by R. Gil Student
My essay in the November/December 2022 issue of Moment Magazine (link):
On the day I left yeshiva for a corporate job, many years ago, I went around to say goodbye to my friends. I was leaving at the age of 22 while most of my friends stayed for many more years studying Torah in an advanced setting. One friend, now an educator in Israel, offered me the following blessing as I moved on to my next stage in life: He wished that I would see the same success in Torah learning as that experienced by Rabbi Shmaryahu Shulman (1923-2021).
Rabbi Shulman, who passed away last November at the age of 98, was already legendary in 1995, when I left yeshiva. As a young man, he had served as a rabbi and teacher for a few years but then joined a Wall Street firm where he worked for decades. Despite his corporate career, he published many books of traditional Torah scholarship, demonstrating breathtaking knowledge and distinct creativity. He published articles in prominent Torah journals, with his name appearing in the table of contents alongside the names of the leading Torah scholars of the generation. He served in various capacities in rabbinic organizations and lectured in a variety of venues, all outside normal working hours because he had a day job. He was the proof, the prime example, that someone could work outside the rabbinic profession and still accomplish great things in Torah scholarship.
Of course, to reach that level of achievement, Rabbi Shulman had a blessed combination of natural brilliance and early training in fundamental textual and analytical skills. He also had another key element that allowed him to rise to that level—diligence. He pushed himself to continue studying Torah at every available moment. In this way, he was constantly moving forward in his studies, throughout his lifetime. He may have had a day job, he may have been involved in communal projects and helping others, but his passion was studying and teaching Torah.
Even those of us with lesser intellectual gifts and training can learn the lesson of how to make great strides in our Torah knowledge. Rabbi Shulman’s persistence and commitment are an inspiration to all laypeople that we, too, can become greater Torah scholars in our own fashion. We can cover more ground than seems possible, know more information and understand with greater depth than seems reachable. We can do this by looking at the many great laypeople who have already accomplished this.
I look to Rabbi Shulman and others like him as an inspiration that even as life gets busy, even as my commitments to my job, my family and my communal service grow, I can still find time to make growth and achievement in Torah study a lifelong project.