My grandson Dovid celebrated his bar Mitzvah last Shabbos. Here is what I said to him at the Shabbos Seudah.
Devorim HaYotzim Min HaLev Nichnasim LaLev. Dovid, these words are directed to you.
Shema B’ni Mussar Avicha - Ve’Al Titosh Toras Emecha. Listen my son to the Mussar of your father and do not forsake the Torah of your mother. So begins the Iggeres HaRamban - a famous letter written by the Ramban to his oldest son about the importance of humility and self control.
But the Ramban did not make up that phrase. It is a Pasuk from Shlomo HaMelech’s Mishlei (1:8)
There are many interpretations to these words. Among them is Rashi’s interpretation that Avicha refers to the word of Hashem – the Mitzvos D’Oraisas. Imecha refers to His people Israel via Chazal’s creation of the Siyagim LaTorah – the Mitzvos D’Rabbanan.
I want to suggest another possible interpretation.
I would have expected Shlomo HaMelech’s words to have been reversed. To call attention to the father’s Torah and the mother’s Mussar.
VeShinantom Levanecha (Devarim 6:7). Is it not after all the duty of a father to teach his son Torah?! And is it not the duty of a mother to give her son Mussar in disciplining him so that he follows the Torah? The Gemara in Yevamos (63a) tells us that one of the two purposes of marriage is so that a woman will raise the children properly. Is it not the mother who is on the front lines of Chinuch?
But the attributions are reversed. It speaks of the father’s Mussar and a mother’s Torah! Perhaps Shlomo HaMelech purposely did that to teach us that both parents are responsible for both things.
I know of no other family where the parental responsibility is more equally shared. Both parents are very knowledgeable in Torah. Your father has completed Shas having learned many Mesechtos B’Iyun – in depth. Your mother has gone through all of Tanach at least once and has also studied with you the sources upon which your Bar Mitzvah Drasha was based. And both are committed to applying the necessary discipline to raise a child properly. Raising a child is not only about teaching rules. It is about living what you teach. It is about being a role model.
The way you have grown - Dovid - is the result of both parents being living examples of what it means to be Torah Jews. I just wanted to tell you how proud I am of - not only you but how proud I am of your mother my daughter Sari and your father Elie. They are role models for us as well.
I would add that not only do you have good role models in your parents. You have good role models in your grandparents, your aunts, and your uncles on both the Ginsparg and the Maryles side.
Dovid the whole world is open before you. You have the potential to become a Gadol B’Yisroel. You have got what it takes. You have the God given intelligence and the Hasmada to sit and learn and stay focused. We have already witnessed where this has taken you so far when this past Sunday you made a Siyum on Shas Mishnayos - and today on two Mesechtos of the Gemarah.
Last Sunday your father mentioned that you felt that you did not really master all of the material you learned . He answered you - that very few can honestly say they have. That it is arrogant for even those who have spent a lot of time learning Torah to say they know it. I agree with your father. The more one learns the more one realizes just how much they don’t know.
As I say, you have great potential. The question is what do you do with all that potential? And how will you know where to apply yourself?
Meseches Avos (2:2) tells us: Yafa Torah Im Derech Eretz. Beautiful is the Torah with the ‘way of the world’.
My Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik explained exactly what the Mishnah means by Derech Eretz. It does not only mean holding a job - which is the common interpretation (although that is certainly included).
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch had a much more inclusive meaning. The greater meaning of Derech Eretz includes all things conducive to Tikun Olam - the continued building up of the physical world.
The Gemarah in Brachos (35b) has a related statement on this topic. The Torah tells us in Ve’Asafta D’ganecha ‘and you will gather your grain’ (Devarim 11:4). In explaining this Pasuk Rebbi Yishmael said that this means that one should act according to the ‘way of the world’. VeAsafta DeGanecha – act according to the way of the world.
What is really meant by this unusual expression? What is the Derech Eretz –‘the way of the world’ that makes Torah beautiful if it is included?
Rav Ahron explains that it is the study of worldly knowledge. That - he says - is in an expression of Tikun HaOlam too. By studying all branches of worldly knowledge, one participates in the fulfillment of that Mishnah in Avos. This includes science, math, history, philosophy, the arts, literature, and even poetry.
Last Sunday your father said that if one wants to get the best information available about what the Torah says and what it means - one should seek the council of the Gedolei Olam. Rav Ahron Soloveichik was one such Gadol. As was Rav Hirsch.
What should your goal be in life? Obviously it should be to become the best Dovid Ginsparg you can be. Does this mean that your goal is to become a major Rosh Yeshiva or Posek? Perhaps. If that is where your greatest strength lies it would be criminal not to pursue that as your goal.
But if your greatest talent lies elsewhere, it would be criminal not to pursue that. In either case you should continue your Limud HaTorah to the best of your ability. One is required to learn Torah as much as possible no matter what one does in life.
Nonetheless it is imperative that you find out where your greatest strengths lie and concentrate on that. HaShem does not want His people to squander their talents. He wants them to use them - as that is best way to contribute to Klal Yisroel. That’s why he gives them to you.
Talents and strengths vary widely among people. You are still very young and have time. The more mature you become the better able you will be to see how best to learn what your strengths are and how to best use them. Ultimately it’s up to you.
My Bracha to you is that whatever you choose to do in life - that it should be L’Shem Shamayim - and that you succeed at it beyond your wildest dreams.