The following is based on a speech I delivered to the middle-school students of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, where I serve as Dean, at a general studies award ceremony.
On the occasion of this general studies awards ceremony, I would like to share some thoughts with you about why it is so important that as bnei Torah you apply yourselves diligently to your general studies learning.
I had the ze’chus to have an incredible Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Pam, zt’l. He was an amazing human being, one of the kindest and most gentle people I’ve ever met, and a great role model for all of us in so many different ways. As a teenager I didn’t fully appreciate the wisdom of the thoughts he shared with us in his Friday “Schmuzin” (talks). But, with the passing of time, his lessons have proven to be invaluable and I’ve done my best to convey his timeless messages to you over your years in our Yeshiva.
One Friday morning, Rebbi shared with us his feeling that we should all properly prepare to be rebbeim. He qualified this concept by explaining that, of course, we would all go on to have various professions. Some students would go into kollel/chinuch, some would go to college, and others directly to work. But although we would all go on to do different things, every Jew is by his very nature a rebbe – because we teach Torah by our personal example. For, in some ways, how we conduct ourselves publicly teaches people more about the Torah than even the direct study of Torah itself. According to our chachamim (sages), when our Torah produces a baal/baalas middos, this is the quintessential derech eretz for the Torah.
Rav Pam offered an additional insight into his point that we will all be rebbeim one day. He said that some people become experts in specialized areas that are often under-appreciated, but suddenly become essential in times of crisis. For example, some people are experts on how to treat contaminated water or to make a small amount of water last a long time for the purpose of growing crops. Once a drought hits, suddenly the people who have these specialized skills are in very high demand. Rebbi explained that this concept applies to those who develop a “specialization” in Torah knowledge. “When Moshiach comes, who will be available to teach Torah to our brothers and sisters who didn’t have the benefit of a Jewish education when they were growing up? You will!”
In order to become effective rebbeim in your daily lives and beyond, you will need to learn to articulate and communicate your thoughts properly and it is therefore so important that you apply yourselves to your general studies and give it the kavod (respect) it deserves.
Over 30 years ago, Reb Elya Svei zt’l told my chaver, Rabbi Shimshon Sherer shlit’a that he was very unhappy with the trend that some yeshivos were beginning to decrease their commitment to their general studies departments. (The Philadelphia Yeshiva headed by Reb Elya and Reb Shmuel Kaminetsky shlit’a was always known to have an excellent general studies academic program.) Rabbi Svei said that if talmidim are taught to accept mediocrity and devalue the gift of their time, this laissez-faire attitude may then extend itself to every part of their lives.
My dear Talmidim; the very nature of our world is changing rapidly. Advancements in technology have made it possible for any small thing we say or do — good or bad — to travel around the world in seconds. This level of instant connectivity is only going to exponentially grow in ways we cannot even imagine today. As such, Klal Yisrael is going to need articulate spokespeople to teach Torah, to explain how science fits into Hashem’s world, and to properly understand world and Jewish history in order to fully appreciate the incredible gift of freedom we have benefited from in this great country. It is so important that you become well-rounded and well-read in every area of life in order to impart this knowledge coherently and effectively.
Rabbi Moshe Sherer z’l, the legendary president of Agudath Israel of America for over 50 years, gave weekly homiletics (public speaking) classes at Yeshiva Torah Vodaas, which I attended during my senior year. At the time, I didn’t realize that he was such an important and busy man, and looking back now with adult eyes, I marvel at how a man of his stature was able to make time to come to our yeshiva each week, receiving no salary and little kavod, to teach a group of high school boys.
When I first spoke at the Agudath Israel National Convention in 1996, I publicly thanked Rabbi Sherer for giving the homiletics classes I attended. Later that day, in a private moment, I asked Rabbi Sherer why he had dedicated his precious time to those public speaking workshops.
He answered, “That was my investment in the future of our people. I was hoping that among the thousands of talmidim to whom I taught public speaking skills, there would be those who would stand up and be able to represent Klal Yisrael long after I’m gone.”
My dear Talmidim, it is my sincere and humble bracha to each of you that you learn, grow, and be those well-spoken representatives of Klal Yisrael for future generations. Mazel tov on receiving your well-deserved awards and may you bring nachas and simcha to your parents, grandparents, and all of Klal Yisroel.