Torah Doesn’t Take Breaks
Editors Note: this story is a hyperactive time-capsule that I’m barely able to follow myself, so if you have difficulty, you’re probably just dumber than I am.
“It’s time to wake up, Fagel.” My mom coerces me awake by wiggling my big toe, hoping that the rest of my body will follow suit.
“What?” I turn over.
“It’s time to get up for school.”
I’m nine years old and I’m beginning to realize I hate everything regarding frumkeit. I don't yet know that I’m allowed to disagree with the rules that seem definitive. At this point, depression is looming on the horizon as if I had turned into an aisle at the grocery store and made eye contact with someone I was pretending not to see but am now forced to acknowledge.— I’m beginning to realize that my eyes instinctively graze towards boys crotches.
“No,” I say flopping my face back into my pillow.
“Your carpool will be here in twenty minutes, come downstairs when you’re dressed.”
Her hair is damp, drying from a recent shower and waiting to be tied up and put in a tichel before others might see it.
With dread, I look at the foot of my bed to see the perfectly folded outfit my mother has left out for me. Every morning she leaves our school clothes on the foot of our beds before lining up our lunch bags on the counter in a queue pertaining to age. — It’s amazing that someone who is so on top of their shit produced a disaster like me.
As I drag my feet down the hallway, I hate everything about my life.
Down the hallway, I walk past my sisters’ rooms and see them asleep in their beds. There is heavy jealousy in my chest and its percolating towards anger. The anger I have isn’t towards them, but at the Jewish institutional system.
Boys need to attend school on this day. And on all the other days of the week, they are required to wake up two hours earlier to go to minyan, even though the girls attend school in the same building.
On Saturdays — sorry, Shabbos — we don't sleep in because Shul needs to be attended by us men. Women can either show up for kiddush or stay home with the kids and finger themselves using a Shinoy.
This is only the tip of the iceberg.
“Why is it fair that boys need to go to school an extra day?” I incessantly asked every administrator I’ve ever come across, even though the answer is inevitable bullshit.
“Because the world only exists if people continue to learn Torah. Hashem doesn't destroy the world if there’s at least one person learning. Plus men need to learn in order to keep their minds off of Toeivas.”
Rabbi Bevin stood before his class wearing the satin vest he’s never seen without. His features are composed up of a head possessing wisps of hairs under a yarmulke, a beard of graying pubic-looking hair, and perfectly curled payos that touch his clavicles - my guess, the product of a curling iron purchased at ULTA. Ha, faggot.
Rabbi Bevin is famous for drawing the class lectures on the whiteboard, regardless of the fact that he wasn't very good at it. This is something that is very effective when burning propaganda into my memory that I can still pull up useless slides of twenty years later.
Today, he’s drawing something with elaborate detail as forty students watch in bemusement.
Brick after brick, he draws the makeups of a house.
He finishes and begins to draw the outline of another house with only a few bricks on the ground.
He turns to the class.
“You see this house?” he asks, pointing to the finished one, “this is the house we are given in Shamayim. These bricks represent the Torah that we learned while in Olam Hazeh.”
Um. What the fuck?
“While the Jewish nation currently lives in Gulis, it’s very easy to forget that our purpose in the world is to serve Hashem and learn his Torah. We are not supposed to live like the Goyim with no meaning to our life.”
“What if we can’t learn?” A brave kid asks.
Rabbi Bevin slams the palm of his hand on his desk surface. “Every man is obligated to learn and to do it every day! Nobody CAN’T learn!”
“But what if we have a job?” I ask.
“It’s your job to learn,” responds the man with salary being paid by the donors who have jobs and are solely supporting the school. “Don’t let the goyishah world fool you into thinking life is about making money.”
It’s not. But its also not about disgracing the people who make your life possible.
He stood up to add one more detail to his drawing while he continued to pontificate.
“There was once a man who was very rich and spent his whole life working and neglecting Torah. He gave millions of dollars to Tzedakah every year and was a huge Baal Chessed. But do you know what happened when he died? His money didn't come with him to shamayim. He had no foundation he built because he was too busy working and not preparing for the afterlife.” He says as he finishes adding to the drawing.
He turns to face us.
I can vividly remember the drawing of the rich man huddled in a fetal position outside the fully built house.
He concluded. “Learning is the only currency you have when you die. A man cannot get into shamayim if he does not learn Torah. Money will not buy you happiness, nor will it come with you to Olam Habbah. This man has nowhere to sleep because he wasted his opportunity, not preparing for the world to come.”
Rabbi Tamer tells us a story in class:
The Chofetz Chaim was walking out of a bathhouse on Erev Shabbos and a student passed by him. While the student walked by, he noticed that the Rabbi was cutting his nails outside the bathhouse.
“Why are you doing this?” The student asked in bewilderment, “is this something I should be doing too?”
“There is a great reason for this,” he answered, “and in one week from today, I shall tell you the reasoning behind it.”
The student went home with a burning curiosity and spent the entirety of the following week reading sefarim trying to learn the halachic reasoning behind cutting your nails on Erev Shabbos.
Side note: We were told as kids that we were not allowed to cut our nails on a Thursday because it would cause them to grow on Shabbos and that is considered melacha.
When a week had passed and the student still hadn’t found an answer, he returned to the place to retrieve the information from his Rabbi.
“Rebbie, I’ve spent all week trying to find an answer,” the student told his teacher, “but I haven't found it.”
“The answer,” The CC responded wisely, “is because it’s just easier for me to cut my nails when they are soft after the bath. There is no halachic reasoning behind this.”
The student stood there dumbstruck.
“But you see,” the CC continued, “had I responded right away, you would have missed out in an entire week’s worth of learning.”
Out of rage, the student stabbed his Rabbi’s face, cut off his fingertips, and ran away pissed as fuck.
The student was delighted that he was tricked into adding more hours of learning to the notches on his belt.
Even though this story is irksome for desperately trying to manipulate the importance of Torah, I just have one question.
Why did all the Rabbis congregate in bathhouses back in the day? Did they not have a crusty pit to bathe in their backyard? It seems a little suspicious to me. I can only assume it was the hottest spot to get your payos bunched in a knot, if ya know what I mean. — Leave your tallis at the door and pull out those Bris Milas, boys!
FOURTH GRADE REVISITED:
I refuse to accept bullshit answers.
Either tell me something logical or tell me that you don’t know. I was tired of educators spewing rhetoric that was scripted jargon instead of their own contemplative thought.
“Why do girls not have to come early to school if they daven too?” I asked Rabbi Kohen, a fat bastard who offered nothing to society.
“Because women don't need a minyan. They can daven by themselves.”
“So… when they daven in a classroom full of twenty-five girls, is that not more than a minyan,” I ask, frustrated at his lack of logic. “It seems like we can do this too without waking up earlier than them.”
“This is to teach you how to properly daven for the rest of your life. The girls won’t be going to davening in the morning when they’re married because they're not halachically obligated to.”
“They’re holier than men, they don’t need ten women to be present in order to connect with Hashem. They can communicate on their own. Plus, their purpose is to be at home raising the children and building a Bayis Ne’eman. They can’t leave every morning.”
The idea of ten men being the only valid form of communication with our creator was extremely contradictory. Since a young age, we had been taught that we could talk to Hashem any time we needed to and that he was always listening.
Nothing ever added up and my questions just grew as I got more answers.
I wanted to smack the glasses off his stupid face.
Throughout the entire frum chapter of my life, I couldn't stand how men were treated like religious robots who needed to spend their lives hopping from one daytime prayer to another. They had a plethora of obligations such as wearing tefillen, chronically learning and not being seen as a factor of the family unit. They were useful for bringing home a Parnassah.
I didn't know that I was able to not listen to the decrees. I thought my adulthood would be spent following the myriad of orders and that’s all life would be. No time to spare for joy.
Being told I needed to learn to distract myself from my desires was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Men are treated as if they are minutes away from turning into rapists. All I was told was that “Men get distracted.” “Men can’t control themselves.” “Men think about dirty things all the time.” My religious teachers told us we’re disgusting and I hated being grouped into something I thought I was.
Don’t ever let someone tell you what you are.
When discussing the contents of this essay with my older brother, he had his own memories that resurfaced years later.
In our discussion, he told me, “I came home in tears one day after my Rabbi told the class that, “Anyone who doesn't learn Torah is going to Gehennom.” I was scared out of my mind and felt doomed. The next day, Mom called the principal and told him that it was unacceptable to teach young children something as outrageous as that and that she expected the issue to be addressed. When my Rebbi returned to class, he revised his statement and told us, “If you don’t learn Torah, it’s like you’re in Gehennom, because all they do in Shamayim is learn Torah, and nobody learns in Gehennom.”
As if that made it better.
You see, Momma Fagel was someone who stood her ground and spoke up against conflicting statements she knew to be illogical. But as children, we didn’t know that we were allowed to disagree with authority. Rabbis were seen as the pinnacle of all sane reasoning since that’s what we were ordered to believe.
We didn’t know that the words of our educators weren’t law.
I felt powerless at all times as a child and was taken advantage of by the grown-ups of the educational system. We weren't seen as people, but as malleable objects to be bent in the shape of their choosing.
But that only caused damage.
We are left with scars that will travel with us forever.
As former students, these men spend the entirety of their lives learning because it is what they are raised believing that it’s what they NEED to do.
Not everyone gets the chance to look at their world from an outsider’s perspective.
Did I need to know what happens if my ox goes out and kills someone? No. Did I need to know what happens if I don’t put a fence on the border of my roof? No. Will the blade of my ax ever fly off the handle and accidentally kill somebody? Probably not, but you never know.
So, today, I ask myself what is learning:
It’s whatever the fuck you want it to be.
Never let someone tell you what to believe in.
— Fagel Bagel