When to Play “Stump the Rebbe” by Dr. Joel M. Berman


"קח את הלוים... וטהרת אותם"

“Take the Leviim… and purify them.”

When I entered graduate school, I often attended seminar given by physics and chemistry professors as well as guest lecturers.  These lecturers would usually use the time to present their latest research results.  I recall after one such seminar, a student very politely asked a Kasha, a question, on the speaker’s results.  The professor became visibly agitated and defensive.  Unable to answer the question, he instead insulted the student.  After witnessing similar events over the next few months, it became clear to me that large fragile egos and Emet, truth, cannot comfortably coexist in the same time and space.  I also learned that you do not play “stump the Rebbe” with a college professor.

Contrast these experiences with one of my first experiences in Yeshiva.  A Talmid asked a severe Kasha on the way the Maggid Shiur understood the Gemara.  The Maggid Shiur, in contrast to his university counterpart, was delighted.  His response was “I don’t know.  That’s a great question!  I’ll try to find the answer and get back to you.”

Our busy, distracted lives cause our ability to differentiate between Emet and Sheker to become muddled, especially when egos and money are involved.  Our leaders and teachers, however, must not suffer from such compromised abilities.  They, like the Leviim in this week’s Parsha, are required to go through a purification process – years of learning from and emulating their Rabbeim – until they too can integrate the world from a Torah perspective.  They, like the Leviim in this week’s Parsha, are also required be Tahor, pure, free of ego and ulterior motives.  They must be dedicated to finding the truth, even if it causes some discomfort.

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