COME LIVE WITH US
Dov Shulman, a young, dynamic rabbi had just taken his seat on his return flight from Israel. Moments later, a well-dressed man with a look of affluence sat down next to him.
Dov Shulman, a young, dynamic rabbi had just taken his seat on his return flight from Israel. Moments later, a well-dressed man with a look of affluence sat down next to him. The wealthy man introduced himself as Irving Levy from a town in the Midwest. Rabbi Shulman informed his companion of the next twelve hours that he was from a city of many outstanding Torah scholars.
After several minutes of animated conversation, Mr. Levy was clearly impressed with the inspiring individual sitting to his left. He told Rabbi Shulman that he had come to Israel in search of a rabbi for their community. He then made the following proposal: "Would you be willing to live with us in our town? Your starting salary would be $95,000, plus benefits."
Rabbi Shulman was flabbergasted. This was an opportunity to influence a whole community and to strengthen their ties to Torah values. He could give classes, run programs, bring in lecturers, refurbish the mikvah, and no worries on how to raise the funds for such undertakings. His mind was already whirling with ideas with what he could, and hopefully would, accomplish.
After overcoming his initial excitement, though, he realized something was bothering him. As the plane was halfway across the Atlantic and supper was being served, his agitation grew. He repeated Mr. Levy's words in his mind and suddenly it hit him. Mr. Levy did not say, "Would you come and lead our community?" His exact words were, "Would you be willing to live with us in our town?" It dawned on Rabbi Shulman what Mr. Levy, and probably his community, were looking for. They wanted a rabbi who would live with them not just in physical proximity (in our town), but who primarily would give them a stamp of approval on everything that they did (live with us).
Another thing struck him as odd. When a person negotiates a job, it is unusual that salary is mentioned in the initial discussion. Mr. Levy had broken that unwritten rule and had immediately offered a very alluring salary. Again, Rabbi Shulman had the very clear impression that they were looking merely to "buy" a rabbi that would justify all their actions and wouldn't make them feel guilty about any shortcomings or prod them to improve.
As the lights of the runway came into view, Rabbi Shulman calmly turned to Mr. Levy and said the following: "Even if you were to give me double that salary, a twelve-bedroom mansion, and every other imaginable benefit, I would only live in a place of Torah. It doesn't so much matter if the place that I move to is full of Torah scholars or not. What is important is that it is a place of Torah - a community that is on a spiritual path of growth in Torah."
The following Shabbat after their return was the one before the holiday of Shavuot, in which many synagogues have a custom to study the sixth chapter at the end of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers). Both Rabbi Shulman and Mr. Levy were awed as they each read, in their respective communities, the ninth Mishnah that week: Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma said: Once I was walking on the road when a certain man met me. He greeted me and I returned his greeting. He said to me, "Rabbi, from what place are you?" I said to him, "I am from a great city of scholars and sages." He said to me, "Rabbi, would you be willing to live with us in our place? I would give you thousands upon thousands of golden coins, precious stones, and pearls." I replied, "Even if you were to give me all the silver and gold, precious stones and pearls in the world, I would dwell nowhere but in a makom Torah, a place of Torah."
As each of us celebrates anew Z'man Matan Torateinu, the time of the giving of our Torah, let us renew our commitment to making our community one that every Rabbi Shulman or Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma wouldn't hesitate to call a makom Torah and desire to live in.
Rabbi Ariel Asa is an educator at Torah Day School of Atlanta and a practicing mohel.
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