During the past few days, we have discussed the Mitzvah of honoring one’s parents. We have mentioned that those who honor their parents in their old age usually merit that their children honor them in their old age as well.
Hagaon Harav Shalom Schwadron zt”l recounts an incident which occurred over one-hundred years ago in a town in Poland. There was a wealthy Jew, G-d-fearing Jew who lived in the city who was married to a woman who was influenced by the Enlightenment, which was making waves at the time. Eventually, the couple had a son who would be their only child.
When the child was approximately five-an-a-half, the wife told her husband, “Our son is getting older and you are probably thinking to send our son to Talmud Torah. However, if we send our son to study Torah, what will become of him? A Yeshiva boy and possibly a Kollel husband thereafter? When we get older, how will we support him?” The husband replied, “Thank G-d, we have enough money to live for many more years,” however, his words were to no avail. The wife was adamant that the son should attend public school so that he would be able to support them in their old age. Indeed, the wealthy man gave in to his wife and sent his son to public school, in spite of the stern opposition of the town’s rabbi.
Ten years later, when the young man was fifteen years old, there was a disaster in which the entire town burned down (most houses at the time were made almost entirely of wood). Tens of Jews were left completely destitute, without even a roof over their head.
The wealthy man’s house was among those that burned down, however, because of his others assets in other parts of the town and abroad, this incident did not affect his wealth too much.
On one of the days following the inferno, the heads of the community met in the rabbi’s house to discuss what steps could be taken to rehabilitate their community. The community leaders told the rabbi that they had already turned to the Polish government for assistance and the government had already authorized a massive loan to be repaid in full within thirty years that would help defray the cost of rebuilding the entire town. However, the government required a guarantee against the loan.
In the middle of this meeting, the rabbi turned to the wealthy man and said, “I promise you that this loan will be repaid in full by the end of the thirty-year deadline. Please therefore co-sign on this loan to fulfill the Mitzvah of saving all these Jewish lives!”
“Honorable rabbi,” replied the wealthy man, “What will happen to all my property if the loan is not repaid? This guarantee is equal to the worth of all of my assets!” The rabbi looked at the man and told him passionately, “If you do not sign this guarantee and save all the Jews in this town, you will lose your portion in this world and the next!”
The wealthy man’s heart beat wildly and he requested a day’s time to think things over. When he arrived home, he consulted with his wife about the proposition. His wife scolded him, “What are you thinking? How could you jeopardize all our money?!”
The next day, the wealthy man returned to the rabbi and told him what had transpired with his wife. Nevertheless, the rabbi was relentless. “You will sign as a guarantor on this loan to save the Jews of this town!” the rabbi commanded. Ultimately, the man signed without his wife’s knowledge.
After filing all necessary paperwork along with the guarantee with the relevant government offices, the rabbi called over the wealthy man and told him, “As I said yesterday, if you do not co-sign on the loan, you will lose your share in both worlds. However, now that you have signed and taken responsibility for this great Mitzvah of loving-kindness to your fellow Jews, Hashem shall help you in this world and the next.” The wealthy man left the rabbi’s home and returned home.
Two weeks later, the government transferred the money to the Jewish community and they began rebuilding the town. The Jewish community began seeing the light again.
Five years passed. The son of the wealthy man was already twenty years old and his mother, who was getting on in years, told her husband, “It is about time that our only son joins the family business and be successful in this aspect of his life as well.” The parents called their son and notified him of their decision to include him in the family business. They wished him much success in his transition and told him that everyone would benefit as a result.
The son replied, “Thank you so much and may Hashem grant you both a long life! However, I am not interested.” Bewildered, the parents asked, “Why not? We are both very excited for you to begin!” The son finally acquiesced, “Fine, I will take you up on your offer but only as a worker.” And that is how began setting forth his “conditions”…
The parents included their son in the family business partially at first. It was not long before the son understood how reliant his parents were on him and how interested they were for him to take over the entire business. Eventually though, the son began to show his true colors.
One day, the son asked his father to sign a legal document that transferred ownership of the entire business to him. The father asked why this was necessary. The son explained, “One of these days, father, you may need to travel abroad and I may need your signature for an important business deal.” In this way, the son was slyly able to convince his father to give him power of attorney as an authorized signatory on all of his businesses and accounts.
Two months later, the father arrived at his office to check on its state of affairs. The son turned his nose to his father and asked disparagingly, “What are you doing here? You are disturbing me!” This is how the son slowly but surely caused his parents a long saga of anguish.
The father owned a mansion at the time. About half a year later, the son approached his father and told him, “Father, you are already older. You do not need such a big mansion and a smaller apartment will suffice for you and mother. I need the mansion to develop the business further. I will need to live here in order to host customers and the like. You go live in another apartment.” The elderly and weak parents could not oppose the pressure of their only son. With heavy hearts, they began to see the intentions of their sole heir.
The situation deteriorated from year to year. The son had already gotten married and had found more excuses to mistreat his parents until he finally began to convince them to move into an old-age home. The parents asked him, “Why does it bother you if we live in this small apartment peacefully? Why do you think it will be better if we move into a nursing home?” The son replied, “At present, I have to come visit you every week and give you money from the business. I am uncomfortable giving you such a paltry sum of money and thus, I give you much more and it is too hard for me. If you move into a nursing home, all of your needs will be taken care of and all I will need to do is make one set monthly payment.”
“Why?” the father cried, “We gave you all of your businesses!” However, the father’s cries fell on deaf ears. A dispute ensued between father and son until the son brazenly told his parents, “If you continue arguing with me, I will simply throw you both into the streets!” Little did the father know that the son’s decision to put them in a nursing home came exactly thirty years to the day from when the fire burned down their Polish town.
The father left the house teary-eyed and dejected and made his way to the home of the elderly rabbi. As soon as he entered, he closed the door behind him and burst out crying. He told the rabbi everything that had happened and added, “I admit that I have sinned! The rabbi was correct. I have truly merited the ultimate Nachat from our only son,” he added sarcastically. “What should I do now?” he asked as he wept bitterly.
Suddenly, the rabbi had an idea. He told the father, “Do you remember that thirty years ago, when you signed as a guarantor for the community’s loan, I blessed you that Hashem would do good for you in this world and the next? With the help of Hashem, you will be saved from your wayward son if you heed my advice. Listen closely,” the rabbi said.
“Every year, I would save money from the communal fund toward repayment of the loan to the Polish government in just a few weeks from now. From time to time the money would be given as loans to people who needed it but right now, I have the entire sum with me. When the due date arrives, we will not repay the loan! Do not tell anyone about my idea, not even your wife. In the meantime, go tell your son that you agree to move into an old-age home, however, beg him to allow you to remain in your apartment for another three months at which point you will move out, as he requested.”
The father went to his son and did as the rabbi instructed him. The son requested that his father sign on a document relinquishing ownership of the apartment at the end of the three months, which the father signed.
Two months later, the due date for repayment of the loan arrive. As planned, the Jewish community defaulted on the payment and as such, an official letter from the Polish treasury department was immediately issued to the son. He immediately ran to his father and frantically asked him, “What is this letter? What is going on?!” The father replied, “Oh yes, now I remember. The town burned down thirty years ago and I signed as a guarantor on the Jewish community’s loan.”
“Father, run to the rabbi quickly,” the son said, “And tell him to repay the loan right now!” The father went to the rabbi’s house and played along with the son’s request. When he returned, he told his son, “The rabbi is not interested in dealing with this matter at the moment.”
Several days passed and appraisers arrived on the son’s property with a police escort to seize the estate. The appraised the value of the property at a high price and put up all the assets for public auction. The sales were finalized and a total of half-a-million rubles were collected by the government.
The son was totally broken. He began visiting his parents in their humble abode looking for ideas to help him overcome their current predicament. The son finally began to honor his father and appreciate his integrity and insight. One day, the mother told her son, “Go to the rabbi of the city. He may be able to help you with a loan so that you can get back up on your feet and maybe to support me as well!” The son took his mother’s advice and knocked on the rabbi’s door.
The rabbi listened to the son’s pitiful story and agreed to loan him the money. Before doing so, however, the rabbi inquired, “Tell me, did you don Tefillin today? Is that something you saw your father do, G-d-forbid? Maybe put on a pair of Tzitzit. Don’t you think your parents deserve some Nachat from their only son?”
Since it was already broken, the rabbi was able to penetrate the son’s heart and throughout the next few days, the rabbi was able to rebuke the fellow for all of his past misdeeds and foolish actions. The son eventually realized that his past behavior was unacceptable and one day, he entered the rabbi’s study and exclaimed, “Rabbi, you have saved me in two worlds! I do not need any inheritance. What a pity you did not do this to me twenty years ago. Thank G-d, now I became a person.”
The rabbi surprised him and replied, “Worry not, you will receive an inheritance from your elderly parents as well. You will be able to live as a wealthy man and at the same time, support your parents honorably in their old age!” The son did not understand what the rabbi was referring to. The rabbi the opened up his safe and showed the son all of the money that belonged to his father, the enormous sum of money that the Jewish community owed him!
This above is an actual, true story. A man who many souls merited that his son would repent and finally honor him. However, in retrospect, if the father would have provided his son with a proper Torah education, he would not have had to experience such hardships along the way. (Story quoted in Chumash Ha’Maggidim, Devarim, page 154)