Thursday, December 27, 2012

don't forget Menashe

The fact that I want to say a pshat diametrically opposite that of the Ksav Sofer is probably not a good thing, but b'mechilas kvodo, in this case I think it's OK and he might even approve.  Ya'akov tells Yosef that in the future people will bless their children with the formula, "Yisimcha Elokim k'Ephraim u'Menashe."  The Targum Yonasam on that pasuk adds two words -- the bracha will be given at the time of **bris milah**.  The Ksav Sofer asks a simple question: Why does the Targum Yonasan emphasize that we are speaking specifically about the time of milah?  Why not learn that the pasuk is talking about any time a parent wants to bless his children? 

The Ksav Sofer explains that Ephraim and Menashe followed different paths in life -- one was devoted more to Torah study, one was more of a man of the world -- and we must give our children the choice and the opportunity to follow either one of these paths.  The fact of the matter is if a child spends his formative years in school and then at soccer practice and then at piano lessons and then at some other program and then watching the latest TV show that he really can't miss, etc. that choice is made before the child even realizes there are two paths to choose from.  If you push off fully immersing in talmud Torah until 15, 16, 17, or maybe until a year learning in Israel at 18, then in many, if not most cases, the die is already cast -- gadlus in Torah, true greatness, the likes of which was demonstrated by Ephraim, is already out of reach.  The Targum Yonasan therefore emphasizes that it's at the moment of milah, when the baby is still in diapers, that a commitment to at least aspire to and try to become an Ephraim must be made.  If those heights cannot be reached, there will always be time later to become a Menashe, a man of the world -- nothing will have been lost in the process.   

I don't think I'm being unfair to the Ksav Sofer to say his reading is polemical.  Remember that it was the Ksav Sofer's father, the Chasam Sofer, who waged ideological battle against the reform movement in Hungary; the stress on the importance of a pure talmud Torah chinuch is perhaps part of that battle against outside forces.  So I don't feel so bad reading the pasuk a little differently.  It seems to me that at least in certain segments of the Torah world behaving like a would-be Ephraim is taken for granted.  We have more people learning in yeshivos and kollelim today than at any point in history.  It is not a question in many circles of whether a boy will continue learning post high-school, past a year or two or three in Israel, past marriage -- it's simply a question of how many years or whether there is a limit at all.  I'm not going to talk about the merits of perpetuating such a system.  Despite the quantitative increase in talmidim, I think we can agree that there has not been a qualitative increase in Torah knowledge -- the system is not producing any more Chasam Sofers or Brisker Ravs than in the past.  What we have is many more average people of average ability devoting themselves to learning and having an average degree of success.  Whether the community has the resources to support such folks (the non-exceptional non-iluy masses) or whether they should be doing something else with their time is a different discussion.  I want to talk about those folks who really don't want to be part of this system and yet go along with the flow anyway because of sociological pressure, peer pressure, or some other factor.  I want to talk about the bachur who in his heart knows he would rather be studying law or medicine or fixing cars, and yet is trapped in front of a gemara for 12 hours a day because his family expects him to be an Ephraim, his peers are all doing the same thing and at least pretending to be Ephraims, his shidduch (and that of his siblings) depends on his being an Ephraim, his family's social standing depends on his being an Ephraim.  And so he sits and struggles to stay awake in front of a Tosfos and at least feign interest for hour after hour.  His chavrusa is probably no more inspired than he is, and so they discuss the Knicks, the Jets, they go out for a coffee and/or smoke, and so the days and weeks pass.  Rather than perpetuating the legacy of a Yosef hatzadik, this type of "Ephraim" is actually the reverse: While Yosef outwardly behaved like an Egyptian prince, inside he was filled with Torah and tzidkus; this "Ephraim" outside looks like a ben Torah, but inwardly is no different than any other guy on the street.  Even if this "Ephraim" bucks the system to do something else, his family and friends, his social circle, will always view him as a b'dieved -- so it's either don't risk it, or worse, drop out of the system completely so as to not face the stigma.   

It's the ""Ephraims" like these who are prime candidates to excel and become great Menashes.  Pursue that desire to practice medicine, study law, fix car, and also learn chumash for an hour a day, support Torah institutions, do chessed and be a paragon of midos and yiras shamayim.  That's not a "nebech" failure case -- that's a model of success, and it's not something anyone should be embarassed to aspire to or feel like a b'dieved having accomplished.  Of course, "Vayasem es Ephraim lifnei Menashe."  All things being equal, if a child has the apptitude and ability to become a great talmid chacham, it would be a crime to not encourage him to develop that ability and talent to become a real Ephraim.  But that does not take away from the measure of success that someone not cut out for that mold can achieve as well. The Ksav Sofer's generation needed reminding about the role of Ephraim, but I think in our generation, at least some segments of society, need reminding about the role of Menashe.   The Targum Yonasan is telling us not to raise our children on a one-track system of "Yisimcha Elokim k'Ephraim," and then years later, if that doesn't work out, begrudgingly accept that they will amount to "no more" than a Menashe.  By that point the sense of disappointment and the destruction of self-esteem is already done.  We need to learn to not just accept, but appreciate even from day one (or day eight, as the case may be) that being a Menashe is not a b'dieved -- it's part of Ya'akov's a bracha too, "VaYivarech Yisrael...," and something to be proud of.  


  1. We already know that if a person in not רואה סימן ברכה בלימודו by five years, then it is time for him to shift his focus.

  2. Anonymous10:07 AM

    >>> one was devoted more to Torah study

    Yisaschar, 49:14

    >>> one was more of a man of the world

    Zevulune, 49:13

    >>> Targum Yonasan is telling us not to raise our children on a one-track

    Yonasan didn't add the name 'Menashe' to the pasuk (but rather after it,
    "adds two words")

    >>> the sense of disappointment and the destruction of self-esteem is
    already done

    was not young Menashe personally present at this crossover conducted by his reverend grandfather? one contemplates this image of an elderly man, father to a nation of many great tribes, with his hands switched, he could be tempted,
    G-d forbid, tempted, to revisit the assertion writ here Nov. 15 that
    "[w]e are not a community of Lavans and Besuels"; at any rate, our patriarch makes no secret of his 'overhanded' maneuver (hence "Yisrael",
    48:14? a midah improvement worthy of upgraded name)

    >>> something to be proud of

    an elegant overall defense (nay, advocacy!) of Menashe

  3. This is a fairly easy solution since these people anyway want to be a Menashe.

    But what exactly do you tell someone who wants to be an Ephraim and perhaps has the kelim - but the opportunity did not happen - perhaps he is not willing to go on welfare, has no rich parents or in-laws, maybe he got a late start, and it turns out his wife likes money...

    He was matzliach in learning, and perhaps managed to learn a year or so after he got married, but quickly finds himself in graduate school, working, spending hours with his family, dreaming of ligging in learning again but knowing that it won't happen. He sees his future as a dreary drudgery of a job that means little to him, and the stress and depression make learning difficult when he gets chance...

  4. chaim b.9:05 PM

    Argh, I hear you -- good point. I won't sugar coat an answer. Unless you are career minded and see climbing the ladder as something of value, work just isn't fun. It pays the bills (and yeshiva tuition), but it can never be the same as learning (if it is, then that's a problem). The time waste of it all (and the stress) is a tremendous nisayon. But that the nisayom Hashem gave you and me. Someone who becomes a Rosh Yeshiva has other nisyonos.

    Although I wrote it as applying to a certain group of people, why should this same vort not apply to you and me? "Matliach in learning" is relative to what is expected. So you will never know every R' Akiva Eiger -- but will you know gemara/rashi? chumash/rashi? mishnayos? There are people with jobs who not only don't know that much, but don't even aspire to do so.

    If you want a more optimistic answer, I once posted this story:
    The story is told of the Rizhiner who one year after Yom Kippur revealed that he could tell what anyone davened for on Yom Kippur and exactly how the beis din shel ma’alah received those prayers. No one dared test the Rizhiner, but finally one person who was not chassid came forward and asked. The Rizhiner looked at the person and told him, “You used to be a great masmid in yeshiva and aspired to become a great talmid chacham, but financial constraints forced you into business where you have had a degree of success, yet you still long for the beis medrash. Your davened with great sincerity that Hashem should take care of your parnasa so that you should have the opportunity once again to immerse fully in learning.”

    The man was amazed – that was his exact tefilah. “And what was the response on shamayim?” he asked.

    The Rizhiner answered that the man’s request had been rejected.

    “The beis din shel ma’aleh decided”, explained the Rizhiner, “that although there is great nachas in shamayim from your learning, there is even greater nachas from your striving to learn despite the challenges of time and other concerns that stand in your way.”

    IOW, l'fum tza'ara agra. It would be far easier if no obstacles stood in our way, but it's precisely overcoming the obstacles that we are here for.

  5. thanks for the thoughtful response