Question:

Dear Rabbi,

I just finished my post-high school year in Israel, and now I’m confused about what I should do next. I attended a good Jewish school, where the rabbis taught us Torah and insisted that connecting to G‑d is the greatest purpose in life. At the same time, the secular teachers were preparing us for the workplace.

Now I’m wondering whether I should stay in yeshivah—as my rabbis here suggest—or whether I should focus on getting a degree or joining my father in business. On the one hand, I feel that Torah study is important, but on the other hand, I want to be able to support myself. I mean, some people just learn their whole lives and never get a real job. What’s your take?


Answer:

I am a rabbi, so, as you’d expect, I have some solidarity with those who urge you to study Torah and focus on Judaism, at least for a little while.

You’re still young. You’ll have, G‑d willing, many productive decades ahead of you. There’ll be time to study and time to work. You’ll get married and build a family and transform the world into a better place. However, now is the time to lay down stores of inspiration to tide you over on your journey through life.

The decisions you make now are crucial to your future. Whether you become a rabbi, a businessman or an academic, you’ll ultimately be judged only on your ethics and integrity, and the Torah you study now will set you on a path of spiritual inspiration that will last a lifetime.

As for those who choose to devote a life to Torah learning rather than earning, they’re living a Jewish ideal. In theory, there can be no better way to spend one’s day than swimming in the sea of Talmud or delving into the intricacies of halachah (Jewish law). When Moshiach comes, we will all be granted the gift of full-time Torah study, and such a life should be the ultimate aim of every Jew.

I look back fondly on the years I spent post-marriage learning in kollel, and I’m incredibly grateful for the generosity of the community, which afforded me that luxury. I viewed this support not as charity, but as the beginning of a reciprocal relationship with mutually binding responsibilities. Aside from the value that we brought our benefactors and the community by the very fact that we were learning Torah, the expectation was that both during and after my years of learning, I would give back to the community by teaching others and setting a positive example of commitment and passion for Judaism.

I ultimately entered the rabbinate and am fortunate to be an emissary of the Rebbe, but many of my colleagues from my yeshivah and kollel years entered the workforce and now utilize their skills and knowledge in their personal spheres of influence.

In this week’s Parshah, we read about the Ark of the Covenant, an aesthetically beautiful construction of gold. It was kept in the Kodesh HaKodashim, the Holy of Holies, and it housed the Tablets, as well as other precious and spiritually significant possessions of the Jewish people.

While the Jews were travelling through the desert, the Ark was transported by the Levites and carried on long poles, which were inserted into rings on the sides of the Ark. Even after the Jews reached their final destination and the Ark rested securely in the Temple, the poles stayed put: “The carrying poles shall be in the rings of the Ark; they shall never be removed.”1

The Rebbe learned an incredible lesson from the fact that the Ark was always ready to be picked up and taken outside: Even a person who is lucky enough to be learning Torah, living his life in the Holy of Holies, must be ever ready to pick up and rush outside the walls of the sanctuary to come to the aid of another.

If there is a single Jewish soul out there thirsting for G‑dliness, it is our responsibility to carry the Torah to his or her aid. Time spent learning Torah is not an end unto itself, but a means of reaching out to others and inspiring them with the gifts we’ve been granted. The time you spend studying now is not time off from your responsibilities for the future, but a preparation for a lifetime ahead.

So go study Torah. Get excited about learning. Become inspired. And always be ready to take the inspiration and joy of Judaism that you’ve found and spend the rest of your life bringing it to others.