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The Essential Component of Jewish Continuity

The Rosh Yeshiva

By Rabbi Sender Haber

While learning in the Mir Yeshiva, I once approached Reb Nosson Tzvi Finkel with a difficulty that I had encountered in a gemara in Kesuvos.

The Rosh Yeshiva listened carefully to my articulated question and spent several minutes in thought. I stood awkwardly and averted my gaze as he twitched uncontrollably and swayed back and forth in apparent discomfort. Finally, he turned and told me that there were two possible approaches to my question. He outlined both approaches, complimented me on my question, and wished me a good day.

I was so excited. The Rosh Yeshiva had acknowledged my question! Quickly, I ran to my seat, opened my gemara, and began to pursue the two approaches that he had outlined. By the end of the morning, I had several pages of notes and had formed a new picture of the entire sugya.

Later that same week, Reb Nosson Tzvi gave a shiur klali. There were several hundred Torah scholars in attendance and, to my delight, he opened the shiur with my question. He shared the two approaches that we had discussed and another two approaches that he had, apparently, thought of afterward. I was ecstatic and flattered. I bought a copy of the printed notes of the lecture and knew that I would always treasure the shiur that I had inspired with my brilliant question.

Several months later I happened upon the same idea in a printed essay written by Reb Nosson Tzvi. Looking at the date of publication, I quickly realized that Reb Nosson Tzvi had thought of the question and explanation long before I had even opened my Gemara. He had written at length on the topic and come to the same conclusions many years before.

Reb Nosson Tzvi could have told me to look on page 66 of the Yad Eliezer, but he didn’t. Instead he chose to guide me and inspire me to find the answer on my own.

A Rosh Yeshiva is a teacher. He is not just the smartest man in the room, the policy setter, or the biggest tzaddik. He is a man who’s primary desire and goal in this world is to help young students develop into true Talmidei Chachamim.

The Gemara is very particular about teachers of Torah. A teacher of Torah, we are taught, must remind us of a heavenly angel.

What kind of angel is a Rosh Yeshiva?

Rav Yitzchak Ezrachi explains that every blade of grass and every flower is assigned an angel. The angel’s sole purpose is to stand over that grass or flower and encourage it to grow. Likewise, our Torah teachers need to be willing to stand over us and encourage us to grow. They need to be reminiscent of those angels.

Not all of my encounters with Reb Nosson Tzvi were flattering and buoyant. He could be very firm and did not always mince words. My ears are still ringing from a particular rebuke that Reb Nosson Tzvi whispered into my ear. At the time, I was confused by the rebuke and enthused by the compliments. Today, I can look back and just feel fortunate that a man such as he took the time to stand over me, look me in the eye, and tell me to grow.

Yehi Zichro Baruch.

On Parshas Vayeira:

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