Cleaning for their own good
by Jonathan Rosenblum
April 15, 2005
Motzaei Shabbos the Rosenblum family war council met in special session to prepare for the final assault on the remaining chametz in the house. In recent years, troop levels have been depleted by marriage, including the loss of the only pair of female hands to aid Mother Rosenblum. On the other hand, the experience and capacity of the remaining troops increases by the year, and senescence has not yet set in the upper ranks.
Still there are kinks in the battle plan. One of the junior officers raises the issue of recent surveys in his yeshiva showing that no good yeshiva bochur has any cleaning responsibilities prior to Pesach. This incipient rebellion must be nipped in the bud. If the yeshiva bochurim go AWOL, troop levels will be reduced to near zero and mercenaries will have to be hired.
To squelch the incipient rebellion in the ranks, I cite an ancient rule in the Rosenblum family – to wit, "We couldn't care less what Reuven's parents do or do not let him do." Actually, to say that my own parents ignored all arguments adduced from the behavior of other parents is not strictly accurate. Rather they took account of what other parents did and then deliberately did the opposite. Sort of the Rosenblum version of the familiar saying, "Daas Torah is the opposite of daas baalebatim."
Citation of the familiar rule, coupled with a threat to deduct from any monies spent on mercenaries from that available to replace worn hats, suits and shoes, has its desired effect. And the Rosenblum troops sally forth into battle at full strength.
Alas, one does hear anecdotal evidence that the above cited survey may not have been entirely the product of an overactive imagination, and that there really are yeshiva bochurim granted a draft exemption from Pesach cleaning. To some extent, such exemptions are even understandable. What parent's heart would not swell with pride at the sight of a bochur who after a long winter zman still wants nothing else than to put in a full day in the beis hamedrash?
Yet the impulse to allow the apple of one's eye do so should be stifled – for his sake if not one's own. As the term bein hazemanim implies, this period is not simply a continuation of the zman in a different setting. Rather it is a time for a different type of growth than can be achieved in the yeshiva.
Bein hazemanim, I heard recently from Rav Reuven Leuchter, one of the closest talmidim of the famed Mashgiach Rav Shlomo Wolbe, ùìéè"à, is a time for a type of interaction with the world that cannot take place hunched over one's Gemara. As the Steipler Gaon used to say, it is hard to even assess a bochur's middos while he is in yeshivah. After all, did his shtender ever speak back to him or express a contrary opinion?
Talmudic prodigies exist. But there is a certain type of wisdom that only comes with age and life experience, no matter how brilliant a person may be. That is why the leaders of the Torah world are inevitably drawn from the ranks of the ziknei hador. If the first adjective still used to describe a person is ilui, he is probably not yet ready for leadership.
Bein hazemanim is the time for acquiring some of the experience of interacting with the world that is crucial for the development of middos and self-knowledge. That, and the need to recharge batteries after a long winter zman, likely explains why a rosh yeshiva in one of Israel's leading yeshivos told the bochurim that they should not learn more than 3 hours a day during bein hazemanim.
There is a second major reason not to grant draft exemptions from Pesach cleaning: It fosters an attitude of entitlement that can work against true striving in Torah. Every talmid chacham, the Gemara says, needs ashemini she'be'shiminis of pride. And instilling pride in oneself as a yeshiva bochur is a crucial function of yeshivos.
We stare today in wonder at pictures of Slabodka Yeshiva bochurim of the early 20th century – many of whom went on to become gedolei olam. Their dandified dress seems totally inconsistent with our image of a yeshiva bochur. Yet in an age where there was a general flight from the yeshivos, a certain stress on one's personal appearance helped instill the pride necessary to resist the temptations of the time.
Similarly, in the 1950s, when the total number of yeshiva bochurim in Eretz Yisrael numbered less than a thousand, instilling pride in being a yeshiva bochur, including the uniform, was a crucial to fostering the remarkable growth of yeshivos in the following decades.
Today, however, remaining in yeshiva no longer involves going against the tide, and the greater danger is too much pride based on too little substance, which can lead to a loss of ambition for true gadlus in Torah. A good example is the way too many yeshiva bochurim, even mediocre ones, (and their parents) discuss openly their "demands" in shidduchim, and their expectation that they will be provided with an apartment by the time of the chuppah.
Recently the letters page of HaModia were filled for many weeks with complaints of parents groaning under the unsustainable burden of providing apartments as a condition of marrying their children. Yet too often the incredible sacrifice of parents is not even appreciated by their children. They view the apartment as part of their birthright.
We do our sons and their Torah learning no favor by encouraging such attitudes. If we ask ourselves why pre-War Europe, with a fraction of the yeshiva students in the Israeli yeshivos today, produced so many more gedolim, the answer surely lies in the greater mesirus nefesh demanded of that earlier generation. Not only was each yeshiva bochur going against the tide in a society in which yeshiva students were increasingly the subjects of ridicule, but they were doing so at great self-sacrifice.
When Rabbi Aryeh Leib Gurwicz's father sent his young son across the border to learn in Lithuania, with no expectation of ever seeing him again, he gave him the greatcoat off his back, knowing that his son would be sleeping on a bench in an unheated beis medrash. Nor did marriage, even when a girl could be found who still wanted to marry a yeshiva bochur, lead to life on easy street. As a young rav in Tzitevian, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky and his wife shared one pair of galoshes, without which it was impossible to go out during the winter on the muddy streets, and Reb Yaakov owned exactly one shirt.
If we want to protect our sons against an exaggerated sense of entitlement, the time to start is when they are young, and the expectation that they participate in Pesach cleaning is as good a time to instill this lesson.
Happily that is also the halacha. One of the major poskim of my neighborhood was asked by a bochur why the yeshiva bein hazemanim in his shul is only in the morning, and not afternoon and night seder as well. The rav replied that bochurim also have to share in the Pesach cleaning, and noted that the obligation to clean falls on all those living in the house, and not exclusively on the mother.
So let our precious bochurim spend a few hours a day cleaning for Pesach. For their own good.
Chag Kasher Ve'Sameach,
Related Topics: Jewish Holidays, Pesach
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free jewish media resources mailing list