Saturday, July 07, 2007


Rabbi Ila said in the name of Rabbi Elozar the son of Rabbi Shimon: Just as it is a mitzvah to say words of rebuke which will be heard and accepted, so too it is a mitzvah to not say something which will not be heard and accepted.

Rabbi Abba said: It is an obligation not to rebuke someone who won’t accept the message as it written [Mishlei 9:8]: Don’t rebuke a scorner lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.

Rabbi Abba Spero from Cleveland told Rabbi Yissochar Frand an incident involving Rav Motel Katz. Rabbi Frand told him that he could not believe that the incident occurred, Rabbi Spero responded that he had documentary proof of the incident. He sent Rabbi Frand a copy of the incident described by Rav Motel himself in his own collected writings.

Rabbi Frand received permission from the son of Rav Motel, Rav Yakov Velvel Katz to publicly relate this incident, which he did here.

The incident that Rav Motel related occurred at the Telshe Yeshiva in Cleveland [presumably sometime in the 1950s]. The incident, which was an applied example of the above lesson, was as follows:

"I was asked by the students of the Yeshiva to permit them to daven Ma'ariv [conduct evening prayers] early. They requested that the established schedule of the Yeshiva be changed for the evening. Why did they wish to change the Yeshiva's prayer schedule? So that they could listen on the radio to the Championship Prize Fight in New York to hear who wins."

Imagine if students came to the Rosh Yeshiva [Dean] today to ask that the Yeshiva prayer times be changed because of the NBA Playoffs!!
Rav Motel explained: "I knew full well that it was inappropriate to change the time of Ma'ariv and the Yeshiva's schedule for a Heavyweight Prize Fight between people who are trained to hurt and injure one another."

But what did this great product of Lithuanian Yeshivas -- this product of Telshe in Europe -- decide to do? What did Rav Motel respond to the request to daven Ma'ariv early so they could listen to the fight on the radio?

"I could not stop them and prohibit them from doing this. I knew that this was not the time to say no. Famous and respected people come from all over the country to be present at a Heavyweight Championship Fight, to get ringside seats. A thousand people come from all parts of the country! This prizefight was viewed by the masses as an event of major proportions! It is difficult to forbid it. I could not say no because they would not know where I was coming from and they would not understand my reasoning."

The majority of students in the Telshe yeshiva in the 1940s and 1950s came from public schools. They came to Telshe from small isolated communities. High level Torah study was just beginning to take root in America. They had not achieved the spiritual level whereby they could understand the idea that watching two people hitting each other in a boxing ring is a foolish pastime. To get up in the Yeshiva and castigate such activity as stupidity and nonsense would fall on deaf ears.

Rav Motel could not consider what his teachers in Europe would think about changing the time of Ma'ariv to accommodate such an event, because he knew that HIS students were not at the level of his teacher's students. His students at that time were not ready to fully appreciate priorities based on Torah values.

That is Chinuch: Knowing when to say and when not to say -- knowing one's children and one's students and knowing the time and the mentality prevalent in the era in which one is teaching. That is Chinuch!

In the great Yeshiva of Telshe, 'Chinuch' in that situation was to schedule Ma'ariv early so that the students could listen to a prizefight on the radio.

I would not have believed this story if I had not seen it written by Rav Motel himself. This is a great tribute to the pedagogic wisdom of Rav Motel Katz, zt"l. It is a tremendous insight into the meaning of being an educator or a father or a Rebbi or a Rosh Yeshiva. Sometimes it is necessary to say "Yes". But sometimes it is just necessary to not say anything at all!

This is what we pray for when we recite the prayer (in Shmoneh Esrei, the Amidah) for wisdom and understanding. We are asking G-d to grant us the wisdom to do what is right in the education of our children, our students and our community.


Anonymous said...

I deeply appreciated the story of R' Katz and his wisdom in not saying no when he realized how it would be received. There is always a question of one's responsibility to make a point and voice objections, and to stand one's ground on principle, yet R' Katz brought forward the obligation to be wise instead of right. When I say Atto Chonen L'Odom Da'as it will be with additional kavono, thanks to this story. It is essential to human interaction on all levels to know when silence brings better results.

Anonymous said...

I have heard from my Father shlita, a talmud of that time in Telshe....that Reb Baruch Sorotzkin changed the time of his shiur due to the fact that the bachurim where going to a Indians game that day!!!