Orthodontics was his profession of choice. His first smile into the mirror the day his braces were removed convinced him that he too wanted to bring smiles to peoples faces. Diligently he studied his way through university and was accepted to dentistry school. And that’s as far as he got.
A recent returnee to Orthodox Jewry with a yearning to know more about his own heritage, *Zev Goldstein decided to defer dentistry school for a year, travel to Israel and immerse himself in his Jewish studies. Just for a year. Or so he thought. The more he learned, the less he felt he knew as he dove into the ancient books and swam in their depths. A year turned into two, then three, and, well, twenty odd years later he is still swimming strong.
By now a learned Rabbi, the time had come to thank his teachers for all they had given him. So he did, the only way he knew. By teaching others.
The first day of class, he sets the rules. No cell phones, no talking, and if you fall asleep, no loud snoring. Because his class slot happens to be first in the morning and last at night, eating is allowed. But only if you also offer him. Oh, yes, and if anyone wishes to speak to him about anything he will always listen. Really listen.
I suppose some rules are bound to be broken at times. Cell phones have rung on occasion, students have eaten without sharing a bite. But never has anyone fallen asleep, and eventually students always take him up on his offer to listen.
They talk about their parents and siblings, divorce and remarriage, friend troubles and career questions. He listens, advises and tries to help in any way he can. Often that means just hearing them out without saying a word. They know he cares and that gives them the strength to grow from their challenges instead of being crushed by them.
The official title of his class is The Weekly Torah Portion; the section of the Bible read in synagogue each specific week. But that’s just the waves on the shore. In he wades; questioning, dissecting and explaining, deeper and deeper, until he and his students seem up to their necks in pounding surf. The seemingly dry, boring text pulses with life, as they dive beneath the surface and experience the beauty of a wondrous new world. As a fisherman carefully weaves his nets from the strongest twine, so too he assembles his lessons. Each class begins with a number of seemingly disconnected questions, loose strands lying side by side. Expertly, he ties them together, threading one though the other; a lattice made of brightly colored rope. Finally, he casts out the answer, like a safety net to the drowning, and just as suddenly, they are back on dry land, sparkling in the sunlight.
The questions may be based on the Torah portion, but the answers cover the gamut of life experiences. Wish to learn the Torah’s secrets to controlling your temper? What does the Torah really consider to be the role of the women? (The answer may surprise some!) What is the correct balance between self esteem and egotism? It’s all in there, and Rabbi Goldstein has no problem showing you how and where.
“Do what I say and not what I do” is contrary to everything he believes in. “A true leader is a role model, and not just in public.” So Saturday night is game night at the Goldsteins. Whoever is bored is invited, and they come, bringing friends. With his wife and kids joining in, the games are zany, the competition fierce and genuine laughter loud and free.
Orthodontics may have been his first choice of profession, but now, when he looks in the mirror, he knows he’s bringing smiles to people’s faces, and brightening their souls.
Michelle Borinstein was born in South Africa, moved to the United States and is finally home in Yerushalayim, where she lives with her husband and children. She has had numerous articles and poems published in a variety of publications and is currently writing a number of children’s books.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.