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Ethics 6:4

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Rabbi Meir Schapiro (1887-1933)
Rabbi Meir Schapiro (1887-1933)

Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the "Lubliner Rabbi," founded the famed "Chachmei Lublin" Talmudic academy in the 1920s as a deliberate strategy in his campaign to elevate the public perception of yeshiva students. No longer would young scholars be expected to eke out a miserable existence; sleeping on benches, wearing threadbare clothing, never sure when their next meal would arrive. The Lublin Yeshiva boasted a dormitory, a dedicated chef, sufficient texts for all, and running water in the washrooms!

The best students in Poland flocked to the new yeshiva. Competition for spaces was so tight that stringent entry requirements were instituted. In the eyes of the public it was quickly established that a boy accepted to the Lublin Yeshiva was, by definition, a budding scholar, worthy of pampering and commensurate respect. This effected a public change in attitude towards all yeshiva students and the goal of full time study became a more legitimate aspiration.

The yeshiva boasted a dormitory, a dedicated chef, sufficient texts for all, and running water in the washrooms!Old attitudes die hard, and Rabbi Shapiro's fundraising efforts often ran into difficulties. One of the challenges he was forced to overcome was justifying his seeming deviation from the teachings of the Sages. The sixth Chapter of Ethics of the Fathers states: "This is the way of Torah: Eat bread with salt, drink water, sleep on the ground, live a life of deprivation, and toil in Torah. Seemingly, to achieve success in learning, one must follow a prescription of ascetism and spartan living, not a life of comfort.

Rabbi Shapiro formulated a number of responses to accusations of this nature. Perhaps most famous was his tongue in cheek assertion that this was a misinterpretation of the Sages' words. The above quoted statement is not a formula, but a lament. Not to be read in righteous indignation, rather, read it in a tone of sorrowful pity. Isn't it unfortunate that those who devote their lives to studying the word of G‑d have to date been refused their due reward?

The inauguration of the Yeshivah Chachmei Lublin in 1924
The inauguration of the Yeshivah Chachmei Lublin in 1924

Don't Worry… You'll Get Your Reward

Our ancestor Abraham was the progenitor of our faith and the driving force in bringing the knowledge of G‑d to the masses. Interestingly, in the Book of Genesis (15:1) we are told that after Abraham's miraculous victory over the four kings that took his nephew Lot hostage, G‑d reassures Abraham that He will keep His promise to reward Abraham's efforts: Fear not, Abram; I am your Shield; your reward is exceedingly great.

Were Abraham to suffer, how would that appear to those he was trying to attract?Abraham was a man of great personal courage and determination. He was willing to turn his back on all prevailing opinion and social constructs. He suffered for his G‑d and faith, and accepted a lifelong nomadic existence on behalf of his new religion.

Abraham was motivated by a love of truth, a fiery will and an aspiration to bring pleasure to his Creator. Seemingly this righteous crusader would be the last person to demand wealth and fame as rewards for his efforts?

You Deserve Better

Abraham was not motivated to serve G‑d in expectation of wealth. His delight was more ephemeral and, as far as he personally was concerned, truth and justice were their own reward. However, were Abraham to suffer; were his endeavors to be repaid with poverty, how would that appear to those he was trying to attract? When Abraham requested material benefits from G‑d, his motivation was exclusively for the honor of G‑d.

When G‑d crowns His believers with success, He renders the whole system more attractive, and justifies in the eyes of the community all effort on His behalf.

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum is spiritual leader of Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation and co-director of L’Chaim Chabad in Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia.
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Ethics of the Fathers is a tractate of the Mishna that details the Torah's views on ethics and interpersonal relationships. Enjoy insights, audio classes and stories on these fascinating topics.
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