Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 30 May 2009 / 6 Sivan 5769

Heed the Call

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman - www.rabbiullman.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

From: Hernando

Dear Rabbi,

I have come to love the Torah so much and want to keep all the mitzvot that I can, but I feel that I need to go to a yeshiva with rabbis and people like myself in order to be totally immersed in the Torah and the religious life. The problem is that my parents are very much against this and we are having many arguments about this. Please, rabbi, tell me what I should do.

Dear Hernando,

I am very inspired to hear your heartfelt desire to learn Torah and fulfill the mitzvot. G-d should help you realize your heart’s desires with joy, and with the joy of your family.

Please realize though, dear Hernando, that I cannot possibly tell you what to do in this situation because I do not know enough about you, your family and your options. I can only give you some general ideas that I hope will help you in your decision.

Every Jew is required to learn Torah and observe the mitzvot. This applies to your parents as well. However, their obligation is even greater than yours in a way because not only are they obligated themselves, they are obligated to encourage you to do so as well. And even though a person is required to honor his parents’ wishes, if they tell him not to fulfill his religious duties he may not listen to them, since not only are they required to be observant, they are also prohibited from causing their child to transgress.

That being said, in most cases as these, the parents aren’t against Torah per se, but rather are concerned that the child will become too extreme, not pursue secular education or neglect attaining a profession and the like. From the parents’ point of view, these are all valid concerns, and depending on a person’s stage in life, one should try to find a healthy balance between his need to study Torah and do mitzvot and fulfill his parents’ wishes, which are ultimately good for most people. This can be done by taking advantage of local Jewish opportunities and postponing yeshiva study; or study in yeshiva can precede other plans if they can be postponed so that one has a firm base in Torah knowledge and observance before following other pursuits.

Of course, financial considerations play a major role here, since all yeshivot have great costs and most require travel expenses, tuition and room and board in some measure.

I hope the following example will be a source of inspiration for you and your family:

Rabbi Eliezer ben Hurkanos of the Talmud was initially a Jewishly uneducated youth who worked his wealthy father’s fields every day from morning till evening. Because of his great strength his father had him work even harder than his other brothers: while they plowed the soft valley lands he plowed the rocky slopes.

One day his father saw him sitting and crying in the middle of his daily work. “Eliezer, why are you crying? Is it because you work so much harder than your brothers?” The next day Hurkanos sent Eliezer to plow the lowlands. Yet, he found him crying as the day before. “Why are you crying?” his father asked. “Father, I want to learn Torah in the yeshiva.” “That’s ridiculous, you’re nearly the age where you’ll have sons who could learn and you don’t even know how to read! Do something important like the extra work I’m now giving you and forget about this learning idea.”

Eliezer woke early the next day, finished his regular and extra work, and then set off for Jerusalem to learn in yeshiva against his father’s wishes. His coarseness and lack of education made him stand out from all the other students of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, who nevertheless was impressed by his sincerity and effort. One day while learning, the rabbi noticed that Eliezer hadn’t eaten for what turned out to be eight days because of his poverty. The rabbi took him in as one of his own household and from that day on took special interest in Eliezer’s studies.

Eventually, Hurkanos found out where his son had gone and arrived to take him home. Rabbi Yochanan agreed, but asked him to give a Torah dissertation before leaving. When his father heard Eliezer’s discourse, and saw how much his fellow Torah scholars admired and appreciated his teachings, Hurkanos was so moved that he changed his mind and not only agreed that his son continue in the yeshiva, but offered to fully support him.

It was of this Eliezer that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai used to say: If all the Sages of Israel were on one pan of a balance-scale, and Eliezer ben Hurkanos were on the other, he would outweigh them all (Pirkei Avot 2:12).

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