An Open Letter to Yeshiva and Seminary Students
In the coming weeks or so, you will be returning home to the US, UK and elsewhere, to celebrate Pesach with your family.
For many of you this will be the first time back since arriving at Yeshiva or Seminary, and even though technology has enabled you to maintain contact with family & friends, as our Rabbis say, ‘Eino Domeh Shmiah L’Reiah – hearing cannot be compared to seeing’.
Some of you may be looking forward to sharing details about your Yeshiva/Seminary experience, along with the many divrei Torah that you are currently preparing for Leil HaSeder (Seder Night), while others may be a little more anxious either by the environment you are returning to or by the expectations that people may have of you.
Given all this, I’d like to share four tips with you which I hope you take to heart:
- BE HELPFUL
While I hope it should be obvious to you, when you arrive home you should be careful to avoid creating a ‘balagan’ (a word which I hope you understand by now!) and you should help your family prepare for Pesach.
Sadly, not everyone does this, and as R’ Elya Lopian describes, there are occasions when Yeshiva students return home ‘and they spread themselves out on the sofa like roosters, providing all kinds of reasons why they can’t help’ (1). As he adds, not only is such behavior disrespectful, but it fails to express the hakarat hatov (appreciation) towards your family who have been supporting your studied in Israel.
So when you get home, to paraphrase JFK, ‘ask not what your family can do for you, but what you can do for your family’.
‘ask not what your family can do for you, but what you can do for your family’.
- BE IMPRESSIVE
Having spent the last 7 months or so studying Torah, you are an ambassador for Torah and for the institution where you have studied and while you may not realise it, there will be young men or women in your neighbourhood looking at you and considering whether they, too, wish to study in Israel and at your particular institution.
R’ Shmuel Kushelevitz, who served as Rosh Yeshiva in Torah Vodaath for many years, once told the story of two places – one a town, and one a city. Yet, despite their difference in size, 12 young men from the small town went to Yeshiva, while not a single student went to Yeshiva from the city.
As R’ Kushelevitz explained, this was due to the events that took place in the previous year during ‘bein haz’manim’.
At the time, one boy from the small town had been studying in Yeshiva, and when he came home for bein haz’manim he was a changed person. He spoke with respect to everyone and displayed middot tovot and derech eretz. He was always in shul early for davening, and he spent many hours in the Beit Midrash. Everybody realized that the boy had become a true ben Torah, and this encouraged others to send their sons to learn in Yeshiva.
In the city, the very opposite occurred. A boy who had been studying in Yeshiva returned home for bein haz’manim, but his time was not spent in the Beit Midrash and his behavior and derech eretz left much to be desired. This discouraged his big-city neighbours from sending their sons away to yeshiva to learn. (1)
So when you are at home, consider how you are representing where you have been studying, and more broadly, Torah itself.
consider how you are representing where you have been studying, and more broadly, Torah itself.
- BE BALANCED
Among the many things that R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky warned his students before they left for vacation was not to make a show of chumrot (stringencies) in halachah that they may have adopted in the presence of those who do no keep the same stringencies, lest they seem to imply criticism of those who do not keep these chumrot.
R’ Yaakov proceeded to explain that the prohibition against adding to the mitzvot of the Torah applies to treating optional acts as if they were required by the Torah, and noted that this even applies to stringencies on Rabbininc laws and customs (3).
So be balanced, and to quote Kohelet, ‘do not be overly righteous or excessively wise’ (4), but also ‘do not be overly wicked nor be a fool’ (5)!
‘do not be overly righteous or excessively wise’
- BE SENSITIVE
Ultimately, while you will be home for a while, it is natural to think of Seder night as the ultimate showcase for your Torah knowledge. As we know, ‘whoever elaborates in the retelling of the story of the exodus from Egypt is praiseworthy’, and many an enthusiastic Yeshiva & Seminary student has sought to demonstrate their praiseworthiness through lengthy elaborations at the Seder.
However, it is not quite so simple. According to the Shulchan Aruch, one should proceed with pace until reaching the beginning of the meal ‘so that the children not fall asleep’ (6) and it was the practice of R’ Yaakov Kanievsky, otherwise known as the Steipler, to read through the Haggadah without adding addition explanations, and only once the meal began did he share further Torah ideas about Yetziat Mitzrayim to ensure that all those present were able to stay awake (7).
So while you should share the Torah you have learnt on Seder night, don’t just think about what you want to say, but also when you want to say it!
don’t just think about what you want to say, but also when you want to say it!
Wishing you all a safe trip home and a Chag Kasher V’Sameach!
(1) Lev Eliyahu Section 3 p. 276. See also pp. 337-338
(2) This story is found in R’ Sholom Smith’s ‘Rav Pam on Pirkei Avos’ p. 163
(3) ‘Reb Yaakov’ by Yonason Rosenblum p. 184
(4) Kohelet 7:16
(5) Kohelet 7:17
(6) Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 472:1
(7) see Haggadah Shel Pesach Mimaran Bal Kehilat Yaakov p. 320