Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

12 Tishrei 5764 - October 8, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








The Lesson of Luxuries

by R. Schreiber

Rav Tzadok Klugman, who gave the daily shiur in Kfar Petachya, was well liked by all of the shiur's members, while he, in turn, was very attached to them.

For a while, he had noticed that something was disturbing one of the participants: Yehoshua Levine, an elderly Jew with a warm Jewish heart.

Yehoshua seems rather anxious, Rav Tzadok Klugman mused with genuine concern. Something must be wrong, because he's usually so relaxed. I'd better have a talk with him.

That night at the end of the shiur, Rav Tzadok approached R' Yehoshua and tapped him on his shoulder. Seeing Yehoshua's startled look, he smiled at him and said: "Reb Yehoshua, can you walk me to the bus?"

This request, and Rav Tzadok's somewhat pleading tone, aroused Yehoshua's curiosity. Why does he want me to accompany him? Does he want to speak with me in learning? Doesn't he know that my knowledge of gemora is very skimpy?

But he had no time to think, because Rav Tzadok continued to wait for him.

"Yes, of course," Yehoshua quickly replied. Then he closed his gemora and accompanied Rav Tzadok out of the beis medrash.

Once they were outside, Rav Tzadok asked: "Reb Yehoshua, you're generally so cheerful and optimistic. Yet for the past few days you've seem preoccupied. Is something wrong? Can I help?"

Rav Tzadok fell silent, and so did Yehoshua. Peeking at him from the side, Rav Tzadok saw that Yehoshua was a bit flustered and he didn't press him for an answer.

Moments later though, Yehoshua let out a sigh and said: "Yes, I really do have a difficult problem, and the more I think about it, the more frustrated I become. Perhaps I'll feel better if I tell you about it."

Then he began: "It's no secret that I'm not a youngster anymore, that old age has crept up on me."

Rav Tzadok felt like stopping him and protesting that despite Yehoshua's wan look and white beard, he was as enthusiastic and as vigorous as a thirty-year-old. However, he let him unburden his heart, without disturbing him.

"My wife is also not a spring chicken," Yehoshua continued. "True she's ten years younger than I, but she's still not a young mother. When I arrived in Eretz Yisroel after the Shoa, I was only a small child. I came here alone on an illegal immigrants' boat. The immigration officials placed me, with a number of other children, in an irreligious kibbutz.

"While we were there, we tried to fight, with our tiny fists, for our right to maintain our emunoh and keep the mitzvos. But it was very hard. However, I had siyata deShmaya. Along with nine other children, I was rescued from that inferno by the Rov of Ponevezh, who sent a group of pe'ilim to transfer us to Bnei Brak. It wasn't easy for me in the dormitory either, because the memories of the past constantly assailed me. Even today I can't forget the past. How can one forget a dear father who was a talmid chochom, a mother who was an eishes chayil, and five brothers?"

Yehoshua sighed again. "Even today the horrible scenes from the past surface in my dreams and when I am awake, making my life a continuous nightmare. But that's not what I wanted to talk about.

"With Hashem's help, I was rehabilitated and merited to study in a yeshiva -- not for a long time but, in relation to other survivors, I managed to learn a little bit. Of course in comparison with Rav Tzadok, I know nothing."

"Come on, R' Yehoshua. You know quite a lot and always contribute to the shiur," Rav Tzadok bolstered him.

"But I haven't finished -- or even begun -- my story," Yehoshua continued with a slight cough.

"And so, I got married late in life, and had the fortune to be blessed with four talented and bright sons. After experiencing so much hardship during my life, I decided that I would give my own children the very best chinuch possible. I tried to raise them the way we had been raised in Hungary. There the chinuch was very strict but we, the children, accepted our parents' methods with understanding. We knew that they had our best interests at heart and tried to cooperate with them as best as we could.

"Boruch Hashem, I succeeded with my older children and they complied with my demands and regulations. Of course, there were run- ins here and there -- after all they were kids. But in the end, they always yielded and accepted my authority."

Yehoshua paused a bit and took a deep breath. Rav Tzadok saw that it was difficult for him to speak and knew that the climax was coming.

"Everything was fine," Yehoshua continued, "until my youngest son Shmulik, who is today thirteen, was born. I guess the older one gets, the more impatient he becomes. Well, it was hard for me to cope with all of his antics and perhaps I was a bit too strict with him. I don't know. But he had all sorts of demands even as a small child. He wanted to be like his friends -- kids from the new generation who never suffered from want and have no idea what difficulty means. Of course, they had games galore and plenty of candies, while in our house, I rarely even bought toys or items which didn't serve a specific and useful function. However, while my older boys didn't hanker for those luxuries, Shmulik was different.

"But I couldn't always fight it out with him and sometimes I gave in. Believe it or not, I even bought him a bicycle. I wanted him to be happy and to grow up normally; but along with that I was afraid of ruining his chinuch and continued to behave strictly with him.

"Shmulik grew older, but didn't improve. Today, he's about to graduate from the eighth grade and I'm worried, kevod horav."

Then, as a disobedient tear welled up in Yehoshua's eyes, he asked, "What will be with him? His three brothers are serious yeshiva students and spend all of their time engrossed in their learning. But Shmulik doesn't study so willingly. He insists on being like his friends and when I don't give in to his demands, he gripes and complains that I am depriving him. What should I do? How should I handle him? I want him to study in a good yeshiva which will teach him to be satisfied with little and to know what is truly important in life."

By now, tears began to stream down Rav Yehoshua's wan cheek uncontrollably.

Rav Tzadok lowered his head, and various thoughts began to swirl through his mind at random. A few moments later he collected his thoughts and, in an encouraging tone, said: "R' Yehoshua. First of all, I must admit that until now I really didn't know you well and I am amazed by your firm upholding of the principles of chinuch. I am certain that you will eventually merit much naches from all of your children."

"Halevai," Yehoshua replied.

"Now, regarding your son. I think that the problem is a fleeting one. Your son is surely a good child. However, youngsters are easily influenced by their peers and their surroundings. When Shmulik changes his social milieu and starts learning in a yeshiva ketanoh, he'll surely acquire the proper outlook on life and learn to appreciate true values. Torah's light will illuminate the true path for him. He's fortunate to have a father who is so concerned about chinuch. May there be many more like you in Am Yisroel," Rav Tzadok ardently concluded.

Yehoshua smiled shyly, and the glint returned to his eyes. If Rav Tzadok says so, he must be right.

The two walked on silently for a few more moments and parted with a warm handshake. As Yehoshua was about to leave, Rav Tzadok suddenly said: "I forgot to ask you where you registered your son."

"In a new yeshiva which opened only a few years ago," Yehoshua replied. "It's called Chayei Netzach and is located in Yerushalayim. True, it takes more than an hour-and-a-half to get there from our settlement, but it's worth it to send him so far if in the end I'll merit to see him on the right path. I heard that it's an excellent yeshiva"

Rav Tzadok smiled meaningfully and voiced his full agreement. Then he headed toward the bus. "Amazing," he told himself as he finally got on the bus. "Shloimi, my son-in-law, has just become mashgiach in Chayei Netzach. The ways of Hashgochoh are wondrous. I'll speak to Shloimi about Shmulik Levine and ask him to take a special interest in him."


If Rav Tzadok thought that his surprises for that day had ended, he was mistaken. Rav Tzadok finally arrived home in Bnei Brak, exhausted. Suddenly, the telephone rang. At first, his wife, who rushed to answer it, thought of saying that her husband, with whom the caller wanted to speak, was too tired to come to the phone. However she knew that such a reply would upset her husband who felt that it was wrong to avoid a Jew who needed him.

"It's Yair Sela," she told her husband.

Yair Sela, who was young and well-to-do, had begun attending the shiur a few years earlier just to taste the sweetness of gemora study. However his progress was amazing. Rav Tzadok discovered that Yair had a brilliant mind. The questions which he asked every now and then would not have put a veteran yeshiva bochur to shame.

"How I wish that Yair would devote more time to Torah study and less time to his business," Rav Tzadok reflected.

"How are you, Yair? I just said good-bye to you an hour ago, after the shiur. What's happened since then?" Rav Tzadok asked, in all sincerity.

"Something is on my mind, and I wanted to talk with you about it a number of days ago, but had to leave the shiur early because of some urgent business. Today, when I finally had a bit of time, I saw that you were speaking to Yehoshua Levine. I waited a while but when I saw that the conversation was continuing, I went home and decided to call you instead. I'm sorry I called so late."

"How can I help you?" Rav Tzadok asked, politely.

"The problem is with my son, Ariel. As the rav probably knows, he'll be bar mitzvah in a few days."

"Oy, mazel tov, mazel tov!" Rav Tzadok , who regarded the participants in his shiur as his sons, warmly replied, "May he merit to grow in Torah and good deeds."

"Thank you," Yair replied with restraint. "This forthcoming year, he'll begin yeshiva ketanoh. Kevod horav surely knows that I try to give my children the best. Ariel has tons of games. He has a computer and an air conditioner in his room. Cuisine at our home is gourmet. He's used to high style living. I also try to shower him with love and warmth and to give him everything he wants. I feel that this is the best way to raise a child."

I beg to differ with you, Rav Tzadok mused to himself. I was taught that children who learn to suffice with little are the healthiest, mentally, and my experience has proven that this is correct. However, he preferred to remain silent. Yair was convinced that he was right, and it didn't seem possible to convince him otherwise.

"But what worries me," Yair continued, "is how he'll acclimate to the yeshiva. There the standards are far lower than those at home, to say the least. The food is bland and I don't think he'll like it. At home, he also has a comfortable bed and a private air conditioner. I want him to learn Torah without any cares, and to become a genuine talmid chochom."

Despite the glaring contradictions in his words, it was obvious that Yair was sincere in his aspirations.

Rav Tzadok hastened to catch the cart before it sped away, and replied cautiously: "You are absolutely right. It is very important for your son to feel comfortable in the yeshiva so that he will be able to concentrate on his studies and progress. But I think that there's nothing to worry about. If your son understands that our main purpose on earth is Torah study, and that all our material possessions are meant to serve as implements to help us achieve our ultimate aim, he'll get used to his situation.

"I understand you. It's not easy to send a child from an affluent home to a yeshiva with a dormitory whose conditions might even be substandard, as far as you are concerned. But don't worry, your sincere wish that he grow in Torah and receive the best Torah education possible is very commendable. I hope that you'll eventually derive much naches from him."

Yair was very moved by this blessing and warmly added, "If he turns out like you, Rav Tzadok, everything will have been worthwhile.".

"I hope that he surpasses me!" Rav Tzadok laughed. "By the way, where are you sending him?"

"To a yeshiva in Yerushalayim," Yair casually answered. "It's called Chayei Netzach."

A tremor passed over Rav Tzadok's body.

"Who told you about that yeshiva?"

"Its representatives came to our settlement and persuaded a number of families to send their sons to that yeshiva. They showed us recommendations from gedolei Yisroel and letters from satisfied parents. It's a new yeshiva and I think the conditions there are a bit better than those of other yeshivas."

"Bli neder," the stunned Rav Tzadok assured him, "I'll try and keep track of your son's progress and make sure that he's well taken care of. I know someone there very well. But don't forget to daven for Ariel's success. That's very important."

Then to himself, he said: "Chayei Netzach again. Yet another project for Shloimi. What an amazing story! The very same night, two parents with such different outlooks call me about their sons who will be attending the same yeshiva, the yeshiva where my son-in-law is mashgiach. Hashem's ways are amazing."


The following day, Rav Tzadok called his son-in-law, and said: "From now on I'll call you Rav Shlomo, instead of Shloimi. You're a mashgiach now!"

"But I'm still the same Shloimi. The position of mashgiach in a yeshiva ketanoh doesn't change my image," Shloimi humbly replied.

"A mashgiach in a yeshiva ketanoh," Rav Tzadok replied, "has a special mission and a privilege. He has to have a broad understanding of human nature, and must know how to relate to each child's needs. You are responsible for molding their personalities And that's exactly why I've called you.

Rav Tzadok then told Rav Shlomo about the two conversations he had held the previous night

"You understand," Rav Tzadok continued "one bochur is accustomed to luxury and to the pleasures of olom hazeh. His father is afraid that if the child lacks these luxuries in the yeshiva, he won't be able to concentrate on his studies. The other bochur is a son of a Hungarian Holocaust survivor who raised his children very strictly, and taught them to be satisfied with little. His son, though, isn't toeing the line in this respect and his father wants to place him on the true Torah path."

Shloimi fell silent as he tried to absorb what his father-in- law had said. After a few moments, he replied "It doesn't sound like an easy assignment. But I hope that I will find a good solution for both of them."

"I'll daven for your success," Rav Tzadok rejoined.


Rosh Chodesh Elul arrived and Rav Shlomo was eager to begin the new zman. He was fully aware of the responsibility which rested on his shoulders.

As he stood at the yeshiva's front door, he was greeted by a steady flow of earnest looking bochurim who were dragging their valises.

The newcomers to the yeshiva -- the students of shiur alef -- seemed particularly confused. They still weren't used to the chaos of the first day at yeshiva and stood aside. Rav Shlomo scanned their faces and tried to figure out which were the two boys his father had mentioned. Out of a group of twenty bochurim, Ariel Sela was obvious. He was much better dressed than the other bochurim and his suitcase was far more elegant than theirs. However, he seemed like a good, well-mannered boy and even a bit quiet and shy.

"I'll try and identify Shmulik Levine later on," Rav Shlomo promised himself.

After welcoming the group, Rav Shlomo began to assign them rooms. Taking the list of students, he called each one over separately. Shmulik Levine's name was in the middle of the list and when he identified himself, Shlomo saw that he was a lively and active youngster. He assigned Shmulik and Ariel to the same room, on the grounds that since they came from the same settlement they would feel comfortable together. However, he had another reason for believing that as roommates they would complement each other.

The assigning of the rooms ended and the bochurim went in pairs to their rooms. As Rav Shlomo watched Ariel Sela lag behind the brisk Shmulik, he saw that he hadn't erred in his determination of their characters.

Shmulik entered the room, and sat down on one of the beds with a sigh of relief. Ariel though, remained standing beside his valises.

Ariel barely knew Shmulik, although they were from the same settlement. That was because Ariel's father had sent him to a well- known talmud Torah in the nearby city, while Shmulik had attended the local talmud Torah.

Shmulik, for his part had always known that the Selas, unlike the Levines, were rich. At the Levines' every shekel was accounted for. Shmulik's father did not let his children waste money just like that. Shmulik, though, wasn't happy about his father's approach. Ariel has a new suitcase with all sorts of pockets. His tote bag looks like it was bought in a fancy store, and his suit's from Italy. My suit is a hand-me-down, and my valise is ragged. How I begged Abba to buy me a new one. I told him that this one would soon rip, and that I really needed a valise. But Abba isn't easily convinced.

"Shmulik, it's a pity to buy another valise," Yehoshua had said. "We can use that money to buy something more useful."

But when he saw Shmulik's downcast look he added. "If the suitcase rips, buying a new one won't be considered wasteful."

Well, that was it. He had to take the valise to yeshiva whether he liked it or not, even if that meant turning red as a beet in front of his new roommate, Ariel. But what could he do? He certainly couldn't change Abba's mind.

Grumbling a bit, Shmuel began to arrange his belongings in his closet. Ariel, though, just sat on his bed stymied by all of the work which lay ahead. It was obvious that he wasn't used to working around the house.

Shmulik, who noticed Ariel's predicament, offered to help him. "Don't worry, Ariel," he said. "I'll be with you as soon as I'm finished putting my clothes away."

"Thanks, really thanks!" Ariel warmly replied, hoping that Shmulik would help him to adjust to yeshiva life which was so different from life at home.

After the bochurim had finished organizing their rooms, they assembled in the dining room for supper. Ariel sat down next to Shmulik, feeling that Shmulik would be a lifesaver. Shmulik, on the other hand, no longer felt that Ariel regarded him as a lower-class citizen but rather as a someone he could lean on.

In the meantime, Shmulik began to eat heartily, while Ariel didn't touch a thing.

"Is something wrong, Ariel?" Shmulik asked.

"I can't eat food when it's served on plastic plates. They have a strange smell. At home we never use such plates."

"Poor thing," Shmulik mused. "I'll have to help him adjust to dormitory life as quickly as possible."

Shmulik went over to the kitchen and within moments returned with a porcelain plate.

"Where did you get that?" Ariel asked in surprise.

"No big deal," the kindhearted Shmulik answered. "I simply asked the kitchen hand for a porcelain plate. He didn't ask any questions and probably thought that I was preparing a portion for one of the members of the staff."

"Thanks, Shmulik. Really, thanks a lot," Ariel warmly replied, as he began to eat. "The food tastes much better this way."

After the night seder the two returned to their rooms to sleep. Shmulik was satisfied with his mattress, which was much better than the one he had at home, and fell asleep immediately.

The next morning, Shmulik woke up early and saw that Ariel was roaming around the room, dressed and ready for davening.

"How did you manage to get up so early, Ariel?" Shmulik asked in surprise "I was so tired from the trip and all, that I hardly opened my eyes."

"I didn't get up early, "Ariel replied. "I barely slept a wink last night.


"The mattress is hard. At home I have a soft, orthopedic mattress, and an air conditioner in my room. It's so hot here."

Shmulik listened to Ariel's complaints and felt very sorry for his overly-sensitive, finicky -- yet nice -- roommate. He wished that he could help him, but what could he do?

Suddenly, he realized: Until now, I felt deprived, and even bitter over my father's strict chinuch. But now I see that I was wrong, very wrong. Ariel is a typical example of a rich kid, who doesn't lack a thing. Whatever he wants, he gets. But the moment he leaves his warm and luxurious hothouse, he can't cope and becomes miserable. He can't eat from plastic dishes; he can't sleep on a dormitory mattress; he feels uncomfortable without his air conditioner -- while I love my mattress and don't miss the air conditioner we don't have.

During the first few weeks, Shmulik helped Ariel adjust to yeshiva life and make friends. In time, Ariel began to eat from the plastic plates like everyone else, and to fall asleep at night on the dormitory mattress. Although Ariel still missed his air conditioner, he made do with the fan Shmulik had found in one of the dorm's storage rooms.


Rav Shlomo, the mashgiach, observed these developments from the side, because he believed that it was best not to ask his students what they lacked, but rather to let them learn to cope on their own. Nonetheless, he kept track of their progress and supervised them behind the scenes.

Rav Shlomo had heard bits of conversations between Shmulik and Ariel and knew that putting the two in the same room, and pairing them as study partners had been the best solution to both their problems.


The two had come from divergent poles. One of them had savored too many luxuries, while the other had been taught to suffice with little but was unhappy with that approach. When they respectively became acquainted with the other side of the coin, they about-faced and completely changed their outlooks. As a result, they became the best of friends.

When Rav Tzadok inquired about the progress of the two, Rav Shlomo replied: "The workings of Hashgochoh are amazing. Only a few weeks have passed since the beginning of the zman and the two have both made rapid strides in their studies and behavior. Please tell Yehoshua Levine that he has nothing to worry about because his son now realizes the importance of being satisfied with little. Also, tell Yair Sela that his son has adjusted to yeshiva life beautifully.


When Rav Shlomo sees Shmulik and Ariel seated beside each other, engrossed in their Torah learning, he realizes that they have discovered the truth, and know that all of the luxuries and dainties in this world are naught in comparison with the sweetness of Torah study.

Already by Succos of that year, both were prepared to leave the solid home of year round for the temporary shelter of the succah, having learned its important lesson.


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