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Follow Suit

Since when does a rebbi moonlight as a haberdasher?


IT was Sunday afternoon, Lag B’omer, when Baruch came to show me his new suit.

“You look like a true ben Torah,” I said.

“My rebbi got me the new suit for Shavuos and said I could wear it for the first time on Lag B’omer.”

I’ve known Baruch since he was born. His bris was in the shul, and I remembered his parents’ pride on the occasion.

That was before a bitter divorce split the family, and loneliness replaced happiness. Baruch’s father remarried and moved away, leaving the mother to raise their children alone. The family struggled but together with community help managed to make ends meet.

I knew Baruch had received a new suit the previous year for his bar mitzvah, but I had also noticed the acute growth spurt since then, and his new Shavuos suit, which he was previewing on Lag B’omer, certainly fit him better. His pant legs no longer stopped at his ankles, and the sleeves extended to his wrists. This new suit qualified as shtotty, and Baruch looked and felt proud.

I was thrilled he had a new suit for Shavuos, but confused. “What do you mean your rebbi got you the suit?”

Baruch explained. “My rebbi said that since I was able to say the Aseres Hadibros, I would receive a new suit for Shavuos. On Friday, the rebbi brought me three suits to choose from. I think I got the best one, don’t you?”

I complimented Baruch on his choice, but I was perplexed. After all, since when does a rebbi moonlight as a haberdasher?

I called Rabbi M., the menahel of the yeshivah, and asked about Baruch’s new clothes. The menahel filled in the details.

The rebbi had noticed that Baruch had outgrown his clothing, and that some boys had begun teasing him about his “too-short” pants. Realizing that Baruch’s mother had no extra funds for a new suit for Shavuos, the rebbi borrowed three suits from a local clothing store and brought them to Baruch to try on. He then awarded Baruch the new suit as a “prize” for reciting the Aseres Hadibros. The menahel stressed how neither Baruch nor his mother “caught on” to his plan.

I was very moved by this story and reached out to the rebbi to compliment him on his sensitivity and chesed. But the rebbi said there was nothing to thank him for. He was merely repaying his father’s debt to his father’s rebbi, Rav Nissan Alpert ztz”l, whose 38th yahrtzeit was on 17 Iyar.

“My father grew up on the Lower East Side,” Baruch’s rebbi explained. “He lost his father before his bar mitzvah. Rav Alpert, my father’s seventh-grade rebbi at MTJ, was aware of the family’s situation and took my father to buy a new suit before his bar mitzvah under the guise of a prize for learning well.

“Years later, when my father realized what had really transpired, he went to Rav Alpert to pay him back for the suit. Rav Alpert told him, ‘Pay me back by continuing the chesed. Find a boy who needs a new suit and buy it for him as a prize.’

“ ‘Rebbi, I don’t know any boys,’ my father said. ‘I’m a businessman, not a rebbi.’

“ ‘I’ll give you a brachah,’ Rav Alpert responded. ‘One day you will be privileged to have a son who will be a rebbi. And one day, he will have a talmid who will need a new suit. Consider your debt paid when your son buys his talmid the suit.’ ”

I heard the rebbi take a deep breath.

“Rabbi Eisenman,” he said, “it took over sixty years, but I finally repaid my father’s debt to Rav Alpert.”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1013)

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