“I grew up in the open European society. My sons live in Jerusalem. What more do they need in Jerusalem other than Torah?”
It is not difficult to understand his thinking. Who could stand against such a pure and untarnished Jewish experience? And yet…there are those who would argue that a great number of Israel’s population might benefit from an open, loving outreach approach. Certainly that is true of the overwhelming majority of American Jews living in Eiver’s society, thirsty to drink from God’s waters but never having been exposed to a genuine and authentic Jewish experience.
How can they gain such experiences but from those Jews who have been nurtured and taught in Yaakov’s tent and then sent out to teach Torah to them, in the world? To teach Torah in the world demands the teacher have the experience and preparation to communicate with all Jews, at their level, in their language, wherever they are – from the secular and assimilated to the ever-growing population of frum drop-outs, Jews who simply walk away from Torah life for countless reasons.
In the early 1980s, I worked to recruit young talmidei chachamim to join what was, at the time, little more than a dream of what would become a Pittsburgh Kollel, one of the very first such community-oriented kollelim in the United States. It was no easy task to convince a minyan of Lakewood scholars to leave the warmth and safety of Lakewood to migrate to the Steel City.
After one of my visits to Lakewood in pursuit of “ten yungeleit,” I asked the saintly Rav Schneur Kotler, z”l, why the vast majority of the outstanding scholars in Lakewood were so reluctant to move from the famed yeshiva to a secular city. “They will accomplish so many positive and beneficial things for Klal Yisrael,” I argued.
The wise and perceptive rosh yeshiva smiled softly and noted that for many of the yeshiva’s graduates, particularly those who have been in the yeshiva for a number of years, the yeshiva is like a warm and comforting womb, from which it is traumatic to exit.
“You know,” the rosh yeshiva went on, “it is not easy for a newborn to leave the mother’s womb after having been completely taken care of with all of one’s needs for nine months.”
The analogy is apt. There comes a time when, despite accompanying trauma and loud cries, the newborn must emerge from its mother’s womb, attain its own independence and eventually make its own contribution to the world at large. It is only when the Yaakovs and Yosefs of our current day are able to make the purposeful transition from the secure and untroubled tents of their fathers and make their way in the tumultuous and demanding societies in need of their counsel, guidance, and care that we will know their upbringing was significant and purposeful.
However, it is not Torah knowledge alone that ensures the transition is successful. There is a spark, a quality, that is required if one is to motivate and challenge a Jew to reach out and touch the soul of a fellow Jew with one’s own talents and abilities – the ability to embrace and maintain one’s youthfulness, one’s sense of wonder and constant renewal. In other words, the ability to remain a na’ar.
Yosef always maintained his youthfulness, his sense of renewal. Reb Aharon of Karlin explains that Yosef is the epitome of na’ar hayiti v’gam zakanti – “I was young and I have grown old.” Even as I have grown older, become more mature and seasoned, I have maintained the same excitement, vigor and enthusiasm as in my youth. To maintain such an approach, one needs to retain a sense of renewal about life.