Monday, August 24, 2009

My Inspiration

I won't deny that starting a new beit midrash is somewhat frightening. Although I am working with great people all around, the idea of moving to a new country, leaving my shul-rabbinate comfort zone, venturing into a community with greater sophistication than any I have served before, etc, is scary. I have wondered, off and on, whether I'm in over my head.

Two weeks ago, though, in packing up sefarim, I came across a document I had long forgotten. It's a paper my parents saved from my freshman year in high school - my "Jewish Studies Department" report card, filled out by my rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchok Cohen.

I've already discussed part of Rabbi Cohen's impact on me, in this post. But here's more of it.

(First, a tangential note: Where he was to fill in his name, Rabbi Cohen crossed out "Rabbi" and just filled in "Yitzchok Cohen." I love that.)

Talmud - 90 Dinim - 82 Chumash - 80 Average - 88

Bechinah [test]
Gemara - 84 Dinim - 70 Chumash - 76

Behavior - Gem of a boy. Class participation - Good at times

Okay, so I wasn't exactly top of the shiur. But the really good part is in the "Rebbi's Comments" section:

מרדכי נ"י is very interested in learning and yet doesn't know the gemara well enough. He is somewhat confused. מרדכי needs a chavruta at nights. There is no need why מרדכי shouldn't do better on chumash and mishnayot tests. מרדכי is not working as hard as he could. A boy who is blessed with a good mind and loves learning and most of all is sincere and pure. I expect much more from him. 'בעזרת ה there will be improvement. מרדכי has all the makings in becoming a true תלמיד חכם and ירא שמים (Gd-fearing person).

Now, that was a rebbe. I don't know about the sincere, pure, gem parts - maybe it was a way to soften the blow for my parents - but regarding the rest, my rebbe was straight on.

"doesn't know the gemara well enough"
"needs a chavruta"
"no reason why מרדכי shouldn't do better"
"not working as hard as he could"

All true.

So now I look back at that report, remember what life in the shiur that year was like and what has happened since, and know that if Gd could bring me all this way, then anything is, indeed, possible.

I need to get that paper framed.


  1. If you don't have some shpilkes at the idea of starting a new position there is something wrong with you.

    I think that it is natural and can be quite useful, if you channel the energy.

  2. Consider yourself blessed.
    My last one was from the Big D -
    it haunts me constantly - "Great potential-still untapped"

  3. Jack-
    Then does having shpilkes mean that nothing is wrong?

    Anonymous 1:54 PM-
    Ah, yes. He substituted in English for me a couple of times. A great mind. He would call me Tor-cuh-zy-num.

  4. Wow. This was a great post. You are lucky to have that report card to look back on.

  5. Welcome to Toronto and good luck. It's a great community.
    (A former Torontonian who sometimes still visits.)

  6. Neil-
    Yes, very lucky. I'm glad to have prescient parents.


  7. Aw, geez, Torch!

    Now I have to dig through my old bedroom to see if I can find my first report card. No doubt it won't be nearly as complimentary--Rabbi Cohen and I didn't really make our separate piece for another couple of years . . .

    -Reuven (who vividly recalls those cries of "Tor-cuh-zee-num"!

  8. Hi Reuven,
    Great to hear from you! And I eagerly await your account of what that report card said... Do you need a dime to call your father?

  9. Don't make yourself out to be older than we are. He always offered me a quarter. Of course, after the first time, when I found out it wasn't enough, my usual response was, "He's on Long Island. It's a 40 cent call".

    That's when our rebbi would get REALLY mad :)