In the Soviet Union of those days, no one ever imagined they would one day leave, and consequently, people only really thought in terms of how to best live a normal life there. As such, every parent wanted his child to receive an advanced education in the Soviet system; to attend school and then university, thereby being able to acquire a profession.

Now, my father didn't have his head in the sky. He had both feet planted firmly on the ground and he was known to be practical and down to earth. R. MendelNo one ever imagined they would one day leave Futerfas once said of him, “A clever man is not one that speaks in a clever manner by relating witty anecdotes. A clever man is one who acts in a clever manner. And such a man is your father.”

Nevertheless, my father would insist that at such a time—when winds of heresy blew through the streets, and the primary objective of the public schools was to indoctrinate the next generation with the heretical ideals of Marxism and Leninism—it was absolutely forbidden to send a child to school. He maintained that a child can acquire basic skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetic at home. The rest of his intellectual development can be achieved from the study of the Talmud, its commentaries, and Chassidus, far more effectively than it can be from secular studies.

“As for livelihood,” he would say, “one need not worry. ‘The One who provides life will provide sustenance.’ It’s not necessary for my child to become an engineer, or a doctor. Better that he earn a livelihood in a field in which he has a talent, so long as he remains a loyal, observant Jew, of noble character. He should carry on our forefather Avraham's golden chain, and ensure that it continue for all generations!”

When my brother Berel grew older, my father found him a job in a factory that manufactured commercial signs, with the eventual plan that he would be able to open a factory of his own. Berel learned the trade quickly and adeptly. My father then opened his own factory, and we earned a livelihood from this trade until we left Russia in 1971. Many of our community in Samarkand and Tashkent followed suit, and sustained themselves from this field as well. Amongst them were many graduates of prominent universities.

As a child, my parents, and people like Reb Bentcha, tried to give us a proper sense of priority in this regard.

One day, one of our friends came to school and boasted that his mother had registered him for school and the he would now grow up to be an educated person. “What will become of you?” he asked of us derisively.

Just then R. Bentcha walked in and he overheard this comment. We were learning the Book of Deuteronomy at the time, and were up to the verse, “Follow the L‑rd your G‑d, fear Him . . . worship Him, and cleave to Him.”

"What will become of you?"

R. Bentcha, who would often test the skills of each student, turned to the boy who had boasted about going to public school and told him to explain the verse. The boy explained the simple meaning, but R. Bentcha made an angry face and told him to repeat the verse and say the correct meaning.

He went back and explained the verse, but R. Bentcha wasn’t satisfied with his explanation and told him to say it a third time. This time you could hear a clearly angry tone ringing in his voice, and he extended the bent fingers of his right hand in front of the boy, pointing firmly at the book. We shrank in our places in fear, not understanding what R. Bentcha wanted, seeing as our friend was providing the correct translation.

R. Bentcha exclaimed loudly in his typical fashion, “What is the meaning of the verse? I will tell you the meaning.” Then, with a melody and characteristic vigor, he said:

“'Follow the L‑rd your G‑d', mean to go only after the L-rd your G‑d; “fear Him” - don’t go to the Communist school; “worship Him” - despise the Communist school. At this point he used a slew of derisive expressions to describe the school that I am unable to transcribe. You understand the meaning, eh? Nu, repeat after me.”

After a lesson like that, the boy understood that he shouldn't have boasted about being registered in school. Fortunately, the chassidic atmosphere in which the boy lived had a positive influence on him, and he grew up to be a G‑d fearing young man, bringing up devout children and grandchildren of his own.

I myself once experienced a similar story. Once, during a Hebrew writing lesson, my friend Mordechai Goldschmidt forgot his inkwell. I didn’t want to let him dip his pen into my inkwell, and told him that he should have brought his own. R. Bentcha noticed this, but said nothing.

After a while he asked me, “Hilke, did you say Modeh Ani today?” Modeh Ani is the first prayer of the day, an acknowledgement of G‑d recited immediately upon waking up each morning. I said that I had.

R. Bentcha asked me to explain the Modeh Ani, which I did to the best of my ability. R. Bentcha stopped me and in the manner he reserved for chastising someone, said disapprovingly, “That’s not what it means,” and he went on to explain it:

I didn’t want to let him dip his pen into my inkwell

Modeh means bittulselflessness. This means that when a friend asks for ink, you give it to him. Ani means that when you friend asks you for a pen, you must give him a pen,” and so he went on to explain the rest of the words in a similar fashion. “Now do you know the meaning of Modeh Ani?” he concluded.

These scenes typified his method of education, and they have remained etched in our souls for life.