If you didn’t see how his face shines during the zeman, you don’t get to weigh in on his bein hazmanim either
Road trips were a hot topic this summer.
They went from temporary fad to worrying trend to candidate for inclusion on the “Top Ten Crises Facing Klal Yisrael” list.
Quick summary: Come summertime, our bochurim aren’t automatically signing up to be camp counselors anymore. Instead, they rent cars, book hotel rooms (yes, of course on points), and head off to travel the great American road. Don’t worry Ta, there’s kosher food. We took a Crock-Pot and we can plug it in to the car charger, no worries. Yes, of course there’s a minyan, we checked, there’s a Chabad shaliach on top of the Ferris wheel. Chavrusas? So many options we’re going to have to have a tumult.
Perhaps somewhat helplessly, parents shrug and wave goodbye.
That’s the phenomenon, and there are many who point out that a bochur can easily lose 11 months of shteiging with a few poor choices over those weeks in Arizona, Utah, California, or Nevada. Others (usually between the ages of 18–21) argue that we need to trust them and allow them space.
I’m not weighing in on the actual argument, which should be left to roshei yeshivah and only roshei yeshivah. Instead, I’d like to address those folks who come bearing evidence in the form of horror stories: the drunk bochur at a restaurant, the bochurim who slept in a hotel lobby all night because rooms were too expensive, the young man in sweatpants and tefillin at Minchah.
Firstly, you wouldn’t want people to form their opinions of you based solely on how you appeared or acted during your most recent vacation. Why don’t our bochurim deserve a similar courtesy?
But more importantly, you’re not really appreciating the miracle of this creation, the yeshivah bochur.
A friend of mine from Montreal was meeting with the Philadelphia rosh yeshivah, Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, about a personal issue. When the conversation ended, the Rosh Yeshivah refused to allow the visitor to leave without (eating something and also) going to see a particular talmid from Montreal, so that he could deliver personal regards to the boy’s parents.
My friend was in a rush, and he suggested that he could give the parents an adequate nachas report based on the Rosh Yeshivah’s assurance that the boy was learning well.
“No,” said Rav Shmuel, “if you didn’t actually see the way the bochur’s face shines, you can’t give proper regards to his parents!”
Note to anyone and everyone who has opinions on bochurim: If you didn’t see how his face shines during the zeman, you don’t get to weigh in on his bein hazmanim either. You’re not seeing a whole picture, or even half a picture, for that matter.
One of the great ambassadors of 2021 bochurhood done right was an extraordinarily lichtige boy who lived down the block from me.
In a letter written to the parents of Dovi Steinmetz a few months after Dovi’s petirah in Meron, his friend shared a memory:
I was always too intimidated to daven from the amud Friday night in yeshivah. I had davened a few times outside yeshivah, but in yeshivah, it was a little more intimidating. One Friday afternoon, about an hour before Shabbos, I got a phone call from Dovi. He said, “Come to yeshivah so we can have a l’chayim before Shabbos, cause you’re davening from the amud this week.”
I said I would have a l’chayim, but I was not davening from the amud. I came back to yeshivah, we had toamehah, and davened Minchah. When Minchah was finished, Dovi schlepped me up to the amud and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll help you out.”
When we got to Moshe Ve’Aharon, Dovi turned to me and said, “Let’s do this,” as he broke into the full Carlebach mode. Then, he started me off with a geshmake Lecha Dodi niggun and helped me through the whole Kabbalas Shabbos, standing at my side. After that I had no intimidation at all of davening from the amud in yeshivah.
Now, take this little questionnaire and be honest. If you would have been driving by the Lakewood yeshivah in which they learned on that Friday afternoon, and seen two bochurim knocking back a l’chayim, what would have been your reaction?
Now read that message again. Right?
Would you ever have imagined that a small plastic shot glass of Glenlivet could be carrying such holy power, undertones of confidence, chizuk with hints of ahavas Yisrael in each sip — or would you have launched into a podcast about alcohol abuse and kiddush clubs and the hopelessness of the next generation?
Yom Kippur is called “Yoma — The Day.” It represents the flood of light to which we were privileged. Everything was suddenly made clear by the “Me’ir einei hamechakim l’slichaso, the One who illuminates the eyes of those waiting for His pardon.” Near twilight, “panah yom,” the day started to fade, then the light dimmed. Now, the avodah is to hold on to some of that illumination.
It’s bein hazmanim and the bochurim are out again, slamming car doors and gunning motors, blocking driveways and asking about the breakfast special at four o’clock in the afternoon.
You wouldn’t judge a song you can’t hear or a food you can’t taste, so hold back and promise yourself that one day this long winter, you will make a road trip of your own.
See the bochurim at that point in second seder when the clock seems to have stopped, and they push through. See their determination as they walk, bleary-eyed, to Shacharis. See them late on a Thursday night when they decide that okay, they’ll give the Tosafos another try — and if you don’t, then you haven’t seen them at all.
So yes, road trips are a topic and yes they might be concerning and no doubt, those charged with the chinuch of our children will react and respond, but until then, we shouldn’t be weighing in on road trips for others.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s time we took some road trips of our own.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 878)
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