Klal Yisrael and especially the world of Chinuch lost a precious treasure this week with the passing of R’ Avi Shulman zt’l. Mr. Shulman (he did not allow anyone to call him “Rabbi”) was a First Grade Rebbi who taught generations of young boys and then expanded his enormous influence on generations of adults; parents and teachers alike, through his talks and writings.
One key to R’ Avi’s success was his belief in people’s potential to accomplish great things. One key to R’ Avi’s success was his belief in people’s potential to accomplish great things. He had the unusual blend of wisdom, personality and sincerity that motivated people to take risks and try things they otherwise may have thought were beyond their abilities. He promoted the concept of self-esteem before the concept was popularly known.
In this week’s Parsha we see a hint of that Midah in Avrohom Avinu. As he was journeying towards Har HaMoriya to carry out Hashem’s command to offer Yitzchak as a korban, the Midrash tells us (Bereishis Rabbah 56:4) that Avraham was repeatedly confronted by the Satan trying to dissuade him from his mission. Avraham’s response to the insidious and pointed arguments of the Satan was to simply say: על מנת כן –“I am doing it with this understanding,” or in other words – I’m doing it anyway, no matter what you say.
People faced with a challenging task … all too often give up without trying. Our Rosh HaYeshiva, HaGaon Harav Henach Leibowitz zt’l, asked why did Avraham not respond with his very legitimate reasons. The Satan was in essence claiming that Hashem did not really command Avraham, so why didn’t Avraham respond to the Satan that Hashem did indeed command him? The answer is that when one is facing a dilemma, although in his heart he knows he should proceed, however since he can be easily dissuaded, the most effective next step is to move forward and not even engage with the nay-sayers.
People faced with a challenging task – be it public speaking, giving a shiur, accepting a responsibility, pursuing a job or career, applying to a school or program, writing a book etc. all too often give up without trying. They lack the self-confidence to push themselves to reach their goal. All sorts of “Satan” – type obstacles confront them along the way. This is where R’ Avi Shulman zt’l came in.
He conceived of and successfully encouraged Torah Umesorah to undertake the SEED program, a novel concept at the time, which has provided summer enrichment for children and adults in a Torah atmosphere for hundreds of communities worldwide. It has now been around for fifty years and going strong. He was one of the first to promote and teach professional development workshops for Rebbeim. He encouraged hundreds if not thousands of young people to start new endeavors, take on new challenges, pursue dreams they thought impossible. His concern for others and Klal Yisrael did not stop there.
He took his own time and resources to actively assist those he encouraged, to prepare that presentation, refine that lesson, begin writing that book, all with good cheer, patience and usually with minimal or no compensation. He saw talent and abilities in others that the person himself did not see, appreciate or believe. He genuinely cared and wanted to hear how you were doing. It was his encouragement that enabled scores of Mechanchim and Rabbonim to accept and usually succeed in challenging positions.
… he saw, he encouraged and actively helped make the near impossible, an achievable goal. R’ Avi Shulman was a master Mechanech and a dispenser of both wisdom and practical guidance through his myriad lectures, recordings and books. He was a parenting expert, a life coach and an eminently approachable cheer leader for anyone who had a willingness to stretch himself and attempt to move out of his safety zone.
As one of the countless many who so greatly benefited personally from his encouragement and insight, I am humbled by the opportunity Hashem granted me to be a recipient of support, Chizuk and knowledge from the great Avi Shulman. It is my hope and prayer that his legacy will be that every parent, teacher and child will learn to appreciate themselves just a little more and thereby achieve goals that otherwise would have gone unfulfilled.
יהי זכרו ברוך
Best wishes for an uplifting Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann