| Voice in the Crowd |

Take a Road Trip     

     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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  1. Avatar

    Thank you for a quality publication that consistently provides its readership with an opportunity to relax and recharge, while simultaneously being educated, inspired, and moved in so many different ways. I specifically want to express my appreciation (and I imagine that I am speaking for many of my fellow bochurim as well) to Reb Yisroel Besser for his Voice in the Crowd piece titled “Take a Road Trip.”
    Reb Yisroel’s perspective couldn’t have been more spot-on as he gave respect, support, and a solid line of defense to the future leaders of our next generation.
    The truth is that I have never been on a “bochur road trip.” I also don’t drink much, I’ve never smoked or vaped (unless you count second-hand), and for a long time I had very little respect for those who did. But with time I matured, my youthful insecurities giving way to self-acceptance, and I began to notice the rest of the picture.
    The guy who doesn’t hesitate to drink and party during bein hazmanim stays in the beis medrash until 12 every night of the zeman. The guy who vapes like an e-chimney comes early to every tefillah. The bochur who facilitates all my second-hand smoking is poshut on fire during first seder. And even the bochurim who don’t stand out in any particular way, but they show up, they’re committed, they’re consistent — they are learning and growing just like everyone else.
    I don’t plan to start smoking or drinking or asking about the breakfast special at four o’clock in the afternoon anytime soon, but I do plan to never be dismissive of those who do.
    My thanks again to Reb Yisroel for helping me reinforce my commitment to try not to lose the forest for the empty Jack Daniels bottle nestled amongst the trees.

    1. Avatar

      Thank you for publishing such enjoyable and thought-provoking content each week.
      I am writing in response to “a grateful bochur,” who wrote about not judging his friends for their less-than-impressive behavior.
      As a girl in shidduchim, I don’t feel that I can judge a bochur and how hard he works in yeshivah and what he needs to do to relax, because I am not in his place. However, something sounds off to me.
      If a boy is really a well-rounded good bochur, does he really need to “vape like a-chimney, facilitate second hand smoking, and drink and party during bein hazmanim”? What is the point of all the learning that was done during the zeman?
      The whole point of our lives is to become better ovdei Hashem, and to work on those middos that need to be worked on. Just because a bochur “stays in beis medrash until 12 every night” doesn’t mean that it’s okay for him to party and get drunk every night of bein hazmanim. Learning a whole day in the beis medrash does not excuse someone from any bad middah or taavah.
      There should be an awareness that these behaviors are wrong and inappropriate and they should not just be “excused” and even praised. They must be worked on just as someone would work on any other bad middah or taavah.
      There is also the aspect of developing healthy coping skills and outlets. Being a yeshivah bochur is intense; learning for hours each day is hard. But so is life. Waking up seven times at night with a crying baby is hard. Living on one salary with three little children is difficult. Dealing with work stresses is tiring. Raising children can be a challenge.
      If there is no way to cope with stress and exhaustion in yeshivah other than drinking, smoking, and other unhealthy behaviors, how will these future fathers and husbands deal with much bigger stresses down the line? Is there no such thing as a healthy outlet? It is very important to develop healthy coping skills when life is not so stressful, and not so intense, and not just turn to unhealthy addictive behaviors.
      Most of the girls I know are in school getting degrees, working at least one job, balancing volunteer work, and attending shiurim. No, it’s not a walk in the park for them either. However, just imagine what the reaction would be if you heard that a girl you knew was smoking or drinking. It would be a complete scandal, a completely inexcusable and unforgivable behavior.
      However, for some reason if it’s a good bochur who is drinking away his bein hazmanim or vaping to relax, we turn a blind eye and give no comment. Why? We as society have ignored it, and by ignoring it, we have encouraged it more. In fact, we encourage girls to ignore any information that they may have about a potential shidduch’s drinking or smoking habits, because he is a “good bochur.”
      Who is the one who is going to deal with the mental, emotional, and health repercussions down the line? The girls who are trying so hard to do the right thing, and get pulled into something without even understanding and realizing.
      For the sake of us all, I wish that we, as a global community, would take a step back and decide that no, this behavior is not excusable. No girl wants to marry a boy who will get drunk to relax, and smoke and vape when he feels stressed. For the sake of the future of Klal Yisrael, I wish that everyone would be smart, and think about how their behaviors and decisions are affecting not only them, but their future families as well.

      1. Avatar

        I am writing in response to “Hoping for Change,” who wrote about not excusing bochurim for habits such as drinking and vaping. I do agree with her points about not excusing these behaviors for someone because he is a “top bochur,” that learning in the beis medrash until late at night does not make these acceptable middos, and that healthier coping skills do need to be acquired.
        However, I would like to comment on the following quote from her letter, “What is the point of all the learning that was done during the zeman?” Just like learning Torah does not excuse these middos, these middos do not invalidate the Torah that is learned. It isn’t right to take credit away from someone’s accomplishments because of their shortcomings in other areas.
        Are these middos something that society should continue to treat lightly? Absolutely not, but one of the beautiful things about the Torah is that it is accepted by Hashem from all Jewish people, regardless of who they are, and it isn’t fair to take that away from someone who makes certain mistakes.
        I hope that we can all make smart choices for the future of ourselves and Klal Yisrael and also realize the value of Torah no matter who is learning it.

      2. Avatar

        Dear Hoping for Change,
        “Most of the girls I know are in school getting degrees, working at least one job, balancing volunteer work, and attending shiurim. No, it’s not a walk in the park for them either. However, just imagine what the reaction would be if you heard that a girl you knew was smoking or drinking.”
        Based on your concerns about bochurim in shidduchim, I will assure you that there are plenty of boys out there that you can consider — boys who are in school earning degrees, working at least one job, volunteering, etc. Also, boys who are taking great care of their health.
        Please leave the “good bochur” who “stays in beis medrash until 12 every night” to us girls who actually value and appreciate him, and realize that we can never ever compare our own struggles and “nisyonos” to his.

        1. Avatar

          I was surprised that the only responses to the “Grateful Bochur” were from girls in shidduchim. Perhaps it would be possible to hear a response from a mechanech or rav who interacts with bochurim to gain perspective about this important issue.
          And to the girls in shidduchim who are reading this exchange of letters with concern, please know that there most certainly are boys who are erlich and mentshlich and stay in the beis medrash until midnight, and take seriously their responsibilities to their families, and don’t vape or drink as an outlet in the manner described in the original letter.
          To “Name Withheld,” the distinction you draw between “boys who are in school earning degrees, working, volunteering… taking care of their health” vs. the “good bochur” who “stays in beis medrash until 12 every night” and who therefore should be excused for his vaping is surprising. There are plenty of “good bochurim” who “stay in beis medrash until 12 every night” who do not vape or drink. These boys show that there is no need to vape or drink just because they’re going beyond their physical limits to hold up the world with their learning.
          May we see more shidduchim throughout Klal Yisrael.

      3. Avatar

        As a father of children currently learning in a well-known yeshivah, I feel compelled to add my piece to the conversation in these pages regarding bochurim’s behaviors.
        First, I wanted to point out that drinking and vaping/smoking are very different. While both contain inherent health risks, alcohol and all its side effects are a serious interruption to the zeman and a normal day of learning, while smoking and vaping — albeit potentially dangerous — don’t come close to the bittul zeman that alcohol poses. I don’t believe any rebbi would condone drinking, whether during the zeman or not.
        That being said, I wanted to question why no one seems to have a problem with an adult taking a cigarette or vaping after a stressful day of work or the like, yet bochurim who do are now relegated to the bottom of the barrel. The “workday” of a yeshivah bochur is like no other. From 7 in the morning till 11 at night, with small breaks here and there, they learn. Would they rather do anything else? No. Do they love every moment? Yes. But, is a bochur to be looked down upon for taking a cigarette before shiur, or vaping bein hasedorim? In my humble opinion, I don’t believe so.
        Every teenager goes through their “stages.” That theirs is smoking is a cause for simchah, not refusing to marry them. We should be dancing that they’re still in the beis medrash, holding up the world, with all that’s going on outside.

        1. Avatar

          I am disappointed at the decision of Mishpacha to print a letter lauding smoking as “a cause for simchah.” Based on my more than 40-year involvement with cancer research, I think it is clear that smoking is more than a “potential danger” both to the smoker and to those who are exposed to second-hand smoke, including spouses and children.
          One of the bedrock principles of halachah is v’nishmartem es nafshoseichem. For yeshivah bochurim to be encouraged to begin a life-long habit of smoking is shameful. The financial costs and lack of responsibility encouraged should be noted and avoided. Yeshivah rebbeim should enforce policies of no smoking and responsible drinking for the good of Klal Yisrael. The weakness of character demonstrated by a need for tobacco or alcohol is not a positive shidduch quality.
          David E. Maslow, Ph.D.

        2. Avatar

          I’ve been following with interest the recent debate regarding the need for yeshivah bochurim to unwind and find healthy outlets. Being new to the yeshivish world (I was raised MO and moved to the right of my parents, and now find myself with a son who has moved even more to the right of us), I was shocked to hear anyone in 2021 defend smoking, drinking, and vaping.
          While my husband and I have been thrilled with our son’s experience in his post-high school yeshivah the past one-and-a-half years, the one thing we don’t understand is why the yeshivos don’t provide kosher and healthy outlets for the boys — basketball/hockey/football games, music rooms, exercise equipment, track, swim, etc.
          Our yeshivah bochurim are humans. Teenage humans. I suspect that if these boys had healthy and kosher outlets that weren’t looked down upon, a few boys wouldn’t be compelled to seek out their own unhealthy alternatives.
          Just a thought.

    2. Avatar

      I’d like to respond to a letter writer who claimed that the bochurim who take care of their health (by avoiding smoking and drinking) are the ones doing side things, while the vaping/smoking/drinking bochurim are the ones who stay in the beis medrash until 12.
      In my yeshivah, members of the “smokers’ club” and the “beis medrash club” are not the same people at all. To be precise, the people with side interests in addition to learning are the ones who feel most stressed and need to “air out.” Not only does the vaping/smoking /drinking damage their physical bodies, it creates a negative ruach that takes away from their learning and compounds their need for “airing out.”
      So while bochurim definitely need to have outlets, that is in no way a defense for bochurim to vape/smoke/drink.
      A concerned bochur

    3. Avatar

      I’ve read with great interest the recent debate in these pages regarding the amount of leeway society should grant yeshivah bochurim who need to unwind during bein hazmanim. While many valid and interesting points have been made, the entire discussion is based on a false premise.
      We have created this fiction that yeshivah bochurim are just so overwhelmed from all their hard work in yeshivah and thus react in a certain way during the few weeks of vacation. And we then debate which activities are okay and which are over the line. But here’s the inconvenient truth: There are no such bochurim.
      Perhaps we just don’t want to admit this publicly, but every former and current yeshivah bochur knows this to be true. Or at least they should. If a yeshivah boy is waking up at 10 a.m. during bein hazmanim, it’s not because he’s burned out from waking up 6 a.m. the whole zeman. It’s precisely because he didn’t wake up 6 a.m. the whole zeman. He feels a void in his life. Another zeman has passed and he feels no sense of accomplishment. He has nothing to wake up for in the morning and therefore has trouble getting out of bed.
      Why do you think those same bochurim also tend to be the ones who come up with all kinds of justification to leave the zeman early? I assure you it’s not because he just learned so much this past year and is simply about to crack if he learns a little more. It’s because he’s bored and feels empty. He needs a change of scenery. Let’s not kid ourselves here.
      You want to know where you can find the bochur who learned and accomplished this past zeman? Go to your local beis medrash during bein hazmanim. You’ll find him there. You won’t find him at the ten-thirty Shacharis minyan. When a boy loves learning, and feels accomplished in his learning, he continues to learn when he leaves the walls of yeshivah and he doesn’t act up on bein hazmanim trips.
      If your son is home and you don’t see him crack open a Gemara, he does not have a bein hazmanim problem. He has a zeman problem.
      Girls, if you want a boy who wants to be moser nefesh to build a kollel home with a true foundation of learning, find the boy who doesn’t make excuses for why he needs a break from his work while you don’t seem to need the same break for yours. Those boys exist. Do not fall for the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”
      Parents, if you’re worried about a son who’s doing nothing over bein hazmanim, don’t listen to those who reassure you that everything is okay and that this is perfectly acceptable behavior. Trust your instincts.

      1. Avatar

        Share the Wealth
        Hats off to the letter-writer who wrote “Not a Bein Hazmanim Problem” in last week’s issue.
        He is right on target when he says that a bochur who finds it difficult to open a sefer or wake up at a decent hour during bein hazmanim is not experiencing the natural “burnout” that results from a long zeman, but is rather indicating a lack of fire and enthusiasm to begin with.
        I think a large part of the problem is that yeshivos focus almost exclusively on Gemara and do not expose the disillusioned bochurim to the wealth of Torah that can be found in other texts, e.g. “non-yeshivish” masechtos, halachah, Nach, chassidus, mussar, machshavah, etc. etc. — the list is as endless as Torah itself…
        The result is that a bochur that doesn’t feel connected to what he is learning will at best reluctantly open a gemara during bein hazmanim and daydream or schmooze until he has done his hour and can go home feeling good about himself.
        Let’s pull back the curtains and introduce our bochurim to alternative limudim that will help them find what speaks to them, with the hope that they will eventually come to enjoy gemara learning as well.

  2. Avatar

    So, to (politely) sum up Yisrael Besser’s column, it would be: Don’t judge a bochur if he doesn’t act like a mentsh during bein hazmanim, because you didn’t see what he was like in the beis medrash during the zeman.
    First off, I’m not sure we should be judging anyone, but it is natural to form opinions based on what is in front of you. However, aren’t we trying to impart the message to our talmidim, that whatever Torah they learn is not apart from them, but is actually a part of them? Aren’t we giving over the message that Torah is not just another subject, but is literally “Ki Heim Chayeinu — our way of life?”
    What, then, is the justification for behaviors outside the koslei beis hamedrash that are not congruent with deracheha darchei noam? “Because he can handel in a Rashba” hardly seems like a plausible answer.
    The story is told that there was a chanukas habayis for the dining room in the Chevron Yeshivah. One of the Roshei Yeshivah (I wasn’t able to verify who) explained the reason for such an event was because “the dining room is a beis medrash for derech eretz.”
    Not all bochurim who are in yeshivah will be able to stay there for the rest of their lives. How will they know how to act when they leave the hallowed halls of the yeshivah? The yeshivah is (or should be) the place where a bochur can develop into a ben Torah who knows how to act no matter where he ends up in life — be it as a mechanech, dedicating his life to the next generation, or whether he is a doctor, dedicating his life to helping others.
    If a bochur’s actions are a contradiction to his learning, then… you can draw your own conclusions. My mind has already been made up.

    1. Avatar

      I am writing regarding the sentiment that I keep hearing over and over again from some readers of this magazine that yeshivah bochurim act entitled or spoiled. As a mother of a few bochurim, I am just confused about who exactly they are referring to.
      My boys and all of their friends return home at the end of each zeman, drop their suitcases on the floor, roll up their sleeves, and begin helping their families get ready for Yom Tov.
      They are in programs with a demanding schedule that would put most adults to shame. And whether or not they each keep to every seder everyday or end up davening in the shtiblach or in yeshivah, it is they who are walking around in black and white and who by the age of 13, bear the name and responsibility as representatives of the “olam hayeshivos” wherever they go. It is they who have the eyes of the entire country always on them.
      Maybe it’s different where I live, in Israel, because here they are enlisted either in yeshivah or in the army, and each option comes with strict government rules as to what they can and cannot do, when and where and for how long they can vacation… So our boys automatically know they have a job and are a part of something greater.
      During the last few years here in Israel, significant amounts of money have been invested into arranging very exciting trips for our bochurim a few times a year — because here, we believe that our bochurim are, in fact, entitled.
      They are entitled and deserve our unconditional support and love, our recognition and admiration that what they are doing is not easy, and that they are valued and that the concept of a ben yeshivah is valued. They are valued for their learning of course, which is holding up the world. But also for being part of a movement that makes up the heart of our nation, our pride and joy. This value is not contingent on whether they made it to davening or seder each day. Or whether they attend a high-level yeshivah or a weak one.
      So I, for one, hope that our bochurim will continue to go rappelling down cliffs up north and building our succahs, kayaking down the Yarden and cleaning out our freezers for Pesach, camping overnight alongside the Kinneret and doing our big Yom Tov shopping, surfing the sand dunes in Beer Sheva and taking their younger siblings to the zoo.
      We are proud of you for just being you and we hope and pray that you feel it.
      You have a long winter zeman this year and we will send you off with lots of tefillos, love, and some sweet snacks too. You have earned it.

  3. Avatar

    I felt that Yisroel Besser’s piece “Take a Road Trip” excused the behavior of not just bochurim, but of all frum Jews on vacations. The line “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?” was shocking to me.
    Yes, on vacation we want exactly that — a vacation — but from what? From the ins and outs of life, but not from Judaism. Anything you are uncomfortable wearing, seeing, or doing at home should not be done on vacation. Vacation is not a time to be lax on tzniyus, davening, or the like. It really is quite simple: If you’re not comfortable doing something at home, don’t do it on vacation. Furthermore, if you are doing something on vacation but wouldn’t do it at home, why is that? Are you being honest with yourself or are your standards only different because the neighbors aren’t around?
    I believe that the Jew who is holding onto all his standards on vacation is someone who is living by the words of “vechai bahem;” he is living an authentic Jewish life wherever he goes and doesn’t need a “vacation” from it.
    So please come on vacation with me and my family, we have nothing to hide or to be judged on, as we live authentic lives all year round.