Mah Nishtana HaShana HaZeh MiKol HaShanim

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In All Other Years... This Year...
The last few weeks of Choref Z’man are a time to celebrate a long, tough zman. That means reaching goals that we’ve been working on for months, or at least reaching a place to take a break from the Yeshiva Masechta. Classes are finishing up long semesters of material. Attention often turns toward Pesach. That could mean spending some time on Arvei Pesachim or the Rambam’s Chametz U’Matza in Morning Seder, or Chavrusas turning their attention towards different Hagados to start preparing for the Seder night. The last Shabbos together is an opportunity to reflect together on months of growth; the last night of Zman is a time to celebrate together, maybe end things with a bang with an all-night learning program before the program officially closes for Bein HaZ’manim.
The last few weeks of Choref were marked with stress, indecision, and sudden departures. Friends were whisked away with mere hours to pack, not knowing if they were leaving for just a month or for the rest of the year. Chavrusas ended just a couple amudim before the end of a perek, Chaburos were disbanded before finally resolving a pshat they had been developing for a full week. Instead of a Shabbos to reflect together, we were split apart. Instead of a night to celebrate accomplishments and push to the max before relaxing a bit for Bein HaZmanim, everyone went to sleep in their beds at home, not knowing what the next day would bring. Programs tried to pivot to Zoom, setting up daily Shiurim, Chaburos, and Chavrusos, but everyone was on a different schedule (and sometimes still in different time zones). As much as everyone was trying, it was a difficult end to what was otherwise a great Zman.
Bein HaZmanim is an opportunity to build relationships with the Yeshiva Chevra, experience Eretz Yisrael, and learn what we want to learn on your own time. It’s a time to go on tiyulim with friends, getting to know each other in a different and deeper way than the typical Yeshiva day allows for. It’s a time to finally walk Artzeinu HaKedosha and see everything it has to offer, recharging our batteries for next Zman while spending our energy up north in Tzfat or down south in the Negev.
Instead of coming together, we were split apart. Whether it was actual quarantine or just the practical realities of coronavirus, we couldn’t get together in person. And Zoom meetings, Facebook Live, and Whatsapp video calls are only so good. As so many left Israel to be with their families through Pesach and the pandemic, we lost the chance to get to know our country and our friends.
Kayitz Z’man is a time for renewed commitment. Bein HaZmanim might have been an incredible experience, filled with learning, Chevra and growth. Or it could best be described as a break from Yeshiva (and all that that entails), letting you know that you still have a lot of growing to do. Either way, returning to Yeshiva is an opportunity to continue building your base, strengthening your commitment to learning and real Avodas Hashem. If you found trouble spots, it’s a chance to talk them over with friends and Rebbeim and try to do better come the summer.
Who even knows if we’ll have a Kayitz Zman?! The situation is changing week by week, and sometimes even day by day. Even if we’re allowed out of our houses, who says we’ll be allowed to fly anywhere? Maybe Israel will have the virus under control by the end of Pesach, but America will need another couple of months? Can an entire Yeshiva really move onto Zoom - Chavrusas, Seder, and all?

The Silver Lining

It’s been hard. But adversity is not all bad. We’re on our way into Pesach, our Chag HaGeula. In Devarim 4:20, Hashem describes our stay in Mitzrayim as an experience of a Kur HaBarzel, an iron furnace. Rashi explains that such a furnace is used to purify gold. By subjecting the precious metal to extreme heat, the dross and impurities melt away, and you’re left with a finer, higher-quality product. The same is true for our situation. While the difficulties are numerous and hard to deal with, many are rising to the occasion. Those who push themselves to continue learning will find their connection to Torah immeasurably strengthened. Those who actively continue relationships with friends will find those relationships enhanced by the storm they’ll have weathered together. For those who can’t push past the difficulties, hopefully they get a chance to return to Yeshiva, whether in Kayitz or the following year. At the very least, they’ll have learned the lesson that they have more room to grow, and are not yet ready to leave Yeshiva. That knowledge alone will hopefully be enough to spur continued growth, no matter what setting they find themselves in.
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