Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski is an incredibly insightful person. He has a vast base of experience and knowledge that he has amassed during his decades of service in the mental health field and to the Jewish world. His courage in facing issues that were often “swept under the rug,” as well as his offering guidance and hope to many who suffered in silence, have revolutionized how these issues are dealt with. He has dedicated his life to teaching and educating through his numerous books, articles, and lectures. He has enhanced the lives of parents, spouses, in-laws, children, and friends, and taught invaluable lessons about relationships generally.
That’s a small part of the reason I don’t feel I have any right to disagree with him. Yet this week I took issue with something he wrote, and I feel justified in openly disagreeing.
On Motzaei Shabbos, I was reading this past week’s Hamodia magazine. There I came across Rabbi Twerski’s most recent article entitled “My well has run dry.”
In the article, Rabbi Twerski expresses his gratitude to Hashem for his numerous accomplishments throughout his career. He describes the places he had the privilege to visit and how gratified he always felt by his ability to teach. He then adds that he is currently disabled, suffering both physically and emotionally, and is no longer able to accomplish and do what he has done throughout the previous decades.
Rabbi Twerski acknowledges, “I cannot lecture the way I used to. I must search for words. I do not remember things I wish to discuss. I cannot reach for a sefer, nor can I recall where in the sefer I can find the item I want. I must change the idea of what is important to me.”
Rabbi Twerski uses the remainder of the article to discuss the great chesed of Hashem, and how one can, and must, acknowledge and appreciate it always. He concludes: “My well has run dry, but Hashem’s well is overflowing.”
It was painful to read. A man who has done so much for so many, expressing his sadness in his inability to continue what he has once done, and yet expressing his limitless gratitude to G-d for the opportunities. After I read the article, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was moved by the courage and candidness of the article. Rabbi Twerski was characteristically open about his personal struggle and shift in perspective. But beyond that, I was very bothered by his conclusion that his well has run dry. I would like to explain why I humbly and respectfully disagree.
This week, I heard a powerful thought in the name of Rav Avigdor Miller zt”l. In Parshas Chayei Sarah, when Eliezer arrived at the well in search of a shidduch for Yitzchak, he was completely overwhelmed by the incredible chesed of Rivkah. Here was a young girl who was excited to perform incredible acts of chesed, even as robust and capable men stood around and watched her.
Rabbi Miller wonders from where Rivkah learned such behavior? She grew up in a home devoid of such righteousness, and her community definitely did not promote such extreme acts of chesed. He concludes that such extreme and even fanatical devotion to chesed could have been learned from only one source, i.e., her great-uncle Avraham.
Travelers from Canaan would relate stories about the incredible chesed of Avraham and how, at 100 years old, he sat outside in extreme heat searching for wayfarers with whom he could perform chesed. The travelers spoke of an orchard that Avraham planted, into which he brought his guests, where he would treat them royally. He served them and inspired them to serve G-d.
Rivkah internalized the stories and she pined to that level of chesed. It is noteworthy that the words describing Rivkah’s chesed are exactly the same words that the Torah used to describe the deeds of Avraham: “And she hastened…and she ran.”
It emerges that essentially Eliezer’s ability to find Yitzchak’s wife was a direct result of the chesed of Avraham. Metaphorically, the spiritual waters from the spiritual wells that Avraham dug in Canaan were drawn in Mesopotamia by his great niece Rivkah.
Throughout our lives, we seek to live in ways that benefit others. The mission of a Jew is to make the world a better place in any way he or she can: “l’sakein olam b’malchus Shakkai–to perfect the universe through the sovereignty of G-d.” In his introduction to Nefesh HaChayim, Rabbi Yitzchak of Volozhin writes that his father would constantly reiterate to him that a person is not created for himself and his own welfare. Rather, he is created to do his utmost to help others and improve the quality of their lives.
What we do for others are the wells we dig that provide nourishment for their souls.
It is superfluous to list all of Rabbi Twerski’s incredible accomplishments through the decades. Being a rabbi and doctor, Rabbi Twerski is comfortable in the world of Torah, chasidus, education, and medicine. He followed the advice of the Steipler Gaon when he went to medical school and in developing his career. He did not back down in the face of adversity and criticism when he felt something had to be said and taught. He never stopped writing and teaching as long as he had the strength to do so.
As a rabbi and therapist myself, Rabbi Twerski is one of my foremost role models in trying to navigate the world of education, rabbanus, and mental health, and to use my abilities to benefit klal Yisrael. I must add that I do not know Rabbi Twerski personally. I am just another one of the masses who has much to be grateful to him.
Rabbi Twerski has dug so many wells throughout his fruitful and incredible career, and the Jewish People will continue to benefit from his ceaseless efforts for many generations.
It is a reminder to all of us that we need to do our utmost throughout our lives to dig wells that can provide nourishing waters for others to drink from. If we do so, then the wells will continue to provide water long after we have dug them.
So, I conclude by saying that although Rabbi Twerski may be unable to dig any new wells, the ones he has invested so much into digging will continue to produce life-sustaining waters for many years to come. His wells have not run dry – far from it.
May Hashem grant him the health and years to enjoy the fruits of his labors and continue to inspire klal Yisrael by his mere presence.
Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW, is a rebbe and guidance counselor at Heichal HaTorah in Teaneck, NJ, Principal at Mesivta Ohr Naftoli of New Windsor, and a division head at Camp Dora Golding. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Looking for periodic powerful inspiration? Join Rabbi Staum’s new Whatsapp group “Striving Higher.” Email for more info.