22 Av 5781 / Saturday, July 31, 2021 | Torah Reading: Eikev
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Entrance and admission to the world of Torah is quite different than entrance and admission to the academic world; no one asks for your GPA or SAT scores…


Imagine that you want to be accepted to a prestigious pre-med program in an Ivy League university, like Harvard. Your outstanding high-school GPA (grade-point average) won't be enough. They're going to demand outstanding SAT (scholastic aptitude test) scores. And, the competition is so fierce to get accepted to this school that there may even be other requirements, like excellence in extra-curricular activities and a personal interview. Once you've gone through the whole application process, you have to now sit at home and bite your fingernails until the ivory tower gives you an answer.


It's not at all like that in the world of Torah. No one asks for your GPA or SAT scores. There are no personal interviews, no bureaucracy and no board of admissions. Anyone is welcome to claim his share in Torah.


Rebbe Nachman of Breslev says that there's only one admission criterion – simplicity, and particularly simple emuna (see Likutei Moharan I:123). You are required to cast your intellect aside and to heed the spiritual leader of the generation. This is explicit in the Torah, as it says, "You shall do everything the sages tell you to…and you shall not veer to the right or to the left (Deuteronomy 17:10-11). Rashi elaborates that even if the spiritual leaders of the generation tell you that right is left and left is right, you are obligated to heed them.


In order to heed them, you must put your intellect aside.


During my last three decades as a Rosh Yeshiva, I have seen hundreds if not thousands of students come and go. The ones who heed my directives, which are filtered down through me from higher rabbinical authorities, all succeed. The ones who rely on their own intellect and think they are smarter than the advice and guidance they get from my teachings, never get anywhere and are endlessly treading water at best. Normally, they and their children digress.


I will give you two salient examples of advice that many students ignore, even those who come to my lessons or drive me from place to place and look like they are very close to me.


The first piece of advice that many ignore is personal prayer. Rebbe Nachman couldn't talk enough about the virtues of personal prayer. No matter what I teach, I always go back to the subject of personal prayer because it is such a vital component to one's spiritual and even emotional health and well-being. Yet, many ignore my advice. They then wonder why their children ignore them. This is simply a measure-for-measure phenomenon that is a built-in component within Hashem's way of running the world. Ignore your rabbi and your children will ignore you, it's that simple. What's more, the spiritual level of children whose parents engage in daily self-assessment and teshuva is light years above the level of children whose parents do not.


The second piece of advice that many ignore is to not own a smartphone. Once again, this is advice that has been filtered down through me from every one of the generation's poskim and spiritual leaders, from Rav Shmuel Vosner and Rav Ovadiah Yosef, both of blessed memory, to their current successors. No one, Sephardi, Chassidic or Lithuanian, can list a single posek or spiritual guide who allows smartphones. Even those who receive a rabbinical dispensation because they absolutely need a smartphone for work, must completely guard this from access to children. Screens and Torah don't go together.


But the reality is that people don't cast aside their intellect. They say to themselves, "The old-fashioned primitive rabbis don't know a thing." All of a sudden, a woman who doesn't need a smartphone gets one, because she wants to be "in". The evil inclination gives her 54 reasons why she must have one. In order to ease her conscience, she stops coming to my lectures. Her modest way of dressing and the smartphone don't go together so she gets higher heels and higher hemlines. Her hair covering gets more modern until it disappears altogether. The same spiritual downward spiral begins with her husband. The avalanche begins with a snowball, but no one knows where it ends.


Too often, the avalanche ends with not only children, but parents, completely off the path of Torah Judaism. Why? They thought that they know better than their rabbis.


That's why success in Jewish spirituality, especially Torah, depends on having a strong connection with your own rabbi and spiritual guide and listening to him. It's a much greater indication of your and your family's success in Torah than GPAs and SATs. In fact, we too have an SAT criterion in the Torah World: it stands for Simplicity Attains Torah.

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