March 27, 2020, Israel
Education is an amazing thing. Often we feel our time is being wasted by foolish teachers who simply bore us. We feel they cannot understand us and cannot relate to us. They are old men who live in the past. If only they would take our advice.
The years go by and suddenly I am back in school, in New York, in my mind I see Rabbi Jacob Wehl sitting at his desk in front of the class, his Talmud is open. His words are piercing...Katz, mark my words, these words are for you too, years from now.....you will remember. Nothing distracts him, his focus is total, his concentration complete. The lesson in the Talmud is more important that current events, more real, more relevant than anything in our surroundings. Rabbi Wehls' family survived the Holocaust and now he is passing on these lessons to a new generation. He is teaching us what matters in life. It is all a matter of priorities my friends, if learning Torah is 88th on your list of priorities of course you will not have time to study. (I don't remember the exact number, if any of my fellow students read this, please correct me).
I am sitting at the large table at Beis Midrash Zichron Aryeh in Los Angeles, Rabbi Shaya Cohen's eyes are alive like a fire. His eyes look upwards as his voice is still for a moment, he is searching for the right word. We are in the midst of a Talmud lesson and all of us, young men in our early twenties, are sitting around the table waiting for the words to come out. Rabbi Cohen raises his arm to make a point, he is full of passion, purity and light. He is searching for a way to explain a passage written nearly 2,000 years ago, perhaps by one of his ancestors. At this moment understanding this passage is the most important thing in the entire world; the universe depends upon it. Outside is Los Angeles, a thriving city full of "culture" and excitement, for us it does not exist, it is irrelevant. That is the message. We are swept away with Rabbi Cohen's enthusiasm for the Talmud, we are totally engrossed in the minutia of a discussion that took place in the academy of Pumpuditha, Babylon in the fourth century, I open my eyes and it is 2020.
I am sitting in my home, my Talmud is on my desk and I realize that my teachers were very wise, for their goal was to inspire me for a lifetime of study, a lifetime of pursuit of wisdom and knowledge.
As we sat at the old table in the back of the Yeshiva we will filled with enthusiasm, each lesson was an event to look forward to, it outdid all the glitter and razzle dazzle of Los Angeles, we were in our own world, in our element. This was due to the infectious enthusiasm of our teachers, for they understood a very valuable concept; inspiration is more important than content, developing a love, a passion, for the subject at hand is more important than how much material we happen to cover in that lesson. The long term is what matters.
I returned to Los Angeles just recently and met with my dear friend and teacher Rabbi Block, we prayed together at the synagogue that he founded and then we went for breakfast. Breakfast was filled with discussions and lessons from the Torah. Over an Israeli breakfast Rabbi Block's soul came alive as he discussed lessons from our forefathers. His body is weakened by the years and he walks with visible pain, but when the Torah is discussed he is a young man again, he is on fire!
I sit here and I realize how much I have learned from these teachers, they have unlocked the secrets to being a great teacher, and these are lessons I carry with me. We must never lose the fire within. Our passion must be real. We must become that which we want to teach.