Thursday, March 6, 2008

J. Immanuel...Education (Warning, pretension ahead)

Last night J. Immanuel Shochet, brother of everyone's favorite Rosh Yeshiva, the Rosh, at the Semple Mansion, a truly beautiful old house in Minneapolis. The event was put on by Chabad of Minneapolis, which is probably pretty fitting. I'm not going to give you a full rundown of the speech, because A. it would take too much time, and B. just learn Tanya, and a couple other Sefarim. The genius of a great speaker is that they are able to take the esoteric wisdom and distill it into something that someone with no knowledge can not only appreciate but find practical. There was nothing the Rabbi said last night that I didn't know; what he has that I don't (besides age, a lot of knowledge, and a white beard)is the ability to teach.
Anyway, this segues nicely into a topic that inflamed me last night (actually, early this morning) and I wrote three pages of loose leaf so that I shouldn't forget it until today.

What is the most important thing in education? A child's attitude. This is self-evident, because if a kid wants to learn they'll learn everywhere, and if they don't want to learn, then they won't learn anywhere. Since I'm a Shliach in Yeshiva, this post will refer to a Bochur's situation, but I think that my point applies to any situation (man, this is sounding pompous). What is just as important as a bochur's attitude? His parent's attitude. When a parent brings his kid to a Lubavitvh Yeshiva, what does the parent want the kid to accomplish there? For what reason are they paying the Yeshiva to shape their son? I believe that if a parent enrolls their son in a Chabad institution, and their intent is not for the son to become a Shliach, then they've done a grave disservice to not only their kid but the school in general.
Is it possible for every single Bochur to one day become a Shliach? No. Should every Bochur want to become a Shliach? Yes. There's a dictum in the Talmud, that one thousand (1000) students come in, and one (1) leaves a scholar. Did the other nine hundred and ninety nine (999) waste their time? Of course not. Because in order to have that one Torah genius come out, you need to have the full one thousand go in. More importantly, all one thousand should come in with the desire to be that one Torah genius, even if realistically they know that only one of their number will exit a scholar.
There's a famous story of a Lubavitcher Chassid on a train in Stalinist Russia who saw a KGB man eying him, and then getting up to have a "conversation" with him. The Chassid wasn't too interested in having a "conversation" with the agent, so he got up and left the car. The KGB man followed. The Chassid quickened his pace, and so did the KGB man. Soon they were both running, the Chassid staying just a few feet ahead. Eventually they came to the end of the car, and the Chassid, having no choice, jumped out of the speeding train. Unfortunately (for him), the KGB man jumped off too. The Chassid realized that the game was up, but he wanted to know one thing. "Why this great urge to get me? Why did you put your life on the line in order to speak to me?" The KGB man answered, "I was once a Lubavitcher like you. I too once studied in Tomchei Tmimim. Ever since then I've hated all Chassidim, because of the tremendous guilt that the Yeshiva instilled in me."
The moral of the story? A Lubavitch Yeshiva needs to inspire guilt in their students. What should the guilt be? That there is only one way to live life, to be a Shliach of the Rebbe.
My complaint here is not against the Bochurim; it's against their parents who don't want this life for their children. If a Bochur comes into Yeshiva not wanting to be A Shliach when he grows older, then I can deal. But if he's supported in this by his parents? What hope does the Yeshiva have?
Take me for example. I came into Mesifta, to high school, with the assumption that in three or four years I would go to college. By the time I was finished Mesifta I had decided to go to Zal for a year, and then go to college. By the time I was finished that first year of Zal I had decided to go on Shlichus. That first year in Zal was obviously extremely formative, but just as obviously it was based on the education I had received the previous three years in Mesifta. At this point, I've gotten over (some) of my youthful idealism, and I realize that going on Shlichus may not be the right thing for me. But I still definitely want to do it. I will still feel guilty if I don't do it.
The point is, what do you do with a kid when his own parents don't support this ideal? I'm the exception, not the rule when it comes to this. On the one side I was pushed to go to university, but on the other side I was encouraged to stay in Yeshiva for as long as possible and eventually go and do the Rebbe's work. Even with that one side pushing me to opt for college, I always knew that I'd be supported with whatever decision I chose. But again, my situation is unique, and I've seen way too many kids never want Shlichus and consequently never do amount to anything in Yeshiva.
The big question becomes, what do you tell these parents? "Sorry, this Yeshiva isn't right for your son" works for some schools, but what about a school for "at-risk" kids? Where else can a kid go? And even if this school exists, where the goal is not to mold young men into fighters in the Rebbe's army, can this school truly call itself "Lubavitch"? I understand a school where this is only official policy, but to have a school which doesn't even aspire to this ideal?
Will every kid become a Shliach? No. Should every kid become a Shliach? No. Can every kid become a Shliach? No. Should every kid aspire to become a Shliach? Yes. I'm not asking for every kid to come into Yeshiva wanting to be a Shliach; it's the job of the Yeshiva to inculcate this feeling in him. If the parent is spending $15,000 for the Yeshiva to effect this change, then great. But if a father drops his kid off at school wanting that kid to become a lawyer or doctor, then what exactly is the point?
Should the answer to these parents be, "Put your son in a Litvish or Modern-Orthodox school"? Is that the only option? Obviously, we don't want this Bochur to poison all the other Bochurim. And I know that there are exceptions. Heck, I'm one of them. And of course, every situation is special. Every Bochur is special. And that's why we need the parents to be on the Yeshiva's side, and the Yeshiva to be on the Rebbe's side. I know that the Rebbe supported trade schools, but these are not meant to replace Mesiftas, or even Zals. All I'm asking is that every Bochur be given the chance, and I guarantee that you'll be happily surprised with the results.


Anonymous said...

i would agree with every thing you've said, except i would change the wording a little bit. rather than everyone wanting to be a shliach, can't everyone want to fulfill the rebbe's shlichus?
you don't have to be a shliach to fulfill the rebbe's shlichus.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with this post. During most of the Rebbe's tenure there were more positions open than shluchim to fill them. Today the situation is the opposite. There are almost no "territories" left for which there is not a shliach needed. And once a shliach "retires" one of his sons or sons-in-law will most likely take over that position.

One has to live in reality, and the reality is that most of the bocherim today will not be shluchim in the traditional sense, and therefore they must be directed into a meaningful path to still be a shliach in the sense that cheerio mentioned above.

That means that a yeshiva's main job should be to provide the skills necessary for a bocher to go to a university (once married)or trade school to gain a practical skill in which to earn parnassah to support whatever kehillah he lives in.

It is an absolute shanda for a Jew to live on welfare and handouts. This is not as big a problem for Chabad as it is for other derechs, but a community will not survive when there are far more moochers than machers. Every frum Jew should be a macher in some sense, whether it is maching neshamas and/or maching parnassas to support that endeavour.

Just like a guy said...

Thanks cheerio, and yes, I agree, doing the Rebbe's Shlichus is the intent here, which presumably makes one a Shliach. To Anon, I agree that there aren't enough positions for Shluchim nowadays. So firstly, working for a Shliach is also Shlichus, and secondly, as I wrote, only one guy out of a thousand is expected to fulfill this dream; but again, that's only if everyone has that dream in the first place. To prepare people for "regular" jobs is fine, but leave that for after Yeshiva; let idealism be the order of the day for Bochurim.

Anonymous said...

Well, maybe I'm a skeptic, but its the same idea in my opinion as training every one in a given high school to be a star basketball player or a doctor. Only one out of a thousand (or so) can actually do this, so why waste people's time on a pipe dream.

Jobs are more complex nowadays (i.e. all the good paying push-button jobs have gone to Mexico or China or Djibouti) - even a shliach needs to have excellent writing and math skills. I would like to see a Yeshiva - and I know that YHSTC does a good job with this - that emphasizes those skills just as much as learning Gemara or Maamarim or the like.

It just worries me sometimes to see my three year old son who is going to be in a cheder/yeshiva system that does not emphasize the needed writing and math skills to be successful in a "regular" job. Maybe he'll want to be a shliach, who knows, but until we get Obamacare I'm going to be pushing for a lifestyle where he can support his family and not worry about where the next paycheck is or is not coming from.

Just like a guy said...

What is the goal of a Lubavitch school? I have no problem with english, math, social studies, and history, but I do feel that there should be a feeling in the school that there is a goal. In Lubavitch, and Judaism in general, we have a big problem with kids not wanting to do the right thing. If we don't try and make everyone do the right thing, whatever that right thing is, then is there any hope?