Wednesday, Jul 24, 2024

The Self Destruction of the Universities


Just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege of writing an article in these pages entitled “The University Presidents Help Us Bring Moshiach.” We discussed there that the current anti-Semitism and the inability or unwillingness of university presidents to condemn and stop it on campus is helping to bring Moshiach. With the passage of just a few weeks, things have obviously gotten much worse. The rioting, lawlessness and outright attacks upon Jewish students have created an unprecedented crisis on many campuses around the country. Although many pundits on all sides of the political spectrum have offered analysis and solutions to this tsunami of destruction to these so-called halls of higher learning, the Torah offers us unfiltered truth and guidance about this dangerous and apparently escalating phenomenon. If we gained a tiny peak at the cosmic significance of the troubled university scene, the door has now opened even wider for a Torah view.

Let us begin with the opening nevuah of the only prophet to hail from Eisav. He predicts, “I will eradiate wise men from Edom and understanding from the mountain of Eisav” (Ovadiah 1:8). Chazal (Bereishis Rabbah 89:8) explain that although every nation is temporarily granted scholars with great wisdom and knowledge, when the time comes for Hashem to judge His world, they will be summarily removed.” Furthermore, Chazal (Eicha Rabbah 2:13) derive from here that “if someone says that there is wisdom amongst the nations, you may believe him. However, if he says that there is Torah amongst them, you should not.” Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz (Darkei Hachaim, page 65) once answered a question regarding chinuch from this posuk and Chazal. His questioner asked if we should use professional testing methods such as IQ results to assess proper grades and classes for Jewish children. His response was that for us, Torah study is not a science or even an educational discipline. “It is a gift from Hashem.” Therefore, none of the usual methods of discovery apply and they have no place in our system of study or evaluation.

As we noted a few weeks ago, Hashem has clearly been reshuffling his world to bring about the new order that will be the world of Moshiach. The Maharal (Bava Kamma 38b) refers to Moshiach as a pri chodosh – a new fruit – because his world will be different than the previous one which lasted for over five millennia. Since Covid, society has drastically changed, and now Hashem has been making sure that the old pillars of what were thought of as the sources of knowledge and wisdom are crumbling before our eyes. Many young Jewish students have been interviewed on Ivy League campuses. In their distress, they have admitted that the chaos, confusion and downright danger are not what they signed up for. Soon all may be searching for halls of knowledge and wisdom that are more ancient and reliable, such as a true bais medrash and Bais Yaakov. At the very least, they will looking for academia that is not out to destroy them and has certainly not protected them from harm. Perhaps they will initially gravitate toward religious Jewish colleges, but they will eventually realize that truth can only be found in the world of Torah and its study. This is Hashem paving the way for geulah, im irtzeh Hashem.

But there is a still deeper meaning to all the chaos and anarchy. Rav Moshe Sternbuch, in a halachic responsum (Teshuvos Vehanhagos, volume IV, No. 197, page 190), cites a ruling of the Brisker Rov that we are permitted to make a blessing on a gentile scholar only if he concomitantly observes the Seven Noachide Laws. If he doesn’t, he simply cannot be considered a chochom. Now, we know that the brocha upon a tremendous talmid chochom is different from the brocha upon a gentile scholar in that we use the term shecholak (Hashem shared or granted) His wisdom with the chochom. However, upon the gentile scholar we use the term nosan, gave, meaning that He gave something other than Himself, but to the talmid chochom, Hashem gives, so-to-speak, a piece of Himself.

The meforshim tell us that a Torah scholar is changed by his learning; he becomes holy and pure, elevated and humbled by his learning. The gentile scholar, however, is not necessarily changed by his field of expertise. He may be a murderer or crook in his private life, since what does that have to do with his knowledge? However, Torah rearranges a person’s molecules so that he becomes sweet, modest, generous and caring in all his pursuits. I hear from many people in academia that things are rapidly changing. Even where there was once some awe or respect for the fabled institutions of secular learning, there is now only disdain, cynicism and no respect at all. The realization is setting in that while one may still require a degree or certificate form these institutions, their protagonists, the professors and presidents have no standing at all in their lives or hearts. Certainly, we are beginning to come to the realization of Ovadiah’s prediction that “I will eradicate wise men from Edom.” No, college and university will never be the same. And that is actually a good thing.

My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner (Pachad Yitzchok, Chanukah 7:8), cites the prophesy (Zechariah 2:15) that “Many nations will join themselves to Hashem on that day.” He explains that these words are recited in the haftorah of Chanukah because the Greek beauty of expression, but not its philosophy, will find its place in the hod vehadar of Klal Yisroel. The Torah is best not translated at all. But if it were, Greek would be the vehicle. The reason is that in the World to Come, all nations will realize that the truth can only be found in our Torah, but other than Amaleik, they, too, will have a tikkun of sorts.

As I mentioned in the earlier article, Rav Dovid Cohen (rov of Cong. Gvul Yaavetz in Brooklyn) wrote a sefer called “The Torah and Secular Knowledge.” There he defines the place of secular knowledge as a handmaiden of sorts to the Torah. Thus, he ably demonstrates that math, biology, chemistry, geography, music and many other areas of knowledge are utilized by the Torah. However, they can never, as secular society has allowed, become the be all and end all of a person’s philosophy or life’s guidelines. This was where Socrates, Plato and Aristotle went terribly wrong. They thought that philosophy or even theology can save a person and give him a proper way of life. But now the Creator has shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that secular wisdom can only be used in a limited practical way, but without the eternal guidance of the Creator, the world will indeed explode, particularly in the places that used to claim the serenity and tranquility of wisdom and knowledge.

Rav Eizik Sher (Leket Sichos Mussar) notes that “When someone learns Torah, the holy Shechinah is there with him” (Brachos 6a). Indeed, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 93b) states that “Hashem is with him,” but this is not at all true of any other type or source of wisdom. To be able to merit Moshiach, we should all be grateful that Hashem has opened our collective eyes to the evil behind the Ivy League walls, where murder and other grave sins have long been justified and even lauded. As usual, all of this is for our benefit, but there is a new twist. It is the anti-Semites whose actions are helping us do teshuvah and return to the true source of wisdom, our holy Torah.



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