Is the Parnassa Expo a threat to kollel?

With the upcoming Parnassa Expo expected to draw 10,000 attendees, mostly young men from Lakewood, the obvious question is being asked. Does this expo threaten the continued existence of kollel?
In truth, the gap between those who learn and work has been shrinking in recent years. Many communities within Lakewood consist of a harmonious blend of those who are learning and those who are working. The perception of a baleh bos to a kollel yungerman has changed over time to a mutual feeling of respect for one another. In the words of R’ Aaron Kotler, “Lakewood has dodged the bullet that plagues Bnei Brak (where work is considered a crime). ”
Duvi Honig deserves a big thank you for making the search for “something to do” other than learning a more positive experience instead of the negative stigma it used to be associated with.
If you are in kollel thinking what you should do with your life, please – come to the Parnassa Expo. It might take some guts, and you may feel ashamed. But you will learn a great deal while you are there. Just seeing the massive amounts of people, many of them not too different than the typical Lakewood kollel yungerman, is a very motivating experience. You’ll meet old friends and acquaintances that you never realized were involved in business. And you may even make a connection that helps you get started on your own.
Stay tuned for a recap of this great event.

Law is his Career, Wine is his Passion

wine conissouerAn old acquaintance of mine recently became unemployed. He is an attorney by profession. But today, being a lawyer in NYC does not present very good income opportunities. He walks around with drooped shoulders and the defeated look of a man that seems worn out from his current situation.

His passion though, is not for law. One of the things that gets him most excited and worked up is the topic of kosher wine and spirits. When I met him at a recent simcha, he was carrying on a long discussion about the different kinds of kosher wines available.

Unlike most casual drinkers, he seemed to really know a thing or two about wine. He even mentioned the names of some famous people who would consult with him on the wines they should serve at various functions they were hosting.

At the same simcha, someone asked him if he thinks going to law school is a good idea. His answer was a resounding “NO”. The job prospects for newly graduating law students are so bleak that he felt no one should put themselves in that situation.

I wonder what would happen to him if he would consider utilizing his passion for a chance at developing a successful career. There are so many different ways to develop a career around wine and spirits. Obviously, opening a liquor store is one way. Another possibility is becoming a wine broker. He even mentioned how he managed to procure a large number of cases of a very rare and unique vintage while established liquor stores could only get one or two of them. Using that skill, he can become the “go-to” person that the rich and famous get their wines for special events, earning him a fat mark up. He can do exclusive winery tours in California and upstate New York, where there are a growing number of kosher wineries that would love for him to bring tourists and connoisseurs alike. He can become a kosher wine critic, where his opinion on wine and liquor is sought out by the ever-growing number of family magazines and newspapers. He can give wine tasting shows at kosher events such as Pesach hotels, cruises, business conferences (they always have cocktail hour), and at large liquor stores.

I’m willing to bet that he can build his passion into a sizable income, earning him not just more money than a typical employed lawyer makes, but also having the opportunity of a satisfying career doing something he loves and excels at.

It’s his choice. And now, while he has no job, he has nothing to lose by trying.


Yonah – The Story of Just About Everyone

Yonah in the fishYom Kippur is approaching, and the story of Yonah features prominently in the day’s theme. I’ve already mentioned Rav Mattisyahu’s beautiful remarks on how Yonah teaches us about the meaning of life. But like everything else in the Torah, there is a deeper meaning to the simple story.

The Vilna Gaon explains the whole story of Yonah is but a mashal of the neshama of man which is sent into the world to fix others, and not only does it not fix others but it ruins itself and is forced to return as a gilgul again and again. On the boat Yonah realizes he is heading in the wrong direction, but still insists on not completing his mission. Only inside the fish, where he sat helplessly trapped does he realize the futility of running away from Hashem’s word.

Actually, inside the fish Yonah was comfortable. Chazal tell us that he had food, drink, and spiritual revelations that are beyond the scope of ordinary human comprehension. Nevertheless, it was there inside the fish that Yonah fully realized the futility of his actions, not while still on the boat. His life could be in trouble, but he only realized the truth when he was stuck in a situation where he was completely powerless to act.

Everyone suffers from the Yonah syndrome. We go through life with the attitude of life-isn’t-perfect-but-lets-just-get-by. There is a unique G-d given mission to every single person, and that is the reason why we exist on this world. For some of us (a very few), the mission is to sit and learn day and night in kollel plumbing the depths of the holy Torah. For others, their mission is to teach children. Others have a mission to go out and start a business that produces products or services that help other people while making money as they do so, and then turn around and help even more people with the money they earn.

The trouble with today’s kollel system – which is what the essence of this blog is all about – is a mashal as well. Feeling stuck and unfulfilled can be happening equally to someone learning in kollel or to a high powered Wall St. Attorney. How do you know if you are having these feelings? Just look at the story of Yonah. Do you feel that your daily activities are not leading you in the direction you want to go? Are you feeling completely powerless over your own life? These are the telltale signs that you aren’t working on your specific mission in life. When is a good time to start fixing this? On Yom Kippur – yes, the holiest day of the year – make a commitment to change direction.

Don’t be forced to come back again in order to fulfill your purpose. It’s a lot easier to change direction while you still can.

Rosh Hashana – A New Beginning

Besides all the fanfare that Rosh Hashana is a Yom Hadin, there is another aspect of the day – it is the beginning of a new year. A new year = a new beginning. What you were until today was all last year. This year is all new, untouched and unspoiled by the foolish mistakes of the past.

“I wake up every day at 9:30 while my wife gets up early to go to work…” – That was last year.

“I only learn 2-3 blatt a zman and don’t ever feel fulfilled from my learning…” – That was last year.

“I am afraid of change, so I just sit and continue doing nothing to improve my family’s situation…” – That was last year.

“I want to feel accomplished by doing something, but leaving kollel is not pashut…” – That was last year.

“I’m 46 years old, my kollel closed down, so I am looking desperately for another one that will take me in…” – That was last year.

“I haven’t done anything accomplishing with my life, am I too late…?”

No, it’s not too late. Rosh Hashana comes every year, and we can start this year without regard to the past. Rosh Hashana comes before Yom Kippur, because one has to start from a clean slate in order to do complete teshuva.

When Rosh Hashana comes around ask yourself, “If I was starting all over today, would I continue doing what I am doing?”

If the answer is no, then now is the time to change.

46 Year Old Yungerman Loses His Kollel

It’s always heartbreaking when you hear the story of a 46 year old father of 8 getting laid off from his job. But in this case, what is heartbreaking is the person’s response.

This fellow was a member of a kollel that recently closed. He was part of the kollel from when it started, and now he finds himself with no place to learn. In terms of parnossa, there was no loss of income. Whatever he earned from the kollel could easily be replaced by just a couple of hours of tutoring or private learning sessions. But, he found himself with no place to call “home”. Where was he to spend his days learning? In desperation, he applied to join another long-standing kollel in his area. To no one’s surprise, they refused to accept him. Even assuming the kollel had funds for new members, someone of that age would not be considered to fill those spots.

So, to stress the point that he is committed to the kollel, he began learning there this zman as a non-member. He figures that eventually the kollel administration will relent and accept him onto their payroll.

How sad that this fellow didn’t take the opportunity to fly free and chart his own path, and instead is insisting on keeping the status quo going as long as possible – even when it seems to be hopelessly over. After spending 25+ years of full time learning, he surely has a wealth of knowledge that can be put to use in creative ways. He could start by learning one-on-one with bochurim or even older men looking for a talmid chochom for a chavrusa. Maybe he take upon himself answering simple sha’alos, or begin a specialized shimush by a renowned mora hora’a to gain an expertise in a particular topic.

The opportunities are endless, but only for someone looking for them. His insistence on clinging to the past comes more from a fear of the unknown, than from a genuine love to continue learning.

Zev Wolfson’s Important Lesson

In the many glorious articles written about Mr. Wolfson, much has been written about his quiet and unassuming support of hundreds of Torah mosdos around the world. But one story I heard has not gotten the attention it deserves.

Joey Felsen runs the kollel in Palo Alto, California. He is a grandson-in-law of Mr. Wolfson. When he started the kollel, his grandfather gave a lump sum of money just to start it off. He then said, “Joey, you are capable enough. I’m going to let you run this one on your own.”

Wolfson certainly had the money to support one more kollel, especially his grandson’s. But being the sharp businessman he was, he knew the kollel would thrive even more when it’s very survival was in the hands of the one running it. He knew better than anyone that true success is measured by what you have accomplished with your own work, not by how much money you were handed over.

The large sums Mr. Wolfson gave to tzedaka is a great and noble deed, no doubt, but that is something most of us will never be able to emulate. However, the lesson of success he taught his grandson is something we all are in a position to learn from and incorporate into our own lives.

Life Without Risk…

…equals a life without reward. The only investments that are risk-free, are paying 0.04% interest. For something to grow, you have to be willing to risk it.

The same is true with people. If you want them to produce, you need to introduce risk. The best way to motivate an employee is if they know they’ll otherwise be out of a job.

Kollel is a paradox of sorts. On the surface, it sounds so perfect. Give money to those who can learn so that they should be able learn. It’s a great idea to increase Torah and to develop talmidei chachamim.

But what’s missing is risk. There is no risk associated with learning in kollel, and so there is very little reward. While it’s true there are a few truly self-motivated individuals, there are far too many who are not utilitzing the full extent of their capabilities. The grand idea of “investing in Torah” by supporting a kollel then translates into a poor return on investment.

A 32 year old relative of mine was stunned and felt depressed when his elderly Rosh Yeshiva told him to start looking for a job. Although the Rosh Yeshiva was referring to a position in chinuch, he thought that he was learning well in kollel and should continue. What the Rosh Yeshiva was telling him is to introduce risk into his life. When the fear of losing a job is hanging over your head, there is no better motivator to produce.

As parents, we are naturally inclined to protect our children, to do everything we can for them. So when it comes time to marry them off, we try to make sure they are set up with no worries, and they are financially set as they begin their life in kollel. But when we do so, we are robbing them of their motivation to produce returns. Are we really taking care of them when we “set them up”?

Take a step back and let them cross the rope of life on their own. There’s nothing that can compare to the feeling of satisfaction when they reach the other side on their own – without you holding them the entire way.

Waking up Too Late?

it's not too late to find something to doWe are taught early on the importance of learning torah, and that leads us to believe that all we should do is learn, while ignoring the realities of life. But what happens when one wakes up from his stupor and it’s too late?

As a person in business, I wake up each day with my mission and goals clearly set out in front of me. I need to accomplish X, figure out Y, take care of Z. Usually, the day ends and I already have a full list for the next day and the day after. But someone learns in kollel with no end in sight, most of the time there are no goals, no objectives, and no sense of purpose. They wake up each morning dreading the day ahead, and their marriages are hanging on only because the alternative – getting divorced – is too difficult to pull off.

There is a HUGE crisis going on now in Lakewood. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of kollel yungerleit are waking up too late. They are beginning to realize that it is about time they do something productive with their lives, and that means finding a career. But finding a career, especially at age 35 or more, can be extremely difficult. Supporting a family at that stage of the game is no easy feat, even for those with a good job, let alone someone who is coming into the workforce with absolutely no skills or experience, other than claiming to be “good with numbers…”.

Listen up. If you are in this situation, all is not lost. You have to be willing to face the harsh reality that is your life, and realize that it is no one else’s fault, it’s your problem. Now that it’s your problem, you – and only you, have got to fix it. There really is no such thing as too late. Figure out what your mission is in life, and how you can bring that to the world. Decide for once, that I will do whatever is legally and ethincally proper to carry out that mission.

Businesses all over are looking for solutions to seemingly thorny problems. They will pay ANY price to resolve them. Yesterday, a rich investor contacted me about a high end property that he has no idea how to sell, and would pay an insane commission to the person that gets it sold. Today, a group of business people sat around in meeting totally stumped over what is the most effective way to sell an inexpensive device to a public that has no idea what it is or why they would have a need for it, but has the potential to bring in $10 million a year or more.

Wake up, realize where you stand, and tackle the challenge head on. Yes – you can do it. It’s not too late.

Shavuos – What’s the Party All About?

I recently came across a beautiful vort that explains the yom tov of Shavuos so well, and the powerful lesson that can be learned from it, so I will share it here.

In the times of the second beis hamikdash, the baysusim would spare no effort to manipulate the testimony of the new moon for Nissan so that it should come out on Shabbos, thereby causing Shavuos to fall out on Sunday (in accordance with their explanation of “mimochoras ha’shabbos). They would go so far to hire witnesses to testify falesly, and even try to kill witnesses that were on the way to testify not in accordance with their liking. Why were they so keen on this specific matter? Did it really make such a difference to them if Shavuos comes out on Sunday or any other day of the week?

The Meshech Chochma explains, that the difference lies in the fundamental reason of the Yom Tov of Shavuos. According to our tradition, Shavuos is the day of Matan Torah – 50 days after leaving Egypt. While according to the baysusim, Shavuos is not related to Matan Torah at all, rather it is just a holiday celebrating the agricultural harvest. Why not celebrate Matan Torah? Because at the time of Matan Torah, Hashem had to force the Jews to accept the Torah (Kofeh Aleyhem Har K’Gigis), so there is not rejoicing or reason to celebrate a forced acceptance. But as Chazal teach us, that forced acceptance was only for the Oral Torah. The Written Torah on the other hand, was accepted willingly (Naaseh V’nishma). Therefore, us who believe in the truth of the Oral Torah have a reason to celebrate the Giving of the Torah on Shavuos, while the baysusim who do not have two Torahs are of the belief that it was all force, removing any reason to celebrate.

When learning in kollel, you are spending most of the day learning Torah. Some people learning Torah out of sheer pleasure and enjoyment, while others are learning because it is their job (or forced into it). What does Shavuos mean to you? Are you celebrating the Giving of the Torah that took place on this day, or is the Yom Tov just a seasonal event celebrating the spring harvest? If it is the former, you are a great representative of klal yisroel. But if you are just doing it because it is your job, then perhaps it is time to look for other endeavors – those that can bring in a parnossa for you and your family.

Surely, with your new occupation, you can begin to work on restoring your appreciation for the true beauty of Torah – and join in celebrating teh

The reason you celebrate a Yom Tov has all to do with what the Yom Tov is for. Are you truly rejoicing the giving of the Torah, or are you just happy that its the spring time again?


The Citi Field Internet Asifa – What’s Really the Point?

On Sunday, tens of thousands of yidden from all sectors will come together to Citi Field to take part in the “Kinnus Klal Yisroel” – to hear about the dangers of the internet and technology and how to deal with these issues.

I too am going, and so are many others. But I also have quite a few friends that never ordered tickets and don’t plan on going, because they have asked, “What is the point? We know about the internet, we’ve long ago heard about the dangers of technology, so why are the gedolim shlepping us to a stadium to hear endless speeches about a topic that is 10 year old news?”

The truth is, their objections make sense. We aren’t quite sure what the point is. So why are we all going? And for what purpose did the gedolim call for this strange kind of mass gathering that seems to serve no purpose other than to stir up lots of speculation and politics?

Let me throw in my opinion, just for the fun of it. Rav Mattisyahu Salomon, who by all counts is the driving force behind this asifa, is both a wise and responsible person. He is in a leadership position where he sees – day in and day out – the devastating effects the internet is having on both children and adults. He has stated repeatedly that this is a nissayon of unparalleled dimensions, and that if Chazal would be in this generation they would decree an issur yichud on a computer.

Therefore, he feels strongly that something must be done. The question is – what can be done? How can a single person, or even a whole signed paper of rabbonim stop something that has grown to be much greater than “a tool for doing business”, and instead has become a part of our everyday (and every minute of our) lives (as evidenced by the fact you are reading this post).

His thinking is – we will arrange this asifa and that will be our hishtadlus. After that, Hashem will take over. The forces they are trying to fight are too powerful to be fought by humans alone. Therefore, he is arranging this gathering as a way of “handing over the issue” to a Higher power.

Is this foolish thinking? Many people think it is, and that the problems that we must resign ourselves to the way things are. But the reality is, history has shown that so-called insurmountable problems have been overcome. 80 years ago was the nissayon of keeping Shabbos, 180 years ago was the nissayon of haskala, 100 years ago Zionism, and 40 years ago was a thing called television. None of these are serious problems anymore, even though no one particular person or group was responsible for eradicating them. They “went away by themselves,” – meaning, of course, that Hashem took over.

So why are we are going to the asifa? We are going with the understanding that while we can’t necessarily solve the problem ourselves, we are willing and ready to submit it to a Higher Authority.