I’ve decided to use a specific name because Dear ‘Bochur or ‘Yeshiva student’ is far too impersonal for my taste. Since this letter is indeed personal in nature, I’ve chosen the name ‘Sholom’ to underscore my message – a message I hope will reach the hearts of others – in particular parents and educators. A message about growing at any age and stage. At every age and stage. A message that flies in the face of the incessant barrage of nay-saying and doom-filled prophecies related to ‘the system’– ‘our boys’ and also ‘our girls’.
Yet, in essence, this letter is addressed to you – a composite of the hundreds upon hundreds of yeshiva bochurim who have graced my Shabbos table – a table, mind you, that finds itself in a flourishing ‘out of town’ community – almost every week for well over a decade. Some quick math tells me we’re talking in the thousands by now.
First off– I apologize for being plain old wrong. I may have fed into some of the blind stereotyping characteristic of ignorance and prejudice… “‘Yeshiva boys are all the same…rude, aggressive, naive, and don’t really know how to interact with the ‘real’ world.”
In fact, I found the opposite to be true. Many of you are children of Shluchim, you have been out there on the playing field since birth. You live and breathe giving to others. Correction: you are all children of Shluchim. Whether your parents hold a formal post in a far flung country or you’ve grown up on Crown Street you have already spent thousands of hours actively living the teachings of Chasidus; it shows in how you view yourself, others, and the world in general.
Second, boy are you ever clever. If your mashpia or teacher or principal was having a lousy day or week (hopefully it wouldn’t last for much longer than that) you’d pick up on it (not that you chose to) and try to not let it affect you. Generally you looked the other way. Occasionally you might grumble, wondering why students had to bear the brunt of a sour mood. You were more than willing to look past the occasional bump as in the majority of cases the authority in question had already proved himself to be a person of integrity. Who can breeze through life never having endured the undertow of challenge or – at the very least – the occasional wake-up on wrong side of the bed?
Lest one assume the Shabbos table was a gossip-fest or ongoing vent session, the very opposite is true. Even while not being in the presence of hanhala, you usually demonstrated respect and aimed to first give the benefit of the doubt. Typically, it was about the bottom line– “Teachers should be positive.” Fair enough.
What I found most admirable of all is that you seem to understand (in varying degrees, of course) that you are greater than the sum of your individual selves. That you are part of a bigger picture to which you contribute and affect a world of good – an everlasting spiritual ripple effect founded on the powerful principles of Chabad Chasidus.
I salute your parents (and, in some cases, grandparents) for imparting these lessons to you. After all, they started you on your respective journey. But you can be rightfully proud of putting what you’ve been taught to excellent use from the time you’ve arrived in a foreign city as a new yeshiva student, going forward. I notice you paying careful attention to what you’ve been learning over the years– examining, questioning, reiterating, and – best of all – implementing.
My wish for you is to stay pure and true. To not become jaded by the passage of time. To pay little attention to the squabbles and ego trips of those you may encounter along your way. To always strive for Emes. The brand of Emes that encompasses every letter of the Alef Bais so to speak. To recognize the ‘high road’ and stay on course.
And, having been in your uplifting company for as long as I have, I promise to do the same.
In my short letter, I will not nor cannot attempt to tackle the painful issues related to those who are not accepted to yeshivos, abandon the ‘derech’, the precipitous dropping of moral standards, and the like. These issues require careful handling along with large doses of compassion. There are many different paths to G-d– some more obscure and mysterious than others.
I conclude with a heartfelt prayer; may we all merit the blessing of utilizing our full potential – with joy and gladness of heart so that we may bring about the long awaited Redemption with Moshiach Tzidkeinu.