Walking to the End

by Yaakov Rosenblatt

One year ago, on June 14, 2013 daredevil Nik Wallenda crossed the Little Colorado River Gorge, in Rocky Mountain, CO, walking high above the span on a two inch cable. The canyon below was 1500 feet deep. The length of the rope was over a quarter mile. The shoes he wore were leather moccasins, hand stitched by his mother. The soft skin let him feel the cable with the bottom of his feet, heel to toe, as he rose and fell with its gentle flow. He carried a balancing rod across his back, weighing 45 lbs. and spanning 12 feet. He shifted the bar from side to side, slightly at first, more and more as the winds picked up. He walked steadily and deliberately and prayed as he walked. A number of times, the strong winds forced him to stop and crouch close to the wire. Gusts, during his journey, were up to 30 MPH.

The remarkable event was sponsored by National Geographic. Shortly after he crossed the span I watched a bit of his feat online. Recently, I watched the entire episode again, slowly. I saw Nik’s father, an experienced ropewalker himself, reassuring his son, and Nik, in an attempt to remain relaxed and distracted, speaking to his dad about the wonderful view from on high. Later, he would say that dust blew into his eyes and the winds were stronger than expected. But he kept going, one foot probing forward, the other pulling up gracefully behind it. It was a 22 minute walk, forever and a day in the life of a tightrope walker.

As he came close to solid ground, near the far end of the abyss, his father prodded him to continue to walk slowly. But the end was near and Nik could contain himself no more. “I will,” he says, and he begins to run. One foot in front of the other, he surges forward the last twenty feet almost in a trot, until he reaches solid ground, jumps off, kisses the earth, and falls into the outstretched arms of his wife and children.

The running troubled me. Managing the risk of walking a wire 1500 foot over a crater was something for which he had trained. Running on a wire near the end of an exhausting attempt, seemed impulsive and reckless. He could have fallen to his demise 10 feet shy of his goal, without the challenge of dirt in his eyes or 30MPH wind gusts. And it would have been for naught.

I say this as one who is uncomfortable with heights of any sort.
Recently, my children and I went to the Six Flags Amusement Park in Arlington, TX. The kids wanted to go on the Texas Swing, and I went along for their sake. My daughter and I shared a double seat swing. Raised 400 feet in the air and secured merely by seatbelt and a bar across the front of the chair, the ride swung us in a circle, at a 45 degree angle, pulled us to the outside of the circle with centrifugal force. My daughter laughed heartily as I held on with all my might, sure that the end was near.

But the Texas Swing is OK. Running at the end of a tightrope walk is not.

It is deeply held soul-belief of many Orthodox Jews that a long span of history is coming to a tumultuous, but predicted end. Our people, though spread throughout the world, are now mostly living in Israel, as our prophets promised thousands of years ago. World changing events, once elongated over decades, now occur over weeks or days. Nothing can surprise us; we are open to accepting new realities as soon as they emerge. The world is more connected than at any time before. A new idea can take the world in moments and in storm.

All around us, in various forms and arrangements, there are the culture clashes of secular vs. religious and the Judeo-Christian vs. the Islamic. There is confusion about humanity’s relationship to the planet, the definition of gender, the relationship of male and female and the meaning of nationhood. A Messianic leader could resolve those issues and bring everyone back to the stability of Source.

If there ever was a time when the world could appreciate a Moshiach moment, it is now.

As Jews, our mission is to connect to God through Torah study and Mitzvah observance. Both study and observance are at levels laudable for any time in history. Thousands of American Jews make Toraso Umnaso, and are supported by family, community, and a generous secular government, a reality unrivaled in history. Excessively dry Yukon wheat may never before have been used for Matzos before; Ashkenazi Jews may have never eaten Beit Yosef meats before; vegetables may have never been so bug free before; all of them signs of the seriousness with which we take our commitments.

But the larger question to me is: while Moshiach is close and may arrive at any moment, can we build a community based on that intuition? Has the Orthodox Jewish community ever before been so top heavy, without a plan for sustainability? It a model built on a multitude of people dependent on a few rich benefactors and secular government handouts a responsible communal construct? Is growing a generation of men who study until they can’t, and need to then find a source of income without the self-confidence and skills they could have easily acquired had they taken the yoke of parnassah at a younger age, in the interest of the spiritual commitment of the next generation – and the one after it? Are mega-donations by fabulously wealthy people an economic plan? Why do we avoid a vision that creates and lionizes a strong middle class – honorable, hardworking balabatim who make a living in dignity by employing skills learned in academic environments worthy of the intellectualism with which we pride ourselves? Why instead do we promote the “spiritual selfie” – getting through our generation, without planning for those who come after us?

The end is near. The ebbs and flows of history will soon lead us to solid land. I understand and appreciate the temptation to run the last 20 feet. I want to run it as well. But if we care more about our children than about ourselves, we ought to consider a model that will create doros yesharim, children that will be independent, strong, and confident, until the arrival of Moshiach speedily in our days.

The author of two books, Yaakov Rosenblatt is a rabbi and businessman in Dallas, Texas

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16 Responses

  1. Moish says:

    Nailed it.

  2. malka says:

    I agree, we need to be self sufficient. We should have a balance between learning and supporting our self and family. We need to take care of both spiritual and physical needs.

  3. Menachem Lipkin says:

    While the overall message of the unsustainability of the current system is important, I think the tightrope/messianic analogy is self-defeating. If those supporting and/or participating in the current “model of dependency” truly believe that the “end is near” and we’re in the final “20 feet”, then why would they change now? If anything, likely believing they it is their actions more than anything else that is bringing Moshiach, they would want to double-down on their efforts.

  4. Jewish Observer says:

    Interesting post. But lemaaseh, to whom is the impassioned plea directed? And what specifically, practically is the “ask”?

  5. Reb Dr. R. says:

    Dear Mr. Rosenblatt, you have written eloquently and poignantly. Like you, as a person terrified of heights (who found out the hard way as I climbed down into the Grand Canyon’s gorge one sunny autumn day!) myself, I could feel both the trepidation of the onlooker and the elation of the ropewalker as he kissed the earth under his feet when he finally made it to the other side. And that is our situation today. You and I are watching the Orthodox community follow leaders as a group or make decisions as individuals or organizations are unsustainable and often not rational, with little insight into the bigger picture or hidden motivations. We watch with trepidation, like those onlookers above. But the participants and adherents of that “spiritual selfie” vision are elated when they reach their goal, be it bagging the next big donor or obtaining the next handout or getting support from leaders public declaration that supports their vision. It would not be pleasant for anyone-onlooker or ropewalker-should they fail, of course, but with they’ve got that 12 foot balancing rod on their shoulders, whatever that may be – belief or some other source of assurance,according to the situation. Rest assured that many of us join you in both being and creating “honorable, hardworking balabatim who make a living in dignity by employing skills learned in academic environments worthy of the intellectualism with which we pride ourselves.” We are probably not the minority you imagined, just lack visibility. There is nothing particularly newsworthy about law abiding, polite and societally aware college graduates who go to work, take care of their family and keep a schedule of sedarim or chevrusa learning, toiling in anonymity so to speak. The media would of course rather report cases of rabbis selling kidneys and chareidim spitting, threatening and haranguing young girls.

    But I believe we are there, in every community and every walk of life you will find us, concerned like you, but doing our part to ensure that we grow our ranks. It must start in the home. Then it must follow with your dollars. Your vision of “honorable, hardworking balabatim” is not going to happen if you send your sons to yeshivos and your daughters to Bais Yaakovs that vilify said balabus (biting the hand that feeds them, so to speak!). Do not expect or allow your mosdos to educate your children in the absence of your input. YOU educate your children in the derech you believe is right. Left unchecked and in a vacuum, before you know it, the yeshiva education your child is likely to get will guarantee your children will view you as something deficient, not a lechatchila. It is a testament to the lofty ideals and spiritual grandeur laid before them as they engage in learning Torah for all but a few of their waking hours that they desire nothing more than to immerse themselves in it as a lifelong endeavor, but without your input, influence, and honest discussion about the financial underside and lack of sustainability in the model, what do you think is going to happen? Let your child experience things outside of learning, not just amusement parks, but to take on hobbies and develop skills that lead to intellectual curiosity. A child who excels in math could participate in robot camp or app boot camp. If you have the courage to explore outside the herd mentality, you might discover a world of opportunity for exploration of fields that have engaged the mind – science and technology – for hundreds of years! Bring your child to work with you. Let them see not only what you do, but how you are treated, your environment, the respect you are accorded in a professional position. Share with them your philosophy on finance and (gasp!)even your family finances. You don’t need to share the balance sheet, but a pie chart that is color coded to show both the category of expenses experienced in family life and the % allocation goes a long way to teach them both the priority that education plays (assuming you are at the stage where tuition takes the biggest chunk of the paycheck, as it did for us for 20 yrs and counting)as well as how one balances needs & wants. In our European upbringing, any discussion of money was always taboo, but you will find nowadays that it is often all one can talk about, even in the hallowed halls of yeshiva. This can be mitigated by thoughtful discussion about finances and investing. Talking about one’s investment allocation in their 401K or how that 529 plan is doing is perfectly fine. Start an investment account for them online where they make the investment decisions and see how their ‘net worth’ rises or falls. Get a subscription to the WSJ and keep it on the kitchen table. Of our 5 children, 5 are conversant in marketplace and financial trends, along with epidemiological and demographic data from around the globe, thanks to the WSJ.

    Secondly, we honorable, hardworking balabatim can vote with our dollars. You have no one to blame but yourself when you support married children for years on end, with no end in sight and no legal agreement for milestones and expectations for ROI. Indeed, you only perpetuate the cycle by purchasing a son-in-law or worse, selling your yeshiva-educated son to the highest bidder. You can use your dollars to support mosdos that have college programs (email me for a list of both yeshivos and girls’ schools) and choose to provide only the minimum amount for those that inevitably come collecting door to door that do not support your vision of sustainability and dignity. If you are one of those “big donors,” think about how to teach a man to fish, not just about providing the fish on the dinner plate. Read the article of page B1 of Monday’s (June 10, 2014) WSJ article entitled “Israel’s goal: Draw Ultra-Religious to Tech Boom” to show you it can be done! I am sure these programs could use a hefty donation or two.

    I would also suggest that you can offer to mentor the next generation – proactively – and in fact, I am on a constant search for both high level professionals as mentors for the many young men and women who approach us for career advice and places for both shadowing and internship (R’ Adlerstein can put you in touch with me). Those are usually the ones already on the path, however, but we need to reach out to the next generation earlier than ever before to widen their horizons and instill the unique ambition of “Torah im Derech Eretz” (in its most sincere and holy form), which will take courage to buck the trend, mental discipline to feel secure and socially confident even while making decisions outside the herd mentality, and plenty of foresight so that the outcome is a glory both to mankind and to his Maker (tiferes l’adam v’tiferes l’osayhu).

  6. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Why do we avoid a vision that creates and lionizes a strong middle class – honorable, hardworking balabatim who make a living in dignity by employing skills learned in academic environments worthy of the intellectualism with which we pride ourselves?

    At the risk of being offensive, is there a fear that balabatim, who are not dependent on the community, would be more likely to leave it?

  7. Bob Miller says:

    “All around us, in various forms and arrangements, there are the culture clashes of secular vs. religious and the Judeo-Christian vs. the Islamic.”

    Today, various Christian denominations are threatening Israel and other Jewish interests, and our outlooks have always diverged in fundamental ways, so I challenge this use of “Judeo-Christian” here.

    [YA This has the makings of a different thread, so I will be brief. I caution everyone not to lump all Christians together. The continuum runs from groups completely hostile to our interests, to those who are the greatest and only reliable supporters of Israel left today. Having just returned from the Evangelical-Jewish Conversation in DC, I am more convinced than ever that finding and underscoring the Judeo-Christian legacy is good for us, good for them, good for Israel, and good for America. The groups that are hostile to Israel are almost always hostile to the Christian values of their grandparents as well. ]

  8. Erin says:

    Menachem lipkin, that’s precisely the point. Running on the tightrope brings the end of the journey faster than inching along the tightrope, so the temptation is very strong, it’s just taking the risk that the success of all the rest of the journey will be wasted when he falls off and plunges to his death.

  9. Y. Ben-David says:

    The problem is much deeper than simply pointing out the financial difficulties that current “kollel-for-life” system causes. Any simple pshat reading of the Toran, TANACH, Talmud, Rambam’s Mishe Torah and other basic sources show that Am Israel is a TEAM EFFORT. There are scholars, there are farmers, there are shopkeepers, there are technicians, there are soldiers, there are garbage collector and all the other positions that a society needs in order to function. While of course, all Jews are obligated to study Torah as much as possible, I don’t see anywhere where it says that EVERYONE is supposed to try to be a full-time-life-time kollel scholar and if he isn’t he is supposed to feel that he is some sort of failure. For that matter, I am not sure where the idea came that a Jew is supposed to focus almost exclusively on the Talmud while he is studying. As I understand it, the Talmud was never intended to be a subject for mass education. It is designed for those who have a NATURAL inclination and interest in it, not for everyone.
    Fortunately, today there are those, here in Israel, who are pointing out the facts I mentioned above and there is a trend of “back-to-basics” in Torah study which I, for one, find quite refreshing. In the Galut of the US, these things are not so obvious because there is no need for a complete Jewish society with all the professions I mentioned since there are non-Jews around to do the work. Thus, Jews still are focusing on the much more narrow Talmud-study-kollel lifestyle that is discussed in this piece and it seems it is much more difficult to look at the current system with the fresh approach I mentioned above.

  10. Zave says:

    I wonder why R’ Nosson Tzvi Finkel ZT”L who grew up in such a home, never thought of this if it is so clear.

  11. Harry Maryles says:

    I think R’ Yaakov hit the nail on the head. I further believe that things are moving in a positive direction among the mainstream Charedim. Especially in America.

    But in Israel… if it’s moving at all it is at a snail’s pace. The resistance to changing the paradigm by rabbinic leaders there is fierce. Thus Charedim in Israel are on a different planet with respect to this issue – with no training whatsoever in anything but Gemarah.

    There is also pressure from some on the right in America to emulate the Israeli paradigm of no secular studies in high schools. In fact there are already schools like that in Lakewood and elsewhere.

    OTOH, there are an increasing number of Charedim in America that have had the benefit of a secular education in high school and have gone on to become professionals in all fields. I think the latter needs to be encouraged and the former discouraged. As Rav Avrohom Chaim Levine said, B’Shitta Telshe has always had secular studies and his Bachurim were not hurt by their secular studies from becoming the Talmidei Chachamim they are. Nor were the Gedolim of yesteryear hurt by their secular education – even in college, among them, Rav Avrohom Pam, Rav Ahron Soloveichik and the Rav. Many of the previous generation of Gedolim had favorable views about secular education. Even college – especially WRT Parnassa. I wrote about this yesterday.

  12. Berel says:

    Has the Orthodox Jewish community ever before been so top heavy, without a plan for sustainability?

    Yes.For the past 150 years+ the Yershulmi community was criticized for the above but still managed to stick around.Without using them as a prototype they do seem to indicate that non sustainable communities can have wonderful longevity.

    Why do we avoid a vision that creates and lionizes a strong middle class – honorable, hardworking balabatim who make a living in dignity by employing skills learned in academic environments worthy of the intellectualism with which we pride ourselves?

    Probably for a technical reason more then ideological one.The 70’s is frequently given as a prototype time of “erlicher balabatim”
    As someone who grew up then I really don’t remember reality mirroring what is described today.Most balabatim did not wake up 5:00 to learn in those days etc.

    More importantly the ones who did fit the bill were mostly working at either government jobs or other lower middle class jobs that aren’t available today either because of Affirmative Action or because the pay rate for those jobs didn’t match inflation.For a family with a few children government programs will give what only the top ten percent of American households earn before taxes and commuting costs.The programs of course aren’t taxed or have commuting costs attached.Without any profit motive people aren’t motivated to work.Particularity if they aren’t capable of being in the top ten percent of American households for wages so working will only land them on the Tzedoka lists.

  13. Hezbos.blogspot says:

    He felt the GALUT tightrope, so he sought quick REDEMPTION when opportunity knocked.

    Cannot fault him for that!

  14. Yossie Abramson says:

    Berel, the Yerushalmi community survived on the chaluka system because everyone else worked for a living. How would the chaluka system work if everyone is in kollel?

  15. Y. Ben-David says:

    I heard a lecture many years ago by Professor Menachem Friedman about the Yerushalmi Hallukah community and he pointed out that they have always had to import their leading scholars from outside their community. He said that they have not turned out prominent scholars, and the real top lamdanim in the Ashkenazi Haredi community came instead from the European yeshivot which did NOT operate on a hallukah basis, but rather on an “up or out” system which means those who were not cut out for being top scholars were told to leave and get a job teaching, or as a community Rav or something else. Putting everyone into a supported system without regards to merit is a recipe for overall mediocrity.

  16. Yoni says:

    Torah Truth from Texas. At least Dallas has it all put together.

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