וידבר ה' אל משה במדבר סיני באהל מועד באחד החודש השני השנית לצאתם מארץ מצרים | א', א'
HaShem spoke to Moshe in the Midbar of Sinai, in the tent of Meeting, on the first of the second month, in the second year after the Golas of Mitzrayim, saying
(ויכל מי שאינו עושה עצמו כמדבר הפקר אינו יכול לקנום את הכחמה והתורה וכך נאמר במדבר סיני (מדרש רבה
On a rare excursion to Lakewood, New Jersey, in 5758 (1998), Horav Aharon Leib Steinman ZT"L, author of “Ayeles Hashachar” and head of Yeshivas Gaon Yaakov, paid a visit to the home of the current Rosh Yeshivah of Bais Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, Rav Aryeh Malkiel Kotler Shlit’a.
As they were sitting and talking, Rav Aharon Leib noticed that in the corner display cabinet, amongst the silver and other glittering items there, was a pair of old and worn-looking shoes. He questioned Rav Malkiel about this unusual artifact on prominent display. “These shoes were the property of my great-grandfather, who passed them along to my grandfather, who handed them down to my father, who left them for me.”
This mystifying response only intrigued Rav Aharon Leib even more. Rav Malkiel smiled as he retold the story. “During World War I, conditions were so difficult that people literally had nothing to eat. My great-grandfather, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer ZT"L, was then heading the Yeshivah in Kletzk, but he soon realized that it was impossible to keep the Yeshivah open due to a lack of funds and the trying conditions.
He announced one morning that the Yeshivah was unable to support the students and everyone should find their way home.
“One bochur traveled hundreds of kilometers to get home, but the minute he walked into his house, his mother looked at him and said, ‘What are you doing here? Why aren’t you in Yeshivah?’ The bochur told her that the Yeshivah could not take care of the students and everyone went home.
‘What?’ she screamed. ‘Go home? Why is it any better at home than in Yeshivah? You think I can protect you during a war? You belong in Yeshivah. The Torah you will learn there will better protect you and maintain you.
Go back to the Yeshivah, this minute, and learn Torah!’ “The bochur didn’t have a penny in his pocket, but this did not stop him for one moment.
He turned around and immediately headed out. He hoped to hitch a ride or possibly hop a train but these opportunities did not present themselves to him. He kept on walking.... and walking ... and walking.
Day by day he trudged on, traversing hundreds of kilometers on foot! His mind constantly absorbed in Torah study, he had no idea how long it took him or how many days and weeks he was walking along the dusty roads of Eastern Europe.
Eventually, he found his way back to Kletzk, whereupon he went directly to the home of Rav Isser Zalman.
Rav Malkiel looked at his esteemed guest who was listening with rapt interest. “When my great-grandfather opened the door and saw who was standing there, he immediately asked, ‘What is this? Why are you here ... more importantly, how did you get here?’
The exhausted bochur explained to him how he had come home and his mother had sent him right back to the Yeshivah in order to learn Torah. Since he had no money or resources for transport, he ended up walking all the way back to Kletzk.
“Rav Isser Zalman was filled with wonder at the emotional fortitude of this boy’s mother, who was more concerned for her son’s spiritual state than the physical comfort she could provide. But he was even more amazed by the Mesiras Nefesh of this young bochur who walked for weeks upon weeks, traveling a great distance, just for the opportunity to learn Torah.
Without a second thought, my great-grandfather turned to the boy and offered to buy his shoes! He gave him a considerable amount of money just to be able to own the pair of shoes that was used to walk hundreds of kilometers to learn Torah!” Walking over to the display, R’ Malkiel pointed. “These are the shoes that my great-grandfather bought as a legacy, to be passed down from generation to generation.
And do you want to know who that bochur was? The bochur that gave his entire life to Torah? It was none other than the great Rosh Yeshivah of Ponovezh, Rav Elazar Menachem Mann Shach ZT"L!”