As a new year dawns, what did we learn — and how have we changed?
I thought I had a good handle on what it means to be a yeshivah bochur. It meant a boy who attends minyan three times a day, whose daily schedule revolves around learning, who proudly counts himself a member of the white-shirted and black-hatted guardians of a vibrant treasure that spurs knowing, growing, learning, and doing. It meant a boy whose lexicon is peppered with Aramaic and Yiddish, who combines his Thursday all-night learning session with a generous helping of cholent, who out-preaches all the pundits and knows the news almost before it happens — but whose news also includes who sat in which seat on which dais at which event. It’s a boy who volunteers to move the fridge and shlep down the pots before Pesach, but only during the afternoons, after his chavrusa, and who surprises you by shyly announcing that he’s going to make a siyum on his bein hasedarim learning, and do you by any chance have some cake in the house?
I’ve learned a new definition of a yeshivah bochur. It’s a boy who barely managed to learn during lockdown, who can’t imagine passing a test on the murky pieces of information flitting around his brain, whose semblance of a schedule has steadily been eroded by month after month of deteriorating structure. It’s the boy who still wakes up every morning, puts on a white shirt and Tefillin, then plugs in his headphones to the maggid shiur’s voice and opens up his Gemara, even if yesterday’s daf still remains mostly unconquered. It’s the boy who wonders about his very identity (who am I if I barely daven or learn or care?) but still reveres the same heroes, knows the ultimate goal.
I learned that a pulse doesn’t need to be loud to register, that yeshivah is a definition that transcends a building or a schedule or even significant learning — and that no matter what Hashem took away from them, our bochurim are still holding on to their cores.
Baila Gross is a wife, mother, and writer living in the Tristate area.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 828)
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