A Moral Dilemma in the Glueck Beit Midrash
Recently, an experience in the Glueck beit midrash left me shocked and upset by our Yeshiva’s student body. Tens of high-caliber Mazer Yeshiva Program (MYP) bachurim, the alleged cream of the crop, stared their morals in the face, and, in my eyes, neglected to rise to the challenge.
I was learning on the second floor of the Glueck beit midrash during morning Seder that day. At some point, someone from our Shiur crow’s nest noticed a young kid, maybe a middle-schooler or high-schooler, sitting on the first floor in one of the front seats of the beit midrash demarcated with immobile Schtenders as reserved exclusively for the Roshei Yeshiva. Around his neck hung a visitor’s pass, indicating he was not a YU student, and was perhaps a prospective student. His choice of seating was truly an innocent mistake.
So what stuck out in this scene before me? As the prospective student sat there on his phone, it was clear to me he was not being malicious. I cannot be angry at someone who is completely oblivious to the actions they are taking, especially when a quick word would immediately resolve it.
It is this exact point in which my distress lies. For that half an hour, as I studied, I periodically looked back up to see the teen still in that seat. I, sitting a floor above the chair in question, had been relying on those Talmidim below me to remedy the situation. An entire section of the beit midrash had walked within three feet of him to go to early Shiur and yet not a single person said anything to this kid. I assumed at least one guy in that large area of the room would notice and take care of it. To my dismay, I watched every person stare at this oblivious boy, some commenting to each other about his clear mistake, but passing on without a word to him. One by one, each MYP bachur took their turn to gawk at the scene and do nothing about it.
Perturbed, I sent a WhatsApp message to two different bachurim on the first floor. While one didn’t have his phone on him during Seder, the other looked up at me from where he stood, a few steps away from remedying this kid’s obliviousness, and made a gesture that said “who am I to tell him?” I would answer to my friend that he himself is someone we, as a community, should hold to a standard.
This Talmid might ask, “Why should I even say anything? What’s the harm in letting the kid sit there?” The answer is twofold. There is a component on the child and a component on us, the Talmidim of YU.
Firstly, this kid would be mortified if one of the Roshei Yeshiva were to come up to him and ask him to move. A regular guy quietly informing of his mistake would be a much easier pill to swallow and would surely reduce any social anxiety or awkwardness he might feel upon being approached by a Rav.
Secondly, we in our Yeshiva pride ourselves on how we respect our rebbeim and Roshei Yeshiva. Kavod HaRav is a standard in this institution where MYP guys like to think themselves the elite. We stand up for our rebbeim when they walk in the room and we hang on to their every word. Supposedly. The moment they are not around, do we stop caring about their Kavod? Under the threat of slight awkwardness in approaching a prospective student, one who is not being malicious and is simply unaware of his actions, do all our morals drop away? Does a fleeting moment of social anxiety hold us back from our duty?
By the time I had concluded no one would take care of the problem and had gone downstairs myself to quietly speak to the kid, a courageous Tzaddik had finally come and made a quick comment, and the seats were quickly changed.
I believe, from the second floor of Glueck, I am privy to witnessing the future Gedolei HaDor at the beginning of their journeys. But perhaps some fear is warranted for our community’s future when Psak will have to be made by these up-and-coming Gedolim who may only make decisions based on what is easy, not what is right. It is a shame that this is where we are and I can only hope that these amazing people, who have all of the right morals and Torah knowledge, grow a spine and stand up for all we hold dear.
But in every moment of Mussar, there is a moment of self-reflection. There is a fellow student in my Shiur who is known for his strong sense of duty, who will drop everything and run to accomplish his goals. This is true even if he sees another going to do the same task. So while I was convinced at the time that the others down below would take care of this mission of Kavod HaRav, and that I was too far away and too busy with my own learning, perhaps these are simply excuses against my jumping up and running down myself. Even if someone would have told the kid to move before I arrived, my Sechar would be the same for just trying. The minimal effort I put in doesn’t cover my own lack of Zerizut. So in this period of Sefirat HaOmer, when we mourn the tragic result of a lack of Kavod HaTorah, I call upon myself and my peers to introspect and rise to the challenge when duty inevitably calls.
Photo Caption: The Jacob and Dreizel Glueck Center for Jewish Study, home of the Glueck Beit Midrash
Photo Credit: Yeshiva University