The success of any society depends on the quality of its value system and its ability to pass these principles on to the next generation. Klal Yisrael is blessed to have the Torah, which is the ultimate standard of values. The word “Torah” is rooted in the word “hora’ah” — to teach and guide. This refers not only to the intellectual material that Torah contains, but also to the fact that Torah is a Toras Chaim, an all-encompassing and vibrant guide for a fulfilled life. As such, the Mesorah, passing Torah to the next generation in its correct fashion, was always a primary concern of Torah Sages.
The key to achieving this goal was given by Shlomo Hamelech in Mishlei: “Chanoch lanaar al pi darko, gam ki yazkin lo yassur mimenah — educate a child according to his way, so, even as he ages, he will not deviate from it.” This principle summarizes the Torah’s core philosophy for childrearing. Klal Yisrael has one common set of values — the Torah — but, ideally, every Jew needs his own method of instruction to process them and make them part of his life. If a student is instructed in a way that is tailored appropriately to his individual nature and disposition, he will integrate those teachings into his character and they will become an essential part of who he is.
The central value of Torah is understanding life as a mission to fulfill Hashem’s Will — the retzon Hashem. Indeed, all of Torah and mitzvos were given as the tools for this purpose. Since everyone is different, every individual relates to Hashem in his own unique way and uses those tools accordingly. This charges the individual with a unique task that nobody else can fulfill. The key aim of a Torah education is to give the talmid the tools he needs in order to recognize his uniqueness, enabling him to fulfill the role that Hashem desires of him.
This is the concept of Moshe Rabbeinu’s statement at the beginning of Parashas Nitzavim, that you “all stand today before Hashem your G-d, your leaders, your tribes, your elders … from your wood chopper to your water drawer.” Every individual has a specific role, some more outwardly glorious than others. However, if every Jew is loyal to his mission, all are viewed equally by their Master.
The greatest of all people was Moshe Rabbeinu. When the Torah, so to speak, eulogizes him, it uses one term to describe him: “eved Hashem — a servant of Hashem.” The first step for a Jew is to understand what avdus Hashem — servitude — truly means. This will enable him to understand where his place in this world lies and what Hashem wants from him, and how he should evaluate his own success.
Harav Aharon Yakobovitch, zt”l, once related to me an amazing episode about his revered father-in-law, Harav Aryeh Levin, zt”l, the Tzaddik of Yerushalayim. Although mostly known for his acts of chessed, Reb Aryeh also possessed a brilliant mind and was extremely diligent in his Torah learning. But at one point he realized that he had reached a crossroads in his life. He was fortunate to be a close disciple of the Baal HaLeshem, Harav Shlomo Elyashiv, zt”l, the great Kabbalist and grandfather of Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt”l, and posed to him his quandary. The Leshem responded that every neshamah has an assignment in this world and the way to know where one’s main mission lies is to look at what area of avodas Hashem he is drawn toward. This was the beginning of Reb Aryeh’s renowned career of chessed toward Jews of all walks of life. He set out on a mission to do whatever he could to assist every individual in which he saw a tzelem Elokim. Reb Aryeh had searched and found the focus of his avdus in this world.
The Gemara tells us that, originally, there were no formal systems or institutions in which to teach Torah to young children. Each father taught his children individually, catering to their physical and spiritual needs, abilities and nature. Each person’s formative years were spent with those who knew him best, his parents.
In response to the changing conditions of the times, Yehoshua ben Gamla established a centralized educational structure in each hub of Jewish life to ensure that the values of the Torah should continue to be transmitted accurately and in purity. However, even in this new format, the Torah charged educators: Do not forget: Chanoch lanaar al pi darko — each child must still be taught in the way that is suited for him.
In response to the increasing challenges of galus, yeshivos as we know them today became a necessary part of maintaining the dissemination of the knowledge and values of Torah. The goal of any good yeshivah system, however, must be to serve this purpose while being mindful of the individual needs of its talmidim.
To teach and inculcate that there is only one right or ideal way to serve Hashem is not only educationally flawed, it is against the principles that the Torah teaches. There is a mitzvah of limud haTorah — learning Torah, and yedias haTorah — knowing it. This obligation applies to everybody, but its practical application depends on the talents, capabilities and life situation of the individual. Hashem does not ask the same thing from everybody. To the contrary, He wishes that each person should be loyal to the demands and goals of his personal avdus.
A true Torah educational system does not present Torah as only one monolithic set of demands, but recognizes and bases its education on the significance of the individual’s uniqueness.
Chazal caution us that in the Olam Ha’emes, one can see that many who occupied positions that were perceived as “lowly” — tachtonim — in this world, receive “front-row seats” — elyonim — in the next world, where the truth is revealed. Many that were granted a celebrated status in this world are then restricted to the rear row and sent back in a new corporeal form, for another attempt to fulfill what they must achieve.
We pray for Divine guidance to succeed in this endeavor.