Study must lead to a better world

By Rabbi Hershel Spalter, Chabad of Greater Dayton

As graduations lead into summer, the connection between them and our lives becomes clear.

When my Zaydie (grandfather) visited me when I studied at a yeshiva high school, he shared with me a lesson his father had taught him.

What he said at first did not seem important. “When your break comes, be sure to go out and play. Just as it is important to spend the time in class learning, it is important to spend the time during recess playing.”

It took me some time to realize the depth of his message.

Rabbi Hershel Spalter
Rabbi Hershel Spalter

In Hebrew, a graduation is a siyum. Generally translated as completion or finishing, we use this word to denote the transition from one stage of life to the next. In our practice, a siyum expresses not only moving on to new things, but also a desire and need to return to the very subject we have just completed.

For example, when we complete the reading of the entire Torah on the holiday of Simchat Torah, we immediately call someone back up to read from the beginning of the scroll.

After completing a tractate of Talmud, the customary prayer begins “we shall return to you,” expressing a desire not only to study other tractates, but to return again to this subject we have just studied.

We are never really done; we have simply graduated one level, and must use what we have learned to then apply these values to our life at a higher level.

This, then, is the true meaning of a Jewish graduation. School might be over, but the learning must now begin.

And it begins with summer.

Our sages write in Pirke Avot, Ethics of our Fathers, “Action, rather than learning, is most important.”

Consider: what is the main purpose of school? Beyond the financial benefit of a diploma and degree, surely one can understand that school teaches life skills so one can lead a constructive life. Everyone can easily understand the ultimate goal of study is not to sit in an ivory tower. Rather it is to apply one’s studies and learned lessons to the betterment of self and to the betterment of the world.

Our study must lead to a better world. In theory, this seems easy. Upon graduation, we pump ourselves full of enthusiasm, sure that we will make our mark in the world with our first step out of school. But before we continue with our dreams of all we want to accomplish, we encounter summer.

Summer is that opportunity my grandfather wanted me to make the most of. It may appear that vacation is a time to just focus on having fun. Whether going to camp, taking a road trip, or visiting family, we try to enjoy ourselves in ways we can’t during the school year.

Regardless of where we travel, there are some things we can never leave behind. Our dedication to the principles that our tradition gives us must stand and even grow to take fullest advantage of the relaxation and freedom which is afforded to us upon beginning the summer break.

Every step away from school, be it recess or vacation, is a chance to recommit to our Jewish mission of elevating the world.

Those few weeks of freedom can be used to return to the values we learned long before high school.

We make a siyum, stepping away from our studies to truly live them. As we live in an environment that doesn’t have the same strictures, we can put ourselves to the test.

Are you a person who, when free of supervision, immediately throws away all responsibility? Or are you among those who, when faced with the opportunity to act and apply your lessons, step up and meet the responsibilities conferred with the diploma?

We were given a beautiful world, and the time to enjoy it. Now it is recess time, so use it well. Play and grow during this stage of your life, getting yourself ready to rejoin your work happily and joyfully at a higher level.

My grandfather taught me that.

To read the complete June 2016 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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