Sunday, June 12, 2011

a cause for celebration

The very presence of the guest speaker at my son's yeshiva's annual gala siyum (held yesterday) brought warm memories to my mind. R' Ahron Kahn, a brilliant lamdan and orator, also happens to have been my Rebbe and served as the kohen at my son's pidyon haben just over seventeen years ago. How time flies! At the pidyon, following the traditional custom, Rav Kahn asked, "B'Mai ba'is tefi?" what would I rather have -- my one month old son, or my five silver dollars. I took the baby and parted with the five shekalim. Even with the inflated price of silver these days, I still think I got the better end of the deal : )

I cannot do justice to Rav Kahn's remarks, but I want to relate one point he made about the perspective required for the proper chinuch of one's children. The Rambam (Deyos perek 3) writes that all of one's actions must be done l'shem shamayim, for Hashem's sake alone. The Rambam gives an example: Having a child merely to serve as an apprentice, to carry on the family business, is not a proper aim -- there has to be a l'shem shamayim in rearing children as well. We would expect the Rambam to conclude that therefore we should have in mind that our children become ovdei Hashem, shomrei mitzvos, etc. However, the Rambam says much more than that:

וישים על ליבו שיהיה לו בן, אוליי יהיה חכם וגדול בישראל

The Rambam writes that when we have a child, we must think of that child as having the potential to be a gadol b'yisrael.

What the Rambam is telling us is that when we dream of what our children might become, when we try to inspire our children and encourage them to dream of what they might become, don't hold back -- dream big. The first step to becoming a "chacham v'gadol b'yisrael" is to want and desire to become a "chacham v'gadol b'yisrael." To raise a child l'shem shamayim means to dream that dream, to pass on that dream to our children.

The hanhala of the yeshiva, the Menahel and Rosh Yeshiva in particular, deserve hakaras hatov for not only daring to dream big dreams, but for making those dreams into a reality. Yesterday over 100 boys from the local Far Rockaway and Five Towns area finished Mes. Kiddushin -- over 100! The siyum has become not a celebration reserved for a few yechidei segulah, exceptional students outside the "norm", but rather has become a celebration in which dozens and dozens of boys can enjoy a feeling of achievement. And they deserve it. Our community is blessed with a wealth of gashmiyus (I lost count if there are five or six pizza stores in a one mile radius), but these boys prove that it is blessed with a wealth of ruchniyus as well.

Not only is the siyum a celebration for the boys, for their families, but I think it's important to note that community Rabbonim attended, Roshei Yeshiva from other local yeshivos attended as well. The concept of community seems sadly to have nearly vanished from our Jewish societal lexicon. Sometimes we need a reminder that though we may not all attend the same yeshiva or daven in the same shul, we can all share the same goals, the same dreams of growth l'shem shamayim for our children and our community, and celebrate together.

There are those who may look down on the emphasis on bekiyus that these siyumim celebrate. Of what value is breadth of knowledge without depth? Proof to the contrary can be found in the very masechta the boys finished. The gemara (Kiddush 10b) records the challenge made to one of the Tanaim: "Baki atah b'kol chadrei Torah v'lidrsoh b'kal v'chomer ei atah yodeia?!" - "You are an expert in all areas of Torah and do not know how to properly darshen a kal v'chomer?!" At first glance this seems difficult to understand. A kal v'chomer is a logical inference -- what does being a baki have to do with the ability to think logically? R' Elchanan (Koveitz Shiurim) quotes R' Chaim Brisker as explaining that while an inference may be logically compelling when seen in the narrow context of one sugya, it may prove totally erroneous when measured against the larger background of kol haTorah kulah. Truth in Torah can be arrived at only if one has a grasp on the breadth of Torah as a whole. If Rav Chaim Brisker, the exemplar par excellance in yeshivos of analytical thinking, championed the value of bekiyus, is there anyone among us who can question its value?

However, as emphasized by my son's Rebbe this year, as emphasized by the Menahel at the siyum, bekiyus has little value without constant review. Without chazarah, knowledge quickly fades. But have no fear -- tacked to the door of the beis medrash on the very day of the siyum was a chart setting the pace for a daf by daf review of the masechta so that come the fall, once again a sizable number of bachurim will participate in completing the masechta for yet a second time. We should all look forward to celebrating their accomplishment.


  1. I don't have the experience or credentials to claim a valid opinion about chinuch, but I suspect that Reb Chaim was talking about knowing the sugyos in some depth. Several peers knew Shas with Tosfos perfectly by the age of twenty three, but none of them became Gedolei Yisrael. Last I heard, one was a fine Rov, one a respected voice in hashgacha, one an accountant.

    I think what really matters is knowing what you've learned thoroughly, and retaining what you've learned, and making everything new coalesce with what you know from the past.

    Good to hear that Aron Kahn is doing well. I have always liked and respected him.

  2. B -- "Stratton writes that all eyewitnesses noticed that none of the Shass Pollak known to them have attained any prominence in the scholarly world.[1]" (

    Of course you need amkus to be a gaon; the chiddush is that amkus without bekiyus doesn't cut it. No matter how much torah you can say on daf beis of any masechta, unless you know the rest, you won't amount to much either.