Thanks When Thanks Are Due

A midrash on the 10 plagues reminds us to recognize any good that has been done for us.

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But it is to his first teacher of Talmud, Rabbi Dr. Yitzhak Bleichrode, to whom Scholem pays touching tribute. In those days, Berlin was a wasteland for the study of Talmud, a subject restricted to rabbinical students in one of its two seminaries. Bleichrode, a gentle, modest and gifted teacher, taught Scholem and his few like minded friends free of charge, for no other reason than love of Torah. Though Orthodox, he neither judged nor countered their unobservant lifestyle or free-thinking spirit. The Torah itself would do that.

Scholem attributed an indebtedness to Bleichrode beyond words and credited him with the one authentically religious experience of his life. It occurred one Sunday morning in the spring of 1913, when Scholem learned with him his first page of Talmud and later that day, the Rashi on the first verses of the Torah. That initial meeting with the tradition beyond the Bible implanted in Scholem a profound and enduring fascination with Judaism.

Many years later Bleichrode, who made aliyah [immigrated to Israel] at age 65, quietly attended Scholem's class on the Zoharat the Hebrew University. When his students marveled at Scholem's uncharacteristic indulgence, he told them cryptically that "what is mine and yours actually belongs to him" (Hebrew edition p. 51).

Would that we could all fulfill the commandment of acknowledging the good so self-effacingly!

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Rabbi Ismar Schorsch

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch served as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.