On an ordinary day in 2009, the telephone rang in the office of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in Queens. The caller was an official in the state government in Albany who asked to speak with the Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Henoch Leibowitz.

Rabbi Hayim Schwartz, the executive director of the Yeshiva, took the call and explained apologetically that Rav Henoch had passed away a year earlier. “Is there something I can do for you?” he asked.

The caller was chagrined to discover that the Rosh Yeshivah was no longer alive. “I just came from a staff meeting in the government,” he told Rabbi Schwartz. “A bill was proposed that wasn’t completely ethical, and there was some debate as to whether it should be passed. Governor David Paterson then spoke up and announced that the bill was unacceptable because it does not pass the ‘Rabbi Leibowitz smell test,’ and he voted it down. Of course, none of us had ever heard of the ‘Rabbi Leibowitz smell test,’ and we asked him to explain what he meant.”

Rabbi Schwartz was enthralled, as the caller shared a remarkable story that took place 20 years earlier. After ending the phone call, he contacted the previous executive director of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Avrohom Ginzberg, to hear the full details of the incident.

In the 1980s, the New York State government offered a grant for the installation of high-efficiency light fixtures in schools. Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim was eligible for the grant, and Rabbi Avrohom Ginzberg, applied for the funding after receiving professional estimates that put the cost at around $75,000. The grant was approved, and the funds were transferred to the Yeshiva so that the work could be performed. However, Rabbi Ginzberg was resourceful enough to find a professional who was willing to do the job for a much lower price. The final bill came out to only $60,000, and Rabbi Ginzberg was pleased. It seemed that the Yeshiva would be able to pocket an unexpected windfall of $15,000, which was sorely needed, due to its precarious financial position at the time.

When he apprised the Rosh Yeshivah, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, of the situation, Rabbi Ginzberg was surprised by Rav Henoch’s reaction. “We cannot keep this money under any circumstances,” Rav Henoch insisted. “It must be returned to the government.”

“But I don’t feel that I can do that in good conscience,” Rabbi Ginzberg objected. “The Yeshiva is struggling; how can I give up such a large sum of money? Surely it must be legitimate for us to keep it, since the government already made the allocation. It was only because of my own careful research that we were able to get the job done for a lower price.”

Rav Henoch was adamant. “The money was given to us only for the light fixtures; it was not meant for anything else,” he said. “I will make the call myself to return it, if that is what is necessary.”

Rav Henoch Leibowitz placed a call to the government office, where a newly hired young clerk answered the phone. The Rosh Yeshivah explained the situation and asked for instructions on returning the surplus funding to the state. “I am not sure how to do that,” the clerk admitted. “I will have to call you back.”

One week later, the clerk called the Rosh Yeshivah and informed him that he had been unable to come up with the information. “No one can remember something like this ever happening before,” he informed Rav Henoch. “No one has ever asked to return part of a grant, and there is no protocol in place for taking the money back. You can simply keep the funds.”

The Rosh Yeshivah was not about to give up so easily. “I don’t feel comfortable keeping this money,” he said. “Please find a way for me to return it.”

The clerk promised to call him back, but when he spoke to the Rosh Yeshivah again, he had nothing further to report. “I checked again,” he said, “and there is no way for us to take this money back. Please, just keep it for your school.”

But Rav Henoch Leibowitz would not be dissuaded. “I am going to write a check to your office and send it back to you,” he informed the clerk. “I cannot keep money that isn’t rightfully mine.”

David Paterson heard about this story. Years later, as the Governor of New York, Paterson was still awed by Rav Henoch Leibowitz. “He is the most honest person in the State of New York,” the Governor told the puzzled officials at the staff meeting that day in 2009. “In my view, he is the gold standard of personal integrity. I measure everything I do with the question of whether it would pass his rigorous standards.”

Rav Henoch Leibowitz demonstrated with the impression he made, that if we reflect Hashem’s attributes, our impact on the world can be incalculable.

Rabbi Shraga Freedman is the author of Living Kiddush Hashem, A Life Worth Living, and M’kadshei Sh’mecha. Rabbi Freedman has made spreading Kiddush Hashem awareness his life goal, and authored a biweekly column in Yated Ne’eman for several years. Rabbi Freedman has been in education and school administration for the last 20 years in both high school and elementary levels. More information can be found at LivingKiddushHashem.org.