by Chaim Walder
translated by Shifra Slater
Illustrated by Yoni Gerstein
Dedicated to all
my beloved students
My name is Ze'ev. I'm in fifth grade. I'm not
really special in any way - - not in schoolwork
or in sports, and not socially either. If anything,
I'm the laziest kid in the class. But there is one
thing about me that makes me stand out. I'm
really, really short - - short and skinny. I look
like I'm in second grade, not fifth.
Every time I look in the mirror, I ask Hashem
when I'm going to grow. It's really hard to have
to look up at my friends all the time, and to hear
people on the crowded bus every morning say,
"Keep moving, Shorty."
My friends treat me like a nothing. They know
I'm lazy and that I don't know even the stuff they
learned in third grade --well, almost.
So my life is pretty gloomy, but I never really
thought it'd be different. I've always been short
and lazy, and I thought I'd always be like that.
That's how I figured it. So I never laughed much,
and I never felt good about myself, I just felt
The truth is that there is one thing I'm good
at, not that it's anything very important. I'm the
class "Information Bureau." I know everything
that's going on. How? Well, first of all, I read a
lot. But besides that, I have ways of finding out
all kinds of things, inside school and out. Some-
how, I'm the one who knows when this year's
school trip will be, who's going to be our teacher
next year, what they've been talking about in
the teachers' lounge, and how much sugar the
eighth-grade teacher takes in his coffee.
In these things, I'm the expert. Whenever a
kid needs some information, I'm the one he'll
turn to. It's my only chance to talk and to feel
like maybe I'm worth something. (Even though I
really know that these things are dumb, and
nobody respects me very much for knowing
In the middle of the year, our class got a new
teacher, Rabbi Samuels. Naturally, I was able
to tell everyone where he lives, the school he
had taught in before, where he was born, and
which of his relatives I happened to know! Of
course, the main thing they all wanted to know
was whether he was nice or strict. I told them
that that remained to be seen.
As soon as he came into our classroom, we
saw that Rabbi Samuels was both things: nice
and strict. The look in his eye said very clearly
that he would not stand for any nonsense or
disturbance. At the same time, he smiled at
us a lot and we could see he was really a nice
Well, it didn't take him very long to discover
who was the lazy one in the class. Right away, he
started taking a firm hand with me. He insisted
that I do all my homework, and do it right. He'd
even call my house the night before a test to
ask my parents if I was studying! All in all, he
didn't ever let me take it easy! Where all the
teachers before him had given up on me pretty
quickly, and taken an attitude of "Whatever you
want, kid it's up to you," this Rabbi Samuels
kept giving me a hard time. Actually I saw that,
for some reason, he really cared what would
become of me.
One day, in the middle of the morning, he
asked me to come with him to the teachers'
lounge. When I saw a substitute walk in to take
over the class, I knew I was in for a long lecture!
Rabbi Samuels started by asking me all
kinds of questions. I could tell he understood
me. He asked me to tell him about my good
points and my bad points, and I answered him.
I spoke about a lot of things that troubled me,
and even told him things that I had always kept
to myself. But I left out one thing. After I finished
talking, he said, "You forgot something, didn't
you?" I didn't answer. I couldn't even nod my
"Okay," he said. "I see that it's difficult for
you to tell me, so I'll tell you. You're short. It
bothers you. It hurts you. It makes you feel...
kind of worthless. Right?"
For some reason, I burst into tears. Tears
from inside my heart, where all the hurt had
been hiding, and which my teacher had un-
covered with his words. I cried and cried, and
I wasn't even embarrassed. And he let me cry
and didn't say a word.
Later, when I calmed down, Rabbi Samuels
took a picture out of his pocket. It was a pho-
tograph of a little kid around eight years old, in
a jacket and hat, dressed up like a little man.
The boy was facing a crowd of people and ges-
turing with his hand, as though he was making
"See that little boy?" asked the teacher. "How
old does he look to you?"
I answered: "About eight years old, I'd say."
The teacher smiled and said, That's a bar-
mitzvah boy, Ze'ev. He's thirteen and he's giving
his deroshah (Bar Mitzvah Speech) here."
I took the picture back from him and looked
at it more carefully. The boy looked even smaller
than me, and I'm eleven! Then I looked at the
teacher's face, and looked back at the picture,
and I understood....
He smiled - - almost laughed - - and said,
"Yes, that's me. I was even shorter than you.
But I never felt so bad about it. I knew I had a
talent for speaking well, and so I never thought I
was any worse off than the other kids. And as for
them, when they saw that I had confidence in
myself, they treated me accordingly, and never
paid any attention to my height. Meanwhile,"
my teacher added, "I was using the gifts that
Hashem did give me. Any time there was a class
party or special event, I got up and spoke. And I
wasn't shy. Here, look at this picture. See what
a shorty I was at my bar mitzvah, and there I
am making a speech just like a grown-up! And,
you know what - - I think everyone enjoyed my
"A while later, in high school, I started to
grow. Today, even though I'm certainly not a
tall man, there's nothing so unusual about my
His story was finished, but he added, "Ze'evi,
I understood what your problem was from the
very first day. I hope you'll take a lesson from
my story, and stop ruining your life for a silly
Rabbi Samuels handed me a tissue to dry
my eyes. He looked at his watch. Two hours had
passed from the time we left the classroom, and
neither of us had noticed.
Well, you might not believe it, but it's seven
months later now, and I'm a different kid! All
the schoolwork that I was missing because of
my laziness, I've managed to make up, with
help from my parents and from Rabbi Samuels.
I did it surprisingly quickly, too, and now I'm
even among the better students in the class. I
stopped being so sensitive about my height, and
I now realize that if I don't pay attention to it, no
one else does either. They probably never even
cared about how short I was at all!
If any of you is short like me, take my advice:
Don't be ashamed of it. Even if you're really,
really short, there's nothing to be ashamed of. A
person's real height is spiritual, not physical. He
can reach true heights in good middos (character traits), in yiras Shamayim (Fear of Heaven),
and in his Torah learning.