Who’s Cleaning for Pesach?

Special thanks to Rabbi Rosenblum for permitting us to publish this piece. In fact he recently became aware of Beyond BT after Yaakov Astor’s recent post on Divorce and BT.

by Jonathan Rosenblum, Yated Ne’eman, March 21, 2007

My wife has decamped for Poland with a group of seminary students. And my only daughter is busy cleaning her own home for Pesach in Bnei Brak. That leaves only us guys to take care of the last heavy cleaning.

The absence of female hands on deck means that this year I won’t have to listen to the results of surveys in my sons’ yeshivos showing that no good yeshiva bochur has any cleaning responsibilities prior to Pesach. No need to threaten to deduct any money spent on mercenaries from that available to replace shiny suits, misshapen hats, and shoes with holes in them.

Yet I have heard enough anecdotal evidence over the years to know that the informal surveys cited above are not entirely a figment of my sons’ overactive imaginations. And that is too bad.

One can certainly understand how a parent’s heart swells with pride at the sight of a bochur who at the end of a long winter zman still wants nothing more than to put in a full day in the beis medrash. Yet parents would still be well advised to avoid freeing their sons from all Pesach cleaning responsibilities on that account.

Bein hazemanim, as the term implies, is not simply a continuation of the zman in a different setting. Rather it is a time for a different type of growth than can be achieved in the yeshiva. I heard recently from Rav Reuven Leuchter, one of the closest talmidim of the famed Mashgiach Rav Shlomo Wolbe, that bein hazemanim is a time for a type of interaction with the world that cannot take place hunched over one’s Gemara. As the Steipler Gaon used to say, it is hard to even assess a bochur’s middos while he is in yeshivah. After all, did his shtender ever speak back to him or express a contrary opinion?

Talmudic prodigies exist. But there is a certain type of wisdom that only comes with age and life experience, no matter how brilliant a person may be. That is why the leaders of the Torah world are inevitably drawn from the ranks of the ziknei hador. If the first adjective still used to describe a person is ilui, he is probably not yet ready for leadership. Bein hazemanim is the time for acquiring some of the experience of interacting with the world that is crucial for the development of middos and self-knowledge.

The second major reason not to grant draft exemptions from Pesach cleaning is that it fosters a sense of entitlement that can work against true striving in Torah. Contrary to the common impression among yeshiva bochurim, limud Torah is not a general exemption from all responsibilities in life. As one who was zocheh to learn in kollel for nearly 15 years, I view the expansion of kollel learning as the glory of our generation. But nothing will ever come from one who views yeshivah or kollel as life with an E-Z Pass.

One who accepts upon himself the yoke of Torah will, as the Mishnah in Avos (3:6) teaches us, find the yoke of derech eretz lifted from him. That is both a result of the siyata d’Shmaya that he merits and a natural response to his diminished involvement in the material world: the less concerned he is with material objects the less the burden of their attainment weighs upon him.

But acceptance of the yoke of Torah must come first. One does not demand that one be freed from responsibilities in order that one can learn. Nor does the yoke of Torah provide one with a right to demand from others that they take on one’s responsibilities. One of Eretz Yisrael’s leading young poskim was asked why his shul only sponsors a bein hazemanim yeshiva in the morning. He replied that bochurim also have to share in Pesach cleaning. The obligation to clean falls on all members of the house not just the women.

More and more, especially in shidduchim, we hear the attitude expressed that a ben Torah is entitled to be spared all life’s worries and to be able to live in comfort in order that he can learn in peace. Such an expectation is both unrealistic and dangerous. It is impossible to protect oneself from all worries: illness strikes, fathers-in-laws’ businesses go bankrupt, wives who undertook the burden of parnassah find that they are no longer physically or emotionally capable of doing so six children later, or that the children are suffering from having a permanently drained and part-time mother.

The quest for comfort can be inimical to spiritual growth in general and to growth in Torah learning in particular. When the Mishnah in Avos (6:4) describes the way of Torah – “bread with salt shall you eat, water by measure shall you drink, on the earth shall you sleep” – it is hardly describing a life of comfort.

What distinguished the gedolim of pre-War Europe from today’s bochurim was not kishronos, but what they were willing to forego for Torah. As a student in Volozhin, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer often went days without food, and his nephew Rav Elazar Menachem Shach testified the same about himself. When Rav Aryeh Leib Gurwicz’s father sent his young son across the border to learn in Lithuania, he never expected to see his son again. Knowing that his son would be sleeping on a bench in an unheated beis medrash, he gave him the greatcoat off his back.

Today when even average bochurim often seek the type of lifetime support that was once reserved for future gedolei hador, one still sees that an overwhelming percentage of the greatest talmidei chachamim live in very strained circumstances. That is not accidental. According to their willingness to sacrifice for their learning, do they wax great.

Among the “comfort” items, we hear on some shidduchim lists is that the girl not be too frum – i.e., she won’t push her husband too much – an explicit recognition that comfort and spiritual growth can be tarti de’sasri (mutually exclusive).

Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler’s message to both the chassan and kallah under the chuppah was to dedicate themselves to being givers and not takers. Just as at this moment of your greatest happiness, you are filled with a desire to give to each other, he would tell them, may you always be filled with the desire to give to one another. As soon as that desire begins to wane, so too will your happiness.

Nothing could be more antithetical to that spirit of giving than approaching marriage with the attitude of “What’s in it for me? What are they offering?” When such questions begin to seem normal, there are no limits. An acquaintance told me recently that her brother had been advised against a certain shidduch by his friends. They had pointed out that the girl’s parents were already in late middle-age, and that she had only one sister, so she might end up having to take care of her parents one day. At least her brother was embarrassed when she pointed out: “Oh, so you expect your in-laws to support you for twenty years, but, chas v’Shalom, you should ever have to do anything for them.” No doubt such bald-faced selfishness is rare, but the extreme examples often reveal more than we care to admit.

Surely one of the reasons that early divorces are far more common today than they used to be is marriage is being approached selfishly, i.e., as means of facilitating an easy life, with a minimum of responsibilities. Under the best of circumstances, those who are not committed to building a partnership based on mutual sharing will never know the true joy of marriage. And such a marriage will never be able to survive the types of setbacks and external pressures that are part and parcel of this olam ha’asiya.

If for no other reason than to help prepare our sons for the next stage of their lives, we owe it to them to make sure that they make themselves available for a few hours of helping with Pesach cleaning. Not for our good but for theirs.

14 comments on “Who’s Cleaning for Pesach?

  1. My reaction was the same as Zach and Elisha. Pesach cleaning is important, but defending the country is bitul Torah (a waste of time that could be spent learning)? Bitul Torah seems to be an issue only when it’s convenient, as with the siren on Independence Day.

    Leah L.,
    The stated reason given for the exemptions has nothing to do with the conditions in the army. The rabbis haven’t offered to suspend draft exemptions if the army agrees to accommodate their boys’ religious needs.

    Chag kasher ve-sameach, from a mother whose son went out and learned every morning, but helped willingly in the afternoons and evenings.

  2. Leah L,

    I’m not clear on what you mean by accomodating religious soldiers, but religious soldiers have been successfully serving almost since the beginning. Rav Goren was de facto chief rabbi of Tzahal in the War of Independance. Throughout a long career in the IDF he fought tirelessly just to establish minimal acceptable standards. Those of us who served later had him to thank for our legally protected rights to time for davenning, enforced kashrut, enforced sh’mirat Shabbat, etc. Some may have disputed his p’sak on one thing or another, but he established the mindset and basis for saying that an observant soldier has rights that must be provided, and that the army as a whole has certain obligations.
    Rav Goldwicht founded the first Hesder program at Kerem B’Yavneh over 40 years ago. The program spread and grew and produced fine soldiers and fine Torah scholars. In my time the standard was five years for Hesder, with 2/3 of that spent in the yeshivah.
    Many of us served in religious groups (garinim) in the Nahal as a way of having some religious framework and support outside of Hesder. That was the route I chose over 20 years ago. There were a few passing problems or conflicts during my service (all good stories), and we could resolve them all thanks to the fundamental positions that the IDF was already obligated by. A willingness to serve and knowledge of halacha (not just custom or humra) went a long way, along with standing up for our rights.
    Nahal Hareidi is really just the newest development in an ongoing process of the religious public finding ways to serve.

  3. Shavua tov Ora,

    Thanks for the info. Interesting! I’ll try and research a little more about it. I always wondered how religious soldiers cope during war time. Are many of the requirements suspended?

  4. Hi Leah,
    It’s actually pretty complicated. Not in terms of the history: Nahal Hareidi was started pretty recently but there were other religious units before that. Nahal hareidi was supposed to be a hareidi unit (hence the name), but like other religious units it quickly started turning into a dati leumi/ american hareidi unit. They had to start screening based on high school attended to keep the unit somewhat hareidi. As of now a total of a couple hundred out of several thousand hareidi men eligible for service actually serve.

    The complicated part is: while there are more religious units now, there are a lot more problems in the army in general. There are more mixed units and more women in the army, for one. Also, the fact that many officers are religious (it’s often hard to tell the difference between the religious units and the captain’s courses) can lead to problems, because sometimes a somewhat-religious or ex-religous officer is harder to deal with than a secular officer (as in “what do you mean this isn’t kosher, it’s fine, i eat it all the time” or “we always do this on shabbat, my rav allows it” etc). Finally, there are more problems just due to the general trends in society–more people are left-wing (politically and religiously) and have little to no feeling of connection to Jewishness than in past decades.

    The hesder units, which allow religious soldiers to serve together, and to serve only a year and a half as opposed to three years (they also do 18 months in yeshiva) have been around for decades. Israeli Hareidim just did not want to join.

  5. Shalom Ora,

    I could be wrong but isn’t it relatively recently that the army began to accommodate religious soldiers, which makes it more palatable for chareidi? I wonder if you or someone could provide a bit of the history on this.

    Leah L

  6. I didn’t mean for my last post to sound like hareidi-bashing, btw. I am just frustrated w/the situation with army especially right now, and it’s easy to get mad at those who aren’t taking part of the burden. Of course, there are plenty of non-yeshivish ppl who avoid army, probably more than yeshivish.

    Elisha again–btw I realize that if enough hareidi guys enlisted a lot of those problems would be less severe/nonexistent. But until that happens, I can see why an individual would decide to avoid service. I think they’re wrong, but I understand.

  7. Zachary–100%. Keep in mind though that most yeshivish families do have someone working, it’s just not usually the husband. Still, I totally understand. I’m especially sick of the argument “well, but our Torah learning defends the nation.” Fine, but if I had more money I could be learning Torah, same w/some of my friends. It’s not like the non-yeshivish public would just waste their money on a TV.

    Elisha–Probably because of the problems keeping Torah in the army–mixed units, kashrut problems, etc. Also, I’ve heard that some rabbis hold you can’t break Shabbat for army stuff b/c the army isn’t fighting an all-out war on our enemies, just kinda keeping them at bay, mostly. So it’s complicated, much more so than Pesach cleaning. I know there are religious units, my husband was in one, but even they have their problems.

  8. Chana,

    So hubby says to me, Leah, how many years have we been getting ready for a Pesach together?

    Four, I say.

    Well, he says, we haven’t missed one yet.

    Ooooooookay. =:-O

  9. In light of Rosenblum’s clear admonishment of Yeshiva students who expect others to carry the burdens and responsibilities of life for them, it surprises me that Rosenblum supports the Haredi position of demanding draft deferments for all Yeshiva students (as I have read in another article of his). For all Israelis (other than Haredim), army service is every bit a part of the cold reality of life as Pesach cleaning. If these students are taught that others should be expected to serve – not to mention die – for them in one area of life, how can they be expected to treat other areas differently?

  10. One source of frustration from many of the non kollel learners (both secular and religious) in Israel seems to stem from the perceived attitude of the Yeshivish public. Which often comes off as “We want to stay in the Yeshiva while you all go and build the nation, drive the buses, build the hospitals etc. But we will be along later to benefit from it, and often tell you how it was done wrong.”

    From where I sit in a national religious community in Israel it seems that there is a great sense of entitlement in the haradi world. That the country has an obligation to support as many people in yeshiva as possible.

    I realize that some of what I said might not be the most popular opinion ever, but It really causes a lot of resentment.

    IT also frustrates me that often the sole measure of a frum man is how much gamara he learns, any other qualities (good or bad) are often ignored.

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