D yslexia has become a well-known condition in the educational community of late. But it wasn’t always that way.

The International Dyslexia Association defines dyslexia as a learning disability that is neurological in origin and unrelated to intelligence. In other words, a person with dyslexia is not stupid or dumb, and does not lack ingenuity or comprehension because of the condition. Dyslexia cannot be cured, but one can learn how to cope with it and succeed in any field or endeavor that one chooses.

I have dyslexia.

But I was born before World War II, when this disability was not yet recognized or understood, so I had to fend for myself. Throughout my schooling, nobody ever helped me address my disability; they probably didn’t even know I suffered from dyslexia. I was always told to “try harder” — a meaningless instruction if there ever was one.

To complicate things, for parnassah reasons my family moved countless times as I was growing up, from one country to another and from one city to another, often to places where different languages were spoken. By the time I graduated high school, I had attended nine different schools in 12 years.

I made great efforts to hide my disability, to the extent that no one realized that I could not spell the simplest English or Hebrew word or master the multiplication tables. Somehow, I managed to graduate from high school. I succeeded during my five years in beis midrash and managed to received semichah because bechinos were given orally, especially the grueling five-hour test on Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah.

My dyslexia affects more than just language skills. Among other problems, I have difficulty sequencing. I could not recite all the names of the parshiyos in order past Sefer Shemos no matter how hard I tried to memorize them.

To this day, whenever I receive an aliyah, in order not to mix up the two brachos, I must remind myself that Hashem first accepted us as a nation and then gave us the Torah. This helps me remember that the first brachah is “asher bachar banu” and the second brachah is “asher nassan lanu.”

I failed my driving exam twice because the examiner told me to make a right turn, and I didn’t know right from left. I was a bundle of nerves, and I started to make a right turn, but in mid-turn I changed it to a left and then I changed back again to the right. After the second failure I told myself, “I write with my right hand so that must be right, and the other one must be left.” I review that instruction in my head even today, after driving for over 60 years.

I always read very slowly both in Hebrew and in English in order not to invert letters or words. I never daven from the amud because it would take too long. The upshot is that when you daven slowly, you focus on the individual words, which results in more kavanah.

If I encounter an unfamiliar English word, I have a hard time differentiating between the letters “b” and “d.” To decode the word, I have to search for the letter “b” or “d” in a familiar word and then compare the two words. No matter how many times I try to learn the difference between the two letters, I just can’t get it straight. In Hebrew, the only way I can differentiate between shin and sin is by remembering that you say “shh” with the finger of your right hand.

I am typing this article with the use of spelling and grammar check on my computer. Everything I write, from the simplest e-mail to the most professional article, is double-checked by either my wife or my secretary.

I never announced my disability from the rooftops, but, as you are reading, I do not hide it any longer. Hashem gave me this disability so that my life follows the trajectory that is most beneficial for me, one in which I can strive to fulfill the tafkid that He designated for me. Why should I hide something that is not of my doing? I had no bechirah as to whether I would have dyslexia — my only bechirah is in how I handle it. It certainly must be the best thing for me, even though I may not always see how.

Had I not had a problem with language, I might have chosen to become an editor or journalist. Had I been proficient in the multiplication tables, I might have gone into a math-related field. I am grateful that HaKadosh Baruch Hu gave me this disability, because it led me in the direction of chinuch, to which I have devoted my life.

Through developing my little secret language, codes, and tricks, I was able to become a rebbi and then a school administrator of a very large school with close to 600 students.

In the former capacity, I was able to overcome my own difficulties with sequencing to encourage my grade-nine talmidim to memorize the sequence of questions and answers in the entire perek of Gemara we learned.

I’ve worked in the latter capacity for the past five decades. This may sound impossible for someone with dyslexia, but it’s not. And if I did it, so can everyone else succeed despite their own challenges.

What are the ingredients of success? You need to be crafty and have a tremendous amount of willpower to accomplish whatever it is you are striving for. You must have the emunah that if you try hard, Hashem will give you the siyata d’Shmaya to complete your unique mission.

Basya bas Pharaoh wanted the baby Moshe so badly that she stretched out her hand to grasp him, despite the seemingly an unbridgeable distance between herself and him. She tried hard and Hashem helped her.

All the nisyonos that are sent our way are there to help us achieve our tafkid. Hashem is the Tov u’Meitiv, and He does not give us nisyonos that we are incapable of overcoming. We become who we are because of our challenges, not in spite of our challenges.

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 697. Rabbi Shneur Aisenstark is the dean of Beth Jacob Seminary of Montreal