This week’s Torah reading, Parshas Vayigash, describes the migration of Jacob’s family to
Egypt. As the clan neared Egypt, the verse says (46:28) that Jacob sent his son
Judah ahead to arrange matters for them. What was it that Judah was sent to
arrange? Rashi tells us that Jacob had sent Judah to establish a Yeshivah,
nothing less than a place designated for Torah education. The fact that this was
the foremost matter on Jacob’s mind at this time is astounding. Here he was,
moving to a new country with a large household, and the first thing on his mind
is that there should be a Yeshivah ready for them when they come! This clearly
highlights for us the pivotal role Yeshivos hold in a Jew’s life.

My wife’s grandfather grew up in Portland, Maine, and he describes the
sad deterioration of its Jewish community. When he was born, the community
boasted about eight hundred Jewish families and two large, vibrant synagogues,
operating full time, plus an additional one which functioned on Sabbath. There
was a Talmud Torah, which offered minimal Torah education for the children a
couple of times a week, but no Yeshivah. Of the eight hundred Jewish families
residing there, only three sent their kids away to study in a Yeshivah. Sadly, none
of the children of the rest of the families ended up being too observant,
and their connection to Judaism was lost. Before long, almost no sign of Jewish
life remained in Portland.

When the Brisker Rov, Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveichik, was once
confronted with a quest to make a decision regarding Yeshivos, he made sure to
stress the gravity of the matter by stating, “The Yeshivos are the heart of the
Jewish Nation!” Torah study is not just a high priority. Torah education is what
the life of a Jew revolves around, and its institutions are what ensure our
continuity. A Jew is not just a member of a certain ethnic group. Nor is being
Jewish about eating bagels and lox. Merely following Jewish customs doesn’t cut
it either.

Judaism is about living a life of higher standards as dictated by the
Torah, following its laws and pursuing Torah ideals. If we fail to build, support or
properly respect institutions of Torah education, where will we gain this crucial
knowledge from?! Without Torah institutions dedicated to educate the next
generation properly, before long, all of what a Jew stands for will be lost.

This ought to give us a new appreciation of our schools which instill Torah
lessons in our youth and the various classes or sessions offering further Torah
education for adults
. It’s easy to find criticism regarding any institution or
program. When a person once came to Rabbi Yisroel Belsky to voice his
complaints about Yeshivos, Rabbi Belsky told him, “I will listen to everything you
have to say. However, when you mention ‘Yeshivos,’ I want you to say, ‘the holy
Yeshivos.'” Upon hearing this, the man stopped in his tracks, with nothing
further to say.

We must never forget how precious our centers for Torah education are,
and we must always make certain that we hold them in high esteem. Already
since the days of our forefather Jacob, Yeshivos have been recognized as the top
priority of our people. For these holy institutions constitute the heart of the
Jewish Nation.

Parshas Vayigash by Rabbi Yitzchok Aryeh Strimber (

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