New Learn/Work Kollel to Open in Detroit

In what seems to be a slowly increasing phenomenon, a Detroit kollel is seeking to recruit a few new members, but with a catch. The new members will learn in the kollel from September through May, but in the summer months they will spend their time toiling in another occupation – they will be working for Madison Title of Lakewood.

The plan is to try and attract new members to the Detroit (Lakewood) Kollel, which was started 25 years ago by Rabbi Moshe Schwab, but without having the usual expenses of recruiting young families from Lakewood to join an out-of-town kollel. Under the plan, these new members would be working just a few months a year for Madison Title, who would pay them the bulk of their annual salary, while allowing the kollel to benefit from the additional members the rest of the year for just a fraction of the normal cost.

It is a reasonable concept, and one that would be expected to spread rapidly if it is at all successful. What would attract these members to the program would not be the money, but the challenge and novelty of discovering both a new community and a new career. Obviously, these yungerleit would be getting their feet wet in the real estate market while they are in kollel, thereby getting experience and a taste of the working world that they will eventually be joining.

However, I don’t believe the program will work out as planned. When these kollel yungerleit begin their ”working term” in June, right away it will become apparent that some of them are going to be great at the job, while others will be not so great. The home office of Madison Title back in Lakewood will surely take notice of the individual perfomance of the new members. Are they really going to let the star performers leave their jobs after 3 months to return to their seat in the kollel for 9 months? And are they really going to rehire the lousy ones one year later when June rolls around?

One really needs to believe in the supremacy of Torah learning over anything else in order to make this work as planned. While many people claim to have that belief, experience has shown that this is a rarity. Learning Torah is important to people. But making money usually trumps it.

What Do You Not Know How to Do?

As bein hazmanim rolls around, I want you to ask yourself the question, “What don’t I know how to do?” Every man learning in kollel, without exception, uses this time to ostensibly “get ready” for yom tov. This includes fixing things around the house, finding interesting places to go on vacation, even dabble a bit in some business ideas. There is no shortage of creativity or talent during bein hazmanim.

So when the time comes to ask yourself the question “What should I do when its time to leave kollel?,” you should already have many options to explore. If during bein hazmanim, when the pressure of having to be in the beis medrash learning is not around, you can find things to do that occupy your day, why can’t you do that all year ’round?

It’s bein hazmanim now. Allow yourself to naturally drift towards doing what it is that you were put on this world to do. Don’t sit around doing nothing just because there is nothing to do. Use this time as a chance to explore your natural talents and inclinations, and you’ll come into the new z’man without the usual self doubts that accompany one who doesn’t know where he is heading in life.

An old post, but a good one: Advice for Kollel Yungerleit during Bein Hazmanim.

Putting Yourself on the Map

A father of a girl in shidduchim had an interesting observation. As is the case with many eligible girls, the phone hasn’t been ringing with shidduchim for her. He realizes that the way things appear now, his daughter will not receive a fair amount of attention from the shadchanim. His idea – to put out a sefer on a topic that he has spent much time learning and writing about. That way, “I’ll be on the map”, he says.

Someone in kollel faces the problem on “not being on the map”. Aside from the fact that there is very little way to distinguish oneself, there is also the lack of any tangible accomplishments that one can use to point to as their answer to “what do you do?” (Please note: This is not to chas v’shalom put down the accomplishments of learning all day for years on end. Its just that the accomplishment is not something that is easily recognized and assigned value to in this world.)

What can you do to put yourself on the map? Figure out what it is, and don’t wait until your daughter is in shidduchim to do it. Put yourself on the map way before then, and by then it may have grown into a landmark of sizable proportions.

Dulling Yourself to the Pain of Accepting Help

taking tzedakaThere used to be a shame or guilt associated with accepting help from other people. Actually, it’s something that we recite every day in benching – “And may we not come to the need of others, not for the the presents of mortals nor their loans, only for the good of Your hand…”. The seforim are replete with examples – calling free reward “the bread of shame”. In kollel, you can become dulled into accepting gifts as a way of life, without realizing that you are losing this sensitivity.

No one is getting financial support for free. There are “always” strings attached. When you accept a gift from someone, especially a recurring gift of a substantial amount that people in kollel find themselves taking on a regular basis, your senses are dulled into thinking this is a way of life. Taking from people becomes a means of survival, not the shameful activity that it truly is. It starts off as taking gifts, and pretty soon it is followed by taking from tzedaka.

This past Purim in Lakewood, I took note of the many hundreds of signs hanging in the shuls and batei medrashim for various local matanos l’evyonim campaigns. But what was worth noticing even more were the thousands of men collecting matanos l’evyonim for people they know (and one wonders if some of them were even surreptitiously collecting for themselves!).

Yes, it is true that there are lots of families in need, and all them do qualify as evyonim. But I wonder, if they hadn’t become acclimated to taking from others from years past, would they now be on the receiving end of tzedaka? Perhaps they would have learned the concept of “carrying your own weight” early on, and not have fallen to the shameful and terrible state of having to accept tzedaka.

Don’t go down that slippery slope of dulling yourself to the pain of taking from others. It’s much too painful when you hit bottom.

Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveitchik’s Red Line

rav avrohom yehoshua soloveitchik

Photo courtesy of

Recently, Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveitchik told someone this story: A wealthy man had come to Eretz Yisroel to complete a business deal which netted him a profit of $12 million. He wished to distribute the maaser to a worthy organization, and someone recommended him to give the money to Yeshivas Brisk. He came to Rav Avrohom Yehoshua, and handed him a check for $3 million. Rav Avrohom Yehoshua thanked him for his donation, but told the man that he would first need to verify that the money is from kosher sources before he can accept it.

Rav Avrohom Yehoshua then instructed his assistants to investigate the “sources” of the money. They were to verify three things about the business: a) none of it is stolen b) none of it comes from Shabbos desecration c) none of it is from immoral activities.

After some time, the research turned out to be inconclusive, and they reported back to Rav Avrohom Yehoshua that they could not determine with certainty that the money was 100% kosher. Rav Avrohom Yehoshua returned the check to the donor, uncashed.

We’re not finished yet – Rav Avrohom Yehoshua continued, “And do you think that all during this time I couldn’t sleep because I was wondering about the outcome? No, I slept like a baby without giving it a second thought!”

For Rav Avrohom Yehoshua, to take money from questionable sources means to cross a big bright red line, one that should not – and will not – be crossed Just like Shabbos and eating Kosher food is to us. Most of us would not be tempted to desecrate Shabbos for a financial gain, even if it were substantial. Because Shabbos to us is a “Red Line” – never to be crossed for any purpose. And we wouldn’t lose sleep over it, either.

What is your red line?

Dealing With (Irrational) Fear

An often expressed feeling about leaving kollel is the fear of not making enough money in the beginning to support your family. This fear is usually unjustfied, becasue if you were able to make it before leaving kollel, when working you should certainly be able to make it. For the typical yungerman in Lakewood yeshiva, their average annual income is somewhere in the area of $4,500. Every penny earned above that amount is pure gain.

But in order to conquer the irrational fear, one cannot ignore it, rather it has to be tackled head on.

Imagine if you were working in a dead end job, earning $7.25/hr. If you work 40 hours a week, that equals a $14,500 a year salary. Take away taxes, leaving you with a little more than $12k. That is still way more (3x more, to be exact) than what you were earning in kollel. Finding a job that only pays minimum wage are hard to come by. Most jobs that I know for post-kollel men pay anywhere from $20-25 an hour with lots of room for advancement. So its not about the money, is it?

You may be concerned about losing eligibility for government assistance programs, such as food stamps and medicaid. For those, there is somewhat of a concern, but you can usually outearn whatever benefits you do receive rather quickly. (The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)  is still available for households earning less than $49,078 in 2011, which most likely you will still qualify for.) Besides, providing for your family and weaning yourself off governemnt assistance is a wise decision and very worthwhile for the long term, even if may cause some short term discomfort.

What about family support? This is something you can bring up with them directly. I imagine that a family member would be very gracious and understanding, especially if it means that you are working on way to provide for your future. Family love it when they hear you have a “plan”.

So these fears, like most fears, are mostly unfounded. FEAR stands for False Evidence Appearing Real, and this one is no exception. Realize this – the same siyata d’shmaya that got you through your years in kollel will get you through the next few years of starting to work. Why waste your time and energy worrying about purely imaginative problems. when you can devote your mental energy to devising creative ways to provide for your family? It’s true that’s it not easy, but it surely beats the alternative of sitting back and not doing anything.

Take on the risk – and come to realize that its not much of a risk after all.

Is Day Trading a Good Parnossa for Post-Kollel?

A few days ago I got an email asking if day trading is a good opportunity to go into for those looking to leave kollel. Obviously, the draw towards day trading is that the barrier to entry is low – anyone with a few bucks and a computer can get in. Stories abound about those who have made fortunes from trading, so it seems like an interesting path to pursue.

I am no career expert, but I have seen many businesses and business people try their hands at various different ventures, so I will take the liberty of expressing my opinion. Day trading, as far as I can tell, is a form of legalized gambling. There is a very big difference between investing in the stock market for long term returns, and doing ultra-short term trading, which is highly risky. Investors have a time frame of 5, 10, 20 years or more, for which the historical evidence of positive returns prove that the rewards far outweigh the risk. However, when it comes to day trading there is no historical data. Day traders have to open and close positions in a matter of minutes, often using borrowed money at a ratio of 3:1. In the span of a few minutes, tens of thousands of dollars can be gained or lost. (A couple of years back, a former day trader told me how while he is trading he doesn’t get up from his seat even to go to the bathroom!) It is not for the faint of heart, and contrary to what many believe, there are no “secrets” on how to beat the system.

[Try to find someone who has been successfully day trading for 10 years or longer. You won't be able to find any because they don't exist.]

But there is a deeper issue regarding day trading that should turn any respectable frum yid away from getting involved in it.

Chazal give us a list of those who are passul l’eidus, and in the list are dice players, a.k.a. gamblers. The reason why is because they are not involved in a beneficial work for settling the earth, i.e. their occupation does not immediately provide a benefit to the world.

This tells us something about going to work. When one takes upon the responsibility of earning a living, it should not be done just for the sake of making money – even if the goal is to support one’s family with that money. If that was the case, there would be nothing unacceptable about gambling (as long as you can handle the risk). But working is not just about yourself, it is so that you benefit others with your work by creating products or services that help settle the world. Groceries, insurance, building contractors, tax preparers, attorneys, and even stock brokers are all about helping others – if that wasn’t their primary goal they would not have a business. But a day trader is all about himself. No one benefits from his occupation, and so he is missing out the vital aspect of doing good onto others that is present with every other occupation. So much so, that Chazal felt that such a person cannot be trusted to testify honestly.

If you did spend years learning in kollel, does it make any sense to transition into an occupation that Chazal did not approve of? From the thousands of opportunities that are out there, please realize not all that glitters is gold. What seems easy to get into will cause you lots of heartache, and is not something that makes you a good person in the process. Choose an occupation that helps others. There really isn’t any other choice.

Path to the Exit – Part 5

Once one has decided on a career path, how do you go about finding an actual opportunity?

Believe it or not, this is actually the easy part. The difficult part is figuring out what to do, the easy part is finding where to do it.

Opportunities exist everywhere in the frum market, you just need to know where to look. Its not as easy as opening a Yated and looking through the help wanted ads, those jobs are not the ones we are talking about. But once you begin to network, you will find plenty of leads – provided that you have already firmly decided on a career path.

Keep the following in mind when looking for a position:

  1. The first position will not be your dream job – its just a place to get started. It doesn’t need to be perfect, or even pay too much. It just needs to be a start.
  2. You must bring something to the table when offering your services. If you just show up looking for any job out there, don’t expect to be respected. But if you come with some sort of skill that you “specialize” in, that will give you credibility and get you noticed.
  3. Friends and family are a good place to get referrals from, but not to work for. They can be of great help in talking to other people they know to help you find something. But don’t try the easy way out of getting a job with them. Even if you do bring valuable skills to their business, they will always consider your job as a chessed on their part, and will not value your work accordingly. It’s better to sweat it out in the beginning by finding a job where you “earn” your way in the door, rather than being “given” a job as a favor that will always be remembered as such.

Our community is very well networked with one another. We have each other looking out for us and providing us with opportunities that are so hard to come by through ordinary means. It really doesn’t take much more than “putting yourself out” by informing friends, family, fellow shul mispalilem, and askanim that you are looking for a job. You may be surprised, but it is amazing how the community looks out to help each other, especially with regards to parnossa. But you have to put yourself out there in order to find something. Don’t expect opportunity to come knocking by itself.


So Many Candidates but No One to Choose

seeking qualified rebbe for high school jobI just heard about a well established yeshiva looking for a high school rebbe. The current rebbe is set to leave next year after many years of teaching, and there is a lot of pressure to find a suitable replacement in time to calm the parents and the talmidim who are choosing mesivtas for the coming year. You can imagine that with 6,000 yungerleit in Lakewood looking for shtelers, this would be the opportunity of the century, and the yeshiva would have a long line of suitable candidates to choose from.

But sadly, that is not the case. The yeshiva has already been struggling for over a month with no obvious choice in sight. Even though there are thousands of people who want the position, the yeshiva doesn’t want them. The opposite is true as well. There are qualified candidates whom the yeshiva wants for them to take the job, but they don’t want the yeshiva. This leads to the obvious question – with so many talmidei chachamim waiting for positions, why is it so difficult to find someone? Surely from the thousands of kollel yungerleit it should be no big deal to come up with the right person?

The answer is that the person being sought needs to have qualifications that none of those vying for the job actually have. If all the yeshiva needed was someone capable of saying a high school level shiur, that would be no big deal to find. But the yeshiva is looking for something else – a successful rebbe. They are looking for someoen to fill in the void left by the previous rebbe who was considered a success. To find a maggid shiur, that is easy. To find a successful maggid shiur, that is impossible. So impossible, that the yeshiva would be willing to pay an outrageous salary to the “right” person. (And this is while others are willing to work for free just to get a shteler.)

Keep this in mind when looking for a shteler. Even the few positions a year that do open up, are not looking for someone who knows how to say a shiur. Those people are in great supply. The challenge is to become someone who will be a “guaranteed” success. That is a much more difficult accomplishment to achieve. And it is those people who are getting wooed with all the good offers that are out there.

Life Lessons from Chanuka

jug of oil for chanukaA lesson we can all take away from the story of Chanuka: How a few Macabbim were able to rout the entire Greek army was certainly a miracle. But hidden beneath all the glory is a troubling mystery – What were they thinking? How could Mattisyahu and his sons even imagine they would possibly succeed? If they would’ve been crushed, which is what should have happened, everyone would have described their deaths not as martyrs but rather as suicidal.

I heard the answer to this from Rav Mattisyahu Salomon. He said that Jews are not bound by typical odds. Sheer numbers are not the deciding factor when it comes to an outcome involving yidden. Our fate is handled with special hashgacha from Above, where odds and favorites don’t have the same power they do for the rest of the world. The knowledge that they were fighting for the preservation of Torah and the kedusha of Am Yisroel gave them the courage to attack the Greeks even against the overwhelming odds, because odds aren’t a factor in battles such as these.

When considering the odds of succeeding in establishing a source of parnossah for your family, you may be tempted to say the odds are stacked against you. Thoughts of, “How can I, an illeterate uneducated yeshiva guy, possibly have success in business when so many others that are “better” than me have failed?” But when odds don’t play a role, these thoughts become a non-issue. The “fight” is for a noble cause, so chances and odds of success are not what determines the outcome. But your only chance of succeeding is if you try. Mattisyahu and his sons would not have been successful had they not started fighting. And once they did, they were successful beyond their wildest imagination.

That can happen with you too – if you are willing to give it a chance. Not if you sit back and do nothing.