Monday, May 27, 2024

Loyalty

 

I hesitated to write this article. I am truly not sure if today’s reader will even identify with what I am talking about. They may think that I sound like some sort of Choni Hamagal who has come around after being asleep for seventy years to teach about concepts that don’t exist today. Then I reconsidered and thought, “If there is any readership today in Klal Yisroel that might understand and identify with the concept that I am about to discuss, it is the Yated readership.”

It all started at a chasunah last week. A friend of mine married off a child. I was at the beautiful wedding when I happened to notice an elderly man attending the chupah. I knew R’ Leibel,* but couldn’t figure out why he was there. As far as I knew, he was not related to the baal simcha. “Okay,” I thought to myself, “he must have some connection to the other side.”

Later, I noticed R’ Leibel sitting at the seudah. It was already more than three hours after the chasunah had begun. Now I was surprised and not just a little curious. I saw that he was sitting at the table by himself. He did not seem to know too many people.

Finally, I decided to go over. I approached his table, greeted him, and we began to shmooze. When I eventually got around to asking him why he was at the wedding, his answer blew me away.

“Truthfully,” he explained, “I don’t know the baalei simcha. So why did I come? I came because the chosson’s grandfather, the father of the chosson’s father, was an old, dear friend of mine for many decades. He passed away a few years ago, but when I got the invitation to the wedding, I said to myself, ‘My good old friend whom I so loved and valued is having a simcha! His grandson is getting married! Shouldn’t I participate in the wedding? Granted, he is no longer alive and won’t know whether I was here or not, but I want to be misameiach in the simcha of my friend.”

Wow!

I got up to go back to my seat, shaking my head in disbelief. Where do we find such a middah today? This was pure, old-fashioned loyalty. Old-fashioned? Indeed!

Loyalty? So Old-Fashioned!

In today’s world, being loyal is so not in style. Once upon a time, friendships were deeper. Feelings of loyalty to family were also much stronger. Today, most of these things sound like some kind of quaint remainders of a bygone era that old people talk about when they get bored of discussing their most recent visit to the doctor.

In truth, however, this type of loyalty can be classified with the term ne’emanus. In fact, the most exalted appellation that Hashem gives to Moshe Rabbeinu in the Torah is ne’eman, loyal. “Bechol beisi ne’eman hu.” Hashem values loyalty.

In the post-Holocaust generation, there was also a much stronger sense of family loyalty. So much had been lost, so many had been lost, that any family member, relative or friend was considered almost indispensable. When a cousin, even a distant cousin, needed a favor, a loan or anything else, there was this natural sense of loyalty that kicked in.

People who are loyal, whether it is to their family members, relatives, or close friends, are the ones who are also most loyal to Hashem. Loyalty is a muscle – a muscle that trains a person to think beyond himself and his immediate needs. No, not everything is about what a person can get. Loyalty is when there is something that transcends you, something that propels you to do for others because you are loyal to them and to Hashem and His Torah.

Which brings me to a remarkable story about loyalty to talmidim, a loyalty that could have cost someone his freedom…

Loyalty to His Talmid, Loyalty to Hashem…

It was at the end of World War II. The Mirrer Yeshiva had spent the war in the comparative “paradise” of Shanghai. Now, to set the record straight, it was only a paradise in comparison to Auschwitz and the death camps. To this day, I remember Rebbetzin Zlata Ginsburg, the daughter of Rav Chatzkel Levenstein, describing the dead bodies lining the streets, the need to get from one end of town to the other amid frequent bombings just to obtain a few cubes of sugar, the lack of sanitary conditions and proper food…

After six long years, the war was over and the American government was opening its doors to the members of the Mir with a few conditions. One of the conditions was that the immigrants had to be of sound mind.

Unfortunately, one talmid of the yeshiva had suffered an emotional breakdown as a result of the travails and there was no way the United States would grant him entry. But the rosh yeshiva, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, had made a decision. He would absolutely not leave Shanghai without every single talmid. What would happen if this boy would be unable to leave? Would Rav Chaim be stuck in Communist China?

Rav Chaim accompanied the talmid to the consulate. When he began gesticulating madly, Rav Chaim explained that he was so excited about the possibility of entering the United States, a country of freedom and plenty. Pleased, the consul sent them to the next step to swear their allegiance to the United States.

At that point, Rav Chaim began to worry. “How would they be able to get him to raise his hand and say the correct words?”

Ribbono Shel Olam,” Rav Chaim davened, “I pledged to care for Your children, and I am committed to staying here with this boy if need be, so please help me!”

Suddenly, the person who was in charge of swearing in the new immigrants came flying into the room in a tremendous rush. She had no time to have every person pledge their allegiance individually and announced that everyone should raise their hand and pledge together. It was just the salvation needed.

The end of the story is that this boy arrived in America, underwent treatment, married and raised a beautiful family…all because of the loyalty and mesirus nefesh of Rav Chaim.

Rav Chaim was loyal to the extent that he was willing to remain in China if that would be what Hashem wanted.

The bottom line is that if you are a ne’eman to others, you will be a ne’eman to Hashem. They go hand in hand.

Free Agency and the Loss of Loyalty

Years ago, I remember speaking to a good friend who was a great talmid chochom and oveid Hashem. He had been a close talmid of Rav Berel Soloveitchik and was very beloved by Rav Shmuel Auerbach. In addition, he was a great lamdan, a baal mussar, and a tremendous expert in sifrei chassidus. That being said, he was an American-born kid who had followed baseball when he was young.

We were once shmoozing when he exclaimed, “You know what really killed the sport of baseball?”

“No,” I answered, looking at him puzzled.

He said, “It was the concept of free agency that killed the sport!”

For clarity, let me explain. Several decades ago, players realized that they could make much more money if they waited until the end of their contract. Then, before signing a new contract, they could become a “free agent” and sign with the highest bidder. Of course, in our capitalist society, there is nothing wrong with that. Perhaps it is even commendable for a person to realize his value and not sell himself short.

This friend of mine, however, saw it as a tremendous chisaron. He reminisced about the “old days,” when a person who was a Yankee remained a Yankee for life, while a person who played for the Dodgers was a Dodger for life. Why? Because they were devoted to something beyond themselves!

Today, this concept doesn’t exist.

What a pity.

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