The First Lesson

by Eliezer Shore

There seemed little that young Mordechai's parents could do with their unruly son. They had tried everything to get him to stay in the town school -- threats, promises -- but nothing seemed to help. While other Jewish children were busy studying the Bible, Mordechai was out playing in the shtetle streets. While the other children were opening their first page of Talmud, Mordechai was climbing trees. It was not his rambunctious behavior that troubled his parents, but his total lack of interest in the study of Torah. He was a bright child; how could he so forsake the occupation that had been the passion of his ancestors for over three thousand years?

His parents were about to lose hope when they suddenly heard that the famous Chassidic Master, Rabbi Aharon the Great of Karlin, would soon be visiting their town. Word of his remarkable piety, and of his miraculous blessings, preceded him. Surely, they thought, he could help them find a way to discipline their wayward son.

On the day of Rabbi Aharon's arrival, the entire village lined up outside of his lodgings to greet him and receive his blessings -- for health, for livelihood. Mordechai and his parents stood in line as well. When their turn came, they were ushered into the holy man's chamber. Rabbi Aharon sat in his chair, his eyes were piercing, his face burned with the awe of G-d. The parents explained their situation.

"So, he won't learn Torah!" Rabbi Aharon declared in a frightening tone. "You two step out of the room. Leave him here with me. I'll teach him what it means to study Torah."

The parents were taken aback. Is this what they wanted, to leave their son in the hands of this powerful figure? Still, with no other choice, they backed out of the room, leaving Mordechai alone with the rabbi.

Rabbi Aharon rose from his chair and sat on the coach. "Come here, my boy," he said in the gentlest of tones. Mordechai approached him. Rabbi Aharon took him by the hand and gently drew him to his chest. He held the child to his heart for a long time. Slowly, the boy began to relax, until he returned the embrace. Finally, Rabbi Aharon let him go, kissed his forehead, and went to open the door.

"You can take your son!" he practically yelled at the parents. "I've taught him what Torah is all about. He'll be a different child from now on!" The parents took little Mordechai and left.

From that day on, Mordechai's disposition changed. His love and dedication for Torah grew steadily. In a short time he had surpassed all of his classmates. By the time he was a young man, he was recognized as an outstanding scholar. Eventually, he too became a Chassidic Rebbe.

Often, when recalling his youth, he would tell his followers, "The first lesson I ever learned in Torah was when the great Reb Aharon of Karlin held me silently to his heart."

R. Eliezer Shore is the editor of Bas Ayin, a journal of Jewish Spirituality.