I Love My Kids' School!
My kids attend a school with the overly-complicated name of Beit Sefer Mamlachti-Dati Charedi-Leumi Ahavat Yisrael. One of my boys brought home his mid-year certificate last week. It was in a folder that was illustrated with photos from the school, and had a Torah teaching on the back. I was really taken aback by it. This teaching, which is from Rav Mendel of Kotzk, went totally against everything that I was always taught in the (charedi) yeshivos that I attended:
"Limdu Heitev" (Yeshayah 1:17) - "Learn to do good" says Rashi. We do not find anywhere in the Torah that man is commanded to be a lamdan and expert in all fields of the Torah. For the goal of learning Torah is not to be a lamdan, but rather a good person; to do good and to be good to others.
In the yeshivos that I attended, I was taught relentlessly that man is indeed commanded to be a lamdan. In fact, I was taught that not only is man commanded to be a lamdan, but this is his overriding goal in life. It was drilled into me, again and again and again, that anyone who does not become a lamdan, and who does not spend most of his waking hours learning Gemara, has essentially failed in his time on earth. It's not just that "being a good person" took second place; I don't think that in all my years in yeshivah gedolah, I ever once heard that mentioned.
The yeshivos that I attended followed the philosophy that originated with Rav Chaim of Volozhin. The approach of Rav Mendel of Kotzk, on the other hand, is from much earlier. In my post Learning Torah: Rationalism vs. Mysticism, I explained that this approach regarding learning Torah was the normative view of the rationalist Rishonim, whereas Rav Chaim of Volozhin's approach, while it originated with him, was made possible via the groundwork laid by the mystical school of thought.
In the past, I have suffered some frustrations with my childrens' school teaching non-rationalist approaches to certain topics. I am so happy that the school presents Rav Mendel's statement regarding the purpose of learning Torah!