But we aren’t a perfect generation. As a result of our weak secular education and greater insularity, our generation is struggling to make ends meet. Parnassah options are often limited. If not employed in klei kodesh, most of us work for or start small businesses, frequently competing with each other to service the needs of our community. We are often recipients of governmental aid, a possibility our parents’ generation wouldn’t have considered. Arguably, their understanding of male responsibility was more traditional and defined than ours.
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Our children will undoubtedly have the same existential need to add, change, and contribute. What will their contribution be? Will their learning be more intense? Will they learn more diverse Torah subjects? Will they learn in kollel longer? Will they be more medakdek (precise) in halacha? Perhaps they will add a bit in each area. But I don’t believe it will be enough to give them a sense of creativity and ownership in Yiddishkeit. They will ultimately want something that is their own, something that is uniquely theirs.
Kollel was an idealistic endeavor for my parents’ generation. It was a rite of passage for my generation. It is a lifestyle for the current generation. It is a commendable lifestyle, without doubt. But it is hardly a choice that captures their hearts and minds.
The Torah values ownership and sees it as the touchstone of mesorah. Each year on Passover we say, “A person is obligated to view himself as if he was one who left Egypt” (Hagaddah, Pesachim 116b). Clearly, it is important for every Jew to feel as if he has been personally redeemed by God and transformed from powerless to powerful, slave to soldier.
Each year on Shavuos we learn that every Jewish soul was at Mount Sinai and received the Torah (Midrash Tanchuma Nitzavim). We each chose to accept the Torah, as a warrior accepts a mission. Clearly, personal connection and individual choice are the pillars upon which the successful transmission of Torah is set.
Currently we are in the period between Passover and Shavuos. Each night we count the Omer, marking the 49 days in which the Jewish people journeyed from slavery in Egypt to Revelation at Sinai. We remember the time we attained freedom and relive the decision to commit that freedom to a Godly discipline and an inspired life.
The commentaries ask why we count up, adding a number each night, as opposed to counting down. When we begin counting on the second night of Passover we could say “there are 49 days left until Shavuos” and work our way down a number each night, until we reach Shavuos, the celebration of Revelation.
Many reasons are offered, but this explanation touches my soul: The process of committing to Torah is best made when it is a journey, a search and a discovery. We begin the journey with the destination of Sinai in mind, for sure. But if we begin from the end and merely count backward with predetermined detail, the process will be uninspired and the commitment, when made, will be weak.
We need a new mission: something as great as kollel was for my parents’ generation and the advent of “yeshivish” was for ours. We need something that will capture the imagination of our children. We need something that will capture the creativity of the best and brightest of our youth.
Kiddush Hashem fits the bill. If we make this our new mantra, we would need to adapt our educational system, keeping our values but changing their application. Kollel would be for those who would choose it, and they would need to “prove it to choose it.” Our children’s secular studies would be greatly improved in quality and quantity, not as an inherent value but as the means to Kiddush Hashem. You cannot inspire the world unless you are lettered; a Jew cannot speak for Judaism unless he is learned. But you will not inspire the world unless you can articulate values in the language understood by the masses.
The average layperson would be trained with the ability to provide for his family shortly after marriage, reducing the monetary stress that frays familial unity and communal harmony. Most of our laypeople will not be competing to provide services to our community. And the currency of our culture, the achievement of communal kvelling, would be bringing glory to the name of Hashem throughout America. With strong education and rabbinic guidance, haredi writers, speakers, and laypeople would weigh in with ease and familiarity on national issues. The layperson would be a Godly soldier, familiar with the moral battles of the day, in touch with the forces pushing for biblical expression in American culture and bristling at those pushing against it. The layperson would be seared with the desire and mission to bring honor and dignity to God by living, learning and working as a proud Jew.