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Planting a Seed

But way back in ’85, there was something else special that also went on. Truly great people walked the earth, and many of them passed through mekomos haTorah like Horim.

Anybody remember the summer of 1985? Simpler times, for sure.

No ChatGPT, no shidduch crisis. The now-ubiquitous ArtScroll Gemara was then nonexistent. The only kids who used the red Soncinos had mothers who went by names like Regina or Phyllis and packed their kids’ lunches with asparagus spears. (I used to think that Mr. Soncino was a BT who grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon.)

Bochurim were still the same, though. Some of us learned with an unquenchable flame, and some of us… didn’t.

In those days, you generally went with your yeshivah for the summer, even if your yeshivah wasn’t an “alef,” and regardless of your personal acumen understanding a Marcheshes. (And no, dear Prager/Yagdil kids, the Marcheshes isn’t a concept from Maseches Menachos.)

I would sit in the beis medrash in Camp Horim, dreaming. My dream was not like the great Ponevezher Rav’s dream. It was always the same wish — for a magic carpet to whisk me out the window. The thing about 1985 was that I had no major hasagos about where to be. I just knew it had to be somewhere else…

Horim was known as a learning camp. As opposed to at a summer camp, where one would be heavily involved in team sports and activities, at Horim the clock revolved around learning. Time was broken up by meals and endless hock about Camp Agudah, Camp Munk, and, if your parents were “rich,” Camp MaNaVu.

But way back in ’85, there was something else special that also went on. Truly great people walked the earth, and many of them passed through mekomos haTorah like Horim.

One day, I noticed a tall man with a gray beard standing at the back of the beis medrash. Dressed in typical yeshivish black, complete with a tie from the “rebbi store,” he slowly scanned the room, and then fixed his focus on me. I averted my eyes and went back to my carpet, my body language clearly articulating, “Please, do not bother me.”

My innate fears were realized when he directed his steps toward my table, and then sat down directly opposite me. Gevaldig, I thought, some modern-day maggid from Bensonhurst has decided to make me his project for Visiting Day. Gritting my teeth, I prepared to play spiritual possum and hoped he would go peddle Novardok, et al, somewhere else.

I don’t recall him asking me my name, but I do remember that there were no niceties. He simply looked at me and asked if I wanted to learn Chumash. To my great annoyance, he didn’t wait for my response, and just produced two of them.

What followed was a moment in time that I can’t forget.

This Yid learned Chumash with a fire, but that’s not what swept me and my bad mood away. Rather, it was the breadth of his knowledge and the depth of his questions, of a kind I had never experienced before. He asked questions on every tag v’koitz in the pesukim, challenging every comment of mine with a fierce counterattack. His ris’cha d’Oraisa smothered my surliness and I found myself absolutely spellbound by this master of Torah.

After a half hour, he got up and left, and I never saw him again.

This intense, brief encounter planted a seed. The lesson I eventually drew from it is the need to constantly seek out and try to connect, in some small way, to persons of great Torah knowledge. Unless you wish to remain a rug merchant, you’ll require such chavrusas your entire life to stay inspired.

With this approach in mind, you or your children will inevitably meet up one day with special individuals whose kindness and love of teaching helps their students resonate with a higher calling. A personality like that could change your life’s outlook forever.

And if you are really fortunate, it could even be someone on the level of my mysterious mentor back in the summer of ’85 — a veritable stranger in a strange land who took time out of his day to seek out and inspire a bored young bochur.

By the grace of G-d, I was fortunate enough to learn the identity of that dreamlike figure.

May the memory of that ish chesed and teacher of thousands, my chavrusa Rav Mendel Weinbach, Rosh Yeshivas Ohr Somayach, serve as a brachah for all time.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 962)

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