The Master Teacher

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Rav Wasserman told the following story while replying to a query about how to progress in learning. The advice itself is invaluable. But in giving the advice, Rav Wasserman revealed several clues to his own greatness in being a master teacher. These clues provide us with major lessons in chinuch.

 

The key to hatzlocha in learning is to learn without a "hesik ha daas" - any break in concentration. That's why there is so much of a problem in America.

 

I'll tell you from my own experience. Years ago, HaRav Mendelovitz had the idea to start a new yeshiva in Spring Valley, which was then nothing like the Spring Valley of today. What was his dream? He said that there were no people who were faithfully working for the needs of the community ("oskin b'tzurchei tzibur b'emunah") in America. That was why the spiritual level of the Jewish community was falling and going from bad to worse. He said that we had to educate b'nai Torah who will be "oskin b'tzurchei tzibur b'emunah" in America.

 

He didn't know himself what kind of a name to give to the yeshiva, but he decided to take 30 bochurim out to an estate outside NY. There, the chinuch would be only learning Torah and developing responsibility for Klal Yisroel. He bought an estate in Monsey and he invited me to learn with the bochurim. I was frightened.

 

We started on a Shabbos and I prepared myself to say a shiur. After the shiur I realized that I hadn't reached the bochurim, so I thought, I'll try another style. The same thing happened the next day. For 10 days I kept on changing the style of my shiur, one day after the other, until I finally reached them.

 

I discovered that the good bochur in America was 4 - 5 years younger, in learning, than the bochurim at home in Europe. I was saying a shiur to a 20 year old bochur but the bochur had a learning age of only 16. It took me 10 days to find this out. That low level in learning was because of the school system. There was no shteiging in learning because they had "hesik ha daas" through the study of other subjects. This is the American problem in learning Torah.

From Rabbi Wasserman's story, we can learn a great deal

 

Firstly, we see from this story how Rav Wassermen was sensitive to the understanding of the bochurim. He knew when he was not reaching them and saw when he did eventually get them to follow his shiur.

 

Secondly, he did not take their failure to follow his shiur as a personal insult.

 

Thirdly, he did not reject the bochurim but took up the challenge of trying to get through to them

 

Fourthly, bearing in mind that he had already been a prominent Rosh Yeshiva in Europe, we see how Rav Wasserman was flexible enough to think up ten different styles of giving a shiur. He did not say "I am a great talmid chochom and this is the way I learnt from my rebbeim who were the greatest in Europe. This is the way I teach and this is the way they have to learn!"

 

Fifthly, we see two aspects of Rav Wasserman's humility, honesty and appreciation of the awesomeness of the teacher's task in teaching his talmidim. Rav Wasserman told his audience, "I was frightened!" Even though he had been a prominent Rosh Yeshiva in Europe, was the son of one of the Gedolei Hador and had rubbed shoulders with the greatest, he was frightened when faced with the job of teaching a group of American youngsters. And he did not mind admitting this to his audience!

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