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BEATING THE SYSTEM
There is a sad joke that goes around the yeshiva world each year at this time. Ben Hazmanim usually starts with a fast. Tisha BAv , Yom Kippur, Taanit Esther. And Sof Zman, the beginning of the end, the decline of momentum for the weaker boys, is from the fast before that. Shiva Assar B’Tamuz, Tzom Gedalia, Assarah B’tevet.
If you drive on Menachem Begin Highway at 95 kmph where the speed limit is 80, you fly under the speed cameras without getting a ticket. To get through the Yeshiva system and be a “good boy” and fly under the radar of keeping sedarim, you are still “on time” for seder, even if you get there half an hour late. You can leave seder a half an hour early and still consider that you were there to the end. If you come to Shacharit right on time for Barachu and leave as you say Aleinu at the Minyan Factory, then you might even be able to spend less time on Shacharit than you do on Maariv. Then you really “beat the system”. When you “trim all the fat” off your learning, off your davening, there isn’t that much “meat” left to your spirituality or your connection with G-d. I am sure that girls also have their way of “beating the system”, if they want to, in their tzniut, davening, or devoting their time and effort to building families.
Anti-system articles always draw the most attention. What I will write sounds in some way anti-system although it really isn’t. The problem with the Yeshiva system is that as an academic one, it is a failure. It was always a failure. It was meant to be a failure. As Rashi says, in Kohelet, 7:28,בנוהג שבעולם אלף נכנסים למקרא אין יוצאים מהם להצליח שראויים למשנה אלא מאה ואותם מאה שנכנסו למשנה אין יוצאים מהם לגמרא אלא עשרה ואותן עשרה שנכנסין לגמרא אין מצליח מהם אלא אחד להוראה הרי אחד מאלף: A thousand people come to learn in the system, and only one comes out who knows how to be Posek Halacha, a true Rabbi. This can be very depressing. A great turnoff. As an academic system, if you have a school in which 1000 enter in order to become a doctor, or a lawyer, and only one comes out to be a doctor or a lawyer, the school will close down. But our system exists and will continue to exist. Because our system is only a failure in terms of being an academic one, for preparing people with a plan for the future. For something to do in life. How many jobs are there in Kodesh anyway? How many Kodesh jobs will help you support your family, long term? Our system is good at only one thing. For building people what to be in life. To rewire your B3, your beliefs, your behaviors and what and who you belong to. At that, our system is the best system in the world.
Our system is not to build nice, good boys who aren’t troublemakers, either. It is to build leaders. To build people with a connection with G-d. Allow me to explain. Hold on, and get ready for the most fundamental, unknown lesson of Torah Chinuch.
The Rama (Y”D 81;7) writes the Halacha ,“The milk of an Egyptian woman is like the milk of a Jewess. And still, do not give a child to drink from an Egyptian woman, if it is possible from a Jewess. Because the milk of a gentile blocks the heart and creates a bad nature.” The Vilna Gaon brings the Rashba, that this is sourced from 3-month-old baby Moshe Rabbenu, who was not willing to nurse from the Egyptian women, because he would eventually speak to the Shechina.
R’ Yaakov Kamenetzky asks how we can learn this halacha from Moshe, having it pertain to every Jewish child. The whole reason for Moshe’s insistence on nursing from a Jewess was because he was, in the future, going to speak to the Shechina! Will every child speak to the Shechina?!? And R Yaakov writes, in Emet Layaakov, that real Chinuch is to ensure that our upbringing of the child is such that it will be possible to speak to the Shechina! That is the fundamental of real Chinuch.
When Yosef was about to sin with Potifar’s wife, he jumped back and said something to her that can blow your mind. G-d regularly comes and chooses from the members of my family, from the best of them, someone to be brought up as an Olah sacrifice (Yitzhak). He regularly comes and reveals Himself in prophesy in the middle of the night. If I listen to you and sleep with you, G-d might come to me in the middle of the night and find me impure (M Rabbah). That is how Yaakov brought up his children, ready at any minute to speak to the Shechina! G-d can suddenly “appear” in your life and expect you to perform your Tafkid, your mission in this world. And if you had a good chinuch, you will be extremely successful.
When I was in eighth grade, I noticed a 6th grader not saying Aleinu. I told him that when he says Aleinu, all of the angels in Heaven stop to listen (See Yalkut Yosef Tefillah 132; 17 in the name of the student of the Maharashal). The boy suddenly opened his Siddur and said every word. It took him almost 5 minutes! I remember the time I gave more tzedakka than usual to a recently widowed woman to pay for her sons’ camp. The middleman called me, “Yosef!! You brought tears to her eyes!! She was so thankful, grateful to G-d that she can have a breather!! Yosef, the skies are open for you now! Ask anything you want from G-d, and I am sure He will grant your greatest wishes!!!” I did pray, but I realized, then, how many times in life we do have that time to turn to G-d with a request or with thanks, how many times in life we have the Heavens open, and we let the opportunity go by, without taking advantage of it. But isn’t that what we were brought up to do, to speak to the Shechina?!!?
When you pray, you are talking to G-d. When you learn, G-d is talking to you. How many times we can say Amen, Yehe Sheme Rabba, how many times we can come to learn Torah in the study hall and G-d is waiting for us. This is what we are here for. This is why we bring kids to the world, so that we can raise them in such a way. The reason why sometimes we do not raise them with this in mind, is because we do not look at ourselves as “speaking to the Shechina”. What a shame!
The whole academic part of our system is not an end in itself. It is not about effective learning, not about memory. Not about competition, homework or report cards. It is not about how many Siyumim you make, how good you are at listening to shiur or able to say a Shiur, or how well you did on your Semicha test. It is how you are able to use those great concepts or principles that you learn about to connect more and more to the Shechina, and ready to bring the Shechina into your life. There were people who were geniuses in Torah who did not excel in their Yirat Shamayim or in righteous behavior, despite the fact that they were academic heroes. The problem why people burn out in the system, feel abused by it or simply don’t “make it” is because they do not understand this fundamental principle of chinuch. Or their teachers or parents did not understand this. The answer to all chinuch issues, the fundamental that needs to be addressed, is not about the Mechanech, or the one who is on the receiving end of the Chinuch. It is about the relationship with the Shechina, and making connection to the Shechina possible. Staying clear of anything that can weaken that connection.
Those who “beat” the system misunderstand it. It is built to help you, just as the speed limit is there to save you from hurting yourself. It is the easiest system to beat. But the only one who you beat is yourself