Friday, Jun 21, 2024

Power of the Hour- The “Wrong” Test

It was the week of midterms, and tension saturated the atmosphere. The high-school students were immersed in photo-copying notes, cramming a half-year's worth of lessons, and attempting to invade the mindset of each teacher preparing the rigorous tests. Mrs. Hindy Klein, the twelfth grade chumash teacher, had invested many hours creating the exams. Each year she began anew because each year she emphasized different topics than previous years.

It was a juggling act, to be sure; it could not be too difficult because that would frustrate the students, but if it were too simplistic they would feel little accomplishment. She felt very bad for the students who pored over hundreds of meforshim and stacks of notes for days and achieved minimal success. Mrs. Klein modified the exams for the girls who requested her to, but the initiative had to come from them, not from her. After many hours of writing, correcting and redrafting, she produced an exam of one hundred questions.


She whispered a perek of Tehillim during haer morning commute that each student should view herself as a success. That perception would help the student create the reality for the remainder of the year.


“How unfortunate it is,” Hindy thought while driving to school, “that students think that their teachers delight in their missteps and spend nights dreaming of trick questions to entrap them. The reality is totally reversed. We teachers would do anything to help them shine!”


Armed with the two piles of question and answer sheets, she arrived at school. At the precise moment that the bell rang, she entered the classroom. The exam was distributed, instructions were given and the students began to work. They knew that the principal had strictly mandated that all exams begin and conclude during the allotted time.


Tzippy, the intellect, first scanned all the questions and then began formulating concise, articulate answers. Shiffy, the struggling student with furrowed brows, anxiously looked at her watch every few moments. Mrs. Klein, proctoring the exam, silently davened that each student, from Tzippy to Shiffy, leave the classroom with her dignity intact.


One hour and a half later, when all the papers were handed in, the relief of both teacher and students was palpable. But outside the door, instead of the usual double-checking of each other’s answers, a dull roar was forming. In fact, it slowly evolved into pandemonium. Mrs. Klein became quite concerned and then increasingly agitated. Was the test so harsh on the girls? When she went to investigate, she realized that she was not the source of the upheaval. Chaos had erupted because there had been an unexpected schedule change. The afternoon midterm was slated to be a history exam, but at the last minute on the day before, notices were distributed, announcing an English exam instead. The clamor grew because most of the students did not receive the schedule adjustment. Of what use was the review of the Roman Empire with its assorted names and dates when they were responsible for the detailed intricacies of grammar? A crowd of indignant students assembled near the principal’s office and declared, “It’s not fair, we studied for the wrong test!”


Watching the scene and hearing these words, Hindy was suddenly propelled to a different compartment of her mind, where these same words echoed so memorably.


It was many years ago, Hindy remembered, but the episode resurfaced with amazing clarity. The setting was heart-wrenching, so gutting that she still experienced its intensity. Her husband was a maggid shiur in a prominent yeshiva. The boys worked very hard, flourished in their learning and had an exemplary attitude towards each other. Years later, the bochurim married, built solid Torah’dik homes and retained the strong connections with each other.


One of the alumni, Binyomin, was a gem; an exceptional ben Torah in every aspect. He became a chosson and was scheduled to get married in several months. His friends rejoiced in his happiness and looked forward to the wedding. Meanwhile, Binyomin went to a scheduled well-visit appointment before his wedding, during which the physician noticed something amiss. He sent him for more invasive tests, and tragically, malignant tumors were detected. Binyomin’s family was devastated by the diagnosis, the prognosis and timing of it all. He began chemotherapy treatments with the encouragement of his supremely devoted family. But the disease accelerated and inevitably, the shidduch broke off. Binyomin was left a shattered shell of himself, with the shards of his unfulfilled dreams.


Rabbi Klein would visit him at home and watched with pain and frustration as Binyomin’s health drastically deteriorated. What does one say to a talmid held captive by a cruel disease as the Angel of Death was menacingly approaching him? Anything the rebbi could say would be simplistic or trite. So he came, sat, listened and cried. When Rabbi Klein would arrive home after these agonizing visits, Hindy would observe her husband with concern. The anguish would last for many days.


One Motzoei Shabbos, Rabbi Klein went to visit his beloved talmid. The treatments were not arresting the spread of the tumors, and the disease was ravaging his young body. There was no way to emotionally prepare himself for such a visit. All he could do was show love and concern. When he arrived at the entrance of the home, Binyomin’s parents directed him to his room. There, his talmid sat on the floor in physical and emotional anguish. Rabbi Klein sat on the floor next to him, and rebbi and talmid locked hands as they grieved in silent agony. Then Rabbi Klein asked Binyomin to fully express his emotions. Surprisingly enough, Binyomin was able to express himself amidst the tortuous pain. He expressed anger and frustration at his body’s limitations; he couldn’t accomplish very much. Even more poignantly, he shared anguish at the limitation of his destiny.


“No marriage, no children, no future! Rebbi, how much more bitter can it be?” With tears flowing down his face, Rabbi Klein shared with him his perspective concerning every individual’s destiny.


“Binyomin, each person has an agenda in life, his plan, his wish list, his criteria for his own success. He is entitled to daven intensely for the fulfillment of that dream. But then Hashem presents him with His own agenda, which is often quite different from the plan that the individual set up. Our work in this world is to make Hashem’s plan our new agenda, even if it’s radically different than the one we drafted for ourselves. Plan B, our new plan, becomes our new Plan A.”


Binyomin turned his stricken body, gazed at his rebbi with his anguished eyes, and whispered, “But Rebbi, I might have one week to live! What Master Plan can I possibly follow besides wishing for a salvation? I feel like I’ve studied for the wrong test!”


The rebbi looked into his talmid’s eyes and softly replied, “None of us know how much time we have in this world. Every human being has had to adjust to Hashem’s new agenda. Families facing tragedies in every area today have to adjust their dreams to the plan Hashem has destined for them.”


Binyomin softened his tone and asked his rebbi, “What should my plan be now?”


The rebbi gently replied, “Binyomin, if Hashem allows you a few minutes respite from pain, put on Tefillin and say Krias Shema. If He gives you a few more minutes, learn some Mishnayos. This is His new agenda for you. You didn’t study for the wrong test. Hashem designed a brand new schedule precisely for you.” Rabbi Klein was fearful of exerting his ailing student, and left. He arrived home physically and emotionally spent.


Binyomin lived for another six months. The yeshiva, family and friends shed copious tears at the loss of his precious neshomah.


At the levayah, a talmid approached Rabbi Klein and shared with him that Binyomin had lived the last portion of his life based on that potent discussion six months earlier. He had utilized each one of his pain-free slots of time for intense service of Hashem. In his short span on this world, he had not studied for the wrong test; he aced his final exam.


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