June 20, 2017, Israel
When I was a child I learned "May thine eyes always behold the image of thy teacher". I am grateful for having good and wise teachers throughout my life. Growing up I did not always understand or agree with some of the things I experienced but I respected my teachers and I listened.
As the years went on and life unfolded, the lessons from my teachers unfolded as well. Sometimes, many years, after their passing, I am suddenly reminded of a lesson and now, as an older person, I understand.
As I face challenges of my own, challenges as a teacher and a guide, the image of my own teachers never departs from my eyes or my memory.
I am grateful that I never openly challenged my teachers, had I done so I would feel very ashamed today but there would be no one to apologize to. Most of them have departed from this earth.
I was a diligent student and earned very high grades. In particular I loved the study of Talmud, the Jewish book of law and lore composed between the years 0 and 500 C.E. For most of my high school years my teacher was late wonderful Rabbi Jacob Wehl of blessed memory. He was not a very popular man at times. He was a man who walked to the beat of his own drum and he really did not care what others thought. He was pure in his pursuit of true Judaism and would not stray from the words of the Holy Books, not one little step.
He wanted us to understand what is real, important and what is not. Priorities was a word he used often. When it came to giving out grades at the end of each semester he had a totally different approach from other teachers. For most teachers the grade was the power they held over us, they knew that most of us cared only about our report cards and the grade was holy.
The teachers knew that by controlling grades they controlled students. Study hard and diligent and I will reward you with a good grade.
But not dear Rabbi Wehl of blessed memory. No, he wanted us to know that the grade was meaningless. He only had three grades to offer; 75, 85, and 95. No one was perfect, as the Bible says, and so 100 was OUT.
He would say, "You want an 85? fine, you got it. Whatever." The real grade, he taught us, was not now, no...not now. The real grade was in ten years from now, in the future.
He had an alumni, Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky, a wonderful man. When Dovid would come by and visit the rabbi and discuss the Torah Rabbi Wehl beamed with pride. Later he would tell us, "I do not remember what grade Dovid received when he was in high school but now he has the highest grade, he follows the Torah, he observes the Sabbath, he is a good man."
And that my students is what counts, that and nothing else.
What Rabbi Wehl did is take the "Power" out of the grade and show it in its true nakedness. It is only a report card, a number. How many of us still have our high school report cards? And of what value are they now?
Imagine you took a language course, you learned Spanish. Now ten years later (true story) I approach you and ask; so how did you do in high school Spanish? you answer, fantastic, a 98% average.
And then I say, I also have learned a little Spanish, let us practice.
¿cómo estás? Hablemos español
And the person says, What? I have to admit I do not remember much.
So I ask you, of what value is the grade, the diploma? I answer you, you can use to kindle a fire or make a paper airplane.
A paper is something we need to get into college or to apply for a job but let us remember that the true value is the knowledge, not a piece of paper. If you lose your knowledge you might as well throw out your diploma.
And now one more lesson from my high school days, this one from Rabbi Moshe Gottesmann.
He told us the grade is for two people, yourself and your teacher. That's it. Your report card is for two units, yourself and your parents. No one else need know your grade. Grades are not a competition sport. If you earned a high grade there is no need to show off to your friends. Be humble, keep it to yourself. Do not use your grades to embarrass a weaker student.
Today my friend Ethan Cohen posted, "It is amazing how much pain one person's success causes another". Yes, it is.
Now remember Rabbi Wehl's lesson about grades and remember what truly matters. Rejoice in your friends' achievements, encourage others and may we all rise higher and higher in knowledge and wisdom.
And I still behold the image of my teachers in front of my eyes, and I hear Rabbi Wehl's voice, from the beyond...Katz, this lesson is for you too. Mark my words, years from now you will remember this...