Travels and Travails


rabbi-pinchos-lipschutzBy Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The parshiyos that we lain during the summer months contain lengthy descriptions of the travels and travails of Klal Yisroel in the midbar. Stop after stop, they camped, they rested and they continued.

The accounts of the masa’os contain lessons relevant to us at this time of year.

These weeks, wherever you happen to find yourself in the Jewish world, you see minivans and Suburbans loaded down with families heading off to the country. You peer inside and find duffel bags labeled for camp, hardworking rabbeim and moros smiling at the ability to take a breather, and regular good people looking forward to the rarified air and slower pace ahead of them.

Just as each juncture in life, the highways and byways on which we travel to reach our various destinations, serves a purpose and contains lessons for us.

For the next couple of months, the intensity of life hopefully dials down a notch; allowing people to relax and release some of their stress. We must remember, though, that our mandate remains the same. We are Jews twelve months a year; summer heat, mountain air, dusty bungalows, hot grills and tantalizing barbecues should not distract us from our responsibilities.

City families migrate out of town and settle in bungalows and comfortable homes in the region dotted with mountains, lakes and a few native year-round residents. Many mekomos haTorah resettle as well, escaping the streets of the city for more peaceful and private environs where Torah learning continues unabated. Bnei Torah look forward to the weeks spent on camp grounds, striving for greater heights in ruchniyus, in surroundings which allow them to appreciate the niflaos haBorei. There’s nothing like it.

In the summer camps, devoted staff members try to ensure that the ruchniyus of the campers improves at the same time that they enjoy the open air and physical activities of the summer, so that the youngsters emerge from the summer rejuvenated, rested and ready to take on a new school year.

In bungalow colonies, toddlers play as their mothers sit close by, chatting and taking in the serene surroundings. The men take it easy as well, playing ball, learning, davening and enjoying the leisurely pace of country life. Children run off to day camp, leaving their humble abodes in the morning and sometimes not returning until dusk, tired, filthy and out of breath, but sporting a smile that conveys the joy of summer for a youngster.

It’s a special time for all, and even those of us not privileged to relocate or alter our schedules as much as we would like to during these summer months, would benefit from taking an occasional breather and allowing the slower pace of the season to impact us positively.

One of the most productive and exhilarating seasons in the prewar olam hayeshivos were these summer months, when bnei yeshiva – separated from each other most of the year by very long distances, at a time when there were no telephones, cars or busses – gathered in dacha locations.

The black and white pictures of the era show leafy trees and sun-dotted paths, smiling bochurim gathered around leading roshei yeshiva, their plainly evident simchas haTorah adding to the pictures a color all their own. The photographs capture their sheer joy at being together, united in a setting conducive to pilpul chaveirim and chilutz atzamos.

So many of the stories retold in the olam haTorah took place in the dachas in places such as Kremenchuk, a town none of us can find on a map, but anyone who has been through the yeshiva system has heard of repeatedly.

There was another small hamlet called Druskenik, where many would go for dacha during the summer. Even though the local householders waited all year for the summer months, when they could generate some much-needed income by renting out space, the rov of the town would make it his mission to ensure that poor bochurim who had no money for room and board were also welcomed. He arranged for a few homes to be set aside for this purpose, with free space for bnei yeshiva.

One of those talmidim, Rav Nisson Waxman, who went on to become a rov in Petach Tikva, wrote of the time he arrived in the picturesque vacation town and heard the news that the rabbon shel kol bnei hagolah, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, was on his way there. The excitement was palpable, for Rav Chaim Ozer was the virtual king of Lithuanian Jewry and champion of the bnei Torah. He carried the burdens of a nation and its individuals, and had no respite from the endless lines and requests that came to his door. He was always available for everyone who needed him, writing classic teshuvos in response to the most intricate halacha shailos from around the world, helping the poor and forlorn, and providing guidance to rabbonim, roshei yeshiva and yeshiva bochurim as well.

His much anticipated, short summer break, allowed him to sit in the forest with talmidei chachomim and yeshiva students discussing the havayos Abaye v’Rava in the pleasant air, with fewer of the pressing issues occupying his time.

Rav Nisson Waxman depicted the scene of bnei yeshiva lining the street near the house slated to be the gadol’s vacation home, as they awaited his imminent arrival. Accompanied by the rov, Rav Chaim Ozer soon came. Together, they entered the home.

Inquisitive bochurim who were within earshot were sure that they overheard Rav Chaim Ozer say to the rov that he had to check the place out. They were almost certain that they heard him say, “I must check if it’s suitable for her.” But that didn’t make sense.

“Isn’t Rav Chaim Ozer a widower?” everyone in the crowd asked each other in mumbles, as they wondered to whom he was referring.

The rov later explained that Rav Chaim Ozer was worried about the cook who would be charged with preparing meals for him and his many inevitable visitors. He feared that the kitchen might be far from the dining room and that the distance would create an extra burden for the woman, who would have to carry food between the rooms many times a day. So the senior rov, the greatest giant of Klal Yisroel in his day, personally went to inspect the house to ensure that it would be convenient for the cook.

The Torah of the masa’os.

Rav Moshe Feinstein was one of the greatest poskim in recent history and served as rosh yeshiva of Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim.

A talmid of the yeshiva who lived in an out-of-town community, far from the great yeshiva centers, grew apprehensive about going home for the summer vacation. In yeshiva, he was surrounded by friends and Torah. Back home, there were very few frum Yidden and only one shul. His parents wanted him home for the summer, and he understood that he had to comply with their wishes, but he dreaded the loneliness he knew would set in.

As the zeman finally wound down and the day of departure arrived, he went to his rosh yeshiva for advice and a brochah. Rav Moshe had once piece of advice to share with him.

“When you go home, they will be watching you,” said Rav Moshe. “No one from your town has ever come to learn in New York before, and they will probably consider you a great talmid chochom. They will be looking to see how you respond to their rabbi. They will observe whether or not you, the accomplished student in a great yeshiva, consider him to be a scholar. Most probably, the rabbi in your town delivers a brief shiur between Minchah and Maariv, and most likely, it will be something simple. You will probably want to learn while he speaks, considering yourself above whatever he is saying.”

Rav Moshe looked at the bochur and continued. “My advice to you is that when the rov speaks, close your Gemara and listen intently to whatever he is saying. Otherwise, people will think less of him.”

With that, Rav Moshe wished the bochur a safe trip home.

The posek hador was giving a p’sak in the sugya of masa’os, how a ben Torah, a mentch, behaves when he is away from yeshiva.

Summer is a gift. Vacation and the relaxed pace are gifts. As with any gift, without proper awareness of how to utilize it, the gift is worthless. We must be ever vigilant for ourselves and our children especially during this care-free period.

In this week’s parsha, in the middle of relating the names of the various places where Klal Yisroel camped, reassembling the Mishkan and then dismantling it again, the posuk tells us, “Az yoshir Bnei Yisroel es hashirah hazos.” The Yidden sang a song.

They understood that each leg of the journey was part of a bigger plan. They knew that each station along the way was part of a process of preparing them for their arrival in Eretz Hakodesh. Midroshim and meforshim interpret the names of various places as referring to different experiences and lessons throughout the travels and travails of the Jewish people.

As we begin the summer, the season of masa’os, let us plan accordingly for a healthy and safe summer, spiritually as well as physically. Let us remind ourselves that to be inconsiderate of other people’s feelings isn’t fun and is never in style, during winter or summer. As we think about enjoying ourselves, let’s also consider other people’s feelings and try to provide those around us with as good a time as we seek for ourselves.

Let’s get out there to enjoy Hashem’s world and not stay locked up in our daled amos, but may we never forsake the daled amos shel halachah.

Let us loosen up and slow down a bit so that we will have more strength to take on the challenges of Elul with greater intensity.

And let us hope that we, too, will be able to look back at our summer masa’os and appreciate their value, singing a shirah of our own for all we have gained by the time the bell rings to announce that summer and its blessings have come to a close.

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  1. “The black and white pictures of the era show leafy trees and sun-dotted paths, smiling bochurim gathered around leading roshei yeshiva, their plainly evident simchas haTorah adding to the pictures a color all their own. The photographs capture their sheer joy at being together, united in a setting conducive to pilpul chaveirim and chilutz atzamos.”

    And they did this without a/c??

    A lesson for us. It is possible to survive without air conditioning every minute.