by Yochonon Dovid
To Know Wisdom and Ethics
Shaya, as his friends called him, was a talented young man.
He was born talented. A scholastic matter which took his
peers a great deal of explanation in order to grasp, was
intuited by him in half a minute, and all on his own. His
aptitude was evident on all fronts. Whenever two friends from
his shiur encountered difficulty in some point in
their study, they knew to approach Shaya, who would enlighten
their eyes with ease and clarify the tough topic with
simplicity and cogency.
He himself did not relish studying bechavrusa with his
age peers. He simply could not stand it when he explained to
a thick- headed young man a subject with complete clarity,
only to have him, at the end, shake his head and admit that
he still did not understand. Shaya would boil up inside and
take it as a personal insult.
He maintained no contact with those of average minds and
limited talents and would not even deign to talk to them.
When not personally provoked by their dull wits, he would
grudgingly admit that they were not to blame for their
makeup. They were born that way, he knew. But understanding
that was one thing; accepting it emotionally was different.
He related to them like a lesser species of human, an
inferior type that did not deserve the elementary respect to
which every human being was entitled by virtue of his being
part of this species.
Shaya's promotion to Rabbi Dolin's shiur was the
turning of a new page in his life. Rabbi Dolin was known as a
genius. His lectures were deep and fundamental, and it was a
marvelous experience for Shaya to swim in the sea of Talmud
with this teacher, to plumb the depths and dredge up
marvelous pearls of wisdom. In actuality, only an elite
circle of the choice students followed the rov with full
understanding of his profound lessons. But surprisingly
enough, the rest of the students did not lag behind.
With an extraordinarily shining countenance, and with great
devotion, the rabbi saw to it that even those who did not
understand his lecture the first time around, could hear it
from him again and again until they, too, grasped it. The
rabbi never tired of explaining difficult parts of it to a
solitary student, or to a small group of them. His
outstanding personality and devotion reimbursed the mediocre
and weaker students for their difficulty in understanding.
His patience towards them was limitless and they never felt
uncomfortable about asking him once again to explain
something they had trouble understanding.
The mutual rapport that sprang up between Rabbi Dolin and
Shaya was present from the very start, and it reached its
peak when the Rov invited Shaya to his home on Fridays to
study with him. He would then present Shaya with the novellae
he had prepared for the upcoming weekly shiur. It was
a considerable honor for Shaya and a tremendous incentive to
ascend in Torah. But this concurrently fed his sense of
superiority over his peers who did not have this
Shaya never imagined for a moment that the rov knew his
personality and character traits and was aware of his
relationship to those with lesser intellectual endowments. In
this aspect the Rov was the very antithesis of him in his
attitude towards weaker students, but Shaya was not
embarrassed before him. The Rov is immersed in Torah,
he would think, and does not know anything beyond
This is what he thought -- until one Friday when an entirely
new aspect of the Rov's personality was revealed to him.
On that selfsame Friday, when Shaya came to the Rov's house
he was greeted cordially, but when they sat themselves down
the Rov did not open up his gemora. He appeared to be
considering how to preface what he wished to say. Shaya
waited respectfully in silence. Then the Rov began with a
"I wanted to tell you about myself," he began. "Not about the
person I am today, but as I was in the distant past. When I
was young, they said of me that I was the most brilliant
student, the biggest lamdan in yeshiva, and they even
said this full -- not partial, mind you -- praise to my very
face. It did something terrible to me; the seeds of pride
that I already possessed from my earlier school years were
lavishly irrigated on a daily basis and grew to huge
dimensions. From the heights of the ivory tower of my blessed
talents and the praises I received, I looked down
condescendingly upon all the less-intellectually-endowed
creatures below me, to those unfortunate beings who were slow
in understanding something that I was able to grasp in a
flash. I kept a considerable distance from them and deigned
to interact only with those select ones who approached my own
"Don't think that I didn't hear mussar talks, or that
I didn't study these works dealing with pride and its
associated evil traits. But ga'avah was deeply
implanted in my heart like a tower of concrete and received
constant reinforcement from my environment and my own
successes. Such a fortress cannot be toppled from isolated
droplets of reproof or essays preaching that `it isn't nice
to be supercilious.' A massive dose of TNT is needed to
undermine such a strong edifice. To my great fortune, it
"I got married as the best boy in yeshiva and my arrogance
received a corresponding dose of reinforcement because of my
reputation. In the kollel that was "fortunate" enough
to accept me, I continued to treat my peers as I had my
fellow yeshiva students. This continued until the unfortunate
accident in which a bus overturned. My wife, a passenger, was
in the final stages of pregnancy with our firstborn.
Mercifully, her injury was slight. She underwent tests to
ascertain that all was well but one doctor blurted out that
regarding a concussion that the fetus might have suffered,
one would know the extent of any damage only after the baby
"This statement lit a warning light in my mind. That night, I
was unable to fall asleep. My imagination conjured up for me
a brain- damaged son, G-d forbid, a state which could not be
changed by any doctor in the whole world. Instead of an
inexpressible joy over the imminent birth of my firstborn
son, whom I had expected to be no less brilliant than his
father, I might be getting a mentally and physically
handicapped child, a being which repulsed me, which I so
abhorred. He might be the kind of person from whom I had
always kept a great distance so as not to be tainted by the
mere contact or proximity.
"I couldn't bear the thought. Whenever the idea surfaced, it
would banish all joy. Yes, even my self-pride disintegrated
into nothing. A voice inside me reproached me, `Well, what
did you think? That you are the master of your capabilities?
That you created your talents? How did all of your talents
not bring you face-to-face with the simple fact that it is
Hashem Who gave them to you in the first place? Who gave you
your crystal-clear grasp, your lightning understanding, your
profound sense of analysis, and everything with which you
pride yourself? When Hashem so desires, He gives. And when He
does not wish it, He withholds it, partially, granting only
half, a third, a quarter, and sometimes, even nothing.
"From that day on and until the birth, I was immersed in
constant prayer: Hashem! I've internalized the message.
You hinted it to me and I got the hint. All of my
intellectual endowments are dispensed through Your infinite
kindness. Whatever I received from You was intended to be
used to help others, to be shared as much as possible with my
fellow man, especially with those not equally blessed
directly with such a great measure of wisdom. I've learned my
lesson and I will guard it until the end of my days. I will
remember the message and never forget its import."
He looked Shaya in the eye, "How did I know that my prayers
were received? The doctor who examined my son when he was a
few weeks old said that he never saw a child as well
developed for his age as he. Today, he is one of the most
excellent students in his yeshiva. Praise be Hashem for His
Rabbi Dolin rose from his seat, extended a hand to Shaya and
shook it warmly. "This is our lesson for the day. This is the
most significant lesson that I can possibly impart to you.
Remember it and review it, Shaya. Have a Good Shabbos."
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