Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Next Gadol?

There is a famous quote from Rav Eliyahu E. Dessler (based on a Gemarah I believe) that goes something like this:

We need to throw 1000 people into the Beis HaMedrash to get one Gadol. What about the 999 students that do not become Gedolim? Could they not have done better with their lives doing something more suitable to their overall talents? Yes, but we need Gedolim. So even if 999 students ‘fall through the cracks’ it’s worth the price!

I have always taken issue with this philosophy. I do agree that we need people that are highly qualified to issue innovative Halachic Psak and guide our Hashkafos. But I do not think that Rav Dessler’s approach is the only way to get them. In fact I’m not even sure that is the best way. Having 999 out of a 1000 students ‘fall through the cracks’ is never a good idea in my mind.

Nonetheless Rav Dessler’s philosophy seems to have taken hold. It is in part the guiding principle of today’s Charedi Yeshivos and Kollelim. Today’s Charedi Yeshiva student has no other options presented to them other than continuing to learn Torah full time – well into his marriage - for as long as possible. The sacrifice must be made.

Let us examine what we have to show for all that. We do have a lot of very high caliber Torah learning in the world today. There are many Lamdanim and many of them have become lower level Poskim, Roshei Yeshiva, and all forms of Klei Kodesh (people whose careers are in Torah based endeavors). The numbers today are staggeringly high - exponentially greater than at any time in history. But how many of them actually qualify as Gedolim?

I don’t know the answer to that but there is not one name that I have heard of that has risen to the top – as per Rav Dessler.

On the other hand if one looks at the previous generation of Gedolim many names come to mind immediately. Just to mention a few: Rav Solovietchik and his brother Rav Ahron, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky… there are so many – far too numerous to mention. Each a legitimate Gadol in his own right.

Who is even close to becoming the next Rav Moshe? Is he among the current crop of Charedi Yeshivaleit and Avreichim? Perhaps. But perhaps not.

A name has surfaced that may have this potential: Moshe Raziel Sharify (pictured). Moshe is a 14 year old boy who may very well become the next ‘certifiable’ Gadol.

The irony is that this young man did not follow the Desslerian track. Nor is he even from a Charedi home. His parents are in fact college educated with advaced degrees. From the Jerusalem Post:

‘Sharify’s father, Nisan Sharify, … has a doctorate in law from Bar-Ilan University and practices taxation law…’ ‘The young man’s mother, Ronit, …has a doctorate in political science from Bar-Ilan University…’

Young Moshe is a genius who has a desire to learn Torah. At 14 he apparently even has a temperament and emotional maturity way beyond his years. This is a ‘magical’ combination and he has a strong start towards becoming a Gadol. He is so brilliant that he has just taken the Rabbanut exam for Rabbinic ordination and passed it with flying colors. This exam is known to be one of the most difficult of its kind. Many people have attempted to get a Rabbanut Semicha and failed. But this young man aced it! (He has not been granted Semicha - which is the subject of the article but it is not the subject of this essay.)

His brilliance was attested to before that:

The chief rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, wrote on July 21, in a certificate of approbation: “I hereby confirm that I tested the student Moshe Sharify at length and in great depth on the topic of the Laws of Shabbat and he answered all my questions correctly and precisely, quoting each law and its source from the Talmud until the very last one… May he continue to persevere with his learning and to grow in the Torah, good attributes and fear of heaven, and to become an adjudicator among the People of Israel.”

Now it’s quite possible that there are Charedi versions of young Moshe. But there are none that have ever taken the Rabbanut exams and few if any that have had written testimony about their brilliance at age 14 from a rabbinic leader in Israel.

Will Moshe become the next Gadol? I don’t know. Only time will tell. But it wouldn’t surprise me.

This illustrates my view that becoming a Gadol is not done in a cookie cutter fashion. Joining the crowd of 1000 in the Beis Hamedrash seems to have not thus far produced the hoped for results that Rav Dessler spoke of.

But it has produced a lot of ‘dropouts’ in Rav Dessler’s sense – people who are fine Lamdanim and perhaps even Talmidei Chachamim but have not developed into Gedolim. In the process they have ignored many of their other God given individual skills and talents. And they have not been properly prepared for making a decent living. Many of them are poverty stricken and cannot put food on the table without increasingly borrowing money from free loan funds.

The previous generation of Gedolim came from a much smaller pool of Bnei Torah (Yeshivaleit and Avreichim) and yet they managed to become Gedolim in far greater number than we have today.

Becoming a Gadol requires a certain type of aptitude; and a unique set of skills and abilities that few people have. Those that have them - will become Gedolim regardless of their Hashkafic environment - or the number of peers they have in their Beis HaMedrash.

Young Moshe Nisan Sharify and the previous generations of Gedolim have proven that one does not need to ‘throw’ 60,000 Yeshvaleit and Yungeleit (the estimated number in Israel today) into the Beis Hamedrash to get one Gadol. I’m not even sure Rav Dessler means to sacrifice 60,000 to get one Gadol. In my view we don’t even need to sacrifice 999. Or even 9!

What we need instead is an application of Chanoch L’Naar Al Pi Darko’. Every human being has his or her innate abilities and talents. It should be readily discernible who has the ‘Gadlus gene’ early in one’s educational career. Any educator worth his salt should be able to see that. Ceratinly that has been the case with young Moshe Nissan Sharify.

What about late bloomers? They too can find themselves given the freedom to pursue their interests. You can’t force Gadlus via a formula. Certainly negating innate talent is not called for. And yet that seems to be what the current Yeshiva system is all about.