“Our Youth are Unprepared to Enter the Workforce”

Photo: Elimelech Goldstein

From the Anash.org Inbox: Rabbi Mendel Itzinger responds to a Yeshiva student’s concerns about his financial future and his perceived lack of preparedness for the workforce.

As we come from Chanuka, when the over focus on human cognizance led to terrible outcomes, I thought you may appreciate the following correspondence with a Bochur.

Dear ______,

In answer to your question regarding what you call ‘secular studies’ whilst you are in Yeshiva and your concern for your financial future.

Especially as you see yourself in the future in the professional service industry which requires education and qualifications.

May I begin by highlighting that the best people to guide you on this are your current Hanhala. They know you personally, and your personal situation. Also (and I know you may not like what I am about to say…) you are in their care and under their authority.

I will however try to present our overall Hashkofa.

Education VS Parnossah

I trust we agree that there is only one reason to receive an ‘education’ and that is to enable you, when the time comes, to support your family with dignity and support the Moisdos/Tzedokas you deem important.

And here is where we need to dispel the first mistake that many Bochurim make: Most of what the secular world calls ‘education’ is not directly related to learning a trade. It is in place to help the student develop the qualities needed for life; grit, determination, overcoming failure, questioning, rational thinking, etc.

The actual knowledge (diploma) needed can be attained in a far shorter amount of time, and that is what we are discussing.

Priorities & Values

Now to the main point, and to your question why Yeshiva wants you to wait until after your Chassuna to study (even assuming that what you will want then will be the same as what you want today…) is because

whilst supporting your family will be your most important obligation in life, it is not the be-all and end-all in life. 

Last week I met an individual (not Jewish) who quit his job at a massive law-firm because: He is spending too much time at trial and has no time to spend with his two young children.

In his words, “I have enough to live comfortably, and I cannot see the benefit in my daughters having more money but no father”. If he finds he doesn’t have enough money, he plans to help people with their legal paperwork.

And that from a Goy! What about our values?

We live in two worlds;

The Oilom Haruchani – where serving Hashem is the most important – Shabbos is a Shabbos, Yom Tov is a Yom Tov. Davening is Hishtapchus Hanefesh. A Nigun takes us to higher worlds.

And then we have the Oilom Hagashmi – Where we need to wash our clothes, eat palatable food, and as we get older – have an income, pay bills, deal with the bank, house, boss, employees etc, etc.

Every one of us is pulled between the two worlds.

But the purpose of this ‘tug-of-war’ is so our ‘Oilom Horuchni’ transform our ‘Oilom Hagashmi’

So the whole point of washing our clothes, having an income, paying bills, dealing with the bank, house, boss, employees etc. is all in order to imbue those mundane things with Shabbos, Yom Tov, Davening, Learning Torah etc.

I believe we can agree that whatever career we chose in life, Avodas Hashem is always the key aim.

Now, I know it is cliche, but it is very much the truth:

To succeed in Yiddishkeit as a Yungerman, it is so important to be on fire as a Bochur.

I can tell you from personal experience. I am what they call ‘Klei Kodesh’ – basically it is my job to be ‘on the ball’ Yud Tes Kislev. Most of my day I am not out in “in the world”. Yet even so, day-to-day life makes it hard to always keep the fire. Fact is, when I don’t know how I will pay an urgent bill, or if there is something that needs urgent attention, or when I have a challenge ahead, it becomes hard for me to focus.

Now imagine the lawyer preparing for a huge case, or the businessperson trying to close a sale or negotiate a mortgage on a property. Imagine them arriving home on Yud Tes Kislev night, their mind full with hugely important matters. For them, the day doesn’t end… the night is only a break until the morning. During those hours they hope to sort out today’s problems, so they can move forward tomorrow.

Frayed nerves and high pressure don’t always take a break for the night…

To put that all aside so they can Farbreng on Yud Tes Kislev. To be willing to push aside an entire week’s all consuming focus so they can truly have a ‘Shabbos’. To take an hour off a day of עבודת פרך to have a קביעות עיתים. For them to put that all aside is, I imagine, harder than for the person who is in Yeshiva all day…

When times like those pop-up, the only chance you have of keeping focus is by certain things being non-negotiable.

Even as Bochurim we are torn between the two worlds. But trust me, it doesn’t get better. The worldly challenges will become more serious.

I cannot tell you how many times remembering how the world looked when my judgement was not clouded with mundane distractions, kept me in check. 

That time of ‘Pshitus’, genuine sincerity in Yeshiva. The time in life when if someone said they weren’t “in the mood” as Yud Tes Kislev approached, they sounded like they fell off some outer worldly planet…

That is why it is imperative, absolutely imperative, that you banish any friction pulling you in directions other than true reality. Because to keep up motivation in Avodas Hashem, we need – at minimum – to know reality without a shadow of a doubt.

In due course the world will throw enough shade at you on its own. There is no need to invite it in earlier.

Your job over these next few years is to learn Chassidus, spend all night arguing with a friend about the intricacies of Elokus. Be Medakdek Bemitzvos – because the better you do it, the more wholesome is the Yichud. Fill your mind with Toras Hashem. Elevate your Midos. Learn how to feel, and develop your value system.

Because, It is only when we have that bedrock of a value system that we can be sure we will live the life we want to, without allowing the less important matters to distract us.

And now to your question: I must tell you, I commend you for your maturity. Not every eighteen-year-old is responsible enough to be concerned for their financial future.

But to that end, I tell you,

there are very few professions for which you cannot study/train for after marriage. 

Does that not mean you will be ‘behind’? Yes, it does.

Assuming you intend to get a career (rather than selling), you may well be four years behind others in your profession.

You also will likely not be able to be a brain surgeon because it will take you too many years to receive your qualification.

But really, really, so what?

You also can’t own a McDonalds, nor can you keep your store open on Shabbos – regardless of how popular a shopping day it is, and there are some professions that are wholly off limits.

If we can acknowledge, that for our own lives (and once you have children, you’ll realise that for the lives of children too) ensuring that ‘Shabbos’ will be a ‘Shabbos’, Yom Tov a ‘Yom Tov’, Hei Teves a ‘Hei Teves’ is the best life possible.

If we acknowledge that out in the “real [fake] world” – there is nothing better than getting caught up in a debate on ‘Oir’ with a business associate. Then that later start is worth everything.

And to attain that, we need to have this time where there is no such thing as ‘career’. As ‘money’. And as [redacted for the sake of the mothers reading this :))

We need to jump into the world directly from the fire.

If you bring it into your life at age 18, you are telling yourself already at that age that there are two parts to the world – Ruchni and Chumri. Ultimately, you will have a much much harder time in the Oilom Hachumri.

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