I hope you can help me out with my dilemma.
I have been in shidduchim for a few years already. I was recently redd to two different boys. One is learning full-time. The other is learning part-time and working the other part of the day. I was always looking for a full-time learner. However, the boy who is learning part-time, we are told, has beautiful middos, and sounds personality-wise more like what I’m looking for. We didn’t hear as good information about the full-time learner.
My question is: What’s more important, middos or learning? In school, we were always taught to look for a boy who will sit and learn all day. Am I giving up something in my ruchniyus by giving a yes to the part-time learner?
To be brutally honest, I feel deeply compelled to vigorously dismantle the notion that all of our holy bnos Yisroel should be taught in school that they must look only for a husband who will be steeped in learning every waking hour, and further discuss the myriad problems and dangers that are created and promulgated by such myopic and captious lessons (such as, cultivating a society of women who fear that if their husband is not a future potential member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, they have inherently settled for a second or third class citizen as a spouse, and one whom they may later struggle mightily to respect in the home). As the Tchebiner Rav’s pious and saintly father, the Kochav MiYaakov, a gaon and gadol baTorah, transmitted clearly to his children, spending every moment of one’s time in learning is not a prerequisite of each Jewish man’s life. What is necessary, however, is that whatever tasks one performs, they should be executed wholeheartedly and to the maximum, with love and vitality (Tfutza Publications). Nonetheless, I will refrain from tendering any additional comments on the colossal avlah that is deemphasizing the intrinsic beauty and virtue of each and every Yid, and direct the remainder my response more specifically towards the inquiry at hand.
In short, I believe it inarguable that in the strictest of senses, when it is a question of one or the other, middos alone will always trump learning alone. For when a young man possesses remarkably refined middos, but lacks certain achievements in learning, he has acquired striking success in his ruchniyus on two fronts – albeit in differing measures – and is a person deserving of genuine commendation for each of those accomplishments. On the other hand, a young man who has accumulated pronounced strength in his learning, but whose middos are sorely lacking, has accomplished nothing. If the Torah one has learned somehow does not enhance the character of the person learning it, that is not learning. Earnest and impassioned devotion to talmud Torah will, by its very nature, change and elevate a person, and when it does not, that is a failure of the one learning, not the material being learned. Not to mention, what kind of marriage relationship can really be sustained with a brilliant mind that is attached to a heart and body which is devoid of positive human attributes and is incapable of interpersonal growth?
Indeed, in Rabbi Shimon Finkelman’s masterwork on the life of Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzenski (Artscroll/Mesorah), he relates the following message conveyed by Rav Yisrael Salanter to his own son-in-law, Reb Elya Lazer, regarding the forthcoming shidduch between his granddaughter and Rav Chaim Ozer. “I am convinced that you have selected an exceptional Torah scholar as a groom for my granddaughter. But it is written, My daughter has been given to this man (Devarim, 22:16, and a play on the Hebrew word “ish” and its Yiddish counterpart, “mentch,” connoting a mature and considerate individual). Have you established that he is worthy of this title?” As great as Rav Chaim Ozer was in learning, and there were very few in his generation, if any, who were greater, if he was not first and foremost a mentch, Rav Yisrael could not lend his approbation to the match.
And in fact, decades later, when Rav Chaim Ozer was asked by his young nephew why he had not issued more volumes of his groundbreaking sefer Achiezer, Rav Chaim Ozer replied, “With the passage of time I have come to realize that publishing seforim is child’s play in comparison with helping b’nei Torah, widows, orphans, and others in need.” Mentch and middos first, just as demanded by Rav Yisrael.
Furthermore, and as my father has related to me many times over, when doubt was cast upon Rav Eliyahu Chaim Meisel, rov of Lodz, vis-à-vis his standing among the towering Torah giants of Eastern Europe, and an accusation was made that he was dedicating too much of his time towards chesed, and was not spending enough time in his learning, Rav Chaim Brisker, who was visibly disturbed by the gravely misguided proclamation, stood up and firmly stated, “A rov who will not close his Gemara to go do an act of chesed, even when his Gemara is open, it is closed. But a rov who will close his Gemara to go do an act of chesed, even when his Gemara is closed, it is open.”
Make no mistake, supporting one’s family is one of the greatest acts of chesed a person can do. It is a magnificent kindness to oneself, to one’s wife and children, and to one’s parents and in-laws, as well. Accordingly, when a young man who is unswervingly committed to Torah and mitzvos appreciates the need to step away from the beis medrash to ensure that his family can eat, and provides them with much needed menuchas hanefesh and menuchas haguf, it may not be such a stretch to say that his Gemara is also open, even when it must be closed. Yegiyah kapecha ki sochal, ashrecha v’tov lach (Tehillim, 128;1-2); Ashrecha b’Olam Hazeh, v’tov lach l’Olam Haba (Brachos, 8a).
To be clear, the above is in no way meant to denigrate, diminish, or detract from the immense chashivus of being osek b’Torah. Ki heim chayeinu v’orech yameinu. The glory, grace, nobility, and power of the Torah is beyond our comprehension, and thus it would be impossible to overstate its consequence and significance. Of that, there is neither question nor doubt. Rather, what is meant to be taken from the above, is that sitting and learning is not the one and only avenue to being and becoming a Jew of the highest order and caliber. And more importantly, if that learning is not accompanied by middos tovos of the utmost degree, it demands no acclaim whatsoever.
May the Tzur Yisroel V’Goalo redeem us from our severely limited perspectives on human value and merit, and may He open our eyes to the infinite ways by which a Jewish man or woman can attain and retain true prominence of spirit.