Monday, November 26, 2007

Whatever Happened to Brains

I really enjoyed this post by Jewboy, discussing the need to plan for the future when one is in yeshiva.
What strikes me about the decision making I see from many of my peers and those younger than me is the lack of cognizance of the need to consult those older than them when it comes to important choices. As I faced decisions, I sought out not only rebbeim as many yeshiva bochurim do but also baal habatim who were 5-10 years older than me who I knew had similar backgrounds and interests. Many conversations I had with some of my older friends were quite illuminating. One friend who had several children cautioned me that it was important to make a career plan now, before I was looking to get married, because he had seen the bad experiences many of his yeshiva friends had had when they started large families, only to discover a few years down the road that they had no marketable skills or training with which to support their families. Today, I am extraordinarily happy that I followed his advice.

And yet, so many of the young men I know refuse to follow along this path. They think that it is enough that their rebbeim counsel them to stay in yeshiva, and not give a thought to college or any type of career training while they pile child upon child, many times relying on parents or in laws to support them. Why do these young men not feel the need, as I did, to speak to peers that went through the same travails?
I still recall a conversation I had with a Rebbe in a certain yeshiva I was in for a few months. When the yeshiva heard I was unhappy and planning on leaving, they appointed a few different rabbeim to speak to me and try to convince me to stay. (The irony in this runs deep, but I digress...) I recall the conversation with one of them, who did not know who I was when I introduced myself nor anything about me; only "Oh, right, R' ____ asked me to speak with you, right." He asked me if I minded walking him home while we talked on the way.

As we started to walk up the hill toward his home, he asked me a few basic questions, including what my plans were for the coming year. I responded that I was likely going to be going to Lander College. He questioned why I was going to college, to which I looked at him, slightly confused, as I really didn't understand what he was asking. After a couple of seconds I responded that I needed to get a degree so I can make a living. He immediately spoke up and said simply
"That's a copout."
I was taken completely aback, but I recovered enough after a few seconds to mumble something along the lines of "You don't know me, you don't know my family, we don't have any money..." or something along those lines. He responded that it's still a copout and I was just looking for a way out of staying in yeshiva. I was too dumbfounded to respond, and spent the next 15 minutes of conversation trying to figure out how to have any constructive conversation with him. The walk ended at the door of his home, when he said "I don't believe there's anything I can do for you".*

When this is the mentality of one's rabbeim, whom one is taught to look up to as people who are worthy of respect and who have acquired wisdom, it makes it very difficult for students. They are pressured by rabbeim and mentalities such as these to make life decisions that are not at all in their best interests. Contrast that with advice I heard quoted in the name of one of my rebbeim from WITS, explaining the concept of finding a rav for oneself:
"Whatever you do, make sure you find as your da'as Torah someone who is honest and who cares more about what is good for you than what is good for him or some 'ideal'."
The problem is when those rabbeim are so hard to find...

* (As a note, I left that yeshiva and returned to OJ within the next couple of weeks, on the advice and counsel of family, friends, former Rabbeim, and other Rabbonim.)