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Jan 12, 2023


What extinguished the passion for learning, nurtured so delicately through years of shteiging as a bochur


15 Steps: From Passionate Learner to Uninspired Earner

From Hashkafa Mimeon Kodesh (Rav Gershon Ribner)

Adapted by Yisroel Zelmanovitch
Presented by Shmuel Klein




Chaim Elya is a chashuva yungerman totally engrossed in his limudim. A fine, up-standing member of his chabura, his opinion and insight in the sugya is appreciated by his peers. Chaim Elya’s wife Aviva, tremendously proud of her husband happily sacrifices to facilitate his hasmada. They know they have something special and are destined for greatness.


Chaim Elya and Aviva have a full schedule. Chaim Elya rushes out to the 7:30 Shachris, and Aviva begins to get their baby ready for the day. After a pleasant breakfast together, Chaim Elya leaves for yeshiva, dropping the baby off at the babysitter on his way, leaving Avivasome leisure time before she heads out to her teaching job.  


2:30: Aviva heads home, first stopping off at the local supermarket to do some shopping as she chats with some friends. Arriving home, she has a quick snack together with Chaim Elya, as they watch the baby gurgle in the bouncer. Aviva takes some time to unwind, then wishes Chaim Elya hatzlacha as he leaves for second seder.


The afternoon passes quickly for Aviva, between the baby, supper preparation, and shmoozing on the phone. They relax a bit after supper, and Chaim Elya heads off to night seder while Aviva sits down with a magazine, keeping up with her many serials. Their life is easy and full, and beautifully fulfilling.


Chaim Elya does not take Aviva for granted. He is careful to constantly show his appreciation to Aviva, and frequently expresses his love of learning and how grateful he is that she enables him to learn. Chaim Elya occasionally prepares mini excursions for them to enjoy together, and periodically surprises Aviva with gifts.


One day Aviva meets a friend who has just returned from a glamorous vacation in Florida, who excitedly shows Aviva stunning pictures of swaying palm trees, golden sunsets, beautiful hotelrooms, and miles upon miles of pristine blue waves rippling against the pure white sand.


Aviva, mesmerized by the alluring photos, expresses genuine delight and happiness for her friend. Taking in the breathtaking scenery, she quickly snaps back to reality when she realizes that she must pick up the ingredients for supper before she gets home. Throughout the daybeautiful images of sunny Florida keep swirling around her head, and Aviva starts daydreaming about one day taking a luxurious vacation to Florida.


She wishes Chaim Elya a distracted “hatzlacha” as he leaves for seder, and goes about her daily chores, but somehow, they seem boring and unfulfilling compared to the sunny images floating around her head. Aviva’s eyes flit listlessly around their basement kitchen and suddenly focus on the wall calendar- Wait! Midwinter vacation is coming up, and with off from work, maybe they can go to Florida! Her mind starts racing, planning flights, hotels, activities, minyanim where Chaim Elya can daven - and everything comes to a crashing halt.


Chaim Elya.


He doesn’t have off from Yeshiva. It’s in middle of the zman. They can’t go.


But Aviva really wants to go to Florida, and realistically, when else would they have a chance to go on such a vacation? When they’re 50?! Now, she could easily convince their parents to watch their baby for a few days. But will they be able to get away when they have 5 children? 7? Is she going to be the one who never gets to go to Florida?


Technically, they could make this work. They can leave after second seder on Thursday and come back late Sunday night. She has off from work from Thursday to Tuesday, so there’s plenty of time for the packing and unpacking. And Chaim Elya only has to miss Friday and Sunday, like an extended off-shabbos. Not so bad! And she really wants to go.


Chaim Elya arrives home to find a very different Aviva than the one he left in the morning. His upbeat, spirited, dependable and responsible wife has morphed into a woman pining for an exotic vacation to Florida in middle of the zman. He is bewildered by this sudden development. Chaim Elya has been carefully monitoring Aviva’s needs and general spirits, and knows she is not worn-down or overwhelmed. Something external is triggering this desire. And taking off now to Florida will be detrimental to his learning, and additionally, below the standards of a serious yungerman.  


But Chaim Elya, sensitive to her yearning and excitement does not want to say flat-out no, so he says thoughtfully, “Let me think about it.”  


Aviva then comes across extremely cheap tickets to Florida, and it’s almost an avlah not to take advantage of them. “It’ll only be for a Shabbos, just a weekend, please, I really need it.” Chaim Elya still thinks it’s wrong to go- he knows she has no real need for it; this is just a fleeting wish generated by her friend’s pictures.


Step 1


Chaim Elya feels like he can’t say no at this point- Aviva seems to have caught the travel bug. He reckons that in this circumstance, shalom bayis dictates they go on vacation. To assuage his feelings of guilt he runs the issue by a Rabbi who has a reputation of showing deference to the woman’s position in situations such as these. Chaim Elya does not consult with chashuva bnei aliyah about how they handle similar circumstances. He makes the decision to fly off to Florida.


This is Chaim Elya’s first breach with commitment.


The trip ends up expanding to include Thursday and Monday to allow for packing, traveling, and dropping off and picking up their baby from his parents.


Step 2


Chaim Elya leaves Florida behind hoping to get back to the zman with renewed commitment and vigor. When he gets back Monday night though, he starts feeling under the weather. It turns out he picked up the flu while in Florida.


Do not think Chaim Elya’s case of flu was unavoidable, a preordained blow from Heaven that would have occurred regardless of his trip to Florida. Rather, as Chazal say, אם בטלת מן התורה יש לך ביטולים הרבה כנגדו, ie. bittul Torah begets more bittul Torah.


It takes Chaim Elya a full week to recover. Much to his dismay, when he finally returns to the beis medrash, Chaim Elya discovers he has missed a crucial and engaging sugya central to the limud of the entire zman.


Step 3


Chaim Elya’s excitement at finally being able to return to his chaburah quickly withers and turns to frustration as he discovers that every new Tosfos he learns hinges upon the missing sugya. He begins to feel at a sharp disadvantage with his chavrusa and within the chaburah at large.


Deep down, Chaim Elya knows that he must figure out a way to master the missing sugya, but he is barely hanging on with his other sedorim, and it feels too daunting to muster up the necessary time and energy.  


Step 4


Feeling inadequate and unaccomplished, Chaim Elya starts coming late to seder, and missing days. He senses he is in a rut, but he has no one to turn to for guidance and chizuk, so he just continues rolling along.


Step 5


Chaim Elya’s situation continues to deteriorate as his chavrusa starts pounding him over his floundering commitment to seder with little tolerance or understanding. Chaim Elya is desperate to right the ship, but he cannot clean up his act quickly enough. He arrives late to the beis medrash one day to find his chavrusa learning with someone else. He hasn’t been dropped altogether; his chavrusa has found another yungerman- whose chavrusa also arrives late- to learn with, until Chaim Elya arrives every day.


Step 6


Chaim Elya has now lost the critical michayev a waiting chavrusa provides. He starts coming even later, knowing he will not be missed. It is now mid-Shvat, and his chavrusa is on fire in the limud while he is on ice. Feeling embarrassed and not up-to-par in the eyes of the whole chaburah, he begins to seek out alternatives.


Step 7


Loitering in the coffee room, a sign catches his eye:


“Local Mesivta seeking an energetic Yungerman

to learn with a weaker boy.



In an effort to salvage the rest of the zman, Chaim Elya accepts the offer, feeling justified that he will also be building a struggling boy. But now his first seder will be over at 12:15 when the boy’s shiur starts.


Step 8


Chaim Elya’s illusions of building a bochur are quickly shattered when he discovers that the boy is very troubled. Yaakov cannot sit by his Gemara for more than 5 minutes, is spaced out when he does, and is interested in talking about anything and everything except for learning. Chaim Elya is not getting any learning done.


Step 9


Yaakov then stops showing up to seder altogether. Chaim Elya is still getting paid to be there, so he comes and sits in isolation.


He is totally bereft.


No friends, no chabura, no adult company, no focus, no sipuk, no one to turn to for help, and no one to whom he can unburden his heart. No purpose.



Step 10


With a lengthened bein hasedarim and ample time on his hands, Chaim Elya schmoozes with an acquaintance who is eager and excited to share details about the home he recently purchased in Jackson. Chaim Elya is introduced to a host of new and tantalizing ideas: low mortgage rates, backyard pools, oversized lots, and reliable realtors.


Step 11


Chaim Elya is flung headfirst, prematurely, into the pursuit of finding the right home, best mortgage rate, and someone to co-sign for it. Upon signing on a house, he is immediately swept up fixing and remodeling the old-fashioned kitchen. Chaim Elya quickly immerses himself in the world of appliances- the pros and cons of each brand and model, pre-soak and jet-dry, side by side vs. french door, convection, rebates and warranties. All this is done in a tremendous frenzy,with the hope of getting everything done now so he can get back to his normal schedule and routine for the next zman.


Step 12


Sadly, the new zman does not bring the highly anticipated fresh start. There is no easy escape from the טרדות already set in motion. Chaim Elya finds out that the old chaburah he was anxiously waiting to rejoin is continuing the previous zmans limud of muktzeh, in a different masechta. Between the closing on the house being delayed due to issues with the financing, and the added burdens of remodeling, packing and moving, he reasons that come Elul zman he will finally be free to rejoin his chaburah and continue learning.


Step 13


Recognizing the need to have some sort of michayev in the interim, Chaim Elya signs up to join a blatt chaburah. It works for a short time, but the געשמאק quickly fizzles. Chaim Elya, a בעל עיון,was always captivated by the depth and intricate lomdus of a sugya. Now it’s a daily struggle to derive satisfaction from his new limud, which is typically learnt superficially. To make matters worse, the roof on his new house springs a leak, further diverting his attention from his limudim.


Step 14


Upon moving into their new house and neighborhood, Chaim Elya and Aviva find themselves surrounded by young baalei batim and entrepreneurs. The talk in this new town revolves around Amazon, Wall St., establishing businesses, climbing the corporate ladder, investment opportunities, hedge funds, and networking. They quickly find themselves identifying with this new circle and its culture more than their old circle and culture, which revolved around Yeshivos, Kollelim, Gedolim, hechsherim, HUD appointments, food stamp eligibility, shtellers, and yeshivishe hock.


Step 15


Chaim Elya is offered a job as an administrator in a rehab facility with a starting salary of 70k with room for advancement. With Chaim Elya floundering for months and unable to be michazek his wife's commitment to learning, Aviva begins expressing doubt about how much longer she can continue working like this. Chaim Elya is wracked with guilt over not learning as he watches his wife being the sole breadwinner, all while expecting their second child. After long deliberation he accepts the job offer with all that accompanies it, such as a smartphone to answer emails and unfiltered internet at work, to the great disappointment of his parents, in-laws, Rebbeim, chaverim, and most of all, himself.





The Solution


The harrowing, tragic tale above could have been avoided had Chaim Elya been vigilant to recognize the emerging threats to his commitment and remained steadfast to prevent even the slightest crack from forming, lest it grow into a sinkhole, as illustrated by the following anecdote:


Rav Dovid Povarksy זצ”ל had an early morning, pre-Shachris seder with a chavrusa in Ponevezh. One night there was a total blackout in Bnei Brak, leaving the beis medrash pitch black and unusable, and rendering it dangerous to even make the trek through the dark, winding streets. Nevertheless, Rav Dovid made the trip and went to learn as usual, in the empty and dark beis medrash. When asked about the point in doing so, as he could have accomplished just as much, if not more, by learning at home that morning, he responded, “אז מיר גייט נישט היינט, גייט מירנישט מארגען”, “If you don’t go today, you won’t go tomorrow.”


One must have tremendous alertness to perceive the development of even a minimal fracture in the reservoir of self-motivation, muster all strength and courage to overcome it, and do everything possible to avoid it.


Even if, ח”ו, one finds himself already mired in the downward spiral described above, it is crucial he find someone experienced he can turn to for help and to guide him to reverse the trend before it’s too late.