Friday, August 18, 2006

Kollel II

In Eretz Yisroel, the government sponsors many basic living expenses, such as medical insurance and some other basic necessities. Also, the standard of living is more restrained than in America. It's easier not to have a lot when most everyone is in the same boat as you. The biggest expense in Israel for a Kollel family is the dirah, and often that is provided by his or her parents. But often that is not the case, and more effort is sometimes needed to get a place to live. Lately, new neighborhoods have opened up in Eretz Yisroel, such as Beth Shemesh, Kiryat Sefer, and Beitar, where housing is more reasonable than in Yerushalayim proper.

It's not simple, but so much of the country is based on the Kollel life that the society itself usually ends up working things out to accommodate it.

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If you said you wanted to become a doctor and find the cure to cancer, would anyone object?

Even if it means living off research grants?

Do you think that doctors should not accept research grants, or that they should choose other professions because if they chose the research field they would have to live off someone's donations?

Or would they feel that finding the cure to cancer is worth it, and since research grants are the only way to do it, then more power to you?

Why is it that to find the cure to cancer, you can live off "donations", or to run a social service agency where you feed the poor people of Africa, which survives from donations, but the holy work of learning Torah is not good enough to deserve doing it by donation?

And what kind of donation is this anyway? If I pay you because I think what you are doing benefits me, you, and the world, then you are a paid worker, not a recipient of charity.

So if I pay you to dance for me or to be my personal trainer in fitness or my nutritionist, that’s OK, right?

But if I pay you to learn Torah, to provide me with the eternal merit of Talmud Torah ala Yissachar and Zevulun that’s not acceptable?

If I provide you with a healthier body then you can pay me - if I was your chauffeur I would be entitled to payment, but if I provide you with a ride to Olam Habah that’s nothing?

Go ask a Zionist why they allow the State of Israel to exist based on the donations of people in chutz la'aretz, including United States grants and loans. Ask him if he has a problem with UJA funds going to build the land, or donations going to buy bullet proof vests for soldiers. Then point out that if not for the support of donations, Israel would not survive a week.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the United States will have spent over $90 billion by the end of this year in foreign aid to Israel.

Ninety billion dollars means dollars cash for every single person living in America; with that money you could purchase every single sports team in existence: baseball, basketball, football and hockey - all of them (according to Forbes, it would run you about 22 billion, so you'll have enough left to buy yourself some skyscrapers too); according to Save the Children, it takes around $240 a year to save one child in a poor country - with $3 billion you could save twelve and a half million children - more than double the entire Jewish population of Israel, or, if you prefer, $3 billion could buy you over 8,000 Rolls Royces.

$3 billion is also more than the annual economy (GDP) of over 25% of all the countries in the world (55 out of 173 countries in the entire world).

Each year, Israel receives $3 billion dollars from the U.S. making it, a country of six million people, the largest foreign recipient of American taxpayer dollars.

Ask a Zionist who preaches that all Jews should come live in Israel, if all Jews would live in Israel, who would support them all????

They will invariably answer you that Israel's survival maintenance and flourishing is a vital concern that supersedes all of the above concerns, and if currently the only way it can survive is by being the biggest shnorror country in the world, if that's what it takes then that’s what we will do.

And they will answer to the question of who would support Israel if all the Jews moved there, that that is not our concern; that G-d provides for the Jews when they do the right thing, and Aliyah is a greater cause that should not be impeded because of such theoretical problems. Who know what will happen, they will say, if all Jews make aliyah? Maybe Moshiach will come and we won’t have a problem!

They will tell you that Israel is vital for the Jewish survival and that its survival is a must-have, and after that is secured, we will worry about the lesser concerns.

Well, it used to be, in times far more lofty and Torah oriented than these, that this attitude was directed at a different entity, that Jews felt was so vital to our existence that at all costs it must survive and flourish - and that used to be learning Torah!

We used to realize - and unfortunately some modernists lost this fundamental Torah belief - that it is the Torah learning of the Torah scholars that keep us safe; that is the most vital commodity to Jewish survival; that bring holiness and blessing and Divine Influence and peace and prosperity into the world, and that it must be supported no matter what!

Every single extra little kid - or adult - that learns every single little extra line of Gemora changes the world for the better.

Like finding the cure to cancer, like providing bullet-proof vests to soldiers, like marrying off orphans and supporting widows.

Like giving life to klall yisroel.

Ask someone what he would say if you were looking for a partner to open an organization dedicated to helping treat cancer victims. You will do the medical and social part and you are looking for a partner to do the administrative/fundraising part.

Would be object to that?

And if you and he decided to create such an organization it would be OK.

Then tell him that your organization will not only help cancer patients but it will also provide for poor people; that it will also marry off orphans; that it will support widows; that it will provide homeless Jews with places to live; that it will provide funerals for those who unfortunately have nobody to bury them; that it will also teach people how to pray to G-d for everything they need; that it will do all that and more.

Just you two can accomplish all that. You figured out a way, and you’re going to dedicate your life to it.

And after he praises the altruism and idealism that he sees in you, then tell him:
Hachnosas orchim / bikur cholim / hachnasas kallah / levayas hames / gemilus chasadim are big mitzvos, but...

...talmud torah kneged kulam!

And as chazal say, one word of Torah is higher than an entire lifetime of doing these Mitzvos.

And then tell him that you have such an organization set up. You and this person.

You do the social part, and he/she will do the administrative part.

The Yezter Horah knows where to focus his energies. And so he would rather see thousands of social service organizations opening rather than one Torah student. Because although Mitzvos and Chesed are hated by the Satan, Talmud Torah is hated even more!

And so the Satan will try to generate within us a hashkofo that says: Any cause in the world it is OK to have someone support, except Torah learning.

The kids of Kollel couples do fine. While it's true that it's great to have a mother at home, it’s also great for the child to have a father who’s a talmid chacham. It happens all the time, and Kollel couples don’t have problems with their children because of it. It's a trade-off ; it's good when the kids see that their parents are idealistic and self-sacrificing for Torah.

If you have nobody to support you, there are still ways to learn, such as Kollelim that pay well plus the wife working. It can usually be done; the question is for how long.

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"Living off tzedakah" has nothing to do with kollel people. This is a common error. Tzedakah means that I give you money for no other reason that you need it - I do not demand anything in return for my donation. If I do demand something in return for my donation, it is not a donation but payment for services rendered. So if I pay you to entertain me, to be my personal trainer, to sing and dance for me, to be my baby sitter, you are not a baby sitter living off charity, but rather a paid worker. And so the statements about people living off tzedakah refer to people who are given money because they are poor, with no expectation from the donor that they learn, or work, or sleep, or do whatever they want. However, if someone gives money to you because he wants to merit the zechus of supporting Torah, and expects you to learn Torah because that is what he is supporting you to do, then that is not tzedakah at all but rather a simple business deal, the same as if I pay you to play baseball.

If I give you tzedakah money because you are poor, and you sit home all day watching television, then you may be an unproductive member of society but you are not a theif - I gave you tezdakah for food, and you are spending it on food. It was my choice to do that.

But if I give you money to learn in Kollel and you stay home all day watching TV, then you are a thief, because you took money specifically to learn and you did not keep your end of the bargain.

Thus, taking money for learning in Kollel is NOT living of tzedakah. Since I, the recipient, must provide something in return for payment received, that is a simple business deal.

If I do NOT have to provide anything in return for payment received, that is Tzedakah.

Since Kollel people must learn Torah in return for the payments they receive, they are NOT living at all off Tzedakah. Not any more than any person who renders services for payment received.

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Kollel people don’t live off Maaser money. They live off Kollel checks and support from their parents.

And for the record, the Halachah is that you are nowadays ALLOWED to live off Tzedakah to learn (see the Ramah and Shach in Hilchos Talmud Torah).
The maaser goes to the Yeshiva. The Yeshiva pays the Kollel. The Maaser is only going to them in return for and under the condition that they learn. This is not living off Tzedakah. This is a receipt of money in exchange for doing something, which is not the same as living off Tzadakah. This is providing a service that is considered valuable to those who provide the payment. It is no different than a singer getting money to sing or a baseball player getting money to play. The fact that you are allowed to use your maaser to support these fellows is no different than the fact that you are allowed to use your maaser to support Tzedakah organizations that pay fundraisers, administrators and other workers. Maaser is not the same as Tzedakah. Nobody would consider the head of Hatzolah as someone who "lives off tzedakah" even though he is paid through donations given to the organization. The same thing applies to someone who learns, and because he learns, is supported by whatever source, including maaser.

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Someone in Lakewood once expressed to Rav Schenuer Kotler ZTL about how if he stays in Kollel his children will be deprived of many things they would have otherwise. Rav Schenuer responded that providing them with a father who is a Talmid Chacham is more important than any of those things. And he should think hard before depriving them of that.

Yes, a woman's place is at home.

But also yes, the type of home you are supposed to have is a Torah home, a Torah-husband and Torah-father at its helm.

The question is, if you can only have one of those two positive elements of a home, which is more important?

The answer is having a husband and father who is a Talmid Chacham, or better yet, the biggest Talmid Chacham he can be, is the more important of the two.

So if you can have both, fine; if not, then we choose learning.

This is not considered making a "compromise" in religion, since either way you will have to give up something - the only question is what has to give.

Furthermore, there is a special concept surrounding the Mitzvah of learning that does not apply to any other Mitzvah, a concept that affects both Halachah and Hashkafa, that is, Torah learning in the world is so important that we prioritize Torah learning in a way that we would never do with other Mitzvos.

For instance, normally, if you have a choice between you doing a Mitzvah or you causing someone else to do a Mitzvah, we say chayecha kodem - your Mitzvah comes first. So if you can afford one pair of Tefillin, you use it yourself as opposed to giving it away to someone else. However, with regard to Torah learning, the Halachah is that if a father can afford one Rebbi, either for him or his son, if his son has potential to be a Talmid Chacham, he should give the Rebbi to his son, and forgo his own learning. Such an idea exists nowhere except regarding Torah learning.

Another for instance: Living off Tzedakah is frowned upon in the Torah. However, the Shach writes that nowadays, if the only way you will be able to learn is to live of the public, then it would be an aveirah not to do so, because how else will we have the maximum amount of Talmdei Chachamim in the world?

I would suspect that all this is a derivative of the Halachah of Eis Laasos - that with regard to the laws of Torah learning, in order to maintain Torah at its maximum strength, we jettison other Halachos. Eis Laasos applies only to the laws of Torah learning, not to anything else.

In any case, in the recipe of a Torah lifestyle, Torah learning is all the way on the top of the list. And although it is true that kol kevudah bas melech penimah, and a woman's place is with her children, an even greater merit than all that is when a woman is moser nefesh so that her home will be graced with as much of the light of Torah as possible.

Here's another one:

Kollel life isn’t just about learning vs. working. You’re talking about a father who is home in time to prepare for Shabbos; who is there on Chol Hamoed dressed in his Shabbos clothing, together with his children; you’re talking about a chodesh elul being a real elul - a preparation for yomim norayim. You’d be surprised how hard it is for working people to make aseres yemei teshuva into aseres yemei teshuva. The mincah minyan at work goes just as fast - everyone has to get back to their cubes; erev Yom Kippur - do you take a day off or not? Rushing home erev Shabbos in the winter on the train or in the car and barely making it in time for candle lighting, as opposed to the learning man who can properly prepare for the Coming of the Shabbos Queen.

You’re talking about someone who, instead of being exposed to the idle chit-chat of the men and women in his office - and "idle chit chat" is being very nice about it - is engrossed all day in kedushas HaTorah.

Yes, you may not be able to go shopping as much as you like, but there are other, this-worldly benefits that, to those who have them, more than make up for that.

It is a very, very, very different life.

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Yes, the Kesuba says the man is obligated to support his wife, as do Chazal. But that's a financial debt of husband to his wife, and so if she agrees to forgo it because Torah is more important to her, then he is no longer bound to it. So if the wife insists that the husband support her, he has to --- that all it says in the Kesuba, and in the rest of those places. But if the wife says, "I don't want your money -- keep it! Give me Torah instead!", then her merit is that much greater because of what she gave up.

And as far as the Rambam goes, first, the Rambam in hilchos shmita 13:13 writes that any individual has the right to choose nowadays to be like what shevet levi was in the olden days, i.e. devoted to Torah and not work. He says such a person is a Kiddush Hashem.

Second, the Rambam is talking about taking tzedakah from the tzibur rather than working. There is a major difference between that and Kollel (especially if the wife is working to support the husband, where no charity is involved).

Third, the Rambam states that a working person works 3 hours a day and learns 8 hours a day. That is the "normative" life of a baal habayis according to the Rambam. That's not one of the options in our life. So the Ramabm is irrelevent.

Fourth, we don't pasken shailos straight from the Rambam. We must see what the shulchan aruch and poskim accepted or rejected from the Rambam. And in Shulchan Aruch and posim it is clear that the Rambam that says a person should not take tzedakah in order to learn is NOT binding l'halachah. More, it states that even if the Rambam is right we cannot apply the Rambam because of ais laasos, meaning, whereas in the Rambams days it was not unlikely to become a talmid chacham and work at the same time, nowadays it is very much so, and therefore we must do whatever we can in order to produce talmidei chachamim, even if it means living off charity.

So as I said, for many reasons, the "sources" aren't sources at all.

And there's more: The advantages of Kollel aren't just learning vs. working -- see my post referenced above, that Kollel life is a much more Torah lifestyle than that of a baal habayis. The chick-chock quick mincha that the working person has to often go through to get back to his cubicle in time; the ability to focus on Elul as Elul, aseres yemei teshuva as aseres yemei teshuva; the dubious spirituality of the office environemnt (even most "frum" offices) versus the holy atmosphere of the Bais hamedrash --- there are so many plusses in learning all day over working, especially nowadays.

So the issue is not what’s permitted or prohibited -- you are permitted to work, no question. And so, nobody is "denigrating" or putting down in any way, working people. No way. But no matter how you cut it, learning is a much, much higher level.

The Kesuva is a financial debt. Like any financial debt, the creditor can say “keep it.” So the wife can say “Keep your money. Even though I can bring you to court to demand support, Torah learning is more important to me than the money, so you sit and learn.”

The debt is always officially there, but she has no obligation to ever collect it, if she doesn’t want to. She may feel there are more valuable things her husband can bring home than money, although if she wants to demand money instead of learning, he has to give it to her.

And it doesn’t say he has to “earn a living”. It says he has to provide for her. Meaning, if his parents or hers, for instance, supply him with provisions that he passes on to her, he has fulfilled his obligation. It doesn’t say HOW he must obtain the provisions. Merely that he has to make sure she’s taken care of.

The statement “b’zayas apecha tocah lechem” “By the sweat of your brow shall you eat bread” was a curse, not an obligation or an ethical instruction. And it is said regarding the way mankind lives in general, not directed at each individual. Nobody is bound to be part of the curse if he is fortunate enough to avoid it. If you win the lottery you have no obligation not to retire. And if you have a way to exist in Kollel, you have no obligation to go to work.

Besides, someone learning in Kollel is fulfilling the curse anyway, since he has to learn in Kollel in order to receive whatever support he is getting. Why is he worse than a baseball player who people are willing to pay money to see him play? This man has people willing to pay money to see him learn. As long as you have to DO something rather than just sit in Gan Eden like Adam did, you are fulfilling the curse.

And the truth is that someone who learns is providing the world with much more than someone who is merely a Certified Public Accountant. Someone who recognizes the value of Torah in the world and is fortunate enough to find a Kollel guy to invest his money in, reaps much more profit than someone who invests his money in the stock market.

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There are not enough Rebbi jobs for every Kollel guy to have one; plus, there are advantages of learning over being a Rebbi. Rav Aharon Kotler ZT"L, in his hesped on the Chazon Ish, said that the Chazon Ish is greater than him (Rav Aharon) because he (Rav Aharon) runs a Yeshiva and deals with Talmidim whereas the Chazon Ish spends all his time learning. Supporting Kollel people is not a burden - it is a privilege. Each person who learns all day brings into the world infinite holiness and influence from Above, and for that alone you should recognize the value of supporting them.

The Kollel guy gives more to those who support him than the supporters give to him. They only give to him in this world, but he gives to them forever.

The Kesuba does not obligate the man to go to work and support his wife if his wife agrees to support him. A woman may be moshel part or all of the Kesuva.

Some woman may not want to work to support Kollel guys - and they don't have to. Others may agree only to support him for a certain amount of time. But many are, thank G-d, righteous enough to recognize the great reward for supporting a Kollel guy.

If a woman would be able to go to work and come home with millions of dollars nobody would complain. But the woman who supports her husband in Kollel comes home with much more.

To portray Kollel wives as slaves and working like dogs is a gross exaggeration and misrepresentation of their lifestyle.

Again, the Halachah states clearly that learning all day is praiseworthy and meritorious. To say differently is to argue against the Torah, not to mention simple logic, since the zechus of learning all day is worth supporting.

The greatest cause of sholom bayis problems among young, functional Kollel couples is the disconnect between the husband's and wife's ideas of what kollel life is all about. I have seen this over and over, and over and over and over. Let's understand a few things:

The Reasons for Learning in Kolllel

The overwhelmingly most important advantage of learning in Kollel is that you are learning. Simple as that. Torah learning is the highest, greatest, most glorious form of avodas Hashem, which will get for you the greatest share in Olam Habah possible, much much more and much much greater than any other thing you can do for Hashem, including any other type of Mitzvos. Learning Torah brings by far the greatest nachahs to Hashem, the greatest benefits to Klall yisroel, and the greatest benefits to those who do the learning, more than anything else you can possibly do.

Hands down, no contest.

That's why we learn.

As an example: A man once came to the Chazon Ish asking him advice. He got two job offers, and he wants to know which to take. The first is Kashrus administrator of the rabbanut, a position in which he is confident that he would be able to change the kashrus standards in all of eretz yisroel, causing the public to eat only kosher food. If he does not take this job, they will hire someone who does not have his standards and the public who rely on this hecsher will not eat kosher (note: I do not know what the issues with the hechsher were, or how severe). His other choice is to be a Rebbi in a yeshiva. If he does not take that job, the Yeshiva will hire a different ben torah, on the same level as him, so it’s not as if the kids are going to be less frum.

Which job should he take, he asked.

The Chazon Ish asked him, "Do you think, if you take the job as a Rebbi, that you could perhaps convince 2 of your students to learn during a Bain Hazemanim?"

"Yes," he said. "I think I can do that."

"Then you should know," said the Chazon Ish, "that two kids learning Torah bain hazemanim as if it were the zman, is much more valuable to Hashem than making the entire eretz yisroel eat kosher!"

This is the kind of material that boys are taught in yeshiva. This is the main motivation for learning in Kollel.

The situation these days in Eretz Yisroel is terrible. We need to help our brothers there. What can we do, spiritually, I am talking about now, to help?

Well, the Chazon Ish said that learning one single Tosfos has the power to nullify many evil decrees on Klall Yisroel"

It can take any where from a few minutes to much longer to learn a Tosfos. One single Tosfos -- perhaps a few minutes of Torah learning - can nullify many Gezeiros against Klall Yisroel.

We say it every day; Talmud Torah Kneged Kulam. This means, say Chazal, that learning one word of Torah - one! word! - imparts more holiness than a lifetime of doing Mitzvos!

The Vilna Gaon comments: So when someone learns just one page of Gemora, he covers hundreds of words, each of which gives him more Kedusha than a lifetime of doing Mitzvos.

In Yeshiva, they teach this, that Torah learning - as opposed to any other form of Avodas Hashem - is by far, by very, very far, the highest and greatest act of Avodah that a person can be involved in, and through it, one merits by far, by very very far, the greatest measure of Olam Habah; and through it, one releases, by far, by very very far, the very greatest measure of Hashem's influence and Goodness into this world.

Nothing compares. Nothing comes close. Not Kiruv, not Tzedakah, not Hatzalah, nothing.

Please note, that all those other endeavors - the Mitzvah ones - are glorious and wonderful forms of Avodas Hashem. But Torah learning is a billion times greater.

All this applies to the act of learning, even if it is done by someone who is not a Talmid Chacham.

But the Talmid Chacham, even if he does not teach, even if he does not preach, is, more than anything else, the one most valuable thing to Hashem in this world. And no wonder. If one world of Torah learning can bring more kedusha into this world than a lifetime of anything else, then the very existence of the Talmid Chacham is a conduit of holiness and Hashem's Influence into this world. The very presence of the Talmid Chacham benefits our world in ways that nothing else can.

As Rav Hutner ZTL used to point out - every utensil in the Bais HaMikdash had some kind of avodah done with it. Except the Aron. The Aron did nothing but exist. The Aron represents the talmid chacham, the container of the Torah. It does not need to do any act. Its very presence is its success.

(Of course, this does not mean that a Talmid Chacham does not have to fulfill the Mitzvos. Doing Mitzvos is part of being a Talmid Chacham, because if someone does not Do what he learns, then obviously his learning is not meant seriously, and is not real learning.)

But a Talmid Chacham does not have to be "employed." The Vilna Gaon had no "job." he was not the local rabbi, Rosh Yeshiva, or anything. He was like the Aron Kodesh. In our days, the Chazon Ish, the Steipler, and yibd"l Rav Chaim Kanievsky had/have no "jobs". Each is an Aron HaKodesh.

Rav Aharon Kotler ZTL said in his hesped of the Chazon Ish, that the reason the Chazon Ish was bigger than him, was because the Chazon Ish had no yeshiva to run; he had nothing in his life except Torah.

The goal of becoming a Talmid Chacham is so, so, so desirable, that everyone is encouraged to pursue it. If you can't, or won't, for whatever reason, nobody is judging you. But no question -- if our goal in this world is to bring Nachas Ruach to Hashem / to accumulate merits for Olam Habah / to sanctify the world / etc etc -- becoming a Talmid Chacham is by far the best way to go.

But even if you are not going to be a Talmid Chacham, being the closest you can become, is also the most desirable and glorious and highest goal for you. Learning itself is the greatest act of Avodas Hashem that can be performed in the world.

One more important point: Contrary to the belief of many, it is impossible to predict who will become a Talmid Chacham. As the Chazon Ish said, "Every student is a possible godol hador". The Roshei Yeshiva of today were not all the ones who people thought would become the Roshei Yeshiva of today. And vice versa. Talent and intellect help, to be sure, but effort and siyata dishmaya are more important to success as a Torah scholar. Becoming a "godol" is not just for the brightest. In fact, often it is not they who attain that goal. Average students, and it has happened that also below average students, have become great Gedolim and surpassed their more talented peers.

Not everybody can become the greatest Talmid Chacham in the world. But everybody can become as close to the greatest Talmid chacham in the world that he can. Those Bnei Torah, the ones who pour their heart and soul and life into learning Hashem's Torah, merit, every single one of them, the greatest share in Olam Habah possible.

That is the main reason people learn in Kollel. Because Talmud Torah Kneged Kulam.

There are tons more good reasons --- like the effect it has on your home, on your Mitzvah performance, on your personality, on your children --- all of which are excellent reasons. But the main reason is, that our goal in this world is to go higher and higher. And there is no better way to go higher than to learn.

Nothing even close.

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