Is there something you always carry on you, even if it’s seen better days?
Project coordinator: Rachel Bachrach
Illustrations: Menachem Weinreb
Twenty-five years ago, I had just become the rav of Ahavas Israel in Passaic, and I had a few critical sh’eilos regarding the minhagim of the shul. Since the shul in its previous state had no mechitzah and no minhagim, I needed someone of great stature to decide what course it would now take. I decided to write to Rav Chaim Kanievsky. I numbered the questions one, two, and three. For question number one, I added three possibilities and numbered them as well.
As is Rav Chaim’s practice, his answers are brief, yet amazingly insightful. For question number one, which had three choices, he wrote, “Achas v’achas.” This phrase comes from the Yom Kippur machzor when we replicate the counting of the Kohein Gadol as he sprinkled the blood. Rav Chaim answered that for question “achas” (one), the correct practice is to follow “achas,” the first option listed; hence, “Achas v’achas” (one and one).
Rav Chaim’s ingenious way of including a reference to Yom Kippur — as the letter was sent just before Rosh Hashanah — has remained an inspiration to me for decades. Since I received this note 25 years ago, I keep it on me always. It’s folded in a small plastic pouch, and when I open my wallet, I can see the micro-script of Rav Chaim through the transparent plastic. Whenever I see the carefully crafted letters of the gadol hador, I am jolted back to reality.
The letter serves as a reality check, a reminder of what is really important in life, that a person can live in a home of utter simplicity without the slightest care for material needs and become the address for thousands seeking brachos and counsel. The note screams out to me, “Remember, this money in your wallet is just a necessity to allow you to live. It has no eternal value. Only a life devoted to Torah and chesed has everlasting worth.”
The note brings me back to Rechov Rashbam, where Torah truly reigns, and devotion to limud haTorah is the pinnacle of success and achievement. Accomplishment is measured in dapim of Gemara, not in dollars and cents.
I know I cannot be Rav Chaim. But his note reminds me that I must at least attempt to be the best I can be.
Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman is the rav of Congregation Ahavas Israel in Passaic, New Jersey, an adjunct professor at Lander College for Women in New York, and a columnist in this magazine.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 860)
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