In desperation, Raphael came to me and begged me to find him something to do
As a caterer, most of Raphael’s work disappeared when COVID arrived, and he closed down.
This left Raphael with too much free time and too few responsibilities.
Raphael and his wife lived in an empty nest, and he needed to be busy. Raphael attempted to learn more Torah, and indeed he took advantage of shiurim available on Zoom. Nevertheless, Raphael still had a lot of time to fill. In desperation, Raphael came to me and begged me to find him something to do.
“Rebbi, I am 64 years old,” he told me, tears running down his cheeks. “All I know how to do is cater. I can never see rebuilding my business. I have just enough money to live, and honestly, I don’t have the zitzfleish to sit and learn more than one hour a day. What am I to do? I don’t have money to run a tzedakah fund, and I don’t have the kop to shteig. What am I going to do?!”
I looked down on my desk and noticed the sefer Kisrah shel Torah, a biography of Rav Shmuel Berenbaum ztz”l, the rosh yeshivah of Mir in Brooklyn.
I fondly recall the summer zeman of 1982, when I learned in the Mir in Brooklyn.
I was a chassan at the time and wanted to stay “in town” for the zeman and not go off to the mountains.
The Mir officially went till Tishah B’Av, and I stayed even after Tishah B’Av, along with a handful of bochurim.
The Rosh Yeshivah also remained in the yeshivah after Tishah B’Av. He would learn in the beis medrash and continued his learning routine, even though only a minyan of bochurim were there.
One evening I returned to the yeshivah late and went to the beis medrash to catch up on my seder halimud.
After 11, the only two people in the beis medrash were the Rosh Yeshivah and me.
I recall this occurring several times, as in the hot, humid summer of Brooklyn, only a few bochurim did not escape the city for cooler climates.
I was in complete awe of the Rosh Yeshivah, as he never stopped learning. This feeling of reverence precluded me from approaching him, even though we were often alone in the beis medrash.
One night, I was engrossed in a sugya, and it was already after midnight. The Rosh Yeshivah was still at his place in the beis medrash learning. Suddenly, I noticed that he stood up. This was rare, as he always seemed glued to his seat. Yet, I noticed that he began to walk into the middle of the beis medrash. Did he need a sefer? Was he coming to talk to me? I trembled in fear at the thought of the second prospect.
Surprisingly, he collected all the seforim left on the shtenders and placed them back on the shelves. He then walked toward the door to leave. I sat there, stunned and awed by his presence and by his attention to keeping the beis medrash orderly. He must have picked up on my astonishment, for as he passed me, he said, “Dos iz oich a cheilek fun talmud Torah — this is also a part of Torah learning.”
I had my answer for Raphael.
“Raphael,” I now said, returning from my memories, “I have the perfect job for you. How would you like to be like Rav Shmuel Berenbaum?”
Raphael has been cleaning the various batei medrash since that day and hasn’t missed a day.
Who could have imagined that a comment said to a bochur, seemingly in passing, would be the remedy for a 64-year-old suffering “COVID-boredom” 39 years later?
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 853)
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