Monday, February 05, 2007

Genetic fingerprints

When my younger brother, Mordechai the Elder, was in fifth grade, his rebbe offered the class a challenge. Any boy who memorized all the mishnayot in masechet Yuma would get a set of Mishnayot to own. This was announced on Friday. Mordechai decided that he wanted that set of Mishnayot. I can still see him in my mind's eye, sitting at the top of the stairs all Shabbat afternoon with sefer in hand, memorizing away. He earned his beautiful big set of Mishnayot in school that very Sunday.

I could not say that I was that way. Not that I wasn't determined to do things, I just tended to do things at the last minute rather than doing them early and getting things out of the way. My idea of being a conscientious student was waking up the day of the final at 7:00, meeting my good buddy Malky at Dunkin Donuts, enjoying a chocolate cream-filled donut, and reading through the notes at warp speed so we'd at least have read it once before our 9:00 exam. Hey, it worked for us.

Fast forward to 2007. Six Flags offers a free ticket to students who read 6 hours for pleasure independently. They require each student to submit a form that includes the dates, books read, time spent, and signature of parent or teacher. Back in December, when Mordechai first brought home the form, he calculated the days until the date the form was due and how long he would have to read each day to fulfill the requirements and earn a free ticket. He got to work enthusiastically that night reading a pile of books. Somehow, that initial enthusiasm had faded by the next day and the whole program was forgotten.

Until last week.

The form was due February 2nd. Mordechai came home on February 1st and announced that he planned to read for 3 hours and 30 minutes that night. I was a bit skeptical that he would manage that. He insisted that it was no problem. I pointed out that even if he did get the ticket, the chances that anyone would actually take hime to Six Flags were rather remote. He said that he already worked it out with a kid in school whose mom had said she would pay the fifty dollars for her own ticket and take them to the park.

As soon as his homework, keyboard lesson, and dinner were out of the way, he buckled down with a book. He chose a book I had bought him (at his request) about the United States' presidents. He did not understand a word he was reading and mispronounced a good deal of them, but he was reading. After an hour(!) or so of that, I suggested he read something that he might understand so that it would be a bit more interesting. I compiled a collection of books for him that were more age-appropriate. He did not spend a moment that night without a book in his hands. Every so often he would ask me how many minutes he was up to. He went to bed with a book and was still up reading when Dovid came home at around 9:15. Finally, with twenty minutes to go, I made him go to sleep with the promise that I'd wake him early so he could finish in the morning. He was up an hour earlier than usual to make sure he'd have enough time and then he woke me (*!@#$%) to sign the paper.

Mission accomplished.

Anyone wanna' take a really cute and determined 7-year-old kid to Six Flags this summer? (Some restrictions apply.)


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Barzilai said...

Anyone that can memorize the mishnayos of the entire maseches Yoma on one Shabbos is lavishly gifted. One perek of Yoma in one shabbos would be a great accomplishment, and all eight prokim is genius territory.

Ayelet said...

Barzilai: It so happens that I checked the info before I posted for fear of sticklers like you (and because I would not have a clue)and he is a total genius and he is (now, not in fifth grade) a major masmid and he is 'on the market'. Know anyone? :)

Barzilai said...

Sticklers is it? I made the point because your blog seems honest and not excessively self absorbed. Also, I spent the greater part of a month helping my son, at around the same age, memorize Yoma, and I was bemused to hear of a child that did it himself in one day.

As you must know by now, parents of a boy like that will soon come to wish that their telephone number was not listed. The real challenge is to avoid distractions like prestige and wealth and find a family of refined middos that will appreciate his talent and provide the environment that will nurture it.

My wife's approach is to say tehillim and trust the Ribono shel Olam. I'm the due diligence guy. Her precious tehillim looks like it's been gone through hundreds of times, while my notebooks list all the proposed shiduchim and the answers to my prying questions and nosey inquiries. After all is said and done, I have come to believe that her tehillim does far more than my due diligence. My father likes to quote one of the Reichmans, who once said "Der Ribono shel olom hoht eich a dei'eh," or "God also has something to say about it."

Ayelet said...

Barzilai: 1. Why would you encourage him to memorize a mesechta in the first place? Especially if it takes so long. It seems like a painfully boring exercise. But I'm a girl - is there a useful purpose fulfilled by the memorization of a mesechta?

2. I wish that were true. He's not your typical guy. He's amazingly bright, intelligent, and witty. But his idea of a greast date is having a wonderful intellectual conversation. He's not taking anyone to play miniature golf or whatever. That's not him. His bein ha'zmanim is not going to Six Flags or on a ski trip. He's more your museum sort. Or he'll get a pile of (non-fiction) books from the library to read and learn about anything and everything. He's the kind of guy who actually looks up the pesukim from Tanach that are quoted in the gemara and learns the perek so that he has a pretty impressive be'kius in things like ni'vi'im which is so refreshing. He has a close relationship with his rosh yeshiva (R' Aaron Schechter) and turns to him for guidance in all matters of importance. He doesn't go into things unprepared. He's the kind of guy who does his homework first, doing background research, before he takes on a project. And he's good at that too. (For example, when I mentioned to him that I was looking to invest some money and asked him for advice, he didn't offer any right away. He spent the next Friday afternoon studying the topic and then got back to me with a detailed and crystal-clear rundown of my options based on my specific needs. Vintage Mordechai.) He's very reliable and dependable. When he says he'll be home at so and so time to help my mom with pesach-cleaning, he'll be there on the dot with sleeves rolled up. Interestingly, he has a fine sense of aesthetics. When he sets the table for Shabbat, he likes things to look pretty.

Your classic girl who says she wants a long-term learner gets kind of scared off when she actually meets a really long-term learner. She's got to be capable, not easily overwhelmed, intellectual, and - the most important aspect - machshiv Torah and the value of yegi'ah ba'Torah. If you'd ask him, he'd say he's looking for a bas talmid chacham. Most certainly, your note about finding a family that will "provide the environment that will nurture [his talent]" is right on the money.

And so, I'm back to my original question: Know anyone?

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