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Giving Precedence to Education

This is both our good fortune and our obligation - to face challenges and trials, to prove ourselves worthy, to take responsibility for ourselves and for the entire world, and this is only possible with Jewish education.
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1. Determining Priorities
2. The Jewish Challenge
3. Saving the Jews of the Diaspora
4. Torah and Self-Sacrifice

Determining Priorities
The most important question for the Jewish people, especially in difficult times, is which issue deserves being given priority. This is true both on a national level, regardless of the nature of the government, and on the family level. What deserves being given priority? Security? Economy? Education? Perhaps some other important matter? An additional question which must be addressed is what sort of place should be given to the study of Torah and Jewish heritage on our agenda. Issues connected to the State of Israel and Israel’s Arab citizens are the ones that we live with day in and day out: immigration, birth-rate, disengagement, and the troubled economy - each of these matters is tied to our very existence, and we must organize them and do our best to deal with them. The issue of Torah study and Jewish heritage, though, is a national and cultural pillar; no less an authority than Rabbi Saadya Gaon has said: "Our nation is no nation at all without its Torah. Torah is the foundation; it is our entire existence."

As regards the matter of priority, it is only to be expected that a person tends to think first about those matters that most immediately affect him. It should therefore come as no surprise that the security question is that which most concerns all of us. Yet, perhaps it would be wise to say a very general word about how one should ideally go about determining priorities.

One way of determining what deserves top priority as opposed to that which is of secondary importance can be learned from the teachings of the sages with regard to prayer. Though prayer flows from the heart, and the supplicant will therefore naturally give preference to those matters which presently concern him, the sages arranged a set order for prayer. A Jew begins by reciting three blessings of praise for the Almighty. Only after this does one begin with his own requests.

Once, a bright student asked me why the sages saw fit to institute a fixed order of prayer. Why did they not allow each of us to pray in accordance with our needs and desires and in the style that we see fit? After all, when a person prays for something that is important to him - on behalf of a sick family member or for livelihood, the prayers flow much more naturally. Praying according to a fixed order and style is much more artificial.
The answer is simple. The Members of the Great Assembly who fixed our prayer in the form we know it today knew all to well that we are not on the level necessary in order to know exactly what we need. If they had decided that each of us could pray as he felt or needed - i.e., up to the third blessing of the Amidah, "Ha-El HaKadosh," each individual would pray as prescribed; from there on people would ask for what was most pressing - how many people would think to begin the fourth blessing with, "You bless man with knowledge"? Everybody needs livelihood and security. The more spiritual Jews would pray on behalf of Jerusalem, and for the Messiah. But who would think to begin, "You bless man with knowledge"? Each of us assumes that he have been blessed with sufficient knowledge; others, we assume, are lacking knowledge.

The sages, though, decided that there must be order. True, each of us needs livelihood, health, redemption, etc.; yet, to begin with, there must be order. The first thing that a person needs is knowledge. One may not readily feel it, but this is the foundation. Our sages teach, "If you have gained knowledge, what do you lack? If you lack knowledge, what can you gain?" There is such a thing as wealth which spells its owner’s downfall - wealth without wisdom, livelihood without wisdom. When a person possesses true wisdom the request that naturally follows is, "Return us, our Father, to Your Torah" - even before livelihood and redemption.

The Jewish Challenge
The same rule applies when it comes to national priorities for the Jewish people in the State of Israel: "If you have gained knowledge, what do you lack?" Without Torah study and Jewish heritage, there is no Jewish education; if there is no Jewish education, there is no Judaism - and then there is no State of Israel, no immigration, no Zionism, no security, nothing. On the other hand, if one does possess these things it is possible to continue.

Rabbi Soloveitchik once pointed out the fact that each morning we recite the blessing "Blessed are you...who gives strength to the tried" in the singular form, while the blessing "...Who girds Israel with courage" is said in the plural. What is the difference between strength and courage? An individual, explains Rabbi Soloveitchik, needs strength, and we thank God that He "gives strength to the tired." Strength is might. Courage, though, is not measured according to strength or might, but according to one’s capacity to meet challenges and overcome obstacles. The role of the Jewish people is to wrestle with challenges. We do not possess "strength" as such. It his thus written, "Not because you are more numerous than all of the nations..." We, the Jewish people, will never have "strength." What we possess is courage.

The fundamental principle of Torah study and Jewish Heritage is that a Jew must be willing to give his all and sacrifice himself. A Jew must sense responsibility. His "strength" lies in his mission and his capacity is measured accordingly. With regard to Israel’s strategic dilemma, clearly our strength is, according to the verse, "Not through power and through force, but through My spirit says the Lord." The spirit of courage, the desire to overcome, the desire to meet the challenges. This is our problem even today, even in the army. Education based upon Torah and Jewish Heritage is what teaches the Jew how to face every possible challenge. The same rule holds true in the field of economics. The principle of "Love your fellow as yourself" is indeed an important social principal. It is true that there are very difficult problems; all the same, first priority must be given to Torah and Jewish heritage, for without these ingredients there will simply be no Jews.

Saving the Jews of the Diaspora
It may appear as if the most pressing problems which the Jewish people face today are those connected to the future of the Land of Israel - economically, strategically, etc. This, though, is not the case. Israel indeed faces security problems today, but, thank God, the One who has always answered our prayers will continue to answer them; there are indeed economic difficulties, but, "Ask your father and he will tell you" - the Jews have been in situations much worse than ours today. The real problem is the assimilation rate of Jews living in the Diaspora. According to present reports the rate is between sixty and seventy percent. They are the majority of the Jewish people and only about a fifth of them receives Jewish education. That is, between twenty and twenty-five percent of these Jews receives a Jewish education which has any hope of enduring.

When one considers these statistics, all of our problems in Israel are rendered insignificant. The real problem is the future existence of the Jews living in the Diaspora. There is only one solution to it: education based upon Torah and Jewish heritage. Here, we face the challenge of "From Zion Torah will go out, and the word of God from Jerusalem." This problem must be placed on our daily agenda and elevated to the top of our list of priorities, not only for our own benefit but because we are morally obligated.

Thank God for the State of Israel, but during the state’s first fifty years our real political and economic backing came from the Jews of the Diaspora. When we began here as half a million Jews enjoyed the generous support of Jews from abroad. Today, however the State of Israel is on its feet and we need to pay back our debt. Today, the entire Diaspora thirsts for Jewish education, cries out for Jewish education, and we can and must provide them with this. "From Zion Torah will go out, and the word of God from Jerusalem." This is an ideal which we today owe to the entire Jewish people. In the past, we did not enjoy statehood. We faced all sorts of decrees and extreme hardships, but Judaism was Judaism, education was education, and tradition was tradition.

In the past ten years there has been some progress. We have reached a level whereupon it is imperative that we continue to move forward. Therefore, there is only one possible answer: We must strengthen Jewish education. We must view it as the very foundation of our existence. Only with Jewish education will we be able to meet all of the challenges. Even here in Israel, we will not be able to progress without Jewish education, education which prepares one to face challenges and to demonstrate self-sacrifice and courage on behalf of the Jewish people. These ingredients can only be found in Torah study.

Torah and Self-Sacrifice
A couple of hours ago, I attended a memorial service in Atzmonah for the five Yeshiva students who were murdered there by terrorists two years ago. On the radio these days we hear a lot about unilateral disengagement. One, though, has to see for himself the Yeshiva there and all of the surrounding settlements. One has to bear witness to all of the students who continue to study Torah after such a difficult blow in which five of their dear friends were killed. Where does such self-sacrifice spring from if not from Jewish education and Israel’s heritage. Without these young students, how could we continue forward?

Only education in the spirit of Torah and tradition yields such fruits, education in the spirit of He who "girds Israel with courage." We are thus obligated. This is both our good fortune and our obligation - to face challenges and trials, to prove ourselves worthy, to take responsibility for ourselves and for the entire world, and this is only possible with Jewish education.

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