The Buck Stops Here - Part II

by Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro

True Story #1: A Rosh Yeshiva in Brooklyn suggests that his Yeshiva, one of the most prominent in the country, start a "resource room" for those who are in need of such a facility. His Board of Directors veto the idea, refusing to contribute the financial support the project would need. Their reasoning: If we're the only one with a resource room, people will say that our students need a resource room, and those of other Yeshivos do not.

Fact: People will say that, and the Yeshiva will suffer because of it..

True Story #2: A ninth grade teacher in a prominent Bais Yaakov is instructed to finish two seforim in Tanach by the end of the year - Yehoshua and Melochim Bais - during his four-times-a-week Navi class. This amounts to about one Perek every four lessons, an exorbitant amount of material for 14 and 15 year-old girls to absorb. He approaches the principal asking if this is really the most beneficial curriculum for the his students. "Maybe not," the principal said. "But in such-and-such school (the main competition for the school in the story), they finish two seforim in ninth grade. If we don't, parents will say that the other school 'has better learning', and they will send their daughters there."

Fact: Parents will say that, and many will send their daughters there.

True Story #3: The principal of a Bais Yaakov school wants to warn her student body, at an assembly, about the terrible nisyonos facing today's youth, even in the frum community. The school's Dean would not permit it. "If you say things like that," he said, "people will think our school has a problem with what our girls are involved in."

Fact: People will think that, and the school will suffer for it.

Moral of the stories: We have a major problem. That is: Someone who works on solving a problem more than anyone else, will automatically be labeled as having that problem more than anyone else. The result is that those who are in a position to do something about Klall Yisroel's problems may do so only at great peril.

The problem is so severe, that when a prominent girl's school recently sent a letter out to their parent body, enlightening them as to the spiritual dangers lurking in wait for today's Bais Yaakov girl in today's frum community, dangers that many parents are unaware of, dangers that I myself have seen to be as real and as harmful as they are unknown, dangers that every parent must be made aware of but many are oblivious to, must, in the interest of self-preservation, add the following:

"There's a risk in writing a letter like this. No, our girls are not . . . any more than any other boy or girl from any other Yeshiva . . .We are expressing Klall Yisroel's problems; not just ours. Every school administrator . . . will tell you that the influences that we have discussed above do exist . . .some may choose to ignore it. We prefer not to."

They are right. There is a risk in writing such a letter. A big risk. And they deserve a medal, these courageous and idealistic principals who wrote that letter, for taking that risk for the sake of their student body.

But isn't it insane that there has to be a risk involved in helping someone? Worse yet, the danger that you face is from the very people who you are trying to help!

Our Gedolim have screamed, begged, and pleaded with our Yeshivos to cover more ground, to make their students aware of what is happening in the Gemara beyond Daf Ches. The great Roshei Yeshivah, including Rav Lazer Shach shlita, have instructed us to adjust our curriculum for the benefit of our children.

So why have we not done it? A Rosh Yeshivah told me, "If I do, the bochurim will leave [the Yeshivah]."

And he is right. They will leave the Yeshivah.

A friend of mine wanted to open a Yeshivah for "average" students - the Yeshivah would cater to the needs of the "bais" and "gimel" student. A wonderful idea, in a world that is constantly complaining about "elitism" in the Yeshivos.

The Yeshivah never opened. My friend's father, a prominent Rosh Yeshivah in his own right, told him, "If you open a Yeshivah for the bais and gimel students, you'll end up getting mostly dalet students and worse."

He is right. What will it look like when this Bochur, this Bais student who went to this Yeshivah for Bais students, tries to do a Shiduch? "He went to that Yeshivah," they will say. "He's not from the elite!"

So the Yeshivah can't do what's right for the average student because he needs the student, who won't come. The student won't come because he needs the reputation, which he won't have.

And he is right. He won't have the same reputation as his fellow Bais student who went to an Alef Yeshivah.

So after this whole Chadgadyah, who is running the show?

Who needs who in our community?

The schools need the students. They need the parent body. They need the financial support. The students need the Shiduch. They need the reputation. They need the approval of every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the street that controls their reputation. It is a world run from the bottom up.

"Pnei Hador K'Pnei Hakelev," the Gemora says, about the generation of Ikvasa D'Meshichah, the pre-Messianic era. "The face of the generation will be like the face of the dog."

Explains Rav Yisroel Salanter: When a man walks a dog, the dog is in front and the man is in back. To the uninitiated, it would seem that the dog is leading the master - for the master follows the dog! But the truth is, it is the master who pulls the leash from behind, forcing the dog to move where he wishes.

So, too, said Rav Yisroel Salanter, will be the situation during Ikvasah D'Meshiachah. There will be leaders, in the front. Klall Yisroel will follow. But they will follow like the master follows the dog. One pull here, one pull there, and the "leader" goes where the "follower" wants.

Hashem has blessed our generation with great Torah leaders. They are not, Chas V"Sholom, suspect for taking bribery, or for allowing themselves to be manipulated. But our leaders need the masses, the crowd, the "asafsuf", in order to sustain the great Torah institutions. It is the "hamon am" who share control of the Torah institutions.

True Story # 4: Rabbi X did not want his gril's high school to be "elitist," so he allowed entry to any girl who was willing to work on herself, and did not harm her fellow students. It was a good school, doing good work with their student body. However, the school soon developed a reputation for being "inferior." Supporters were reluctant to fund the school, and the student body was getting worse and worse, as girls were looking down at the school as "substandard." The school asked advice from the Dean of a very successful girl's school. "The more girls you reject, the better your reputation will be," was the secret formula for success that he was given.

He is right, unfortunately. I have spoken to many Gedolim, Menahelim, and Mechanchim about the issues we have with our educational system. There are issues. But we should not throw the blame indiscriminately at our Mechanchim. They share the job of bringing up a Torah generation with parents, askonim, and, yes, the students themselves. To quote one of the Chachmei Umos Ha'olam, "We have met the enemy, and he is us!"

The solution lies in a bottom-up effort to improve the system. Parents must become educated Torah consumers. I once heard Reb Dov Wallowitz, a very prominent supporter of Torah, speak at a dinner of one of the great Yeshivos. He said that he asked Rav Shach shlita how to decide where to give his Tzedakah money. In short, Rav Shach told him that just like a pair of Tefillin could be beautiful, and even perhaps have much sentimental value - maybe it was given to you by your great-grandfather, a big Tzadik - but upon investigation it can have one small slit in a "vuv" that disqualifies it, so too there are institutions that appear beautifully "mehudar," but upon scrutiny are flawed. There are others who may be somewhat "worn out," simple, and unspectacular, but 100% kosher, and worthwhile repositories for your Tzedakah dollar.

The Torah says that the "hamon am" will wield tremendous power in our generation. As members of the "hamon am," we therefore wield, believe it or not, a tremendous power, and therefore, tremendous responsibility. We decide where are children are going to go to Yeshivah; we decide where our Tzedakah money will go; we create our neighbors' reputations.

When we learn to make those decisions wisely, the "system" will change.