by Rabbi Ze’ev Smason in the St. Louis Jewish Light
When the renowned Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky lived in Toronto in the 1940s, his synagogue presented him with a silver platter as a present for Purim. A few days later, one of the shul members saw Rav Kamenetsky in a Toronto pawn shop with this very same silver platter. The member thought it highly inappropriate. The shul gave their rabbi a gift and he went to pawn it! The member was shocked. He went back and told other members of the shul and the board of directors. A contingent came to Rav Kamenetsky and asked him “What kind of business is this – you went to pawn our gift in a pawn shop?”
Kamenetsky told the “Committee of Inquiry” that according to Jewish law, the gift was considered part of his salary. If it is part of his salary, he felt, he needed to declare it on his income tax form as earned income. “I need to know how much the silver platter is worth, so I know how much to declare.” So, he took it to the pawn shop to assess the fair market value of the platter so that he could accurately record it as part of his income tax declaration.
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This beautiful story illustrates the beauty of the heart of the Jewish people. Those who are immersed in Torah and follow not only its detailed commandments, but also do so in the spirit that God intends as expressed in His directive, Kedoshim Ti’yu, “You Shall be Holy,” act not simply with honesty, but with unassailable integrity.
Our people, descended from and who grow up surrounded by those immersed in Torah, are often capable of extraordinary compassion and forgiveness.