"…Just because you are my relative, should you work for me for free? Tell me what your wages are."(Bereishit 29:15)
One evening, Udi sat down to do his homework. He opened his backpack to take out his math book, when he realized, much to his chagrin, that he had left his book in school. He raced out the front door, and ran the few blocks to his school building. To his relief, the lights were still on.
Udi entered his classroom, where, to his surprise, he saw the elderly janitor hoisting one chair after another, and setting them down on the desks. Udi couldn’t bear to see the man exerting himself like this.
"Can I help you with the chairs?" Udi offered.
"Of course!" replied the janitor. "At my age, this is really too much. No one thinks of me. The students just leave their chairs on the floor, at the end of the day. I have to spend hours going from room to room, picking up chairs off the floor, and by the time I get home, I can’t do a thing, because my back is aching."
Udi hurried to help the man. Suddenly, a thought came to him.
"Would you want me to help you with the chairs every day?" Udi suggested.
It didn’t take long for the janitor to come to a decision. "Please! I would be happy to pay you forty shekel per day. Then all I would have to do is mop the floors!"
With that, the janitor extended his hand to Udi, and the two shook on the deal.
The next day, as his schoolmates sat eating lunch in the cafeteria, Udi got up and took the microphone. He called for everyone’s attention, and began to describe the plight of the elderly janitor, compelled spend hours, hoisting hundreds of chairs every evening. "If each of us would take our own chair and put it on our desk at the end of the day, it would save hours of work for the janitor! Why should he have to go home with an achy back, when we can easily do the work for him? Starting today, let’s pick up our chairs, and make the janitor’s life easier!"
Udi’s speech was met with thunderous applause. His enthusiasm and passionate words inspired the boys to join him in his project. That afternoon, as the last bell rang, hundreds of boys picked up their chairs, and put them on their desks.
As Udi left the building, he looked into the classrooms, and saw chairs neatly placed on their corresponding desks. He smiled to himself, pleased that he was earning money, with so little effort. As the weeks went by, the boys continued picking up their chairs, and Udi’s earnings increased.
Was Udi, in fact, allowed to take the money from the janitor?
Rabbi Meir Mazuz, shlita:
Udi does not need to return the money. The reason is that he succeeded in convincing his fellow students, using his speaking abilities and power of persuasion, to clean up the school. Speech and persuasive ability are valuable tools. Just think how much money people pay psychologists and lawyers, when, in essence, most of their work is just talking.
Another reason why the money belongs to Udi is because he took responsibility for the chairs being put on the desks. What would have happened if the students wouldn’t have agreed to help out? Udi would have been left to do the entire job himself.
In summary: Udi does not have to return the money to the janitor.
A Painful Lesson
ויאמר להם יעקב אחי מאין אתם"- לימד יעקב אבינו את לשונו לדבר אהבה ורעות, על כן אמר להם 'אחי', כי רק תוכחה כזאת"
(הנאמרת מתוך אהבה, אחוה ורעות, מתקבלת יפה ונשמעת ברצון (העמק דבר
Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky, a"h (the wife of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, shlita) related the following:
This story took place many years ago, when the Kanievsky’s daughter was attending high school. One day, a substitute teacher entered the classroom, and prepared to begin teaching. At the time, there was a strong smell of garbage, in the vicinity of the classroom. The Kanievsky’s daughter turned to a friend of hers, and commented "it seems to me that we can’t make a bracha in this room, because of the smell of garbage."
Upon overhearing the comment, the teacher jumped to the conclusion that the girl had been referring to the teacher, and had stated that the teacher smelled like garbage. The teacher became angry, and insisted that the girl leave the classroom, immediately. All of the girl’s attempts to defend herself failed, despite repeated insistence that her comment had had nothing to do with the teacher.
The teacher expelled the girl from the room, with orders that she may not come back, until she had a note signed by her mother, and the principal, regarding the incident. The teacher then notified the girl’s home room teacher. The end result was that the girl did not return to school for several days.
About fifteen years later, the phone rang in the Kanievsky’s daughter’s house. "Hello," a woman began, hesitantly. "My name is Rivka. About fifteen years ago, I substituted in your high school class."
The woman went on to describe the unhappy garbage comment incident, and all that had happened to the girl as a result.
"I’m calling because I would like to ask you for forgiveness, because I acted inappropriately, and I embarrassed you for no reason at all."
At this point, the woman burst out crying. She related that she had been unsuccessfully looking to get married, all these years. She felt that, perhaps, this was as a result of her having publicly shamed her student, for no reason.
The Kanievsky’s daughter absorbed the woman’s words, and wholeheartedly forgave her. That week, the teacher became engaged.
(adapted from the book Kol Mish’alotecha, parshat Behar)
Translated by Avigail Kirsch