Meet the Beadle
Once upon a time, there was a beadle, who worked very hard on behalf of his shul. His job was to open the shul in the morning and lock it up at night. In between, he would choose people to daven for the amud, call up the aliyos to the Torah, and assist the occasional wandering Jew with saying Kaddish and donning tefillin.
But this beadle was not satisfied simply fulfilling his duties. Because he is so special a Jew and so dedicated to his shul and its mission, he would look for opportunities to make a good shul great. And one fine day, when he noticed that a particular member had missed services several days in a row, rather than ask around after his well-being, the beadle decided to pick up the phone and find out first-hand how he was feeling.
He dialed the congregant’s number, and the congregant's wife answered the phone. The beadle explained why he had called and inquired as to the welfare of the absentee member. The response was not what he had expected. Rather than thank him for his concern, Mrs. Congregant rebuked him.
“Now you ask how he’s doing?” she said. “A member is sick and you wait three days to call? What kind of a shul is this?!”
The beadle backpedaled. Stammering, he offered that he hadn't been worried up to that point, noting that missing a day or two of shul was not necessarily an indication of ill health or trouble. But no explanations or apologies would mollify this woman. She was incensed.
The beadle felt terrible, and slumped glumly in his chair. “You try to do a good thing…,” he muttered, shaking his head, and then summing it up: “Calling people isn’t even part of my job.”
Poor fellow. It’s the hardest combination in the world: being sensitive to others while being a sensitive person yourself. Here he is: a thoughtful, caring person—and those very traits turned on him; he was accused of the opposite.
I weighed this for a moment before recognizing that the beadle had actually accomplished something rare and difficult: he had performed a mitzvah lishmah. Lishmah—for its own sake—is a term that gets tossed about effortlessly, when in fact it is a very tough standard to achieve. Every mitzvah we do is usually tainted by some ulterior motive—we keep the Sabbath, but enjoy the relaxation it provides; we study the Torah, but take pleasure in our newfound knowledge; we give to charity, but bask in our reputation of being charitable.
Even when we believe that we have achieved this lofty level, the pride we feel in its accomplishment diminishes its purity. So how is one to achieve lishmah?
I often joke, half seriously, that the only people learning Torah lishmah these days are the young men at
But with the stigma gone the lishmah aspect has disappeared as well. People take pride—and are given honor—for studying Torah. So when people ask a 21-year-old, “Where are you learning?” and he responds, “Mir. Brisk.
But if the young man answers, “Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan,” the questioner might look at him quizzically and say, “Oh. So what’s your major?”
YU bochurim are the Rodney Dangerfields of the yeshiva world. They could be learning day and night off in their corner of
Now that’s studying Torah lishmah.
And our beadle, too, I believe accomplished this goal. By being insulted for his good will, by having his fine intentions backfire, he was actually performing a mitzvah that was pure. After explaining my position to him, I concluded, “Therefore, you should celebrate.”
He smiled wanly, proving that even my valiant efforts at making him feel better were not going to sully the purity of his mitzvah.