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Mishlei: Chapter Four: Receiving the Transmission Print E-mail

Mishlei“For I was a son to my father, a tender only child for my mother.” As the youngest of six, I was unfamiliar with the feeling of being, “a tender only child for my mother,” until I became a father. I was watching my daughter crawl along the floor, just before the birth of her first sibling. I was overwhelmed with a love for her, so intense that I wondered how I could possibly love another child as much. The sixteen months she was my only child permanently influenced my feelings for her. I can still look at her and feel that she is my only child.

 

I remembered this feeling when a friend wanted to speak to a young man's Rosh Yeshiva to find out if the boy would be an appropriate shidduch for his daughter, one of his eleven children. He could have called the Rosh Yeshiva from Lakewood, where he lives, but chose to drive to Connecticut to speak to the rabbi face to face. After ten minutes of singing the praises of his student, the Rosh Yeshiva asked, "Why did you not just call?"

"Because we are discussing my only child," my friend explained, “I’m not looking for a shidduch for my daughter; I’m looking for the perfect person for my only child!”

“Well, then this boy is not the right person for your daughter!”

“Thank you for your honesty. My wife and ten other children are driving me crazy to find the right guy.”

“Your other children! I thought she was your only child!”

“She was, until her brother was born. I drove all the way here as I would for an only child.”

The Rosh Yeshiva responded differently once he heard that the girl in question was an “only child.”

King Solomon pauses after the first three chapters, in which he taught us how to acquire and apply wisdom. He turns to us as a father, “Hear, children, a father’s {mussar)reproof.”  Not just as a father, but a father who was once a son, an only child to his mother. He wants to connect us with his experience of learning wisdom as a child, an only child. King Solomon wants us to listen as a child to a father who learned his wisdom from his father. He wants us to appreciate the transmission of wisdom, or, in Hebrew, the Mesorah. I believe that Solomon is teaching us that Mussar is not reproof, as much as connecting to the transmission of wisdom and values; the Mesorah.

My father zt”l often described what he had to do to acquire a Rebbi: Rav Hutner zt”l imposed what is know as the Mezritcher Maggid’s exercise on my father for six months. My father had to obey his Rebbi without hesitation or question, no matter how strange the instruction. When he approached Rav Hutner at the end of six months, his Rebbi looked up and said, “Six more!” My father was not allowed to question. Six months later, Rav Hutner looked up and smiled, “Six more!” And so it was. Eighteen months of total obedience without questions for a powerful thinker who insisted on questioning everything! He considered waiting for the day after the third set of six months ended, so that if his Rebbi wanted another six months, he could at least ask, “Why?” But, he, as a student, could not play games with his Rebbi.

Rav Hutner was a brilliant man, and knew exactly what his young student had considered. “The fact that you did not wait, but came today, means that you have learned what it means to have a Rebbi. You are released!”

I usually obeyed my father’s wishes because of who he was, but I constantly questioned and challenged his instructions, that is, until I heard this story. The next time that he told me to do something, I obeyed without asking. He laughed, and said, “Some of us only need a story to learn what others needed eighteen months to understand!”

My father connected me to his process of acquiring wisdom. He taught me far more with the story of his being a student than if he had simply insisted that I obey him. That was Mussar as connection with Mesorah.

King Solomon is not teaching this chapter of Proverbs as the wisest man in the world, but as a father who was once a son, a student of his father, a link in the chain of wisdom.

The wisdom that he wants to convey is not what one can derive from sitting alone and pondering the world. His wisdom lies far beyond the frozen grasp of Rodin’s Le Penseur, or Aristotle and Plato. This is wisdom transmitted by a father who himself was taught by someone who saw him as the whole world, an only child.

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