Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Av 5763 - August 13, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
To Know Wisdom and Ethics

by Yochonon Dovid

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 privilege.

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 it.

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 slight hesitation:

"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 level.

"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 happened.

"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 was born.

"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 goodness!"

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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