"So, what brings you to my office, Rabbi?" Solomon asked, leaning back in his chair..

"Sol, I have a mitzvah for you," Rabbi Levy said, stroking his beard.

The rabbi's dark beard was getting streaks of gray in it now, a few years ahead of his fortieth birthday. The changing colors gave him a weathered, yet wise, appearance. He was still youthful in his outlook, but more worldly.

Solomon took out a real estate contract from his lower right desk drawerSolomon continued to lean back in his chair, saying nothing. Why do I get the feeling this is going to be a very expensive mitzvah? he asked himself. For a moment, the two men stared at one another until Rabbi Levy broke the silence.

"Did you know there is a building for sale next to our synagogue?" Rabbi Levy asked.

"Yes, I saw the sign."

"We need it."

"For what?"

"For many things. During the school year, for classrooms for the new seminary. In July and August, a dorm for the summer camp. And we probably need more space for the preschool program... Sol, we need it."

Solomon waited before he answered, even longer than before.

"So?" Solomon said simply.

Rabbi Levy smiled. "So? So we need your help, Sol."


Solomon took out a real estate contract from his lower right desk drawer. He picked up a pen and started writing. Without looking up, he asked:

"What is the address of the building, Rabbi?"


Solomon continued filling in the blanks, his head down.

"And how much do you want to offer?"


Solomon nodded. He had not made a detailed inspection of the building, but it was probably a fair price. He filled in more blanks.

"How are you going to pay for it, Rabbi? Are you going to pay cash?" Solomon purposely avoided the rabbi's look when he asked this question.

"Cash? How would I have that much money in cash? No, if we come up with 20 percent, the bank said they will lend us the rest."

Solomon did a quick calculation in his head, and wrote $30,000 on the down-payment line. He continued filling in more blanks, and, in passing, asked:

"Just out of curiosity, do you at least have the $30,000, Rabbi?"

"No. Not yet."

Solomon sighed and looked up.

"How much are you short?"

Rabbi Levy took out his wallet and emptied the bills from it. He counted them out, one at a time, and said:

"We are short 29,900... and 53 dollars."

It gave him great satisfaction to have his wife and children working togetherSolomon stood up from his desk and walked over to the window. He straightened the blinds and peeked out into the parking lot. The lot was full now, with his children's cars, and those of his children's employees. He remembered when there used to be only two cars, just his and his wife's.

Solomon smiled. It gave him great satisfaction to have his wife and children working together in the same building, in their different businesses, and to have his grandchildren in a nursery and playroom near the conference room. It was a blessing to stop during the day, and visit with his children and grandchildren before returning to work. It was a blessing for his children to be close and available to their children.

Solomon remembered back to when he was a young man, when living near his own parents and siblings was not important. He had changed a lot since then. He turned and looked at the man sitting in front of his desk. He was no longer the naive young man fresh out of rabbinical school. He had become a respected rabbi who gave tirelessly to others. That rabbi was part of Solomon's change, a catalyst for his return to his Jewish roots, to values that were rock solid.

"Does the fact that today is my father's yahrtzeit [anniversary of passing] have anything to do with this visit, Rabbi?"

The rabbi smiled, and then said seriously:

"Solomon, if you supply the down-payment, we will name the building after him, in his honor."

Yes, Solomon thought. An honor. A very expensive honor.

"Rabbi, let me think about it. I'll get back to you after today."

When the rabbi left, Solomon thought about the money. He had the money. The money was not the issue. The question was: should he invest the money in one of his own projects, or one of the rabbi's?

Then the money, strangely enough, made him think back 40 years... about homework.

Each time he repeated it, his brain felt even more numb"Bob has thirty dollars more than three times as much as Billy. Billy has twice as much money as Andy, minus five dollars. All together, Bob, Billy, and Andy have one hundred dollars. How much money does each boy have?"

Thirteen-year-old Solomon kept repeating the problem aloud, and each time he repeated it, his brain felt even more numb. He just couldn't put the words into a solvable formula.

Solomon heard the TV downstairs in the living room. He opened his bedroom door and saw that his father was home early, at eight o'clock. Normally, he would be home at ten or eleven at night, after working a twelve or fourteen hour day. There were some days Solomon would awaken and go to school while his father was still sleeping, and then Solomon would be sound asleep when his father returned home from working late.

No, there weren't just some days. There were many days. But at 13, Solomon was no longer feeling a great need to be around his parents, so it didn't matter much anymore.

Solomon heard the familiar voice of Phil Rizzuto, the baseball announcer. His dad was watching the Yankees and doing the newspaper crossword puzzle at the same time.


His father didn't hear him.


His father looked up from his paper.

"Do you think you could help me with my algebra homework?"

His father put down the New York Times, walked over to the TV and lowered the volume.

"What did you say, son?"

"I said I'm having problems with my algebra homework. Do you think you could help me?"

His father looked tired, more tired than he had ever seen him look. He was 38 but he looked older.

"Sure. Bring the book down and we'll give it a try." He clicked off the TV.

"Let's see you do the next one," his father askedSolomon gathered his algebra textbook and notebook and brought them down to the living room. He handed the algebra book to his father and pointed to the problem.

"Well, let's see," his father began. "How about if we work backwards? Let's say Andy is 'X'. That means Billy is 2 times 'X' minus 5. And then Bob is 3 times Billy, plus thirty, so we have to multiply three times 2 'X' minus 5, and then add 30. Do you see that?"


"Then we take all three, add them together, put an equal sign and put 100 on the other side of the equal sign. Do you understand that?"


"Think can you finish it?"


Solomon added it all up, moved the numbers around on both sides of the equals, and found out 'X' was equal to 10, which meant Andy had ten dollars, Billy had 15, and Bob had 75. He checked his answer, and sure enough, they all added up to a hundred.

Solomon smiled.

"Let's see you do the next one," his father asked.

Solomon slowly translated the next problem into a formula and solved it. The next problem came easier. By the last problem, he was answering rapidly and accurately, while his father looked on.

"See, it isn't so difficult now, was it?" his father asked.


His father switched the TV on and picked up the newspaper. Solomon watched the ballgame for a few minutes and then went back to his room.

"Thanks, Dad," he called out before closing his door.

His father didn't hear him.

He owned algebra from that pointThe following night, Solomon had trouble once again with his algebra homework, and once again, his father was home early from work and could help him.

After they were done, Solomon firmly grasped the process. He owned algebra from that point. It made sense, and it made Solomon feel powerful. He assumed life was just like algebra. You wrote your problems down with words, translated those words into formulas, and then you solved the formulas with mathematics and logic.

Solomon did not see his father for more than a week because he was working late again.

On the following Thursday night, Solomon was finishing up his English homework when there was a knock on his door.

"Yeah?" Solomon called out. He thought it was his younger brother bothering him again.

The door opened and his father stood there.

"How's algebra going?" he asked.

"Good, Dad."

"You need any help?"

Solomon looked at his algebra notebook. He had already completed his homework with little difficulty.

"No, I don't think so."

"How did you do on the test last week?"

"Pretty good."

"Let me see it."

Solomon leafed through his papers and pulled out Friday's test. When he handed them to his father, he accidentally dropped them. Solomon picked up the main body of the test, while his father picked up the ten point bonus question on a separate sheet. His father read aloud:

When he tried to solve it, it made no sense, so he crossed it out and began again"A train left the station in Cincinnati at 8am going north at 40 miles per hour. Another train left Chicago at 8:30am going south at 30 miles per hour. If Chicago and Cincinnati are 300 miles apart, at what time, and how far from Cincinnati, will the two trains meet each other?"

"This is a pretty difficult question, Solomon. How many kids got it right?"

"Just one."

Solomon watched his father. His eyebrows were scrunched together, his lips tight. He took a pencil and paper from Solomon's desk, and started writing. His father wrote down one formula. When he tried to solve it, it made no sense, so he crossed it out and began again. He wrote another formula, and once again, crossed it out. Finally, he looked up, puzzled, defeated.

"I can't get it."

"The trick is you have to apply another formula, Dad. The distance formula. Speed multiplied by time equals distance." Solomon wrote out the formula. "We know the speeds of the trains and we know the total distance. What we don't know is the time."

His father was looking at him skeptically. Solomon continued.

"We know that the first train left a half hour before the second one, and it was going at 40 miles per hour. It had a 20 mile head start, one half of 40 miles per hour. So there was only 300 minus 20, or 280 miles between them at 8:30, when they both were heading toward each other."

His father nodded his head.

"Now, if we let 'X' be the amount of time that both trains travel, then 40 times 'X' plus 30 times the same 'X' equals 280 miles. When you solve for 'X', it's equal to 4 hours. They met four hours later, at 12:30pm. At that time, they were 40 miles per hour times 4 hours, which is 160 miles, plus the 20 mile head start, or 180 miles from Cincinnati and 120 miles from Chicago."

His father studied the solution and shook his head. When he looked up from the paper, he had a peculiar look on his face. He said:

"Well, I guess you don't need my help with algebra anymore."

Solomon didn't know what to say. His father left the room before he could show him the rest of the test. Solomon scored a 110, a perfect grade, including the bonus question. It was the highest mark in the class.

When he was almost asleep, he heard a knock on the doorSolomon looked at his grade again, smiled, and crunched the papers into a ball and threw them into his garbage can. He spent the next two hours reading a boring book for English class, then put on his pajamas, brushed his teeth, and climbed into his bed. When he was almost asleep, he heard a knock on the door.

"Yeah?" he called out.

His father opened the door and walked in. It was dark in the room, the only illumination coming from the doorway.

"Every father wants his children to grow up and be better than him. I just didn't expect it so soon," he said. Solomon could not see his face. It was framed in shadows.

His father bent down and kissed Solomon on his forehead.

"I'm very proud of you," he said.

There were more than 25 people at the gravesite for his father's third yahrtzeit. Solomon felt humbled and grateful that so many people from the congregation took time out of their busy lives to come to the cemetery and help him say kaddish for his father.

"Do you want to say anything about your father?" Rabbi Levy asked after the brief ceremony was concluding.

Solomon shook his head and looked to his younger brother, Avraham. He represented both of them. Avraham spoke from his heart about how their father had given them life, and closed with, "Thank you, Dad."

Solomon waited for everyone to leave. When he was alone, he covered his eyes, and tears sprang forth. He recited a short silent prayer, and then spoke aloud:

"So, what do you say, Dad? Do you want your name on a building?"

Solomon thought about his father. He was one of the shyest, most unassuming people he had ever known. His father considered it vanity to demand attention from others.

"Isn't it enough to carry more of your virtues and less of your faults into the next generation?""Dad, gifting money for something that helps others is good. But I also feel, because I was raised as your son, that putting someone's name on that gift for all the world to see lends vanity, and draws attention to that act. What do you think?"

Solomon waited for an answer, but none was forthcoming.

"Isn't it enough to carry more of your virtues and less of your faults into the next generation? Should I also put the name Israel Yaakov ben David, a proud, beautiful, Jewish name, on scores of prayer books, or perhaps a Torah scroll, or, finally, a building to show the world how much I loved you... and miss you? Isn't it enough to carry you around in my heart forever?"

Solomon wiped his eyes and looked up at the cold granite stone on his father's grave.

"What do you think, Dad? Would it embarrass you, or make you proud?"

Solomon was interrupted by the sound of a car pulling up. He turned and saw his son, David, jump out of the car and rush up to the gravesite. David was named after Solomon's grandfather, his father's father.

"Hi, Dad," David said, hugging his father and kissing him on the cheek. "Sorry I'm late but the baby is running a temperature and Angela needed help with her."

"It's okay, David."

David looked around. "Where is everybody?"

"They left. It's not a long ceremony, maybe 15 minutes."

"Then what are you still doing here, Dad?"

"Talking to my father... just like you."

David nodded his head. His look said, it's a little strange to be standing here by yourself, talking to a dead person, but I understand.

"I was about to tell my father the same thing he once told me... that my children are now better than me... and I am very proud of them."

On the building next to the synagogue is a brass plaque. It is perhaps a foot square, not ornate, fairly unassuming. On it is inscribed: "Bais Israel Yaakov."

Below the name is written:

"Dedicated with love and faith that each new generation be better than the one before it."

Author's Note: This third, and last, story in this series, is dedicated with love, very much love, to my father, Israel Yaakov ben David, who died on June 13, 2001 in the arms of his family.