All or Nothing

Not too long after entering 9th grade in one of the more yeshivishe mesivtos on the east coast something started to niggle at the back of my mind; all I heard about all day was learning, learning, learning and more of the same. Our goal in life is to sit and learn, if you went to work you haven’t made it; you’re a dropout, you’re a (gasp) baal habos. Of course you would learn as much as you can to redeem your soul, naturally you’ll use your ill gotten gains to support torah learning, but you would have given up on the ultimate redemption of your soul. You’re a baal habos. You’re doomed.
Something about this setup didn’t make sense to me; I had just come from a chasidishe elementary school and this is certainly not what I had heard there. Sure, they thought that telling a kid that he’s going to end up a truck driver was a good put-down but other than that, going to work as an adult was what we expected to do, suddenly we’re being told that the only plans we should make for the future is to continue within the koslei baid hamedrash for the rest of our lives! And here I thought that in a few years I would be free.

One day I ask the oldest bochur in yeshiva about this; it seems to me that what we’re saying is that it’s all or nothing, either you learn full time or there’s no point in learning at all. As I was saying this to him the words sounded strange to my ears, I thought, that’s not really what they’re saying because of course every minute that you learn you get a mitzvah so that when that’s exactly what he answered I felt a little foolish and walked away more confused than before.

Now I ask you: isn’t that exactly what they did mean though? Aren’t they talking out of two sides of their mouths when they endlessly preach full time unending learning, when they put down people who leave yeshiva or kollel, saying that they haven’t accomplished what they were sent down to this world for on the one hand while paying lip service to the baal habos who maintains a “night seder”?
I think that I was more perceptive in 9th grade than I was over the next few years when I tried to live up to the yeshiva ideal.

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