Shortly after the
chupah at Asher Leitner's (the name has been changed) wedding, Rabbi Peretz Steinberg, rabbi of the Young Israel of Queens Valley, New York, noticed that Asher's father, Mr. Max Leitner, was crying and visibly shaken. Rabbi Steinberg put his hand on Mr. Leitner's shoulder to calm him. Shortly afterwards, when Mr. Leitner composed himself, he told Rabbi Steinberg the following remarkable story.
Two years earlier, Asher needed capital to start a business, but his
total savings, together with what his parents could provide him, were not enough.
Asher decided to approach an elderly family friend, Mr. Jack Stern,
(the name has been changed) who had just sold his business for more than $150 million dollars. Asher knew that Mr. Stern liked him, and, sure enough, without much coaxing, Mr. Stern lent Asher the $15,000 dollars he asked for.
For the next year and a half, Asher struggled to make his new business
a success. Unfortunately, it failed. Embarrassed and upset, Asher went back to Mr. Stern and told him what had happened. "I will pay you every penny I owe you," Asher said, red-facedly, "but I don't have it right now. I will always remember your kindness, so rest assured - I will repay you."
"Asher, I didn't lend you the money," said Mr. Stern. "I'm a
businessman. I invested it with you. Some investments are successful and some are unsuccessful. This one didn't work out. It's okay, you don't owe me anything."
A few months later, Asher
became engaged. When he composed his list of guests for the wedding he made sure to include Mr. Stern. At the wedding, just 10 minutes before the Badekken (when the chassan covers the kallah's face with a veil), Asher went to speak to Mr. Stern privately. The elderly gentleman and the young chassan went off to a side, out of earshot of anyone else.
Knowing that Mr. Stern was not observant and possessed only limited
knowledge of traditional Jewish law and custom, Asher began, "Mr. Stern, the day before a chassan and kallah get married has very special significance. For them it is like Yom Kippur. They fast and recite part of the Yom Kippur service. It is also a time when their sins can be forgiven.
"For my kallah and me, today was Yom Kippur. I feel as though I am
about to start married life with a clean slate. But that is only with regard to my dealings with Hashem. With regard to my relationship with people, I still have one black mark on my record - the $15,000 dollars that I owe you. Please, Mr. Stern, I cannot go to my chupah knowing that I owe you this money. Please," Asher repeated as he took an envelope out of his pocket, "accept this check. It is for the entire sum that I owe you."
Asher would not allow Mr. Stern to protest. "Only if you accept this
check can I go to the chupah and start my marriage with a fresh beginning."
Mr. Stern was flabbergasted. He wasn't sure what Asher meant about
today being Yom Kippur, but he knew that his own religious knowledge was limited and now was not the time for philosophical debate. Besides, 10 minutes before a chupah was not the time to upset and aggravate a chassan. So, reluctantly, Mr. Stern took the check from Asher.
After the chupah, Mr. Stern went to Asher's father and said, "Your son
was telling me something about a clean slate and today being his Yom Kippur. He told me he must return the money he feels he owes me. Max, I don't want to violate your religion, but would it be wrong if I gave him the $15,000 dollars here at the wedding as a gift?"
Now it was Max Leitner who was left speechless. He stumbled for
appropriate words. He tried to thank Mr. Stern for his magnanimous act, but Mr. Stern interrupted him.
"Your son is a fine young man Max. May he and his bride use the money
in good health."
With that he gave the check of $15,000 dollars to Asher's father.
A few moments later an overwhelmed Mr. Leitner began crying. It was
then that he met Rabbi Steinberg and told him the story.
Today, years later, Asher
says that his mistake was to assume that he should pay back the loan in one large sum, and not piecemeal. "If only I had started paying Mr. Stern as little as a hundred dollars at a time, it never would have come to the point where I had to embarrass myself and tell him that I had nothing to pay back with."
"But where did you get the money to give him the check at the
wedding?" I wondered. "Fifteen thousand dollars is a lot of money."
"Believe it or not," Asher said, "my kallah gave me most of it from
her savings, because she believed so strongly that we should start with a clean slate."
He was right: I could
hardly believe it.