Q:Our 18-year-old son told us that he wants to learn in Eretz Yisrael after Pesach. He is asking for our permission as well as our financial support. As most young men today go to learn in Eretz Yisrael when they are at least 21, we asked him why he wants to go so early. He answered that he will “shteig more” if he goes now.
We are delighted that he wants to grow in his learning. Our only hesitation is that he is not doing that well in his current yeshivah. According to his rebbeim, he often gets up late, missing minyan and part of first seder. He has also broken some yeshivah rules about cell phones and curfews. And when he is home for Shabbos, he often comes to shul shortly before leining.
Do you feel that this would be a good opportunity to help motivate him and that we should agree to his request? Or, do you feel that his poor performance in yeshivah here will be repeated in Eretz Yisrael and we should, therefore, not let him go?
A:As Chazal have taught (Avodah Zarah 19a), “A person should only learn Torah in the place that his heart desires. As it is written, ‘only in the Torah of Hashem is his desire.’ (Tehillim 1:2) Rashi, in his commentary, takes this one step further. Not only should one choose his preferred venue for Torah study, but he should also have input into his curriculum. As Rashi notes, “His teacher should only teach him the mesechta that he [the talmid] requests [to learn]. Because if he [the teacher] will change [i.e. teach another] mesechta, [the learning] will not be successful since a person is only motivated by his desire.” Rashi, therefore, makes it clear that motivation in learning is a function of a person learning where and what he chooses for himself.
Turning to your son, now, you are to be congratulated for taking his request seriously. While some parents might be misguided and quickly brush off such a suggestion because it is much too soon, you recognize the importance of allowing a child to pursue his interests in learning.
Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of the other side of your dilemma. Your son has clearly demonstrated his lack of self discipline which is so vital for success in any project. You are justified, therefore, in your concern about his bringing his liabilities along if he goes to Eretz Yisrael now.
Many years ago a young man of similar age consulted Harav Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l, with a similar proposal.
“Why do you want to leave your current yeshivah?” Harav Kamenetsky asked.
“Because my yetzer hara is interfering with my learning here,” the bachur replied.
“And why do you want to learn in Eretz Yisrael?” the Rosh Yeshivah asked.
“Because Chazal say the very air of Eretz Yisrael makes one wise,” the bachur responded.
“Yes, that is true,” Harav Kamenetsky confirmed. “But the same air also makes one’s yetzer hara more cunning. Therefore, I recommend that you remain in America. In your current circumstances, it would be too much of a spiritual risk for you to go to learn in Eretz Yisrael.”
The same warning could apply to your son. Your hesitations, therefore, are certainly justified. How, then, should you handle this issue with your son?
I would recommend that you use his request of going to learn in Eretz Yisrael as an incentive that must be earned by his improved self-discipline before you agree to his request. In other words, tell your son that he would need to demonstrate to you that he is ready for this next step by shaping up a bit now. The time between now and Pesach is much too short to be a meaningful test of his resolve. I would suggest, therefore, that you make the following counterproposal: If your son can get his act together — meaning, get up on time for minyan and keep all of his sedarim — between now and Shavuos, you will agree to send him to Eretz Yisrael for Elul, even though this will be well before any of his classmates.
There are a number of benefits to this approach. If your son agrees to the contract, you win if he does shape up because the change will be more permanent than temporary. If he does not improve, then you will have undeniable proof that he simply is not ready.
If your son does not agree to the contract, you cannot be accused of totally denying his request because you are giving him a way to achieve his objective. And, finally, you are conveying an essential lesson for success in life: rewards are earned and not acquired through entitlement.
The opinions expressed in this article reflect the view of the author. In all matters of halachah and hashkafah, readers should consult their Rav.