Torah Study Partners: Of Haircuts and Heroism

Michael Chimounov’s family had been keeping Shabbat for two years already.

Emphasis on the family part, because while his wife brought out the warm challot, Michael was buzzing hair at his shop in Long Island. 

A skillful and gifted barber, Michael felt compelled to work on Saturday, his most lucrative day of the week. He felt the heavy responsibility of supporting a family; like any good father and husband, he worried about his children, his wife, their happiness and comfort. He wanted to provide that, and it seemed that would require working whenever the customers would come. 

For years, this was Michael’s story.

But things began to change when he agreed to join TorahMates, Oorah’s free Jewish learning program for Torah study partners

Within a few days, Michael was partnered up with Menachem Rosenberg, and the two began learning together.

Menachem  was a patient and sensitive man, and he was excited to learn with Michael. But the first time he called to speak with him, he was slightly disappointed. There were no explosions. No fireworks. Not even any of those poppers packed in sawdust that the kids like to throw in handfuls.

Menachem replaced the phone thoughtfully. Michael had been distracted for much of the phone call, and when he was actually listening, it seemed like he didn’t really understand. Menachem almost felt like Michael was just humoring him.

Well, Rabbi Rosenberg thought. It was just the first time. We’ll see how things go.

And things went…swimmingly. It wasn’t always easy, but the Torah study partners began to build a positive relationship, a real relationship. And Michael was beginning to take steps. To make changes, a bit at a time, at his own pace.

One day, he timorously shared with Menachem that he felt ready to stay home for shabbat and close his business for the weekend. With well-wishes ringing in his ears, Michael hung up the phone and readied himself for a proper shabbat, at home, with his family.

It was beautiful. It was enchanting. It felt right.

But zero hour came when Michael happened to glance out of the window, and noticed an officer ticketing his car. 

Instead of rushing outside and defending his position, as instinct told him to do, Michael calmly remained put. He recognized that this would not have been in the proper spirit of this holy day. As he later shared, this was “mesiras nefesh for shabbat.”

His son, Adam, jubilantly exclaimed, “Shabbat is so much fun when dad is home!”

Boy, did it feel right.

Together, the TorahMates had turned a corner.

One day, while on the phone with Michael, Menachem happened to notice that whenever the topic of his children’s education came up, Michael managed to gently steer the conversation in a different direction. 

He was surprised at this, since he knew that Michael’s wife dreamed of sending her children to religious schools. With the new faith that Michael was showing, what could possibly be the trouble?

But of course, the trouble was money. While Michael genuinely appreciated everything that a Jewish education had to offer, he didn’t know how he could possibly swing tuition and still keep the bills at bay. 

What he didn’t know was that recently, Menachem had come across some extra money. Although his family didn’t have a lot and we can all think of ways to utilize some extra cash, Menachem decided to use it for the best thing possible: He generously gifted a significant sum of money to Michael, towards his children’s schooling.  

As Anne Frank famously said, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” Not only was Menecham made no poorer by giving, but this act of generosity has certainly made him far wealthier.

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