ben goldfarb 88.
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You aren't in college anymore. You are married with kids. You could be making so much more money if you didn't spend 20 hours a week with your rabbis and study partner (chevruta).
I've heard this kind of rhetoric almost daily from well-meaning friends and colleagues since I made a conscious decision over three years ago to divide my day between Torah study and work. The good news is, I don't take these statements to heart. The better news is, I've decided to explain my decision to spend half of my waking hours in yeshiva to these perplexed individuals.
As opposed to the courses in our Western education system, Torah is not just another academic subject. The Bible, Talmud and legal codes are not just other books on our bookshelf, conveniently placed between novels and cookbooks. Torah study isn't something that you're finished with once you pass your tests and go up to the podium wearing a robe and a square hat. Torah is life itself and Jews are obligated to learn it both day and night as long as we are still drawing breath.
My first day in a study hall (beit midrash) was a shock, to say the least. The loud noise and chaotic atmosphere was in such sharp contrast to the hushed, sterile university libraries that I had become accustomed to during my academic career. In yeshiva, students were yelling at each other and pacing back and forth, arms and fists waving in the air. I was sure a fistfight was going to erupt at some point. A group of students was having a class in the corner amidst the chaos, somehow concentrating on the rabbi's words despite a noise level that could easily compete with the high-decibel volume of rock concerts.
Torah is unlike any other pursuit, academic or otherwise. It must be learned from the scholars of the past generation who transmit it to the new generation. It cannot be learned in a vacuum. There are 70 interpretations of Torah, and it's no small task trying to make heads or tails of them. Unlike prayer, where we speak to God and He Listens, Torah study is the process in which God speaks to us. I realized early on that I needed to spend more time in yeshiva to even begin to understand what He is saying.
In addition to knowledge and wisdom, a large part of yeshiva education has to do with moral and ethical development. Rabbis must live the Torah that they teach. Not only must a rabbi uphold the entire written and oral Torah, he must be a living example of Torah values and the sanctification of God's name by his words and deeds. What I learn in yeshiva by watching and emulating my rabbis carries over into my professional, family and social life as well.
The more I studied, the more I realized that I didn't know. I felt that I needed to make a monumental effort to dedicate as much time as I could to this holy pursuit. The best way to do this, in my mind, was to divide my day between study and work.
So, friends and colleagues, that's the reason behind my choice to spend my mornings in yeshiva. You may or may not join me in this pursuit, but perhaps you now have a better idea of why I'm involved in it.
(Part II of this column, entitled "How to study in yeshiva" will appear in two weeks)
Ben Goldfarb was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, and is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. He moved to Israel in 1988. He divides his time between his yeshiva studies and his coaching practice. His life calling is to help others understand their personal mission and accomplish it with humor, creativity, and spirituality. He lives with his wife and children in Jerusalem. For more information about his coaching practice, visit the Paradigm Shift Communications website, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright 2007 by Ben Goldfarb
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