Parashat Noah- Noah’s Ark and the Yeshiva
We find in Humash two different structures that G-d commanded to build: Noah’s ark, and the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the wilderness. Rav Yitzchak Hutner (1906-1980) noted that there is a basic, fundamental difference between these two structures. One was built for protection, and the other for advancement. Noah had to build the Teba to protect himself and his family from the destructive floodwaters which ravaged the Earth and killed its sinful inhabitants. The Mishkan, by contrast, was a place where Beneh Yisrael could go to elevate themselves, rise to a higher level of spirituality and strengthen their connection to Hashem. This structure served a generation that was on the highest spiritual plane. This generation experienced miracles and stood at Mount Sinai when G-d gave the Torah. They learned from Moshe Rabbenu, and they lived a pure existence without any exposure to foreign influences. Unlike Noah entering the Teba, those who entered the Mishkan were not escaping anything. They were going to develop their souls and enhance their relationship to G-d.
Rav Hutner noted that the difference between these two structures is, essentially, the difference between the Yeshivot of yesteryear and the Yeshivot of today. In the Old World, whether it was in Europe, Syria or elsewhere, Jews lived in purity and devotion to G-d. Their communities were devout and protected from negative spiritual influences. The boys who went to Yeshiva were like those who went to the Mishkan, aspiring to reach towering heights. In our generation, however, we live in an immoral society whose values and culture penetrate into our lives at every turn. Our communities, unlike those of earlier generations, are exposed to the spiritually hostile influences of the surrounding society. And thus the Yeshiva in our time serves not only as a Mishkan, but, primarily, as a Teba, a source of protection. It allows our children to spend their formative years in a spiritually safe environment, shielded from the corrosive influences of contemporary society.
Hence, unlike in generations past, Yeshivah education is not an option, but a vital necessity. We cannot imagine Noah trying to survive the flood outside the Teba. By the same token, it is impossible to expect impressionable young souls to survive the “flood” of immorality and decadence that has overtaken the world in our time if they remain outside the insular, protective framework of the Yeshiva.
This is a vital message for not only parents, but also educators. The Hazon Ish (Rav Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, 1878-1953) cautioned that in our times, the decision to expel a student from Yeshiva requires a 23-member Bet Din. According to Halacha, life-and-death cases cannot be brought before a standard, three-member court; they require the adjudication of 23 expert judges. In our day and age, the Hazon Ish said, expelling a student is a matter of spiritual life and death. This is not a decision that may be made on a whim.
Unfortunately, many schools today are so caught up with preserving their reputations that they forget this vital message. Administrators must understand that in our society, where an expelled student could end up in a street or in public school, expulsion can very well become a spiritual death sentence. Such decisions must be made with the utmost caution and discretion, and with a keen awareness of the vital protective role that today’s Yeshivot fill.