“Ask to borrow money? I would never be a debtor to anyone, not even for a few grush”
Yehudah Steingot (name changed) is my father’s cousin. Like my father, he was born in Yerushalayim in 1929, and recently, at the age of 91, he made his first trip to chutz l’Aretz to attend the chasunah of his great-grandson.
My cousin had accepted my invitation to stay over at my home and regale me with tales of Eretz Yisrael of long ago, and he was pleasantly surprised to see that in a formerly unbeknown-to-him Jewish outpost called Passaic, there was a shul with around-the-clock minyanim.
One day he announced that now that he is in New York, he would like to visit 770, as he had heard so much about it. He asked me how much the bus and subway would cost, as he began to check how many dollars he had.
It was then I noticed that all he had was a five-dollar bill. The 200 shekalim he had exchanged for dollars had disappeared faster than he imagined they would.
“Reb Yehudah, there is no problem. I will lend you the money.”
He shook his head in disbelief and turned to me.
“Let me tell how we grew up in Eretz Yisrael in the 1940s. One day I was returning to Yerushalayim from Bnei Brak. In those days, there was no direct bus, so I traveled from Bnei Brak to Tel Aviv, and from the old Central Bus Station, I took a bus to Yerushalayim. It was a scorching summer day, so after arriving in Tel Aviv, I treated myself to an artik (a popsicle). I was only 14 years old, and I was not adept at budgeting money. After purchasing my artik, I proceeded to the bus platform for Yerushalayim.
As I was about to board the bus, I realized I was a few grush short.”
I interrupted and asked, “What did you do? Ask someone to borrow the few grush?”
My cousin shot me a look that conveyed his incredulousness.
“Ask to borrow money? I would never be a debtor to anyone, not even for a few grush.”
“So, how did you get home?”
“Near the bus station were secondhand stores, which bought and sold all types of trinkets and jewelry. I had the wristwatch I received from my grandfather for my bar mitzvah. I entered the store, and asked the man how much he would give me for the watch. He handed me the money, and I gave him the watch. I then took the bus home.”
“I don’t understand,” I protested. “Weren’t there other frum people on line for the bus who would have gladly given you the few coins you were short, as a gift?”
Reb Yehudah stood tall as he rebuked me.
“Have you forgotten your Mishlei? Did not Shlomo Hamelech teach us, ‘Sonei matanos yichyeh — He who hates gifts will live’?
“Hashem did not grant us the zechus to live in Eretz Yisrael by accepting handouts. We thrived because we followed the advice of the wisest of all men. We worked for the Land.
“I would do anything, even if it was selling my bar mitzvah wristwatch, to avoid taking a gift from someone. Nor would I allow myself to be indebted financially to anyone.
“On the bus, a friend of mine sat down next to me. Excitedly he showed me the new wristwatch he had just bought at a local secondhand store. It was my watch. He said to me, ‘Hashem sent me a metziah, look at the nice watch I just bought. It looks exactly like the one you got for your bar mitzvah. Do you have your watch on? Let’s compare them.’
“ ‘I’m not wearing my watch today,’ ” I said, “but don’t worry, I know it’s in good hands. Hashem sent me a metziah today, as well.’
“ ‘What was it?’ my friend asked me.
“ ‘He sent me life,’ I told him.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 811)
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