According to halachah, the tenth animal to pass through the pen is designated as maaser beheimah, tithe of animals, and becomes holy – even if the owner does not actually verbalize the words, Kodesh l’Hashem, “Holy to Hashem.” Nonetheless, the Torah demands that one articulate the words. Horav Moshe Feinstein, zl, derives an important lesson from here, which can – and should – be applied not only to educating and raising our children, but, indeed, to all interpersonal relationships. Even if something is already holy, its kedushah, sanctity, must be maintained. If not – it will lose its sanctity. Likewise, although a human being is born with an innate capacity for kedushah, it is not like “money in the bank.” The parents cannot assume that their child will automatically grow into a great, holy Torah giant without parental educational input. We take so much for granted: good boy/girl; right school; proper friends – what can go wrong? Sadly, “things happen,” and the most perfect scenario can become a horror story without supervision, guidance and vigilance.
The flipside is also true. A student might hail from a less-than-desired background, be born without the greatest innate talents, or deal with a host of issues, both personal and/or social, and still grow into a great Torah scholar, a distinguished lay leader, a credit to his people and to Hashem. It takes someone who cares, who gives of himself to reach out and make a difference in a young boy or girl’s life. It might be something as innocuous as a smile, a compliment, an acknowledgement that he/she is relevant, doing a good job, is noticed and well-liked. That can make the difference in a young person’s life trajectory.
Horav Isser Zalmen Meltzer, zl, maintained a profound sense of gratitude toward Horav Reuven Zelig Bengis, zl. This was obvious at the funeral cortege of the latter, when Rav Isser Zalmen, who at the time was elderly and one of the generation’s preeminent gedolim, Torah giants, walked the distance behind the coffin, weeping bitterly. It was the Liflegos Reuven who had made the difference in Rav Isser Zalmen’s life.
The boy who would one day inspire and teach the Torah world with is magnum opus, Even Ha’Ezel, entered the Volozhin Yeshivah in total abject poverty. His clothes were tattered and no longer fit, and, as a result, overwhelmed with shame, he had in his mind to take his bag and return home. He had difficulty concentrating on his learning, because he was so self-conscious about his appearance. The very next day, Rav Reuven, who, at the time, was one of the yeshivah’s premier students, approached him and related with great excitement that the Netziv, zl, the Rosh Yeshivah of Volozhin, had the other day told the older students that a young student by the name of Isser Zalmen had stunned him with a brilliant explanation to a question that he had. Rav Reuven did not stop with this one comment, but circled around from group to group of students in the yeshivah, spreading the word concerning this special young man that had just enrolled in Volozhin. It was these insightful, warm complimentary words that gave Rav Isser Zalmen the courage to ignore his clothes, forget about his abject poverty, and focus entirely on his spiritual growth. It was Rav Reuven’s thoughtfulness that turned what could have been a downward spiral into upward growth, and the making of Rav Isser Zalmen – Rabban shel Yisrael.
It is noteworthy to relate that in an attempt to demonstrate the hasmadah, diligence, of Rav Isser Zalmen, Rav Reuven said that, one day, in order to accommodate an event, it was necessary to empty the bais hamedrash, study hall, of its chairs. The students who were moving the chairs did not notice until later that when they moved Rav Isser Zalmen’s seat, they moved it with him sitting in it. He never realized that they were moving – so engrossed was he in his learning.