This piece was written about Shabbos pre-Corona. Until it's safe to do so, please follow all of the directions your program has given regarding going out/staying in for Shabbos. For the previous piece in the series, see here.
The year in Israel is truly an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is imperative for every person heading to Yeshiva or Seminary to maximize their time in Israel. There is no one-size-fits-all formula to have a successful year, and the definition of success is certainly relative. The intention of this article is not to persuade you that my perspective is the only solution to the staying-in-for-shabbos dilemma, nor do I think that this is the best idea for every student. A Yeshiva/Sem curriculum can be very rigorous, and the schedule can be draining (albeit incredibly meaningful and worth it), and it is therefore important that everyone has a healthy outlet. Getting out is important, and, if timed properly, has a positive effect on your growth.
My intention is to simply share my thoughts on the debate and why, for me, the decision to be an “in shabbos guy” was consequential for my growth. Hopefully, if you feel that you are someone looking for something similar to what I was looking for in my Israel experience, these ideas will resonate and have a tremendous impact on your Shana (or Shanot) BaAretz.
Why do most students only “flip out” in their year in Israel, and not in high school? I have thought about this for some time, and I think the answer is simple. No matter how much of an impact a specific Rebbe or a Yeshiva high school can have on a student, that student is only being taught by that Rebbe for around 1 hour per day. High school is a complicated time and there are tremendous academic and social pressures surrounding your average high schooler. I am not suggesting that you cannot grow religiously in high school, I am just stating the fact that you have many things on your mind.
The reason why people experience a significant increase in their religious growth over 1 year in Israel, more than 4 years of high school, is because both your mind and your heart are all in. You are spending your entire day fully invested and committed to the most meaningful pursuit possible. For the first time in your life, you are able to solely focus on religious growth in Bein Adam L’makom, Bein Adam L’chavero, and Bein Adam L’atzmo.
Being “all in” is the primary contributing factor to your growth. Staying in for shabbos guarantees that there is no break in your week. It ensures that you are constantly growing and minimizes distraction. On the other hand, I felt that when I went away for shabbos, it was very hard to remain focused. It created a distraction leading up to shabbos, my learning was more fractured over shabbos, and then it took time to get back into the zone for the following week.
On a practical level, it is simply time-consuming. Traveling takes a long time. Navigating the Tachana Merkazit is not a fun experience in the slightest. More importantly, when you go away for shabbos, you are missing out on both incredible learning opportunities and experiences in yeshiva. Friday is an amazing day for learning. If you are spending an hour packing and four hours traveling, it is very difficult to learn. Shabbos meals tend to be longer while you are away, and that means less time for learning. And let’s not forget about the trip back…. hopefully you catch the first bus and make it back within 3 hours of when shabbos ends!
Not only can these experiences be time-consuming, but they occupy some of the most meaningful hours of the week. Surprisingly, Friday and shabbos afternoons and Saturday nights in Yeshiva are integral for your growth. Why are these seemingly ‘extra,’ non-mandatory times so crucial? Simply, these are the times when you will be choosing to be there. There is no scheduled seder and you may not have a chavrusa, but when you make that decision to spend your Friday afternoon or Saturday night in the Beis Medrish, it is representative of something much greater than an extra two hours of learning. This means Torah has now become something that is part and parcel of your essence. Rav Soloveitchik was once interviewed by Time Magazine, and he remarked that Torah was his hobby. If you decide to learn during non-seder hours, it is indicative of the fact that Torah is becoming your hobby. I remember leaving the Beis Medrish on Saturday nights feeling incredibly proud that Torah has become my first choice of a Saturday night activity. It may not always be the easiest thing to do, but I fell in love with Torah when I made sacrifices for it.
Shabbos itself in Yeshiva is also an amazing experience. The singing, dancing, and learning makes for a meaningful experience, and the “hock” brings the chevra together. Meals include beautiful Zemiros, Leibedig dancing, and inspiring divrei Torah from the Rebbeim in Yeshiva. Depending on where your yeshiva is located, staying in for shabbos also helps you feel connected to the area where your Yeshiva is situated. Meals at Rebbeim or local families are always very Heimish, and lead right back into your Beis Medrish before it’s time to head to sleep. All facts considered, your most meaningful experiences will take place as a result of you staying in Yeshiva for shabbos.
Before I finish, I would like to address a point that some of you may be thinking. Yeshiva will take you on plenty of shabbatons, and you will be able to sufficiently see and experience the unique beauty of Eretz Yisrael. You should not feel that if you don’t go away for shabbos, you are missing out. Yeshiva is the place where you will grow and feel connected to the most. This is a fact. At the end of your year, no one will say that their connection to Eretz Yisrael is through their aunt’s house in Raanana or their friend’s house in Beit Shemesh. Your connection to Eretz Yisroel will be felt the strongest through your experiences in Yeshiva.
I wish all of you an amazing year filled with growth in Torah and Yiras Shamayim.
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