High Five| March 1, 2022
As he said the word “lunch,” it triggered my recollection of: “Let me see what I can do at lunchtime”
“Hello, Rabbi Eisenman. I’m calling on behalf of VLK, V’ahavta Lerei’acha Kamocha. As you know, we supply food for the hungry, and we have a special campaign going on today. Every dollar you donate will be matched five times! Can I put you down for $200?”
As I was in the middle of preparing my drashah for that week, had to leave for the city in an hour to teach, and my wallet was nowhere in sight, I said, “Let me see what I can do at lunchtime.”
Then I opened another sefer. And forgot about my pledge to “see what I can do at lunchtime.”
I have the privilege of teaching Torah at Lander College for Women. Besides loving the teaching, I enjoy being in New York City and I enjoy my anonymity when I grab a bite to eat. That day, I stopped off at a local eatery, a type of only-in-Manhattan basement restaurant, where I cannot be seen from the windows, as there are no windows.
My food arrived piping hot.
The waiter said, “Enjoy your lunch.”
And as soon as he said the word “lunch,” it triggered my recollection of: “Let me see what I can do at lunchtime.”
Why did I tell her I would give at lunch? I chastised myself for answering that way.
I picked up my fork and knife, and just as I was about to take my first bite, I heard, “Hello, Rabbi Eisenman. Sorry to bother you at lunch, but do you have a few minutes?”
I didn’t recognize this man. However, he knew me, and I would never want to push away someone in need.
“Sure, sit down,” I answered. “But I do have to be in class in 45 minutes.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll make sure you’re in class on time.”
He sat down across from me and began an extended monologue about everything and nothing. I tried my hardest to focus on his issues. However, I failed to understand what the problem was.
Often, even if an issue may sound minor to me, to the person talking, it’s major. Indeed, when my children were little, if someone called during dinner and said it was important, I would interrupt my dinner, take the call, and return to the table.
Sometimes my children would ask, “Ta, was it really important?”
I would always answer, “To the person asking the question, it was.”
However, I couldn’t understand where this one-sided conversation was going.
As the minutes ticked away, my hot soup turned cold and the lettuce wilted in the salad. Surprisingly, though, 20 minutes before class, the fellow stood up and said, “Rabbi, I don’t want you to be late. Thank you for your time. I feel much better now.”
Still perplexed (and still hungry), I stood up to leave, food untouched. As I was taking out my credit card to pay, I heard my new friend call out, “Rabbi, don’t worry, we’ll pick up the tab.”
That’s when I noticed the second fellow. I thanked them both and turned to leave.
“One more thing, Rabbi,” he called. “You generated $5,000 today.”
I turned around again, now totally confused.
“Rabbi, when you came in, my friend and I made a ‘Hillel bet.’ We decided to use you as a test case, to see if rabbis are really patient. When we saw you alone, about to eat your quiet, undisturbed lunch, we sprang into action. I wagered $1,000 that you would eventually, albeit politely, ask me not to disturb you now and to contact you at another time. My friend accepted the bet. Well, Rabbi, because of your patience, I’m out $1,000. But that’s okay. It’s all going to tzedakah.”
I smiled, wondering why I had to miss lunch over their social experiment, and turned again to leave. Then his words penetrated a little deeper.
“Wait a minute,” I said, turning back yet again. “You said you bet $1,000, but then said I ‘generated $5,000.’ How does that make sense?”
“Because I’m giving to VLK. Did you ever hear of them? They have a special campaign going on today. For every dollar you give, it’s matched five times.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 901)
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