The taxi that pulled up in front of Mesivta Chaim
Berlin to pick up the famed sage, Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner, and a young disciple who was accompanying him, looked like all the others crawling by on the crowded Brooklyn street.
Upon entering the car, the rabbinical student politely told the cabbie their destination. But the taxi remained in place.
Instead of driving on, the cabbie took a few seconds to examine his "fares" via the rear view mirror. When finished, the driver was apparently convinced that his older passenger was no ordinary person. He reached over to his glove compartment and pulled out a cloth cap. Only when it was snugly covering his bare head, did he speed off.
The sage smiled and then turned to his charge. He whispered: "For this act of respect, who knows how much merit our driver will get in the World to Come."
"Such a small gesture merits a reward in Eternity?"
asked the rabbi in training with no little astonishment.
"Yes, indeed," Rabbi Hutner replied.
The sage then proceeded to tell the lad a tale about a
similar incident that had occurred almost a century earlier. As
he spoke, the busy streets of Flatbush began to
fade into the background and the student was transported to Gur, Poland
during the era of Rebbe Yitzchak Mayer
Alter, known as the Chidushei Harim.
It was the custom of the Chidushei Harim to purify himself in a mikvah ritualarium
every day. Although there was a very quick way to traverse
the distance between his study hall and the mikvah, the rebbe never took this
route. Instead, he always took a roundabout way to reach his
The Rebbe's assistant was understandably perplexed by the
actions of the Chidushei Harim. When the weather was fine,
only perhaps ten or twelve minutes were lost by taking this
particular path but even so, ten minutes of lost time was still
ten minutes! And when the weather was bad, and the Rebbe
had to carefully dodge the numerous icy patches and deep
puddles that dotted the road, even more precious time was
The assistant held his silence for a very long time. However,
one day, when the bad weather forced the Rebbe to walk even
more slowly than usual, the assistant had to speak out.
"Rebbe, if we had taken the shorter path, we would already
be home by now," he said. "Why do you insist on always taking
this longer route?"
Just as the assistant finished speaking, the two men turned a
corner and arrived at the loading station for the town's porters.
It was here that the porters simple and unlearned Jews who
made their living by carting the heavy loads of the travelers
and merchants who had arrived at Gur gathered as they waited
for a job.
As usual, the scene at the porters' station was a boisterous
one. Those lucky enough to have already found work were
busily loading the heavy packages onto their carts. The others
were impatiently looking down the road to spy out the next
round of likely customers, and they energetically called out to
the passersby who were approaching the station.
Then a cry was suddenly heard rising above the ruckus.
"The Rebbe is coming!" one of the porters called out.
"Look sharp! The Rebbe is coming!"
The cries of the hoarse voices stopped in mid-sentence and
bundles hoisted in mid-air were hastily put down. Silence now
reigned over the station as the porters straightened their caps
and jackets. Then all eyes turned toward the Chidushei Harim,
who was now approaching the group.
As the Rebbe walked past the workers, the men slightly bent
their heads downward to show respect. The porters remained
standing silently in this position until the Rebbe had walked a
small distance past them.
The Rebbe understood very well that respect shown to somebody of his stature was not directed at him as individual (which he detested), but was part of the community’s admiration to the Torah (Bible) he represented and the office he occupied.
Indeed, when they were safely out of earshot and the porters had
returned to their work, the Chidushei Harim turned to his assistant.
"That is the answer to your question," said the Rebbe.
"These porters are not observant. Some of them do not even
pray every day. So how will they earn their reward in Eternity?
"All they have is the respect they show me this display of
affection for the Torah and tradition when I walk by. So of course I am willing to
go a little out of my way every day, if this will enable a fellow
Jew to earn some merit in Eternity."
With those words, Rabbi Hutner had come to the conclusion
of his story. For the the rabbi in training who was accompanying him, the
New York taxi they were traveling in suddenly looked very
different, now that he realized that even the smallest gesture
could be a vehicle for earning one's the World to Come.