The Yeshiva or The Horse?
Trnslated by: Braha Bender
When Rabbi Chaim Ickovitz founded his famous Voluzhiner Yeshiva, one of the systems he set in place was a group of fundraisers employed to travel from city to city and town to town to collect the means necessary to maintain the large yeshiva.
However, one day one of the fundraisers came to the Rosh Yeshiva with a complaint. “Every time I travel to fundraise, a great deal of my time is wasted shlepping from town to town. I am sometimes delayed days at a time while waiting for a carriage to drive me to my next location. This time could be used for fundraising from more of our patrons in order to increase the financial support brought back to the yeshiva!”
The fundraiser suggested that the yeshiva buy a carriage of their own. That way, explained the fundraiser, he would be able to use the carriage to travel from location to location more quickly. His request sounded reasonable and indeed came to pass.
From that point forward, the fundraiser no longer needed to waste his time negotiating the long and winding roads between distant European villages. His clothing remained fresh, his shoes remained shiny, and his demeanor remained energetic for many more fundraising encounters and meetings. His honorable appearance garnered even more financial support than before and within a short time the investment put in to the horse and carriage were paid off and reaping dividends for the use of the holy yeshiva.
One day the well-appointed fundraiser arrived at the home of one of the yeshiva’s most generous supporters in a village far, far away. This particular man was accustomed to donating no less than fifty rubles to the yeshiva every year, a sum of tremendous proportions in those days.
However, to the fundraisers surprise, when he arrived for his annual visit at the home of this wealthy Torah supporter, the rich man refused to even discuss a donation. “I’m quite sorry, young man,” said the rich man haughtily, “But you can be assured that this year you will not be seeing a cent of my money!”
“With all due respect, sir” responded the fundraiser, “If you don’t mind my asking… What happened?”
But the wealthy man refused to give the fundraiser any answer and would not have his stance budged an inch. To the contrary, added the wealthy man, “I regret giving the large sums I donated to the yeshiva in the past.” Eventually the bewildered fundraiser got back in to his carriage and rode away.
Upon completing his course several weeks later, the fundraiser presented what he had collected to the Rosh Yeshiva along with a detailed list of that year’s contributors. As the Rosh Yeshiva read over the list, he came to appreciate that the name of the wealthy man in the far away village was conspicuously absent. Turning to his fundraiser, the Rosh Yeshiva asked what had happened to the donor who had stood behind the yeshiva so generously. Lifting his hands in bewilderment, the fundraiser proceeded to tell the Rosh Yeshiva what had happened.
As the entire tale came to the fore, Reb Chaim stood up from his desk. “Come!,” the Rosh Yeshiva declared. “We will visit him together. If he has complaints against the yeshiva, I would like to hear them. If there is anything that we can do to repair or improve ourselves, we will do so!”
As the wealthy villager perceived the renowned Rosh Yeshiva alighting from the carriage, he came out to greet him and show him every measure of honor.
“What has brought about sirs decision to desist from his generous support for the yeshiva?,” the Rosh Yeshiva asked.
Responded the wealthy man, “Rabbi, all my life I thought I was giving my money to support Torah scholars. Imagine how surprised I was when I saw your fundraiser driving up to my door in such a vehicle! I never knew that what my money had been going towards was the support of a team of horses…”
Upon hearing the rich man’s accusation, the Rosh Yeshiva proceeded to ask him whether he was familiar with the verses in the Chumash (Pentateuch). Though the wealthy man was indeed a proficient Torah scholar in his own right, he admitted that the verses of that section of the Torah were not those most familiar to him.
“In that case,” said the Rosh Yeshiva, “Let me explain the meaning of one of the verses in Parashas VaYakhel to you. A verse describing the artist Betzalel writes that the Almighty, ‘filled him with G-dly spirit, with wisdom, insight, and knowledge, and with every craft – to weave designs, to work with gold, silver, and copper, stone-cutting for setting, and wood-carving – to perform every craft of design’ (Exodus 35:31-33). The question is asked: Doesn’t working with gold and silver require skill and experience? How could ‘wisdom, insight, and knowledge’ be enough?
“The answer lies in the intentions of those who contributed the gold, silver, and other materials towards the construction of the Mishkan (tabernacle),” explained the Rosh Yeshiva. “Some gave with greater enthusiasm, some with slightly less. The ‘wisdom, insight, and knowledge’ given to Betzalel gave him the ability to discern the intentions of the giver in the gift. Betzalel used the gold of those whose enthusiasm was most sincere to build the aron (ark). The gold of those whose enthusiasm was slightly less was used to form the other vessels. Those whose enthusiasm was even less gave the gold that Betzalel used to make the gold plating for the staves, and so on.”
The Rosh Yeshiva concluded, “If your enthusiasm is heartfelt and your intentions are sincere in contributing to the support of Torah scholars, heaven will ensure that your contribution is given directly in to the hands of the finest scholars in the yeshiva. On the other hand, those who give with apathy and coldness may find their money being used to feed the horses…” With that the story ended.
Not all of us are in the position to claim the privilege of being one of the most generous financial supporters of the Volozhiner Yeshiva. However, each of us maintains a daily schedule with hours dedicated to the maintenance of the “yeshiva” and those dedicated to the maintenance of the “horses”. Some of the hours in our day are spent in prayer, saying brachos (blessings) over food and drink, attending Torah classes, and other holy pursuits. Other hours in our day are spent eating, drinking, and taking care of our material needs.
Consider your own situation. Which of these pursuits garners your greatest enthusiasm? To which do dedicate greater thought and focus? Where do you put your real “money”? May we all merit to be pouring our resources in to the “yeshiva”, not just in to the “horses”…