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Thought for the Day: Recognizing the Gift

I went to South Lake Tahoe High School; nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, a few scant miles from Lake Tahoe.  Beautiful.  I learned to drive there; lots of snow and lots of hills.  I am therefore a pretty good driver in snow, having now over 40 years of experience.  The best advice for safety while driving in snow is: don't do it.  If you don't absolutely need to go out, then stay in.  No matter how well you drive, the roads are slippery and the other drivers are very likely neither as expert nor as cautious as you.

I was not thrilled, therefore, when I needed to drive with my young (not youngest, anymore, by the way) chavrusa to the Aguda of West Rogers Park last motzai Shabbos for the Pirkei end of year program.  I know I should have been excited; a chance to learn, to do a mitzvah, l'fum tza'arah agra (the more pain, the more gain), etc.  I even chided myself as I was cleaning off the snow with the story of the inn keeper who poured out three glasses of vodka to be able to do the required chesed in the the best possible way.  (It's a powerful story; check it out if you haven't heard it.)  That helped; at least I was able to laugh at my irritation.

Then I got there and, as completely expected, there was no parking.  I dropped off my young charge and went to find a parking spot; which I found a block away.  As I was trudging through the snow I couldn't help but think, "gosh... I am doing a mitzvah here, couldn't I at least have been rewarded with a closer parking spot?"  Into the shul; parking had been difficult, finding a place for my coat was impossible.  I really wish I could tell you have my face was glowing with the joy of doing a mitzvah and running into road blocks at each turn.  I really, really wish I could say that; but I was annoyed.

Then I walked into the beis medrash.  It was standing room only.  I don't mean that as an expression; I mean, really, there was not a seat to be had.  I saw a friend who had brought his son for the first time; "Wow!  Is it always like this?  This is awesome!!"  Now even I was starting to feel some inspiration.  I found my chavrusa and we learned -- standing up at a single shtender using a single coverless gemara.  Then came time for pizza and the keynote address from R' Chaim Levin, shlita.

The rosh yeshiva spoke about his wife's grandfather, R' Yechezkel Levenstein, z"tzl; better known as Reb Chatzkel; who's fortieth yahrtzeit had just passed.  R' Levin wanted to inspire the boys with the idea that kiddush HaShem can be accomplished even at a young age, so he related how his wife's illustrious Torah Leader had gotten his start.

Apparently R' Chatzkel (just Chatzkel, then) was not on the "yeshivah track".  He was a frum boy from a chadische family, but at 15 he decided that he needed to help with the family parnassa.  He would learn for two hours in the morning, then spend the rest of the day in his chosen "occupation" -- selling flowers.  One Friday, after having sold his flowers, he headed to the mikvah; his few zlotas in his pants pocket.  When he came out of the mikvah, he discovered that his money -- which represented several hours of hishtadlus and was obviously needed by the family -- had been stolen.  Here he was; 15, helping with the family parnassa and had stopped to prepare for Shabbos.  While he was in the mikvah -- while he was oseik b'mitzvah -- his earnings for that day were stolen.  Zu torah, v'zuh s'chara!?  (That's the reward for obeying the Torah?!)

Little 15 year old Chatzkel that moment became R' Chatzkel, the mashgiach ruchani who inspired how many thousands of Torah observant Jews.  R' Chatzkel said to himself, "I worked several hours to get those few zlotas, and they were taken from me in the blink of an eye.  I will no longer waste my life on pursuit of reward that can be so easily stolen.  I will dedicate my life to only one pursuit, to the one pursuit who's reward can never be taken from me -- Torah!"

What if his money had not been stolen that day?  What if he had been particularly successful and became a flower shop owner with stores across the world?  That robbery was the greatest gift both to R' Chatzkel and to the entire world.  Perhaps he was rewarded with that loss davka because he had chosen to stop work a little early and to to the mikvah.  He took one small step toward HaShem, and HaShem reached out for him.

Zu Torah, v'zu s'chara!

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