fbpx

Rav Aaron Lopiansky

Peoplehood | September 14, 2020

Listen to “Rav Aaron Lopiansky: What Tribes do you Contain Inside?” on Spreaker.

Listen_Apple_ButtonListen_Spotify_ButtonListen_Google_Button

SUMMARY

In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we sit down with Rav Aaron Lopiansky, Rosh HaYeshiva of the Yeshiva of Greater Washington, to talk about the challenges facing American Orthodoxy, life-long education, and value education.

Rav Lopiansky speaks the language of the particular; much of his insight is situated for those in the Yeshiva-oriented Jewish communities, but his thought is important for all. As he navigates his understanding of the many roles we all occupy, he promotes a loving acceptance of diversity within the community, with the goal of appreciation for the whole Jewish people.

How can one person love a whole nation? How can the love for a nation be a textured love, an appreciation that runs deeper than ethnocentrism or love of the similar? Can deep engagement with one’s own cultural experience engender a deeper appreciation for other cultures? Or do the lines of difference between one’s culture and others demand demarcation? Tune in to hear Rav Lopiansky discuss differentiating education for all ages, the challenges facing the Jewish people in 2020, and his thoughtful commentary on Jewish life today.

For more, visit https://18forty.org/peoplehood/#lopiansky.

TRANSCRIPT

David Bashevkin:

Hello and welcome to the 18Forty Podcast, where each month we explore a different topic balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas. I’m your host, David Bashevkin, and this month we’re exploring Jewish peoplehood. The concept of Jewish peoplehood, to me, has always been full of contradiction. I don’t know about you, but I’m the kind of person, I have a lot of different connections, whether with family, or socially, or professionally, that they don’t always cohere. Meaning, if all the people were to descend into one room I would need a cheat sheet of sorts, a little piece of paper to say who gets along with who and who understands one another.

David Bashevkin:

I feel like a lot of times when we talk about Jewish peoplehood in concept, it’s a lot easier than when you really start drilling down and connecting to Jews. It reminds me in many ways of, I don’t know to call it a joke or an idea, but I thought it was absolutely brilliant. It circulated in WhatsApp groups, in texts, and online, social media, this wonderful idea, quote, from Rav YY Jacobson, who’s such a brilliant speaker and scholar. He was talking about the difference between the way anti-Semites and Jews relate to the Jewish people. He said, “Anti-Semites, when it comes to the way they conceptualize Jews, you know, they hate Jews, ‘I hate the Jewish people, they’re the worst. I can’t deal with them.’ Then if you go up to them and say, ‘Well what about your dentist?’ He’d say, ‘Eh, he’s a good guy, he’s not like the rest of them.’ ‘What about your accountant?’ ‘Okay he’s also good, he’s an exception.’ ‘What about the neighbor down the street?’ ‘Okay, they’re also good.’ So conceptually, they hate the Jews, but when you start to drill down, they’re like, ‘Okay there are many who I get along with.’ Conversely, when you talk to Jews, Jews love talking about the Jewish people. We love the Jewish people, it’s so easy to love the Jewish people. Klal Yisrael. We love talking about that. But then, you ask them about their accountant, their dentist, the guy who sits next to them at shul, ‘I hate that guy, can’t stand that guy. This woman, she’s awful.’ When you start drilling down and talking about specifics, a lot of the love starts to break down, where it’s almost much easier for us to conceptually connect to the notion of Klal Yisrael, and it’s much more difficult to drill down and look at someone as a Jew and connect with them.”

David Bashevkin:

I think a lot of the ambiguity is, if I don’t know them from my neighborhood and I don’t know them from my school or shul, then what do I have in common with them? That’s a scary thing to me. I think the notion of what we have in common, that concept of Klal Yisrael, it sometimes deteriorates when you sit across from another Jew. Let’s say the Jewish geography doesn’t yield any great connections, and you weren’t in the same place when you were davening on Rosh Hashanah eight years ago. “Oh I was also in that shul, in that yeshiva, in that seminary.” Let’s say you don’t have that connection. So how do you connect to that larger body of the Jewish people, so to speak? That’s why I’m so excited about this topic and who we’re speaking with this month, because I really think we assembled an incredible array, an incredibly diverse array, of people who are grappling, leading, developing this notion of what it means to connect to the entirety of the Jewish people.

David Bashevkin:

And I find that really refreshing and interesting to see how different people conceptualize that and navigate that, particularly with some who conceptualize that after having disappointment with the Jewish people, after going through some crisis of sorts and figuring out how to put the pieces together of your Jewish identity and what puzzle piece you play in the larger Jewish community. Our first guest today is an absolute honor. It’s a kavod, there’s no other way to put it, and that is with Rav Aaron Lopiansky, who is a Rosh Yeshiva and a leader of the yeshiva world community, both in the United States and in Israel.

David Bashevkin:

I want to talk a little bit about why I thought specifically to speak with him about the topic of Jewish peoplehood. Those who know him and those who have read his writings, it’s not really the central topic, he’s a Talmud Chacham of the first order. His scholarships surrounds Torah, he’s not really a person who’s coming out and talking about peoplehood and identity in that sense. But I absolutely, and this was in the works for a long time, had him in mind. I think the first reason why I thought about specifically, not just this Rosh Yeshiva, but having a Rosh Yeshiva, is because I think a lot of times people mischaracterize the value and the importance of the yeshiva community. I think we’ve all been in rooms where somebody is criticizing some component of the Jewish community, and maybe it was us. I’ve been in rooms where every aspect of the Jewish community has been criticized. I’ve been in rooms where people are criticizing Orthodox Jews, I’ve been in rooms where people criticizing non-Orthodox Jews, I’ve been in rooms where people are criticizing unaffiliated Jews. I think every community has its criticism, but there’s always something that has bothered me about, and maybe this is just on that little micro-verse of Twitter, a misunderstanding or mischaracterization about the yeshiva world.

David Bashevkin:

That is that we use these terms like “ultra-Orthodox”, and very insular, and it paints them as an other, as this community that’s ruled out and is not contributing to the larger body of the Jewish people. I think that is so absolutely far from the truth. Believe it or not, it’s a little wild to say, I was at a conversation like this at some retreat, conference, I forgot what it was, and most of the people there were unaffiliated, and to no fault of their own. It’s the same way that affiliated people in many ways mischaracterize and criticize people who they don’t know on a personal level, I think it certainly goes both ways. But in this situation, I was talking, it was a group of Jewish communal people or whatever it was, and they were being fairly critical of the yeshiva community. Somebody got up who had left the Hasidic world, was no longer Chassidish, and he actually said, he had an amazing thought experiment. I’ll tell you who it was, it was Shulem Deen, he was sitting in that circle, and he said, “Could you imagine for a moment what the world would look like without a yeshiva community? Meaning, how would that change the Jewish music that you listen to? The Jewish books that you find? Where exactly would you buy your Mezuzahs, your Sifrei Torah, Tefillin?” So many of the Jewish objects. Meaning who’s creating all this? Kosher meat, so much of this seems or characterizes coming from this insular community that is not interacting. But people don’t appreciate that thought experiment of, imagine a world without it.

David Bashevkin:

I remember I was once talking to a class, students of mine, and the analogy that I used, and pardon for using a movie analogy to describe this, but it’s a very famous line of dialogue, and it’s from the movie A Few Good Men, in that famous courtroom scene where Tom Cruise’s character is cross examining Colonel Jessup, who’s played by Jack Nicholson. They’re interrogating him because they are angry, they’re upset at his tactics and things that were going on on his base camp, and Colonel Jessup’s response I’ve always found incredibly profound rumination of sorts about the accusation of insularity. This is his response.

Colonel Jessup:

Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s going to do it? You? You Lieutenant Weinberg? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall. You need me on that wall. We use words like “honor”, “code”, “loyalty”. We use these words as the backbone of the life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way I don’t give a [bleep] what you think you are entitled to.

David Bashevkin:

God forbid. In the movie he’s kind of the villain, but I still think it’s a very powerful quote. I think it’s powerful because what the yeshiva world is protecting is very often lost on those who are beneficiaries of those protections. Who are cultivating this reservoir of Yiddishkeit, of rich Torah culture, and spreading it throughout the world. They’re not always given that credit, and that’s why I wanted to begin at the center of sorts, of people who are guarding the proverbial walls of Jewish life and Jewish culture and Jewish ritual and all of those things, who face a lot of criticism. We’ve all been in the room. My father always says, “Whenever somebody calls it ‘The Haredim,'” my father’s a doctor, “they say it with the same tone as people talk about ‘the measles’ or ‘the mumps’, as if it’s this infection, God forbid.” I’ve certainly been in rooms, and I don’t know anybody who hasn’t, who segments of the Jewish community have been criticized, and I think that the Haredi community very often is subject to that unfair criticism without an appreciation of what they’re protection. In many ways I think they are protecting and perpetuating something. We in many ways, whether you’re a part of that community or beneficiaries, we all in a way are benefiting from that.

David Bashevkin:

That’s why it’s such a pleasure to talk to what I think is one of the great thought leaders of that community, of the Torah community, of the yeshiva community, and that is Rav Aaron Lopiansky. But that’s not the only reason, that’s why I wanted specifically somebody whose within that community. There are really two other reasons why I specifically reached out and hounded him. I felt bad, he was on vacation in Eretz Yisrael at the time, in Israel, so if the WiFi connection, the audio, is a little weak, you will forgive me, but he made a real effort to be a part of that, it really means a great deal to me.

David Bashevkin:

The second reason why I chose specifically Rav Lopiansky, aside from it’s just an absolute joy to speak with him, is he wrote an article at the height of Corona that many people read, and was what I, I think I termed it, I don’t want to call it radical because it sounds subversive, it wasn’t subversive, but it was really pushing the way the Jewish community thinks about redemption and Mashiach. The article, which was published in Mishpacha Magazine, was “Sometimes Mashiach is Not the Solution”. He challenged the Jewish community to remind them that just because things are bad, that’s not what’s motivating our yearning for redemption. In the article, which I encourage everybody to read and we have linked on the site, he really makes two points that I found incredibly powerful. The whole article is absolutely worth reading, and in my mind is a rumination on what Jewish peoplehood is all about, but there are two lines that I think are really, really incredible.

David Bashevkin:

One of them is where he talks about how… The basic premise of it is that the time and place, and this is the sub-header, the time and place to yearn for redemption is especially when we’re at our best. It’s not because things are going bad, because when things are going bad, you want redemption because you’re upset with your paycheck, you don’t like how your family is responding to you. And those are all great reasons, but there’s something much larger at stake, there’s something much more like that national idea of Jewish peoplehood that we are trying to realize when we think about redemption and Mashiach. This is what he writes. He says, “We need to teach our children history, and that history needs to include much more than dry names and dates and stories of Gedolim. They need to have an accurate understanding of the experiences of the Jewish communities of each generation: the daily life, the hardship, the challenges, the successes, and the wounds. The pasuk, the Torah, implores us to contemplate the years of each generation.”

David Bashevkin:

I just thought that was just a wow suggestion, that part of our national yearning for redemption is founded and requires an appreciation of Jewish history of what we’ve been through. It’s not enough to say, “Hey I had a bad day at work,” and certainly the Coronavirus, God forbid not minimizing the devastation, the tragedy of that. But what he is saying is that inconvenience, difficulty, even tragedy, should not be the sole motivator. It needs to come from a much more holistic appreciation of the Jewish people, and not just the Jewish people of this generation in 2020, but the Jewish people throughout times.

David Bashevkin:

And then he pushes back, and this is really why, some of the reason why he’s so remarkable in that this is a person who could give a very high Talmud Gemara Shiur to 100 students or 50 students, he does that as well. But in addition to that, he really provides, it’s not reinforcement, he pushes the Torah community to think about these fundamental values in different ways. He’s not confirming the way that they think about it, he’s asking people to think about it differently. This is what he writes in that very same article: “We tend to think about ‘ourselves’ in quotes, the Torah observant communities,” talking to the readership of Mishpacha Magazine, which is certainly that yeshiva Orthodox community, “We tend to think about ‘ourselves’, the Torah observant community, as Klal Yisreal, and the others as a reservoir of potential additions. It’s the other way around,” he writes. “Klal Yisreal is the sum total of all of us, and we’re missing 90% of ourself.” I thought that this was just a very powerful feedback and pushback on what comes to mind when we think about Klal Yisreal. Most people say, “I know, Klal Yisrael, it’s not just the great Rabbis, it’s not just the Gedolim, it’s also the frum bus driver who I know, it’s also the street sweeper in the old Hasidic stories.”

David Bashevkin:

But he’s pushing even further. He’s saying, “No, no, no, you don’t realize that part of that body includes the people who we rightfully in many ways protest, the people who have nothing to do with anything going on, totally unaffiliated in every which way, and the people who are affiliated in ways that we find extraordinarily contradictory in the Torah community. Learning how to navigate all of those appendages, all of those body parts of that larger body of the Jewish people, is part of the exercise of redemption, and to just look at redemption as solely your 10 blocks and the alumni of your yeshiva or seminary, it’s not enough, and we need to be broader and bigger people than just that,” which is why I found it so remarkable.

David Bashevkin:

There’s one final point, and it speaks to a little bit of the tone of the interview. Rav Lopiansky speaks to all the Jewish people but his day to day role as Rosh Yeshiva is to a men’s yeshiva in Greater Washington, in Silver Spring, Maryland, I’m sorry, and he wrote an amazing book, and a lot of what we spoke about is geared towards that audience, because he has a book called Ben Torah for Life. If you read the book on a cursory level, somebody who’s looking at it from the outside, I would understand why they would say, “Same old, same old, you gotta work, you gotta learn, you gotta Torah and balance everything.”

David Bashevkin:

I read this book very closely, and it is founded on a, again, I don’t want to use the word “radical”, but he really pushes people to think differently about the narrative, not only of the Jewish people, but of their individual lives. The book is founded on a premise that, just like the Jewish people have 12 tribes, and the body of Klal Yisrael, Knesses Yisrael, has these 12 shevatim, these 12 tribes, that also exist inside of every individual within the Jewish people. Meaning every individual have 12 tribes inside of them, which I thought was a fascinating idea. The book is really about cultivating and developing the notion of what it means, inside of you, to be a part of that Shevet Levi, the tribe of Levi, who dedicated their life exclusively to divine service, to Torah study, and to davening, and to all of those things. What he’s trying to allow people to explore is that that Shevet Levi, even if it’s not the full manifestation of who you are and how you live your life every day, there is that shevet, so to speak, inside of you, and you need to cultivate it and find the time for it. You can’t just coast the rest of your life on those years that you may have had being immersed in a Shevet Levi lifestyle, you need to cultivate and develop that inner Shevet Levi that exists throughout your life.

David Bashevkin:

This interested me in particular, for those listeners who know me in other circles know that I wrote a book called Sin•a•gogue about sin and failure in Jewish life. I almost thought about my own book as developing that conception, not of the Shevet Levi, but almost of the Shevet Dan, which in theology and ideas is the lowliest of tribes. They were kicked out of the Ananei HaKavod, the divine clouds, and the book is, my book, is using his terminology and lens, is helping people navigate that inner Shevet Dan, the lowliest of tribes that exists also within each of us. So again, there is no package deal buying our two books, and far be it from me to compare my work to the Rosh Yeshiva Rav Lopiansky’s. But I do think there is a parallel there in our respective books, and in some ways in our respective work. That’s why I was not surprised, but so appreciative, that he was gracious enough to say yes.

David Bashevkin:

I’ll leave with one idea before we introduce the podcast, and that is: Rav Lopiansky, a lot of it is in Hebrew, has amazing eulogies, hespedim, for Jewish leaders. There is a hesped, a eulogy, that he wrote for his teacher, Rav Nachim Partzovitz, who was his Rebbe in the Mir, that has an introduction that I’ve used a lot in my own speeches, whether it’s in aufrufs, or writings, and I’ve always found it absolutely brilliant, and I think it’s the only way to characterize not only Rav Nachum Partzovitz, but his student, Rav Lopiansky himself. In there he compares two Talmudic works. One is the work of the Maharsha, which is a Talmudic commentary, and the other is the work of the Chidushei Harim, the first Rebbe of Ger. He compares that when you learn Maharsha, which is a very intricate, you really have to know the details, logical progression of the Gemara to appreciate it, when you learn a Maharsha, you just have to know all the details, you really have to know them. As opposed to when you learn a Chidushei Harim, he has these clever, brilliant insights, and even if you don’t know every line and the back and forth of every detail on that page of Talmud and the Gemara, you could still smile and say, “Wow, that was a really brilliant question.”

David Bashevkin:

And in this eulogy, Rav Lopiansky says, “The same is with people. There are some people who you meet who are like Maharshas.” You don’t really appreciate them the first time you meet them, but once you get to know them – that’s always how I introduce friends of mine, because I’m nervous that people aren’t going to appreciate them or like them – once you get to know them, they’re great. I promise you, it’s like me defending, in the backend WhatsApp, two mutual friends who I know don’t get along with each other. Once you get to know them, they’re great. The Maharsha, once you get through the Gemara and know all the details, I promise you, you’ll love him. It’s wonderful. As opposed to, there are other friends who are like Chidushei Harim, there are personalities, there are people who the moment you meet them you’re like, “Wow, this person is absolutely wonderful. This is somebody who I know I’m going to love, who I know I’m going to have a friendship with.”

David Bashevkin:

Rav Lopiansky wrote this about his Rebbe, and dare I use this analogy to describe Rav Lopiansky himself. He has the characteristics of somebody who, the more that you read about them, the more that you immerse yourself in their writings, the more you appreciate them. But you don’t just have to do that. Rav Lopiansky has a welcomeness, there is a doorway, so to speak, into the world that he represents, the ideas that he so masterfully articulates that are almost also like the Chidushei Harim. And you read one article, and one book, and he has so many, we have links to all of them online, that you immediately appreciate them. Hopefully these two characteristics of the Maharsha and the Chidushei Harim, the book that you have to toil to understand and the book that, the moment you open up the first page, you’re already smiling, which I think Rav Lopiansky embodies both. Hopefully through our conversation you’ll learn to take those two models, so to speak, and learn to love and appreciate the full body of the Jewish people.

David Bashevkin:

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, it really means a lot.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

I want to tell you, use your discretion, if you feel that whatever comes out is not what you want to present, if you feel it’s overshot, undershot, whatever it is, don’t hesitate. Use your discretion, you know the audience.

David Bashevkin:

I want to begin by talking a little bit about your upbringing, and specifically the type of Jewish home that you were raised in.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

I think both my home and my milieu of upraising is today kind of unusual. My parents were both Holocaust survivors. I grew up with Yiddish as my first language. I didn’t speak English until second grade. I grew up in the Lower East Side, which is a museum piece. It was a wonderful place and a tragic place. It had tens and tens of thousands of Jews, it was the tail end of the people who had settled as immigrants, and their children, perhaps. Their Yiddishkeit was positive, traditional, but something happened. Either you went to yeshiva and your Yiddishkeit became solidified, you understood what you’re doing, why you’re doing, you became enthusiastic and positive about it, or you went off and just evaporated. So that’s my background. I went to RJJ, which was a school that today would include, it would be something from the left to the right and everything in between, and it was the generation that separated into the different factions: Yeshivish, Chassidish, and not religious, somewhat religious, traditional. That’s my background.

David Bashevkin:

So it happens to be my brother-in-law is currently a Shoel U’Meishiv at RJJ, preserves a certain type of Yiddishkeit that is quite charming and less and less common in America now. Eventually you decided to study in Eretz Yisrael in the Mir, and you studied under the renowned, both Reb Chaim Shmuelevitz and Rav Nachum Partzovitz. Why did you decide to go to Eretz Yisrael? That was much less common than what we see now for sure.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

I’ll be very forthright. Somewhere in the middle I began to get into learning, and I wanted to make my life centered around learning. In those days, there was not a strong love for learning at all. Lakewood had 200 people, maybe, and it was very difficult. There was a lot of pressure, and Eretz Yisrael was a place where people would sit and learn, and Reb Nachum and Reb Chaim were towering figures, and it was the dream, I don’t want to use a word like “Harvard”, but that was the idea, Reb Nachum and Reb Chaim. So it was a combination of wanting to have a stress free environment vis-a-vis the learning, and having the sense of greatness of Reb Chaim and Reb Nachum.

David Bashevkin:

What’s always fascinated me is that you eventually married into one of the most prominent families of Torah education and leadership in Israel, Rav Beinush Finkel, who was the head of the Mirror at the time. For most people it was the dream setup, where you could’ve, I assume, taught in the Mir or taught in Yeshivas in Eretz Yisrael. And at some point in your life, you decided to come back to America and teach Torah and begin a yeshiva in Silver Spring, Maryland, which is not Lakewood, for those who don’t know a map carefully.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

Weaker at geography. Those whose geography needs a bit of –

David Bashevkin:

Yeah. So I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about the decision not to stay in Eretz Yisrael and teach Torah there, where yeshivas were thriving much more, and come back to the United States. And not just come back to the United States to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Lakewood, but to go to Silver Spring, Maryland, where, again, I was in yeshiva about an hour away in New Yisrael. Silver Spring is not known right now as the Ir HaTorah necessarily, it’s not known as the citadel of Torah learning. So why did you make that choice?

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

First of all, I did live in Eretz Yisrael 25 years. It’s 50 years since I came to Eretz Yisrael, and I want to correct something you said. I didn’t start the yeshiva, it’s not my yeshiva, it was started by Rav Anemer Zichrono Livracha who was the Rav of the town, of the city, and he started the Yeshiva High School in the ’60s when nobody there was sending to yeshiva high schools, the mesiras nefesh was incredible. So yes, I’ve been in charge of the Yeshiva Gedolah, but the zchus of founding a makom Torah was Rav Anemer’s Zichrono Livracha. Yibadel l’chaim Rabbi Merkin came in about 35 years ago or 36 years ago, and he energetically moved the yeshiva tremendously forward with his tremendous capabilities. He was the one who fought tooth and nail and got the funding for the Yeshiva Gedolah, so I really need to give him the credit there.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

But I want to tell you, I was there for a day or two to look at it, and I saw the boys, and I liked… It reminded me a lot of where I came from, the sincerity… Whether the people were Modern Orthodox, or whatever name you want to call it, there was genuineness, sincerity, intelligence, openness… I felt I could connect well. I felt that this is where I was 25 years ago, and I’d like to be the catalyst in people’s lives the same way that people had been catalyst in my life. And baruch Hashem I’ve never looked back on that decision, and it’s 25 years later, seeing the way the town developed in a very Toiradige way, in a very positive way. Really the color of the yarmulke doesn’t make a difference. It’s a sincerity, it’s a commitment to shmiras hamitzvos in a very positive way, it’s learning, and baruch Hashem. I hate to sound corny but I think Hashem had a lot to do with it. I really feel satisfied, and baruch Hashem in Yerushalayim there are a thousand people can do the job, I could do it much better. This was an opportunity when maybe I could make the difference because it could come down there and be them, it’s a partnership.

David Bashevkin:

Maybe you could speak a little bit, having lived in Eretz Yisrael and marbitz Torah in Eretz Yisrael, taught Torah in Eretz Yisrael, and also in America. Can you speak a little bit about the differences between the Torah community in Israel and the Torah community in America, and what are the challenges facing each?

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

I guess, going back to the Ben Torah life model, the ability for that to express itself in a balabatish community as well, where people can also choose not to make Torah their calling and still be part of that world, is a big challenge. What happens is, you get a lot of divides. It doesn’t make a difference which way you’re passionate, and people are very, very strong minded about what they think. Therefore, they will be very passionate, and they’re going to… It’s going to be difficult to get along. So Eretz Yisrael, being extremely powerfully focused and passionate, produced a core of a very powerful Torah group, you have the Talmud Torah at a tremendous level.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

On the other hand, that that become an entire panorama of a community is a challenge. On getting along with other people in a way that allows for that interaction is a challenge, that’s Eretz Yisrael. In America, there is such a, I don’t know if the word is “respect”, but being materially well-to-do is really down deep a mark of success, and it draws people, and it’s all consuming. Whatever your persuasion is, if you’re into making money and a lot of it, it has a way of dragging you away from core values, and it’s a struggle. So you’ll have people that are sitting and learning in a very dedicated way, you’ll have wonderful communities. But the amount you need to make it, between tuition and this and that, and then the possibilities of potentials and the draw of making a lot of money, has a lot of challenges. So I see the challenges, each community has its own forte in America. People have an easier time moving from yeshiva to out of yeshiva, it’s not as strongly defined, as sharply defined. Communities do have a way of getting along much easier with each other, still a part of the same picture. On the other hand, it’s easier to get sucked into a thousand and one things, and nominally you might have a black hat, might have a shtreimel, might have a kippah sruga, but it’s all about nicer, better, and whatever it is. Those I think are the, each place has its own challenges, and HaKadosh Baruch Hu puts different challenges in different communities.

David Bashevkin:

I want to talk about the novelty, the chiddush, of your book, which has changed so many lives, Ben Torah for Life. It’s a book about the transition from the yeshiva world, from an institutional religious life, into the working world. You talk about it a little bit in the introduction, but I was wondering if you could speak more about why write this book, and if you were worried at all. Because other people have written books like this, maybe a few decades ago, and were criticized as, you’re building a doorway outside of the yeshiva, that people should leave. Was there concern when you were first developing this book about both balancing the yeshiva values of the book, but also helping that transition? So why did you write it and were you concerned a little bit about criticism?

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

Even more worried about criticism is that point. In a certain sense, my own personal feelings are almost a conundrum, and I want to explain where I’m coming from. I think this is a critical piece from the standing where I’m coming from with the book. Let’s first take a mashal, and this is where I was learning in school and in geography, I don’t know if they still teach geography, but in those days the geography, they explained why a real map of the world is impossible. Because the world is a globe, it’s a ball of some sort. When you want to flatten it out you’re going to lose something. So you either have, if I remember correctly, there were three possible maps. You either lost the correct shape, or the relative sizes, that’s why Greenland can look like a small thing when it’s huge and so on. Or you can have these orange slices where things are fairly accurate, but they’re disjunct, and those are the really annoying maps, where they have these slices.

David Bashevkin:

I can never read them. I know exactly what you’re describing.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

They always said it was the most accurate, I couldn’t look at it, It looks horrible, it’s very unpleasant to the eye. Basically, the point is, you cannot take a three dimensional thing and make it two dimensions without losing something. The point I’m trying to make in the book is, the dissonance between the years and the schmuz and the mindset of a yeshiva to the years afterwards is the same as Shevet Levi related to other shevatim. There’s a peace in your soul that sits there and says, “I remember what it was like sitting on a Thursday night, all night, trying to get a teretz to Rav Akiva Eger’s kashya, and knowing nothing else makes a difference.” That should be the core, the nuclear reactor of a person’s neshama.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

Then the person has to ask themself, “What am I supposed to do now? What are my obligations? I have a family, I have to feed them. I need to do X, Y or Z. I have capabilities. I have responsibilities.” I can’t think of one book that would include it all, except for the Torah, and what you do need is two sets of schmuzen. I feel the achilles heel, I think the reason why there’s a need for the book is, boys have plenty of strong, fiery models in their younger years, 17, 18, 19. But when they’re 24, 25, and they need to start thinking of life – What am I going to do? What’s my role? How do I belong? – they’re no longer in any framework that has that type of personality. Then there’s no real sense of somebody being able to sit down quietly and say, “Listen, for you, you’re making the decision to go this direction, this is what you should do and so on.” So I didn’t realize, I think that was the point where it comes in. It’s coming in to say, “Okay, there’s a message that’s appropriate at one phase of life, there’s a message at the second phase, and there’s a message at the third phase.”

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

I once read, I remember as a young boy and I couldn’t understand it, it said that the Alter of Kelm, who was the baal mussar in his generation, arguably he trained the mashgichim of the next generation and he would say, schmuzzen in the yeshiva. He also spoke for the balabatim in the shul. Bachurim were not allowed to go and to hear any schmuz in the shul. It was strictly prohibited. One bachur decided he wanted to hear, he went, and he said afterwards he really regretted it, he felt that it wasn’t the right message for him. There are times in life, and each time needs to understand what is the appropriate things to do. It’s the same way one person, let’s say if a person’s a bachur, so learning 24/7 is a wonderful message if a person can do it. If he gets married, even sitting in kollel, he needs to begin to understand what it means to spend time with your wife, with your children. Maybe doing something for the community. It’s a message that needs to come at a later time in life. I think that that’s where I was coming from.

David Bashevkin:

In the introduction to the book you talk a little bit with stronger terminology about the – you use the term yourself – “dissonance”. The pain when you leave, and when you look back at everything that you invested, and you don’t see the dignity and the dividends from that investment pay off. Is there ever a time where we can be pumping people up too much, where they get too excited, and then they over-invest in a specific path? Or is the right way, and I guess this is a little bit more in the direction you did, pump them up when they’re 16, 17, but then you have to ease them out. But the danger, and maybe you can talk about this, is how do you talk to somebody when there’s the regret? When there’s the cynicism? When that cynicism creeps in and that anger creeps in, what could we explain to people that they don’t look at that initial investment in their more passionate teenage, early 20s, years, and look at it with negativity and almost anger?

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

There’s something that’s not in the book, it was just irrelevant, it’s an important point that we need to stress more in yeshivas as follows: We talk about becoming a “gadol”. The word sounds like everybody becomes a Reb Chaim Kanievsky of sorts, and that’s our image of a gadol. That image, even if you stay in yeshiva, is an image that, at some point, you’re going to dash your head against the rocks. Except for the one Reb Chaim Kanievsky. I don’t think that that’s even a true image to feed people with. A finer version of it, and more true, which is a Slabodka model, and it really is the emes. We have to begin to define a big person on personal terms. In other words, to be able to understand that if you’re able to control your actions through your ideals and your sechel, you’re a big person. If you’re able to do things that you know you should do even though you don’t feel like doing them, you’ve become a bigger person. If you don’t feel a need to publicize yourself and you’re happy with what you’re doing, was it the right thing, even if no one knows about it, “gadlus adam” means being a very good person.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

So if I am now, I’m just going to pick an age, I’m 30, and no job in the Torah world has opened up for me or is suitable for me, and now I’m going to have to go law school or get into a business from the bottom, it’s going to take me three, four more years, it’s a lot of hardship and sacrifice. But I know what I sacrificed for, and I know what I accomplished. I’m a big person. I know masechtos, I know big things, I’ve gained control of myself, at least I know what it’s for. It’s one thing if my dream was childish and self-centered of being just having my picture splashed in the papers. Nobody thinks of it that way, but down deep that’s what they’re actually saying, and I should become the household name. Now I’m nobody, then I’m neither here nor there. But if people were to have a sense that the years they spent in yeshiva made them big people, different people.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

I saw, I want to tell you a story [inaudible] in my early years that really, really made an impression on me. It’s a small story, but it’s a big story. The first year I was in Eretz Yisrael I had cousins in Tel Aviv, Reb Dov [inaudible], very chashuv person, very special person. I came there for a shabbos, in those days Tel Aviv was a traditional city. It was not a true city, but people were more traditional, and there were quite a few frum older people living there. Shabbos afternoon I went for a walk, in Sderot [inaudible], and I sat down on a bench, and an older couple came by. They were what you’d call very balabatish people. Very nice, they stopped, asked me where I’m from, what I’m doing here. I said, “I came to Eretz Yisrael, I’m learning in yeshiva.” And they said, “Oh, that’s so nice. We also have a son and he’s learning in yeshiva.” I think it was Mercaz HaRav they said, I don’t remember. “And you should know, we’re so proud, he’s a real talmud chochom.” So I reflected something, something about the semantics that they used. I said, “In America, I’d be hard pressed to find people like that, proud of their son in yeshiva, but if I would, they would say he’s the best bachur in Lakewood. Nobody would say ‘I’m proud of him because he’s a big talmud chochom.’ They would say he’s the best, he’s the biggest, he’s the brightest…” And I said to myself, “That must be something unique about Eretz Yisrael.” It stuck in my mind to see. I think if we were to give bachurim an internal gadlus, whatever it is that you accomplish. I know these masechtos, I know these simanim of Shulchan Aruch, I’ve worked on myself and I’m a different person, and the 10 years I spent learning endowed me with a certain gadlus, a personal gadlus, then people would understand what they sacrificed.

David Bashevkin:

In your book you use an amazing framework about the notion that there are 12 shevatim, there are 12 tribes, and that’s not only with the Jewish people, but that’s even inside of you. And fostering the notion that there is a Shevet Levi, the tribe that dedicated itself to Torah learning, you can foster that ember, develop that ember inside of you. There’s another theme that’s adjacent to that, this notion of the 12 tribes of the Jewish people, and we’re going to come back to the tribes that reside inside of you. But you wrote a remarkable article, that a lot of people were speaking about, about the notion and idea of Mashiach and redemption. And one of the things that you talk about relates squarely to the theme that we want to discuss, which is about connecting, we talk about big people inside of you, but big people who can encompass all of the Jewish people. More than one time in your writing you have reminded the yeshiva world of the fact that their association with Klal Yisrael is really through a fun house mirror of sorts. Because when we close our eyes and think about Klal Yisrael we think about all the yeshivas, we think about all the people who are learning, and we forget the fact that 90% of the Jewish people, they’re not connected to this at all. So my first question that I want to understand is: How does the, broadly speaking, communities of Shevet Levi, how do they develop an, dare I say, appreciation, or at least a connection, to the other shevatim, so to speak? How do we foster that? Because we need that insularity, we need these communal norms and the boundaries, but at the same time we keep on forgetting about the rest of Klal Yisrael.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

Yes, that’s the point I was making. There are so many opportunities, let’s say out of town kollelim type of opportunities, seed programs. As important as they are for the communities you go to, I think it’s equally important for the people that are in the yeshiva to look around and to understand… And again, the problem is, when you’re a 17 year old boy, or 18 year old boy, is when you hear most of the mussar schmuzzen, and there the message should be, kids that age want to run all over the place, you tell them, nail yourself to the chair and learn and let someone else worry about Klal Yisrael, and again, that’s usually age appropriate. But with someone that’s a little older, encouraging yungerleit to have chavrusas out of that frame, it’s one of the things where I think I could’ve Hakadosh Baruch Hu set up the yeshiva world to be dependent on the world outside, financially, so that they actually interact, they actually care. The Gemara says that the grape should daven for the leaf because without it it has no kiyum of its own, it’s something which, those connections should be fostered. It’s only for us in yeshiva, since our yeshiva is actually physically located smack in the middle of the Silver Spring community, it also is the open beis medrash for the community, and there’s a lot of connection.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

Sometimes it’s a little bit disruptive, obviously the yeshiva would like to have its own suitor. On the other hand, it gives boys a certain sense of what’s out there. So part of the chinuch process would be at the appropriate times to make those connections. Seed programs are a wonderful opportunity, out of town kollelim are a wonderful opportunity. Many of these programs nominally are for the benefit of the people you’re being mekarev. I think it’s to the benefit of the people sitting in the beis medrash. My rebbe, Reb Chaim Shmulevitz, was a phenomenal masmid, he could be seen as a quintessential masmid, but he would repeat often the chazal about, Reb Yannai was… An am ha’aretz came and told him that, “It’s your fault I’m not learning Torah, you stole it from me.” He said, “What do you mean?” He says, “Torah tzivah lanu Moshe morashah kehilas Yaakov. It’s my yerusha and I never got my share. So you probably are holding my share.” And he would speak about that, he would talk about that.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

I’ll tell you, even in a yeshiva, encouraging a stronger boy to learn some part of the time with the weaker boy is important. I want to tell you something that the Mir Yeshiva in Europe was considered the yeshiva, the Mir, they spoke about the Mir. It was the yeshiva that fed into all other yeshivas, and rightly considered itself to be the king of yeshivas and so on. And Reb Leizer Yudel made it tough to get in, and they had the chaburos there. He had a very fascinating methodology. Those days even bachurim got money from yeshiva to support their needs. In other words, like kollel, there was no dormitory or kitchen, so the yeshiva gave you the money to buy food and find a place. Reb Leizer Yudel would underpay, or in his mind I think he was paying enough, but he didn’t pay a lot. Any good bachur he would have learn with a weak, wealthy boy from Germany or America. There were German-American bachurim taken in the yeshiva, this was irregardless of what madreiga they were on, he felt you have to be marbitz torah there, they’re not going to send these big geonim to the yeshiva, so German and American bachurim learned there, there were quite a few of them. Where a large sum became gedolei olam, Reb Betzalel, [inaudible] and so on. But he had it arranged that a very strong bachur would learn with a weak one and even pay him. I believe, he didn’t say why, but I believe part of it was to foster that sense of caring about that other peer also. There are Jews that need to learn, and this is a way in which he got that connection. So there are many ways to foster a connection so that people understand the thirst for learning and the sense of what it means to teach another yid Torah.

David Bashevkin:

So I’m trying to phrase this in a delicate and a sensitive way and it’s something that you’ve touched on already, but in the model that the yeshiva, or somebody in a kollel, when they meet somebody, so to speak, from the other shevatim, it’s an opportunity for kiruv, so to speak, it’s an opportunity to teach them Torah, my concern with that is that the other, so to speak, becomes a utilitarian, somebody who can I can rope in. I’m wondering if you could speak a little more about the appropriateness of appreciating the space where they are right now, which is a dangerous thing and maybe contributes even to that dissonance, because you leave into the working world, and you’re 30, and you’re working with other people in your law firm or in business. They don’t want a chavrusa, they don’t want to just sit and learn with you, and it’s not a seed program where I got to go to Sydney Australia and you had to rope people in. You don’t have the utilitarian, and I mean that in a spiritual way, the ability to be mashpia, it’s a different framework. How do you develop, or should you develop, an appreciation for where they are? Because it’s dangerous. You’re granting that there are Jews who are totally removed from a proper Jewish education and observance, and you want to get them closer, obviously, but on the other hand, if getting them closer is always front and center, it can undermine the dignity of where they are.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

I think part of the broader mussar education is to sensitize a person to other people, usually in all these situations, let’s say the seed programs, out of town kollelim, you begin to appreciate other people, you begin to understand… Being close to people and having a modicum of menschlichkeit tends to make you understand and feel the other person and what’s good about him, what’s wonderful about him. I wrote, actually, I debated, I put out, I don’t mean to advertise my sefarim, I just put out a book on Rus. It’s an adaptation, not a [inaudible]. In the back I wrote a memorial about my mother aleha hashalom, I used to say a shiur on Rus li’iluy nishmasa on Shavuos, so that’s why I wrote about it. I debated about writing it, her father was [inaudible], the kids all went in mostly socialist [inaudible] so on. And I wrote that my two or three uncles that were left after the war, when I was young I was very taken aback, they were very vociferously, let’s put it, not frum. But as I got older I began to feel for them, I began to understand why they were so angry, I began to see they were very good in different ways, there was a lot of good points about it. It was a process for me of growing up and being able to understand where and why they espoused what they espoused and what’s good and wonderful about them as people. It’s complex.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

Again, younger people like to see things black or white. I always say, when I was young, when I was a teenager, somebody who spoke extreme and fiery in black and white was phenomenal. Somebody who hemmed and hawed and was even-handed was, either he had sold his neshama, or didn’t have good hashkafos. When I got older, I looked back at some of the things that I was turned on when I was younger and it was kind of hard for me. But this passage about my uncles, I asked people, it’s very sensitive, you know, and someone said, it’ll help people understand other people. So I think part of mussar is to sensitize people to other people. Understand where they’re coming from, understand what’s good and beautiful and noble about different people… It’s one of the big mistakes, I believe, in kiruv type things. If you come in as a missionary, and you know everything, the other person knows nothing, and you’re good and the other person’s only potentially good, and that’s it, very, very tough. Then you’re attacking the other person, and you’re denying him value in self. I don’t think that can work terribly well. But if you feel the other person, understand the other person, you have to understand where the other person’s approach to ruchnius is, and then see how that wends its way into Yiddishkeit. It takes appreciation of the other person, it takes some level of understanding, it takes patience, but it’s emes, I believe, and it works.

David Bashevkin:

You wrote this sefer for Shevet Levi. What would you tell the proverbial Shevet Dan? Somebody who didn’t have a Jewish education, who grew up… Or he had Jewish education that, they roll their eyes now, it’s not for them. It didn’t seep in, the passion, didn’t work for them. And now they find themselves totally on the outskirts, or maybe even regretting, or being cynical, about anything that seems more serious and more Toiradig in a way. What’s the book? What’s the avenue? What are the strategies that you would tell somebody who finds themselves on the outskirts?

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

I think the first question a person needs to ask himself is: This Yiddishkeit that I’m talking about, would I give my life for it? Push came to shove, whoever was standing with a gun, and most people would say, “Probably yes,” or it’s something that they would definitely feel they needed to do, so whatever it is. Then ask yourself, does it have to mean more than just something I happened to pick up, customs, or something. Most people, down deep, have a strong sense of, if push came to shove, how much would you do to save Yiddishkeit? So why would I want to live a life that a deep part of me feels is so important, but it’s not been translated? I need to be able to flesh out those values and rethink them in a way that this is a life meaningful enough to be willing to be moser nefesh. We read the stories about people who are moser nefesh and gave their lives with tremendous admiration, and obviously there’s something more to it than just nice custom, nice this, nice that.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

There was a fellow that came to Aish HaTorah many years ago. This was, I taught in Aish HaTorah from ’83 to ’90. He was there, I guess ’85. Very sweet fellow, very intelligent. He had a traditional upbringing, possibly affiliated with the conservative movement, and he came to yeshiva, he wanted to learn, but he did not want to become overly obser – I guess he wanted to be observant, but not like… So Shabbos he would slip away, he had cousins who lived someplace who were also kind of… I have no idea exactly how they identify themselves, but let’s put it this way, they did everything with great moderation. And they were very afraid he would get too into it, so they would always tell him, “Don’t become too religious, don’t become too religious, don’t become too religious,” and finally, they once told him, wherever there are opinions about Halacha, the most kuladig opinion is the opinion you should pick to follow. Something snapped and he said, “Fellows, if you don’t feel like doing it, why the heck are you doing it?”

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

For him that was a defining moment, and he became a real ben Torah, he ended up learning in the Mir for a few years, very fine ben Torah. The point was, this constant advice finally brought home to him, what’s the point of it? If it’s not important, then what’s the point of it? Yiddishkeit is too demanding to be a nice custom. It’s either genuine, or let’s leave it at latkes and hamantaschen. But if it’s meaningful enough where down deep I feel [inaudible], I need to flush it out, and to bring it out, and to learn about it. I need to learn and understand it, emotionally and intellectually.

David Bashevkin:

Really beautiful, and I so appreciate it. I have three quick questions, one might be a drop longer, then we usually wrap up. I really appreciate the time that the Rosh Yeshiva took out to speak about this, it means a great deal. I always ask – I’m just curious – all guests about their daily schedule. I’m always curious about when people go to sleep, and when do they wake up.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

I guess the older I get the more I find that the early in the morning is the most – what’s the right word for it? – quality time. For some reason, when you’re young, I try hard to get up as early as I can, doesn’t make a difference what time, and go to sleep as early as I can, because simply you get less phone calls early in the morning than you do late at night, and I find my head is much clearer. It’s been a shift in my life that that’s the direction I moved in.

David Bashevkin:

In your article about Sometimes Mashiach is Not the Solution, you mention, you lament the fact that people do not study enough Jewish history. What books would you recommend for somebody who wants to learn more about Jewish history, but specifically to connect to the wider body of Jewish life of Jewish peoplehood?

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

It’s complicated, it’s something that’s been a fantasy of mine, if only I could put out something or get somebody to put it out, I’m not going to be able to do it. I guess what you want is to understand what you’re basing history on, which means documents, writings. You see things where people just write, and you say to yourself, “That’s amazing, where is he coming from?” You also want to have an over arching understanding of history, and to me… A typical secular historian is trying to find – or academic – is trying to find, what’s the context of issues that created the Torah and mentality of the people that lived at a certain time? Or not a Torah mentality, it’s, any history is like that. I would like to understand it.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

I believe Hakadosh Baruch Hu, it says “dor l’dor”, every generation has a context and a mission. What were the challenges of each generation, and what was the Torah that came about, and the direction that rose to meet it? Whether it was Chassidus, the mussar movement, and the contemporary yeshiva movement, the [inaudible], Torah im Derech Eretz. I would like to understand the context of issues and problems… I, unfortunately, the different things I read that I find have the facts, standard facts, some of them are put together in certain ways. I haven’t done exhaustive research, something that will give that context of understanding… What challenges do we face each generation? Where have we achieved something? And where do we still need to do something?

David Bashevkin:

Is there a book that you have found, been surprised by? That like, wow, this really opened up pieces of Jewish history.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

I found writings. There was somebody, he has a lot of different monographs, same as Greenwald, he was a chashuva rav, he came to America, he was [inaudible] Columbus. He wrote [inaudible] which was the popular aveilus book until it was overwritten by modern stuff. He has a lot of wonderful monographs about different, it was a very stormy tekufah that he lived in, and he wrote about other stormy tekufahs. Everything he writes has a notation of where does he get it from, and he’s writing, and he’s a frum, ehrliche person, so he’s a Toiradige person. But he’s also writing in a way that’s very, very open, candid, and you get a sense of, what were the issues? And he wrote a lot of different things. Now, some of the things are debatable, I can agree or disagree. That doesn’t, that’s neither here or there, but I liked very much the style. He’s coming with facts, and he feels the need to footnote everything. He’s not telling you things that, “Take my word for it,” he knows his annotations too. He’s understanding everything with a Toradige view, and he also is open and frank about challenges, and where we were less than stellar in meeting those challenges.

David Bashevkin:

Final question, and you touched upon every generation having its own struggle. This has been a challenging year for the Jewish people. I’m curious what the Rosh Yeshiva would say is the biggest challenge facing American Jewry, and what is the biggest opportunity right now?

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

I think, if I can give, again, we’ll use an analogy. Life has become very comfortable for us physically, which means, unless we’re in the gym we lose the ability to use a lot of our muscles, because we take the car everywhere, we have the robot cleaning up everything, and so on. So instead of using these machines to help us… I always use a mashal: If I walk up to five miles, and I use a car for anything past five miles, the car has become an addition to me. If I use the car to go to my next door neighbor, then it’s crippled me. The ability to have so much, so much shefa, but when we had challenges, ruchnius built muscles.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

I remember, when I came to the Mir, there was a big gemach that lent you a Gemara for the zman, and you brought it back and got back your deposit. Today, by us in the yeshiva, at the end of the zman, we collect a dozen boxes of sefarim, almost brand new, and nobody wants to claim them. If you have the name and you call it up, you call them up and you say, “Yankel, you left your gemara,” he says, “Give it to somebody.” Nobody wants it, because somebody’s made a business of it, actually. He charges you to take old gemaras, and I don’t know what he does with it, but he does. So the fact that we have, in the Mir Yeshiva in Europe, who had the magnificent library, you had to sign up two days in advance to look at a Rashba. So when you looked at a Rashba you focused, you memorized it, you knew it.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

Today it’s become, going to yeshiva, in my days it was a challenge. I went to Eretz Yisrael so that I wasn’t stirred. Today, baruch Hashem, everyone goes automatically. So does it generate the same amount of juice? I went to Eretz Yisrael, I never dreamt, when I came, I would ever go to Eretz Yisrael and see the Kosel for the first time in my life, was an experience that was indescribable, as I’m sure anyone else. Today, it’s, you go on a fourth grade for their trip in the mid-semester goes for Israel. Because there is no challenge, our ruchniusdige muscles are not being tested and used, and we’re flabby. God forbid when the car breaks, you can’t even walk out because you can’t walk five meters. To me, the blessing of having so much opportunity is wonderful, but unless we build our muscles, then chas v’shalom, the minute something happens, we’re stuck. We need to understand how to take the blessings of plenty Hakadosh Baruch Hu gave us and not lose what challenges can help a person.

David Bashevkin:

In terms of opportunity, which you touched upon, what is the unique opportunities that you found that the Jewish world in 2020 has that previous generations did not?

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

One: the ability to take a few years and sit and learn and be able to have parnassa afterwards. People today, to sit and learn until they’re 25… It’s not difficult to do at all. So you can sit and learn seven years and still go to law school afterwards, go to business, and it’s a little bit rough, maybe, but baruch Hashem we have enough comfort. But are those seven years as meaningful as when every week you have to ask yourself how you’re gonna make it to the next week? It certainly is not as meaningful unless you make that effort. So we have the amount of money available so that we can take the amount of time, I think is incredible. The fact that mitzvos – Let me give you another example: Somebody asked me about buying his son the best, a blank check, the best pair of tefillin possible. Whatever the cost, person, money is no object. I told him, “chas v’shalom,” I said, “Don’t do that.” I said, “Buy a good pair of tefillin. Let him someday learn the halachos of tefillin, understand what these hiddurim are about. Let him save some money and let him give some of his money. He’ll appreciate it a lot more when he decides and says, ‘I want this and these hiddurim, because I learned the halachos of things that are important, and I’m willing to take $1,000, $2000 off mine and add to it.'”

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

But they did it, you can just, “Here, run the credit card and get Moshe Rabbeinu’s tefillin,” we don’t get the, this is true even secular ways. Giving your kid everything he wants is the worst thing you can do for him. It is the worst thing. Earning his way, I’m not talking about the stereotype of a Charles Dickens novel where you stand with a pad and you’ll say, “Okay, if you didn’t hoe the garden this morning, you ain’t getting breakfast.” There’s a big difference between that and saying, “Oh tatty, you want an iPad? Okay, the newest model is 1,000 bucks, bring two of them just to make sure that you have them.” You’re not helping anyone, you’re not doing anything. If burning, and earning things is the greatest satisfaction in life. So making things, understand that there are things you can’t have. That’s what life is. Understanding that things you have to work harder. Understanding you have to make choices. Those are core values across the board. They certainly are very important, [inaudible], that a child should feel he needed to make a choice and some sort of sacrifice. If you’re learning in yeshiva, you’re not coming home every Monday and Thursday, or whatever it is. There’ll be things you’ll miss. And it’s hard, but that makes you choose. I think rethinking, understanding, it’s not just because there’s no money, but because it’s chinuch. I think that that’s going to be a very, very big factor in deciding how our ruchniusdige muscles are developed.

David Bashevkin:

Thank you so much. It really, the amount of time that you gave, and the direction, the guidance, it means a great deal. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your time with us, and im yirtzeh Hashem we should get to meet once again in person when it’s healthy, good, safe.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

Be’ezras Hashem, yes.

David Bashevkin:

Thanks so much for joining. I really appreciate it.

Rav Aaron Lopiansky:

Okay. Bye.

David Bashevkin:

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of 18Forty with our interview with Rav Aaron Lopiansky. I hope you found it as enjoyable as me. I think for me, the analogy that I love the most is when he described those maps that are in a classroom, so to speak, that are always hard to read, and it made me think about, what does your map, so to speak, look like of the Jewish community? There used to be this old New Yorker cartoon that had a road stretching out, and before the road was New York, and as you stretch farther out it was less and less, you see these sprawling states, and the world, and then eventually Russia.

David Bashevkin:

I think different people have maps that look like that of the Jewish community, it’s been satirized in many places, and I think that notion and that consideration of what your Jewish map looks like is definitely something worth thinking about. So I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did. It wouldn’t be a Jewish podcast without a little bit of shnorring, so if you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate, and review. Tell your friends about it, it really helps us reach new listeners and continue putting out great content. If you’d like to learn more about this topic or some of the great other topics that we’ve covered, be sure to check out 18forty.org. That’s the number “one eight”, followed by the word “forty”, F-O-R-T-Y.org. You’ll find videos, articles, recommended readings, each on our monthly topic. Thank you so much for listening.

Join The Discussion