Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Monday, January 30, 2012
Another pillar of educational theory emerges from a speech R. Hutner delivered at the Yeshiva of Eastern Parkway [Igros Pachad Yitzchak Page 134]. He begins by apologizing to the students for his inability to speak to each student individually due to time constraints. As the talk progresses, it becomes clear that this apology reflects not mere politeness but a profound idea.
R. Hutner states that R. Chaim of Volozhin insisted that his students be referred to as “bnei ha-yeshiva” rather than as “talmidei ha-yeshiva.” What accounts for this terminological distinction? To answer this question, R. Hutner reports a clever response that he received from a young yeshiva student. He asked the student if he relates to his secular studies teachers in the way he relates to rabbeim, and if not, to describe the difference. The student replied that a teacher of secular studies resembles a cook dispensing food, whereas the rebbe resembles a nursing mother. A mother gives of her essence to the child, while the cook provides food fully external to the provider. R. Hutner praises this answer, declaring that this child has a glorious learning future.
One can view teaching as the giving over of resources of information, without that information impacting on the life of the instructor. Conversely, the ideas can be part of the teacher’s personal quest for a more moral and spiritual existence. R. Hutner indicates his preference for the latter model, which resembles a mother more than a cook. William Barrett writes that the ancient Greeks philosophized as part of a quest for the true and the good, while contemporary academic philosophers are often simply doing a job without any sense that it affects who they are. R. Hutner’s idea reminds us that the most important kind of education does more than transmit information.
The parable explains R. Chaim Volozhin’s insistence on the term “bnei ha-yeshiva.” He wanted students to receive food from nursing mothers giving of their essence. It also explains R. Hutner’s opening remark that he would prefer individual meetings. A cook gives out food to many recipients simultaneously, but the nursing mother nourishes only one child at a time.
That is why a Torah teacher must be filled with goodness. We want the students to eat a spiritually healthy meal.
This story goes back to the beginning of the twentieth century when most Jews subsisted on an income slightly above the poverty level. While materialistic needs were not a high priority, every once in awhile a person would take some of his hard-earned money and use it for material goods that had a connection to a spiritual principle. A young boy by the name of Yitzchak learned the value of spirituality from his parents.
One year, shortly before Pesach, Yitzchak's father decided to buy his wife a new dress l'kavod Yom Tov, in honor of the approaching festival. His wife toiled throughout the year. She never asked for anything. The least he could do is give her the opportunity to honor the festival in a manner that would also engender personal enjoyment for her. Buying a dress in those days was not as simple a task as entering a store and picking one off the rack. It meant picking out material and paying a number of visits to the seamstress. Finally, the dress was finished. It was an expensive proposition, but well worth it. The whole family waited excitedly for the mother to don her new dress, but she said that she was waiting for Pesach. Disappointed, the children began to count the days until they would see their mother in her new dress.
Yitzchak was a precocious eleven year old. He studied diligently in the yeshivah where he was one of the most outstanding students. His humility matched his scholarship. Thus, he rarely called attention to himself. That year, a few days prior to Pesach, he came home and excitedly shared with his family that he was about to make a siyum on Meseches Bava Kama. His mother was so proud of him, but Yitzchak simply shrugged it off.
The next evening, Yitzchak went home and was greeted by an incredible sight. The table was set with the finest dishes, the candles were lit, and his mother was wearing her new dress! What was happening? he wondered. It was not yet Yom Tov. "Mama! Why are you wearing the new dress? It is not yet Yom Tov!" young Yitzchak blurted out.
His mother smiled at him and said, "Yes, I was saving the dress for Yom Tov, but you told me yesterday that you had completed a Mesechta and were about to make a siyum. This might be a simple feat for you, but, for me, this is the greatest Yom Tov. There is nothing more important to me than my son learning Torah!"
This was a mother's lesson to her young son. Torah study reigned supreme. A siyum was likened to Pesach. Gadlus ba'Torah, achieving greatness in Torah knowledge, was a major accomplishment that overshadowed and outshined everything else. Yitzchak remembered his mother's lesson well throughout his life, as he grew in Torah, as he achieved the pinnacle in Torah knowledge and leadership. As Yitzchak became the venerable Horav Yitzchak Hutner, zl, Rosh HaYeshivah of Mesivta Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin, legendary rebbe and mentor to thousands, his mother's lesson became his legacy. [From Rabbi Yechiel Spero "Touched By A Story"]
People mistakenly believe that Judaism is centered around the shul but it's NOT. The true epicenter of Torah life is in the HOME and the Torah has an interesting euphemism for a woman - "beiso" his home [Yoma 2]. A women's essence is that SHE is the home and the HOME is where it's at. So no - we are not going to give a woman shlishi or glila but raising our children and creating a holy atmosphere is infinitely more important than either of those. When I look at my wife I THANK G-d that such a person is raising my children because I might learn Torah but what the children absorb from their less scholarly parent is infinitely more important.
Furthermore, besides official religious "ceremonies" [for lack of a better word] women can be equal to or better than men. It says in the medrash תנא דבי אליהו that ANY HUMAN BEING depending on their actions can come close to Hashem. The gemara [brachos 17] says that women are promised MORE than men in the world to come.
So if I were a woman I'd be thankful I don't have to spend my life worrying about zmanim and earning a living [according to the Torah a man MUST support his wife notwithstanding the fact that our contemporary frum world has discarded this basic halacha for reasons we won't get into here] and enjoy being a mommy, davening, learning subjects that interest me, doing chesed and focusing on spiritual growth while the men, nebach, have to work all day and only get an hour a day to learn when they are falling asleep over their gemaras.
Rav Kook explains the bracha she-asani kirtzono that a woman is a reflection of the deepest will [רצון] of Hakadosh Baruch Hu. If a girl is educated properly she values who she is - a Princess, a bas yisroel, and an honored member of the holiest nation on earth.
So although I not am not zocheh to be a woman [and I am thankful for that because I quite enjoy being a guy] I appreciate the indispensability of the female population and hope you do the same.
PS - If I offended anyone I apologize. I tried hard not to....
Sunday, January 29, 2012
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Thursday, January 26, 2012
My beloved friends! Today I was thinking a lot about how important it is to assume responsibility for our actions and then the Divine hand sent me to Rabbi Pruzansky's blog where he conveyed the message beautifully using sports as his frame of reference. I must publicly confess - I am like a recovering drug addict. He might not do drugs anymore but he always has the desire. I might not follow sports anymore but I think I am an incurable sports junkie, so I revel [I think it's the first time I've ever used that word. שהחייייוווווניייייי] at the opportunity to convey a Torah message using sports as an example.
Kyle Williams, please meet Bill Buckner.
Kyle Williams, by all accounts, had a bad day. The wide receiver and punt returner for the San Francisco 49ers first had the football glance off his knee on a punt, enabling the New York Giants to recover the ball and soon after score. Even worse, in overtime, he fumbled another punt, the Giants again recovered, and a few minutes later, the Giants kicked the winning field goal that landed them in this year’s Super Bowl.
That is a bad day. Ironically, the misplayed balls were both recovered by the same Giant, Devin Thomas. Those, in a nutshell, are the vagaries of football and of life itself, where there are good days and bad days. (Of course, for most people, the good days and bad days are not played out in front of an audience of tens of millions of people.)
Williams was clearly distressed during and after the game, but later said that all his teammates had consoled him, telling him that the loss was not his fault. All the old clichés were trotted out – we win as a team, we lose as a team, no one person is at fault, there was dozens of times when each team could have won or lost (imagine if Lawrence Tynes had missed the winning field goal, like his kicker counterpart on the Ravens missed his game-tying field goal), no one play wins or loses, etc.
There is something quite modern about the reluctance of people to assume responsibility for their own failures, and failures that harm others, and even more modern about the willingness of the group to overlook – at least publicly – the miscues of the individual. But it is more admirable for the individual to stand up and take the blame, to place the onus of defeat or failure – in sports, business, relationships, politics, war, etc. – on himself. Usually, there is more courage in the acceptance of personal responsibility than its denial, and a lack of true dignity in hiding one’s own malfunctions under the cover of the group.
Did Williams lose the game for the 49ers? Is he to blame? Well, not entirely. It is fair to say that he ensured not that they lost, but that they lost the way they did. Every group effort relies on the contributions of many different individuals, and a breakdown at any point – whether in the backfield, the assembly line or the committee – will jeopardize the effort of the group. And every play presents the possibility of individual negligence – that is why repetition is the numbing, daily routine of the player, the soldier, the musician and others – so their particular role becomes second nature and is performed almost robotically. But whereas the musician does not have to deal with a bouncing trombone or a rolling violin, the athlete (and the soldier) encounters situations that are not easily anticipated, and thus demands immediate reaction in the face of potentially fateful consequences.
The “team effort” mantra is plausible, but not persuasive. As in any game, had San Francisco been more successful in other aspects of the game – third down conversions, for one – then the Williams’ failures would have become just a footnote to the game. But it was his particular blunders that caused the game to unfold the way it did, with the victory of our hometown Giants.
Are we a better society if we attempt to shield people from the logical consequences of their actions, or if we encourage individuals in a group setting not to own up to their personal failings? I think not. We have often been witnesses in recent decades to the almost-comical politician’s admission that “mistakes were made.” Note – not that he made them, would admit them, or even knew about them (even if they were his mistakes); rather than courageously say “I made a mistake,” the passive “mistakes were made” distances the wrongdoer from his own folly and brings innocent others into his orbit of failure. Or, in another example, we often hear these days of the common tripe of politicians grieving with homeowners “victimized” by “deceptive” banking practices that had them borrow money they could never afford to repay – as if the homeowners are not mostly to blame for their over-borrowing. That is where the votes are – the escapees from personal responsibility in their private lives run to vote for the politicians who pander to their immaturity – but neither benefits society.
Certainly, there is no shortage of adults in sports and elsewhere. Tom Brady, in victory but nonetheless, excoriated his poor play yesterday and thanked his defense for bailing him out; Lee Evans of the Ravens dropped the game-winning pass, and sat afterward in tears, clearly aware that his mistake had let down his teammates; and there are others. The aforementioned Bill Buckner was gracious in defeat. And the Talmud records several times that the great Rava lectured in different towns on different topics, and later sent word to his audience: “What I said to you was an error on my part” (Eruvin 104a, Bava Batra 127a, et al) – a complete retraction.
In a more perfect world, people would assume responsibility for misdeeds and misstatements immediately, forthrightly and unconditionally – politicians, parents, rabbis, teachers, athletes, bosses and workers. In fact, such integrity would immediately make our imperfect world a little less imperfect.
The best of all worlds would be an explicit assumption of responsibility on the part of the stumbler, followed by the graciousness of his teammates or co-workers who then assume their share of the outcome. These failures do not make Kyle Williams into a bad person or even into a bad athlete; it just means that he had a bad day. We need not be protected from our bad days – we only need to be protected from not being accountable for them.
To gloss over a bad day or blithely disregard its effects on others is to deprive oneself of the opportunity for redemption and the satisfaction of achievement and success. It transforms our lives into a constant “defensive” mode, always fending off attacks and trying to deflect blame from oneself. Too bad that today’s youthful “my bad!” is almost exclusively reserved for nonsense. There is majesty in the rise from failure to success, but just as much majesty in the admission of failure alone.
So let’s give the final word to President Nixon, who had his share of bad days, and said on the morning of his resignation of the presidency in 1974: “Only when you’ve been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is on top of the highest mountain.”