“Binyamin, you’ll eat by me, and you won’t sleep in shul tonight”
It’s been over 20 years since I began my practice of giving a jar of honey to everyone in shul on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. The distribution does add an additional hour to my time in shul, but the time is well worth it as it allows me to spend a precious few moments with my beloved congregants.
When Binyamin K. came to shul that Rosh Hashanah night, he was unusually quiet. After davening, I noticed him standing near the empty coat room. Although I was tired and a big part of me wanted to get home to rest, it was Rosh Hashanah, the time we seek out extra mitzvos. Who knew what would tip the scales?
I overcame my tiredness and reached out to Binyamin.
“Gut Yom Tov, Binyamin. Aren’t you hungry?”
As Binyamin turned, I saw tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Binyamin, what’s wrong?”
“My wife threw me out of the house. I have nowhere to eat and nowhere to sleep.”
I had been aware of some marital discord. Clearly, I was unaware of the extent.
I told him he could eat by me.
“Rabbi, I’m okay for food. But I have nowhere to stay tonight.”
From an earlier meeting with Binyamin and his wife, and my agreement to attempt to remain impartial, I was comfortable with his eating by me, as he had nowhere to eat. However, I felt his staying overnight would cross the line of impartiality. But there was no time for me to suggest him as a house guest to anyone.
Binyamin sensed my hesitation. “I’ll sleep here in the shul,” he reassured me.
I looked at Binyamin and thought about sleeping in my comfortable bed while Binyamin slept on chairs in the shul.
“Binyamin, you’ll eat by me, and you won’t sleep in shul tonight. Give me five minutes to take care of something.”
Binyamin joined us for the seudah, and afterward, I asked, “Are you up to a little stroll? C’mon. You need a proper place to sleep. Earlier, when I went to my office, I asked the security guard to call Howard Johnson’s and book one room for tonight. I’ll walk you there. It’s about a mile.”
We reached the hotel, and I asked the desk clerk to please open the door for my important friend.
The next day Binyamin showed up in shul, rested and relaxed, but wondering what would be the upcoming night.
Before shofar, I located Chana, Binyamin’s wife.
“I’m not taking him back until we work out our differences. I imagine he slept by you last night?”
“No, he did not. I told you I wouldn’t take sides and I kept my word. He slept at Howard Johnson’s.”
Chana looked surprised yet appreciative that I wasn’t taking sides.
“Chana, I’m not saying he’s right, and I’m not discounting your difficulties. However, as we’re not dealing with physical safety, but rather with compatibility issues, I’m asking you as a personal favor to me to let him sleep in the basement tonight. We can sort out the rest after Yom Tov.”
“Rabbi, why is that a personal favor to you?”
“Because if he sleeps here in the shul, then I’m sleeping here, too.”
Chana slowly nodded. “He can sleep in the basement.”
“I know that was hard for you, and I’m not minimizing your pain,” I told her. “You should know that on Rosh Hashanah, Hashem often answers the tefillos of those in pain.”
Binyamin slept at home that night, and thankfully he is still there.
After Yom Tov, I went back to Howard Johnson’s to pay for the room. Kevin, the desk clerk, said, “Rabbi, that must’ve been some brawl if you had to bring that man here on your holiday! You had to walk over a mile.”
“Kevin, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but it actually helped achieve peace. I’d gladly walk another five miles to help keep a family together.”
Kevin shook his head and said, “I guess it’s like one step forward and two steps back.”
“You got it, Kevin! You, too, can soon be the rabbi.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 929)
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