Stories & Memories of Rabbi Wagner

By: Mendel Erlenwein May 9

Lessons in Responsibility: The Transformative Impact of Rabbi Wagner

The sun had long risen as I slowly made my way to the Yeshiva. I knew I was late, yet again. Rabbi Wagner, our Rosh Yeshiva, had given me numerous warnings about my tardiness, but I just couldn't seem to get out of bed on time. Despite my shortcomings in punctuality, Rabbi Wagner had recognized a different strength in me early on: my ability to handle responsibility.

Even though I was only in shiur Alef Zal, Rabbi Wagner had given me the task of teaching two younger boys during the afternoons. I took this responsibility seriously, but I was still struggling with my own issues in the mornings.

That day, Rabbi Wagner called me into his office, and I knew what was coming. As I entered, I braced myself for the admonishment I was about to receive. He didn't waste any time, immediately expressing his disappointment in my lack of punctuality and my general lack of commitment to my studies.

I tried to defend myself with childish excuses, but Rabbi Wagner was unrelenting. We went back and forth, with me feeling like I was trapped in a corner, unable to escape the consequences of my actions.

But then, something unexpected happened. Rabbi Wagner abruptly changed the topic to the two boys I was teaching in the afternoons. It was as if he flipped a switch, transforming from a disciplinarian dealing with a wayward student to a mentor addressing a responsible young adult.

That sudden shift in tone had an immediate impact on me. I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders, and I instantly switched from the immature kid I was just a moment ago to a mature person taking responsibility for his actions.

We discussed the progress of the two boys and their specific needs, and I couldn't help but feel a sense of pride in the trust Rabbi Wagner had placed in me. It was during these conversations that I was blessed to have hours of fun banter with him.

Looking back, Rabbi Wagner's ability to navigate the delicate balance between discipline and encouragement, as well as his refusal to get caught up in the annoyance of dealing with young students, was nothing short of remarkable. His ability to educate in the most effective way left a lasting impression on me, shaping my growth as a person and my approach to responsibility.

Rabbi Wagner's impact on my life will forever be etched in my heart, and I am grateful for the time I spent under his guidance.

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