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Rick Magder

Klal Perspectives: Technology and the 21st Century Orthodox Community

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

Exploring New Possibilities in Online Torah Learning


Today’s technology has become so intimately intrusive in our lives that it is often impossible to assess whether we are consumers of technology or whether technology is consuming us. While, “smart” technology allegedly makes our lives easier, more productive and less stressful, the question is, does it make us smarter? In any event, one thing appears all but certain – technology is here to stay.

The unavoidable and increasingly pervasive and powerful impact of technology implores us to confront the unprecedented opportunities and avenues it can facilitate for Jewish growth, education and learning, despite the many imposing challenges it presents. Below is a brief exploration of some of these opportunities and challenges as they concern several of Torah Judaism’s most cherished values and practices.

A fundamental dimension of sustaining the Mesorah is the central role of the rebbe/student relationship. Historically, an individual would develop this relationship relatively early in life, and naturally sustain it thereafter to one degree or another. Technology, however, has revolutionized access to communication as well as transportation, altering many of the dynamics underlying the rebbe/student relationship, both negatively and positively. For example, ease of travel has introduced the common practice of talmidim studying in a variety of yeshivas in both Israel and the U.S. rather than maintaining roots in one environment. This practice impacts the stability that is needed for students to build and sustain a meaningful and lasting relationship with a particular rebbe.

On the positive side, these same dynamics afford greater opportunities for students to encounter new rebbeim who may be more appropriate for their particular intellectual and temperamental needs, and with whom they are more likely to maintain a long-term relationship. Moreover, ease of travel and communications allows this relationship to be sustained and nurtured long after the rebbe and student have parted ways.

The Internet and its myriad learning opportunities introduce a similar dichotomy regarding the rebbe/student relationship. On one hand, enormous breadth of access increases the chances that a seeking individual will find a teacher who “speaks their language.” On the other hand, an individual’s tilt towards online learning can seriously threaten the unique and invaluable impact of the personal energy that accompanies a rebbe teaching students sitting before him. I recently saw a teshuva discussing whether one can make a siyum after listening to the recording of a mesechta being taught, though not actively involving oneself in engaged study.

Unfortunately, online Torah study introduces even more blatant and noxious challenges. Many online platforms deliver rich and profound media but at the same time may also inadvertently serve as the conduit for severely inappropriate material. A most beautiful and impactful shiur watched on YouTube may be followed by a YouTube pop-up introducing a variety of images linking to other wholly inappropriate videos on their site.

Increasingly popular alternatives for dissemination of Torah are video streaming services such as LiveStream or Ustream. These services allow the user to broadcast a live video feed, and they are wonderful for delivering a live shiur to which students and friends can be invited. In fact, one blog recently posted an article entitled “Could Live Streaming Be the Key to Kiruv?”,[1] which presented two mobile streaming services – Periscope and Meerkat. Sites like these, however, generate revenue from ads, and retain exclusive control over ad placement. The most unholy and inappropriate content can, therefore, follow the holiest of classes. Educators and their administrators must therefore be mindful and evermore diligent about anticipating these kinds of issues.

Another challenge heightened by technology is the degree of stimulation and “razzle-dazzle” that is now necessary to capture someone’s attention. Age-old wisdom about how to reach people with meaningful Jewish ideas seems increasingly outdated in this rapidly changing, fast-paced, technological age. In a YouTube and Instagram world, attention spans have been shortened and people are accustomed to information being seamlessly and painlessly delivered to the palm of their hands. Moreover, even when a student can be convinced to venture out of his or her immediate surroundings to embark on a search of Judaism – whether on Birthright or even for a stint in a yeshiva or seminary, maintaining follow-up presents the same challenge.

One solution that addresses these very challenges is, which I created with my brother Gary under the auspices of the Afikim Foundation. It provides a clean and protected platform for online deliverables of Jewish content, such as live classes, videos and other media, and allows technology to be used to reach current and potential students around the world. A wide variety of organizations and individuals have utilized the platform to create and teach their own interactive, online classes. With the assistance of the Afikim Foundation, Project Sinai continues to grow and flourish, with thousands of registered users around the world participating in classes regularly.

Online Torah learning is just beginning to become normative, and will likely continue to flourish. In the secular world, online classes have become commonplace, and these developments are allowing the Torah community to learn from others how to most effectively utilize this mode of study. About 5.3 million students took at least one online course in Fall 2013 – up 3.7 percent from the previous fall, according to “Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States,” an annual report by the Babson Survey Research Group. The Babson study also reports that in 2014, an unprecedented 70.8% of academic leaders reporting that e-learning is critical to their long-term strategy.

The next obvious query regarding online study is its effectiveness. Among the same Babson cohort of academic leaders, about 74% reported that online study produced results equal or superior to face-to-face instruction. In fact, a growing majority of chief academic officers rate the learning outcomes for online education “as good as or better” than those for face-to-face instruction. While the 2013 results show a small decrease in the percentage of academic leaders who view the learning outcomes for online instruction as the same or better than face-to-face, they attribute this to the fact that leaders at institutions without online offerings are generally more negative regarding the impact of online learning.

These results reflect the trend toward more immersive and experiential online learning experiences. Experiential online learning environments include a range of online experiences, such as purposeful games, thought-provoking scenarios and consequential simulations. They may even include 3-D worlds, which tend to significantly increase student engagement.

The Financial Times recently published an article addressing the future of online learning. In the article, Anant Agarwal, chief executive of edX – an online learning platform created jointly by Harvard and MIT – suggests that students worldwide will soon have free access to virtually any course subject in just about any language, adding up to tens of thousands of free, open courses, offering everything from fine arts to engineering. Learning will likely become even more personalized , offering multiple pathways to navigate courses that fit specific learning styles and speeds.

The blended model incorporating a combination of online and in-class, live learning will become more commonplace. It is projected that by 2020, 50% of all college campus coursework will combine in-person and online learning – a shift driven by student demand.[2] MIT’s recent task force report on the future of MIT education, for example, was unequivocal in its support of the blended model.

An article appearing in the US News & World Report, by Kelsey Sheehy[3] noted that high schools nationwide include at least one online course as a prerequisite to matriculation. Many states have enacted laws making online learning a mandatory prerequisite for graduation. The article quotes Kathleen Airhart, deputy commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Education, in a discussion with Education Week, “The reality is, when a student leaves us, whether they’re going to a four-year college, a technical college, or going into the world of work, they’re going to have to do an online course. This helps prepare the students.”

How do these trends impact Jewish learning? Jewish education has traditionally lagged far behind its secular counterpart with regard to innovation. Perhaps we feel that “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” and that may be true. For example, even the staunchest frum advocate of online study would be hard pressed to argue that online study is superior to the chavrusah model of one-on-one study. On a full-class basis, however, online study often generates an energy that has no equal, even in a live face-to-face event. When participants observe others logging into a shiur from across the globe, a feeling is generated that is quite exciting. One recognizes that one is part of something special.

Through programs run on, I see firsthand how this technology is impacting secular students. The online classroom allows them to connect with like-minded students throughout the country in a way that could not happen otherwise. For the most part, these are students who would find a face to face interaction with a rabbi far too intimidating.

Online learning is having an impact on Jewish day school education as well. Many forward-thinking schools have integrated some form of online learning into their curricula, This is commonly referred to as “blended learning,” referranced above. It incorporates computer or online based learning that takes place in school or at home as part of the live teacher/classroom experience. Secular institutions are proving this model as very effective at raising the level of education while at the same time reducing costs.

While many yeshivas and day schools are not inclined to use such technology, newer startups and tuition paying parents are taking note. They are exploring this model as a way to lower tuition costs while at the same time improving the quality of education. While we have traditionally been slow adopters when it comes to new models of education, I believe online learning can and will revolutionize Jewish education in a way that makes it more affordable.

Faced with the reality of the tuition crisis, and in many cases substandard secular education, our educational institutions need to take note. With today’s technology, these types of needs tend to pave the way for “disruptive innovation.” If you are unfamiliar with the term, just think of Uber, the user-driven taxi service that spawned a whole new industry in transportation. Uber is a classic example of how a new opportunity provided by technology upended an age-old and well-established industry worldwide, literally overnight and without warning. It caused people to change their expectations about travel, and the worldwide taxi industry had no choice but to respond. Perhaps online learning will become our version of disruptive technology, demanding a rethinking of the age-old model of yeshivas and day schools.

Without question, technology comes with a price. When it is harnessed for good, it can be the most effective tool we have in our arsenal that combats ignorance, apathy and assimilation. The Malbim (Tehillim 85) explains that for tov (goodness) to be achieved, it must be led and mentored by tzedek (righteousness). A gift of tov left unrestrained will never achieve its purpose. When evaluating the good and the bad of the Internet, and by extension all its portals and applications, we must acknowledge how destructive and empty they can be when used improperly. At the same time, there is goodness beyond what could ever have been imagined decades ago that is being shared every day, everywhere, through the growing benefits of these technologies.

It is therefore vital that we approach our engagement with technology with great care and foresight. Clearly, we cannot look the other way and pretend that it doesn’t exist. Nor can we hide it from our children or simply prohibit everything and expect that all will be well. Such an approach is an irresponsible recipe for failure. So how can we take advantage of the extraordinary opportunities and avoid the dangers of online technology? A few suggestions:
1. If it’s free, beware. Before adopting tech just because everyone else is using it, you must do your homework. There is a good chance that somewhere along the line, you and/or your users will see something you don’t want to see.   While it’s very enticing that sites like YouTube offer you access to tens of millions of potential viewers, weigh the pros and cons. As an educator, you know that what makes you relevant is your content, not the platform on which it is delivered. Of course, there may be advantages to using YouTube to showcase video content rather than posting it on your own website. Examine if and how that impacts your bottom line. You may have more success by controlling where and how your content is presented, and there are platforms that have been designed to accomplish that. Platforms that are “closed” (i.e., that do not allow anyone anywhere to post content) offer a level of control that promises to make sure content is appropriate and there will be no surprises during the user experience. These services provide more of a “safe” environment, but it is nevertheless unlikely that any service using the public Internet is 100% foolproof.

2. If you are actively and successfully connecting with students online, you are probably using at least some social media tools and services. Research which platforms your constituents deem relevant. Regularly review their policies and make sure you are comfortable with them. These policies can change without you knowing. For example, many people will tell you that FaceBook is safe.   Last year, Facebook announced changes to its privacy and advertising policies, extending Facebook’s ability to track users outside of Facebook. This counters their 2011 position that they “do not track users across the web.” Facebook said it will begin to disregard its users’ choice of using their in-browser “Do Not Track” setting: Soon, anyone who clicks “ask websites not to track me” in their browser will be completely ignored by Facebook. Google and Yahoo already ignore people’s “Do Not Track” settings, though Twitter, Microsoft and Pinterest still respect them.

3. Many social platforms “mine” user data and can lure users away from your content. YouTube, for example, is a very sophisticated social media platform. If they see that people are interested in “Jewish” content, they can automatically comment on your page, suggesting other Jewish content that you may not approve of. Obviously regular viewers can do this as well. Again, monitor this regularly.

4, If you use video conferencing, streaming video services or website development platforms such as Wix or WordPress, make sure that they can provide a custom interface or integration that limits their ability to post other content on your page.

5. Invest time to understand how these platforms engage users. Everyone wants to be active on “social media.” Many people spend significant dollars doing so with little or no success. The more educated you become, the more successful you will be online.

While there is much more to discuss, it is clear that the Internet has revolutionized education, and its ability to reach Jews across the spectrum of Jewish life is unprecedented and unrivaled. From the unaffiliated to the most learned, everyone in our community can benefit and grow.

While our community prides itself on institutions such as family, school and our spiritual leaders as the most important providers of information, tradition and moral orientation, these institutions are now sharing this valuable space with technology. While no one can classify technology as simply good or bad, many have said that it has become the most important storyteller and that the Internet in particular has impacted Western civilization in a way that hasn’t happened since Gutenberg’s printing press.

Let’s embrace it, use it wisely and continue to transform the world.

Rick Magder has been developing media and marketing initiatives for corporations and Jewish organizations for over 25 years.   He is the Founder and Director of, a project of the Afikim Foundation.





Dr. Laya Salomon

Klal Perspectives: Technology and the 21st Century Orthodox Community

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

Technology as a Learning Tool: An Educator’s Perspective


The unprecedented proliferation of technological advancements, marked by an ability to access and manipulate content in unprecedented ways, compels a measure of reflection regarding the use of new technologies in educating our children. Our hashkafa embraces great respect for limits and modesty and, though it varies in degree among different sub-communities within Orthodoxy, we all maintain some degree of separation from secular trends and fanfare. How then, and to what extent, can we balance the threats and opportunities of the Internet for our children, when its regulation often proves too alluring, even for adults? The use of the Internet as an educational vehicle is incredible, but how can children’s engagement with technology avoid becoming a terrible waste of their time – or worse, a contributor to their own spiritual, moral and academic decline?

My experience takes me to the classroom, where I supervise and mentor Judaic and General studies teachers in Orthodox Jewish elementary and high schools throughout North America. It is in these classrooms that I have observed and studied numerous contemporary uses for technology as teaching and learning tools. Summarized below are various potential opportunities and limitations in classroom technology use, as well some of the best practices that promote the use of technology in a productive and healthy way.   No doubt these observations will have significant applicability beyond the classroom walls, and may even highlight reflective practices that transcend the spheres of technology.

Educational Uses for Technology

When weighing the value and costs of a particular technology, it’s important to be able to identify its intended purpose. Highlighted below are current technology’s four most common educational uses. Some technologies aim to support student learning through just one of the noted uses while others serve multiple functions. This listing will be followed by a discussion of their respective benefits and limitations.

First, technology can aid student learning by conveying the content being taught. While classroom knowledge was once conveyed exclusively through either textbooks or the teacher’s oral presentation, content can now be relayed through other mediums. On nearly every academic topic and for every grade level, there are podcasts, videos, and countless pages of written material that can be accessed online.

Technology is also used to enhance student learning. A teacher can supplement the base lessons taught in the classroom by directing students to additional material or interactive opportunities via technology. Students can access the same knowledge they confronted in class in new and innovative ways (such as via a game or video), or be introduced to additional but related content that expands or deepens the classroom lesson.  In this regard, technology is a bonus enhancement – adding to a child’s education, and/or making learning more enjoyable and accessible.

Technology is also utilized as an assessment vehicle.  By responding to assessment questions, students can receive instant feedback indicating how they fare in relation to their previous quiz results or in comparison to their peers.[1] Other tools allow students to design and create materials that reflect the extent of their understanding of a topic or unit. Some applications may be rather directed, such as having a student punctuate lines of a Gemara online or record the proper reading of a pasuk[2] (verse), while other applications are more expansive and creative, such as asking the student to write a storyboard to showcase a middah in action.[3]

Finally, technology is often used as a simple organizational tool. Programs, apps, and sites are available to curate students’ necessary learning tools by housing worksheets, notes, photos, and links to information.[4] These tools aim to minimize lost and crumpled papers, heavy knapsacks, illegible homework pads and an overload of folders and notebooks.

Benefits and Limitations

To what extent do these alternative uses of technology benefit our children enough to warrant their serious consideration? While all available educational uses of technology may be helpful to some degree or another, at least two, I suggest, deserve particular attention and discussion:

1. Unprecedented access to master educators and educational content

I recently supervised a teacher who, while bright and capable, was not an effective lecturer. Her demeanor was understated, and though she prepared interesting worksheets and activities, when telling a story or repeating a dvar torah, she invariably lost the attention of most of her students. I introduced her to several online sites containing video and audio recordings of divrei torah delivered in dynamic and inspiring ways. I then suggested that she consider using some of her classroom time presenting the online material, and then engage the class in a discussion of the online presentation.

Certain passionate pedagogues are particularly brilliant and knowledgeable and have a unique knack for relaying information. With technology, distance proves no longer to be a barrier and access to master pedagogues who reside across the globe has become a possibility. Whether in real time or not, students can now soak in the teachings of gifted educators and acquire an understanding and quality of learning that the typical educator might not be expected to convey.

In almost any topic, grade level or interest, there is a wealth of online content that can address the requirements of any state curriculum standards. This availability carries over to limudai kodesh, as well. Websites and portals provide access to recordings, videos and writings on nearly every Torah topic, taught and explored by exceptionally talented and well-respected bnei Torah.[5] There are sites that produce weekly and monthly videos that capture salient Jewish ideas and core Orthodox concepts, which are sure to invoke students’ curiosity and interests.[6] In addition, I’ve been personally involved in the creation of “all-in-one” sites – those that introduce new materials, allow students to engage in them in fun and interactive ways and offer multiple opportunities to showcase and assure understanding of the new learning.[7] While teachers often create invaluable materials tailored to their particular students, there is also a large reservoir of prepared materials available online that can be enormously effective.

A common resistance to introducing online offerings to the classroom is the concern that it will compromise the role of the teacher or rebbe. If utilized wisely and correctly, however, the opposite is true. Online educational tools can actually significantly enhance the role of the educator. By using online tools, the rebbe or morah can spend more preparation and classroom time developing topics for discussion and engaging in rich and meaningful conversation about the material being taught. Moreover, this extra capacity allows the educator more time to address the learning needs of individual students.

Utilizing online materials in the classroom offers significant educational opportunities, but success will depend on the particular material and the online teachers chosen. Choosing the right material requires an understanding of superior teaching and learning practices. Key considerations include whether the selection will directly aid in attainment of core curricular goals, reflect the ability level of the students, sufficiently challenge the students and call for mindful engagement that assures more activity than passivity.   The task of identifying the appropriate online content, and orchestrating a classroom dynamic in which online use enhances the teacher/student relationship, carries great responsibility and cannot be underestimated.

2. Unprecedented Opportunity for individualization

I have encountered students who are disconnected from learning in each type of school, in every grade level and in almost every one of the hundreds of classrooms I have visited. Whether it is an academically gifted child who immediately masters the content, a struggling student unable to keep up or perhaps someone who just doesn’t find the lesson interesting, there are always children whose needs aren’t met in the classroom. And the long-term repercussions of that are well known.

Our community recognizes the drawbacks of, and has lamented, our “one size fits all” approach in education. Educators grapple with the challenge, and search anxiously for ways to address it. Nevertheless, hard-working and dedicated teachers continue to bemoan their inability to meet the needs of all of their students, and lay the blame on limited time and resources and oversized classes.

Technology is by no means a panacea, but it does present opportunities to experiment and seek to address some of these struggles. When utilized correctly, technology can open an array of opportunities to fashion learning to individual needs and interests. Multiple paths may be explored:

  • I often share with my students a Peanuts cartoon in which a forlorn Linus shares his teacher’s theory with Charlie Brown: “She says teaching is like bowling. All you can do is roll the ball down the middle and hope you touch most of your students.“ Charlie Brown replies, “She must be a terrible bowler!” Well, there’s truth to this bowling analogy. Teachers who aim to do their best and reach as many students as possible typically target their lessons towards the middle of the class’s range. Given the limited time and resources, teachers see no alternative. Alas, so many students are not being “struck” as a result. Utilizing technology, teachers can direct individual students who need extra learning help, or have yet to master certain skills, towards apps or sites that will compensate for the teacher’s limited availability. Similarly, gifted students who are stifled by the limitations of the materials presented to the entire class can be guided to more advanced and challenging learning in the same manner.   The bounty of technology learning tools can, thereby, allow learning to be more individualized, mitigating the limitations imposed by scarce resources and large class sizes.
  • Studies have evidenced that students acquire and retain information most effectively when it is actively used.[8] Rather than simply listening to a teacher as a passive recipient, students in an active learning environment are involved in the learning through reading, writing, discussing, interacting and problem solving. Students can be compelled by technology to actively engage in the content, with features that require that they respond to, manipulate and interact with the information in a hands-on manner. Active engagement of the student makes the learning more enjoyable and eliminates the option of daydreaming or affirmatively choosing to opt out of the lesson.
  • Each child is an individual, with unique talents, interests and passions. Too often, however, this individuality is not fully identified and utilized, and neglected by our educational system. Students obviously grow much more from their academic experiences and advance more significantly in their subsequent endeavors if their individual attributes are Technology introduces unprecedented opportunities to do just that: The students who are drawn to construction or architecture can virtually build a kosher sukkah or engage in an online engineering project; those who love to draw can depict their understanding of a perek or a unit through an illustrated e-book or comic strip, and so much more. Technology can also facilitate a student’s exploration of additional spheres of study that are of particular interest. A student enamored with a certain topic – such as a particular gadol or era of history – can conduct extra research on that topic and share their newfound knowledge with the teacher and fellow classmates. By tapping into their interests and talents, students can develop a sense of ownership and joy in their learning that is personal and meaningful to them.
  • While some students in a classroom are interacting with learning via technology tools, the teacher can provide personalized instruction to others, individually or in small groups. Teachers can thereby maximize the students’ learning experience and also connect with individual students on a personal level.
  • Recently, a concept called “flipping” has surfaced as an educational trend. Students learn the basic material (such as the simple meaning of a series of pesukim (verses) in Judaic Studies or mathematical rules and formulas in general studies) at home via a website or app that supplies the content,[9] or through a teacher’s own visual and audio recording of the content.[10] Classroom time is then used to delve more deeply into the content already learned at home, as well as to apply, discuss and practice it. The traditional classroom model is “flipped” – instead of instruction taking place in school and practice and deep application being assigned for homework, technology allows for just the opposite. With the flipped model, students who struggle with the basic learning and core skills can view the recordings of the basic material multiple times at home, and at their own pace. Classroom time can then be used for more meaningful learning, offering more in-class opportunities for teachers to connect with students and target their needs.

Best Practices

While the potential benefits of technology use in education as described are potentially invaluable, there are certainly risks and costs.   To help mitigate these risks and costs, two practices are set forth below that should be employed when making decisions regarding technology use, whether in the classroom or at home.

Technology as A Tool

Webster’s dictionary defines a tool as “something used in performing an operation or necessary in the practice of a vocation or profession; a means towards an end.”[11]   It is imperative to remember that technology is a tool. If construed by individuals or institutions as being anything but a tool, technology will prove to be either useless or harmful.   As with any tool, the impact and effectiveness of technology is dictated not by the nature of the device itself, but rather by how it is actually used. It is with the user of the tool that ultimate responsibility lies.

When using a tool, one must first recognize the benefits the tool is intended to provide and then identify the optimum manner for realizing such benefits. When used as a tool in education, the benefits and purpose of technology is to advance learning and personal growth. When, how, and why to use a form of technology in education, then, should first and foremost be guided by the extent to which it addresses these goals. How can a particular technology benefit or advance the child’s learning? How can it provide him or her with an educational opportunity that exceeds traditional classroom instruction? How can it develop the student’s love for learning? How is success measured? These are questions that we must be able to confidently answer with each child-technology interaction. I’ve seen classrooms in which students are working on devices simply because it’s the fashionable thing to do. Educators and parents are sometimes blindly guided by what appears to be fun and in vogue, without recognizing that, devoid of a clear goal, the technology can be nothing but a distraction.

Just as a hammer is useless without the skilled hand that directs its every move, technology is powerful only to the extent that it is monitored and directed by knowledgeable and experienced individuals. In a recent article in The Atlantic, Kentaro Toyama, author and Associate Professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, describes technology’s effect as an “amplification of current human forces.”   He asserts that access to technology is not a solution to educational challenges; if anything, it augments the problems. While children with a greater interest in learning will gravitate towards information-rich sites, the distraction to children who lack motivation will simply be exacerbated by video games. “If a private company is failing to make a profit, no one expects that state-of-the-art data centers, better productivity software, and new laptops for all of the employees will turn things around.”[12] The view and expectation that technology itself will fix our children’s educational challenges is flawed. Toyama argues for high-quality adult training and supervision in the use of technologies, noting that only good teaching can address educational issues.

The benefits of technology to children are lost if technology is used as a babysitting technique and if, during its use, parents and teachers are physically absent or mindfully removed. Teachers must play critical roles in choosing the right technology, interacting with students during the process to ensure it’s being used in a maximally beneficially way and overseeing progress and learning gains. As noted, the effectiveness of educational technology is dependent on the critical role played by parents and teachers, not on the technology itself.

Not only does misuse of technology reduce its benefits, but as with many tools, misuse can introduce enormous danger. It is unfair and unrealistic to expect a child to safely navigate the use of the Internet on his own. Adults need to carefully consider what safety features they must put into place, determine what barriers to build and determine how the child should be educated about the Internet’s proper use.

Finally, it should always be recognized that, while technology may be a valuable learning aid, it should never replace core learning.  A recent Yale study[13] revealed a cautionary element to technology. Two groups of people were asked random questions about life, history and science. One of the groups was able to seek answers online while the second group was not.   Subsequently, both groups were asked another random set of questions but this time neither group was given access to online research. Participants who had online access in the initial round of questions displayed overconfidence in their ability to answer questions even when online access was denied. Connectivity to the Internet created a false sense of actual knowledge attainment!   Findings like these, which have been supported by other similar studies, point to the need to ensure individuals’ internalization and comprehension of core knowledge and skills.   Knowledge must ultimately rest in the hearts and minds of our children, not solely be accessible to them in the RAM of a computer device.

When technology is viewed as a tool – as a means, rather than as an end – adults can make responsible decisions regarding its use as a benefit for children. But first the end goals must be identified, and only then can it be determined how technology can help achieve those goals.

Consistency at Home and in School

Research has conclusively shown that a child’s education is profoundly enhanced by the existence of a partnership between home and school, marked by mutual communication, joint decision-making and agreed upon goals.   In such conditions, students demonstrate more positive attitudes towards learning, enjoy higher achievement scores and improved behavior and put more trust in their schooling and education.[14]

Successful use of technology in a child’s education similarly requires a partnership between home and school. Schools should articulate a clear philosophy regarding the use of technology, and the home should aim to convey an approach consistent with that vision. With such a partnership, the child feels trusting of both environments, and – with maturation – is better positioned to make informed decisions. This consistency results when schools collaborate with parents on decision making and policy setting, particularly on matters pertaining to technology and its use. Similarly, it is imperative that a consistent philosophy and vision for technology be communicated to children by their school’s Judaic and secular studies divisions.


The Orthodox community has been wise in adopting a rather cautionary approach to the embrace of technology. With the rise of advanced technologies and the Internet, a new era has dawned, redefining the range of opportunities for communication, knowledge sharing and personal growth.

Aside from the religious and behavioral concerns that parents and educators must protect against when introducing children to online use, concerns abound regarding the use of technology in education. Does technology in education detract from a child’s ability to learn in a traditional mode? Does the use of online learning accustom students to intellectual over-stimulation, with the bombardment of online glitz compromising children’s ability to concentrate on conventional reading and writing? These questions must be addressed, as we search for clear and definite answers.

Technology continues to advance and to play an increasing role in all aspects of our lives, including education. New tools bring new questions and challenges but also bring new opportunities for learning and growing. We cannot ignore technology’s potential in the education of our children, but rather must tolerate, if not encourage and embrace, its advancements in other spheres of their lives.

Like any new tool, technology offers opportunities but its proper use rests in the informed and deliberate hands that control it.


Laya Salomon, EdD is a professor at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration at Yeshiva University.


[1] e.g.,,

[2] e.g.,

[3] e.g.,,

[4] e.g.,,

[5] e.g.,,,,

[6] e.g., Aleph Beta Academy –

[7] Jewish Interactive –

[8] Prince, M. (2004). Does Active Learning Work? A Review of the Research. Journal of Engineering       Education, 93(3), 223-232.

[10] A number of apps allow teachers to voice-record a lesson while using a whiteboard, document, or presentation to explain the material (e.g., ShowMe, EduCreations, Jing, Screen-Cast-O-Matic). .

[11] “Tool” Def. 2. Merriam Webster Online, Merriam Webster, 2015.

[12] Toyama, K. (June 2015). “Why Technology Alone Won’t Fix Schools.” The Atlantic.

[13] Fisher, M., Goddu, M.K., & Keil, F.C. (2015). “Searching for Explanations: How the Internet Inflates Estimate of Internal Knowledge.” Journal of Experimental Psychology, 144(3) 674-687.

[14] National Education Association. National Council of Jewish Women (1996). Parents as School Partners: Research Report. New York: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education/Columbia Teacher’s College.



Daniel Weiss

Klal Perspectives: Technology and the 21st Century Orthodox Community

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

The Time In Between

Our world has been transformed into a place that would hardly be recognizable to people a generation or two ago. A tap of a button can provide access to all the world’s information, navigate you to anywhere on Earth, or launch a video chat with a family member across the world. Within the Jewish sector, Torah is transmitted throughout the world in audio, video and text form in a matter of moments, and the elaborate network that is the world wide web creates chessed connections and tzedakah opportunities of which we have only dreamed. The benefits to the Orthodox community are unprecedented and life changing.

As technology has become easier to use and access, we have grown comfortable being connected at all times. Many who carry smartphones have come to consider them as an extension of themselves. They are the last thing we put down before we fall asleep, and the first thing we pick up when we awaken. Our phones are our constant companions, the address we turn to when we are bored and want some stimulation.

In my work as a User Experience Engineer, I study the intersection of people and technology, including the needs, perceptions and issues people have with digital devices of all kinds. As a result, the effect technology has on people is of prime interest to me, and making technology easier and more useful is the goal of my work.

In recent times, it has become increasingly common to see people multi-tasking, using technology to fill every free moment for digital productivity or relaxation.

It goes something like this: There’s a moment of downtime too short to get anything real done. Maybe you are waiting for a bus or in a check-out line. Maybe you are in your car waiting for your spouse or child to come out of your home, or at a chasuna (wedding) waiting for the kallah to walk down the aisle. So you pull out your smartphone and catch up on your e-mail, message your WhatsApp group or check in with what your friends are doing on social media. After all, it’s a moment of downtime. You might as well get something done. What’s there to lose?

A Time to Plan

As it turns out, there is quite a lot. Recent studies have shown that these moments of mind wandering are important for us, giving us a much-needed opportunity to reflect and plan. Filling that time up with other tasks can rob us of something the research calls “Autobiographical Planning,” the time we take to contemplate and plan what we are going to do in the future.[1] You might say it’s akin to what we would call cheshbon hanefesh, taking time to assess who we are, what we want out of life and how we are going to get there.  When we pick up our phones to fill that time, we are losing something of value, an opportunity that is vital to our futures.

Further, when we bombard ourselves with constant stimulation, many of us start to feel stressed out from it. Instead of having time to relax and think, we feel like we are constantly on call, constantly in demand with no respite.

In fact, this insight is identified by Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto (the Ramchal) in his epic work Mesillas Yesharim[2] as essential to our spiritual progress. When Moshe arrived to rescue the Jewish people from Egypt, the verse says they could not listen to him “mikotzer ruach u’mavoda kasha” (from shortness of spirit and hard work, Exodus 5:9). The Ramchal writes, “In reality, this is one of the most clever devices of the evil inclination – to mount unrelenting pressure against the hearts of men so as to leave them no leisure to consider the type of life they are leading…  It is this consideration that underlay the counsel of the wicked Pharaoh when he said, “Let the work be heavier upon the people…” His intention was not merely to deprive them of all leisure so that they would not come to oppose him or plot against him. He was determined to strip their hearts of all considered thought by means of the enduring, interminable nature of their labor.”

Pharaoh understood that any available down time provides an opportunity to think, to contemplate what’s important and plan better futures. His primary goal, the Ramchal explains, was simply to distract the Bnai Yisrael from thinking, which he knew would inevitably lead to a commitment to self-determination and a yearning to serve G-d instead of him.

This, the Ramchal teaches, is the ingenious ploy of the yetzer hara, to stifle any tendencies we might have to pursue a path of spiritual growth. The yetzer hara “knows” that if we feel like we are busy, we will not take the time to think about what we are busy with. In this respect, the smartphone is the perfect “pocket Pharaoh.”

We live under the illusion that constantly filling our time with “productive” activities makes us productive.  In reality, though, we frequently fill our time with non-essentials that simply make us feel overwhelmed and stressed out. And when we feel overwhelmed – when we feel like we don’t have a moment to spare, without open space between our activities – we lose the opportunity to think about what has happened and recognize our mistakes. Worse yet, we lose the opportunity to plan better futures.

A Time to Contemplate

It is a well known psychological concept that information that is learned over time with breaks in the middle, is more likely to be retained long term than if it were learned in one block. Called the spacing effect, it has shown that cramming a mass of information into our brains will be less effective for long term remembering. We need time to think, to digest what we have learned, whether in our learning, per se, or in life in general. Rashi, when commenting on the word Vayikra at the beginning of the parsha by that name, discusses the significance of the “breaks” in between G-d speaking to Moshe. He says that the breaks are there in order to “give space for Moshe between each topic.” We are talking about the most perfect teacher ever, G-d, delivering information to the model student. However, Hashem understood that Moshe would need time between each topic to contemplate, digest and commit them to memory. And if Moshe needed it, how much more so do we need it?

In addition to digesting information, the space in between activities also gives us an opportunity to turn the ideas over in our mind and see them from new angles that we may not have understood when we first heard an idea or experienced something in our lives. Having ideas percolate around in our minds gives us an opportunity to develop them further.  As we turn ideas over in our heads, we come to understand them more clearly, we remember them better and they become part of who we are.

A Time To Introspect

It’s not only planning and developing ideas that fall by the wayside when we fill up every free moment. We also lose the opportunity to get to know ourselves. Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski poignantly tells the following story about how he discovered this. He recounts:

After completing three years as the clinical director of the Department of Psychiatry at St. Francis Hospital, I decided to take a vacation. I was thirty-eight years old and it had been three years of constant stress with no day and no night. I decided to go to Hot Springs, Arkansas for vacation because I wanted peace and quiet with no interruptions. I wanted to just sit and relax, and take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy the spa and soothe my bad back. I got into the whirlpool and said, “This is so wonderful! This is just what I wanted. No one can reach me.” After a few minutes I got out of the whirlpool to move on to the next item on the agenda, a massage. The attendant said, “Where are you going? You can’t get a massage until you’ve been in the whirlpool for twenty-five minutes. That’s the way it works.” So I got back into the whirlpool. The next twenty-five minutes were absolute hell. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

When I got back to Pittsburgh, I said to a therapist I know, “Three years in constant stress and I took that well but I can’t take five minutes in paradise? I don’t understand.” The psychologist said back: If you ask people what they do to relax, they say, I knit, I read a book, I watch baseball. They are telling you what they do but that is not relaxation; that is diversion. Real relaxation is just sitting back and doing nothing. When you were in that hot spring, they took your diversions away from you and without them you were left immediately in your own presence. It’s very difficult to be in a room alone with someone you don’t like. There must be something inside of you that you dislike so much you can’t tolerate yourself for more than five minutes.

Through this, I came to realize that I did not know myself. It was unbelievable! Here I was, 38 years old, and I did not understand what made me tick! It took a few years of searching and internal work to really like the person that I saw in the mirror. After a few years, I was able to go back to the hot springs and sit there for forty minutes with no problem.

When we spend every moment busy with something else, we are engaged in diversions that prevent us from understanding ourselves. Who am I? What are my strengths, and what are my weaknesses? Why do I react certain ways in this situation but not in other, similar situations? Self-awareness and understanding come from ongoing, meaningful introspection. When we fill up our available time, we lose the opportunity to get to know ourselves.

Where Was I Before I Rudely Interrupted Myself?

So if planning, contemplating and introspection are so valuable, you might think all you have to do is turn off the phone and set aside some time when no one can bother you. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. When Gloria Mark and Victor Gonzalez of the School of Information and Computer Science at UC Irvine observed people in the workplace, they found that, people tended to switch activities approximately every three minutes despite not being finished with a task.[3] Moreover, half of the interruptions were self-imposed, meaning the individuals were the cause of their own interruptions. And once someone got sidetracked, it took an average of twenty-five minutes to get back to their original task.[4] Getting interrupted is costly indeed, and we do it to ourselves.

In addition, new research from the last couple of months shows that even having a phone out on the table in front of us distracts us from what we are doing and impedes our performance. The authors of the study believe that just the reminder that there is a “broader social network” out there distracts people from the task at hand. One does not even need to interrupt themselves in order to become distracted.[5]

How Do We Get Hooked?

Most of us know intuitively that the way we use technology is negatively affecting us. We know we shouldn’t browse the web while ignoring the children who need our attention. So why do we keep on doing it? Why does technology have such a hold on us? One possible explanation is the “fear of missing out” phenomenon, the attraction that many have to keeping up with the most up-to-date happenings. But that does not explain our behavior entirely.

It turns out that a powerful chemical in our brains called dopamine is likely what is driving us. This is the same chemical that fuels drug and gambling addictions. Hashem created us with brains that seek fulfillment for our needs and with feelings of pleasure associated with meeting those needs. Without this, we wouldn’t do things like eating or reproducing. When we see something that we anticipate will cause us pleasure, we get excited and our brain is flooded with dopamine.  The desire for the pleasurable feeling of dopamine in our brains is the reason for many healthy behaviors but also for addictions and compulsions.

That desire is even stronger when the reward does not come consistently. If every time we perform a behavior, we get a reward, then our brain receives some amount of pleasure. However, when the reward is variable, when we don’t know whether our behavior will bring us to our goals or not, the dopamine levels go through the roof. This explains why services like e-mail, text messaging or social media are such powerful compulsions. We never really know whether looking at our phone will bring us an update that is interesting, uplifting or informative. That anticipation, that “not knowing,” is what drives us to keep checking again and again.

Some Solutions and Thoughts

What can we do? Is it possible to overcome this type of temptation? At this point, as society is so swept up in the awesome capabilities of technology, there is precious little guidance as to how to overcome these hurdles. While these are by no means complete or authoritative, I would like to offer a few humble suggestions.

Create Boundaries

In order to cultivate your downtime you need to protect it by setting boundaries, both on your time and on the technology. For example, it may make sense to set quiet times for yourself, such as a specific hour on a Sunday or every weeknight after 10pm. During that time, your phone gets turned off and you are not available. That time is non-negotiable. For some, it may make sense to start with smaller boundaries. Deciding not to take out one’s phone while in a supermarket checkout line or while eating lunch provides a short opportunity for one to reflect. It doesn’t always have to be an hour or evening. Creating small opportunities is helpful as well.

As far as the technology, the relentless notifications on our devices are an unnecessary assault on our peace of mind and can be turned off or limited. E-mail newsletters can be cancelled (or moved to a secondary e-mail address you don’t check as often). Do we really want a 10% off sale at Lowe’s to distract us from our davening, spouse or job?

It’s tempting to view responding to a text as just a momentary interruption that has no real effect on what we are doing. But as the research cited above shows, even a quick interruption or a phone sitting on a table in front of us can distract us and prevent us from accomplishing our goals. Ultimately it’s about creating boundaries we are comfortable with, that reduce unimportant interruptions in a manner that fit our lifestyles and needs.

Busy or Productive?

There is a tendency to confuse being busy with being productive. Often, we add things to our list of to-dos that keep us busy but don’t actually advance us toward any of our goals. Some of us to want to “do everything.” There are so many opportunities in the world, so many commitments, so many desires that we frequently end up being pulled in multiple directions. Instead of trying to do everything, choose the items that are most important to you and then commit to focusing on them to the exclusion of all else. Keep in mind that the goals you are setting aside are not lost forever. You are just choosing to focus on what is most important to you for the time being. Later on, when you reach this goal, you can move on to the one you set aside. The decision to focus on one task or goal, while initially feeling limiting, will ultimately feel liberating when you get to where you want to be.

Be More Mindful, Be More Self-Aware

Of course, all of this is easier when we train ourselves to be more self-aware and think more about what we are doing. If we are able to pause and think twice before we instinctively reach to respond to a notification, we are more likely to have that time to think and contemplate. The mussar yeshiva of Kelm was well known for focusing on behaving thoughtfully, on always striving to think through their actions. In the secular world, the practice of mindfulness or meditation helps with creating space between thoughts and actions. Rather than thoughts and emotions immediately leading to action, creating a small space in between allows us to behave more mindfully.

No matter the method, the goal is to act more deliberately, to think twice before acting in order to deliberately cultivate that downtime. Ultimately, success in this area requires being aware of our actions and pausing to think about them beforehand. And of course, we won’t do it correctly the first time. It’s going to require trial and error along with repeated practice to be successful.

A More Mindful Future

As we begin to realize the power within this new world around us, we are only starting to grasp the downsides. As someone who is a technology enthusiast, I believe that this future can bring benefits far beyond what we expect but it will also bring challenges. Learning to harness the power while making sure it doesn’t overwhelm us is one of the subjects that must be studied on an ongoing basis. After all, technology should work in our service, rather than the reverse. I look forward to a time in which we use technology mindfully and in a way that benefits ourselves, the Jewish community and the world at large.


Daniel Weiss has a Masters degree from Carnegie Mellon University in Human-Computer Interaction and is the founder and director of The Dvash Project, an organization that creates opportunities for marriage minded singles to meet through interactive shiurim and events.

[1] Schooler, J. W., Mrazek, M. D., Franklin, M. S., Baird, B., Mooneyham, B. W., Zedelius, C., & Broadway, J. M. (2014). The middle way. Finding the balance between mindfulness and mind-wandering. Psychology of Learning and Motivation – Advances in Research and Theory (Vol. 60). Elsevier Inc.

[2] Chapter 2: An Explanation of Zehirus. See also Chapter 5: Obstacles to Zehirus and How to Avoid Them.

[3] González, V. M., & Mark, G. (2004). “Constant, Constant, Multi-Tasking Craziness ”: Managing Multiple Working Spheres. CHI ’04 Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 6(1), 113–120.

[4] Mark, G., Gonzalez, V. M., & Harris, J. (2005). No task left behind? Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems – CHI ’05, 321.

[5] See “The Mere Presence of a Cell Phone May Be Distracting,” Thorton, Faires, Robbins & Rollins.

Foreword: Winter 2015

Klal Perspectives: Technology and the 21st Century Orthodox Community

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

Technology permeates most segments of our experience. Advances in communications technology have altered the nature of relationships, just as information technology has changed the way we learn, gather data, and share knowledge. Technological advances have introduced new ways of listening to music, preparing meals and trading securities. Almost nothing has escaped its influence.

Some dimensions of technology’s impact on the Orthodox Jew are widely acknowledged, even if only superficially understood. Of particular focus to the frum community has been the role of the Internet. The Internet has produced portals of easy access to both ideas and images that are anathema to the Oved Hashem (servant of G-d). Internet use induces an irresponsible consumption of unproductive time, and it intrudes into healthy relationship building. It has also created a hotbed of loshon hora, even further exacerbated by online anonymity.

It is also acknowledged, however, that the Internet has created unprecedented access to Torah study opportunities. Shiurim of every level of sophistication and every sphere of Torah interest can be found. Premier Torah educators can teach those in distant locations, or even those who are unable to leave their homes. Previously inaccessible seforim and new essays can now be read online with ease. In addition, the Internet also provides means of healthy relationship building, providing forums for daily contact among family members in far off locations, and between friends, whose busy lives and disparate living locations would otherwise result in waning contact.

It is clear that technology, and the Internet in particular, poses enormous threats, while providing extraordinary opportunities to the American Orthodox community. This issue of Klal Perspectives explores whether a community, or even a family, can eliminate the intrusion of the Internet, and if not, how we can best meet its challenges and take advantage of its opportunities. And perhaps of particular interest is the identification of various influences of online use on the Orthodox community that are enormously consequential, yet frequently overlooked (such as online bullying, for example).

In light of the particularly profound psychological repercussions of internet use, Dr. David Pelcovitz was invited to serve as Guest Editor of this issue, and he graciously agreed. Dr. Pelcovitz is widely considered to be the Orthodox community’s leading expert in applying academic scholarship to the various social and psychological challenges of our time. He played an invaluable role in both identifying and framing the issues, as well as in introducing us to outstanding contributors. In addition, Dr. Pelcovitz’s own submission to the issue serves as an excellent introduction to some of the issue’s leading themes.

A key frustration to both academics and mental health practitioners is the compromised value of research in studying the impact of technology. Due to the meteoric pace at which technology evolves, by the time research is completed regarding the effects of certain uses of technology, advances and new applications render the previous research out of date. Nevertheless, there is much valuable wisdom that has been produced, and that can be used as the basis of general extrapolations. In that vein, topics addressed in this issue include child development and cognition, cyber bullying, digital citizenship and technology in the classroom, among others.

Also contributing to this issue are several rabbinic thinkers, including Rabbi Gil Student, Rabbi Efrem Goldberg and Klal Perspectives’ own Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, who each address some of the great, and most often ignored, spiritual challenges of the internet, well beyond the often discussed inappropriate content that is so readily available.

Below is a summary of each article. As always, we would love to hear from you.


Dr. David Pelcovitz: Isolation versus Inoculation: Guidelines for Parents in Meeting the Challenge of Digital Technology

Parents, not schools or community leaders, must assume the primary responsibility for helping children manage technology use intelligently. However, recent generations have seen a drastic diminution in the level of parents’ comfort in employing a responsible balance between love and limits in all areas of parenting. When providing limits, the most important aspect of parental supervision is the conveying of parental values and not simply rules, especially through modeling proper use of technology. Particular issues deserving parental attention include protecting children from inappropriate content and preventing the various effects of overstimulation.

Rabbi Gil Student: Torah Authority in the Internet Age

The Internet has facilitated increased Torah learning in mnay ways, providing many more options to find a derech in learning that matches one’s proclivities. On the other hand, it is easier than ever for fully committed Orthodox Jews to find themselves attracted to different streams of Orthodox thought and practice that challenge the principles of their upbringing. The Internet has also led to a wave of mockery and weakened communal leadership. Many community leaders simply choose to say little or nothing publicly, and the community suffers from the increased “democratization” of Torah that fills the vacuum. To address these and other unique dangers of the Internet, we need an approach that can be effective in today’s environment.

Rabbi Efrem Goldberg: Technology – Playing With Fire

While filters and other software are enormously important and helpful in confronting some of technology’s threats, we must remain collectively aware of the many perils that can be filtered and controlled only by the individual, with no assistance from technology. Whether as educators, parents or simply on our own behalf, we must remain vigilant and mindful of technology’s impact on our lives and we must learn how to employ it judiciously, discriminately and carefully. Furthermore, we have the opportunity to add wisdom to “smartness”—to educate our children and students how to be thoughtful in managing and filtering their own ever-growing use of smart technology.

Dr. Gavriel Fagin: Towards a Model of Self Regulation for Internet Behavior Challenges In Adulthood

Statistics confirm the clinical experience of mental health professionals in both the secular and frum world: marriages are falling apart, workers are being fired and relationships are suffering because of technology-driven hyper-sexuality. In the past ten years alone, a dramatic spike in the sheer number of individuals who are struggling with their online sexual behavior has been observed across the spectrum of Orthodoxy, socio-economic class, and employment type, with the age of onset getting younger. Solutions must be founded on inculcating a sense of individual responsibility to regulate oneself, and providing the tools by which such self-regulation can be become normative.

Dr. Eli Shapiro: The Need to Teach our Children Digital Citizenship

Communal dialogue has long focused on the graphic and disturbing nature of much of the content of the Internet. While these concerns are well taken, a broader spectrum of review is necessary, with particular attention to technology’s daily impact on children. As writer Allison Slater Tate identifies in her 2014 Washington Post article, “We are the first generation of parents in the age of iEverything,” we “had the last of the truly low-tech childhoods, and now are among the first of the truly high-tech parents,” and it is our obligation to learn how to be parents of this new generation. The emerging term for healthy and responsible use of technology in the literature and in the field of technology education is “digital citizenship.” Digital citizenship is more than Internet safety. It recognizes our role as citizens of the digital realm and how our behaviors and interactions can have a positive and negative effect on others as well as on ourselves.

Dr. Yitzchak Schechter: Breathing Life into the Golem of Technology

The future religious stability and growth of our community is dependent upon our acknowledging the inevitable role technology will continue to play in our lives and exploring how to both protect against its dangers and fully utilize its benefits. A denial of reality will only lead to misguided responses, outdated strategies and squandered opportunities, as we continue to fight yesterday’s battles without addressing today’s urgent needs. The power of technology is not in gizmos and gadgets, but in the fundamental restructuring of social patterns and the opportunities it provides for us to serve our community in vastly more effective ways. It is only through an increased focus on our deepest, most authentic Torah values and commitments that we can effectively navigate the overwhelming challenges and opportunities before us.

Dr. Shmuel Mandelman: Technology and Media Impact on Child Development and Cognition

Technology’s impact on child development is profound and complex. Major policy bodies and developmentalists have warned of possible detrimental effects of technology on the physical, social, emotional and cognitive development of children. In particular, attention, memory and executive function underlie the ability to learn and are all affected by a child’s engagement with technology, as are such functions as impulse control, decision making and systematic problem solving among others. While the literature may not be as robust as one would expect or desire, and while we honestly do not yet have clear and definitive answers as to the full effect technology and media has on development and cognition, there is still much for us to learn from the existing literature and we must be committed to keeping abreast of new emerging research.

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein: Paradigm Shifts: Authority and Truth

The Internet has already brought several paradigm shifts to the Torah world, most notably in the areas of authority and truth. The paradigm shift in the dynamic of authority stems primarily from the community’s democratization, which itself is an outgrowth of becoming a “connected” community. Every Jew has always had an opinion; the Internet has now given every Jew a voice. In regards to truth, as Google puts more questions, more challenges and more skepticism in the hands of the curious than anything ever did before, our community remains slow to respond. We will need to exercise ever-greater vigilance in ensuring that those presenting the Torah hashkafa are equipped with best material that our Torah community can offer.

Rona Novick, PhD: Cyber Bullying in the Jewish Community

Cyber bullying is currently understood as not specific to a particular technology, but rather any bullying that takes place using electronic technology. This can include sending mean text messages or emails, spreading rumors by email or on social networking sites, and posting or disseminating embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or imposing fabricated profiles. While no statistics on these phenomena exist regarding the Jewish community, practical factors may well cause the devastating impact of cyber bullying to be equal to, or greater, in the Orthodox community. Parents and community leadership need to up their game and increase their familiarity with the cyber world in order to properly supervise what goes on there.

Rick Magder: Exploring New Possibilities in Online Torah Learning

The unavoidable and increasingly pervasive and powerful impact of technology implores us to confront the unprecedented opportunities and avenues it can facilitate for Jewish growth, education and learning, despite the many imposing challenges it presents. Many online platforms deliver rich and profound media but at the same time may also inadvertently serve as the conduit for severely inappropriate material. Though online Torah learning is just beginning to become normative, and will likely continue to flourish, there is a need to be proactive in identifying a safe and effective means of employing the extraordinary tools available for online education. Additionally, with the tuition crisis only growing, we cannot simply ignore the emerging opportunities to alleviate it in significant ways.

Laya Salomon: Technology as a Learning Tool: An Educator’s Perspective

The unprecedented proliferation of technological advancements, marked by an ability to access and manipulate content in unprecedented ways, compels a measure of reflection regarding the use of new technologies in educating our children. Educational uses for technology include conveying the content being taught, enhancing student learning, serving as an assessment vehicle and serving as an organizational tool. To help mitigate the risks and costs involved in bringing technology into the classroom, two principles must be respected: First, if construed by individuals or institutions as being anything but a tool, technology will prove to be either useless or harmful. Second, a child’s education is profoundly enhanced by the existence of a partnership between home and school.

Daniel Weiss: The Time in Between

Recent studies have shown that moments of downtime and the “mind wandering” that generally takes place then are essential for our mental health, giving us a much-needed opportunity to reflect and plan. Filling all that time up with other tasks, as is commonly done when one has a smartphone in one’s pocket, can rob us of what the research calls “Autobiographical Planning,” the time we take orient ourselves to what’s important and maintain a comfortable equilibrium. Losing the availability of the downtime in our day can actually undermine our ability to know ourselves, digest ideas and experiences, and process the significance (or insignificance) of everyday events.

For the Responses to this Issue, click here.

Rabbi Herschel Welcher

Klal Perspectives, The Ben Torah Baal Habayis

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

Measuring the Journey

Over the many years I have been privileged to serve as a rav, I have always derived much inspiration from the members of our community. However, much to my dismay, I discovered early on that many of the individuals whom I’d held in  great regard did not appreciate the esteem that they rightly deserved. I came to learn that many men who achieved enormous success in addressing the multiple roles of husband, father, breadwinner and oved Hashem (servant of G-d) actually viewed themselves as far less than success stories. Ironically, often those with the most to be proud of were the most discouraged and frustrated, and the least appreciative of their own achievements.

I encountered businessmen who initially had aspirations of becoming a grand baal tzeddaka (philanthropist), only to find the challenges of financial success to be more imposing than anticipated – especially when paying careful attention to the numerous halachos of Choshen Mishpat (laws of financial responsibilities).  And there was one professional whose career appeared quite successful to me, until but he quietly lamented the opportunities he lost due to the distractions of having a spouse who had developed special needs.

I also found frustrations and inadequacies manifest in religious areas. One fellow expressed dismay at having reached the age of fifty and still not having finished shas. He remembers his ambitious aspirations in learning when he left kollel decades earlier, but found that many of the hours he planned to spend in the bais hamedrash were used to help his nine kids with their homework and his wife then get those children to sleep, among many other things. Another had been confident that he would retire early to dedicate his time to learning and chesed, but discovered that no matter how modest, or even frugal, his lifestyle, the costs of tuition and other basic family expenses swept aside any hopes of accumulating the necessary savings. The list goes on. For some, it is frustration at home, for others in the workplace, and others in the bais hamedrash. But almost uniformly, baalei batim seem to find themselves falling short, and feeling the lesser for it.

And yet, from my perspective these men are giants. As they acknowledge, undertake and ultimately meet their responsibilities, their lives stand testament to their commitments and values. Torn among the many competing demands, they prioritize as best they can, reflecting in their choices the utmost love and respect for both their families and for Torah. So why do they feel so inadequate? Why the apparent disconnect? Why are they not seeing what is so obvious to their rabbi?

At the outset of each stage of life, a healthy person sets goals and frames aspirations. The more complex and sophisticated the design, the more deliberate the planning and the greater the psychological and emotional investment. The transition from adolescence to adulthood is one of the most profound of these opportunities. One imagines where life will head. What will my family look like? My marriage, my children? How far will I advance in my career or business? What role will I play in the community, or in society at large? How much Torah will I master, seforim (books) will I write, or talmidim (students) will I inspire? The list of possible goals and dreams abounds.

Life’s realities, however, are never as planned. They simply cannot be. Only after years of marriage does one begin to really understand one’s spouse, learn her needs, strengths, and limitations. If blessed, children arrive. They are cute and loving, but also needy, and often cranky. Time spent changing diapers and visiting the pediatrician was never really factored into the calculation, and neither were children with special needs. Nor does anyone contemplate an employer’s downsizing, an economic meltdown, or an impossible supervisor or customer. And so with the distractions and detours come adjusted aspirations. Sometimes, the stress and disappointments are so profound that merely coping becomes the primary, though occasionally elusive, objective. The years pass and the original dreams fade. And when coming upon a discolored old note in a drawer or a long forgotten acquaintance serves as a reminder of what had been hoped to be, the sad fleeting smile reflects an acknowledgment that, “well, how naive I was back then.”

This approach to self-evaluation is simply wrong and misguided, and yields tragic consequences. Life’s accomplishments are not accurately measured against early aspirations or initial dreams. Those goals were important, but solely as road signs, valuable resources to guide the immediate next steps, to set the initial direction. But they have little, if any, nexus to where the eventual and ultimate journey will lead. The circumstances of life are far from static. Life is not a sketch board on which drawings can remain untouched, nor is it a novel with a story line authored to completion before the first page is read. Life is dynamic and unpredictable. One may inclined to look back at his earlier days as a period of naiveté, with unrealistic dreams of lofty accomplishments. If anything, the only actual naiveté may have been in presuming that one’s initial goals were actually meant to serve as the eventual goal posts of success.

The measure of a man is not how far he walks, but how he navigates the obstacles along the way.  No one can possibly anticipate the challenges that life will present. In fact, the most crucial challenge is often recognizing the unexpected and wonderful opportunities that come along. Sometimes, rachmana l’tzlan, the challenges are less welcome. But, in virtually every instance, the unexpected and unanticipated play a significant role in fashioning the direction of one’s life. They affect how time is spent and they dictate how one’s focus and attention must be allocated. For the truly responsible oved Hashem (servant of G-d), priorities must be recalibrated in concert with unfolding circumstances, with previously selected goals and priorities often diminished in relative importance, to be replaced by new goals essentially chosen by HKB”H (G-d). While completing one’s undertakings are certainly admirable achievements, the far greater achievement is recognizing when refocus and recalibration are necessary.

Megilas Esther concludes by attesting that Mordechai was “favored by the majority of his peers, pursuing the good of his people and concerned for the welfare of all his posterity.” (Esther 10:3). The Gemara is Masechta Megilah (Megilah 16B) explains that these words actually describe a challenge faced by Mordechai, implying that only the majority of Mordechai’s peers favored him, while others, who were also esteemed members of the Sanhedrin, were not pleased with him, at all. Rashi explains that this disapproval resulted from Mordechai’s exchanging full time Torah study in favor of protecting the safety of the Jewish people through political involvement. In fact, pesukim in Tanach reflect that Mordechai’s stature in the Sanhedrin was actually reduced following the events of the Megilah (see Ezra 2:2 and Nechemiah 7:7).

Having just recounted the enormous heroism and righteousness of Mordechai Hatzaddik, and his enormous contribution to Klal Yisroel, is it not quite strange that the Megilah would conclude the entire retelling of the Purim story by conveying Mordechai’s failing? Even if it was a message worthy of sharing, is it logical that a derogatory description would be the concluding description of Mordechai’s life?

I suggest that the Megilah is actually conveying the opposite message. After the battles that took place on the 14th and 15th of Adar, Mordechai understood the danger facing the Jewish community and appreciated that his undertaking a political role would be vital to ensuring the community’s safety. Mordechai also understood, however, that this undertaking would reduce his status in Torah and in the Sanhedrin, and that he would suffer the painful rebuke of many of his peers – peers who were of the greatest of the generation. And so the Megilah’s final description of Mordechai was not intended to be derogatory at all. In fact it was the highest of praise. Mordechai was being described as an oved Hashem who understood that one must alter one’s role, one’s focus and one’s achievements in concert with the circumstances presented by HKB”H. How others may view the choices, or how the choices may affect oneself, must be of secondary concern. This is the paradigm of success.

When highly functioning individuals confront unanticipated factors that mandate a reorientation in focus, they typically comprehend the significance of these new factors, and make the necessary changes to meet the new challenge.  Far too often, though, they view their departure from their earlier goals as a failure in meeting their goals, and a deficiency in themselves and their achievements. They fail to appreciate the enormous success that is reflected in their ability to recalibrate responsibly and effectively. They misinterpret their enormous victory as a defeat, and perceive acts and choices that reflect greatness as signs of weakness or as deficiencies. For these highly successful individuals, this misreading results in unwarranted suffering , disappointment and frustration.

The most impressive individual is the one who recognizes the constantly shifting duties and responsibilities that life’s curve balls present. So many baalei batim whom I have been honored to know are extraordinary examples of such people. It is time for them to learn to be impressed with themselves, as well.


Rabbi Herschel Welcher is the Rav of Congregation Ahavas Yisroel of Kew Gardens Hills in Queens, New York.

Rabbi Yisroel Reisman

Klal Perspectives, The Ben Torah Baal Habayis

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

The Primary Challenge of Being a Baal Habayis

In his extraordinary work on the siddur, Rav Shimon Schwab, z”tl, draws a fascinating distinction between man and angel that touches on the essence of the kochos hanefesh (spiritual abilities) of a frum Jew.

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 39b) tells us that at krias yam suf (splitting of the sea), the angels wanted to recite shirah (song of praise). הקב”ה objected: “מעשי ידי טובעים בים, ואתם אומרים שירה?” (my creations are drowning at sea, and you wish to sing?!) Hashem rebuked the angels for wanting to sing shirah at a moment of human suffering. Yet, at that very same event, Klal Yisroel’s song of thanksgiving was considered meritorious. Shiras hayam (Song of the Sea) marked a moment of greatness for Klal Yirsroel, a high point in their relationship with Hakadosh Boruch Hu. Why was there no disapproval of their desire to sing?

Rav Schwab explains that there is a fundamental difference between angels and men. An angel is only capable of focusing on a single objective – he is a בר חד שליחות, a being with a single mission.  Thus, angels could not express joy while simultaneously recognizing the pain of the destruction of Hashem’s Egyptian subjects. An angel does not have the capacity to experience joy and sorrow simultaneously.  By contrast, a human is endowed with the capability, and sometimes, the responsibility, to be a בר ב’ שליחויות, a man of multiple missions. A person has the capacity to reconcile conflicting emotions. Moreover, a person has the ability to focus on contrasting objectives and embrace competing responsibilities. Thus, Bnei Yisroel were praised for saying shirah, even as they recognized the tragedy of the drowning of the Mitzrim.

We find this in other places as well. When the angels were told that Sedom would be destroyed, they embarked on their mission without protest. Indeed, why would they protest the destruction of an evil city? Yet, when Avraham Avinu, heard of the impending destruction, he prayed for the welfare of the people of Sedom. It was only Avraham Avinu, and not an angel, who could feel compassion (ורחמיו על כל מעשיו), even as he recognized and rejected their evil behavior (באבוד רשעים רינה).

Being a בר ב’ שליחויות capable of dealing with conflicting challenges is the challenge of an eved Hashem (servant of G-d).

An Angel No More

In our yeshiva years, we immerse ourselves in learning, to the exclusion of all else. We have the opportunity to focus single-mindedly on one mission, a “chad shlichus.” Yet at some point, for most of our talmidim, this idyllic period comes to a close. Our young men (and women) find themselves thrust into a new environment faced with a new challenge, that of becoming a בר ב’ שליחויות. This is a challenge for which many of our talmidim have not been adequately prepared.

The ability of a ben Torah to focus on success in earning a parnassa (living) while maintaining avodas Hashem (serving G-d) as his primary goal, is difficult indeed. Success in integrating multiple roles is dependent on one’s ability to become a בר ב’ שליחויות. This requires serious planning and a great amount of effort. More than anything, it requires that one recognize and appreciate theבר ב’ שליחויות  challenge. With effort, these two worlds, these two objectives, can be harmonized, and pursued together. The pasuk relates that during the coronation of Shlomo Hamelech, his father Dovid Hamelech ordered that Shlomo be brought to the river on a פרידה, a mule. The Torah is replete with narratives describing the travels of nevi’im (prophets) and shoftim (judges), but only in relating the events of Shlomo Hamelech’s coronation does the pasuk mention the mode of transportation.  What is the significance of Shlomo HaMelech’s mule?

The Chasam Sofer explains that Dovid Hamelech was teaching his son an important lesson at this pivotal crossroad in his life. Shlomo Hamelech had been living the life of a ben Torah, focusing exclusively on his learning. Now, the responsibilities of the kingdom were thrust upon him. He was to become a בר ב’ שליחויות. A leader must be capable of balancing conflicting feelings and demands – in his public leadership as well as his personal affairs. A ruler must assert strength, confidence, and power. Yet a king must retain his modesty, and be fully capable of subordinating his personal interests to the welfare of his subjects. Dovid Hamelech introduces the mule, a cross between horse and a donkey, symbolizing the ability to balance contrasting identities and synthesize competing goals.  Dovid Hamelech was conveying this message to his young son – the message of בר ב’ שליחויות.

The ability to be a בר ב’ שליחויות, requires training. B’nei Torah who have spent years focused exclusively on learning often become overwhelmed when competing responsibilities are thrust upon them. One way that yeshivos can help to equip talmidim for this eventual challenge is by exposing bochurim to additional dimensions of avodas Hashem. For example, yeshivos should strongly encourage talmidim to give of their time to help others. Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, speaking to bnai Torah, encouraged us to give “maaser” – to devote 10% of our time to helping others, whether in kiruv, chizuk or chessed (This was subsequently published in his Dibros Moshe on Kiddushin). I don’t know of a yeshiva that has a program that follows this ideal. This is an elementary form of בר ב’ שליחויות.

During my bais medrash years in Torah Vodaas, most of us were involved in learning an hour each Thursday, at the beginning of first seder, with an eighth grader from a weaker background. Today, thirty-seven years later, I have reconnected with the young man with whom I learned then. We served as Pirchei leaders and were involved with Zeirei Agudas Yisroel. I don’t believe that our hasmodoh (being engrossed in our studies) suffered from giving to the Klal. If anything, it was the masmidim in the beis medrash who led the way. We developed an increased sense of responsibility to Klal Yisroel, and a greater desire to use our time properly and develop our kochos. My own involvement with two young boys from JEP was a powerful learning experience. Due to their family situation, a number of sensitive halachic questions arose. Rav Pam advised me to consult Rav Moshe Feinstein. Many decades have passed since I drove to the Lower East side to present these questions, yet the yesod (principle) that I learned from Rav Moshe’s response is something that remains with me and continues to guide me.

The Challenge of Self-Definition

After an initial period of adjustment, a working ben Torah may attain a degree of success in balancing his dual responsibilities. However, a crisis at work or an overwhelming deadline can easily derail this equilibrium. At times when he must temporarily cut back on his sedorim (learning times), it is his tefilah (prayer) that will help him maintain his closeness to Hashem. If, during his years in yeshiva, he has taken the time to deepen his appreciation and understanding of tefilah, he will be better equipped to meet this challenge. If he has learned to define himself as an eved Hashem – not only in terms of learning but in terms of his avodah, he will be less likely to falter – not only in his tefilah but in his learning as well. This is because the most wrenching challenge of leaving yeshiva is the profound loss of identity. On some level, the serious ben Torah feels as if he has abandoned the community of ovdei Hashem. This fear can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In one of his published letters, Rav Wolbe, zt”l, comments that it would be preferable for talmidim, while still in yeshiva, to dress in the style and manner that they plan to adopt when they leave yeshiva. This may be more theoretical than practical. Still, Rav Wolbe’s comment gives us pause. It reflects a deep sensitivity to the impact of the change that takes place when a young man leaves yeshiva. The degree of external transformation will have a deep impact on one’s self-perception. If, when leaving yeshiva, the level of external change is minimized, it will be far easier for the talmid to retain his self-image as a ben torah, It will be easier for him to maintain his spiritual aspirations and to experience this shift as a natural progression in a continuous path of avodas Hashem.

A talmid who had recently entered the workforce once stopped by to talk. I noticed that he was wearing his tzitzis out, something that he had not done during his years at the yeshiva, and I asked him about it. He explained that during yeshiva, he had not felt the need for this practice. However, in the corporate world, he wanted to be constantly reminded of his identity as a ben Torah. Another young man told me that in the middle of each workday, he closes his office door and has a 15-minute phone seder with a former chavrusa who is still in kollel. He shared this with great pride, despite the fact that it is “only” a fifteen minute seder. It is his reality check, a reminder of his true identity, in the middle of a hectic day.

There is another, even greater external change that paralyzes our young ben Torah as he enters the workplace. Young couples learning in Eretz Yisroel frequently return to America at the last minute, when they must immediately enter the workforce. This is too dramatic a change! The sudden shift from the intensity of learning in Eretz Yisroel to the workplace is totally overwhelming! It would be far better to return to the United States and remain in kollel for a zman (period) or two (perhaps in the same beis hamedrash and with the same chavrusos with whom he’ll be learning during his working years). The long-term benefit of establishing oneself within a community as a full time learner far outweighs the forfeited time in Eretz Yisroel. A more gradual acculturation will enable him to maintain his identity as a lomaid Torah even as he becomes a baal habayis.

The Importance of Regular Learning Sedorim

One who does not retain his identity as a ben Torah will dramatically reduce his involvement in limud Torah when he enters the workforce. Conversely, one who does not maintain his limud Torah will certainly lose his identity as a ben Torah. This perception will have a dramatic effect on every aspect of his life.

Most baalei batim are able to dedicate time in their weekly schedule to learn in a bais medrash. Shabbos afternoon, Sunday mornings and late Thursday nights are often productive and attainable time slots for learning.  If avodas Hashem continues to remain one’s central focus, one attempts to grab an extra few hours of learning on a legal holiday, perhaps waking up at his usual time in order to take advantage of this increased opportunity to learn. There are, admittedly, an extraordinary number of obligations competing for the time and energy of the baal habayis. Nevertheless, if one is motivated and committed, one can find many opportunities to learn.

It is not easy. It is not easy to learn after a long and arduous day. It is not easy to remain motivated. No longer can one enjoy a leisurely pre-seder coffee and settle in front of a Gemara for an enjoyable stretch of learning. Rav Ya’akov Kamenetzky, zt”l, used to point out that Yaakov Avinu left the comfort of his home to learn in the yeshiva of Shem v’Ever. He explained that Yaakov Avinu’s goal was learn the Torah of golus (exile). In a sense, he had to prepare himself for the transition of leaving yeshiva and entering the workforce. What did he learn during those years? There is only one piece of information that we have. Rashi teaches us that for those fourteen years Yaakov Avinu did not sleep in a bed.  A key preparation for leaving yeshiva is the ability to transcend one’s former comfort zone – such as learning to do with less sleep.  The baal habayis must motivate himself with greater intensity than was required in yeshiva. This does not come easily, but there are some practical tools that assist in generating and preserving motivation:

  • Setting Goals: The success of Daf Yomi can largely be attributed to the tangible goal of finishing mesechtos and, ultimately, shas. Setting clear goals helps to focus ones energy and provides a sense of accomplishment. But a baal habayis should not be content to limit himself to a bekius seder (i.e., covering ground with little analysis). Many baalei batim have committed to preparing for and taking semicha bechinos (exams for rabbinic ordination). It is a good idea to write notes, summarizing the yedios and yesodos (information and principles) of each topic. This is a practice that requires focus and generates hasmada.  A focus on the mastery of halacha is another motivator. I know someone who is learning Mesechta Berochos with a chavrusa while keeping a seder in Mishna Berura on the topics covered. Writing a synopsis of the pertinent halachos is a valuable and worthwhile exercise. Clear objectives, whether to learn a specific sugyah (topic) or a complete a certain sefer, encourage and inspire people to increase their commitment to their learning.
  • Importance of a Chavrusah: Committing to learn with a partner or to attend a seder together is a useful mechayev (obligation). There is mutual motivation and encouragement among chavrusas.
  • Having Role Models: At every stage, it is of crucial importance to look up to our Exposure to their hasmada, wisdom and tzidkus (righteousness) instills within us a profound sense of kavod haTorah (honor for Torah). We must continue to maintain our connection to those who model the ideal. We cannot attempt to navigate the workplace without an ongoing connection to our rebbeim. Yet, we must also cultivate role models whose experiences model our current challenges. We must seek out baalei battim who continue to grow in leaning and succeed in maintaining their standards in ruchnius. We must learn from those who are successfully balancing two roles -בר ב’ שליחויות, and learn from them. Find out how they do it. Learn from their mistakes and their successes. What gedorim (boundaries) have they set for themselves? What motivational strategies have helped them? We too, must set out to learn the “Torah of golus.”

Focus on Excellence

Even as the ben Torah balances multiple roles, he must guard himself from the societal distractions that threaten to lure him away from his primary goals. The lure of materialism, cautions Rav Dessler, undermines our ability to attain excellence in serving Hashem.  Rav Aryeh Carmell, in an essay entitled “The Theory of Relativity,” writes that “the focus of excellence in one area is relative to our pursuit of excellence in others.” It is unfortunate that our community places excessive emphasis on upscale standards of gashmius (materialism). Advertisements in frum newspapers, which once promoted low prices and good value, now promote luxury offerings. Success is equated with luxurious living. The drive to advance and achieve should be channeled primarily for growth in ruchnius. גדלות האדם, the insatiable drive  to be more, should not be confused with the desire to have more.

The Workplace Setting

With the passage of time, the workplace environment has become increasingly hostile to the values and goals of the ben Torah.  The increasing coarseness of the general society and the lowering of basic moral standards have made the נסיון (challenge) of entering a secular office or work setting all the more difficult. Even the most committed ben Torah is vulnerable to the influence of the culture and norms of workplace colleagues. Here too, preparation and guidance are crucial. One must display consistency in reacting to inappropriate remarks and coarse attempts at humor. It is important to set the tone, and to resist joining in, the very first time an off color joke is made. One’s initial response will set the tone for further interactions. We must instill in our talmidim the pride that will enable them to conduct themselves with confidence and dignity. If a ben Torah has been trained to model kovod habrios (respect for others), restraint and self-discipline, he will earn the respect of his co-workers.

At times, we must curb our ambitions. Professional success cannot become our overriding goal. True, we must seek to maintain a high standard of competence, professionalism and responsibility. But career advancement must not be achieved at all costs. We must weigh and balance our goals and opportunities with the בר ב’ שליחויות yardstick. Will my career path enable me to remain a בר ב’ שליחויות? Or will the demands and time pressures be incompatible with family life and my learning sedorim? One of my talmidim interviewed at a prestigious law firm, which presented itself as a congenial, family friendly environment. However, in an informal conversation, one of the younger associates asked him, “Are you married?” “Yes,” he replied. “Well, if you work here,” quipped the young attorney, “you might not remain married for very long.” Needless to say, he sought employment elsewhere.

The Dubno Maggid once reproached the Vilna Goan with the tayne, “What is the great kuntz (trick) that you know כל התורה כולה (the whole Torah)? You have secluded yourself within your small room with no outside distractions or influences. If you would go out into the marketplace and mingle with people, and yet remain a gaon (genius), that would be impressive!” The Goan replied, “Mir Yidden Zeinen Nit kuntzen machers.” A person does not have to do what is a kuntz, that which is complicated and difficult; he has to do what is right. Even one who is no longer sheltered within the beis medrash walls would do well to heed the mussar of the Dubno Maggid. A person engaged in a dual mission – a בר ב’ שליחויות – should not burden himself with unnecessary distractions. He should avoid the attempt to juggle too many balls, and be careful not to place himself in precarious positions. It is not wise for a ben Torah to put himself into a situation that will require him to perform kuntzen. Rather, by engaging in the proper preparation and seeking ongoing guidance, a person should do what is right – to make his work setting and lifestyle one which upholds and promotes his avodas Hashem.


Rabbi Yisroel Reisman is Rav of Agudas Yisrael of Madison and a Rebbe at Torah Vodaas and delivers a popular weekly lecture that is broadcast throughout the US.

Tzvi Pirutinsky, PhD

Klal Perspectives, The Ben Torah Baal Habayis

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

Continuity and Connection versus Disruption and Disconnection

Observations on the Transition from Kollel Yungerman to Ben Torah Baal Habayis

For the vast majority of those who identify as  both a ben Torah and a baal habayis, life begins with a transition from learning in a yeshiva or kollel to working full-time in a business or profession. It is estimated that between 700 to 800 students leave Bais Medrash Govoha yearly,[1] and while some relocate to other yeshivos or kollels and some move on to positions in chinuch, kashrus, or the rabbinate, many leave the yeshiva to undertake secular employment. A recent economic impact study found that Bais Medrash Govoha alumni have established hundreds of businesses that employ thousands of people,[2] and local employment related educational programs serve upwards of 250 young men per year.

As a career counselor at Professional Career Services in Lakewood, New Jersey, I have had the zechus to work with over 500 young adults in both the early and late phases of this change of roles and transformation of identity. Through this work, it has become apparent to me that many of the challenges the ben Torah baal habayis grapples with trace their origins specifically to this vulnerable period of transition.

Disruption and Disconnection

Like any significant life transition, departing the koslei bais medrash (security of the yeshiva) for the tumultuous world of parnassa (making a living) involves a large degree of disruption and discontinuity. These changes range from the seemingly trivial and concrete, such as a different schedule or a daily commute, to the more consequential and abstract, such as altered self-perception and identity. These challenges frequently result in a prolonged or even unsuccessful transition process, whose effects are felt for years or even decades. Failure to establish a successful parnassa and engaged approach to life hampers the lives of these young men, with reverberations felt by their families and communities.

Several challenges tend to underlie a lack of transitional success. Specifically, some individuals fail to establish a substantive career direction or secure an entry-level position, despite desire and commitment. The resulting inability to support their families can lead to long-term feelings of failure, threatening both personal mental health, as well as shalom bayis (marital harmony). Others find it difficult to develop social connections and supportive relationships on their new path, and are unable to maintain existing social connections developed in their yeshiva or kollel. Moreover, there is a deeply uncomfortable tension between preserving one’s highly-valued engagement in intense Torah learning, with its attendant ideals and boundaries, and facing the pragmatic realities of life outside of the yeshiva, with its unrelenting demands and challenges. Many individuals successfully navigate this challenge and are able to accept their new role while preserving their identity and connections. Some, however, make a “clean break,” viewing their current life as disconnected from their years in kollel, leading to disruption in their Torah learning, ideals, and connections with their roshei yeshiva and rabbeim. While this process of change unfolds differently for each individual, the discussion below describes, and proposes responses to, three common areas of challenge – developing a career, maintaining social support and identity, and surmounting the risk of spiritual disconnection.

Developing a Career

An important first step when counseling others in any context is careful assessment of their current challenges, their historical and environmental context and the efforts they have already undertaken to solve these challenges on their own. When initially meeting a transitioning yungerman, I frequently inquire about previous experience or hobbies that might be relevant to a career, any ideas they may have considered and whether they have spoken to anyone in that field. While a minority of yungerleit do, in fact, recount experiences and ideas, the vast majority are unable to connect any previous experiences or interests to a potential career, appear to have limited or even no ideas and don’t know many working people at all, let alone in a particular field. Curiously, however, more specific questioning and continued interaction tends to reveal that most of these young men have engaged in some work-related activities or hobbies in the past, that they do have family members and friends who are working and that, with minimal prodding, they can generate at least a few solid ideas for possible careers. So why the gap? This typical profile, with the imagined sense of being removed from any career path, needs to be explained.

Nobel Prize-winning psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman have been systematically studying the limits of human thinking for the past five decades.[3] Through this research, they have identified several highly-prevalent cognitive errors that reflect the mind’s tendency to process information using mental shortcuts, called “heuristics.” One of these is the “availability heuristic,” which refers to the tendency people have to form a judgment on the basis of what they can recall most easily. Thus, the information most accessible to their conscious mind is most likely to be considered. For example, the average person would assume that sharks kill more people each year than cows do, because it is easier to recall a story about a killer shark than a killer cow. Statistically, however, human-shark encounters are very rare, while cows and humans interact all the time. Accordingly, cows kill roughly twenty-two people per year in the US, while sharks kill an average of less than one.[4] As the saying goes “if all you have is a hammer, you see only nails.”

Outside of their immediate family, kollel and yeshiva students rarely interact with individuals in the workforce on more than a superficial level. They don’t tend to develop relationships with them, they are rarely interested in how they are employed and they are not exposed to the challenges of balancing the various aspects of life as a baal habayis with the ideal of living as a ben Torah. Accordingly, the availability heuristic then limits their recall of even those experiences with baalei batim that they have had, until they are prodded to think about them. This gap is more than an anecdotal observation – it has real implications on the career paths of most yeshiva and kollel students.

In a recent empirical study, I found that kollel students seeking career counseling tend to report significantly lower levels of interest in all fields versus similar individuals within the general US population. Moreover, they are even less likely to desire scientific, mathematical, entrepreneurial and creative careers or blue collar jobs, while they are most likely to express interest in the teaching and helping professions, office work and low-level business management.[5] These careers, while suitable for some, are often low-paid and well below their ability level. There are many explanations for this trend, but one important factor may be the availability heuristic. The disconnect between yungerman and baal habayis limits exposure to many more lucrative careers and professions, it limits their ability to obtain information, mentorship, and entry-level opportunities, limits their familiarity with the language and culture of business and it limits their knowledge of the technology and skills required to succeed.

Maintaining Social Identity and Support

Beyond difficulties choosing a career path and establishing a career, this disconnect continues to have an impact once the transition is underway. Research suggests that in any period of transition and stress, social support – being cared for, esteemed, and a member of a network of mutual obligations – is highly protective.[6] In regards to career transitions, supportive social conditions have long been recognized as key determinants of a variety of career and academic outcomes.[7] Pursuing any particular career or profession requires a large degree of perseverance to overcome barriers and weather disappointments, and encouragement and support from others is key. For young men in kollel, social connections are mostly limited to other full-time learners, and leaving such settings significantly disrupts these relationships. Schedules differ, perspectives and concerns begin to change and daily life takes on a different feel. Soon, the fledgling baal habayis feels excluded from yeshiva life. It takes time and opportunities for them to replace these relationships, and many find it difficult to establish new relationships, meet potential mentors, develop business and professional connections and find a footing in their new stage in life.

More profoundly, moving from kollel to work changes one’s fundamental sense of self and identity. In April 1968, school-teacher Jane Elliot divided her third-grade class in Riceville, Iowa into two groups – the blue-eyed versus brown eyed children. She designated the blue-eyed as superior and gave them extra privileges. The blue-eyed children sat in the front of the classroom, while the brown-eyed children were sent to the back. They were not allowed to play together or drink from the same water fountain. As a result, blue-eyed children quickly became arrogant and bossy, but saw their grades improve, while brown-eyed children became timid and subservient, as their academic performance suffered.[8] Hundreds of studies demonstrate that this process of social categorization is innate and fundamental to social cognition and behavior. Even children less than a year old divide their social environment into categories and groups,[9] and these social categories prescribe behavior, influence others’ reactions, enhance self-esteem and provide meaning and belonging.[10]

The transition from kollel to work disrupts a powerful and highly valued social identity that for many years separated the yeshiva student from the outside world, preserving his learning, commitment and values. This social identity is explicitly and implicitly supported through shared dress, language, attitudes and behavior. Deviations are enforced through institutional rules, but – even more powerfully – by social disapproval. Leaving yeshiva or kollel (even when guided to do so by one’s rebbi or rosh yeshiva) violates many of these social norms, leaving the transitioning baal habayis virtually bereft of this identity. Even the polite “so where are you learning?” often asked by a new acquaintance triggers discomfort and anxiety.

Of course, there is significant individual variation in the degree to which different individuals preserve, transform or even abandoned their identities as yeshiva or kollel students. While most eventually adopt an identity as a ben Torah baal habayis, the transition is typically achieved only through a painful and protracted adjustment period, and this profound loss of identity and the hidden struggle to reconstruct it is another point of disruption and disconnection.

The Risk of Spiritual Disconnection

One of the most challenging dimensions of the shift from kollel to the workforce is the adjustment of one’s spiritual focus and religious fulfillment. The avodah of a kollel yungerman is well defined and easily understood. It revolves around full-time Torah learning, generally to the exclusion of almost anything else.  Having been steeped in this highly-focused religious paradigm for years, the Torah student who no longer enjoys the comprehensive benefits of total spiritual engagement can be completely unprepared for the alternative. For example, the style of Torah learning that is available to him is rarely the slow, lomdish (analytical) approach typical of yeshiva and kolell, but the quick, lighter style of Daf Yomi. The types of shaalos that confront him, both in halacha and hashkafa, will be different and often unfamiliar, and for a variety of reasons, many find it difficult to maintain relationships with their roshei yeshiva and rebbeim.

Moreover, while beliefs and values would ideally remain unchanged, the application of these values likely differs dramatically. For example, most kollel yungerleit can easily avoid the challenges of technology, while most professions and careers necessitate the use of technology on a daily basis. Similarly, a kollel yungerman can avoid sustained and close interaction with women, while in many business environments, the Torah baal habayis will have female co-workers, customers and even managers. This tension, between dramatically transforming behavior and the effort to preserve essential values, can substantially disrupt these values, potentially leading to significant spiritual disconnection. Psychologically, it is far easier to adapt one’s attitudes and values to a new environment than to constantly monitor and adjust one’s behavior to match ideals and values that are significantly challenged.[11]

Balancing Separation with Continuity

As discussed above, the transition from kollel yungerman to ben Torah baal habayis tends to involve a significant degree of disruption and discontinuity. Some of this is inevitable, as sheltering young men from the tumult of the outside world they must now face is an inherent part of the mission of the yeshiva and kollel. Nevertheless, it is my contention that the degree of isolation and discontinuity often present at advanced ages can “backfire” and, paradoxically, leave the former yeshiva student more subject to the ills of general society rather than less, while resulting in financial, emotional and even spiritual disruption. Of course, anyone can point to dozens of Torah baalei batim that successfully navigated these challenges, but I have encountered dozens if not hundreds who struggle with this transition. Careful integration of the social connections, identity, lifestyle and spiritual challenges of the future ben Torah baal habayis, at developmentally appropriate times, would ameliorate many of the problems.

English pediatrician and psychologist Donald Winnicott (1896-1971) developed the idea of the “transitional space” by observing how very young children transition from the safe and restricted environment created by their mother at home to the vagaries of the outside world.[12] He observed that children navigate this transition through imagination, symbolic play and the use of transitional objects, such as a teddy bear or favorite doll. For example, everyone has observed children “try on” different roles and activities by playing school, doctor or “hatzalah.” This play provides a safe mental space for imagining new situations and exploring the challenges associated with them. It is widely recognized that the concept of the “transitional space” remains relevant throughout life. Even adults need a space within which to explore expected changes and “try on” potential new roles (e.g., think of the chassan gleefully trying on his new talis for the first time). The typical transition from kollel to work, however, is often abrupt, with little room for any process of transition. There is no physical or mental “space” within which kollel yungerliet can safely explore, develop and adopt a new role. One is either “learning” or “working,” with little room in between.

Perhaps yeshivas and kollelim could provide this transitional space, while preserving their insulation from the outside world by creating designated programs for transitioning yungerleit. These programs could include work-related training, but more importantly, they would provide (a) a space to develop new relationships and adapt more smoothly to a new identity, (b) a safe environment to discuss and adjust to new spiritual challenges, and (c) an opportunity for the students to preserve their connections to their Torah institutions as well as to each other.  Roshei yeshiva and rebbeim could then proactively identify struggling students and utilize these programs to provide guidance and support from within the yeshiva system in a way that legitimizes their struggle and maintains their connection to the yeshiva culture.

While the specifics of such programs require guidance from Torah leaders, I offer several suggestions for their consideration. First, for these programs to be “transitional,” they must strongly preserve the structure and identity of a yeshiva and kollel, maintaining continuity and connection with other programs within the institution. Moreover, they should include elements of life as a baal habayis, such as a faster learning style, work activities, technology, training and educational opportunities and the possibility of interacting with a more diverse set of people. They should integrate Torah leaders, community rabonim and others familiar with the challenges of life outside of the yeshiva to discuss on a practical level the halacha, mussar and hashkafa relevant to life as a ben Torah baal habayis. Finally, they should create meaningful partnerships with community baalei batim, encouraging them to integrate into the student body so that they can provide social and material support for students, while enabling these baalei batim to maintain their spiritual and social connection to the yeshiva or kollel.

In summary, for many, the transition from kollel to work is inevitable, yet it currently takes place absent appropriate guidance or support. Providing continuity and connection for the transitioning kollel yungerman may be an important key in planting the seeds for long-term growth and success as an engaged and fulfilled ben Torah baal habayis.


Tzvi Pirutinsky, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist working in Lakewood, NJ and frequently publishes in academic journals such as the Journal of Career Assessment, Affective Disorders, and the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

[1] Personal communication. Office of the Registrar, Beth Medrash Govoha.

[2] Beth Medrash Govoha (2011). Economic impact study. Lakewood, NJ: Beth Medrash Govoha.

[3] Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. New York: Macmillan.

[4] Forrester, J. A., Holstege, C. P., & Forrester, J. D. (2012). Fatalities from venomous and nonvenomous animals in the United States (1999–2007). Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, 23(2), 146-152.

[5] Pirutinsky, S. (2013). Career Assessment of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men: Reliability, Validity, and Results of the Strong Interest Inventory. Journal of Career Assessment, 21(2), 326-336.

[6] Cobb, S. (1976). Social Support as a Moderator of Life Stress. Psychosomatic Medicine, 38(5), 300-314.

[7] Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (2000). Contextual Supports and Barriers to Career Choice: A Social Cognitive Analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 47(1), 36.

[8] Bloom, S. G. (2005). Lesson of a Lifetime. Smithsonian, 36(6), 82-89.

[9] Bar-Haim, Y., Ziv, T., Lamy, D., & Hodes, R. M. (2006). Nature and nurture in own-race face processing. Psychological Science, 17(2), 159-163.

[10] Pirutinsky, S., & Mancuso, A. F. (2011). Social identity, satisfaction with life, and self-esteem. Graduate Student Journal of Psychology, 13, 39-44.

[11] Wicklund, R. A., & Brehm, J. W. (2013). Perspectives on cognitive dissonance. New York: Psychology Press.

[12] Winnicott, D. W. (1971). Playing and Reality. London: Tavistock.

Rabbi Menachem Zupnick

Klal Perspectives, The Ben Torah Baal Habayis

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

The Simple Jew is not Simple

The questions addressed in this issue of Klal Perspectives are serious and significant, and the prospect of attempting to answer them is daunting. In addition, since the particular challenges people face tend to vary in both degree and kind, the preferred approaches to these concerns can differ significantly from individual to individual. Accordingly, meaningful advice tends to be rather personalized.  Since sweeping statements have little value, I will instead highlight certain broader issues that frequently undermine even the most sincere efforts of a ben Torah in the workforce to maintain his level of Torah commitment and yiras shomayim (fear of heaven).

The yeshiva system introduced to American Jewry during the 20th century has been revolutionary, its impact far reaching. It is a system that has facilitated an almost indescribable renaissance of Torah and Yiddishkeit for both its talmidim (students) and for the broader community.  Despite its glory and success, like most broad-based efforts, the yeshiva system cannot fully address all segments and needs of the community, and unwittingly fails to fill every void.

One group of individuals whose needs have not been fully addressed is the group who ultimately leave yeshiva and kollel to enter the work force.  Nonetheless, those whose needs are not fully addressed cannot lay blame for every challenge at the doorstep of an educational system, but must rather assume personal responsibility. It is, therefore, incumbent on each individual who enters the work force to address the personal vacuum experienced, if any.

Let me begin by recounting a discussion I overheard one Shabbos afternoon between two friends in the beis medrash of Yeshivas Ponevezh more than 45 years ago.  One was a European bochur (young man) from a Chassidishe background, who was planning to eventually return to Europe and work in his family’s business. Although many miles away from home, he was totally committed to the derech hachaim (way of life) that he had been taught by his family and native community.  He viewed his years in Ponevezh as an opportunity to grow in Torah, but he had no intention at all of altering his derech.

By contrast, the other bochur was focused on hearing the words and lessons of Rav Yechezkel Levenstien, zt”l, the sainted Mashgiach and remnant of the great Mussar movement of Eastern Europe. This bochur was eagerly absorbing the Mashgiach’s derech and hoped to establish his own future derech based on the Mashgiach’s hadracha (guidance). Not surprisingly, the divergence between the respective expectations of the two bochurim often led to very lively debate.

During the heated conversation that Shabbos afternoon, the Chassidishe bochur claimed that his worldview had been validated by a remark of the Mashgiach, himself. The bochur reported hearing the Mashgiach lament how former talmidim frequently return to the yeshiva years later and are unrecognizable due the great diminution they had suffered over the years in their overall stature as bnai Torah. The Mashgiach reportedly concluded, however, that the Chassidishe bochurim tend to return years later substantially unchanged, remaining steadfast where they stood while still in yeshiva. Supposedly, the Mashgiach acknowledged that he could not identify the cause of this distinction, but observed that it was certainly apparent.

I never verified the accuracy of the quote from the Mashgiach, but, over the many years since overhearing that conversation, I have found some credibility to the suggestion reported by the Chassidishe bochur.

Over several decades of serving as a community Rav, I have repeatedly noted three central weaknesses in the non-Chassidic community that tend to make it more difficult for bnai Torah to maintain the intensity of their commitment and passion after leaving the confines of their yeshiva or kollel.  I have observed three missteps that, in fact, often cause bnai Torah to slip in their level of Torah commitment, yiras shamayim and general enthusiasm for all עניני קדושה (matters of holiness). Interestingly, the Chassidic community and its educational systems have, to a degree, successfully avoided these three particular pitfalls.

Self Image: The Cost of Striving for Greatness

A source of one of the challenges is simultaneously the source of our community’s great success – we strive for greatness.  We are a community of lofty aspirations, teaching our children from their youngest age that nothing should be viewed as a barrier to great achievement. The bracha often proffered to a bar mitzvah boy is that he should grow up to become a “gadol b’Yisrael” (a great leader in Israel).

For each bochur, simply learning Torah is lovely – but insufficient; the message he invariably receives is that he must strive to become a truly outstanding talmid chacham (scholar) or tzaddik (righteous person).  The bochur is also taught that it is not one’s innate intelligence or skills that deem one qualified for Torah greatness, since many have accomplished this feat with lesser qualifications. Hard work and commitment are all that is required to achieve objective and observable greatness. The message, of course, is that if one fails to evolve into a gadol, there is no one to blame but oneself.

Notwithstanding the apparent downsides to this educational approach, I have actually developed a profound appreciation both for its goals and its effectiveness. For example, I tend to agree with the argument that aiming high will result in students maximizing their potential, and that tolerance of mediocrity would only ensure disastrous results. Whether the benefits outweigh the costs, however, is beyond the subject of this article; one dimension of its impact, however, is relevant to this discussion.

In my view, our community’s cultural glorification of the “exceptional few” has compromised significantly the proper appreciation and respect for the privilege of being a regular, “ordinary,” ehrliche (honest) member of theעם הנבחר (chosen people). In fact, not only has such an appreciation been compromised, it has been thoroughly, if unintentionally, denigrated. A generation has been produced that is filled with young men who are unable to come to terms with the person they have turned out to be, tragically failing to appreciate the privilege they enjoy in being an ehrliche Yid.

I find it unimaginably painful when a baal habayis confides in me, in a clearly deflated emotional state, that he is unable to identify anything meaningful that he has done in his life. He observes how he has failed to achieve greatness in Torah and yiras shamayim. He is neither a talmid chacham nor a tsaddik. He can discern in himself no major, tangible achievements in any other realms. His despair is authentic and profound.  Though I understand the disappointment he is expressing, I find it almost unbearable to hear of such low self-esteem coming from a person who invariably leads a life saturated with Torah and mitzvos and dominated by an acute awareness of Hashem’s existence. Nothing meaningful in his life??? Alas, his experience is not a reflection of a personal psychological failing but rather, a product of the hashkafah and general worldview he has been taught.

So, rather than respond with the typical חיזוק lecture about how he can “still“ become a great tzaddik and “still” become a talmid chacham, I’ve changed course.  I now suggest that we start at the beginning.  “You are a Jew who believes in Hashem, keeps His Torah, is raising a frum family, gives tzedakah, learns Torah daily and performs mitzvos whenever possible.  How can such a life possibly be meaningless? Consider what a zechus it is to put on tefillin every day?  In fact, would it not be worth being born just to put on tefillin even just once in a lifetime, and you do so every day!  Certainly it is understandable that one desires to excel, but how can a life of such richness and import be, chas veshalom, meaningless?”

The response of one baal habayis was so painful, yet a sincere reflection of his honesty and innocence: “You don’t really believe that, do you?”  His words were both a question and a challenge.  With equal sincerity I responded that yes, I absolutely do believe it.

A product of our community, this baal habayis had simply not been taught to have the proper appreciation for the gadlus of simply being a G-d fearing Jew. Of course, he had heard the idea on occasion, but it was not a value that he had been trained to embrace as a personal reality. Perhaps he had been too preoccupied with his quest to become someone akin to a Chazon Ish.

The Gaon of Vilna, a paradigm of exceptional greatness, is said to have declared, while lying on his deathbed and holding on to his tsistis, “What a tragedy it is to leave this world, where but for a few coins one can acquire Olam Habah.”

Even the greatest of men, and perhaps most particularly the greatest of men, fully appreciate that the loftiest of privileges is to perform even the simplest mitzvah.  Chazal teach us that even Moshe Rabeinu himself, who was the unparalleled navi (prophet), had a great desire to perform even a partial מצוה. This core value of avodas Hashem has been lost on our community, and must be reinvigorated with renewed passion. Not only is it a value of great truth and authenticity, it is a view that is critical to achieving and maintaining meaning and fulfilment in being a frum Jew.

And if the performance of even one simple mitzva is incredible, how much more so are the incredible feats of avodas Hashem achieved by the typical baal habayis: raising a family, being mechanech his children, learning Torah himself – of any amount – amidst the whirlwind of making a parnassa, being honest and leading a life of kiddush Hashem.  It is critical that one has a deep understanding of the tremendous privilege it is to be an עובד השם (servant of G-d) and member of Klal Yisroel, and particularly one who is raising the next generation of Jews and bringing the era of Mashiach a bit closer.

There are many distinctions between the approaches taken by the Chassidic and yeshivish communities. Chassidim may not focus their youth on the urgency of exceling. They may sooner accept what the yeshiva system might consider mediocrity. The members of the Chassidic community, however, have a far greater appreciation for the exquisite beauty of simply being a frum Yid and performing mitzvos each day. They are not likely to perceive the role of a frum baal habayis as being inferior or inadequate. They are taught the importance of every Jew and of every struggle to be an ovaid Hashem.  In order for a Ben Torah to thrive in today’s working environment, he too must learn and embrace this truth, and he must teach it to himself if no one else has done so.

The Critical Role of Chevra and a Rav

The norms of contemporary living have created impediments to the fulfillment of the simple dictum of Chazal, as articulated in a mishna in Avos:

“Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachia says: Make for yourself a Rav and acquire for yourself a friend and judge each person favorably.”

If there was ever an era in which there was a particularly acute need for both a Rav and a chevra (social group) it is surely today. Alas, it is easier said than done. In the eyes of Chazal, one’s Rav and chevra play central and rather specific roles. Unfortunately, certain dimensions of contemporary חינוך and its resulting mindset actually undercut the capacity of a ben Torah to find an appropriate type of Rav and chevra.


The benefits of belonging to an appropriate chevra are wide ranging, and certainly cannot be viewed as simply a luxury.  For the American ben Torah engaged in the broader society, it is critical to be a member of a group of individuals who share his moral and ethical standards.  Such an association establishes expectations and support among its members, both in shimras hamitzvos and limud Torah. Having spent one’s earlier years in a particular yeshiva is simply an insufficient connection to fortify one’s long-term resolve; and even ongoing contact with one’s Rosh Yeshiva is, on its own, not enough.  I have yet to meet a ben Torah who can honestly claim to have sustained his level of yiras shamayim absent a close kesher (connection) to at least a small group of bnai Torah peers.

Inevitably, a person is influenced by his surroundings and by those with whom he associates. Not only does one mimic the behavior of those around him, one begins to adopt their thinking and attitudes.  Despite widespread protestations to the contrary, even the most thoughtful and independent-minded person begins to adopt the frames of reference and subtle tendencies of those with whom he is constantly interacting.

The vulnerability of slipping into the mindset of those with lesser or no commitment to true Torah values is often intensified by a common tendency of bnai Torah leaving yeshiva to lower their expectations for continual growth in ruchnius (spirituality). They frequently believe  that personal growth is no longer expected by others, or even by HKB”H.  This attitude is spiritually toxic, and inevitably leads to not only a cessation in growth, but to a downward spiral in religious focus and identity.  The Gaon of Vilna teaches in Mishlei that in ruchniyus, there are only two options. If an individual does not choose to grow, he is making the de facto choice to atrophy. The human being simply is unable to remain in a static state.

This lesson is frequently conveyed to young yeshiva students as a prod to growth and to discourage complacency. Often, however, appreciation for this truism is left behind as the talmid leaves the yeshiva.  That is not to suggest that an absence of vigorous growth will translate into an absolute abandonment of frumkeit or even Torah study.  But without an intensive striving for growth, it becomes difficult if not impossible to retain a strong connection to frumkeit.

The only effective antidote to this ubiquitous threat to ongoing shteiging (growth) is to connect to – in fact cling to – a chevra of similarly-minded bnai Torah collectively committed to growth in all circumstances and through all stages of life.

Unfortunately, however, this goal is not easily achieved, and the obstacles are both practical and cultural.

On the practical side, maintaining associations with like-minded baal habatim is far more elusive than associating with an appropriate chevra while still in yeshiva.  As adults, it is difficult to identify others who actually share one’s aspirations in frumkeit. Finding others with similar interests and personalities is also much easier among young bochrim while in yeshiva. In fact, there is no assurance that like-minded individuals actually live in one’s neighborhood.  Moreover, a baal habayis is typically preoccupied with a myriad of other demands competing for time and attention – not the least of which is family.  With hardly sufficient quality time for one’s children and wife, the barriers to a baal habayis allocating time to nurturing a chevra are all the more imposing.

The culture of today’s frum community also introduces challenges to developing a chevra, not only for the individual, but also for the frum family.  For example, the role of the shul in a family’s identity, which has historically been the linchpin to a family’s social context, has been substantially marginalized.  Too often, the baal habayis davens everywhere and belongs nowhere. And for the more community-conscious baal habayis, who joins multiple shuls within his community, this dispersion of affiliations, though laudable in a charitable sense, can undermine his  connection to one shul, in particular.  Even the tendency to join a yeshiva davening on yomim noraim (high holidays) compromises the important investment of the baal habayis in a communal chevra of peers.

The yeshiva community tends to downplay the important role that a shul can play in the lives of a baal habayis and his family. The shul is intended to provide the context for the development of the chevra, so critical to the baal habayis. By connecting to the correct type of shul as a source of identification and affiliation, the baal habayis embraces its members as a frame of reference in developing values and formulating life style choices appropriate to the ben Torah baal habayis.  Instead of being recognized for the pivotal role it should play, shuls are commonly regarded merely as a place to find a minyan or host a kiddush.  Consequently, the age-old benefits of associating with a kehillah are lost, with great cost to the baal habayis.

Too often, the new baal habayis continues to identify with a specific yeshiva, and resists accepting his new identity within a traditional shul. Too many baalei batim are simply unwilling to integrate into their new society, preferring to cling to their former identity as a yeshiva student. In actuality, the baal habayis faces challenges and confronts needs that are quite distinct from those facing yeshiva students, and the failure to ensure ongoing growth within the context of that new reality poses a serious threat to the vitality of their growth.

In this regard, again, the Chassidic community has been particularly successful. That community understands the yeshiva to be a place and time for enjoying the privilege of an intense focus on learning alone, but not as the sole source of growth in ruchnius, nor the only period in life when such growth is to occur. The Chassidic community also enjoys a far greater respect for the culture of chevrashaft (peer groups), and the fruit of these peer-based associations is a bedrock of growth.

A Rav

The third aspect of the baal habayis’ set of challenges is the community’s limited appreciation for the enormous benefits of having a close relationship with a Rav. Moreover, even those baalei batim who recognize the importance of such a relationship frequently find it extremely challenging to nurture it. For one thing, the baal habayis often hesitates to interact with the local Rav, as he is unsure  what type of rabbinic figure would be appropriate to fill this important role in his life. A second dimension of this challenge is the communal role that many rabbonim seek to play, and the restrictions they impose on the breadth of their own responsibilities.

There are several factors in the baal habayis’ perception of the role of a Rav that affect the likelihood that a healthy and meaningful relationship with a Rav will be developed.  One of the key, more contemporary, influences is the baal habayis’ familiarity with, and often access to, gedolai hador and widely known poskim.

In earlier times, when communications and travel restricted easy and immediate interaction with individuals in distant locations, the Jew related to the local Rav as the premier source of Torah authority and guidance.   The wisdom and attractiveness of the particular Rav would, of course, influence the degree of commitment he enjoyed among community members, but in all cases when the Rav was essentially appropriate, deference to the Rav was common, as was reliance on his guidance.  Today, it is not uncommon for the baal habayis to fly to Israel to pose a significant personal question to a world-renowned gadol, or call a well-known Rav in a different city with ever more basic halachic or hashkafic questions.

Many baalei batim fail to appreciate the cost of forfeiting a relationship with a local and accessible Rav. In most instances, the local Rav is more than equipped to address the issues at hand. The Rav’s familiarity with the broader circumstances of the baal habayis, including the environment of his home and community, his history and personality, and the broader context of the question posed, often enablethe local Rav to be the most appropriate source of guidance. Moreover, most rabbonim are fully capable of identifying queries that are beyond their expertise and are accustomed to reaching out to more experienced rabbonim when appropriate.

More importantly, an ongoing personal and intimate relationship with a Rav is far more valuable to the growth and development of the baal habayis than are the perceived benefits of hearing directly from a famous posek or gadol.  All significant relationships, including a relationship with one’s Rav, develop with an investment of time and effort, and with frequent interactions.  Confronting dilemmas that require rabbinic input, and other instances when rabbinic guidance is called for, are actually precious opportunities to develop this most valuable relationship with one’s Rav.

Sometimes a baal habayis might consider posing questions to a world-recognized gadol, but when such access proves to be more time consuming than anticipated, or a response is delayed, the baal habayis will neglect to seek any guidance at all. This risk is significantly reduced when one’s Rav is encountered every morning at Shacharis.

Many baalei batim decline to pursue a relationship with a Rav for lack of trust in those who might play that role. The baal habayis might view himself as a significant talmid chacham in his own right, and assume that few rabbonim qualify to serve as his guide.  Alternatively, he may have an unrealistic expectation of rabbonim. In any event, the baal habayis is encouraged to consider the mishna and explore no further than the Bartenura, who quotes the Rambam:

“Make a Rav for yourself: The Rambam explained that [the term ‘make for yourself a rav’ means that] even if [the best candidate] is not worthy to be your Rav, make him a Rav above you and do not just learn on your own.” – Rav Ovadia of Bartenura

As a general rule, the importance and benefit of having a Rav significantly outweigh any deficiencies a baal habayis may see in the Rav. This requirement is mandated because a person is only likely to grow  when in an “other-focused” mode; a mode in which he is seriously listening to others, weighing their words, and taking their advice seriously.

As we know, Chazal define a chacham as one who is לומד מכל אדם (who learns from every person).  Rabbenu Yonah explains that a person can only acquire wisdom if he is willing to learn from anyone – regardless of position, rank, or stature. We are required to allow ourselves to listen and be humble, vital prerequisites to being open to the ideas of others.

While the attitudes of baalei batim frequently inhibit the development of a valuable relationship with a Rav, the attitude of certain rabbonim can sometimes impose a similar barrier. Many Rabbonim, do not consider it to be part of their job to be a personal influence on the lives of their baalei batim. These rabbonim either fail to acknowledge that the role of a Rav must reflect the needs of his kehilla, or they don’t appreciate the great need that exists today for personal guidance from a Rav.

In other cases, it is the shul that seeks a Rav who is more aloof from the kehilla, and who expects this of him. This arrangement may be appropriate in some communities, but too often, this is the result of poor judgment about the needs of today’s baalei batim and their families.

The needs of adults are not that different than those of yeshiva talmidim. Over the past several decades, the chinuch world has learned to accommodate the increased non-academic needs of talmidim. Consequently, the effective mechanech is now expected to be more than a transmitter of knowledge, he is expected to be the purveyor of attitudes, values and expectations, as well. A dedicated educator is expected to guide children and infuse them with a proper world view. With force of personality and evidence of authentic caring, the mechanech empowers the talmid with religious commitment and provides the tools needed to face the world. The most effective rebbeim need not be gedolai Yisroel, but are qualified in their craft and committed to their responsibilities and their talmidim.

Though adults may be far more advanced in their learning and maturity, they need a source of guidance and inspiration today no less than their children do. While an individual’s chevra and kehilla are natural sources of chizuk and direction, rabbonim must embrace the critical role they need to play in providing the baal habayis with the guidance and inspiration they require to retain a passion in ruchniyus as they confront the challenges of everyday life.

In considering the question raised by this issue of Klal Perspectives, it is clear that confronting all of these challenges necessitates having a close relationship with a Rav.

Make no mistake – the application of Torah to actual life is an art form, not an exact science, as some are inclined to believe. It takes understanding of Halacha, yiras shamayim, wisdom, foresight, planning, and the ability to balance all considerations.  There is no Shulchan Aruch or sefer mussar sitting on the shelf that can delineate the perfect solution for each individual. This comes only from the heart and mind of a human being who is infused with the values and teachings of the Torah and who is honestly trying to get it all right. I have yet to meet anyone who knows so much and is so wise as not to need a person in their lives to help them sort all of this out.

Several years ago, Rav Matisyahu Salomon, shlit”a, the Mashgiach of Bais Medrash Govoha of Lakewood, undertook to share a message with rabbonim across the United States. On a series of occasions, the Mashgiach advised the rabbonim in his audience, “If you all fail to go into my business, that of being a mashgiach, you are placing the entire Klal Yisroel in grave peril.”  His message was clear. Rabbonim must view their job as including a deep concern about the overall ruchnius of their baalei batim, and the personal challenges they face. He must strive to advance the constant growth and well being of their kehillos. Most certainly, there are increasing numbers of rabbonim who assume these responsibilities and attitudes, but there remains a need to ensure a broader assumption of this role and the encouragement of kehillas to seek such commitment of their rabbonim, particularly when a new Rav is being retained.

This realm is yet another instance in which Chassidishe communities function particularly well. Baalei batim in such communities more often seek, and are accepting of, direction provided by their Rebbe. This might explain the observation that was reportedly made by the Mashgaich of Ponevezh, zt”l.


In many ways, the problems raised in this issue reflect causes for rejoicing.  Our community has successfully produced American bnai Torah with high religious standards and expectations, and with a deep fidelity to the idealism of the Torah. It is this accomplishment that imposes the tension in implementing these goals even when entering the outside world.  Nonetheless, we must not underestimate the vulnerability of many of today’s baalei batim and their families, and how urgently they need more support.   There is a great opportunity today to make a difference – it is one we must not ignore.


Rabbi Menachem Zupnick is the Rav of Bais Torah U’tefillah in Passaic, New Jersey.

Moishe Bane

Klal Perspectives, The Ben Torah Baal Habayis

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.


My name is Moishe Bane, and I am a baal habayis. Sometimes, saying this actually feels like the beginning of a twelve-step program. First, acknowledge what you are, and only then can you grapple with the implications.

It begins in high school when your more simplistic answers are dismissed by the rebbe as “baal habatish” answers. Then, as a yeshiva bochur, it is overhearing the kollel yungerman’s pitiful reference to his buddy who left learning to, nebach, get a job. Your increasingly frum children suspect that your advice is tainted by your being a baal habayis, yet wonder why the family is not wealthy; after all, you are a baal habayis! You work double shifts, giving it your all, yet still struggle to pay the bills, suffering the humiliation of applying for tuition scholarships. You do not get kibbudim (honors) in shul or at local mosdos (institutions) dinners since you are neither a noted talmid chochom (Torah scholar) nor a gvir (philanthropist), and you struggle to get shidduch dates for your children for the same reason.

But chin up. It turns out that everyone out there has it tough. The economy is challenging for most American families – not just Orthodox Jews, and certainly not only for yeshiva graduates. It is not the unique fate of the ben Torah baal habayis. So why the kvetching?

Because it should be different for the ben Torah baal habayis. The ben Torah baal habayis is not a schlepper who is counting the hours until the next ballgame on television. He is productive, committed and thoughtful. In fact, he is quite extraordinary. The ben Torah baal habayis should be bursting with pride, with a profound sense of satisfaction. He has done what few are doing and what few have done before him. He has partnered with his wife to create a family-centric lifestyle in a society in which the family is faltering. He has nurtured a marriage that is flourishing in an era in which technology, media and social vagrancy have made the holiness of intimacy elusive to all but the most ambitious and brave. He has retained a deep commitment to HKB”H and avodas Hashem (service of G-d) despite a thick, imposing hester panim (hiddenness of G-d’s face), and notwithstanding the challenges he confronts to emunah. He learns, he davens, he gives tzeddaka, he does chesed. In each area of avodas Hashem, neither the quality nor the quantity is as much as he would like, but he is giving it his best shot.

It is not the aspiration of the ben Torah baal habayis to have it easy, nor to shed his responsibilities. To the contrary, he embraces them. He just wishes he felt a bit more satisfied. The bottom line is that what he really wants is to understand why he is incapable of embracing the blessings bestowed upon him, and to simply be happy.

Well, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is that the experience of the ben Torah baal habayis results from deeply entrenched communal dynamics. The good news is that they can be changed. All that is required is recognition of evolving facts and realities, and a recalibration that would plainly flow from this recognition.

Many of the current frustrations experienced by the baal habayis result from communal attitudes and practices that were formulated and introduced in an earlier period. At that time, the community faced very different challenges, and was made up of people with far more uniform backgrounds and cultural sensitivities. This essay will identify several of these outdated dynamics and illustrate how the introduction of subtle changes in attitude and practice can, without altering fundamental Torah values, improve dramatically the experience of the ben Torah baal habayis, and vastly enhance the community and its vibrancy.

Let’s begin with a couple of simple definitions.

For the purposes of this essay, a ben Torah refers to an individual who embraces the principles of Torah miSinai (Divine origins of the Torah), hashgocha pratis (Divine Providence) and the imperatives of halachic observance and Torah study. More particularly, however, the ben Torah is an individual who embraces avodas Hashem as his central life mission, not merely as one of several portfolios.

A baal habayis is a family man who spends a significant portion of his time and energy earning a livelihood. The ben Torah baal habayis is the family man who has all the qualities of both a ben Torah and a baal habayis.

Venerate the Elderly, Our Best is Yet to Come

Yeshivas teach that a significant distinction between Torah Judaism and Western culture is that Western culture venerates youth, while Torah Judaism venerates the elderly. Unfortunately, this distinction is no longer evident, since the contemporary Torah community is also extremely youth-focused. Communal resources and attention are funneled primarily to children and teenagers, in both academic and in social programming. Even in the realm of Torah study, emphasis is placed on learning and growth between the ages of 18 and 25 as opposed to all the years after that.  Almost inevitably, those moving on from yeshiva or kollel sense that their best days have passed.

But this is a problem in society, in general. Why suggest that it is particular to the ben Torah baal habayis? Two reasons: First, because it is worse for the ben Torah baal habayis. Second, because for the ben Torah baal habayis it should be different.

In most well written works of fiction the central character is described as having a “defining moment.” The defining moment is the pivotal period in the person’s life and is really what his life is all about. Everything that occurred beforehand has led him to that moment, and everything thereafter is a product or reaction.

It is my observation that to succeed in becoming a ben aliya (growing person), the ben Torah, regardless of his age or prior achievements, should live every day of his life as if his defining moment has yet to occur. All that he has already done certainly has inherent value, and his prior experiences and accomplishments enable him to address the challenges that will be presented in his defining moment – a moment that has yet to occur. The oved Hashem understands that each day is a gift granted for the purposes of growth in devaikus with Hashem. He also understands that the pursuit of this devaikus is a lifelong journey that makes each day meaningful, with its own inherent value and purpose. Whether young or old, every day is a delicious mystery since “today I may encounter my defining moment!”

Tragically, rather than embrace a journey of growth and ascension, many bnai Torah baalei batim view themselves as traveling in a downward religious spiral. Upon leaving yeshiva or kollel, they no longer aspire to significant religious elevation, and in fact are merely hoping to hang on to the religious achievements they may have reached in their younger years. This tragic attitude of many baalei batim is not the reason that the community venerates its youth more than its elderly. To the contrary, this attitude is a result of the community’s youth-focused approach to avodas Hashem.

The dominant attitude of the Torah community, whether right or wrong, is that the years that one spends in yeshiva studying Torah full time is the pinnacle of one’s avodas Hashem. Some talmidim have the tenacity or enjoy circumstances that allow them to remain in this learning-only mode throughout life. Since the premise is that full-time Torah study cannot be replicated religiously, these fortunate individuals are the only ones who can aspire to life-long growth in ruchniyus (spirituality). For all others, however, departure from yeshiva necessarily means that they are entering into a diminished religious state and are forfeiting any chance of rising above the ruchniyus they had enjoyed while in yeshiva. Forever after they will need to come to terms with the fact that they have abandoned (whether or not by choice) the state of full-time Torah L’shmah and will necessarily be confronting a drop off in ruchniyus.

While full-time Torah L’shmah is surely an elevated mode of avoda, is it a realistic ideal for all talmidim, or even the majority of talmidim, in an era when yeshivas are attended by almost all frum young men? Or, is presenting to the broader student population the aspiration of full-time Torah L’Shmah as a personal ideal similar to suggesting to all Jews that they should aspire to one day performing the avoda of the Kohain Gadol on Yom Kippur? Our practice of emphasizing full-time Torah L’shmah appears to be effective in highlighting its centrality and critical importance, and teaching the community of the elevated role that Torah plays in every individual’s ruchniyus.

The lack of nuance in this presentation, however,  results in at least two significant, negative consequences for the majority of talmidim, for whom full time Torah L’shmah is simply inappropriate and out of reach. First, the message that their years spent in full-time Torah study is the height of their ruchniyus experience teaches talmidim that when they leave yeshiva for the workplace, their most noble days in avodas Hashem  will be behind them. They come away with the sense that all they can hope to do for the remainder of their lives is to attempt to hang on, to some degree or another, to the holiness of their yeshiva days. This view quickly becomes depressing, and severely undermines their best efforts to seek joy and simcha in avodas Hashem throughout their lives.

The second, and perhaps even more profound, consequence of the view that the years of full-time Torah L’shmah can never be equaled in ruchniyus is that most yeshivas and roshei yeshiva decline to explore, and certainly do not actually implement, a derech in limud and hanhaga (approach to learning and practice) that trains and prepares talmidim for a life long, post-yeshiva, ambitious ascension in religious growth. Recognizing that most talmidim will leave full-time learning, the most common current approach is to try to provide talmidim with a sufficiently intense connection to Torah while in yeshiva that they will retain some semblance of yiras shomayim (and maybe even learn an hour or two a day) when their yeshiva days conclude. The objective of the yeshiva years is not to prepare talmidim for further significant growth after leaving yeshiva, since that is an inherent impossibility. The yeshiva’s goal is merely to limit the yerida (descent).

While well-intentioned, and appropriate when the greater portion of students enrolled in yeshivas were candidates for life-long careers in Torah study or harbatzas Torah, this attitude and approach is potentially devastating for today’s composition of yeshiva students. Imagine a married couple who views the joyous intensity of their courtship as the pinnacle of their love for each other. Such a relationship is doomed. A seasoned couple, enjoying a magnificent marriage, recognizes their courtship period as having been intensely wondrous, but realize that true depth of love and commitment was developed over the subsequent years. The initial intensity of courtship may have formed a foundation for the long and inevitably topsy-turvy experience of marriage, but that initial intensity can never be understood as having been the peak of their relationship. The courtship and its intensity was primarily a trigger for the true growth that developed thereafter.

Other than for those few talmidim who might be appropriate to learning on a lifelong basis, perhaps the yeshiva experience must be reformulated as being the courtship of the ben Torah’s relationship with HKB”H. Though that period should surely be filled with all the intensity and wonder that goes along with that stage of a relationship, the agenda must be recalibrated to prepare the talmid for much greater achievements in ruchniyus during the years he is a working baal habayis, and thereafter. The relationship between the baal habayis and HKB”H must be expected to continue to grow throughout life, both in depth and in profundity.

A baal habayis who recognizes that his defining moment is always yet ahead, and that his focus can rightfully be on continuing spiritual growth, not merely ‘hanging on,” will enjoy a lifelong religious experience of excitement and awe.

The Celebration of Conformity and the Procrustean Bed

We all struggle with the often-conflicting values of developing our personal identity and continuing to belong to a community. On one hand, we each have personal ideas and inclinations, a unique personality, an intellectual point of view and an eagerness to express and actualize creativity and talent. On the other hand, we also desperately want to fit in. We want to be part of a chevra, part of something bigger. The world is a very scary place and a sense of belonging makes the big bad “other” a little less ominous. So people join clubs, fraternities and religious orders. They wear ball-team sweatshirts and cheer for the home team, or attend “Trekkie” conventions and alumni reunions. Social media is perhaps the greatest reflection of this deep urge, adding an even more complex and confusing expression of this need. We all simply want to belong.

Fitting in, however, requires conformity. Every community and group – even a country club – imposes rules for dress and behavior, and every fraternity demands adherence to customs and traditions. The deeper the emotional connection sought among the group’s members, the more demanding the conformity. And the more expansive the conformity, the more compromised the individuality. As a result, it is inevitable that there will be a tension between individuality and the desire to belong. For many people, including many bnai Torah baalei batim, a proper balance between staking a claim for individuality, while simultaneously connecting deeply with a social community, is difficult and often elusive.

But this is a problem in society, in general. Why suggest that it is particular to the ben Torah baal habayis? Two reasons: First, because it is worse for the ben Torah baal habayis. Second, because for the ben Torah baal habayis it should be different.  

For the ben Torah baal habayis, individuality is particularly elusive. In light of the “outsider” role he plays in the workforce, he is deeply invested in being part of his community. But the frum community demands conformity with particular ruthlessness. The concessions he must make to conformity are sometimes so extensive that he is left wondering what part of him is real and what is communally imposed.

As compared to other communities, the frum community has elevated its procrustean practice of conformity to an art form. Draconian consequences are imposed on those who fail to conform. People are especially viewed as outsiders if they fail to carry the party line in their views on social and religious standards, priorities and expectations. Conformity, however, is also demanded in behavior, appearance, style of speech, field of occupation and even hobbies. These are all grist for the judgment mill through which every frum individual and family is assessed, reassessed and then reassessed again. The Torah mandates that the Jew emulate the behaviors, as it were, of the Creator. Unfortunately, contemporary Orthodoxy has enthusiastically embraced this directive with a particular emphasis on G-d’s role as Judge.

Unlike other communities that achieve conformity by simply applying peer pressure, the frum community forcibly imposes conformity through certain communal practices, such as school enrollment and the shidduch system.

Children may be denied enrollment into their school of choice if their parents do not accommodate to community rules. For example, certain schools will deny enrollment to families having (or perhaps better said, admitting to having) a television or Internet access; some will only accept children whose fathers are in kollel, or perhaps begrudgingly in klai kodesh. When reviewing enrollment applications, schools also consider how parents dress, where they daven, and with which cultural segment of Orthodoxy they associate.

The shidduch system, which is likely the most effective communal watchdog, is even more powerful in imposing conformity, especially in the New York/New Jersey area. Shidduch concerns influence peoples’ selection of yeshivas and seminaries, camps and bungalow colonies. Shidduchim influence the way both singles and their parents dress, as well as the institutions with which they affiliate. Shidduchim are a consideration in choosing the car to drive, the vacation to take and the friends to keep. Shidduchim are also perhaps the largest assurance of adherence to halachic standards and Torah study. It is neither being paranoid nor frivolous for one to avoid a non-conforming statement or behavior because it could “shter a shidduch.”

While the tension between individuality and conformity is inescapable, it can be reduced on an individual basis with some forethought and effort.

First, acknowledge to yourself your competing needs for both individuality and communal affiliation. Once it is on your radar screen, you can begin to identify ways of expressing the real “you” without offending the “system.” Very often, a person is pushed away by the community – not because what he is doing or saying is all that radical, but rather because he is viewed as having rejected the community, or failed to sincerely want to fit in.

The community’s tolerance for individuality expands significantly when the person acting differently sends very strong signals that he is invested in the community, makes clear that his individuality is not intended as a rejection and that aside from a particular expression of individuality actually belongs and identifies with the community. Some thoughtful people find it very effective to go out of their way to show particularly expressive forms of conformity in areas in which they do not mind forfeiting individuality, and thereby enjoy greater latitude in being individualistic in those areas in which self-expression is important to them.

Earlier in this essay, we discussed the frustration imposed on the ben Torah baal habayis by the realization that his ruchniyus has apparently peaked while he was still a young man in yeshiva. If that would change, and the baal habayis would view his entire life as an opportunity for reaching new heights in his relationship with HKB”H, the challenge would then turn to how he would best achieve ongoing personal growth in devaikus. How would he find his own, individual path while also being a member of a community with a culture of intense conformity in all areas, including how to serve HKB”H?

For many baalei batim, time spent in daily Torah study is an invaluable and primary expression of connecting to HKB”H. Others learn daily, but despite trying many alternative limudim, do not find the spiritual connection in their learning for which they continue to thirst. Yet others are simply incapable of learning at all. It is, therefore, obvious that every person must find those aspects of Torah and of avodas Hashem in which they can best express their personal growth in ruchniyus. In order for someone to enjoy this approach to individuality as an adult, he must spend his earlier years searching for his individual voice. He should be assisted in both identifying his own talents and strengths and in discovering aspects of Torah and avoda that fit him most closely. In most situations, the home is the natural context for someone to receive this guidance and nurturing.

In the frum community, we typically blame “the yeshivas” for every problem. Whether the discussion is on a lack of middos, or a lack of shalom bayis or a lack of honesty, the causes of all ills are the yeshivas. In actuality, of course, that is simply a crutch on which we rely to shift the blame away from ourselves. In almost all instances, the responsibilities and the failures take place in the home, and not in the yeshiva. The failure of many to find their individual approach to avodas Hashem is a perfect example.

A yeshiva is, by its very nature, an academic institution, and is necessarily focused on nurturing hasmoda in learning. The primary job of roshei Yeshiva and maggedai shiur is to encourage personal growth through Torah learning. That is who they are, how they have grown significantly in their own avoda, and how they should be expected to encourage their students to grow. It is neither the job nor the training of a magid shiur to spend more than a small portion of student time on areas other than actual academic learning.

Moreover, it is simply a practical impossibility for the educator of a large class of students to identify the often subtle strengths and talents of each student, and then to draw out those strengths and match them to possible areas of avodas Hashem. Since such individual attention is critical if the child is to capture the individuality necessary to flourish in an otherwise conformity-driven community, this responsibility falls to the home. Only in the home can children, whether younger or older, be inculcated with a deep appreciation for the power of their individuality and the need to find their personal route to growth in ruchniyus. In homes that take this responsibility seriously, children will be far more likely to grow up with the direction and courage to be true to themselves, and thereby to be spiritually vibrant and satisfied.

It’s About Who You Are, Not What You Do

While growing up, a typical American boy wants to be a ball player, an astronaut or a fireman. These days, he may also aspire to be a Bill Gates or a Steve Jobs. The frum family takes pride when their young child expresses different aspirations. Rav Yaakov Weinberg, zt”l, used to tell us that a family can be identified as being Litvish or Chassidish by their young son’s reply when asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” The child of a Litvish family will inevitably respond that he hopes to be a talmid chochom, while the child of a proper Chassidish home will respond that he hopes to be a tzaddik.

Unfortunately, Rav Weinberg would no longer be correct. Rather than aspiring to become a talmid chacham, even the frumest Litvish school boy is more likely to respond that he aspires to be a rosh yeshiva. Reflecting the attitudes he encounters, the child no longer focuses on what kind of person he will grow to be, but rather what role and title he will have. We are hurting ourselves by defining ourselves this way. Self-satisfaction is likely to remain elusive as long as we identify ourselves by what we do for a living rather than by who we are as people.

But this is a problem in society, in general. Why suggest that it is particular to the ben Torah baal habayis? Two reasons: First, because it is worse for the ben Torah baal habayis. Second, because for the ben Torah baal habayis it should be different.

When a ben Torah allows his job to define him, he is not only doomed to frustration and despair, he is also compromising his central Torah values. When he eventually recognizes this compromise, his despair will grow even deeper. A ben Torah must appreciate that the essence of a person is his choices, his commitments and his actions in serving Hashem. When our children identify their aspirations in the form of titles and positions rather than character growth and personal accomplishments, we should be alerted that the message that they are learning is this misguided attitude.

The problem is even more complicated because when we discipline ourselves, apply Torah values and thereby recognize that the “job does not make the man,” we find ourselves confronting a new set of challenges.  We tend to react to society’s over-emphasis on job and career with our own over-emphasis on denigrating the role of job and career.  This over-reaction results in many of us belittling how we spend much of our adult life, which inevitably results in our belittling ourselves. Even worse, the community’s dismissive view of job and career does not allow for the effort and focus that is needed for most people to be matched with an appropriate career.  As a result, far too many of us ultimately pursue a career that is ill-fitting and that provide little enjoyment and minimal satisfaction. Furthermore, when the pursuit of parnassa is not considered a fundamental aspect of avodas Hashem, but viewed as an after-thought at best, there will be an increased vulnerability to ethical and halachic lapses in the context of the pursuit of parnassa.

It certainly would appear that the ben Torah baal habayis will be emotionally and spiritually compromised if he does not appreciate that his job plays a significant role in his avodas Hashem. First and foremost, it is through one’s job that one addresses his responsibilities as the family breadwinner. For many people, it is fundamental to their mesorah that supporting one’s family is a primary dimension of avodas Hashem. Many bnai Torah will also recognize that their occupations provide the opportunity for significant contributions to others, and to society, at large. The more sophisticated ben Torah baal habayis will also appreciate that his job presents myriad additional opportunities in avodas Hashem if he focuses on the workplace’s many halachic challenges, ranging from honesty to gender relations to Shabbos to kashrus. And the most sophisticated ben Torah baal habayis will even recognize the incredible workplace opportunities to be mekadesh Shem Shomayim.

Unfortunately, the dominant communal attitude in the yeshiva world towards work is that it is not much more than a necessary evil. Such an environment makes it quite difficult for the baal habayis to feel good about the forty to sixty hours a week he spends on the job.

Another consequence of the community’s diminished respect for the role of a career is that most yeshiva students are not afforded the opportunity to match a career path to their interests and skills. Many yeshiva graduates, therefore, simply fall into a job arbitrarily, rather than seeking out a career that fits who they are.

Many yeshivaleit do not begin to search for a job until the pressing needs of supporting a family are acute. At that juncture, however, it is usually too late in the game to pursue a career tailored to their skills and interests, and in any event the community rarely provides sophisticated career guidance. Prior to that time, most yeshiva students are counseled that their chances of becoming talmidei chachamim will be enhanced by deferring any thoughts of future career choices until they first spend several years in kollel, avoiding the distraction of profession-oriented preparation.

For certain bochurim and yungerleit this may, in fact, be true. There are, of course, many highly-motivated students whose years in yeshiva are intensely and successfully focused on learning, which would be seriously compromised by any distractions. As discussed earlier, however, the vast majority of today’s yeshiva bochurim are interested in Torah study, but certainly not to the exclusion of all else. For this majority of bochurim, the advice to ignore entirely their future career plans does not enhance their hasmoda, but it does compromise the likelihood that they will enjoy satisfaction from their careers.

When career choices are considered only after having two or three children in tow, the range of practical career options is dismally narrowed by the prohibitive financial price tag of both professional school tuition and the cost of supporting a growing family. Moreover, those on the extreme right of the religious spectrum forgo high school secular studies, altogether. With the exception of particularly gifted students, most graduates of that system face even more limited job options since they do not have even the most basic secular skills necessary to pursue many occupations.

Aside from the late start, even those bnai Torah who consider career choices earlier rarely enjoy access to the many readily available vocational guidance tools that could help them identify the most appropriate occupations. It is true that introducing these focuses too early could distract students who would otherwise become significant talmedei chachomim, but surely, attentive parents will know in which direction their son is heading by the age of twenty-one or twenty-two. Parents who fail to provide access to career guidance for their twenty-one year old son who has not yet hit his stride in intense hasmada should consider whether they are culpable of parental neglect. Moreover, the actual percentage of yeshiva graduates who hope to enter klai kodesh is further diminished by the reality that positions in klai kodesh are increasingly scarce and thus parents must consider that even the most serious yeshiva graduates are increasingly unable to find suitable shtellers.

The effort to ensure an intense focus on Talmud Torah, of course, remains the core objective of how we educate our children. But consideration might also be paid to how to increase the possibility that emotional and psychological satisfaction will be found by the eventual baal habayis in the job that will occupy the majority of his waking hours for decades.


The ben Torah baal habayis is a most impressive oved Hashem. One can only imagine how much more he could be if taught to appreciate the growth he can yet achieve after leaving yeshiva, if he were allowed and even encouraged to find his personal voice within an understandably conforming-oriented community, and if he were assisted in choosing a career that complements his strengths and interests. While effectuating these suggestions may sound monumental, in actuality they require only minor recalibration and tinkering. The greatest challenge is acknowledging the challenges and believing that they can be addressed. Once attended to, even the smallest adjustments may prove to be game changers.


Moishe Bane is a partner at Ropes & Gray, LLP and a member of the Editorial Board of Klal Perspectives.

Charlie Harary

Klal Perspectives, The Ben Torah Baal Habayis

To read this issue’s questions, CLICK HERE.

Having It All: Setting Priorities in a Busy Life 

The late Dr. Stephen R. Covey, famed author of the international bestseller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, once illustrated his approach to success in front of a packed convention hall. He called up a volunteer, who was asked to attempt to fit various rocks into a clear plastic bucket. The rocks differed in size, ranging from larger rocks down to pieces of gravel, and each was affixed with a different label, such as family, work, spirituality, exercise. The volunteer surveyed the group of rocks on the table and instinctively picked up the smallest stones first and placed them in the bucket, and then picked up increasing larger rocks. As he advanced, the volunteer experienced increasing difficulty finding room in the bucket for the remaining rocks. Ultimately, despite all effort, there was simply not enough room in the bucket for all the rocks to fit.

After the volunteer gave up, Covey produced a new, empty bucket and suggested that the volunteer start again, this time placing  the larger rocks in first. Following instructions, the volunteer began placing the larger rocks into the bucket. After all the big rocks had been placed, the volunteer then added the smaller rocks and finally the gravel. They all fit into the bucket. The crowd applauded.

Covey then commented on the lesson they had just learned. Life is complex, he explained, filled with a plethora of goals, needs and interests. One might think that success is limited to those who either limit their aspirations (don’t have so many rocks) or simply find more time in the day (get a bigger bucket). There is, however, a third route to success, and that is to prioritize wisely. The big rocks represented one’s most important goals and values, and the lesson was simple: Those need to go in first – they need to be prioritized. Once they are in, there will be room around them for everything else.

Prioritizing as Integral to Success

The key to a successful life is not merely identifying and pursuing goals, but also learning how to prioritize appropriately. Goals, time allocations and focus must each be addressed in accordance with this prioritization.

The first step, of course, is to identify the goals and values one seeks to incorporate into one’s life – which rocks need to go into the bucket. The crucial next step is to determine the relative “sizes of the rocks,” identifying which are the “big ones” – in other words, one’s primary goals and values – and make sure they go in the bucket first. Unfortunately, it is all too common that we instinctively try to take care of the “small rocks” first, eventually discovering that the big ones got left out.

Goals, desires, interests, expectations are all part of a normal, healthy life. It’s truly great to be ambitious and strive to “have it all.”  But while American culture and opportunity make great achievements attainable, the spectrum of worthy goals confronting the ambitious Orthodox husband and father is truly massive. The prospect of “having it all,” for the contemporary American baal habayis, includes a very large “all.”

The most common goals on the minds of today’s Torah baal habayis include, among others, being a talmid chacham (Torah scholar), having a large, happy and well-adjusted family and being highly successful in his livelihood, as is necessary to support his large, Orthodox family, with all its attendant needs. He would like to be an active and respected member of the community, and also enjoy time and recreation with his family and friends, and especially with his wife. And he hopes to achieve all this against the backdrop of an incessant bombardment of messages, texts, emails and calls.

It is no wonder that he feels as if he is jamming rocks into an already filled bucket. It is almost inevitable that he will become extremely frustrated and, in many instances, unfulfilled.

So how is one to do it all? How does one achieve success while simultaneously retaining a semblance of menuchas hanefesh (peace of mind)? How are we to fit so many big rocks into our limited-capacity buckets?

Setting Priorities by Refining Goals

It is an all-too-common malady that people tend to adopt de facto goals that do not reflect their true, personal aspirations. Such a disconnect will almost inevitably result in frustration, even if the goals are spectacularly achieved. In addition, even when someone sets healthy goals that honestly reflect his values, he may very well evaluate his success against yardsticks that do not reflect those underlying values. It is, therefore, critical that each person review the connection between their deeper aspirations and the goals they have set for themselves, as well as the manner by which they measure success.

The first step is to reexamine one’s current goals in life and review how they were selected in the first place. For example, did these goals originate within a context created by parents, teachers, community or friends, and if so, do they reflect one’s own personal values and aspirations?  It is both healthy and appropriate for a child, as well as a developing adult, to be eager to meet the approval of those he loves and respects.  But as an adult, one must consider whether the activities guided by seeking such approval remain consistent with one’s own values and priorities.  For the mature individual, a failure to integrate personal values and priorities as the primary driver of his goals will almost inevitably lead to feelings of inadequacy and frustration.

Although there is no magic formula for selecting appropriate goals, below is a suggested four-step process:

  1. Articulate Goals

Life choices must be guided by goals.  The first and perhaps most challenging exercise is identifying the goals one has already chosen – consciously or not – and that are already guiding one’s life. Many people make life choices instinctively or without thorough consideration of the underlying goals and values that ought to influence choices. This attempt to articulate goals in itself may be the first time that some explore how these goals came to be and how they are tied to their activities. For others who have in fact, been deliberate in setting goals, the actual articulation of the goals is a helpful effort that often triggers a deeper understanding of motivations and aspirations.

As we say about G-d’s Creation, sof maaseh bemachshava techila (the result of the action is first in thought – Lecha Dodi); first Hashem, kiviyachol, used His faculty of thought to create an intended goal, namely Shabbos, and only then did He used His capacity of action to create the world.

But it goes one step further. For a thought to be actionable, it needs to be articulated. A person averages between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts a day, most of which are automatic or irrelevant. For a thought to ultimately justify an allocation of time and effort, it must first be articulated. It needs to be considered, spoken and – if very consequential – perhaps even written down. Only after the thought is properly articulated can it be properly evaluated and deemed worthy of an action.

I once had the zchus of meeting with Rav Noach Weinberg, zatzal. Among my many questions, I asked him how he was able to accomplish so much in his life. He looked at me with his loving but piercing eyes and with a booming voice said one word… CHESHBON.

Cheshbon is a one-word reference to a practice called cheshbon hanefesh, popularized by Rav Yisroel Salanter, zatzal, and the Mussar movement he founded.  It means taking an ongoing accounting of your life. The practice of cheshbon recognizes the importance of articulating one’s goals and priorities before taking action. It celebrates the practice of thinking before (and after) action, in order to ensure that the action is both meaningful and productive.

Cheshbon is critical to the application of Covey’s “rocks in the bucket” exercise. It creates a structure within which goals can be prioritized. It shows a person that by taking the time necessary to articulate and account for deliberate thought and ensuing action, he can accomplish, grow and ultimately succeed.

Most people, at least deep down, have a good sense of what objectives they should and should not pursue. By failing to articulate their goals, however, they lack the perspective necessary to allocate their time and effort properly. Moreover, if the goals are not clearly and deliberately articulated in advance, neither objectives nor actions will be deeply grounded, possibly resulting in ill-advised changes in direction or focus as a response to some new inspiration or idea.

When we encounter an impressive gadol baTorah, we want to be a talmid chacham. When we are impressed by an askan (activist), we want to get involved in community activism. And when we encounter an impressive gevir (philanthropist), we want to make more money. By failing to spend the time to articulate what we really want and what goals best complement our interests and talents, we subject ourselves to the allure of any new and exciting opportunity that shows some promise. We are then at risk of jumping from objective to objective, with no long-term stability.  True success and satisfaction, however, are typically achieved through a long-term commitment to substantial and meaningful objectives. Goals are the directional flags of your life. If you want to achieve success, then start by  investing time articulating your goals.

  1. Identify the Motives Behind the Goals

Once goals are determined in a thoughtful and fulsome manner, the next step is actually to question one’s own motivations in selecting these specific goals.  One must ask, “What made me choose these particular goals and leave out others?”

The exercise of connecting goals with their true motivations is not intended as a judgmental process, nor does it necessarily reflect how proper any actual motivations may be.  The exercise is necessary because curiously, success in achieving goals is dependent on the underlying motivations in pursuing those goals in the first place. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious, for example, in a particular sphere of pursuit. But one’s measurement of success, and thus resulting self-image and degree of satisfaction that will ensue, is influenced by the nature of the ambition and the true values that inform that goal.

For one thing, goals frequently are set in response to one’s environment. Occasionally, we simply want what others have, just to be like everyone else. At other times, as noted earlier, we seek to impress or earn the approval of, others. Or perhaps we take certain values for granted, when they might not be as simple as we think. There is no shortage of subconscious factors that profoundly influence the goals we choose.

Why is it so critical to recognize the importance of  knowing why we want to be rich (or learned, or have many friends, or be kind, or play an instrument well)?

Mihali Chicksenmehi, in his groundbreaking work, Flow, introduces an interesting concept regarding life satisfaction. He suggests a distinction between two different types of life experiences: autotelic and exotelic.

Autotelic comes from the Latin words auto, meaning self, and telos, meaning goal. The experience itself is the goal. An autotelic personality derives satisfaction from himself, and from the very activities in which he or she is involved.  The activities are goals  in and of themselves, not merely a path to a different goal. An autotelic experience is intrinsically rewarding; life and time spent are justified in the present, rather than being held hostage to a future gain. The voyage is for the scenery and companionship, not to reach a destination.

An exotelic experience, by contrast, is an activity undertaken not for its own sake but exclusively to achieve a separate result. The ultimate objective may be mundane or profound, such as to afford a sports car or feed the starving, but in any event, an exotelic experience has no inherent value in and of itself.

Chicksenmehi observes that when engaged in an exotelic experience, one almost necessarily has the feeling that the time being spent is hollow.  After all, there is no meaning in the activity itself, only in its effects.

Much of peoples’ frustration and emptiness results from their engaging in their daily activities as exotelic experiences. Jobs are viewed as mere conduits to an income, errands or car pool are undertaken in satisfaction of duties, as are davening and, for many, even learning.  It is thus no wonder that these activities fail to generate joy, or even a some peace of mind.

When activities such as work and family time are merely exotelic activities, the need for joy and satisfaction remains unmet. The result is almost invariably an incessant drive for leisure and entertainment as an escape from this frustration and emptiness.  Leisure is very often the passive absorption of information, without utilizing one’s skills and without exploring new opportunities for action. In this dynamic of shuttling between obligatory activities that form unsatisfying experiences and mindless leisure time, life passes by as a sequence of boring and anxious experiences over which a person feels he has little control.

Without a natural flow between one’s goals and the motives that drive them, the pursuit of those goals necessarily becomes an exotelic experience. Such a person is constantly running, never satisfied, never present in the moment and never able to fully embrace his experiences, since the activity is merely for the  resultant benefit. In truth, the person doesn’t really want to engage in the activity at all, but only wantsthe activity to have been done.

For an Orthodox Jew, allowing exotelic experiences to become the norm has disastrous repercussions. The act of distancing oneself from one’s own activities and behavior necessarily extends to the more elevated dimensions of life, as well. Davening becomes hollow and shimras hamitzvos (mitzvah observance), in general, becomes superficial. Learning becomes merely a challenge to “cover ground”, to make more siyumim.  Activities that should allow one to develop closeness to HKB”H lose all their relationship value.  Family relationships are likely to fall prey to the identical consequence. Activities and time spent with children are experienced as obligations, triggering resentment rather than joy. Time spent with a spouse is more likely to lead to alienation than to intensify love and closeness.  Inevitably, an internal voice will begin to ask, “Is this what life is really all about?”   Blame will be imposed on the spouse, children or religion, while the individual responsible fails to recognize that his own approach to life led to this   all but inevitable result.

When one’s goals naturally reflect the motivations behind them, the true, intrinsic value of each activity can be explored, allowing the activity itself to become meaningful. This level of introspection can convert actions from exotelic to autotelic, increasing the level of engagement and ultimately the degree of success likely to be realized.

Even more importantly, identifying one’s motivation provides the opportunity to reject it as unnecessary and even unwanted. For example, one may have chosen financial success as a goal, without ever really knowing why. Taking the time to reconsider this question may reveal that his motivation was really to satisfy the expectations of others, and that his own preference would be to give up on some of his financial goals and replace them with other goals, which, for example, he may have rejected as a young man but that have become meaningful to him over time.

In other words, synthesis between goals and motivations enables one to identify the “big rocks” in one’s life, and thereby choose wisely which to place first in the bucket, which to place later and which to reject outright.

  1. Prioritize the Effort, not the Result

One of the surefire ways to distinguish between an autotelic and an exotelic goal is to determine whether the interest is solely in the outcome, or if it is also in the activity itself.

Upon recognizing the distinction between the value of an activity itself and its outcome, one can begin to appreciate that success can also be viewed through the prism of the activity or its outcome.  True and meaningful success is achieved when accomplishment is realized through the activity itself. Success does not happen at the destination, it happens along the way. Often, people desire to achieve the success realized by others.  Alas, they view the other person’s results as the success, rather than the choices they made to get there. They don’t want to engage in the activities that made the difference – they just want the end result.

By failing to appreciate the investment that was necessary to achieve success, they cripple their own ability to duplicate the results.

In a famous letter to a talmid, Rav Yitzchak Hutner, zt”l, decried the common practice of sharing sensational stories about gedolim without acknowledging the countless hours of toiling and sacrifice that it took for them to become gedolim in the first place. The same applies to individuals who are successful in any area. You don’t become a successful businessman or professional without first embracing the thousands of hours of work.

If success is evaluated on results alone, a misleading picture is painted. One fails to develop the appreciation that the central focus of life must be the efforts to get to the result, and thus, that for life to have meaning, those efforts themselves must have meaning.  Woe to the Rav who revels only in his effortlessly delivered, thought-provoking drasha – unless he also revels in the hundreds of hours spent learning, speaking and preparing the drasha. The parents that naturally connect with their children must appreciate that the true beauty of the relationship is in the immeasurable amount of time invested in the relationship – not only the resulting love and respect.

Therefore, when prioritizing goals, we must not focus on the outcomes. After all, the outcome is merely a result of the important part – the effort.

Moreover, we have no real way of predicting any outcome (or even assuming a necessary connection between an activity and its apparent result). Greatness is in the journey, not the destination.

By so viewing life, joy and meaning are attainable. When we start to appreciate and enjoy the journey, we will find the inner strength to be more successful. We will look at the myriad responsibilities we juggle each day with a sense of pride,  rather than frustration, appreciating that it is during the struggle itself that greatness is born.

  1. Success is not comparative

The final piece of piece of the puzzle is learning to measure your success against your own aspirations and capacity, rather than  against the success of others.  Judging oneself in contrast to others is one of the leading causes of dissatisfaction in life.

As children, we are socialized to view success in a comparative fashion – in sports, spelling bees, and even grades. We gauge our success by whether we are doing better than our peer group.

Such a mentality is not only against the foundations of Yiddishkeit, it is intrinsically destructive. Success must be understood as being internal and personal. It is based on one’s ability to grow within on one’s own life and conditions, to meet one’s potential.

The final commandment in the Aseres Hadibros is the prohibition of lo sachmod. Its placement there seems odd, since it appears to follow a list of far more egregious sins,  such as murder, adultery, kidnapping and false testimony. These transgressions can literally destroy someone’s life. Merely looking over the fence to your neighbor’s new car seems quite innocuous in comparison.

The lesson is actually quite profound. Focusing on another’s possessions can also have a tragic effect. It can destroy a life – but this time it’s your own. When desiring the possessions or accomplishments of others, one’s own goals and priorities become obscured. Families can be ruined  and lives and relationships destroyed when one’s own life is viewed through the prism of someone else’s.

Great people don’t look out the window to see what their neighbor has acquired. Great people look at the world to see what is needed, and then  undertake to make a difference. Great people try to create a better version of themselves every day.

So stop looking. Stop comparing. Stop driving yourself and your family crazy that you haven’t been able to win the race, even when the race is wrapped in the image of holiness and pursued in name of Yiddishkeit.


Take the time to identify your goals and understand where they come from.  Then ensure that you engage in your daily activities as autotelic experiences. Allocate the appropriate amount of time to each activity and demand excellence of yourself. With this formula, excitement will be felt for the journey, rather than pressure and anxiety in pursuing the destination.


Charlie Harary is the CEO of H3 & Co, an investment and advisory firm based in New York. He is also an Associate Clinical Professor of Management and Entrepreneurship at the Sy Syms School of Business in Yeshiva University. For more, please see