Friday, August 18, 2006

Kollel I

Nobody said you can't learn and work - there's nothing wrong with it. But 8 hours a day more for learning is of course that much better.

"Talmud Torah kneged kulam" - Learning Torah is the greatest Mitzvah of all.

Chazal often mention that Toroso Umnoso is the ideal, that we do nothing all day but learn. Nowadays poskim say that we cannot reach that level, but clearly the closer the better. Also, Shulchan Aruch Hilchos Toalmud Torah, in the Shach ad loc, says that nowadays learning all day is the ideal, and that if someone has the ability to do it, he should.

Why did the Rambam and other Gedolim work, then?

This question is asked, and answered:

Because the Rambam filled himself with Torah, became the Rambam, and then "sprinkled" a bit of philosophy into his curriculum. See Rashba Teshuvos I:414, Chosid Yaavetz in Ohr HaChaim 10, the Rambam himself is quoted indicating this. Also Shach, laws of Talmud Torah. This is stated regarding why the Rambam learned philosophy.

The Shach adds that regarding learning all day in general, nowadays we cannot reach our potential in learning the way the Rambam etc. did, since we are not on that level. Therefore, we should learn all day if we can.

Furthermore, the Rambam writes that a "working person" is someone who learns 8 hours a day and works 3. Not the Rambam nor any of the others frequently mentioned worked 9 to 5, or close to it.

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Talmud Torah K'neged Kulam means always. There is no such thing as a "proper time" for learning, or, as your statement would necessitate, an "improper time". The Gemora says that only during a time when "it is not day or night" is the time for learning "not proper."

It's not a question of right or wrong. The Halachah, as explained by the Ohr Sameach in Hilchos Talmud Torah, is that everyone has to learn an amount according to his level. The more a person understands the value of learning, the more time he must spend on it.

But it's not a question of Halachah, not l'chatchilah not b'dieved. It's simply this: If I showed you a pile of coins and gave you 1 hour to collect as much as you can, you would spend as much time gathering the gold as you could.

Torah is the greatest Mitzvah - one word of Torah, Chazal say, is more holy than an entire lifetime of doing Mitzvos.

And we have one lifetime to gather our gold. Someone who appreciates that doesn't care if he is halachicly obligated of not. Everyone agrees that learning Torah is gold. Even if you are not halachicly obligated to run after it.

Or look at it this way: You can be "dedicated" to your wife by treating her nicely and buying her a present on her birthday.

But what about someone who buys her roses every single day? And spends every minute he can trying to make her happy.

Ah! What a relationship that would theoretically be.

You can be "dedicated" to learning by allocating an hour here and there to it. And you may not break any laws. You're not a neglectful husband.

But then there are those who are interested in more than that . . .

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Rav Schwab says "ailu v'ailu divrei elokim chayim" - that there are those who hold that learning all day is best for the most amount of people, and others - like where he comes from - that Torah Im Derech Eretz is the ideal. He says both are legitimate.

However, elsewhere he questions what Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch would say is the best approach today. He points out that when Rav SRH supported TIDE it was in a time when the rest of the world was learning all day. In a world with a powerful, robust and healthy Torah-only majority, Rav SRH felt comfortable creating a TIDE community as well, to deal with needs that the Torah Only camp could not. But where the Torah-Only world itself needs to be strengthened, would Rav Hirsch stress TIDE?

He doesn't answer that question.

But Rav Hirsch wasn't talking about working vs. learning. He was talking about whether it is useful to have secular knowledge, and if so, how much, and why. Working vs. learning is a totally different issue, though related.

And there are clear statements in the Chazal, Rambam and Shulchan Aruch that nobody disagrees with, including Rav Hirsch or Rav Schwab, that learning all day is superior to working.

Even Mordechai, who had to close his Gemora to save Klall Yisroel during the Purim episode, the Gemora says went down in his level because he was busy saving Klall Yisroel instead of learning!!!

This does not mean that one should learn when Klall Yisroel is in danger. But rather, it would have been a big Zechus for Mordechai if Hashem would have chosen a different way to foil Haman's plan, one that did not involve him having to close his Gemora for a while. But because of some imperfection in Mordechai, Hashem did not allow him to be Zocheh to learning all day as he wanted, but rather "forced" Mordechai to go out and save the world. It could have been a lot worse - Hashem could have forced Mordechai to close the Gemora and NOT save the world. But it could have been better. Mordechai could have been able to learn peacefully and not been recruited to save the world.

So if even Mordechai went down in madreigah because of having to learn less temporarily in order to save all of Klall Yisroel, imagine how much more learning all day is worth as opposed to spending your entire life selling cell phones, or practicing law...

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On The Reasons for Learning Full Time
Talmud Torah K'neged Kulam means always. There is no such thing as a "proper time" for learning, or, as your statement would necessitate, an "improper time". The Gemora says that only during a time when "it is not day or night" is the time for learning "not proper." It's not a question of right or wrong. The Halachah, as explained by the Ohr Sameach in Hilchos Talmud Torah, is that everyone has to learn an amount according to his level. The more a person understands the value of learning, the more time he must spend on it.

But it's not a question of Halachah, not l'chatchilah not b'dieved. It's simply this: If I showed you a pile of coins and gave you 1 hour to collect as much as you can, you would spend as much time gathering the gold as you could.

Torah is the greatest Mitzvah - one word of Torah, Chazal say, is more holy than an entire lifetime of doing Mitzvos.

And we have one lifetime to gather our gold. Someone who appreciates that doesn't care if he is halachicly obligated of not. Everyone agrees that learning Torah is gold. Even if you are not halachicly obligated to run after it.

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What To Expect of Your (Kollel) Husband


Please note: You are not going to marry Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz.

You are going to marry a guy. He may be a Kollel guy, but a guy nonetheless. 22, 23 years old guys are not finished products. He will not talk, walk, think, or behave like Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz.

He may come late to shachris. That is not a sign that he is "not cut out for Kollel", nor is it a sign that he is a "faker". Your Kollel husband may be a struggling human being just like you or anybody else. The Shiva yipol tzdik v'kam principal will apply to him too. Your job is to give this raw diamond the encouragement, support, and help him grow into the great person that he can be.

You are not his Mashgiach. You are his helper. There is no third role. It's either "ezer" - a helper, or "kenegdo" - an opponent. You are one or the other.

Guys need wives to help them grow, to get them through their struggles, to pick them up when they fall, to encourage them and believe in them. Not to be their mothers or mashgichim or supervisors.

If every yeshiva guy that came late to davening, or shmoozed with his chavrusa now and then in the middle of seder, or wasn't the biggest masmid in the world was made to leave Yeshiva, you would have many of today's Roshei Yeshiva, Rabbanim, Rebbeim, and Talmidei Chachamim, doing computers or something.

I grew up with many of these people, and trust me on this. You cannot predict the final outcome of a person based on a minute-to-minute assessment of how precise he is about being where he’s supposed to be on time or the length of time he spends in Yeshiva without going to the coffee room.

There are other yardsticks, which are much more meaningful when judging the odds of a young man becoming great. These go more in the direction of the intensity of his thirst for learning, his desire to become great, his valuing of greatness and his commitment to pursue it. His values and dreams and desires are, at that point in his life, more telling than his attendance records.

Girls tend to assess their husbands in terms of discipline; the husbands assess themselves based on their growth, which may or may not be proportionate to their discipline.

And the husbands were taught all their life to assess themselves like that, because that is how their Rebbeim assessed them - in terms of potential and commitment and desire.

The goal of a Kolell man is to grow and become the biggest Talmid Chacham he can. Often, husbands and wives are not on the same page regarding what is considered vital to that endeavor, at least while someone is in his growing stages.

Girls often think that (a) their husbands are already complete products when they are just married and (b) they assess their husband's value as a Ben Torah by their discipline, which is just one small ingredient in the recipe.

The first thing to know is, you are not marrying Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz.

The second thing is, even Rebitzen Shmuelevitz didn't marry Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz. It takes many many years to become R. Chaim Shmuelevitz. He struggled too. We all do.

Rav Hutner's letter describes how it is sad that we don’t realize how much our Gedolim struggled to become Gedolim, and in how many battles the Yetzer Horah defeated the Chofetz Chaim, for instance, before he became the Chofetz Chaim, also applies to young men in Kollel.

Or, more accurately, young guys in Kollel.

One of the reasons for this disconnect between the girls' ideas of what Bnei Torah should be versus the Bnei Torahs' ideas, is that girls go to school where they have role models, and they tend to think that the boys' role models are kind of male versions of their own. So for instance, they figure they know of a big rebitzen, and they figure a Rosh yeshiva is a male version of their rebitzens.

But it's not so. The Rebitzen, no matter how old and wise and talented she is, received her formal Judaic training in high school and a year or 2 of seminary. Full time education for women does not go beyond that. And that is altogether not a problem - women have the responsibility of raising a family and learning is not their full time job. Fine. But we must understand that creating a role model for Yeshiva guys -- a Rosh Yeshiva -- takes years and years and years of hard work, in Yeshiva, going to Shiurim, learning b'chavrusa, full time, and more.

So when a girl is married to a guy with a few years Bais Medrash experience under his belt, she sometimes thinks that he's already supposed to be a big role model, like her rebitzens. But it doesn’t work that way. The trajectory that guys follow to greatness is so different than that of girls. And if you want to be able to understand where your guy is coming from, you need to know his path to growth.

Guys use completely different benchmarks of success and growth than girls do. And if you’re using a girls standards on a guy, it’s like measuring a liquid in inches or distance by the pound.

I have sadly seen so many guys being labeled as "fakers" or "not cut out for learning" by their wives simply because they did not know how to assess what it takes to be "cut out for learning".

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Those who are not really learning are a small minority. Un-noticeable and insignificant when compared to those that are for real. It is a plain blood libel against Kollel guys to say "how many do you know" that are for real.

It is true that Kollel has become the "in" thing, but so has religion. Does that mean you shouldn’t be religious?

They’re doing good things, the Kollel people. They deserve praise, not suspicious accusations.

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As far as luxuries, there are those opinions that it is proper even to live quite comfortably while learning. I assume one reason would be because it takes the stress off of it, and those doing such delicate and important work don’t need stress or discomfort getting in the way, but another reason brought down in the Kovod of the Torah - like a Kohen Gadol, who lived like that.

The Gemora says that women merit the great reward for Torah by assisting their husbands and children in their learning. Women themselves are exempt from Torah learning. The fact that they make birchas hatorah has several explanations in the poskim. The most famous is that of the Bais Halevi, which actually precedes him greatly - it is in the smag - that Birchas hatorah has nothing to do with the obligation to learn Torah, but rather it is a brachah on the act of learning itself, analogous to the brachah on an apple, lets say. Even if it is not a mitzvah to eat an apple, you still make the brachah. As far as the text of the brachah mentioning it being a mitzvah and obligation, that is referring to all of klall yisroel in general, not the specific person making the blessing.

The reason we learn is not just to perform - learning has a value in its own right. The issue of lilmod al menas laasos is that the fulfillment of your learning by practicing what you preach validates the earning and means it is real. If someone learns and does not do mitzvos, that means his learning is bogus.

But in the end of the day, it is the learning that is more valuable. The mitzvos are a condition to the validity of the learning.

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The only thing "not cut out for learning" means is, unwilling to make the sacrifice. Although some people are unable to learn all day due to parnasa reasons, or other reasons, an intrinsic nature or intellect that is not suited to learning - which is what "not cut out for learning" means - does not exist.

Even if someone is not very bright, he can still accomplish a lot in learning. Not everyone has to be Rav Chaim Ozer. All you have to do is your best.


NOTE: The fact that in the olden days people like the Rambam were able to become great Gedolim and still maintain regular employment has already been discussed in the poskim as an unrealistic expectation for us nowadays. Today, we can’t do both - halvai we should be able to make gedolim by learning all day, never mind part time.

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Even though it is definitely important to utilize your time properly, it is also true that the more you learn the more Mitzvah you get - each and every additional word of Torah you learn makes a substantial change in your Neshoma's madreigah - and that there is a big difference between learning Torah, and becoming a Godol BaTorah or a Talmid Chacham, which you cannot do by learning daf yomi only.

We cannot compare ourselves to the shevatim. Them going to work and us going to work are two different things. Each of the shevatim were great Neviim, able to resurrect the dead in an instant. They learned more torah in their minds during every moment that their arms and legs were working, than a great Torah scholar can today, during his entire lifetime in the Bais HaMedrash.

The Belzer Rebbe ZT"L explained that when the Gemorah describes the merit of earning a living it uses the phrase "haneheneh m'yegias kapoh" - someone who makes a living form the work of "his hands". Meaning, said the Sar Sholom of Belz ZT"L, while his hands are working, he has his mind free for learning.

For us to take direction, we must look into the Halachah, which was written for us, rather than apply to us principles that applied to great prophets. And in the Halacha - Shulchan Aruch Hilchos Talmud Torah, and Shach ad loc - it is clear that it is a great Mitzvah to learn all day even if you have to be supported by the community.

The reason is because even though you are able to learn some Torah and work also, to become a Godol BaTorah or a Talmid Chacham - in other words, to reach your potential in learning, you must learn more than Daf Yomi.

The Rambam writes that each and every Jew who wants to join the "tribe of Levi" today - or adapt their lifestyle at least - and learn all day and do nothing else, gets a tremendous merit.

It's a simple idea. Look at it this way:

Let's imagine Klall Yisroel was needed doctors. Without the doctors, people would die. But the problem is, medical school is unaffordable and time consuming, which makes producing doctors prohibitive. Also, being a doctor does not bring in any money (in our imaginary world). So Klall Yisroel sets up people who will donate money to support people going through medical school and while they act as doctors, so that our sick can be cured.

Now imagine someone objecting to this system. "Hey!" they will say. "Let these doctors go out and make a living! All the shevatim made a living! Why should the community support these people? Why should they live off Tzadakah?"

Of course, you would say such protesters are nuts. These people are (1) vital to our community, and (2) earning their pay as much as anyone else due to their service that they provide, and (3) it should be an honor to support the existence of such people.

Well, the existence of Gedolei Torah are more vital to our people than doctors and it should be the responsibility of every Jew to provide the means for them to exist. And whereas a certain amount of doctors are sufficient, the more Gedolei Torah we have, the better it is for Klall Yisroel.

So, as the Rambam says, anyone can volunteer for the privilege of being a savior of Klall Yisroel.

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The Jewish community does not seem ignorant and foolish even to the most secular gentile, even in the most Chassidic, non-English speaking circles. One's lack of interest or need in speaking English does not reflect on one's intelligence, and the Goyim understand that as well. It is merely the Yezter Horah that creates a feeling of embarrassment or inferiority when your fellow Jews are not as "secular" as you are.

Secondly, Yeshiva students are constantly attaining higher scores on standard secular studies tests than public school students, on the average. That includes PSAT, SAT, and, in New York, Regents. Yeshiva students go on to become doctors, lawyers, and yes, writers, and the colleges are happy when a Yeshiva student applies, because in general, they are quality students.

There is nothing lacking in our Yeshivas' education.

In Egypt, the Jews were redeemed because they did not speak the language of the land. There is no Mitzvah to speak English if someone does not want to. And there is certainly no Mitzvah to speak the Queen's English.

We need to focus our energies more on Torah and Mitzvos, not on stuff that, after 120 years, will make no difference anyway.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

About the Rambam - I don't understand. I read a letter of his and he was really clear about how he worked so hard, all day, doing his secular job, that he could barely move by the end, and only then he would study Torah. He indicates that was his entire life, so why would he only advocate 3 hours a day of work?

6:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think the Rambam had much of a choice as to how long he had to work. Didn't he work for a sultan or something also?

7:18 PM  
Anonymous taon said...

He was talking about how much an "average" Jew worked back then. The Rambam's own case was different, he wasn't in a position to cut his hours shorter. But he did say it's better to learn full time if you can.

7:58 PM  

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