By Rabbi Binyomin Pruzansky
Life is full of ups and downs. There are times when we are flying high and feel close to Hashem. Unfortunately, there are also times when we feel spiritually weak and are living uninspired. How does one maintain his head above the waters that threaten to swallow him up?
A rebbi. That is the answer.
If you are fortunate to find one, hold on to him dearly, for he may be the lifesaver you need to soar through life. There are so many decisions facing a young man or woman, be it in shidduchim, finding a yeshiva, etc. A rebbi or morah who has so many life experiences can help lead you to your yeshuah.
This all became so clear to me a few months ago when I went to visit my rebbi, Rav Dovid Kviat zt”l, in the hospital. Rav Kviat was one of the remaining gedolim from the Mirrer Yeshiva of old. I had the opportunity to enjoy a close relationship with him over the years.
I would like to share with you a few stories about some of my memorable moments with Rav Kviat during the course of one summer in Camp Ma-Na-Vu.
I remember one summer when I was in charge of the camp cocoa club. My job was to wake up campers who were interested in learning before Shacharis each morning. They would be rewarded afterwards with a cup of hot cocoa. At the end of the summer, they would also receive a prize for their achievement. Each morning, I would teach the campers Pirkei Avos and share with them inspiring stories on the topic at hand. When we were finished, we would all race from the shul to the kitchen to get our hot cocoa.
One morning, after learning, the campers and I were running to the kitchen to get our hot cocoa. On the way, I met Rav Kviat, who was going in the opposite direction towards the shul for Shacharis. I stopped suddenly in order to show him respect. He asked me where everyone was running to in such a hurry. I explained to him that we had just finished learning and now we were going to get our hot cocoa. He smiled and said something I will never forget. “You know, I can never do what you are doing. Only you can do it!” I smiled back and said, “Oh, I am sure the rosh yeshiva could teach a lot better than I can.”
“No, no,” he insisted, “Only you can teach like this. I would not be able to keep the kids so excited about their learning.”
I thanked the rosh yeshiva and ran to catch up to the boys. At first I thought that Rav Kviat was just trying to make me feel good. However, I then realized that the lesson he was teaching me was true. He could never teach the same way that I did. Only I could. The reason and the meaning was that each person has the ability to teach in their own way. Each and every person can do what others cannot. It was a great lesson for me and he made me feel very special.
A rebbi doesn’t merely teach you Torah. Rather, he is someone who teaches you how a Jew is supposed to view life and how he should react in various situations. He is there to be a role model for his students to emulate. That is why it is so important for every person to have a rebbi to help him make the right decisions, offer a listening ear in a time of need, and influence him to become a better, more understanding person.
I was once walking with Rav Kviat back to his bungalow after the camp davened Minchah. As we approached the bungalow, his rebbetzin came out and told him that she would get him his light jacket to wear for lunch. He, in turn, replied, “No, it’s okay. I will get it myself.” She insisted and went back inside the bungalow to get him his light jacket. She took his heavier jacket, which he wore to Minchah, and the two of them then walked towards the dining room.
The next day, after Minchah, I was walking Rav Kviat back to his bungalow while talking to him in learning. Once again, as we approached his bungalow, the rebbetzin emerged and offered to get him his light jacket. Again, Rav Kviat replied that he would get it himself, and his wife again insisted on following through with her offer.
The next day, yet again I was walking Rav Kviat after Minchah, and I saw the same scene about to unfold. The rebbetzin said, “I will get you your light jacket to wear at lunch,” but before Rav Kviat could answer, I piped up and said, “I don’t understand. Why does the rosh yeshiva go through the same routine every day? First the rebbetzin offers to get the rosh yeshiva‘s jacket, and then the rosh yeshiva says he will get it himself. Why even bother to offer if you know the rebbetzin is going to get it anyway?”
Rav Kviat smiled and said, “You think that marriage is fifty-fifty? You are making a big mistake. Marriage is 100 percent and 100 percent. Both the husband and the wife must always do their all for each other.”
We both laughed, but the lesson rang true and I never forgot it.
“Asei lecha rav – Make a rov for yourself.” It could be a high school rebbi, a bais medrash rebbi, or the rov of the shul where you daven, but know that you really need a rebbi or a rov to help you get where you have to go to in life.
I want to share with you one last thought I heard from Rav Kviat. I was once sitting at a table learning with Rav Kviat. I asked him how one can have a positive influence on others. He picked up a soda bottle that was on the table and said, “You see this bottle? The only way to get its contents into a cup is by lifting the bottle higher than the cup.” He then lifted the bottle as if he were pouring its contents into the cup that was on the table.
“The only way to influence others is to be like this bottle – to lift yourself up higher and higher,” he said. “That way, you will be able to pour from yourself onto others. That is how you influence others. You have to be their role model.”
These are some of the lessons I learned from my rebbi, and that is my advice to you. Seek out a rebbi for yourself, because everybody needs a rebbi.
As I left Rav Kviat’s hospital room, he motioned that I should come closer to him. As I came close, he whispered to me something that I will never forget. He said, “Binyomin, you have good ideas. You have to do them”
I left the room in awe. Here he was, giving me chizuk from his hospital bed. I realized that Rav Kviat was teaching me another lesson: Once a rebbi, always a rebbi. A rebbi never stops helping his talmid, no matter what, no matter how.
Rabbi Pruzansky is the author of “Stories That Tug At The Heart” published by ArtScroll/Mesorah.