Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Fifth Son

Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman
I have never met Ron Yitzchok Eisenman, the Rabbi of Congregation Ahavas Israel in Passaic, New Jersey.  But I have read his words in periodicals like Mishpacha Magazine. I don’t know all that much about his background. But I can attest to his character based on how he act.

My first ‘encounter’ with that was a few years ago at the ‘Internet Asifa’- a gathering organized by Charedi rabbinic leaders designed to express the dangers of the internet and ban it from our homes. At the time survivors of sex abuse stood outside and protested the fact that the very real pain they suffer as survivors of abuse has never been treated with anywhere near the concern internet use has. They felt justifiably ignored.

Some of the attendees that saw the protesters sneered at them - objecting to their protest as inappropriate and irrelevant to the urgent agenda on the table. Which of course hurt them even more. But not Rabbi Eisenman. He attended the Asifa but left early to stand with survivors. I was impressed by that. 

Rabbi Eisenman is a product of Yeshiva University. But with his long beard, Kapote, and Chasidic hat he looks more like he belongs in Lakewood or Boro Park … in what must be a synthesis of the modern Orthodox world of YU and Charedi world. Perhaps that is why I like him so much. I like people that take the best of both worlds. I rarely if ever disagree with him (to the best of my recollection). 

Rabbi Eisenman publishes ‘The Short Vort’ - a weekly Dvar Torah that he emails to subscribers. The latest of which was sent to me by a Jerry Gothheil, who post comments here frequently. It is entitled My Fifth Son*. It stuck a cord with me.

I assume that the title is a take on the four sons of the Hagaddah, with his own fifth son, Aryeh representing a fifth son not mentioned. 

What makes Aryeh unique is the path in Judaism he took. Which is different from the one the Charedi world insists upon for their youth.

The Charedi world places on pedestals Lomdei Torah - those that study Torah. The more time they spend, the more they value them. Which is why the trajectory of their entire educational system in all grades and beyond is towards a life of pure Torah study – ultimately in a Kollel. That is the highest form of service to God.  

As one lessens the time spent on Torah study – even for legitimate reasons, so too lessens his value. Leaving a Kollel is usually done because of  the need to support a family. Not that they are considered bad by any means. Just not as great as the one who stays in Kollel learning full time. This is the accepted norm in Charedi circles. Those who don’t ‘make it’ in Kollel think of themselves that way.

This is the mindset that Rabbi Eisenman seems to be addressing. His point is that a Jew should be valued by what his talents and abilities are and how he uses them in service to God. Not only by how well or how much Torah he studies.

Aryeh did not follow the path the Charedi world tries mightily to send everyone down into. Studying Torah in a Yeshiva was not where his talent lay. He decided to serve God in the direction his talents led him. In my view as well as that of his father’s, he is by far serving God much better than if he would have forced himself to stay in a yeshiva and eventually in a Kollel.

This is not to say that he wouldn’t have succeeded at some level. I’m sure he could have. There are a lot like him that do. They do not rise to the top, but are there nonetheless doing what they have been taught as the best way to serve God, no matter what other God given talents they have.

I agree with Rabbi Eisenman about his son. He describes in glowing terms how he has served God in his job. And he is very proud of him.This is the way we should all feel about our children. We should encourage them to use their talents in service to God rather than in the ‘cookie-cuttter’ way that Charedei education indoctrinates them to do.

It’s just too bad that he had to spell it out for us. Makes me wonder how much people like Aryeh are looked down upon in the Charedi world - just because they chose a different path. It surely makes life difficult for them in a variety of ways, not the least of which is in the Shiduch (for dating marriage) department. A working boy in the Charedi world does not get that many recommendations for dates.

That is because young women in the Charedi world are indoctrinated the same way. They are taught to value only boys that are learning. Which is why they are so often better educated than their husbands since part of their indoctrination is to support their husbands in Kollel. Which means getting the kind of education that will enhance their earning power.

Not so Aryeh.  He recently got engaged. Tova is described by Rabbi Eisneman as a jewel. This is clearly a  young woman who has not ‘bought the farm’. I wish them all a hearty Mazal Tov.  Now if only the rest of the Charedi world could see things through Rabbi Eisenman’s eyes.

* not available online