Three Jewels–thoughts on great teachers

Three great teachers each left me with brief statements which have guided me as a rabbi, an artist, a parent, a husband, a teacher, a person.

When I first asked Rabbi Shloime Twersky zt”l about moving back to Denver (I was living in Los Angeles at the time, photographing as well as studying at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles) and studying with him for smicha, he took my head in his hands, looked me in the eye and told me that the greatest mistake he’d made as a rabbi was to let people become dependent on him. He would be happy to “work something out” for me to study with him, but he warned me that if he saw me even begin to become dependent on him he’d kick me right out his door.

Dr. Hisashi Ohta, who was a Living National Treasure of Japan, a Zen Master, the finest painter I’ve ever know and my teacher from his eightieth year until his death at eighty-two, often told us that “Beauty is not always sweet”. He also gave me a stunning calligraphy which hangs to this day over my desk. It says, “Colors, so-called in this world, all of them become hollow.”

Rabbi Daniel Goldberger, a recently-retired congregational rabbi in Denver and a lifelong family friend (I grew up with his children and remain friends with them), once told me, “the only luxury I won’t try to afford myself is 100% certainty”.

One of my greatest blessing in this life has been my teachers. I honestly can’t think of a truly horrible teacher at any point from pre-school through college and later art, music and smicha. While many of my teachers were rabbis, certainly not all were “orthodox”. However, my college advisor was a devout Mormon, my painting teacher a Zen Buddhist, my closest friend and artistic guide a former Vedanta monk. Our sages teach us that to become wise we must learn how to learn from everyone.

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