“Educate the Youth According to His Own Way…”
Chanukah shares the same Hebrew root as the word “education” – חִינוּךְ/chinuch, because it is the holiday of education. King Solomon, the wisest of all men, teaches us a very important principle in education:
ספר משלי פרק כב (ו) חֲנֹךְ לַנַּעַר עַל פִּי דַרְכּוֹ גַּם כִּי יַזְקִין לֹא יָסוּר מִמֶּנָּה:“Educate the youth according to his own way, then also when he grows old, he will not depart from it” (Mishlei 22:6).
Rather than giving in to social pressure of what society expects from our children, it is the parental wisdom to tune into the potential of each of their children, and encourage them on the path suitable for their personalities and talents.
I have often seen boys suffer and going “off the derech” – (Torah path), because they were pushed into a path to become a talmid chacham (Torah scholar), whereas they may have been much more fulfilled becoming an electrician and a carpenter, learning Torah on the side. On the other hand, there are children who exhibit a predisposition for deep Torah learning at a young age. Their path of becoming fulltime yeshiva students are no less essential than becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Before the ‘enlightenment’ period, Torah scholars were looked upon with the utmost reverence. Each Jewish community would have their handpicked respected Torah students who they supported, just as today western society supports university professors spending hours doing all kinds of research that doesn’t always has a direct benefit for society. Today, many people do not have a proper understanding of the importance of Torah study. They may feel resentment towards the yeshiva students who don’t make a living or join the Israeli army. Their claim may apply to those who are just placed in the yeshiva because of social pressure without truly learning. However, there are numerous teachings about the indispensable contribution of the yeshiva students who throw themselves wholehearted into the depth of the Talmudic sea. “Rabbi Elazar said, in the name of Rabbi Chaninah: Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as it says, ‘and all your children shall be taught about Hashem, and great shall be the peace of your children’” (Babylonian Talmud, Yevamot 122b). Having a son who is learning Torah full time is a special merit. Since the Torah is the blueprint and origin of this world, continued involvement in Torah is necessary to keep the world going. Therefore, the primary source of life, light, and existence of all the worlds is the involvement of the Jewish people in Torah study (Rabbi Chaim Volozhin, Nefesh HaChaim 4:11).
Essential for Jewish Survival in Exile
Ya’acov Avinu, who himself had been a fulltime yeshiva student for 14 years (Rashi, Bereishit 28:9), understood the importance of fulltime Torah learning. Therefore, he sent his son, Yehuda ahead of himself to establish a Yeshiva before the rest of the family would go down to Egyptian exile.
ספר בראשית פרק מו (כח) וְאֶת יְהוּדָה שָׁלַח לְפָנָיו אֶל יוֹסֵף לְהוֹרֹת לְפָנָיו גּשְׁנָה וַיָּבֹאוּ אַרְצָה גּשֶׁן:“He sent Yehuda before him to Yosef to teach before him in Goshen…” (Bereishit 46:28).
Rashi explains that Ya’acov sent Yehuda to establish for him a house of study (yeshiva) from which Torah teaching would go forth. Note that the word הוֹרֹת/horot – “teach” is missing a letter vav, thus, it has the exact same letters as תּוֹרָה/Torah (Siftei Chachamim). The high regard that Ya’acov had for the establishment of the Yeshiva is alluded to in the word לְפָנָיו/lefanav – before him, which is repeated twice. Ya’acov placed Torah learning before himself, as he understood that the yeshiva is vital for Jewish survival especially in exile. Therefore, he ensured to create an establishment that would facilitate all the tribes’ involvement in perpetual Torah learning.
Gathering Grain versus Learning Torah
Whereas Jewish survival in exile depends on the strength of the Torah learning, and there is no lack of gentiles to become lawyers and doctors, in the land of Israel it is not ideal for every Jew to be a fulltime yeshiva student, leaving the Arabs to fulfill the roles of doctors, lawyers, police, builders, farmers etc. “Our Rabbis taught: ‘You shall gather your grain’ (Devarim 11:14). What do we learn from these words? Since it says, ‘This Torah book shall not depart out of your mouth’ (Yehoshua 1:8), I might think that this injunction is to be taken literally. Therefore, it says, ‘you shall gather your grain,’ which implies that you are to combine Torah study with a worldly occupation. This is the view of Rabbi Yishmael. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai says: ‘Is that possible? If a man ploughs in the ploughing season, and sows in the sowing season, and reaps in the reaping season, and threshes in the threshing season, and winnows in the season of wind, what is to become of the Torah? No; but when Israel perform the will of the Omnipresent, their work is performed by others...’” (Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 35b). According to Rabbi Yishmael, the mitzvah to gather your grain applied only in the Land of Israel, as working the land of Eretz Yisrael is included in the mitzvah of settling the land. Boaz who was the greatest Torah scholar of his time, the head judge of the Rabbinical court, would winnow his barley the entire night without concern that this may be bitul Torah (wasting time from learning Torah) (Ruth 3:2). Just as we cannot say, “I won’t lay tefillin because of the mitzvah to learn Torah,” we cannot neglect the mitzvah to settle the land of Israel, engaging in any of the crafts needed to establish the land. Therefore, whoever helps develop the Israeli economy is participating in the mitzvah of settling the land. For the Land of Israel is the Holy Land, meaning, even its physical manifestation is holy. However, when we are dispersed among the nations of the world then, “The more the land was settled, the more did their understanding deteriorate,” this Rabbi Yishmael will agree with Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Chatam Sofer, Chidushim for Mesechet Sukah 36). I thank Hashem for the privilege that our little family living in the Land of Israel are engaged in both gathering our grain and learning our holy Torah. Whereas, it is suitable for some Jews to study Torah fulltime and just work a little on the side, others are meant to mainly work while setting aside times for Torah learning. In between is a spectrum of various combinations of Torah learning and earning a livelihood. May we all find our perfect balance of Torah learning and worldly occupation while respecting those whose path may differ from ours!