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His Lessons This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   Inhis eyes I was a person, not just a student. To him I was not merely a name onthe attendance list, but a human being with a heart and soul. Rabbi Sternbergtaught me valuable lessons, lessons that had nothing to do with the curriculum.As a young adult, I felt I lacked motivation. I questioned everything I learned.I needed something to believe in. Yet I had no motivation to believe in anything.This missing motivation was given to me by Rabbi Sternberg.

Entering hisclass, it was his old age and long gray beard that struck me. His appearancebrought Abraham to mind, not a teacher. I watched my classmates throw food aroundthe room and not pay attention, thinking they weren't being monitored by the oldman. His patience during these episodes was not understandable.

I stayedafter class that first day, and, feeling indignant, asked him how he couldtolerate what had gone on. His response shocked me. He said, "Aryeh, I seewhat people do. I think if they want to stop because they feel they are beingdisrespectful, they should do so of their own will." I saw the wisdom in hisaged eyes.

He taught historic Jewish law. The gemarah, or book of law, wasnot what attracted me to the class. It was the person teaching it. I knew fromhis comment on the first day that he had an unmatched understanding of people.Every one of his lessons would provide a magnificent segue into a moral topic. Iwas in his class to discover how to be a good person.

One day we werelearning about two feuding rabbis discussing whether money, if found, must bereturned to its owner. They decided that since money has no distinguishing mark,the person who finds it could keep it after a certain period elapses. This blandverdict was expanded by my teacher, "One's morality is what makes them agood person. Some people would jump to keep this money. Others would return it.It is very common that someone who returns a lost object, takes a lot of creditfor it, and actually returns the object for the sake of being praised. Thatperson is good, but not great. A great person sees to it that the lost object isreturned, yet does so in a way that he is not praised for his actions, rather hedoes this deed for the sake of being a good person, not for therecognition."

I had never thought about that. When I picked upgroceries for my mom, I would tell her inflated tales of horribly long lines atthe checkout and how much extra time I had spent looking for every item. Humannature causes us to appreciate being praised for our actions. I questioned why Iexpected praise for such a small thing, and why, if I didn't get it, I would givethe recipient a guilt trip.

For the next few weeks, I tried to live asthough I were being watched by Rabbi Sternberg. I would do people favors withouta long tale of sacrifice. I would do anything I was asked, and made the task seemcompletely undaunting, no matter what its true magnitude. I would go to lengthsto find someone's lost bag, and when I returned it, would not speak of any extraeffort.

As the year continued, I tried to implement my learnings in myeveryday life. I thought about everything I did before I did it. I was motivatedby this man to become a better person. I would not be in the presence of friendswho put others down.

Rabbi Sternberg gave me motivation to live, butbetter, to live righteously. He told me I was living up to my name, Aryeh, whichmeans lion, king of the jungle. He told me that by being an example for myclassmates, it was as though I were a king leading his nation by example.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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Blue-eyed_Hippy-chick said...
Jun. 16, 2009 at 1:13 am
I love your Rabbi without actually knowing him. And it is really cool to work that hard to become a better person. Well written. It is obvious you look up to him.
 
bellabanana said...
Feb. 28, 2009 at 5:29 am
That was awesome! A truely inspiring story. I am glad that you were able to find a way to be a better person.
 
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