May 10, 2018, Israel
Chatting with Eitan/Channel on the phone and discussing the impact of the rabbis lessons, brought me back to my childhood, to an image I shall never forget.
You sit in class, trying to absorb the lesson being taught and you just don't realize what is taking place. I am a young man, 15 years old, and Rabbi Wehl is teaching the Talmud. He goes off on a tangent and delivers what is called in Yiddish a Muser Schmooz, or an ethical talk, about life, about how to live.
Rabbi Wehl, even in the Hebrew Academy, he was an oddity. He simply did not care what you thought of him. He was old school in an old school.
Money? Honor? Image? Power? No, only one thing mattered, teaching the Torah, expounding the Talmud, raising a generation of Jews who would follow in the footsteps of their fathers, who would keep the faith and the traditions alive.
Rabbi Wehl, you could love him, you could not, but he did not care. He just preached the Truth. If you showed up late, he locked the door and placed his own chair directly in front of the door. Kids would be outside, waving through the classroom door window trying to get his attention to be let into class, but he had his back to them. He was already teaching. The message was Respect! You show up for my class on time or you go to the secretary's office and explain why you are not in class.
This did not make him very popular.
Rabbi Wehl insisted you wear a buttoned -downed shirt to class, not a T shirt. If you were not dressed properly you did not enter the classroom. No exceptions. I recall one student saying his mother simply had no time to do the laundry. Rabbi Wehl said he understood and the young man must go home immediately to help his dear mother with the laundry, and return to school only when dressed properly.
Rabbi Wehl, no compromises, this did not make him very popular.
I recall looking over his Talmud one day and saw countless little notations, in tiny print, written in the margins. His Talmud became a living book, always growing and expanding as he delved into it's deeper meanings. I recall seeing him by chance at the office, he was calling his mother to let her know that he would be late when coming to visit her. I learned to be respectful of one's mother, no matter how old you are. From that day onward I made it a point to call my mother whenever I was running late, to let her now when I arrived safely, to show respect.
Rabbi Wehl made his views on modern forms of religion well known, he was No Holds Barred Jewish. This made him very unpopular among parents who wanted a Jewish education for their children but not "too Jewish".
I looked at his face and I saw a man who really could not care if you liked what he was doing or not, he could not be moved from his path.
I can still see him at his desk, with his large Talmud opened wide.
Rabbi Wehl is no longer among the living. But today, when people talk about their experience at the Hebrew Academy one name stands out above all others, Rabbi Jacob Wehl of blessed memory, the eccentric, always in the same grey suit, the one who did not care to fit in. In the long run no one had more of an impact on his students than Rabbi Wehl.
Today there is an entire generation of devout Jews, studying the Talmud, teachers and rabbis themselves, and we all share the same stories...Do you remember when Rabbi Wehl....We all have our Rabbi Wehl stories, and we all loved him.
And today I think of Rabbi Wehl, the conversation with Eitan/Channel brought him to my mind. Dear Rabbi Wehl, the image did not matter to you, only the teaching, and your teaching had a huge impact on so many generations of students. Today your students number in the thousands.
And I think of my image. So many Krav Maga instructors want "the look", the image of toughness. I pay a price for not having this image, for coming across as "soft". And then I remember Rabbi Wehl, he could not care less what you thought of him, he was pure and he was just himself, a man on a mission from God. And today his impact is more than he could have ever imagined.
When you do not care about what impression you are making, you make the greatest impression.