One Thursday afternoon, Yankel invited Chezky for the Friday night meal. Chezky delightedly accepted the invitation, as he looked forward to meeting Yankel's family. Chezky had been told that the Bernsteins were poor, but he was not prepared for what he saw in their apartment. After saying the blessings for the wine (Kiddush) and the bread (Hamotzi), Chezky watched as Yankel cut the challah into very thin slices. Could the family be relying on this one loaf to last for all the Shabbos meals? Chezky, who came from a well-to-do home, could not bear the thought.
The meal became an anguished ordeal for Chezky as he saw the minuscule portions of fish, soup, and chicken that Mrs. Bernstein served the children. Chezky's own portion was larger than anyone else's, and he felt guilty, for he understood that he was getting more at the expense of the Bernsteins. Although the discussion and the prayers were lively and the children certainly seemed happy, Chezky vowed he would never come there again for a meal. It just wasn't fair to Yankel's family.
Reprinted by permission of Artscroll/Mesorah Publications, Ltd.
One afternoon Yankel said directly, "I've invited you numerous times since you came that Friday night months ago, and each time you refuse me. Did we not treat you right that first time? Did any of my children say something that upset you?"
Chezky was surprised at how sensitive Yankel was to his refusals. He couldn't hide the truth any longer. "I'll tell you honestly, Reb Yankel," he said. "I had no idea how you and your family lived. That Friday night I couldn't help but notice there was not much food to go around the table. Frankly, I felt guilty eating anything, because I knew it was at the expense of your wonderful children." Chezky had to hold back his urge to cry.
Yankel put his hands on Chezky's shoulders and said, "You really are considerate, but let me explain, and I think you'll understand.
"My wife and I come from poor families. When we were married, we discussed the likelihood that we would live the rest of our lives below the standards of many of our friends. We decided from the start that if we were to be blessed with children, we would invite guests once in a while to teach the children the trait of hachnasas orchim--hospitality to guests.
"We don't have guests very often, but when we do, it is to show the children that we share God's blessings with others."
As the holiday of Lag B'Omer approached, Chezky decided to surprise Yankel's children. The morning of the holiday, he went to a nearby grocery store, bought a few ice-cream sandwiches, and brought them to Yankel's apartment. As he entered the home he called out to the children, "Here, look what I bought for you in honor of Lag B'Omer!"
The children took the ice-cream sandwiches, dutifully said their quick thank-you's, and scampered out of the apartment.
Chezky was surprised. The Bernstein children could not have been accustomed to eating ice-cream sandwiches too often, and surely it was something special to them. Why hadn't they reacted with enthusiastic thanks, instead of just muttering a few words and running off?
A few minutes later, Chezky could hear rumbling up the steps. Before he could turn around, there were 15 neighborhood children in the Bernstein dining room. In a moment, the two Bernstein boys came to the table with the ice-cream sandwiches and knives in their hands. With meticulous care they cut the ice-cream sandwiches into small portions and, with beaming smiles, handed a section to each of the children. Then, in unison, the children theatrically licked the white lining of ice cream frozen between the brown top-and-bottom crackers, smiling and joking as they devoured their special treat.
Chezky turned to Reb Yankel, who stood beaming at the dining room entrance. Their eyes met. There was no need for words--they both understood. Indeed, the children had absorbed their parents' message.