During HaRav Steinman's visit to the Torah communities of
the United States last fall, over five hundred educators
gathered in the beis hamedrash of Yeshivas Torah
Vodaas in Flatbush to discuss topical chinuch issues.
Many questions were put to the distinguished guest, who
provided full responses, replete with Torah guidance. The
gathering was also addressed by HaRav Yosef Rosenblum, rosh
yeshivas Shaarei Yosher in Brooklyn, one of the spokesmen for
Torah Jewry and guiding lights of Torah education in America.
His powerful address dealt with one of the pressing problems
currently affecting American Jewry, the phenomenon of
Be Happy to Have Been Chosen!
Hashem instructed Moshe Rabbenu, "Gather Me seventy men"
(Bamidbor 11:16). These men would comprise the
Sanhedrin, Klal Yisroel's future leaders. Hakodosh
Boruch Hu also told Moshe, "velokachto, take them,
to the Ohel Moed." Rashi explains that this means,
"Take them with words. Tell them, `You should be happy at
being appointed as parnassim, leaders, of Hashem's
In the same way, every Torah educator must be aware that he
is different from all those who have pursued other
professions as shoemakers, diamond polishers, real estate
brokers and the like. It is quite accurate to say that the
work of an educator is a Heaven-ordained task. Hashem decides
who will serve as an educator. Be happy that you have been
appointed to positions that carry responsibility for the
education of our generation's youth! Hashem has entrusted the
souls of Jewish children into your care. The perpetuation of
the Jewish people's heritage until Moshiach's arrival
depends on you. An educator who knows that Hashem has
specifically chosen him for this sublime task ought to
feel tremendous pride.
"You should be happy at being appointed as parnassim,
leaders of Hashem's children!" In what respect are you their
leaders? You are leading them towards eternal life!
What does providing someone with parnossoh entail?
Giving him bread and milk. Giving a Jew "bread and milk"
means giving him the means of meriting eternal life. When an
educator instills love of Hashem, love of Torah, love of
other Jews and faith into a child, he is providing him with
parnossoh. He is leading the child towards a life of
eternity. Happy are you to have merited being the ones who do
An Enormous Question
But let's do a little personal stock-taking. While we don't
have precise figures how many boys start a cheder
education each year, there are clearly many thousands —
and likewise for girls' educational institutions. How many
boys were entering Torah education ten years ago? Far fewer.
So, thousands will embark on a cheder education this
year, thousands more next year and thousands more the year
after . . .
What becomes of all these little boys another ten to fifteen
years down the line? What do the statistics show (though
again, we don't have precise numbers)? How many of these
children will remain bnei Torah? How many will be
How many young avreichim are there today in Klal
Yisroel? Several thousand in all. What percentage are
they of all those who started out on a Torah education over
the past ten to fifteen years? Clearly, less than fifty
percent! In ten years, we might have taken fifty thousand
children into Torah institutions. Does that mean that ten
years later — and we believe in Moshiach's
imminent arrival — there are fifty thousand young
kollel avreichim? If we can't answer "Yes," then what
is the explanation? What's going on?
The question can be sharpened and presented in greater depth.
Torah is called rachmono, merciful, and so is
Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The gemora says,
"Rachmono libbo bo'i (Hashem, the Merciful One, wants
a person's heart)." Take a couple who are raising a family of
ten children. There is plenty of self-sacrifice involved in
having the children and in raising them. Raising such a
family with insufficient financial means certainly requires
much self-sacrifice, but even if there is enough money, it
still calls for a lot of sacrifice.
Parents devote themselves to raising their children in the
Jewish way. They send them to good, traditional educational
institutions. They send them to learn Torah —
rachmono — under Hakodosh Boruch Hu's
protection, in Torah institutions, for this is what Hashem
wants from us and Hashem is known as Rachmono. Yet,
sad and painful though it is, after all their years of
learning in yeshivos some of those children turn out . . .
it's better not to say how. Those who are here who know
something about these matters, know what I mean.
Why does this happen? This is an enormous question. Torah is
rachmono. We learn the Torah of Hashem, who is
merciful and kind. Can this be happening precisely to those
who have had the fortune to learn Torah?
If a father sends his sons on Shabbos to a secular
neighborhood, we can understand how they might turn out like
that because they were directed along a path that led them to
become haters of Torah. But we are dealing with cases where
the parents are sincerely religious and sacrifice themselves
to give their children a pure Torah education. They send them
to learn Torah in good institutions. How can it be that some
of these children leave these places of learning, slamming
the door behind them, opposed to Torah, Rachmono
A Powerful Drug
One of these boys who left the Torah path once came to me and
told me that he wanted to go to yeshiva to learn Torah. And
he did. Boruch Hashem — a miracle!
He revealed to me that learning Torah is very difficult for
him. The antagonism towards learning that had built up within
him during his younger years makes it very difficult for him
to learn Torah today, even though he knows intellectually
that this is the best and the only true path. How awful!
How does such a thing happen? We can't absolve ourselves from
soul searching. Let us examine our doings and engage in some
Chazal say that Torah is, "an elixir of life for those who
steer to the right [i.e. they devote all their resources to
its study] while it is a potion of death for those who steer
to the left [i.e. who study it halfheartedly]." Rashi
explains that it is a potion of death for those who do not
learn Torah the way it is supposed to be learned.
Torah is like a drug — it's not a poison, chas
vesholom. Torah's influence upon the soul can be compared
to the way a drug works on the body. A drug has to be used
sensibly in order to heal a patient's ailment or it can make
his condition worse. Torah must also be used correctly for
its virtuous properties to have the desired effect.
The only way to attain eternal life and closeness to Hashem
is through Torah — "Hakodosh Boruch Hu, the
Torah and Yisroel are one entity." Torah is a force; it isn't
neutral. If it is used in the way that Hashem wants, it
brings us eternal life and can even confer prophecy. If
however, it's used incorrectly it acts as a "potion of death
for those who steer to the left" and then anything can
Allow me to relate a story that is not, choliloh,
generally representative. A young boy once told me that his
teacher doesn't like him. How did he know? He tested the
teacher by spending an entire lesson looking out of the
window instead of into his book. Not once did the teacher
call him to attention and have him look into his book. This
is an example of Torah being a "potion of death for those who
steer to the left."
Let's take another example. Often, two classmates will go
over to their teacher to ask a question. One is an
intelligent student while the other one barely grasps what is
said to him. The teacher only looks at his clever student and
doesn't even cast a glance at the other one. Here too, Torah
will act as a "potion of death."
Usually, one of two causative factors is responsible for a
child's defection from the Torah path. First, there are
heretical thoughts, alien ideologies and harmful ideas. Then
there are desires.
Boruch Hashem, there is virtually no heresy nowadays.
Before the Second World War, thousands of Yidden
veered off the Torah path because of Zionism, Communism and
other — "isms." Today Communism and Socialism are no
longer thought compelling, while Zionism has become emptied
of all content and we hope will disappear completely,
Today's yetzer hora is of the second type —
desires. "Do not go astray after your eyes and after your
hearts" (Bamidbor 15:39). When a person has no desire
to learn Torah and he feels no satisfaction from it and from
fulfilling mitzvos, he is drawn after what his eyes see and
what his heart covets. Hashem created man in such a way that
he must feel fulfillment in what he does in order to want to
achieve more and more. If a person had no urge to achieve
things he would remain unlearned all his life. He wouldn't
earn a living, he wouldn't raise a family — he simply
wouldn't do anything at all. A person who lacks the ambition
to achieve anything is a sick man. Fortunate is he who
desires to learn and who toils in Torah.
What happens to someone who doesn't occupy himself with
Torah? Where does his drive to succeed and to achieve lead
In earlier times it would lead him to heresy, to "isms" of
one sort or another. Today it leads him to pursue his heart's
desire. The Satmar Rebbe zt'l once said that we are
lucky that nowadays these are our only desires. In contrast
to heresy, the older one gets the weaker his worldly desires
grow and there is a chance that he'll repent.
If a bochur stumbles in his younger years, going after
the desires of his eyes and his heart, it is very difficult
to extract him from that situation. On the basis of
statistics that they produce, gentile psychologists —
who do not share our beliefs — argue that it is
impossible to extricate someone from such a situation. The
Torah however, tells us that it is always possible to do
teshuvoh. Even Rabbi Elozor ben Duradia repented and
was summoned by a Heavenly voice to Olom Habo.
Administering the Potion of Death
Thousands of Jewish children enter our educational
institutions each year. So many of them stray from the right
path, many because of desires and many others because of
hopelessness — they find no enjoyment or fulfillment in
their lives and they fall into depression.
Basically, both these reasons are one and the same. In both
cases, a sense of fulfillment in life is lacking. In one case
it is found in rushing after desires while in the other, the
student simply gives up. They are not victims of "the elixir
of life" but of "the potion of death." Were they to have been
shown Torah's life-giving properties and seen what it truly
is, were they to have learned the correct way, this wouldn't
have happened. In other words, children must be shown the
sweetness of Torah.
Often, when a father tests his son on Shabbos, the child
doesn't have such a good grasp of the material. It could be
because he's not relaxed enough just then and doesn't want to
be sitting with his father, or it could be because he doesn't
understand all that well, or for some other reason. On the
whole it happens because the child is not such a bright
student. The father becomes frustrated and tells his son,
"You'll end up in a yeshiva for weak students."
Later, when the child grows up, his father requests the
teacher's help in finding a suitable yeshiva for his son and
believe it or not, he is told that the only suitable place is
the very yeshiva that he feared.
But then when the son hears what has been decided for him, he
refuses to go. Why? Because his father has been drilling him
for years with the message that only students with handicaps
go there. `I am no fool', he tells himself. `I'm not crazy!'
He adamantly refuses to go there. I am personally acquainted
with one such story that actually happened. In the end, the
son left the Torah path, R'l.
Who bears the guilt in that case? The father! Because of his
pride he wanted his son to be the greatest scholar and the
greatest talmid chochom of all. What he should have
done was daven, say Tehillim, give
tzedokoh and hire the best available tutors for his
son. Even then his son might not have ended up such a great
scholar but at least he wouldn't have dropped out. He would
have remained a Torah Yid.
The father should have kissed this son and praised him for
saying over a mishnah at the Shabbos table, just like
he did to his other son who repeated a chiddush of
Rabbi Akiva Eiger. The weaker son was more deserving of
praise and encouragement than the gifted one. It was harder
for him to review a simple mishnah than it was for his
brother to repeat an intricate idea of Rabbi Akiva Eiger's.
When the gifted son told his teacher a chiddush he got
attention while the weaker one got no positive attention. In
fact, the way people related to him was one of the factors in
his throwing in the towel.
A child will only succeed if he is fortunate to have a
teacher who understands the merit of having been entrusted
with the task of educating our precious children.
Who deserves more positive encouragement? Who has worked
harder? The gifted student who has managed to repeat a
chiddush of Rabbi Akiva Eiger or the weaker one who
has put great effort into learning a mishnah? In the
first case restrained praise is called, for while in the
second, the child should be showered with enthusiastic praise
and his efforts should be applauded.
When a person arrives in the World of Truth after one hundred
and twenty years, will he receive a greater reward for having
known more or for having been cleverer? Chas vesholom!
Whoever thinks that that is Hashem's way, denies Him.
The Torah Home
Two Jewish — and chareidi — women who are old
friends, meet and discuss their children, grandchildren and .
. . their husbands. One says to the other, "How can you
compare your husband to mine? My husband is the godol
hador while yours is a plain businessman. There's no
What this woman has done is tantamount to shedding blood!
Literally murder! Not only has she broken her friend's heart
but who knows what she has done to her domestic harmony? But
this lady doesn't care; she isn't interested. All that
interests her is her pride. And there are many such
The Chasam Sofer ztvk'l, married when he was twenty-
four or twenty-five years old. When his son Rav Shimon once
asked him why he married at such an advanced age his father
explained that he had looked for a woman who would support
him so that he would be able to continue learning. The Chasam
Sofer learned with tremendous application; he would learn
straight through for twenty-four hours. When he was
approximately twenty-four, he married the widow of a
talmid chochom. After twenty years together they had
had no children but it never occurred to him to divorce her,
so great was his desire to continue learning. His wife had a
very wealthy brother who promised to support his sister and
brother-in-law all their lives. That way, the Chasam Sofer
was able to continue learning without becoming encumbered by
the yoke of earning a livelihood.
As sometimes happens, the brother-in-law's fortunes underwent
a reversal and he lost his entire fortune. Nevertheless, he
continued sending the fixed weekly allowance to the Chasam
Sofer's home. One Friday night the Chasam Sofer noticed that
his wife was not wearing her Shabbos kerchief. When he asked
her why, she replied that she had sold it so that her brother
could have challos and wine for his own Shabbos table.
When the Chasam Sofer heard this, he decided that from then
on he wouldn't accept another penny from his brother-in-
What did he subsequently live on? There were no
kollelim in those days and no welfare grants. If one
didn't have food to eat, one would simply starve to death. We
would expect that he accepted a rabbinical position. However,
he refused to turn his Torah into a means of earning a
livelihood. Instead he went and tried to train to become a
tailor — only he wasn't successful and was told that he
was too old to learn that craft. Only then did he take on a
What a wealth of instruction there is in this story! We can
see what it means to be a ben Torah, what seeking a
shidduch involves, what a ben Torah's wife
should be . . . and how bnei Torah live their
In seeking a shidduch, a person should consider how he
will be able to continue learning without distractions and
worries. The girl's pedigree is irrelevant. All that matters
is how he will be able to continue learning. The Chasam Sofer
married a widow in order to be able to continue learning, and
we see that she sold her Shabbos scarf so that her husband
would be able to carry on learning. The fact that she said
nothing to him about having sold her Shabbos attire makes her
deed all the greater.
If we educated our children properly, fewer children would
have left the path. If our children grew up in homes where
peace and harmony reign, where Shabbos is honored, where
parents speak to their children lovingly, where the
distinction of talmidei chachomim is demonstrated to
children — if we live our lives like the Chasam Sofer
and the Chazon Ish zt'l lived theirs — these
things wouldn't happen. A child who grows up in such a home
doesn't succumb to hopelessness even if he isn't capable of
repeating a chiddush of Rabbi Akiva Eiger's, because
he knows that he can attain his own personal portion in
Pride and Prejudice
And there's something else: this week someone came over to me
and told me that he's about to go and learn in a prestigious
yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel but he doesn't know whether he'll be
successful because he isn't really a proper part of the
chevra there. When I asked him why, he replied that he
doesn't feel all that comfortable in the company of the other
bochurim in the group.
The Torah teaches us that someone who isn't friendly towards
a ger transgresses thirty-six Torah prohibitions.
What about someone who isn't friendly towards a ben
Such a person transgresses the entire Torah!
How can someone have the brazenness to say about a ben
Torah, "I can't be his friend; he's from a different
yeshiva. I have nothing to do with him," and such talk? This
is turning Torah into "a potion of death for those who steer
to the left!"
Torah becomes "a potion of death" when it is learned as a
profession. Torah isn't a profession and it doesn't turn us
into professors. Torah comes from Hashem and is supposed to
be learned like the Rishonim and the Acharonim learned it. If
a father threatens his son that if he doesn't learn he'll
find himself in this or that type of yeshiva, it's because he
wants his son to become a professor. He feels that if that
doesn't happen, his son won't have enough status in
This isn't the way that Jew learns Torah. Torah isn't a
profession. You might mistakenly think that your son is the
one with the problem but the truth is that the problem is
yours. Yes, you might have a good head but you still might
not be learning Hakodosh Boruch Hu's Torah. You're
engaged in Talmud studies and since your son is finding it
difficult to become a professor — a Talmudist —
you murder him. You're not a ben Torah. You're
Orthodox; you're dati — you're a Talmudist.
And what about those two women discussing their husbands?
Clearly, the first one's husband is a greater Talmudist than
the husband of the second one, because he knows how to learn
better. But does that necessarily mean that he's a ben
Torah? If we raise our children in the way that Hashem
wants us to, this would not happen.
In the parsha of Ve'ato sechezeh (Shemos
18:21), Rabbenu Bachye notes that we find praises of
tzaddikim in the Torah. For example, in the cases of
Noach, Avrohom Ovinu, Yaakov Ovinu — how does the Torah
praise them? For their wisdom? For their intellect or
understanding? When the Torah speaks in praise of a
tzaddik it only speaks about his character and nothing
We are told, "Noach was a righteous man, perfect in his
generations" (Bereishis 6:9). Avrohom Ovinu was told,
"Be perfect [in fear of Hashem] (ibid. 17:1)." Yaakov
Ovinu was "a guileless man" (ibid. 25:27) and Moshe
Rabbenu was "humbler than any man" (Bamidbor 12:3).
The Torah doesn't mention intellect.
If a person learns Torah the way he is supposed to learn it,
and derives good character traits from it, he will attain its
ultimate goal — Torah greatness, blessing and success.
May we indeed all merit raising our children to learn Torah
with pure motivation.