Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Basic Moral Principles

I was learning Imrei Baruch (the sefer in which I base most of my weekly DT's on) with a friend recently, and he made some interesting comments. As is probably evident in the "takeaways" from the DT's, the lessons trying to be conveyed aren't all that deep. In fact, their a bit amateurish, and he pointed out that these lessons, in fact, could be taught to pre-schoolers. I was bothered by the comment at the time, and gave him an answer, but upon giving it more thought I sent him the following e-mail, and thought it may be worth its own post:


I was giving some thought to your comments that you made over Shabbos while we were learning. You had basically said that the stuff that we were learning could have been taught to pre-schoolers, and you therefore weren't getting much out of it. While, indeed, they were lessons that could be taught to pre-schoolers, that doesn't make it unimportant.

People get married at the age of 20 and up. Why can't preschoolers get married? There's nothing stopping them from doing it, but of course we think it's ridiculous because how can a preschooler fully appreciate marriage? It takes a certain maturity that only young adults (and older) possess to make the most of maturity. It's the same thing here: sure, you can teach little kids this basic moral principles, but it's only when one develops more complex relationships and life experiences that he/she can really put them in practice. That being said, I don't think you're in a minority that finds these principles too "pre-schoolish" to get anything out of. And that's a problem.

In order to be good Jews, in my opinion we must first be good people. These principles are fundamental moral lessons necessary to qualify as a "good person." It doesn't give a hoot how much you learn, daven, etc, but if one isn't a good person, none of the other stuff matters. There's gotta be a hierarchy in the way that one builds themself as a person and as a Jew, and I think this is the foundation. Sure, it's not as appealing as an intense gemara, but that's like building a skyscraper from the 50th floor - it will crash.

I think there's a foundation that needs to be built in learning, specifically, and this is the problem I have with many mainstream yeshivos. Sure, they'll rock gemara; but do they know the stories in the Torah? Some do, if they were lucky enough to be taught these stories in their early years and taught by their parents that they are valuable in and of themselves - not only in relation to the gemara that the yeshiva is learning. But I know way too many Baalei Teshuva that didn't get this foundation as a child, and they become frum and throw themselves in mainstream yeshivas, bypassing the whole foundation of chumash and other (in my opinion) prerequisites.

I think there's a tendency to climb the mountain as quickly as possible, without stopping along the way to make sure that they took the right path.



Blogger nyfunnyman said...

i geuss as an ffb i never looked at it like that. interesting. i'll tell r simon what you said, he'll like it.

10:39 AM, December 20, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

You're buddies with him? I'm a big fan of his. One of my good friends goes to his mussar shiur, and got him to sign Shemos of his Imrei Baruch.

10:42 AM, December 20, 2006

Anonymous Greg said...

I've always been puzzled by the phenomenon of people asking Rabbis to sign a copy of their sefer. It is one of those cross-cultural things that just never made sense to me.

But on to more important thoughts: I don't think chumash or gemara contribute at all to one being a "good" person. This has to do with upbringing. Those completely ignorant of the Chumash and/or Talmud still raise good people. And plenty of those steeped in traditional religious texts reer horrible people. Chumash gives us a sense of historical identity, meaning and purpose, Talmud allows us to explore and delve into the will of God. But neither have a tremendous affect on our "goodness."

Also, just to point this out, you said something that I believe opens a philosophical can of worms. You said, "In order to be good Jews, in my opinion we must first be good people." This implies that there is some standard of goodness outside of Judaism that we must aspire to. Ultimately, it asks the question: Does God tell us to do something because it is Good, or does what God says inherently become Good. It's a pretty fundamental question, and now is not the place to go into it (read my blog's archives for some discussion).

We (Shomrei) should really try to get R. Simon down for a weekend; I consider it a tremendous privilege to have been in his shiur for a year.

8:35 AM, December 21, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

I guess there's an idea to get Brachos from Rabbeim, and having them sign the book seems like just another medium for giving bracha. Truth is, I didn't ask to have it signed - a friend of mine in his shiur got him to do it for me.

Regarding your next point, I was making two points. One needs a moral foundation and one needs a learning foundation (which I believe starts with Chumash and works its way up). I didn't mean to say that learning Chumash makes one a moral person - I think they're separate issues.

Interesting question about the Good (capital G, I see), and I honestly don't spend any time contemplating these issues - perhaps I should. Anyway, perhaps what I mean is that it is possible for someone to be a good person, but not a good Jew, but not the other way around. The amount of gemara one knows is bubkus if one isn't a morally proper person - at least IMO.

8:56 AM, December 21, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Oh, and we DEFINITELY need to get him down there. He's THE man.

8:56 AM, December 21, 2006

Anonymous Greg said...

I agree with you (regarding being good->good Jew), just pointing out that there are other ways to look at it that may allow one to be a good Jew without being a good person.

9:34 AM, December 21, 2006

Blogger nyfunnyman said...

of course i know R Simon

10:12 AM, December 21, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Silly me, I should've known that since both "nyfunnyman" and the last name "Simon" both have an M in them, you know him.

10:16 AM, December 21, 2006

Blogger nyfunnyman said...

took you long enough

9:47 PM, December 21, 2006


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