A story turns a Talmid around
Yanky* was hard to reach. His Rebbeim at Bais Medrash LeTorah’s YKT, Rav Elchonon Berenbaum and Rav Chaim Goldblatt had tried everything they knew, but there was no progress at all. Until the day Rav Elchonon told his talmidim the story of one of his father HoRav Shmuel Zt”l’s talmidim that had begun many decades earlier.
Avrohom* was a Talmid in Mir Brooklyn in the 1980s. Being phenomenally strong he was the one the other bochurim called whenever they ran into any trouble with the locals. Normally Avrohom’s appearance on the scene was enough to stop all trouble in its tracks. Then there was that time that one troublemaker refused to back down. Avrohom made sure to teach that troublemaker a very thorough lesson and he was very proud of himself.
The Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva HoRav Shmuel Zt”l saw things differently. Avrohom had gone too far and he was the one who needed to learn a lesson. So HoRav Shmuel Zt”l sent one of his sons – one of Rav Elchonon’s brothers – to explain to Avrohom that he had gone too far and therefore he needed to leave Yeshiva for three weeks. Avrohom who at the time was as strong-minded and outspoken as he was physically strong, wouldn’t have any of it – he told HoRav Shmuel Zt”l’s son that it was bad enough that his father the Rosh Yeshiva didn’t have sufficient hakoras hatov for his safeguarding the bochurim in his Yeshiva but on top of it he wanted to throw him out for three weeks – he said that if the Rosh Yeshiva didn’t reconsider and still wanted him to leave he should come to him personally rather than send messengers.
A number of years passed and Avrohom got married, became more serious about his learning and he wrote his first of many seforim. He went back to his Rosh Yeshiva HoRav Shmuel Zt”l for a haskomo. HoRav Shmuel Zt”l kept delaying him with various excuses until Rav Avrohom assumed that HoRav Shmuel Zt”l must be angry with him over the incident that took place years earlier when he was a bochur and so he gave up on trying to get his Rebbe’s haskomo.
A couple of years ago, shortly after the original COVID outbreak, things stopped working for Rav Avrohom. He was having serious problems that were preventing him from putting out further seforim, his parnosso had dried up entirely and he was having serious problems with shidduchim for his children. Everything was going wrong.
He began to make a cheshbon hanefesh when he was suddenly dumbstruck at how he had never realised how chutzpadik he had been to his Rebbe HoRav Shmuel Zt”l and how it had never even occurred to him once to ask his Rebbe for mechila. Rav Avrohom decided that no matter what, he would do everything he could to get mechila as soon as possible. To go himself to Eretz Yisroel wasn’t possible – at that point the Israelis weren’t letting Americans come. To get a minyan to go to HoRav Shmuel Zt”l’s kever was very difficult because of the restrictions at the time but Rav Avrohom was determined and he spent whatever time, effort and money that was necessary to arrange it.
No sooner had the minyan gone to the kever than things turned around dramatically for Rav Avrohom. Suddenly he was able to put out new seforim again, his parnosso came in with plenty to spare, and his children’s shidduchim were going well.
Yanky had listened to his Rebbe, Rav Elchonon, tell his father’s talmid’s story and he had a terrible feeling in his stomach. The last thing he wanted to do was to go back to his elementary school Menahel but he was deeply troubled by Rav Avrohom’s story. “What’s wrong Yanky?” asked Rav Elchonon upon noticing that Yanky was not his usual self. “Nothing” Yanky tried weakly. “Yanky, what’s wrong?” insisted Rav Elchonon even louder as he was beginning to realize what was going on in his talmid’s head. It was no secret that Yanky had given his elementary school Menahel a very difficult time and Rav Elchonon understood that Rav Avrohom’s story had struck a strong chord within Yanky.
Rav Elchonon called Yanky aside. “Yanky, you know you have to go and ask your Menahel’s mechila, you can do it and when you do, like with my father Zt”l’s talmid, the Eibishter will give you major hatzlocho immediately”. “Rebbe, but I can’t. I just can’t bring myself to do it, there’s no way”, insisted Yanky.
In the ensuing days Rav Elchonon and Rav Chaim both worked on Yanky, assuring him that they would arrange everything, they would go with him – all he had to do was come with them and everything would work out and he too would see brochos just like HoRav Shmuel Zt”l’s talmid Rav Avrohom. Eventually Yanky reluctantly agreed. He went with his Rebbeim to his former Menahel who was very gracious, warmly gave Yanky his full mechila and bentsched him with much hatzlocho.
“It makes no sense at all! Al pi derech hateva there is no pshat whatsoever. It’s a complete mofes.” insists Rav Elchonon. “Yanky understood nothing at all of what we were learning. Nothing. It all went completely over his head. Then just two days after getting his Menahel’s mechila he became totally unrecognizable. He changed in every single way. Not only does he now understand the Gemoro, Rashi and Tosafos, he is asking excellent kashyos. His midos have changed. He is now serious and reliable and he is having a powerful impact on the other bochurim in Yeshiva.”
To Rav Elchonon, Rav Chaim and Yanky the message is very clear. As Rav Elchonon puts it, “The power of mechilah can change everything.”
*This completely true story is told by Rav Elchonon Berenbaum exactly as it happened, only the names of the talmidim have been changed