Rabbi Ezra Schochet

Two events happened that really made me think about life and what I’m doing with it.

There is a famous story of the Alter Rebbe (founder of Chabad cir. 1800). He was imprisoned by the Russians for anti-government activity (sending money to poor Jews in Turkey-occupied Israel).

During interrogations, one of the interrogators, who was well versed in the Bible asked, “In Genesis, after Adam and Eve ate from the fruit, G-d asked, “Where are you?” Didn’t G-d know where Adam was without asking?”

After giving the simple explanation from Rashi, the Alter Rebbe continued, “When a Jew, X amount of years old (and he named the exact age of the interrogator), G-d askes him, “Where are you in life?” What have you accomplished? What are you making of yourself?

Celebrating the Bas Mitzvah of our daughter, Chanaleh, is a big milestone. Until now, I’ve celebrated my own milestones, including marriage, birth of children, thank G-d etc.

But this is different. My daughter is entering her teen years. This is the beginning of her becoming her own person.

Sure, we came back home, and the rest of the week wasn’t that dissimilar to last week. But I’m the father of a tween.

I’m sure some people are reading this, thinking to themselves, “I have a pimple older than this guy, and he thinks he’s old?”

The second event was the 80th birthday farbrengen of my Yeshiva Dean, Rabbi Ezra Schochet from Los Angeles.

He is a very special person. I remember him from 20+ years ago and he was (and still is) a giant of a man. Very strong. Physically, mentally and emotionally.

This man has mastered Torah to a level I haven’t seen anywhere else. The breadth and depth of his knowledge is intimidating.

I would sit in his Talmud classes, and admittedly, I wasn’t able to follow them. But he gave other classes, like in Tanya, Pirkei Avos, Torah portion (his Shabbos sermons) and especially his farbrengens, I learned mounds and mounds from him.

He taught me how to think.

This is a man who would “chase the Jewhaters down the block” in his teen years, would spend nights on end toiling in deep Talmudic analysis, and has the emotional sensitivity of a baby.

Listening to him last night on the YouTube broadcast, I realized that he was the one who taught me how to be vulnerable. Here’s an 80 year old man, crying to 17 year olds about his struggles from decades ago, as well as the things he still struggles with at 80! He made me cry with him.

How many people can talk about their struggles? Everyone else just wants to be macho and show everyone how strong they are. His vulnerability is just a symbol of his strength.

It was painful to see him talking about his waning energy. It’s hard for him to walk. It’s hard for him to engage in deep intellectual analysis, even though if you listen to him, he’s still brilliant!

He said to the boys, “Wherever you have been in life, I’ve been there. But you have never been where I am now”. His waning energy is making him think about the purpose of the next years of his life (till 120 and beyond!)

Watching him made me think about his accomplishments. Educating thousands of students over the course of the last 50 years, and teaching us how to think. Screwing our heads on straight, which is a big deal today… He built a beautiful campus with a gorgeous office, but never moved into it. He preferred his dingy office in the old building.

Watching him farbreng made me think about my life. What have I done? To what extent has my mind become “one with Torah”? How many people have I helped? What have I done for the community?

It’s not about complaining over the past. It’s about seizing the future and making the most of it. I’m ready to double and triple my efforts, to utilize every moment for what G-d wants of me.

I’ll never be as brilliant or knowledgeable as him, but I have a different mission in life. And G-d gave me the talents needed for my unique mission. He also said this last night.

And this coincides with a resolution I made earlier this week to continue my rabbinic studies (kind of like BA, MBA, PhD etc.). Just a little something to keep myself more immersed in Torah. (And right after this resolution, I opened the mail to find a surprise $50,000 check in the mail, for the building fund! Hashem promises that if you toil in Torah, the toil of your work will be done by others.)

I don’t think he knows how much of an impact he’s had on me. He probably knows me by face, but I doubt he’d remember my name.

I think I’ll ask someone to pass on this little email to him.

And to finish off with action, I hope you’ll watch some of the farbrengen, and make a resolution to ponder on the purpose for which G-d put you in the world, act on it, and also bring more Torah study into your life.


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