Our family custom is to have a dairy meal during the nights of Shavuos. My wife prepares every one of my favorite dairy delicacies for those meals. Each one of those dishes could easily be a main course for dinner on any given night.
The entree featured homemade cheese blintzes, followed by onion soup with cheese, which was followed by a main course of mushroom and cheese quiche, fried mozzarella sticks, and fettuccine Alfredo. That doesn’t include the delicious home-baked challah at the beginning of the meal. (I, and our children, do not like fish!)
By the time the s’udah was over, my stomach was really mad at me. I am not usually lactose intolerant, but after eating so many delicious cheese dishes, my stomach had reached its limit. I couldn’t even eat a piece of the delicious (and very sinful) cheesecake that my wife had made. (Not to worry – I made up for it since then.)
After the s’udah, when I sat down to learn with our oldest son Shalom at our kitchen table, fatigue hit me hard. Not only was I exhausted to begin with, but the heavy meal I had just enjoyed was weighing me down in more ways than one. As the minutes ticked away, I was starting to go cross-eyed as I kept rereading the same words of the Gemara. As I repeated the words of Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel, I realized that the words weren’t registering.
I told Shalom that I needed to put my head down for a few minutes. A few minutes later, I told him I needed to take a nap on the couch.
For the next while (I’ll leave it at that), I dozed fitfully on the couch. I kept waking up to hear Shalom learning Gemara loudly and with gusto.
In my fatigued mind, I was amazed. His chavrusa was out of commission on the couch, everyone else in the family was fast asleep, and yet he was learning with enthusiasm. I kept thinking to myself that I really wanted to get up and join him, but my body didn’t listen.
At some unearthly hour, Shalom saw my eyes open and told me he was getting ready to leave to learn with a chavrusa. I told him that I was getting up to learn with him. At that point, I pulled myself up, made myself a coffee, and dragged myself over to the table and reopened my gemara.
I must admit that those first few minutes were really challenging. But I was able to push through and, after a few minutes, I was fully into it. We learned together for some time, before Shalom left to learn with his chavrusa. By then, I was sufficiently awake to remain learning myself for the rest of the night. Thankfully, I was able to meet the goal I had set for myself at the beginning of the night.
It was and is a real nachas to have been inspired by my son that night. I am pretty confident that I wouldn’t have made it off the couch otherwise.
Every morning, prior to reciting Sh’ma, we daven that Hashem help us “lilmod u’l’lameid – to learn and to teach – ...all the words of Your Torah with love.” Why does every Jew recite those words? Shouldn’t it be reserved for teachers and rabbis?
Rav Moshe Feinstein explained that indeed every person is a teacher. Like it or not, we influence others by our behaviors and words. Others see how we conduct ourselves and are influenced, if even slightly, for good or for better. A friend recently related that he is particular to place his cell phone in his talis bag before davening each morning. He noted that he had seen a friend doing that and it inspired him to do the same.
Sometime later, when he told his friend what he had learned from him, his friend laughed and replied that he had only done it that morning because his phone felt bulky and was bothering him.
We all teach others by our conduct, whether we realize it or not. If a person is careful to recite a brachah carefully, to daven meticulously, to be careful not to talk during davening, not to speak lashon ha’ra, to perform acts of chesed, etc., he can never know the ramifications of his actions.
Therefore, we all must ask Hashem to help us “teach others” in a positive way, that draws them closer to Torah and avodas Hashem.
My father-in-law taught me years ago that there is another way to become a rabbi and a teacher. During the early years of our marriage, when my wife and I were visiting, I noticed the mail on the table and saw that a few envelopes were addressed to Rabbi Nathan Mermelstein. My father-in-law is a most wonderful person, but he is not (yet) a rabbi. When I asked him about the envelopes, he replied, “When they need money, everyone is a rabbi.”
Rav Moshe Feinstein taught us that even beyond worthy charity collectors, and even when we are not the principals of our homeschools during a pandemic, we are all teachers. We may never know who our disciples are. Perhaps even our parents and teachers.