around us that strike us as wrong. Or we perceive a need that is not being met. Rather than figuring out how we can remedy the problem, we often tell ourselves that there are others much more talented than we are who will surely have better ideas about what to do. Or if we see someone who appears to us to be in pain, we convince ourselves that there are others closer to that person who are better positioned to address the problem, or that our perception is mistaken as those closer friends would already have acted. If the matter involves a public matter, we assure ourselves that our reading of the situation must be wrong, or else the gedolim would have already initiated action.
Yisro teaches us: If you see a problem, then there is a reason that Hashem has caused you to note what others have not. You may have erred in your analysis of the problem; your proposed solution may not work. When you speak to those in a position of authority to deal with the issue, they may reject your solution. But you cannot shirk responsibility with excuses of how little you are. Nor should you be embarrassed to point out a need, or even to offer solutions.
A Double Loss
Mrs. Chaya Newman, Director of Torah Umesorah's National Council of Yeshiva Principals for Women, relates in the current issue of Klal Perspectives, how she once requested to address the students in an American seminary in Israel on teaching as a career. The response was negative: "If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys," the principal told her. The basis for that acerbic comment was supplied by Mrs. Newman's own article. She describes a female relative who, after 14 years as a very highly regarded teacher, reached a salary plateau at $20,000 per year. Her husband, by contrast, began teaching at $35,000 (not exactly 1% wages either.).
Mrs. Newman's point is not to lament the unfairness, but to explain why fewer and fewer of our young women are drawn to careers in teaching. Twenty years ago, the situation was far different in Israel, and I would guess in the United States as well. Teaching was the most respected profession, and the competition for every position intense. Today, many young men who aspire to learn many years will not even consider marrying a young woman who wants to teach because, as Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark, principal of the Bais Yaakov of Montreal, points out in the same issue, it is impossible to support even the most frugal kollel lifestyle on a teacher's salary.
The old system was not perfect. There were never enough jobs for all who sought them, and protekzia (family connections) often played a not insignificant role in the allocation of those positions. But the position of teaching at the top of the hierarchy of job options meant that a very high percentage of the most talented Bais Yaakov graduates went into teaching. That was one of the great strengths of the Bais Yaakov system compared to the secular education system in both Israel and America, in which education majors and graduates of teachers colleges are near the bottom rung of the education ladder. Bais Yaakov-trained teachers took their dedication beyond the Bais Yaakov system itself into SHUVU schools or other school systems for girls from less religious backgrounds, and made large impact on their students.
The incentives for young women today to pursue careers outside of teaching can only harm the quality of our own educational systems. And the lack of financial incentive harms many families, where the mother would have preferred to teach, in other ways as well. Teaching is by no means an easy profession. The teacher's day does not end when the last school bell rings. There are lessons to prepare, tests to grade, parents to speak to. But generally the school year is only 180-190 days long, and the hours in school are less than in more lucrative jobs, which means that teachers very often have much more time for their children than their working peers.
Thus we pay a price at both the communal and personal level as a consequence of the minimal salaries paid to female teachers.