Isaac Kaplan

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

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Two Faces of Mashgichim

After blasting the sems yesterday, time to give the yeshivas some equal time.

When I was in yeshiva, I always wanted to connect with the mashgiach. He seemed like such a holy, warm, and caring person. And many of the good guys seemed to be very close with him. However, I never connected with any of mashgichim I had.

Part of the reason might be because I didn't have any huge problems in my yeshiva days, thank God. Some guys were breaking up with their girlfriends or fighting with their parents about college. I had more minor issues: I was a perfectionist, didn't enjoy learning as much as others, and couldn't shake off the bug for sports, music, and the occasional tv show.

But the main reason I couldn't connect was as follows: when I would hear them give a mussar shmuz, the ideals they set were so lofty that I felt like a piece of crap hearing their depiction of a true "ben torah." How could I approach the mashgiach if I read yesterday's New York Post, and he just ripped anyone who reads that rag? How can I tell him what I do wrong? Won't he glare and yell at me, and tell me I'm getting a first-class ticket straight to hell? And let's say I tell him I don't really enjoy learning? I'm gonna give the man a heart attack!

So I figured, better not to risk anything. And I kept reading the Post, listening to rock, and staying out of the mashgiach's office.

At the same time, however, many guys would come out of the mashgiach's office saying how down-to-earth the man was. One friend discussed his passion for movies with the mashgiach, and I was impressed with what I heard. (Long story short, the mashgiach didn't tell the guy to quit cold turkey, as I would've expected.)

But in the end, I was confused. I thought, "okay, maybe the guy is down-to-earth, but he doesn't know me at all. Maybe he thinks I'm on a really high level and will tell me never to touch the paper again. And I feel far from ready to do that." So in spite of this guy's positive experience, I still stayed away.

But in the end, I don't see how their current approach is effective. (I'm sure they have a mesorah for their approach, but I certainly don't comprehend the effectiveness of it for today's times.) A mussar shmooze with such lofty goals and chumros will not appeal to the bums, who are probably spacing out, if they've even bothered to attend. The shtark guys aren't coming within 10 feet of a Billy Joel album, so there's nothing to worry about there. That leaves the guys in the middle. But if the vitroilic mussar is reaching for the stars, many of the middle guys will get discouraged and just dismiss it. And that'll just keep them farther and farther away from ever entering the mashgiach's office.


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