After months of hoping, agonizing, planning, and replanning, most yeshivot and seminaries’ students have arrived in Israel for their two-week quarantine. What a surreal way to start a year so many have been dreaming about since they started high school!
So much about this year will be different. Instead of spending Shabbatot with friends, connecting with family and exploring the country, many or most Shabbatot, at least initially, will be spent with your program. Rather than experiencing the buzz of an overflowing Beis Medrish, you’ll be placed in a “capsule,” learning, eating and sleeping with a smaller group of students. While one of the incredible opportunities available this year is the chance to meet new people through any number of programs, that will be limited for the foreseeable future.
Why You’re Here
However, these experiences, as important as they are, are tafel to the main reason you came here. You didn’t come to make new friends, although you’ll definitely walk out with some. You didn’t come to explore the country, although that will happen. Learning is learning, whether in a Beis Medrish of 300 or in a room of 26.
You’re here to learn – Torah, obviously, but more than just Torah.
You’re here to learn about yourself. What drives you? What gets you excited, upset, inspired, sad? As you get to know yourself, you’ll also learn about how you see the world. What are you doing here? What’s considered living life right? What defines success, and what characterizes failure? Those questions are crucial for developing into a thought-out, mature young Jew/ess.
Texts and Teachers
As you explore the questions, you’ll learn to look for answers in two sources: texts and teachers. Texts expose you to the richness of the Mesora – different perspectives on basic questions, exploring the variety of Jewish practice, getting acquainted with personalities from across our history and library.
Teachers can help take ideas from theory to practice. First, and most obviously, the classes they teach and shiurim they give will often have a practical bend to them. Second, learning from their examples can itself be a course in values such as sensitivity, ethics, honesty, and respect. Finally, as they get to know you personally, you’ll be able to explore together what your next steps might be.
In the introduction to Alei Shur, Rav Shlomo Wolbe describes how entering the world of Torah can spark a total transformation. However, you don’t become a new person, with new features or middos – you simply move up to a higher floor of your personal skyscraper. While until now you’ve been hanging out in the lobby (or maybe the basement, he muses), time focused on learning is an opportunity to climb the stairs to the next level.
So, welcome to Israel! It’s going to be an incredible, life-changing, eye-opening year. While you might have imagined it looking very different, don’t worry — the building you’re climbing is still exactly the same, and the guide hasn’t changed one bit.