Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Vocational school is not enough

For today's "Daily Torah Thought" post, I used the following piece from R' Samson Raphael Hirsch (Horeb, paragraph 552):

While, however, this training for earning a living is unquestionably a father's duty, beware of seeing in it the whole of that duty and of thinking that you have done enough if your child is able to keep body and soul together by his own efforts, or even to set up house. Of what use are a living and a home to him if his spirit is unilluminated, if he knows how to make a living but not to live as a Jew?

This is obvious, of course, but I have seen so many people who don't grasp its truth and convert that truth into reality. Kids need a richness of life, a spiritual depth, a full and mature religious education, an appreciation for the beauty of their world and the love of their family.

I don't want this to turn into a rant, even though it is tailor-made for a serious tirade. I spent the morning with a family suffering an unbelievably horrific loss, and after what they are enduring, everything else in the world, even matters of the greatest spiritual importance, just pale to utter nothingness. My heart hurts. I lack the interest in ranting.

So I'm going to leave this where it is, and let you do the commenting.


  1. This quote by R Hirsch is one of the reasons that his writing totally speaks to the Jew of today.
    When all is said and done we all want our kids (and ourselves) to live as a Jew.

    Thanks for posting this.

  2. What a horrible thing to have to endure!
    But I think that it is precisely this experience that sheds light on R. Hirsch's comment. We all strike a balance between appreciating the important things in life and dealing with the minutae. But if life is a goal merely in of itself with nothing beyond it, then what is the point? To live, die, and then what?
    I once had a discussion with a family I am close with - the son, a teenager, is an EMT. His mother asked him about progress on his school-work, which at that time was floundering, on the same day in which he helped a number of injured people. His response was, "Who cares? Do you know what I've seen today?" When the mother told me about the exchange, I lightly suggested that that specific time may not have been an appropriate one to bring up schoolwork (though this was exam season), but that in the long run, she was right to be concerned about her son's school-work. The consequences of the son's not doing his school-work could have seriously affected his future. Even small details in life have consequences.
    There is a perplexing statement in the Talmud that "Torah study is greater than saving lives." I struggled with this statement until I realized that Torah study is greater only in the sense of providing a higher purpose to life overall. Halakhically, no one would argue that if someone's life needs to be saved, then a person nearby who is engrossed in learning should remain indifferent and continue on. He would be required to stop and save the person at risk. At that precise moment, the teenager's response is appropriate: saving lives comes first, and everything else, as you said, pales in comparison. But R. Hirsch's advice, like the gemara's statement, is for daily living, down the line: there is something that informs life in this world that makes it worthwhile.
    As to your comment on your more recent post concerning people's concern with their own ego and their preoccupation with gossip, I think anyone with a sense of values would agree that people who spend their energy trying to enhance their own ego or who enjoy political backstabbing are cheapening life, and that experience that you had to go through should force us to re-assess our priorities. But R. Hirsch's point assumes this as well - his point is that to make life worthwhle, religious minutae matter.
    Abraham Joshu Heschel pointed out one way of determining what the important things in life are: look at that topics of the berakhot of the shemoneh esreh. Meditating on these barakhot help us re-assess our priorities.

    Tenuham min ha-Shamayim.

  3. Thank you, Joseph; all of these points are excellent, and worth pondering.