By: Barry Eisenberg  | 

Total Devotion to His Craft and His Talmidim (Vol. 58, Issue 12)

I had the zechut to learn in the Rav‘s shiur for four years from 1967-1971. The experience left an indelible imprint which remains with me until today. It exposed me not only to a person of true brilliance and awesome intellect, but also the quintessential rebbe who had the capacity to explain and teach the most difficult and abstruse concepts in an understandable fashion.

In the years since I left the Rav’s shiur, one memory which had dimmed for me was brought back to me in very sharp focus over the last number of years while I listened to tapes of several of the Rav’s shiurim. I had forgotten what a master teacher and pedagogue the Rav was. He was not simply brilliant and insightful; it was not simply the fact that his analysis and explanation of complicated shitot and sugyot was masterful; it was that he could convey them in a marvelously engaging, interesting and almost showman-like way that totally captivated your interest. He was totally devoted to his craft and to his talmidim as the consummate melamed.

One of my favorite stories from my time in the shiur is one which I believe illustrates the above. It occurred one day in Shiur when one of the students “posed a question to the Rav about something the Rav had just explained. The question clearly perplexed the Rav. As the Rav sat there deep in thought pondering an answer to the question, it was obvious from the face of the questioner that something bothered him. Finally, the student piped up and said: “Rebbe, it’s not really my question; the Maharam basically asks the same question.” Without a moment's hesitation, the Rav retorted: “The Maharam is not in my shiur and I don’t have to answer his questions.” He then proceeded with the shiur and all of us chuckled about how deftly and entertainingly this difficult question had been dodged.

My recollection is that the next day the Rav came in and explained how what he had said was really in consonance with the Maharam. That, however, is really beside the point. Upon reflection, I realized that what the Rav was really saying by his remark of the previous day was that at that point he did not owe the Maharam, who was not in his shiur, an answer that required him to ponder for a long period of time, while his talmidim waited. If, as the Rav originally thought, the question originated with one of his talmidim, he would have taken the time of the shiur to think about the answer; he owed that to his talmidim. If however, the question was that of the Maharam who was not his talmid, who hadn’t prepared for the shiur, then his talmidim did not have to wait while he pondered the answer.

Mr. Eisenberg is a lawyer and a former student of the Rav.