Spiritual Tools: Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman: Benching
The 14th of Tammuz is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman: We treasured any time we could spend with our grandfather zt”l. We would constantly observe everything he did and learn a new Halachah, or hear a story in response to, “Why does Zaidy do that,” beginning with, “I once saw my Rebbi, the Alter of Slabodka do this,” or, “when I spent a summer with Rav Chaim Ozer, I saw him do this,” and we would be taken back to Slabodka and Vilna and sit at the feet of the great leaders of European Jewry.
Even the way he ate a Shabbat or Yom Tov meal, and the way he complimented our grandmother z”l, was a lesson in Midos, and a connection to awesome personalities. There was one part of the meal that usually led to, a stomach-ache bathroom trip; Benching.
It took our grandfather a long time to bench. He recited each word slowly, pausing before reciting God’s Name to focus his Awe of God, and before each time he said, “Ata,” “You,” to focus on God’s love for us that allows us to speak to Him in second person, and the awareness that if we were speaking to God as “You,” that He was present and listening. We didn’t have the patience for a Yom Kippur davening after every meal, and Rav Ruderman’s benching was as intense as our Yom Kippur prayers. “Baruch,” pause, “Ata,” pause, “Hashem,” pause, “Elokeinu,” pause, and so on.
He may not have had great physical vision, but he was certainly aware of what was going on. I was about to run from the table for a stomach ache trip, when my grandfather touched my cheek and said, “Bench with me and then we’ll learn. I promise your stomach won’t hurt!” One did not refuse an opportunity to learn with my grandfather, so I benched with him, and over the next fifteen minutes felt like it was the highest point of Yom Kippur. We then went into my grandfather’s study to learn, and it was one of the highest experiences of my life. The Benching had taken me to a different place.
“Even if you don’t want to thank God in the proper way, you should bench carefully because of how it changes your learning!”
I think back and laugh that although my grandfather understood that some crazy people don’t want to thank God as they should, he couldn’t imagine anyone not taking full advantage of learning more at a higher level!
A now famous rabbi told me that as a young man he spoke to his Rebbi, my grandfather, about his feeling depressed. “Your grandfather looked at me and said, ‘Open a Gemara and learn. It’s impossible to be depressed when learning!’”
I asked him whether his learning made him such a great “Bencher,” or whether his Benching brought such blessing to his learning. “Until you know that they are both the same thing, you won’t know how to do either!”
May his memory be a blessing.