From The Other Side Of The Bench
By David J. Seidemann, Esq.
I used to think that I could never retire. My days are filled with such chaos that if my life ever quieted down, I would think something was wrong. (“Great. Just when the quiet years were about to start, my hearing goes!”) But taking off last Thursday and Friday and making a concerted effort not to answer any business calls or texts got me thinking that I actually could warm up to the concept, if not now, then at least in another 30 years or so. How to occupy oneself in the retirement years is not as difficult for the “people of the book,” since there is always something new to learn if one is used to that sort of thing.
Some people, as you are about to read, can make all the plans they want regarding their golden years. But if the good L‑rd has other plans, the work continues.
• • •
He served as the principal and executive director of his yeshiva for more years than he wanted to, and when he reached his 70th birthday he decided it was time to put away the roll book and donors list for good. He was tired. The constant battle to direct students, recruit students, hire teachers, and raise funds all had taken a toll on his health, sanity, and personal life. It was time to retire, move to northern Israel, and enjoy the rest of his life with his wife, children, and grandchildren.
He was in his new surroundings for no longer than two weeks, in a park with two of his grandchildren. The ball they were playing with rolled down a small hill and was returned to him by four teenagers ages 14 through 16. This former principal couldn’t help himself, and he asked the boys a question he had asked hundreds of kids over his 45-year career in education, “Why aren’t you in school?”
Each boy had a somewhat different story, but the common denominator was that they had each been expelled from or dropped out of school. Again he could not help himself and offered to give the boys free instruction in his home three times a week. Surprisingly, the boys agreed, and so began a journey he never would have imagined.
Three days a week became five, and four boys became twelve as each boy began to bring a friend or friends who also were no longer in a formal yeshiva. Within two months the group had grown to close to 40 young men who just couldn’t make it in their prior educational institutions. His plans for peace and quiet were a fading memory.
But as time passed and the number of boys swelled, he remembered why he had sought retirement in the first place. At age 70, the demands were just too great. He made an appointment to meet with Rav Kanievsky to seek guidance. He relayed to Rav Kanievsky the need for someone to establish a yeshiva for these boys as they would otherwise roam the streets.
Rav Kanievsky replied that the boys already have a makom, a place to learn, with the very person who was sitting in front of Rabbi Kanievsky. “But I want to retire,” said the man.
“You cannot,” retorted Rabbi Kanievsky. “Those boys will be lost without you.”
“I can’t possibly continue,” said the man. “I would need bigger facilities, more teachers, books, supplies, and the like. It would cost me $70,000 just to get off the ground!”
Now, not even Rav Kanievsky can pull $70,000 out of his hat, and the rav asked the man to take a seat in the anteroom while the rav entertained another visitor. “We will speak again in a few minutes,” said Rabbi Kanievsky, “as your issue is one that will take a while to solve. This other gentleman who is here to see me only needs to speak with me for a few minutes.”
The second visitor enters Rav Kanievsky’s room as the ex-principal exits. The second man produces a set of rare biblical manuscripts that he discovered and was seeking Rabbi Kanievsky’s blessing as an approbation to have them printed. Rabbi Kanievsky asked the man how much money he had allocated to have the manuscripts printed.
I have confirmed the details of this story lest you think this is a children’s bedtime story.
The reply was “$70,000.”
Rav Kanievsky called the ex-principal back into his room and introduced him to the gentleman with the rare manuscripts. “You are not to print those manuscripts, as their benefit is not a present one.” “Instead,” said the rav, “give that amount to this ex-retiree because his need is a present one. You have souls that you want to educate with your manuscripts tomorrow. He has souls that he needs to save today.”
His retirement is a dream of the past. He is living the good life with the good book now. v
David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.