Not all of the teachers at the yeshivah high school approved of Mr. Levin’s yearly project, but the tenth-grade class certainly looked forward to it. The business class assignment involved creating a small business; running it for two weeks; and writing up a report of the outlay, running costs and profits. One thing agreed on by staff and students alike was that the project definitely affected the whole school.

During those two weeks, which invariably would be scheduled between Purim and Passover, the school hallways would be covered in advertisements offering various goods and services, all competing for the attention of students and faculty alike. The choices were usually quite predictable, the majority appealing to the insatiable teenage appetite. This year was no different. As long as one had enough money in his pocket, he could seek to satiate his stomach with a hot dog (ketchup ten cents extra) or burger (onion included) on Monday and Wednesday, or pita pizza or hot cheese sandwich on Tuesday and Thursday. There were students selling sushi once a week, and one group attempted a pancake day—which ended abruptly when the first batch burnt and set off the school’s smoke alarm.

Not all of the businesses involved food, however, and not all of them sought customers only within the school. One of the ventures that promised to be most lucrative was the car wash business. Considering that Pesach was around the corner, the boys figured that they would have plenty of customers. David and Ben advertised their expert pre-Pesach car wash service all around the neighborhood. They arranged to use the school parking lot on two Sundays, but they had more responses than they could handle in those two days.

David and Ben approached Mr. Levin, and somehow persuaded him to allow them to wash cars during their free time on school days. They would use that time mainly to wash the cars of school staff members who had requested it. Neither Mr. Levin nor the two boys had an inkling of the bedlam that would result.

The two boys were methodical in preparing their schedule. They meticulously took note of license plates, to make sure that they would wash the right cars. They made sure to bring buckets, sponges, detergents, window cleaner, rags and squeegees. They organized for their customers to park their cars on the left side of the parking lot, closest to the water tap. What they hadn’t counted on, however, was the number of spectators and volunteers who were drawn to the car park throughout the day. The hot dog booth, the burger table, even the sushi stand were all abandoned, as students preferred to check out the action in the parking lot. At first David and Ben appreciated the extra help, but soon discovered that most of their erstwhile helpers were more interested in spraying each other rather than the cars. One good shot led to another, and soon the parking lot was a disaster zone, with sponges flying, squeegee duels, and water everywhere.

At some point, the principal showed up and blew his trademark whistle. Some semblance of decorum was restored, and everyone was sent inside, except for the two unlucky entrepreneurs. David and Ben spent the next hour cleaning up. The parking lot was off-bounds for the rest of the student body.

The two boys had finally finished cleaning up, and hurried to finish washing the last few cars. Luckily, they had a half hour until they had to be back in class. They were just about finished when Mr. Samson, the mathematics teacher, came to get his car. As he approached, his eyes widened in shock and his jaw dropped. David felt a chill creeping up his spine, although he couldn’t imagine why Mr. Samson should be upset with him.

“Ben,” he whispered, “do you remember if we were supposed to wash Mr. Samson’s car?”

“It wasn’t on the list, David.”

“Then why is he headed here looking like a bear who’s been woken by a baseball?”

Indeed, Mr. Samson was furious.

“I hope that your business is covered by insurance,” he growled softly.

Like a bear playing with its prey, thought Ben.

“Mr. Samson, we don’t actually have insurance. That wasn’t part of the assignment. At least, Mr. Levin didn’t say anything about insurance.”

“I’m going to have a word or two with Mr. Levin. Why does he concoct these wild assignments . . . ?” Mr. Samson caught himself, realizing he had committed a faux pas in denigrating a fellow teacher in front of students. “Come look at what you’ve done!” He turned his wrath upon the two hapless boys. “Look at that ugly scratch along the passenger side of my new car! The body is somewhat dented, as well. Do you know what this can cost to fix? I never asked you to touch my car, much less wash it, and somehow you managed to cause thousands of dollars worth of damage!”

Ben gulped. “Thousands of dollars?” He could see his bar mitzvah account being emptied.

David tried to reason with Mr. Samson. “Sir, we will take full responsibility for any damage we’ve caused, but neither of us washed your car.”

“Then how do you explain that scratch?” Mr. Samson glowered.

“Perhaps when the other boys were throwing sponges and squeegees?”

“And who brought all of that equipment here? Who is responsible for the near-riot today, if not for you? I’m going right back into school to speak to the principal, and to Mr. Levin. I’ll bring my car into the body shop on my way home, and I’ll tell you their repair quote when I come in to school tomorrow.”

The two boys despondently finished packing up their things. Wherever they went, the news of their fiasco preceded them. The principal looked stern, Mr. Levin glared, and their fellow students either snickered or looked sympathetic.

Neither set of parents were too happy about the news, but at least they stayed calm, and did not allow their other children to use the incident as fuel for teasing.

The next morning, the boys’ steps dragged as they entered the school building. At the morning assembly, Mr. Samson stood up before the entire student body and faculty.

“Yesterday, there was a careless and irresponsible incident that I would like to discuss publicly.”

David and Ben shrank into their seats.

“Everyone makes mistakes,” continued Mr. Samson.

The two boys looked at each other.

“Since it seems that all of you heard yesterday how I told off two boys for damaging my new car, I thought it would only be right to apologize publicly.”

David sat up and looked at Ben, who was no less astonished than he.

Mr. Samson continued. “Ben, David, please forgive me for jumping to conclusions. When I came home last night, my daughter asked me how much it would cost to repair the damage to the car. I wondered how she knew what had happened in school. Then she told me that when she had driven off to college that morning, her car had scraped mine as she backed out of the driveway. She was in too much of a rush to tell me, and I was in too much of a rush to notice . . .”

Sometimes, the best lessons learned in school are the incidental ones.