Wednesday, November 16, 2011

the success of the Mir (and other thoughts)

Hope no one minds a bit of a jumble of ideas and a little venting:

1. I don't know about where you live, but in my neck of the woods the local yeshivos are not exactly awash in cash.  The last tuition bill from one of my kid's yeshivos came with a note asking for the funds to be remitted ASAP because they need the funds immediately to meet their obligations (this was a form note, not that I am personally behind).  There are families even in the wealthiest neighborhoods who are struggling to make ends meet.  A local newspaper recently ran a piece on one of the food distribution tzedakos being short because so many people need their assistance.  I heard on the radio that the Hebrew Free Burial Society has had an uptick in people who need assistance because people have no means to afford burial.  There are many, many similar stories and examples.   

If reports are true, the Mir yeshiva has run up debts in excess of 10 million dollars and has now embarked on an emergency campaign to remain solvent.  I just can't imagine in difficult times like these where they intend to raise those funds from.  What community can afford to underwrite debt on such a large scale when local charities and institutions are so desperate for funds?  And even if they succeed in keeping the yeshiva afloat for now, what of the future?  What is the fiscal plan, other than to keep fundraising from the same sources everyone else is trying to fundraise from and bleeding them dry? 

It's a sad situation, and my blogging about it won't make a dent in the problem, so ad kan.  I'm just venting.

2. While on the topic, did you ever wonder why the Mir is so successful at attracting and producing so many bnei Torah?  Let me quote a R' Aviner's answer (link) because it is so simple, yet like other simple things, it is easily overlooked (see hakdama to the Mesilas Yesharim):  "There is therefore only one explanation for its success: They learned Torah. What is the big innovation there? The innovation is that it is possible to be involved with many different things in life and therefore not learn Torah. There are many important things to be involved with, but these are for before one learns in Yeshiva or after one leaves. When one is in Yeshiva, he should learn day and night."  

I recently read that Rav Shach was once asked about a statement the Steipler purportedly made that anyone who learns regular sedorim every day (I seem to recall the number of six hours a day, but I may be wrong.  In most yeshivos sedorim in total add up to more than 6 hours a day) would become a talmid chacham.  I guess those who asked had their doubts.  Rav Shach explained that of course the statement is true, provided you indeed learn full sedorim every day -- that includes Shabbos, weekends, Yom Tov, Fridays, bein ha'zemanin, etc.  (See Tos. Kesubos 63a d"h adayta).  Simple and obvious, yet that doesn't stop most of us (myself included) from looking for shortcuts.  Again, Rav Aviner put it perfectly: "A person can have all the right conditions, but he will not become a Torah scholar if he does not learn. In contrast, a person can have difficult conditions – no livelihood, no food, no Chevruta, etc. – but if he learns, he can become a Torah scholar."

3. Another downer: A Long Island yeshiva made the news for having students implicated in an SAT cheating scandal.  The principal is quoted in one article as saying, "The problem is the kids can go to any test center... The solution is simple -- take the SAT in your own school."  On a practical level I guess what the principal said makes sense, but the advice places all the emphasis on the symptoms, not the disease.  The problem is that some students have a warped sense of values.  The solution is not simple -- it doesn't fit into a sound bite.  It involves constant reinforcement of proper values in the school and (perhaps even more importantly) in the home.  It's a hilchos deyos issue, not just a crime prevention problem. 

4. Sometimes you learn a sefer and it's like looking at the grand canyon or a work or art -- you have to stand back and appreciate it as a whole even before getting into the nitty gritty of whether there is a sevara you don't like or some approach that you don't quite grasp.  There can be an aesthetic appreciation for Torah too.  Let me give you an example: In R' Chaim Kanievski's Ta'ama d'Kra at the end of P' Noach he quotes a teshuvas Mabi"t that says one should avoid giving eponymous names based those listed in the Torah before Avraham.  R' Chaim lists 32 places where he found names that are exceptions to the rule (e.g. Akavya ben Mahallalel).  He quotes gemaras, Midrashim, Geonic literature, references in Rishonim -- in short, it is a  dazzling display of bekiyus from all over.  You can argue with a sevara, but you can't argue with mareh mekomos.  Whatever you think of an individual piece in the sefer here or there, the man obviously has kol haTorah kulah on his fingertips -- it's  Rogatchover-like.

5. Let me end with some Torah: Last week I mentioned that the Torah emphasizes, "Vayikach es ha'ma'acheles," that Avraham forced his hand to grab the knife for the akeidah because Avraham's limbs automatically responded to the ratzon Hashem; since the ratzon Hashem was to not do the akeidah, Avraham had to coerce his hands into action. 

At the beginning of Parshas vaYeira the Torah relates how Avraham lavished attention on his guests, serving them the best food, personally waiting on them, etc.  The only shortcoming Avraham was in serving them water, where the Torah relates that Avraham said, "Yukach na me'ay mayim," to take only a little water, and he served them that water through an emissary.  Why was Avraham so stingy with the water?  Rashi explains that the water was brought so the visitors could wash their feet, as Avraham was under the impression that these were idolators who worshipped dust.  The Pardes Yosef comments that since Avraham was mistaken -- these were really angels -- and there was no mitzvah need for the water, Avraham's limbs did not react when he tried to move to draw the water, hence he had to skimp a bit. 

With this background perhaps we can understand why Sarah remained in the dark about the akeidah episode even though she was actually superior to Avraham in nevuah.  Had the ratzon Hashem been to offer Yitzchak as a korban, Sarah indeed would have known about it.  Her ignorance was precisely due to her higher level of perception of the true ratzon Hashem -- there was no real mitzvah to sacrifice Yitzchok.  When she heard what Avraham set out to do she could only assume that he was acting of his own accord to attempt to achieve a higher level of kedushas Hashem, even sans tzivuy, and it was that thought that caused her to pass away (Sifsei Tzadik). 

These three pieces fit together, but in terms of explaining why the akeidah was hidden from Sarah, I much prefer the romantic (if I may call it that) approach of the Ksav Sofer.  He writes that had Sarah been told of Avraham's mission, she undoubtedly would have encouraged him and given him the chizuk he and Yitzchak needed to do the job.  It would have been a far lesser test for Avraham and Yitchak under those circumstances.  The message is obvious -- where would we be if we had to face our own nisyonos without our spouse to lean on?  


  1. great unknown10:28 PM

    Re Sarah and the akeidah: I heard a diyuk that when Rashi says "ki'm'at shelo nishchat..." it means that the she died from the shock that Yitzchok was about to be shechted but actually wasn't. It was the "wasn't" that killed her.

    Re Reb Chayim Kanievsky. I was at a Bris in Yerushalyim about fifteen years ago where a friend of mine told me that he was was waiting for Reb Chayim to show up [he was a karov to the ba'al bris]. He wanted to ask him if, when one makes tzitzit on a beged, they should be wound clockwise or counter-clockwise. I told him that there was no possible distinction.

    In any case, after the bris I asked my friend what Reb Chayim said. He told me that Reb Chayim listed three shitas one way and two the other way, so l'halacha he could do it either way. I wasn't shocked at my ignorance in assuming that this was a non-issue. I was shocked that Reb Chayim even knew that there were opinions dealing with this.

    If chilonim had even the slightest idea of the brilliance of the Gedolim...

  2. What does the statement of learning for 6 hours a day mean? For how many years? What exactly is he saying? If you keep learning 6 hours a day every day for your whole life you will eventually be a talmud chacham? Uh, ok...

  3. Anonymous3:46 AM

    4. "32 places" = '32 paths of wisdom'?

    5. of this limb condition that so paralyzed Avraham-- then "walk before Me & be perfect" meant
    'listen to your body*!' milah understood to be the means by which his flesh was informed of the will of G-d? else how did his limbs receive their instinct for the Divine? was this the truest case since first man of "yatzar es ha'adam b'chochma"?)

    * a body that could die only to acquire a more attuned soul! (or to undo environmental damage suffered in its youth?)

  4. Chulin 24a:
    מכאן לתלמיד שלא ראה סימן יפה במשנתו ה' שנים שוב אינו רואה
    Or, as Reb Chaim Zimmerman once said, (translated), If someone learns with hasmada five years and he is not a talmid chacham, he must have siyata dishmaya to be a not-talmid-chacham.
    Of course, "talmid Chacham" means different things in different contexts. I have been referred to as a talmid chacham in many public forums, and I guarantee that there are many people that know exactly how much I know who would laugh at the appellation. This is not even counting a certain mechutan of mine.

  5. who says siman yafe means becoming a talmid chacham?

  6. Anonymous2:32 PM

    adam harishon amassed an oral tradition of only 18 words, & still managed to become the preeminent scholar of his day...

    {b -- what came of the categorizations(bli neder) last Shabbos?}

  7. >>>What does the statement of learning for 6 hours a day mean?

    Mashma to me from the context in which I saw it that it means keeping sedorim in yeshiva -- like if a guy learns diligently from age 16 to 22, he will be a talmid chacham.

    B - you prove you are an anav as well as a talmid chochom. : )

    >>>If chilonim had even the slightest idea of the brilliance of the Gedolim...

    If those of us who count ourselves as frum but think nothing of writing blog posts questioning the torah of gedolim had any sense of who we were writing about we would bury our heads in shame. The chilonim have an excuse -- they're chilonim. What's the excuse for those of us who purport to be bnei Torah?

  8. What happened to the categorization was that I realized there was too much going on. For example: The Chasam Sofer in this week's parsha that talks about Yitzchak dwelling in Be'er Lachai Ro'i (24:62), and the connection to Yishma'el (16:13) and Eisav, being that it was the place of Middas Hadin. I'm still very confused.

  9. Anonymous2:15 AM

    onward b, & upward, learning
    in confusion needs a bracha too!

  10. Anonymous2:22 AM

    needs a bracha most of all...