Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Who Is a Gadol?

I went to an inspring Tisha Bav Kinos program this morning. As part of the program, the rabbi in charge discussed those who passed on during the year. One of the people he talked about was a psychologist from Israel, a man who helped many troubled teenagers deal with their problems. Any man doing that kind of work is truly a great person. But this rabbi went the extra mile, and referred to that man as a "gadol."

I was kind of surprised at his being labeled a "gadol." When I was in Yeshiva, I only heard the word used regarding people who were great Torah scholars and Roshei Yeshiva. And yes, I wouldn't be surprised if this doctor knew how to learn. But I can't see any of my rabbeim calling him a gadol.

This rabbi also had words of praise about the woman who wrote the song "Yerushalayim shel Zahav." Another person I probably would have never heard about in yeshiva.

Seems to me that in yeshiva, the only road to gadlus is in Torah. Yet, what about those that have other abilities? What about those that don't have what it takes to become a gaon, but use the abilities to the utmost, such as this psychologist? Are they gedolim any less?

Besides, if being a Jew is about using one's potential to the utmost, perhaps a baal habos can be a better Jew (so to speak) than a gadol. If a gadol lives up to 85% of his potential and a baal habos who learns whenever he can lives up to 95% of what he can do, why should 85% be better?

With the Rabbi's words in mind, I find it hard to undertand the yeshiva's cookie-cutter approach to chinuch. Why have one standard for excellence, when we see that they are many roads to excellence, and that one man's road may differ greatly from his colleague's?


Blogger Gary Student said...

What's so hard to understand? Image-itis dictates that the general public will be more impressed with gedolim coming out of the yevisha than good baale batim. So that's what the yevishas strive for, even if it messes up 90% of the guys.

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I think the psycologist was a Gadol. He was the first to do something about those who didn't fit into the system. Unlike others he admitted the system wasn't doing what it was supposed to. FOr someone who is upset about imageitis I think you would welcome comments like those. What exactly is your problem?

3:52 PM  
Blogger Steve Cohen said...

There is a difference between striving for something and recognizing greatness generally. One should strive to be great in Torah as that is the ultimate goal. The problem in chinuch is not in setting goals, it is in recognition of the greatness that turns up in all sorts of people in different ways, frum and not frum, kollel guy or businessman. That is something that needs to be stressed. It goes back to the concept of (pardon the transliteration) eizehu chacham halomeid mikol adam.

7:10 PM  
Blogger Isaac Kaplan said...

re: Steve Cohen's comment:
"The problem in chinuch is not in setting goals, it is in recognition of the greatness that turns up in all sorts of people in different ways, frum and not frum, kollel guy or businessman."

I disagree. If everyone's got a different potential greatness, it's unfair to set "type X" greatness as a uniform goal for everyone.
Considering everyone's differing potential, there has to be some level of "al pi darko" when it comes to setting goals.
And if schools follow your advice and recognize greatness in different ways, this will lead to kids setting goals that suit them. They'll see greatness that they can relate to and strive for given their unique talents. It's kinda like giving them a "smorgasbord" of goals to choose from. Perhaps following your advice will lead to fixing up the "goals" issue.

9:56 PM  
Blogger Steve Cohen said...

The difference lies between (a) the psychologist who is shomer torah umitzvos, who should be looked up to and those who have this ability should do so and (b) the woman who wrote Yerushalayim Shel Zahav who was not observant but from whom we can learn about an appreciation of the holy city and Eretz Yisrael. With respect to (a), I agree with you. With respect to (b) it is important to stress what we could take away from such a person.

11:32 PM  

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