During his visit to New York in 1930, the Previous Rebbe stayed at the newly opened Roosevelt Hotel. Crowds of Jews gathered outside the hotel each day, hoping to see the rebbe and request a blessing.

One morning, two young wealthy businessmen were passing by and asked why the crowd had gathered. When they heard that a holy rabbi from Europe was visiting and giving out blessings, they joked that the old rabbi just wants their money.

To prove their theory, they joined the waiting crowds to see if they would be called sooner than the others since they appeared to be wealthy and dignified. Meanwhile, the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Eli Yechiel Simpson, “was making his rounds,” inquiring about each person’s reason for seeing the Rebbe.

Sure enough, within minutes they were called to the front of the line! As they were ushered into the rebbe’s room, the pair smirked—pleased to have been so quickly proven right.

The rebbe asked the businessmen to sit, and before they could say a word, he began: “You’re probably wondering why I asked to see you before those who have been waiting longer. You see, many of these people want a blessing for health. But I’m not a doctor, and to bless them with good health is a strenuous task. Likewise, others want me to bless their business endeavors. But I’m not a businessman; I never studied economics, and giving the correct blessing is quite taxing.

“But when I heard that there were two young Jews wanting to know how one can be religious in America, I said, ‘Here we go! This is precisely my area of expertise. Please send them right in.’”

“What area of business are you in?” asked the rebbe.

“We are diamond merchants,” they replied.

“What is your profit margin?” the rebbe asked.

“We have a 100% markup rate.”

“And if someone were willing to pay only 20%, would you still make the deal?”

“Yes,” the men replied.

“What if the same person came back the next day. Would you again take the 20%?” the rebbe asked.

“Of course not!” the businessmen explained. “We would try again to get the full price.”

“That,” concluded the rebbe, “is the secret to being Jewish in America. It’s easy to be 20% observant and feel comfortable with that. But it’s important to remember the 100% and strive for it.”

Now, we’re only human, and sometimes we’ll only get to 20%—certainly better than nothing, because it’s still a profit. But the next day we have to strive for 25%, then 30%, and so on, until we’re closer to 100%. Keeping our eye on the prize—the 100%—will keep us motivated and inspired.

Original translation by Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier,
who heard it from Rabbi Berel Futerfas.