Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Nissan 5765 - April 20, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
How to Prevent Teenage Dropouts from the Torah Community

A shmuess by HaRav Yosef Rosenblum, rosh yeshivas Shaarei Yosher, America

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 dropouts.

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 children.' "

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 this!

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 talmidei chachomim?

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 litzlan?!

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 probing.

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 happen.

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."

No Vacuum

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, be'ezras Hashem.

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 him?

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 comparison whatsoever."

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 stories.

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- law.

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 rabbinical position.

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 lives.

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 Torah.

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 Torah?

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 society.

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 else.

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.

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