It was Friday erev shabbos parshas Lech Lecha, which is to say that it was the second Friday in this class. My cheder didn’t believe in summer break, we just powered right through the summer, unless you were lucky enough to have a father who worked in a camp, in which case you went to camp and suffered there instead of the usual year round suffering of cheder.
The menahel was in the classroom to give his weekly farher, oral test, and the rebbi was on edge.
The menahel would go around the room and ask each kid a question or two, or three on the parsha, you either knew the answer or you didn’t; there were no test scores, no report cards, not at the end of the quarter, semester or year. None. Period.
This week, it being the beginning of the year with a new rebbi whose voice I hadn’t yet gotten used to listening to while thinking about other things, I did not know the parsha or whatever else he was farhering us on. See, spacing out in class is an art and, like any other art form, needs careful cultivation before it can be used with any amount of ease. Effective spacing out in class requires roughly 10% of brain power, in sleep mode, to be in the classroom keeping an ear out for the tone and pitch of the rebbi’s voice. Sometimes the rebbi would even start saying random shit like: and the monkeys were flying and the elephants started running just to see whether anyone was paying attention. 10% of brain power was usually enough to catch all these irregularities and even to catch enough disjointed phrases which would come in handy when a question was asked, you would just pull one of those phrases out, say it tentatively, see the reaction it elicited and decide whether to proceed or throw out another word or phrase; it worked in enough cases to make it a winning strategy.
As I say, I didn’t know the parsha. The menahel asked me a few questions and I didn’t know the answers, not even close, not even enough to funfeh my way through it. The menahel moved on to other boys, some did better than me, others the same and then he left the room.
It’s amazing that my rebbi was able to hold in the explosion which followed as long as he did. He exploded worse than mount Eyjafjallajokull on an angry day. He yelled, you knew the parsha like it was parshas chukas! He came over to my seat and started hitting me like he meant to kill me, hitting, hitting, hitting with such furious anger that I really did fear for my life, all the while yelling and yelling like a man possessed.
The kids were kind of sympathetic because of the intensity of the rebbi’s anger and the length of his hitting session, we all agreed that his wife must have kicked him out of the house that morning because we couldn’t see any other explanation for the outburst, what had taken place was no worse than what took place every Friday.
During the rest of the year, the rebbi proved to be the best rebbi I had in elementary school which makes this story even stranger. In fact when I left school after 7th grade (that story another day), he was the only one who knew what yeshiva I went to after that.
Was his job in jeopardy? Was he feeling insecure around the menahel for some other reason? Did his wife really kick him out of the house that morning (or the night before?). I’ll never know because I bet he doesn’t remember what he did that day – ruin the trust that I had for him two weeks into his class.