middot responsibility stories step it up

step it up

Written by  rebbetzin malkah

art-torahscrollcaseOn another occasion, Rabbi Israel [Salanter] encountered an orphan boy wandering about and not going to school. When he asked the charity wardens why they did not see to defraying the costs of that orphan’s studies, they evaded the question with various excuses. Rabbi Israel responded to them with the cry: “One may sell Torah scrolls in order to pay the cost of study!” --Rabbi Israel Salanter and the Mussar Movement: Seeking the Torah of Truth, Immanuel Etkes, p. 168

At times I marvel at the pragmatism of Rabbi Salanter. In many of the accounts of Rabbi Salanter and those in the communities he frequents, never does he let the human condition go unnoticed. He always seems to be championing the cause of the widow, orphan and the poor. In this case, he does no less. As he questions those who are responsible for the welfare of this orphan, he receives not viable answers, but empty and meaningless excuses.

Rabbi Salanter’s response might be shocking to some. Sell a Torah scroll? Is he crazy? Certainly not. The value of human life is so much that we are given provisions to do many things to save it, further it, help it. While the Torah is indeed valuable and necessary, the life and future of this boy is as well. Rabbi Salanter cuts to the chase and reminds the wardens that for this child no excuse can or should stand in the way. They obviously had not overturned every rock in their endeavor to provide for him and Rabbi Salanter wasn’t giving them any wiggle room in this matter.

Responsibility is truly this way. If we are given charge over someone or something, we are to give full attention and care so as to ensure its well-being. As stewards, we need to go above and beyond to be certain that we are performing the middah of responsibility to the best of our ability. Most times we won’t be confronted with selling a Torah scroll. However, we should always be cognizant that as we are given charge, we need to be at the top of our game so we can make the necessary decisions—whether they be easy, difficult, large or small.

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