Monday 30 June 2014

022) Intangible, But Life Changing

Torah education is flourishing. So many young people, today, have the privilege of experiencing some form of Jewish education. The numbers of children passing through Torah institutions is quite staggering.

Yet, huge numbers of these same people are being turned off Judaism by these same institutions.
“The fact is, we are witness to literally thousands of yeshiva-educated children (boys and girls) who have left the path of the Torah.”
(Chinuch in Turbulent Times by R. Brezak p 18)

This book was published about ten years ago, and people estimate the numbers to be far greater today.

What are we doing wrong?

One of the Kotzker Rebbe's most influential teachers was the Yid HaKadosh (1766-1814). He studied under the tutelage of the Chozeh of Lublin (1766-1827). The strange thing was that the student was more learned than the teacher. (Interestingly enough, both were born in the same year, 1766, and both bore the same name Yaakov Yitzchak.) The Yid came from a non-chassidic family who traced their ancestry line back to the brother of the famous Taz. The Yid was an outstanding Talmudic scholar and was highly praised by R Akiva Eiger.

What then was he doing at the Chozeh?

The answer lies in the simple fact that real learning has nothing to do with the technical transfer of information. True learning has to do with the transfer of something more subtle and less tangible. Sometimes the deepest learning takes place without the recipient even being able to articulate exactly what it was he learned. But he knows he learned something because his life changed.

The Yid studied under the Chozeh because he received from his teacher something no one else gave him.

There is a supposition that every third generation is the hardest generation to teach. This is loosely based on the verse; “When you give birth to children and grandchildren and have been long in the land, you will grow corrupt…” (Devarim 4:25) While this verse literally refers to the Land of Israel, it can also allude to a well established Torah family becoming somewhat ‘corrupt’ as a consequence of over familiarity with Torah values.

The first person in the family to become observant is usually fired up about everything Jewish. He can’t wait to raise his own family in the ways of Torah true Judaism. At least they will lose the ‘stigma’ of being ‘new recruits’. He learned to daven at twenty, now his child will daven at three. Only thing, though, he forgets that his child may not be as enthusiastic about all this as he is. The child never underwent the same process of choice and discovery that the father did. Sometimes it doesn't matter, and the child turns out just fine. But sometimes it does. And when it does, it matters. The situation compounds itself even more during the third generation.

Assuming that each generation in this scenario was given a proper Torah education, still, many children fall out.


Because too much emphasis is placed on the technical transfer of knowledge. To put it bluntly: If we only teach our children because we think they are more stupid than us, we will never transmit to them that most important intangible aspect of life-changing education we spoke about earlier. Perhaps we need to start with the hypothetical assumption that our children know more than us. Yet we are still tasked with the responsibility of teaching them.

What would we teach them in such a case? Would we have anything to teach them?

Perhaps even the word ‘education’ is the root cause of the problem of uninspired youngsters. Perhaps we need to stop trying to educate them so much, and develop within them more of a philosophy about life. An attitude. An approach. Something they can use instead of just know.  

This is why the Yid HaKadosh went to study under the Chozeh of Lublin. He needed to learn how to use what he already knew.

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