Torah Musings: It’s Not “All about the Benjamins”


It’s Not “All about the Benjamins”

Sarah Pachter

From LeBron James’s “Jewish money” Instagram post to Representative Ilhan Omar’s “all about the Benjamins” tweet and the virulent anti-Semitic acts of violence toward Jewish people we consistently see in the news, most American Jews have noticed increased anti-Semitism throughout the world. It is my belief that there is no better way to combat discrimination and negative stereotypes than by sharing positive stories that describe how it’s not, “all about the Benjamins.”

My father-in-law, a surgeon, called the other day to share a story. “I saw a stranger wearing a black hat standing outside my office and watched him hand an envelope to my secretary and leave.” Here’s what the letter said:

Dear Dr. Pachter,

My name is Yankel Stein[1], and I was your patient 25 years ago, on December 15, 1994, when you removed my gallbladder.

Due to my tight financial situation, you were very generous to me, and did not charge for your services.

Some time after the surgery, I received a check for approximately $2500 from my insurance.

I should have forwarded that money to you, but I did not, justifying my action because of my financial position.

Years later, my conscience still bothered me about it. Therefore, I am now leaving a $2500 check for you to rectify that action. Additionally, I am expressing my utmost thanks for your magnanimous generosity at that time.

I request for you to process this payment, which is money you earned. My conscience will only rest when I see that you have deposited the funds.

Wishing you the very best, and may you continue in your noble profession of serving others.

Before insurance policies changed at the hospital, my father-in-law would forgo payment if a patient was unable to provide it. Many would ask him why, insisting that people were taking advantage of him. My father-in-law would reply, “If someone looks me in the eye and tells me he can’t afford it, then I trust him.”

Mr. Stein wanted to restore that trust, 25 years later.

My father-in-law could not believe this man strove to rectify this situation so many years later!

Integrity is of utmost importance for the Jewish nation, as well as the belief in the power of teshuvah, righting our wrongs.

Rabbi Paysach Krohn also shares a story about righting a wrong. Yosef Herger[2] was a life insurance broker who sold two policies with a honeymoon rider provision that ended up lapsing after one year. Despite the policy lapse, the company sent Herger a commission check of $49,500. He called the company and explained that the money was mistakenly issued. However, the company insisted it was his.

Herger was not comfortable cashing this check, and he wrote a letter explaining the mistake again. Yet again, the company insisted it was his to keep.

One year later, they sent a second commission check of $49,500. Now this man held two checks worth $99,000. He called again to fix the mistake, and they insisted it was his to keep.

One year later, the company reneged on their issued checks and sent a letter explaining that the $99,000 was, in fact, a mistake. They asked for Mr. Herger to return the money.

He called the company, annoyed. “What is going on? A year ago, you insisted it was mine, and now you say it is not. What is correct here?”

They confirmed that the checks were issued mistakenly but suggested that Mr. Herger keep one check and they keep the other because of the time lapse and inconvenience.

At this point, Mr. Herger asked Rabbi Krohn to help him write a letter to the company.

Mr. Herger explained that his father had passed away and every day for the past year he had been saying Kaddish, which sanctifies and glorifies Hashem’s name.

He continued, “Now, I want to put my words into action. Imagine the kiddush Hashem that will take place if I return the full amount to the company!”

Rabbi Krohn admits that he suggested Mr. Herger give tzedakah to make a kiddush Hashem, explaining that this too would elevate his father’s neshamah, and would also help others. Yet, Mr. Herger insisted otherwise. He had also gone to Rabbi Voszhin, who advised to give back the money as the ultimate kiddush Hashem. Rabbi Voszhin also quoted the Shulchan Orech Choshen Mishpat that states when we act with integrity, such as giving back money that does not belong to us, Hashem will make us prosperous.

Mr. Herger returned the money and the company wrote what they called a “once in a lifetime letter” expressing that they had never seen anything like this in all the years of the company’s existence. A true kiddush Hashem had been made.[3]

However, it turns out, a Jew returning $100,000 is not so “once-in-a-lifetime.” ABC News[4] shared a story about a rabbi from New Haven who bought a desk on Craigslist for $150. Because the desk would not fit through the door of his home, he began to disassemble it…and found $98,000 embedded in the drawer.

The next morning, he brought his children with him to return the money to the desk’s previous owner.

The previous owner was stunned to silence when he returned the money. The large sum was an inheritance she had received and placed it in the drawer of the desk. At one point, she realized it was not there, but she never thought the money was stolen. She simply assumed she had placed it elsewhere in the room.

She sent the rabbi and his family the following note: I do not think there are too many people in this world that would have done what you did. I do like to believe that there are still good people left in this crazy world we live in. You certainly are one of them. I cannot thank you enough for your honesty and integrity.

As Jewish people, we are meant to be a light amongst the nations. With one positive story at a time, we can slowly change the face of anti-Semitism. If merely one person’s opinion is changed for the better regarding Jewish people, then an entire world can be saved. Righteous gentiles who saved Jewish neshamot during the Holocaust often felt compelled to do so because they knew a Jew who was kind or honest.[5]

My son recently spearheaded a tzedakah campaign and used the famous phrase, “Your change can make a change.” Of course, he was referring to pocket change, but one could extend that to include a small change in our behavior. Each “small” kiddush Hashem is a mitzvah worth more than we can comprehend.

So, no, Representative Omar, it’s not always all about the “Benjamins”—it’s about the small change.

These three stories all involve a Jewish person who valued honesty and integrity above all else. Big or small, we gave it back to the world, and I am proud to be part of a nation who upholds these values so highly.

It’s not all about keeping the Benjamins for us. It’s about integrity, honesty, and dignity. This is how we can be a light amongst the nations, by sharing our truth, and in return, begin to reverse the rampant anti-Semitism that is building today.

This article was written the during the last week of Kaddish for my aunt, Yehudit Bat Harav Yehoshua. She was supremely honest in business and gave generously to tzedakah causes. May this article serve as an aliyah for her lofty neshamah.


[1] name and details changed to protect the privacy of the individual

[2] name and details changed to protect the privacy of the individual



[5] Rabbi Eli Fishman, On Wings of Faith