When you leave kollel, it’s a major shift in your mindset and how you identify yourself, and you may have many confusing thoughts and feelings. This is how you can make sense of all of them.
Haven’t yet decided what career you want to pursue? Check out the first post in this series.
You’ve come to a decision. You’ve spoken with industry leaders, as well as with those working lower down on the totem pole. You and your wife have conferred with your mentor, and you’re both satisfied with what this career path may mean to you on a spiritual level. You’ve determined that this is it. The financial future looks good, expected hours are acceptable, the commute means you’ll be home for bedtime (yours? The kids’? Gotta look into that again). You’ve looked into what kind of education you’re going to need in order to move down the path you’ve chosen in a professionally respectable way. You’ve determined that it’s not beyond your reach.
Now comes the big step. It’s time to leave.
Up until now, your research and analysis has been theoretical. From here on, it’s real. This is going to be your life going forward. You’re going to feel the difference, both in terms of the practical and logistical details, and in terms of the spiritual parts of your life.
Whether you’re going cold turkey, jumping into full time school and driving an Uber on the side to pay the bills, or staying one or two sedorim in yeshiva while your plumbing business builds, there’s a feeling of loss when the average yungerman steps out of the beis medrash for the last time as a full time member of the kollel. It may seem like a small step for other men, but it’s a giant one for you.
There are a lot of different factors that contribute to this particular difficulty. It’s worth sitting down with someone to sort through it. Here’s a brief sampling of thoughts that go through the minds of many people:
- “I failed.”
- “I’m scared.”
- “How will my friends look at me?”
- “How can I let my wife down like this? She married a learner, not a (fill in the blank).”
- “I’m never going to be able to learn again. My growing years are over.”
- “Hashem is upset at me because I didn’t learn/daven/ act appropriately. That’s why this happened.”
There are more, obviously. Everyone has their own experience to work through, their own mindset to struggle with. If you give it some thought, you may begin to notice that whatever mindset is present when you leave is closely related to the mindset you went in to kollel with. It may be the exact same one, or just a close extension. There’s nothing new under the sun in general, and certainly not in terms of your emotional reactions.
This is not an easy perspective to consider. While in yeshiva, you staved off that mindset, that little voice, by being involved in learning. Something about learning full time helped you to feel better about yourself. How can you combat these thoughts now? You’re going to need some kind of answer, and a valid one at that. The little voice won’t be satisfied with answers that don’t really address the core issues. It’s important to understand where these ideas originally stem from.
In speaking with numerous yungerleit, it’s come out that there are largely two underlying motivations that urge people to go into kollel. They may be dressed up differently, but they generally fall under two categories. Those two are l’shmah and shelo l’shma.
This may seem harsh. “What do you mean? Of course I’m learning l’shma! I was working towards becoming a talmid chacham!” This may be true, and I don’t mean to attack anyone’s motivations for doing what they’re doing. This is an important point to consider, though, and may help people come to terms with and thrive in their new situation.
When a person does something purely l’shma, or because that’s what Hashem wants, there’s a huge degree of self-bittul that’s involved. The ideal mindset of someone learning l’shma would be, “My own needs and interests don’t matter right now. I’m channeling my strengths and talents into learning, because this is what Hashem wants. This is what I’m going to do, at least for right now.” The addition of personal negius, or lack of bittul, is where the “I” creeps into it. “It’s what Hashem wants. It’s also what my wife/rebbi/parents want. My friends look up to me for it, and I like feeling good about learning. Gonna get me some Gan Eden, too.” The most dangerous one: “Hashem will be angry at me for not learning.”
If you’re honestly doing it for the sake of Hashem, consider that just as Hashem put you in a position to learn up until now, He’s putting you in a different position going forward. You need to do yours, and you need to live in the situation He’s given you. That’s what He wants from you. Leaving kollel ends up being not such a big shift in mindset. It’s a simple matter of practicality: How can I do what He wants in this situation? If you work with it, you’ll figure it out. You may need some assistance, but you’ll get there if that’s your goal.
When you worry about what others might think, that suggests that you weren’t really concerned exclusively about doing what Hashem wants to begin with. It may have been a big part of it, but it’s not the whole thing. That’s OK. That’s normal, and it’s part of being human. It’s worth focusing on those feelings and understanding why they’ve been there for so long. They’re hurting you now, and they’ve probably hurt you in the past. Maybe it’s time to do away with them.
What do these thoughts and feelings say about how you relate to Hashem in your life? What do they say about your relationship with others, or with yourself? What do they say about your motivations in your life choices? Putting aside personal, spiritual, and career aspirations for a moment, it’s worth taking stock of yourself as a person, regardless of these external trappings.
Sit down with a trusted mentor. It could be a friend, a rav, or a family member. It could even be a therapist. If you want to be your best self, you need to sort through these feelings and make sense of them. If you don’t, you will always be subject to their whims. Your decisions will be based on fears, concerns, and worries, instead of on your own balanced and rational power of choice. A life strung together with decisions based on fear and worry is not yours. It’s only your life if you’re in the driver’s seat.