June 10, 2024
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June 10, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Max Beck was, in many people’s opinions, the most patient and forgiving person you could ever meet. These personality traits were helpful for Max, as he worked as a school teacher. And as we all know, children have a special talent for testing the patience of adults (especially their parents and teachers). Throughout his 25-year career, Max taught preschool, elementary school, middle school and high school. It was safe to say that Max had seen it all.

In 1997 Max was teaching fifth grade at a school for students with an interest in poetry. The class was in the middle of a unit on rhyming, and Max assigned his students a list of words they had to use in a poem. Each word on the list needed a rhyming partner. Two words on the list were “orange” and “purple,” about which Max thought his students would realize was a joke. Max hoped a few kids would try to think out of the box to rhyme the unrhymable, but he didn’t think any students would take it seriously.

Unfortunately, one of Max’s students, Sammy, took this assignment very seriously. He spent hours writing, erasing, rewriting, crossing out, and reading through the dictionary. Sammy was determined to find words to rhyme with “orange” and “purple,” and he refused help from the internet or from his parents. The next day, Sammy came into class looking exhausted. He was still dressed in the previous day’s clothing, and was randomly bumping into people and objects around the room. (He apologized to his locker more than once.) When Max saw Sammy, he quickly headed over to see if everything was okay. “Mr. Beck, I was up all night working on that poem! But I couldn’t find any good rhymes for “purple” or “orange!”

Another student overheard this comment, and started to laugh. “Sammy! Didn’t you know that no words rhyme perfectly with orange and purple?! Mr. Beck told us that three times already! They were on the list as a joke. Weren’t they, Mr. Beck?” Max smiled uneasily. “Yes, Jennifer, that is true, but don’t laugh. I don’t think Sammy finds it very funny.” Boy was that an understatement! Sammy didn’t simply not find this funny; he was furious. His eyebrows were doing that thing in the cartoons were they slant toward his nose, and he LITERALLY had steam coming out of his ears! “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” Sammy shrieked, before immediately storming out of the classroom, heading down to the office, walking out of the school, and going straight home (fortunately, he lived right next door).

Max told the class he’d be back in a moment, and stepped out into the hallway to call Sammy’s parents. Sammy’s dad picked up and said that yes, Sammy just stormed through the front door without explanation, and yes, he was now sleeping on the steps because he couldn’t make it upstairs. Max filled Sammy’s father in on what happened, and he didn’t seem too upset. “That explains it! He refused to go to sleep last night and refused to tell us why. I’m sure he’ll be fine when he wakes up.”

Well, that didn’t happen until the next morning. Sammy came into class looking well-rested. He was wearing clean clothing and he had a smile on his face. “Mr. Beck, I’m really sorry about my outburst yesterday. I know you didn’t mean it. I’m not mad. Can I read my poem for the class?” Max agreed. “Sure, Sammy. Class! Please quiet down so that Sammy can read his poem.” As his classmate took their seats, Sammy began. “Roses are red, a marathon is a race. Nothing rhymes with orange, but here’s one for your face!” With that, Sammy reached into his bag and pulled out a few peeled oranges and started tossing them at his teacher. Max expertly dodged the first three, but the fourth splattered on his shirt and the fifth demolished the pile of papers on the teacher’s desk. But Sammy wasn’t done. “One more verse! Canaries are yellow, rain clouds are gray. Nothing rhymes with purple, but here’s some purple spray!” A few crazy seconds later, and Mr. Beck was now covered in purple hair spray from head to toe.

The class was dead silent. What was Mr. Beck going to do? What was going to happen to Sammy? “Sammy, I understand you are upset. Let’s talk about this during snack break. Class, please open up your poetry books to page 82.” And just like that, Mr. Beck kept right on teaching, and earned the respect of every single student in that class (Sammy, included).

Over the next 23 years, Max experienced a few equally crazy situations, and remained equally patient and forgiving. Additionally, he endured many of the usual annoyances that can break teachers: students who ask “what are we doing in class today?” every day, parents who demand makeup work for every non “A+” their children receive, principals who ignore your emails but expect you to respond to texts within minutes, and all the other assorted craziness. Max handled everything with composure and grace, and was considered a role model for students and teachers alike.

Many of Max’s students stayed in touch with him over the years and turned to him for advice. Every once in a while Mr. Beck would organize reunions for his old classes, which was always a blast. After one reunion, all of his students had rides home, except for one, Maya Markowitz. Max offered to give her a ride, and along the way, Maya was shocked to see her famously patient teacher lose his cool not once, but twice. “Can you believe this guy?!” exclaimed Max, as the car to his left cut him off. Max leaned on the horn for a good five seconds before switching lanes, zooming in front of the same car, cutting it off. Two minutes later, the car in front of them began to drive really slowly, earning another five-second honk from Max’s horn. “Let’s go, buddy! I don’t have all day!” Maya was shocked, but she didn’t say anything. Yet.

Three blocks from Maya’s house, the car was stopped at a red light, with one car between it and the traffic light. The car in front had its right turn signal on, which was the same turn Max had to make to get to Maya’s house. Considering turning right on red was legal where Maya lived, she was just waiting for her newly impatient teacher to start honking again. However, this time, Max did nothing and waited for the light to turn green before turning the corner toward Maya’s house.

They pulled up in front of Maya’s house, and Maya summoned all her courage to ask about what just happened. Why did Mr. Beck lose his cool before? Why was he so patient with that last car? After the questions, Max let a second or two pass before he began his response. “I know, I know, it’s disappointing to see me act impatiently. Mr. Patient, losing his cool. Sorry about that. The truth is that I have always had two sides to my patience. When I know someone well, and understand where they are coming from, I can have all the patience in the world. At school I always got to know my students so well that I couldn’t completely blame them for their actions because I knew what was causing them. Take, for instance, this ride home. I had no idea why the first two cars were driving the way they were, so it was hard for me to have patience with them. However, that last car had a New York license plate, and in New York City you aren’t allowed to turn right on red. So I figured that’s why it wasn’t turning.

In this week’s parsha, Bnei Yisrael commit the infamous sin of the Egel HaZahav, the Golden Calf. Moshe prays to Hashem to forgive them, and Hashem does so, without one member of the Jewish people apologizing. How can this be? Hashem explains. He tells Moshe, “I am Hashem, a God who is merciful and patient.” Hashem is this way by “nature” because He knows everything about us—our strengths and weaknesses—because He created us. When you understand why someone acts a certain way, it’s much easier to forgive.

There are those we know well and others we don’t. Those whose actions we understand and those whose actions we don’t. Let’s try our best to have patience with everyone. Let’s try to be forgiving all the time. It’s how we would want to be treated, isn’t it?


Yair Daar is the middle school dean of students at Yeshivat He’Atid. He can be reached at ydaar@
www.yeshivatheatid.org.

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