For many years, until his death in 1969, the Ponevezher Rav, R’ Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, zt”l, used to visit Miami Beach, Florida, annually in order to raise funds for his yeshivah. He would come in late November and often remain in the warm sunshine of South Florida until February or March. Rabbi Berel Wein, shlita, who was a congregational rabbi in Miami during that period, developed a close personal relationship with the Ponovezher Rav and on numerous occasions would drive him around to the homes of wealthy members of his congregation to collect money. The Ponovezher Rav had a magnetic personality and his love for every single Jew was clear and apparent at all times. As a result, these wealthy individuals enjoyed the time spent in their homes with the rav and looked forward to his visits – often two or three times in the course of a few months – while the rav was in town.
Rabbi Wein recalls that there was one man in his congregation, a widower with no children, who had retired years earlier and moved down to Miami from New York City. This man had been a successful attorney until a number of medical issues cropped up. First, he had a heart attack when he was in his 50s, and not long after that he was diagnosed with a malignant tumor. The doctors were not very optimistic and gave him only a few short years to live. The man became despondent and decided to retire and move to Miami to live out his remaining time in comfort. He purchased an annuity (a financial product that pays out income, a reliable means of securing a steady cash flow for an individual during his retirement years and to alleviate fears of outliving one’s assets) that would last until the age of 90, bought a palatial home, and awaited the inevitable. Fortunately for him, the inevitable was long in coming, and at the age of 88 he was still energetic, spry, and sharp as a whip. He was also an outstanding member and donor to the Miami community.
“For so many years you took care of the Ponovezh Yeshivah. Now the Ponovezh Yeshivah is happy to take care of you!”
The Ponovezher Rav developed an attachment to this gentleman and the two would engage in hours of conversation. Rabbi Wein would drive the rav to the man’s beautiful home at least two or three times each winter, and the wealthy retiree would always conclude their meetings with a check of no less than $5,000 each and every time.
Rabbi Wein became aware of a change in the man when he turned 90 and his annuity ran out. Now he had no more income, and aside from his home, he had few assets. Rabbi Wein wasn’t even sure if the man had any cash available for necessary staples. So, when the Ponovezher Rav came to town and asked him one morning if they can go visit his elderly friend, Rabbi Wein was uncharacteristically hesitant. He explained to the rav that the man’s situation had changed and he barely had enough money to live. He didn’t feel it was appropriate to visit him at this time and expect a donation.
But R’ Kahaneman wouldn’t hear of it. “Of course, we must go visit him. Now especially he would want us to come!”
Well, as anyone who had ever met the Ponovezher Rav would know, when he put his mind to something there was no stopping him. The two got in the car and drove out to the nonagenarian’s home. They rang the bell and the man himself came to the door. When he saw who was standing there, his face immediately fell and turned white. He began to stammer that perhaps it was not a good time, but the Ponovezher Rav just smiled, shook his hand warmly, and kissed him on the cheek. They all sat down in the parlor and the man began telling the rav how his income had dried up and he was sadly unable to write out even a small check to the yeshivah. R’ Kahaneman stopped him in mid-sentence and said, “My dear friend, you need not worry. For so many years you took care of the Ponovezh Yeshivah. Now the Ponovezh Yeshivah is happy to take care of you!” The rav asked how much the annuity had paid him for all the years, and then assured the elderly man that as long as he lived, the yeshivah would continue making payments in that exact amount!
Well, the man lived until the ripe old age of 96, and for the final six years of his life he indeed received a check every quarter in the amount he was used to. Rabbi Wein later learned that the bulk of the money came from R’ Kahaneman’s personal bank account and allowed the man to live out his years in luxury and dignity. The rav would smile and tell the young rabbi from Miami that in the end it was all worth it, for when the man finally passed he left his palatial home to the Ponovezh Yeshivah!
Rabbi Dovid Hoffman is the author of the popular “Torah Tavlin” book series, filled with stories, wit and hundreds of divrei Torah, including the brand new “Torah Tavlin Yamim Noraim” in stores everywhere. You’ll love this popular series. Also look for his book, “Heroes of Spirit,” containing one hundred fascinating stories on the Holocaust. They are fantastic gifts, available in all Judaica bookstores and online at http://israelbookshoppublications.com. To receive Rabbi Hoffman’s weekly “Torah Tavlin” sheet on the parsha, e-mail Torahtavlin@yahoo.com