Thursday, Dec 9, 2021

A Tale of Two Shirts

The children who had just lost their father had a lot to be proud of. He was first and foremost a talmid chochom who spent many hours learning Torah. He was also a successful businessman who shared his wealth generously with Torah institutions and various chesed organizations, not to mention the many individuals he supported. He was a caring husband and loving father, an inspiring role model for his family. Now, after his levayah, his children opened his sealed tzava’ah, his last will and testament, and they were puzzled as to the meaning of the first few lines. The words seemed strange, like a mysterious riddle. After much thought, they finally remembered the entire story behind their father’s strange request.

It was early in the morning when a ship docked at the American shore. Its many passengers disembarked hurriedly. They were all refugees, saved from the valley of death in Europe during World War II. Here they were in a strange country, each person with his own little travel bag containing the few personal belongings that they were able to salvage.

Among those leaving the ship was a young, skinny boy whose family was left behind, dying al kiddush Hashem. Now he was all alone, with only a small sack that contained all of his belongings. Not having any relatives in this foreign land, at first he wandered from place to place. Finally, he found a bustling bais medrash, which served as a yeshiva for bochurim who escaped Europe. This was the place of his heart’s desire. Here he would be able to grow in Torah without any disturbance.

From morning until late at night, he was immersed in Torah, learning and reviewing it many times. He was transformed into a true ben Torah in his entire essence. He had everything he needed – his few articles of clothing, room and board supplied by the yeshiva, and his most precious possession, his Gemara. In his limited wardrobe, he had only two shirts, one that he wore during the week, the nicer one designated for Shabbos. He was perfectly fine with this, but with the passing of time and constant wash and wear, the shirts’ condition was deteriorating. First the weekday shirt became tattered, and then the same happened with the Shabbos shirt. They both became threadbare.

He had no money to replace them. What to do? To leave his Gemara in order to earn money to buy a shirt was unthinkable. He thought of a great idea. He could wear his kapote, and the holes and tears in his shirt would be covered. But this was only an option for inside the bais medrash, where many boys wore their kapotes. In the dining hall, they all ate in their shirts. He felt embarrassed to be different from everyone else.

Necessity is the mother of invention, so he thought of another great idea. Right after davening, the bochurim lingered in the bais medrash for a few minutes. During that time, the dining room was empty. He could rush down there wearing his kapote, and eat quickly when no one was there. That was the solution.

The next morning, the moment after the last Kaddish was recited, he hurried down to the dining room, ate quickly, and bentched. As he was leaving the dining room, the bochurim were coming down. By the time he settled in his seat in the bais medrash, he realized that there were fifteen minutes until seder would begin. While his friends were still eating, he had a spare quarter of an hour until his chavrusah would arrive.

A quarter of an hour…that was precious time. He couldn’t just let it pass without utilizing it. He decided that this would be the time for him to have his own personal seder. He would learn a masechta that the yeshiva wasn’t learning. His eyes rested on a Gemara nearby. It was Maseches Zevochim. That’s it. He would begin learning Maseches Zevochim every day. For how long? For just one quarter of an hour.

He began with just the Gemara. From there, he went to Rashi and Tosafos. Each and every day. Just one quarter of an hour. He eventually made a siyum on Zevochim and reviewed it over and over again. Then he went on to learn Menachos over and over again. In just…one quarter of an hour.

Years passed and this bochur became an accomplished talmid chochom. He knew these two masechtos fluently by heart. And it all happened because of the spare quarter of an hour.

In due time, he got married and built and raised a beautiful family. He tried his hand at business and was blessed from heaven with tremendous success. He became known both for his vast knowledge in Torah and for his magnanimous deeds of chesed. His life was full of accomplishment, and now that he had passed on to the next world, his tzava’ah was being read.

“My dear children, in my safe you will find two worn-out shirts full of rips and holes. I ask that you take these shirts and hang them up in the central room in our house. On one shirt you should attach a sign saying ‘Maseches Zevochi,’ and on the other a sign saying ‘Maseches Menachos.’

“Let those who come to be menachem avel see these shirts with signs and inquire about them. Tell them my story. Tell them that these two shirts taught me a valuable lesson in life about how precious time is. Because of these two shirts, I was able to realize what can be accomplished in just a quarter of an hour. How every minute, every second, if utilized properly, can be transformed into an immense vessel in achieving an objective, and in realizing an aspiration.

“Because of these two worn-out shirts, I was left with numerous extra minutes each day. I could have wasted them on this and on that, and then I would have frittered away the precious, eternal acquisition. Because of these two withered shirts, I was forced to hurry and I gained a quarter of an hour each day.

“One quarter of an hour! It seems like a pittance. But it is a full world! These two shirts should serve as a reminder, as a resounding message. A quarter of an hour is a tremendous amount. Don’t squander it. Don’t let it pass without accomplishment” (Peninei Parshas Hashovua, Rav Osher Kovalsky).

The most precious commodity, the most valuable gift that we have been given, is life itself. Because we have it in abundance, or so we think, we take it for granted and often don’t utilize it properly. Every moment carries such potential, when we can create worlds.

The Medrash in this week’s sedrah tells us: Rabi Akiva was sitting and darshening, but the tzibbur was dozing off and he wanted to arouse them, so he made a statement that seemed puzzling: What did Queen Esther see to rule over 127 provinces? Because she was the granddaughter of Sarah Imeinu, who lived for 127 years (Bereishis Rabbah 58:3). What message was Rabi Akiva imparting to his listeners?

The Chasam Sofer explains: About Sarah’s years, Chazal say that they were all equal in goodness. But how can that be? Obviously, when she was but a toddler, she could not have accomplished much. To understand this, he explains a posuk that Avrohom Avinu said in his hesped on Sarah: “She arises while it is yet nighttime, and gives food to her household and a ration to her maidens” (Mishlei 31:15). After the posuk says that she gives food to her household, what is added by saying “and a ration to her maidens”?

Giving food for her household can be understood as providing sustenance for the home she is building for herself in Olam Haba. In her later years, she is up late at night, busily accomplishing great things. And these nights make up for maiden years, when she was still too young to accumulate many zechuyos. Because of this diligence, she makes up for lost time and her life is complete, as is her home in the World to Come. This is the meaning of the posuk. She gives food to her household in Olam Haba. But because she also arises in the nighttime, she makes up for those moments of her youth when she couldn’t accomplish much. In this merit, Esther, who emulated her forbear, rose to greatness and ruled over 127 provinces, equal to the full years of Sarah.

This was meant as a rebuke to Rabi Akiva’s listeners. Here Sarah Imeinu was up at night accomplishing great things, and yet they were squandering precious time by sleeping during the day.

The Chiddushei Harim explains the Medrash from a different angle. If every single year of Sarah Imeinu’s life resulted in Esther’s ruling over a country, then every week equaled a city and every hour a town. From here we see the value of every moment. If one sleeps through it, there is an immeasurable loss.

The Gemara tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu became wealthy from the chips of precious stone that fell by the wayside when he chiseled out the second Luchos, as it says, “Pesol lecha shnei luchos avonim – Carve for yourself two stone tablets…” (Shemos 34:1) and “the remnants shall be for yourself” (Nedorim 38a).

My rebbi, Rav Pesach Stein, was wont to say: People carve out for themselves larger slots of time for learning, but they tend to disregard the small chips of time, the five random minutes here or a quarter of an hour there. It is from utilizing these remnants of time that Moshe Rabbeinu became so wealthy in ruchniyus.

Such precious assets. If utilized properly, they can bring blessings for us both here and in Olam Haba, and for our families for generations.

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