Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Are You Just Feeding Kosher Food to a Dog?

 

Mrs. Zelda Nemes a”h taught Dikduk at Manhattan High School for Girls. My wife was her student and she shared with me a story that Mrs. Nemes told her class.

Many years ago, Mrs. Nemes’ husband, Reb Yitzchok, had a work colleague named Mr. Tonkel. Mr. Tonkel, who was a nonreligious Jew, traveled with his wife to Europe on vacation. Sadly, while there, they were in a terrible accident, and his wife died. Mr. Tonkel was devastated at his sudden and tragic loss.

Reb Yitzchok went to visit him and saw that he was all alone. Reb Yitzchok offered to deliver a box of seven kosher meals to him every week. Mr. Tonkel tried his best to discourage Reb Yitzchok from going out of his way for him, but he insisted on helping his friend. Besides, Reb Yitzchok figured that Mr. Tonkel, who did not keep kosher, would at least have seven Kosher meals every week. Despite the expense and trouble involved, Reb Yitzchok felt that he was doing a double mitzvah by helping another Jew while being mezakeh him through preventing him from eating treifeh food.

And so began a weekly trip. Reb Yitzchok would leave his Manhattan office and take the train to the Bronx. He would stop at Schreiber’s Catering where he would purchase a box of seven pre-packed meals. Then he would continue by train to Mr. Tonkel’s house and make the delivery. Only then would he turn around and make the trip home to his family in Crown Heights.

Often, Mr. Tonkel would graciously tell Reb Yitzchok that he felt he was doing too much for him, and he asked Reb Yitzchok to consider discontinuing the weekly three-hour journey to bring him kosher food. However, whenever Mr. Tonkel tried to tell him to stop, Reb Yitzchok pushed back and said he was happy to be helping a friend.

Reb Yitzchok’s family, too, wondered out loud if he was perhaps going overboard. Mrs. Nemes shared that her husband would come home very late once a week due to this mitzvah of his, and it became a sacrifice for the whole family.

After eighteen months of making the weekly trip, Mr. Tonkel finally revealed to Reb Yitzchok that he wasn’t being merely gracious when he tried to discourage him from bringing the kosher food. “Actually”, Mr. Tonkel said, “I didn’t like the taste of the food you brought, and I had been feeding it to my dog the entire time. Please don’t turn your life upside down anymore”.

Reb Yitzchok left the house deflated and with a broken heart. He had had such good intentions. He was trying to do the ratzon Hashem. How can it be that all this time he was simply purchasing and delivering kosher food to a dog?

Mrs. Nemes said that her husband came home crestfallen and shared what had happened. She told her students about a thought that went through her mind at the time. She thought to herself, “I knew all along that my husband had been going way overboard, and I even told him so many times”.

After that, whenever she saw her husband doing something that appeared to be going too far, she would say, “you’re feeding kosher food to a dog!” The incident with Mr. Tonkel became a moshol in their home for misplaced enthusiasm.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Mrs. Nemes told her students that many years later, she got a call from the Hillel House at the University of Pennsylvania. They were looking to give Jewish students a Shabbos experience at a religious home and they asked her if she would consider hosting a student for Shabbos. She happily agreed.

Erev Shabbos came and a young irreligious student came to her home. She sat her guest down for a piece of kugel and asked him about himself. He told her that he had no interest at all in religion, and was only there because a friend of his twisted his arm to join the trip. Mrs. Nemes told him that he need not worry, her kugel has no strings attached.

Within a few minutes of conversation, however, they uncovered that this young student was none other than Mr. Tonkel’s grandson – a son of his daughter. Not only that, he had heard the story about the nice man who had put in so much effort to help his grandfather, only to find out later that the food was eaten by a dog. He never heard the man’s name but grew up with a warm feeling towards him. He had no way of knowing that he was being placed in that very man’s house!

As a result of his warm appreciation to Reb Yitzchok Nemes, and the connection to his grandfather, the student’s heart opened just a bit and his attitude changed. He became able to listen and enjoy the Shabbos. He learned and learned and eventually became a fully committed Jew. He married a frum lady and currently lives with his family in Eretz Yisroel.

Mrs. Nemes told her students that her husband had been vindicated. No, he had not just been feeding kosher food to a dog. His efforts and the sacrifice of the whole family turned out to bear precious results.

What do we learn from this story? One lesson we learn is that only Hashem gets to decide on the results. Our job is to serve Him by following His Torah. It’s certainly wonderful to see the results of our labor. But we don’t always merit to see it. You have to have a lot of patience in the Ribono Shel Olam’s world. A thousand years for Him is merely like a passing day. He is the ultimate artist and He paints His pictures.

But there’s something else here too. The food was all eaten by a dog. Reb Yitzchok Nemes’ avodah seemingly accomplished no results. But it’s the heart that Hashem Yisborach wants. And his heart he gave in full measure. The seeds that his heart planted so many years before, took root inside the heart of a distant and uninterested student at the University of Pennsylvania and eventually grew into a beautiful family of yerei Shomayim. While the food may have gone to the dog, the feeling of love inside Reb Yitzchok’s heart did not.

With your permission, I would like to share a remez with you.

In this week’s parsha, we learn about the mitzvos of Shmittah and Yovel. During those years, a farmer has to surrender all the income of his business and place himself on the same level as any other Jew. Anyone can come and eat the fruits of his field. Eight years out of fifty, he gives up one hundred percent of his income and eats with the poor.

It occurred to me to wonder if we can calculate the percentage of income a Jewish farmer has to surrender over a fifty year cycle.

The truth is that it’s quite a straightforward calculation.

Eight out of fifty years, he surrenders one hundred percent. The other forty two years, he gives approximately twenty percent each year.

How so?

During the non Shmittah years, a farmer first has to separate a small amount for terumah. Then, he has to separate ten percent for maaser rishon followed by ten percent of the remaining produce for maaser sheni or maaser ani, depending on the year. All these are taken from the gross product of his crop, without deducting any expenses. In this manner, the rules of terumos and maasros of produce are much stricter than those of maaser kesofim, where all necessary business expenses are deducted prior to calculating the maaser obligation.

So to recap, the farmer’s obligation is one hundred percent in eight of the fifty years, and approximately twenty percent in the other forty two years.

How do we convert that amount into a single percentage over fifty years? Simple. Assume that each year is worth one hundred. The fifty years combined equal five thousand. So to start, eight hundred – representing the eight years of Shmittah and Yovel – must be surrendered. That’s eight hundred out of five thousand. In the remaining forty two years the farmer gives up approximately twenty percent each year. Multiply twenty by forty two and you come out with eight hundred and forty. Add eight hundred forty to the eight hundred of the Shmittah and Yovel years and you have approximately sixteen hundred out of five thousand.

What is sixteen hundred out of five thousand as a percentage? Thirty two percent. The gematria of lev, heart!

Think for a moment about the level of emunah and bitachon demanded of a simple Jew, requiring him to forgo thirty two percent of his income over a yovel. We are expected to give our whole heart to the Ribono Shel Olam. Kol Ha“Lev”!

But as Chazal say, the amount we are able to give is really not that important. We have to behave in the way Hashem Yisborach prescribed for us in the Shulchan Aruch. We do the best we can and follow Hashem’s instructions. The results are up to Him. “Echod hamarbeh v’echod hamam’it ubilvad sheyichavein libo laShomayim!”

He wants our heart. And the heart never goes to waste. It gets planted and grows and grows forever.

 

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