Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Sivan 5761 - June 6, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Home and Family
Identifying Burn-Out

by R' Zvi Zobin

Question: What can you advise about young men and boys who feel `burnt-out'? How can they relax and then revive their interest in learning? Some seem to get `mono' after their wedding and variations of `burn-out.' Do you have any ideas?

Answer: There seem to be three major burn-out periods - - after joining yeshiva gedola, after getting married and after being in kollel for about five years.

The problem is very complex and many of the issues cannot be discussed in an open forum such as a newspaper article.

One aspect of the yeshiva gedola burn-out seems to be a normal type of burn-out which is simply the result of being pushed too much as a child. The phenomenon is described even by non-Jewish educators when they warn of the danger of trying to produce `child geniuses'.

A non-Jewish therapist formulated the following list of SYMPTOMS for someone who might be suffering from burn-out. I have adapted them to make them more `yeshivish'.

* I feel hopeless and trapped in my learning.

* I am constantly tired.

* I am bored with doing mitzvos and with my friends in yeshiva/kollel.

* I am easily irritated and have little patience with my friends in yeshiva/kollel.

* I am cynical about my yeshiva/kollel and my learning.

* I want change in my daily routine, yet I feel threatened by change.

* I feel I lack control over my circumstances.

* I have difficulty concentrating on specific tasks.

* I withdraw, because working at problem-solving seems futile.

* I use alcohol and pharmecutical drugs too often.

* I occupy myself with trivial activities to escape more important responsibilities.

* I used to care about others, but now I'm too preoccupied with my own health, sanity and future.

* I am restless and have difficulty relaxing or sleeping.

* I doubt that I really make a difference to my friends in yeshiva/kollel or family.

* I have lost my personal confidence.

* I hate to get out of bed and dread going to work.

* I put off making decisions because they seem overwhelming.

* I don't want to hear about anyone else's problems.

* I feel I have nothing more to give.

* I am just going through the motions -- waiting for a change, a new job or retirement.

* I've lost my sense of purpose or enthusiasm about my learning.

* I often use phrases such as, "I don't care anymore," or "Why bother?"

* I am highly critical of others.

* My self esteem is low.

* I use the excuse of feeling sick just to get away from my friends in yeshiva/kollel.

* My social involvement has decreased.

* I frequently complain and despair over problems.

According to the formulator of this list, anyone with more than five of these feelings might be suffering from burn- out.

Rabbi Pinchos Weiner zt'l once told me that the Vilna Gaon refers to this when he comments on the saying of Chazal, "Be careful in your handling of the children of the poor because from them comes forth Torah." The Gaon explains that rich parents can afford to hire extra tutors for their children, and therefore, eventually, their children burn- out.

The work Seder Hayom on the mishna in Ovos that states "Ben chomesh lemikra" warns of the damage that can come from pushing a child beyond his level of maturity.

It is a well known phenomenon that often, the children who do best in cheder do not do well in yeshiva and many of those who do best in yeshiva did not do well when they were in cheder. One young man who has learnt in the kollel of a `top' yeshiva for many years told me how, year after year, he sees the new-entry of shiur alef learning diligently when they first enter the yeshiva. By the time they enter their second year, only half are maintaining their diligence, and by the time they enter their third year, only half of that half are left learning well.

The problems of `post-wedding burn-out' and the `kollel burn- out' also contribute the the increased divorce rate in the young kollel communities. Unfortunately, most of the issues involved are very delicate and cannot be discussed in an open forum.

However, one point which can be made publicly is the importance of a bochur finding and attaching himself to a figure of daas Torah - - a choshuve talmid chochom, as mentor -- who can give him time and with whom he can discuss problems openly and who can get to know him well.

Rabbi Zobin can be contacted through e-mail at or 02- 5373340.


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