I was excited when I heard we were going to have Mussar class in 11th grade. I imagined some fierce woman, or rabbi with a wild beard leaning over the desk to hurl accusations at us: We could do better! We could be better! We should try better!
Instead, a small, soft-spoken woman slipped wafted gently into the room and, in a voice like velvet, informed us that we wouldn’t actually be learning mussar in the sense we expected.
It turned out that she was one of the more brilliant teachers I would have in bais Yaakov. The breadth of her knowledge was awe-inspiring. The sources she drew from were ones we rarely heard from. But she didn’t give tests. And so, like most students, we jumped at the opportunity to avoid learning.
Devorah turned out to be a key pawn in our scheming.
You see, as much as Devorah could ask, Mrs. Mussar could answer. And unlike most teachers, she cared deeply about conveying a correct and full answer to all your questions. And unlike most teachers, she was capable of doing so. And unlike most teachers, she would not push you off. Ever.
Which is why Devorah loved asking her questions. Once or twice, she’d slip out during the 15 minute break before Mussar class to catch Mrs. Mussar for a few moments. Five minutes, ten, fifteen… they’d still be deeply engrossed in conversation. The class would peer out at them, heads together in the hallway, and go back to chattering.
Five, ten, fifteen… they’d break up, and Mrs. Mussar would hurry in, distracted, apologizing for being fifteen minutes late to class.
It didn’t take me long to figure out how to capitalize on this.
Did Devorah have a question from Navi class? “Maybe you should go ask Mrs. Mussar before Mussar class,” I suggested. She did.
It didn’t take her too long to figure out that she was being used. But, on the whole, she didn’t seem to mind. She got her questions answered, and we got more free time. Heaven knew she cared more deeply for her time with Mrs. Mussar than any of us did for class.
Soon, Devorah could be counted on to delay class at least 15 minutes. I started doing homework during that extra period.
But then there was the day that Devorah completely outdid herself. Class didn’t start 15 minutes. Nor did it start 25 minutes late. No: Mrs Mussar didn’t hurry in until five minutes before the end of the class. There was just enough time to apologize and throw out a hasty thought on the parsha.
We were thrilled. Devorah was feted. This was the victory of all victories over filler classes invented just to keep us in school til 5:15.
Unfortunately, our hubris was fated. Mrs Mussar, it turned out, was not that thick. She realized she was being played. And so, she started regretfully asking Devorah to come only after class.
We started having Mussar class on time.
We might have even learned something from one of our more brilliant teachers.