| Voice in the Crowd |

Their Big Deal

Let them celebrate, even if it makes you uncomfortable

 

I

t’s a season of teshuvah, so we need to come clean. We sometimes lie over the course of the year, and one of the greatest lies of all is the message we send our bochurim. My friend and colleague in these pages (I always wanted to write that) Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin might express this as a “top five” list. So here’s my Top Five comments balabatim make to bochurim during bein hazmanim.

  • I guess you couldn’t sleep? (Said sarcastically to a bochur who comes to shul at a time that would be problematic if he had an office job, which he doesn’t.)
  • Is your shaver broken? (Said sarcastically to a bochur who didn’t shave or get a haircut on Isru Chag, which is fine because he’s 17 and let him live.)
  • Be careful you don’t learn too much. (Said sarcastically to a bochur who opens a Gemara and then goes for a coffee after five minutes, excited to see a friend he hasn’t seen since last bein hazmanim.)

Okay, that’s only three, but you get the point.

They are lies, because they are a half-truth, articulated without seeing the bigger picture. They convey expectation, but not enough admiration.

I don’t know your son, but I know this:

At three years old, he was wrapped in a tallis and taken to cheder, where a rebbi taught him Alef-beis and then he licked the honey and was told that Torah is sweet.

Wait. If the Torah is sweet, why did he need the honey too?

Chazal tell us that a fetus learns the entire Torah in his mother’s womb, but at birth, the malach flicks him on the lip and he forgets the Torah.

So why teach it at all? What’s the point of learning it if losing it is inevitable?

Because the Torah he learned gave him a starting point — and also a destination. Now he must work to regain what he once had; now he has to find his own way back. And this time, there is only one ticket: hard work.

At three, he doesn’t know that there’s another way, but he does know the taste of sweet. Now you need honey, we tell him, but one day, the letters will replace the honey and do the same thing for you. Better, even.

As he grows older, a bit more sophisticated, he starts to experience certain things. Things like: learning a blatt Gemara is still hard, but it’s the greatest feeling in the world; giving your lunch money to tzedakah leaves you hungry, but also exhilarated; looking one way when you want to look the other can be as thrilling as hitting a home run.

This is a process. It takes years. The challenges and obstacles match the victories, and it continues as long as one has breath in one’s lungs, so really, there is only one sign of success.

Being in the game.

A bochur of 14 or 15 who never comes late to davening, learns 12 hours a day during bein hazmanim, always speaks nicely, and clears his plate when he’s finished eating isn’t a better kid than yours, and he wasn’t raised any better than your child. He’s an anomaly, and I’m happy for his parents. (Really, I am.)

The normal ones fight, they have good days and hard days in the high-stakes world of aliyah, of spiritual relevance, where every move and decision makes a difference.

There’s no formal exam, no official sign that tells you when a young man has graduated from needing honey/candies/pekelach, to the next stage of actually perceiving the sweetness in the letters. But there are indications.

Simchas Torah, for one.

If he’s celebrating, if he’s happy, then he’s happy! He got it. He’s living his life the right way. These scrolls contain the stuff that keep him bent over a Gemara underlining and translating, crinkling his adolescent face in concentration, trying to understand the ideas — kinyan, shlichus, ishus, eidus — hidden under the velvet mantle.

I don’t have the right emoji for this point in the article, but it would convey something like sit tight and please stay with me, I also have teenage boys and worry. Also, that if you generally don’t like yeshivah bochurim, you probably shouldn’t keep reading.

Underage drinking is never okay, and irresponsible consumption is immature and stupid regardless of how old you are.

But maybe your son will have a l’chayim on Simchas Torah — as is and has been the minhag in the great yeshivos for many years. (See Mishnah Berurah 669, 17, who quotes the Levush’s ruling that there is no Bircas Kohanim during Mussaf on Simchas Torah, since “intoxication is widespread.”)

Have you ever celebrated a big deal? This is their big deal. Let them celebrate, even if it makes you uncomfortable, or, Heaven forbid, throws you off schedule.

And if you’re still with me, and you agree that this is their big day of the year, then you should make a l’chayim because that means the system is working, that the deepest, most fervent wish of our ancestors since forever has a chance of being realized. It’s your day too. (There are too many parents not yet similarly blessed; may they all realize the nachas this year.)

The boys are dancing with the Torah! The malach flicked them, and they forgot, and now they’re starting to remember.

Simchas Torah is the yahrtzeit of a great man. His name was Rav  Shloime Twerski of Denver, and in his sefer, he writes, “The strength that earlier generations invested in experiencing ruach hakodesh, we need to invest today simply to remain shomrei Torah u’mitzvos.”

There is a miracle unfolding before our eyes and that miracle involves teenage boys — anxious, exhausted, impulsive, hungry, moody young men with less than perfect judgment (even less than imperfect judgment, sometimes) — and this is the time of year to appreciate it.

You can’t wrap them in a tallis anymore, or even tell them where to go, but something remarkable has happened. Now, if you are so fortunate, when they see the Alef-beis, they’re starting to sense that hidden beneath each letter, there is honey.

And sometimes, they can even taste it.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 781)

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