Weekly Story: Occupation or Livelihood

by Rabbi Sholom D. Avtzon

In the Early 1940s, the Frierdike Rebbe said to Reb M., a young newlywed man, “I would like you to go to Jacksonville Florida and became a melamed (teacher) there.”

The young man was more than willing to fulfill the Rebbe’s wishes and teach Jewish children about our golden heritage; however, now that he was married and responsible to cover the expenses, he was concerned. Voicing his concern he said, Rebbe who will pay me? Is the community asking that a young Rabbi comes and are committing themselves to pay a salary, albeit a meager one, or will that be an additional headache?

The Frierdike Rebbe replied, I will like to relate to you a story.

In Russia there were three levels of payment on the train cars for the passengers. The cheapest ticket allowed one to board a car which just had benches for whoever sat down, then there was a car that had more comfortable seats for the passengers and the most expensive one had private suites.

Once three wealthy Jewish businessmen traveled in the luxurious top class and at one stop they noticed another Jew also boarding that car. Being prominent members of their communities, they were well connected and knew most of the other wealthy individuals in the region.

One looked to the other, as if asking, who is this individual, and understanding the body language he replied with a shrug of the shoulder as if to say, I don’t know. The third one in their group was more outgoing than the others and approaching the newcomer he gave him a warm Sholom Aleichim and then asked, “What is your profession, as we always are interested in expanding our network of contacts and perhaps we can do business together.”

The newcomer replied, “I am a melamed.”

The businessman was surprised at this answer and retorted, “I hired an excellent melamed to tutor my children privately, and comparatively speaking, I pay well. Yet there is no way a melamed can afford this first class ticket. [In essence he was saying, why don’t you say what your income really comes from]. “

The individual responded, “You asked me, what do I do, and I told you, by profession I am a melamed and teach our holy Torah. You did not ask me, from where I receive my livelihood and how I have money. My livelihood comes from other sources and Boruch Hashem, Hashem is extremely kind to me and I can well afford this ticket, just as prominent businessmen.

Understanding the Rebbe’s reply, the young couple heeded the Rebbe’s request and moved there.

May the upcoming school year be extremely successful for all, our precious students and the devoted individuals who teach them.

Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books. He is available to farbreng in your community and can be reached at avtzonbooks@gmail.com.


  • 2. S.O.T. wrote:

    I heard this story from the Baal hamayseh himself, reb Mendel Feldman o”h. He repeated this story on many occasions.

  • 4. Shkoach wrote:

    I needed this.
    I still haven’t been paid from either my teaching job or my customers either. My accounts are overdrawn and the rent hasn’t been paid. It will work out with the Abishters help. I did my part and learned my lesson.


Comments are closed.