Building Castles in the Sky
Rav Soloveitchik famously remarked, “I always enter the class in despair. And I ask myself … can there be a dialogue between an old teacher and young students? Between a rebbe in his Indian summer and boys enjoying the spring of their lives?”
Many institutions answer this question with a resounding no; young, modern rebbeim are the crown jewels of the staff. Excellent ball handling skills have practically supplanted talmudic acuity as job prerequisites. Yet the Rav himself concluded that the cross-generation rebbe-student connection was not only possible, but the very backbone of the transmission of the Mesorah.
I write not to lampoon the model of relatable rebbeim. Many of my closest rebbeim have helped me grow tremendously through being able to strongly identify with them on a personal level. That said, one of my most inspiring teachers in high school was Rabbi Nachum Sauer, a veritable symbol of the more “old school” approach. Rabbi Sauer learned for many years with Rabbi Soloveitchik. His Torah knowledge is tremendous and he serves as a dayan (judge) on the RCC Beit Din. Needless to say, sports references were not commonly featured in shiur.
Rabbi Sauer simply modeled an elevated life of Torah and mitzvot. He had complete conviction in his beliefs and a concomitant clarity on the purpose, both existentially and personally, of life. His unshakeable faith visibly guided him in every facet of his life. Every challenge that arose was met with an immutable set of beliefs; every discussion centered around the same fundamental goals.
Humanity searches for meaning in life—our souls cry out for depth. Millennials specifically struggle with finding their place in the world. Technology has broadened our horizons, but dauntingly so. The global village weighs on us, shifting our heroes from local do-gooders to world-altering leaders. Our aspirations grow in proportion. We perceive small kindnesses as irrelevant and big ones as impossible. We have trouble perceiving the luster of our own star as we contemplate the existence of billions of galaxies.
I felt drawn to Rabbi Sauer’s purposefulness like a moth to a light. I wanted to feel part of the chosen people. Rather than stooping down into the dirt to help us up, Rabbi Sauer built castles in the sky, lowered the drawbridge and invited us to come visit.
My first step forward was an increased effort at prayer. I prayed not because I truly understood the words I was saying, nor because I found prayer particularly inspiring in its own right. I prayed because I wanted to have our relationship with our G-d. I wanted to have a strong ethico-religious compass that guided me through life, an atlas that showed me my place in life. I prayed because I aspired to join Rabbi Sauer in his castle in the sky.