Saturday, February 09, 2008

Emulating Gedolim

Most of my education revolved around "emulating gedolim."
In fact, many young Yeshiva Bochurim say that they "oy" rather than "oh" because the "Gedoilim do it."
Why do you wear your Tzitzis out? Why do you have peyos behind your ears? Why do you only wear white shirts?
Many kids would say, "because the Gedoilim do it." Obviously, the Gedolim have a reason for what they do, and in Yeshiva, they probably tell that to the kids. (Although I can't think of a reason for "oying.")

As a woman, we're told the Gadol stories, and the ones about their wives.

Among the stories of these Gedolim, there are often stories of their Hakaras HaTov to the chef; how they'd go out of their way to do something nice for someone else; how they wouldn't be a chossid shoteh, and help someone even if the circumstances might sound iffy...

Where did that get lost in the "chinuch"? When was the last time you saw any of these kids thank a chef? A waiter? Anyone?

I've seen it once or twice.

But have any of them gone into the kitchen, or near the kitchen, without looking like they're "trying to emulate a gadol" to say thank you?

Very few.

I'd say, "A gadol wouldn't double-park, wouldn't call a Hispanic worker 'amigo,' "...and that whole rant, but the people who really try to emulate Gedolim, I think, don't do that. I hope anyway.

If you want to emulate the gedolim, isn't it more meaningful to thank people than to say "oy"?


At 2/09/2008 9:05 PM, Anonymous the girl whose blog is gone said...

Aha so emulate their character not physical appearance? But this way is so much EASIER... I can't be..a good person! That is asking too much.


At 2/10/2008 8:37 AM, Blogger katrina said...

I can think of another reason why people don't do as the Gedolim. The Gedolim in Russia or Poland or wherever HAD TO have a certain amount of hakarat haTov, if only because they had to interact with the secular authorities and make the Jewish people look good by their example. That is not to say that the Gedolim were not good people; of course they were. But that was one skill among many that they had to develop. The increasing ghettoization--amidst a tolerant society--of the Charedi and Chassidic communities has meant that there is no longer an external incentive for Gedolim or anyone else to show Jews in a positive light in order to survive. Of course, Gedolim and other good people don't need an external objective. But some people do. Also, lack of exposure to the larger world only increases the insularity and resulting mishigas of any group, and Jews are no exception. So it's like the perfect storm.

At 2/10/2008 12:02 PM, Anonymous Gavi said...

Often, when people think they are "emulating the gedolim" they are in fact emulating the plebians that identify themselves as the latest flavour of frum that is in, e.g. yeshivish, chassidish, Modern Orthodox, etc.

And Rav Avraham Twerski posits the reason why the derech eretz of teh gedolim didn't get passed down is that the yeshiva bochrim only saw them in the yeshiva, not in their house or on the street. For what it's worth, I have been zoche to see gedolim in their homes, and have learned a thing or two about derech eretz as such.

At 2/10/2008 12:47 PM, Blogger frum single female said...

its just so much easier to say oy or drink filtered water than try to be a good person

At 2/10/2008 2:07 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Gavi- wouldn't they learn Derech Eretz in Yeshiva as well? The Rabbis certainly behaved with D.E. there,too, I assume.

At 2/10/2008 3:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's like that story when the Satmar Rebbe zt'l met Mike Tress and greeted him warmly. His talmidim whispered to him that Tress didn't have a beard! And the Satmar Rebbe snapped back," When Mike Tress goes to heaven, they'll ask him, "Jew, where's the beard?" and when you go to heaven they'll ask, "Beard, where's the Jew?" " There are countless stories to prove the point. We aren't like the gedolim. So some of us emulate them in some ways while others in other ways. Some are more superficial than others but at least (and this is somewhat of a stretch here) they're trying to emulate a gadol in some way.

At 2/10/2008 7:24 PM, Anonymous Gavi said...

Yes, the rabbis behave with derech etretz in yeshiva, but it is not as obvious as thanking a waiter, not speaking out of turn, or worse offences that we have unfortunately come to associate with the "yeshivish" community. Perhaps the one-track nature of yeshiva limits the average bochur's exposure to many different types of situations... This is why a wise bochur will get himself in with a rabbi, and become a ben bayis - then they will see the "home" personality of the rabbi.

The Steipler once said that a boy in yeshiva only really interacts with his shtender, and as such his talents in learning are no indication of his middos. Therefore, a person has to work on their middos in conjunction with their efforts in Torah learning.

These middos can come from the parents, before a child can read. If they see their parents acting with derech eretz consistently, then they will do so as well.

At 2/11/2008 6:47 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

Gavi- while what you say makes sense, I find it hard to understand how people are expected to "get in" with a rabbi. Think about the proportions. Let's say, in the average YEshiva, there's ONE rabbi to 30 students. They can't all get close with him.
When they tell us in Seminary what to look for, they say that our potential mate should be close with a Rav. Considering the number of Rabbis vs. the number of Talmidim, it's unrealistic to think that they'd ALL have a relationship with a Rav. Also consider that these Rabbanim and Rabbeim need lives, as well. There's not enough time in the day for them to be busy with 30 people, and have a life, and a family, etc.

At 2/11/2008 1:42 PM, Anonymous Gavi said...

I don't know that the proportions are such a problem: the Netziv is often quoted as saying he had 400 only sons... The rosh yeshiva of Ohr Etzion, Rav Chaim Drukman, has almost no personal life - he leaves his door open, and bochrim come in at all hours to hang out, schmooze, or just use his personal library... Rav Moti Alon, of Hakotel, knows each boy personally enough that parents of bochrim there have told me that "he really knows our kid, he told us stuff that only a parent would pick up on."

Besides, if you take myself as an example: my entire high school gemara class ended up becoming close to their rabbonim in yeshiva - because we were a bunch of guys who were taught the value of a personal connection.

At the very minimum, a person needs a posek with whom they feel comfortable asking shailos to. If a person does not have a posek whom they can trust, I don't know how they can live as a Torah Jew. Everyone has situations were they do not know the halacha, and can't figure it out by themselves - so you go to a moreh hora'ah, a teacher, so that you can discover the Torah together.

At 2/11/2008 7:11 PM, Anonymous big bro said...

The whole idea of emulating the gedolim has gotten out of hand. I think it's wrong. Where does it say that one should emulate them? Emulating Hashem - yes.

Perhaps the mentality that the rabbis ARE gods is where people get this meshugas from.

On the contrary, we have to do things appropriate for our level. When we start taking on things that are beyond our level, we are acting abnormal.

Also, what if the our inborn personalities are different than the gadol's in a particular story? If you're quiet by nature, it makes no sense to emulate a gadol who was a kanoi.

So the bottom line is stop drinking the kool-aid. Do what you think is right. Don't worry so much about the gedolim.

At 2/11/2008 8:41 PM, Anonymous iyhbyyou said...

to the females: please don't speculate the subtleties of a yeshivish guy in the yeshivish world. when you refer to someone not acting properly, michelle, you typically refer to the typical flatbush guy with the gay feragammo shoes and even gayer feragammo belt and the even gayer saks fifth ave shirt who walks about flattush thinking he's holier than thou and all the creatures of the land. those people, my friends, are the "yeshivish stereotype" about which everyone here is musing. actualy yeshiva guys, though intolerant to just about everything with which they are not familiar and is at odds, nay, even a little varience, with their closed atmosphere are not as arrogant as the people you are referring to. these yehivish people are sincere, warm, and generous. the loud mouthed conceited, shtatie yeshivish guys who give the "yeshiva velt" a bad name are the guys who, if they are decided on learning in yeshiva, should only do so for about 2 hours a day. all of you don't look at the "eidel" yeshiva boys. you'll tell me that they're in the minority, but ill tell you that you're wrong because the guys who are dead, and i mean, dead serious about their learning cannot have, though of course there are exceptions, the attitude and personality of the "yeshivish" guys whom we all despise.

At 2/11/2008 8:43 PM, Anonymous iyhbyyou said...

excuse the typos of my previous comment, at times, its lapse of coherence, but i completely forgot to prrof read it before hitting the orange button.

At 2/11/2008 8:50 PM, Anonymous iyhbyyou said...

and what's wrong with calling a spanish worker amigo if done so sincerely? im sure the spanish workers roll their eyes everytime some "dumb white guy" calls them amigo in an attempt to impresses said workers with their spanish lanugage skill, but at least they feel good that "the white guy" goes out of his way to greet a worker. michelle, you're just used to the wise, uh hum, tucheses, who think that they're better than the workers and therefore call the workers amigo as if they're subservient. but in truth, when most people call spanish workers amigo, or ask them como esta, or estas, it's done out of a genuine gesture to enquire about the workers' welfare. whoo, i went to town tonight.

At 2/11/2008 11:47 PM, Blogger Orthoprax said...

"and what's wrong with calling a spanish worker amigo if done so sincerely?"

Generally I get weirded out when a non-Jew greets me with a Shalom. Even when it is apparently sincere it does make me a tad uncomfortable. I feel stereotyped and singled out.

I presume a similar experience goes on for the Hispanic.

As for the larger issue of emulating "Gedolim," I think too many put those guys on a pedestal. They are people too and not everything they do is necessarily so holy or even remotely worthy of emulation. Certainly inflections of language is on that list, but so are little things like banning books and intellectual insularity.

At 2/12/2008 6:49 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

iyh- I agree with you that I was not nec referring to the real yeshiva bochurim. However, there are guys w/o the ferragamo (sp?) who unfortunately also do these things.

At 2/12/2008 7:22 AM, Blogger Reasonably Nuts Frummy said...

Since nobody bothered correcting Katrina I feel compelled to do so even though I'm going back a ton of comments:
We still have a major need to keep our relationships in good order. The problem isn't that the gedolim don't know that, there involved in doing so every day. What do you thing the Agudah is busy with when it's not convention time? It's like Gavi said, we don't even know the gedolim are doing this because we haven't been looking passed the color of their shirt!

At 2/12/2008 7:34 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

WHat do I think Agudah is busy with? fundraising.

At 2/12/2008 10:20 PM, Blogger Semgirl said...

Excellent topic.

First off, in regard to the ratio that is a bit of a cop-out. From all the guys I dated as well as my husband, I can definitely say that bochurim that enthusiastically seek out a relationship with a Rov or Rebbe have it. Those who are more interested in other things, have rationalizations similar to the ones posited here.

Also, I find it interesting that Reb Moshe and Reb Yacob NEVER hurt someone's feelings. or walked away from even a small child mid-sentence. Reb Moshe would hold the person's hand if it was necessary to speak to someone else, to let the first man know he hadnt forgot about them.

Whereas, all the frummy girls I know, that scream the loudest about Reb Moshe spitting out Cholov Stam he accidently was served and other similar tidbits, are the first to hurt someone's feelings.

At 2/13/2008 9:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, people (especially younger people) need to look up to someone. It's a matter of how should I be living my life, etc. So it's a matter of - if he or she is not looking up to a gadol/rebbe/teacher, who is he/she looking up to?

At 2/13/2008 1:21 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

I don't know if your assessment is fair. I know "frummies" who would never intend to hurt anyone's feelings. Most normal humans will hurt someone's feelings, regardless of hashkafah.

So, yes, frummies and MO people both hurt people, we hope unintentionally.

As far as the Cholov Yisroel thing goes, I believe it was R' Moshe who made the "heter" in the first place.

Anon- I don't disagree. People certainly need role models, but not about what color shirt to wear. Very good people wear jeans. They could daven, learn, be very nice, and wear jeans. WHy is that so hard to believe for some people?

They should certainly admire these gedolim for their midos, Bein Adam L'Makom (whatever we know of it, surely there is more than meets the eye) and Bein Adam L'Chaveiro.

At 2/13/2008 7:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

big bro:

Let me add this: I don't believe half the stories, and there will be excuses for not following them.

For example: The gemara says that Rabbi Yochanon ben Zakkai was great because he always greeted everyone first. Okay, so we ought to emulate that, right? If you asked someone why he doesn't say hello, he'd say, "Rabbi Yochanon was on a great madreigah, where he wouldn't get badly influenced. Me, if I said hello to someone who wasn't on a high level, maybe I'd be badly influenced, he'd have a bad hashpo'oh on me, etc."

Or say the story of Reb Yaakov saying hello to the nun down the block. "Well, he had his taavas nashim under control, etc."

So the bottom line is that the phonies and the people with issues will always have an answer for everything. The good people, on the other hand, will try to emulate the gedolim in many ways, not just with the oying.

At 2/14/2008 7:38 PM, Blogger megapixel said...

The OY thing is simply because that is how they teach little boys to read in primary.
Incidentally, I never understood why boys schools teach OY and girls' schools teach OH.
And the white shirt thing - that is something that annoys me since I am the mother of two HS boys who wear white shirts and I have to constantly spot treat them and it's a royal pain in the neck. I always say - whoever decided that white shirts are Yeshivesh - would it kill them to make it a nice french blue that doesnt show stains?

I guess they figure that if you dress a certain way, you will act that way - that's why businesses want their people to dress and act professionally, and yeshivas want their kids to dress "yeshivish" like the rebbeim and it will encourage them to behave with decorum. whatever.

At 2/15/2008 1:48 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

Megapixel- your comment brings to mind that mashal about the policemen who pose as robbers and rob people because they forgot who they were..or was it the other way around? Anyway, I don't think white shirts make these kids behave any better. I can understand why schools won't allow jeans or T-shirts to class, but a polo and khakis can look nice as well.

At 2/16/2008 4:43 PM, Blogger The Babysitter said...

I agree 100% to your post, That's always been on my mind. People are so concerned with the chumras they forgot about treating people nicely. That's where the word Middos comes in, I feel having good middos is more important than all these chumras people come up with.

At 2/19/2008 1:12 PM, Anonymous mlevin said...

Michelle - What is wrong with jeans and T-shirts? Jeans are very sturdy and washable, I think it's a perfect attire for boys. They are very easy to clean, no ironing required, and will probably outlast a growing boy.

At 2/19/2008 6:29 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

I find nothing wrong with Jeans and T-shirts, but they aren't appropriate for shul.

At 2/22/2008 11:23 AM, Anonymous mlevin said...

Michelle - but you were not talking about jeans and t-shirts for shul, you were saying "I can understand why schools won't allow jeans or T-shirts to class"

Again, what is wrong with jeans?

And even for shul, why do people insist that Jews waste their money on wearing pants and white shirts. It is so much cheaper to wear jeans, especially for children.

At 2/22/2008 12:44 PM, Blogger The Babysitter said...

I thought jeans were more expensive.
I don't understand what is wrong with jeans, but I've been told its worn by people who lead a more modern life style. Unless, if its for work, and they do a lot of dirty work then its practical.

At 2/24/2008 7:44 AM, Blogger Michelle said...

I never said white shirts. Polos and khakis are even a little less casual, and I think that's okay for shul.

As for school, Jeans so set a certain tone, and kids might behave differently when wearing jeans in a classroom.

See my post: "Rage Against the Jeans"...forget when it's from's in the archives somewhere.

At 2/25/2008 7:21 PM, Anonymous mlevin said...

I, personally, do not like jeans. I do not find it comfortable, but my daughter like it. My oldest has a few jean skirts and my youngest has a fansy one that we bought on sale for $90.

As regular, working pants, one can buy jeans for $20-$40. Although, it doesn't sound that cheap, keep in mind that they are a lot sturdier, do not require ironing or dry cleaning, and do not wrinkle while wearing. In the long run you could have a whole family of sons wearing the same pair of jeans year after year. (If only Yeshivahs allowed it.)

Also, in former Soviet Union, jeans was considered a clothing of choice. One would wear jeans (pants and jacket) to weddings and other special occasions.

Even here in US they have fancy brand name jeans that cost hundreds of dollars and do not depreciate in price after wearing.

At 7/01/2008 5:48 AM, Blogger JOE L. said...

Didn't look at this blog for at least 2 years (maybe add or subtract here and there). Lately I decided I gotta to come and get updated, and till I found it.

Anyhow people like doing the easy stupid stuff instead of the serious. THAT'S just how people are and will be.

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