Yeshiva Hashkafah Lessons

8 May

This post is going to seem strange for the uninitiated, so let me give a short introduction. To the typical outsider, Yeshivos must seem like Christian Seminaries. You go there to learn theology, to pray, and if you’re lucky, to have a few homosexual experiences.

Well- that’s not entirely true. You see, Orthodox Judaism is mainly a “kitchen religion”. There are, of course, people who know the reason why we have ovens and pressure cookers, and how to fix them, and why we’re all cooking 24/7. But they’re not important to us. What’s important for us is to learn how to cook, and keep filling the orders. That’s why the degree you’ll get is a Bachelor’s in Talmudic Law and not Jewish Theology (Or Masters in TL if your father-in-law’s insurance company requires an advanced degree).

But almost every boy, at one point or another, is going to start wondering why he’s learning all these details. And that’s when he’ll get the best, most nuanced, hashkafah (theology) answer he’ll ever receive. Since all these conversations are basically alike, I thought I’d share one at random, with some of the thoughts that usually accompany them.

15 year old boy: Ok…Who should I go to? The Rosh? He’s pretty scary. My Rebbi? Nah, he knows my parents. Hmmm..No. No. No. Rabbi Kamenetz! Definitely. He’s always been friendly. And he’s always learning some Sefer or other. And isn’t he the Mashgiach or something? What does he do? Uh hey Rabbi Kamenetz?

Rebbi: Yes?

Boy: Um.. I was learning ____ sugya. You know, where R’ __ says ___?

Rebbi: Stop ending your sentences with a question. Spit it out boy! Right, yes.

Boy: OK, well I was wondering about that. Because this Gemara says____________ (e.g. bad things happen to good people.)

Rebbi: So- why do bad things happen to good people? Another depressed kid? Sheesh, this one seemed so normal.

Boy: Uh Yeah, I guess so.

Rebbi: Go get a girlfriend! Haha! Just kidding. Well, it’s a good question. There are many Rishonim that speak about it. There are many different answers.

Boy: Well, you know, I’ll look at those seforim, like hell!, but can you give me your answer now?

Rebbi: He didn’t go for the bait. Well, since we know that Hashem loves us more than we can even imagine, if he punishes someone who doesn’t deserve it, he’s doing it to increase his reward in the next world.

Boy: Hmm, that seems ok…wait…But I, I mean, what if the person doesn’t want the suffering? Why can’t he ask the Ribono Shel Olam not to punish him? I think I heard a story where someone did that?

Rebbi: Well, they were greater than us, and they knew if they needed it or not. We don’t. Where’s this kid’s Rebbi? It’s 15 minutes into lunch already! Go away!

Boy: If Hashem gave it to them, doesn’t it mean that it was good? And if they couldn’t understand Hakadosh Baruch Hu’s ways, then they’re just like us. Plus don’t we say Hashem is with us when we suffer? How’s that possible if he’s privy to this entire world of information where the suffering’s actually good, and that’s why he’s doing it in the first place!

Rebbi: Shit. I don’t know. This stuff doesn’t bother me, I can’t even remember the last time I thought about it. Your mother should’ve hugged you more as a kid. Go see a therapist. I didn’t sign up for this.

Well, the Rishonim come out that suffering is a mystery. You can’t ask why He does what He does. We know it’s for our good, even when it seems bad. I mean, we don’t know why we do Mitzvos, and yet we still do them, right? All we know is that we were supposed to do them, and it’s good for us…..It’s too long to explain here, I need to get my wife some medicine she made lasagna for lunch, and it’s gonna be cold now! Thanks a lot. I think you should look at the Derech Hashem. The Yeshiva’s only copy is in Hebrew. He never crack it. Score!

Boy: Uh, thanks. I’ll do that. So basically you’re afraid of going to hell. Geez. Just say it. Are you afraid I’ll go off the derech or something? What does it even take to get a job here? Does anybody know these answers? That actually was a good question about the Mitzvos. You know, I really don’t want to do them either. Can I just tell God I’m calling it quits? Back to hell. Fuck. I mean, fudge.

Note to all commenters: Before you comment, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying there are no answers to Hashkafah questions. Just that you won’t find them in a typical Yeshiva.

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