I haven’t seen Ben in a few years. Now in late middle-age, he looks happy and prosperous. With a wife twenty years younger, he thinks he’ll be working for a while.
Remarkably, business has been good, even during the financial downturn. “I do commercial real estate.” Ben says, “I buy and sell buildings, malls, the occasional large home. There are always people with money looking to park it somewhere, especially now when there’s nowhere else safe to put it. I find them buildings in good locations, with good cash flow. Bidding can be pretty brisk, above asking price.”
Ben asks me about my family. I tell him we have a new granddaughter. Our son’s a rabbi in the Midwest.
“I’m close with a rabbi,” he says. “Meyer divides his time between Brookline, up here, and Brooklyn. Meyer studies the Torah. He’s been studying the Torah for 22 years. He works with other men who also study the Torah. When they need things, he calls me.
“’Ben,’ he says, “They need food.’ So I give him food. ‘Ben, they need clothes,” so I give him clothes. Then Meyer goes back to Brooklyn and studies the Torah.”
“Where did you meet him?” I ask.
“I was in a kosher restaurant having lunch,” he says. “I don’t even know what I was doing there. I don’t eat kosher.”
“Everybody slips now and then,” I say.
“Anyhow,” says Ben, “we got to talking, and somehow the next thing you know we’re friends. He calls me when he’s in town. And the other day, he tells me this amazing insight that he got from studying the Torah.”
“No kidding,” I say. “What was it?”
“Meyer says to me. ‘Make the best of what you have.’”
I look at Ben closely. Perhaps he is being sardonic. He is not.
“That’s what he got from studying the Torah for 22 years?” I ask.
“Yes,” says Ben. “Isn’t that incredible? I’ve often thought the same thing, that you should make the best of what you have, but it meant a lot, hearing it from him.
“Meyer has friends who do real estate too,” Ben goes on. “I went down to Brooklyn with my partners to talk to them. They had a deal in Dallas they were pitching. It was the middle of the afternoon, and they had to stop to go into the other room and pray. Then they came back with fruit and drinks, and we kept talking. Besides the men he takes care of who study the Torah, he also has friends who have some pretty heavy money.”
“Tell me,” I ask, “have you gotten any deals yourself from meeting with Meyer’s friends?”
“Not yet,” says Ben. “But I’ve gotten them some, and I get a finder’s fee. One of these days, I’m sure I’ll get in on one myself.”
I wonder why Meyer needs to ask Ben in Brookline for food and clothes for the men who study the Torah when he has friends in Brooklyn with such heavy money, but think better of asking. Ben seems happy. He is doing well, and he has a relationship with a man who studies the Torah, and offers Ben opportunities of different kinds. Sometimes he passes on useful insights to Ben, who makes of them what he can.