The Quartermaster| March 29, 2022
If not for my coffee, Yosef would wonder why I didn’t also ask for money. But the charade had to stop
Place: Coffee station in shul.
Time: 5:30 a.m.
Mood: Tired, drained.
The man was fundraising and arrived before the first of the minyanim. He spoke Hebrew with a Sephardic accent.
“My name is Yosef, and I’m collecting for my daughter’s chatunah. What are you collecting for?”
It’s not the first and probably not the last I’ve been taken for a member of the holy group of collectors, and I’m actually honored to be considered part of this revered group.
Before I could correct his mistaken assumption, however, he continued.
“I heard the rabbi here is a decent fellow. He just doesn’t like the meshulachim to disturb the tefillot. However, if you collect in the hall, that’s fine. And I heard he works very hard. I hope I see him this morning. What did you say you were collecting for?”
Before I could say a word, Yosef continued speaking, beginning a monologue about people who give quarters.
“What’s your opinion when someone gives you a quarter? Some get upset and refuse to accept it. Not me, I say thank you and take it. After all, you never know the financial state the giver is in. Maybe he’s in worse shape than you? Therefore, I always accept it with a smile. What about you?”
I wasn’t sure what to say, but mumbled, while pouring the milk in my coffee, “I agree, whatever someone wants to give, I always accept with a smile.”
“I like you,” Yosef told me. “We think alike. I am going from here to the Five Towns, do you want to go together? We can split the transportation. Tomorrow, I’m going to Cleveland, we can take the bus together and you can stay with me at Mr. Goldstein’s home, he has two beds in his downstairs bedroom.”
Now, of course, I was grappling with how to extricate myself from this uncomfortable bind.
If I told him outright that I am the rabbi, he might think I was tricking him.
Yet not to tell him was certainly deceiving him.
Suddenly several men walked in the door. Yosef said, “Hachnassat kallah.”
I turned to drink my coffee, because if not for my coffee, Yosef would wonder why I didn’t also ask for money. But the charade had to stop.
“I’m so sorry, Yosef, I have to tell you something—”
“Rabbi Eisenman, you don’t have to explain anything.”
I stopped speaking, stunned.
“I knew who you were when I saw you,” he went on. “However, when you came close, you looked as if the weight of the world was on your shoulders. I felt so bad for you, and I wanted to do something for you. I couldn’t bring myself to say hello, as I knew you would get out a checkbook or your credit card, while in reality, all you wanted to do was to have a quiet cup of coffee before davening like anyone else.
“I wondered what I could say to allow you to join me in a nice warm cup of coffee. And then I thought, I know! I’ll make him an honorary collector! That way, he won’t feel any special obligation to me, and he can enjoy his coffee.”
I looked at Yosef. I thought about the humiliation he goes through daily. He schleps from Passaic to the Five Towns and from the Five Towns to Flatbush, Cleveland, Lakewood, Baltimore…
And I thought about how most people pretend he’s invisible and keep on walking.
And I thought about how to many people he really is invisible.
And I thought about how living such a life can desensitize a man to his fellow man.
And I realized that the man who stood before me was a giant in middos. A man so keenly sensitive to the feelings of a tired old rabbi. A man who sacrifices his own needs for the needs of others.
At five thirty in the morning, I knew I had just witnessed gadlus, the likes of which I can only aspire to attain.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 905)
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