"I want you to raise your hand, and I will call on you"
One of the many joys of visiting Yerushalayim is the opportunity to meet with great roshei yeshivah. During bein hazmanim, especially, one can spend quality time with them.
The week after Tishah B’Av, I had the privilege of visiting a well-known rosh yeshivah and speaking with him for over an hour on a wide range of topics. It was Shabbos afternoon, a time of peacefulness and tranquility.
In the course of our conversation, the rosh yeshivah revealed something astonishing. It was such a surprise to me that I had to reveal his “secret.” I implored him to let me use his real name; however, as can be understood, he hesitated, and I will suffice with referring to him as RY (for rosh yeshivah).
My hunch tells me that almost everyone reading this column has heard of this rosh yeshivah, and many of you have personally benefited from his Torah. He is known far and wide as an inspirational speaker, and the last thing you would ever guess about him is a lack of confidence.
During our conversation, he mentioned how he is privileged to speak to audiences in either his native Yiddish or Hebrew (the language he regularly speaks now), and even English, a language he acquired much later in life.
I noted that the rosh yeshivah clearly must be endowed with an exceptional amount of self-confidence to feel comfortable speaking in different languages.
The rosh yeshivah looked at me. “Truthfully,” he said, “I am naturally timid and lack self-confidence.”
I was shocked by his revelation and assumed RY was being overly humble.
He then related the following:
“You know I learned in the Ponevezh Yeshivah for over ten years. The rosh yeshivah of the yeshivah l’tze’irim [the yeshivah for boys in their teens] was Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz ztz”l. He was an amazing, insightful mechanech who truly cared about every bochur.
“One day he called me into his office and said, ‘I can see you have much potential. However, I don’t remember you speaking up during shiur. My feeling is that you lack the self-confidence needed to share your insights with others. This is not good. You are destined for greatness. We have to overcome your timidity. I have given this problem much thought, and I have a plan to help you. Tomorrow during shiur, I am going to ask the following three questions (He then told me the three questions). Do you know the answers to them?’
“I hesitated and then answered all three questions correctly.
“‘Excellent!’ Rav Michel Yehuda exclaimed. ‘Tomorrow, when shiur begins, I will ask those three questions. As you know the answer to these questions, I want you to raise your hand, and I will call on you. After you answer the three questions in front of the entire shiur, and you are praised by me and the other students, you will begin to develop self-confidence, which will be vital to your success as a future rosh yeshivah!’
“The next day arrived, and as Rav Michel Yehuda planned, he began the shiur with the three questions we had previously discussed. I raised my hand and answered all three questions to the surprise of myself and the other boys in the shiur. From that day on, my self-confidence grew, and eventually, I lost my fear of speaking in public. I became a maggid shiur and ultimately have been privileged to open my own yeshivah.
“I owe it all to my rebbi, Rav Michel Yehuda ztz”l. If he hadn’t taken a personal interest in me and thought about who I was, what I was lacking, and what I could be in life, I never would be where I am today.
“In reality, therefore, all of my students are also students of Rav Michel Yehuda ztz”l.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 875)
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