Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

18 Av 5764 - August 5, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Purity in Education

By Rabbi N.Z. Grossman

Part II

In the first part, Rabbi Grossman discussed the fact that the preservation of the purity of the Torah education that our children receive is one of the linchpins of our educational system. The slightest damage to the integrity of Torah's transmission can harm its special qualities. To illustrate and explain this, Rabbi Grossman cited the story of the deeds of Rav Chiya and the steps he took to ensure that Torah would not be forgotten. He planted flax, made nets, caught deer, gave their meat to orphans and used their skins to write Torah, and then went to children and taught them Torah. Why did he undertake this extensive preparation? The Vilna Gaon explains that it is because if any step taken involves some prohibited deed (for example if the production is financed by an interest-bearing loan that is prohibited) then the objects being prepared will be tainted and the Torah transmission will be imperfect. By seeing that the production of the seforim would be untainted by anything forbidden, no impure spirit would rest upon the scrolls that the children would learn from. It was in this way that he ensured that Torah would not be forgotten in Israel.


HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman discusses the lesson conveyed by the Gaon in one of his shmuessen (in Yimolei Pi Tehiloshecho, pp. 242-3). He says, "This is addressed to everybody. It concerns both a person's building and perfecting himself and the education of his sons or pupils. We must be aware that if something is tainted, it affects the degree of success in Torah." Rav Steinman also quotes from Even Shleimoh (perek 4,5, para 3) quoting the Gaon who writes that the earlier scholars took such care to avoid any harmful influence that they arranged to learn among the trees. They were worried that Hashem's Shechinah would not rest upon a house that men had built, or that something else might have been done without holy intentions.

Let There be a Few but Let Them be Pure

The worry and concern voiced by Torah leaders over any harmful influence, even indirect, upon Torah education, is readily understood in the light of the idea expressed by the Vilna Gaon and the Maharsha. How much more dangerous are direct attempts to wrest control of timetables, curricula, teacher training and the like!

The purity of Torah education was preserved even in times when only a handful of parents were agreeable to raising their children to study only Torah. Gedolei Yisroel saw that the promise that Torah will never be forgotten would be fulfilled through those individuals. They did everything in their power to ensure that those few would absorb Torah in complete purity so that they would be able to convey it to future generations without compromising its integrity.

This is another lesson that they derived from Rabbi Chiya. Examining his program with a view to efficiency, one would readily see that there was great room for improvement. If Rabbi Chiya would have spent the time that he devoted to preparations to teaching instead, he could have reached far more pupils than the handful that he was able to teach after all his hard, time-consuming work. To put it more simply, the returns don't seem to have justified the investment.

Rabbi Chiya demonstrated that where the aim is to ensure that Torah is not forgotten, pupils must be taught in utter purity, even if this means that there will only be a few of them and even if the same resources could have been used to reach many more but not in complete purity.

Quality, Not Quantity

This is the issue underlying the debate between the chareidi community and the National Religious sector over education. The latter decided to work within the secular educational establishment, through the State Religious institutions which are completely subject to the Ministry of Education and the Yeshiva High Schools (yeshivot tichoniyot) that mix the holy and the mundane, in the hope of bringing Judaism and religious education to the masses. They wanted to stop "being insular and solely preoccupied with one's own concerns."

Their attempt at reaching a broad sector has not paid off. They distributed resources with an eye to big numbers, while making compromises and reductions in the quality of the education they were providing and ultimately, they even lost the few.

The author of Chovos Halevovos writes that every servant of Hashem must ensure that all his actions are "free of fakery and of confusion" (Shaar Yichud Hamaaseh, perek 6). This must be the case even if quantity has to suffer because of quality for, as the Chovos Halevovos continues, "a small amount that is pure is a great deal and a large amount that is impure is a little and has no purpose."

Referring to this idea the Alter of Kelm wrote, "I will tell you something else that means a great deal to me. I have already written to you that although those belonging to this house are few in number, they are many in quality."

Elsewhere he wrote, "The truth is that wherever there is excellence in quality the amount is small, as with the Written Torah and the Oral Torah."

"To this day, I am far from wanting to increase our size but I do want to raise our quality . . . and thankfully, I have found a holy source in Chovos Halevovos, where it says that, `A small amount that is pure is a great deal.' "

"Please note that from such a huge generation as lived at the time of the Flood, there were only eight individuals who served with their minds: Noach and his three sons and their wives -- eight in all. Nevertheless, they were not discouraged and they continued their intellectual service gladly and willingly. Ultimately, they attained massive proportions because the whole world was founded upon them . . . " (quotations from Sefer Hazikoron Beis Kelm, chapter entitled Rabbim Be'eichus).

Protecting the Meager Remnant

Making the same point, HaRav Shach zt'l cites Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's statement: "I have seen people who elevate themselves spiritually and they are few in number. If there are a thousand of them, my son and I are among them; if there are a hundred, my son and I are among them. If there are two, they are my son and I." Even if the entire world deteriorates leaving only two such individuals, they must maintain their level and ignore the influence of the crushing majority opposing them. In this respect they must be like Avrohom Ovinu, who was called ho'ivri because he stood on one side, alone in his faith, opposed by the rest of the world.

Rav Shach mentions this idea in several letters. Advising someone against leaving yeshiva, he writes that "we maintain the approach of our ancestors, guarding the flask that contains a small amount that was prepared in holiness and purity, rather than the large flask that was not prepared with correct intentions" (letter dated the seventh of Tammuz 5749, Michtovim Umaamorim vol. IV).

"How the heart aches to see the trampling of that which is holy by an individual [Editor's Note: Rabbi Steinsaltz] who has been inspired by the yetzer hora to pretend to have wisdom and write a commentary to the gemora called The Elucidated and Vowelled Talmud, incorporating various explanations that are meant to make gemora study easier. Actually, such learning removes every trace of holiness and faith. It renders Shas a book of laws, like the gentiles' learning R'l. It is clear that this approach will cause Torah to be forgotten, chas vesholom. Nobody should argue that this way [by gemora being difficult] there will be fewer who learn, because our duty is to preserve the cruse of pure oil in its purity, not to add that which is impure. A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness" (letter dated erev Shabbos kodesh Pinchos 5749, ibid.)

End of Part II

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.