As I’ve written before, the boys from the yeshiva are mostly local to our Five Towns/Far Rockaway community. We have over half a dozen kosher pizza stores in the neighborhood, countless other eateries and places to waste time, I am sure the vast majority of homes have a computer with internet, the mesivta boys all have secular high school classes to attend and most boys go to college at some point -- in short, there is no shortage of potential distractions from learning, and yet the yeshiva somehow instills in the boys a drive to finish masechtos and learn with hasmadah. That is no small feat.
Instead of writing about something the guest speaker said or something any of the hanhala said, as I’ve done in the past, I want to just mention something one of the boys said that I thought encapsulated what makes the yeshiva special. This was I think a 12th grader who asked reshus from the menahel to speak for just a moment, and, on his own, took the opportunity to express hakaras hatov to all the older bachurim and kollel guys who put in countless hours not just to finish the masechta themselves, but also made time to help the younger guys who also wanted to finish. He mentioned that just that morning a boy was not quite done with the masechta but wanted to be part of the siyum, so one of the older guys in the yeshiva spent the morning learning with him whatever blatt he needed to complete.
I don’t mean to take anything away from the Rebbeim, the Rosh Yeshiva, the hanhala, all of whom deserve credit for making the yeshiva work. But a yeshiva is made of more than it’s staff and more than the walls of a building. I would venture to say that the influence of peers is far greater than that of Rebbeim, Roshei Yeshiva, and maybe even of parents. We are so used to speaking of the negative influence of peer pressure, but it works the other way as well. What this 12th grader recognized (and had the good midos to express hakaras ha’tov for) is that what makes the yeshiva a success is the guy sitting next to him who he can ask a question to at night seder, the guy whose davening may inspire him, the guy like himself who he sees covering blatt after blatt in a difficult masechta and proves that it can be finished if you apply yourself. It’s not just that the better or older guys in the yeshiva are there as passive role models to emulate – it’s that they reach out to others, they extend the invitation for a chavrusa, they extend the invitation to a discuss a difficult Tosfos, they are there just to talk to.
Were this just the offhand remark of a 12th grader, I have to admit that being the cynical person that I am, I might dismiss it. But I am in the yeshiva myself many nights of the week to learn for a bit and daven ma’ariv (and parenthetically, I am not the only one – there are other parents, alumni, people from the community who are sitting and learning. Yeshiva is not just a place to dump your teenager in, but to be effective needs to be part of your life and your community’s life, but that’s a discussion for another time…) and I see the interactions first hand. I want to share a conversation I overheard before Shavuos. An older boy was speaking to a younger chavrusa and asking him where he intended to spend the Yom Tov. This younger boy said that he planned to go the shul X, where they were known to have a lavish buffet going all night. “But,” said the older boy, “This is your yeshiva!” (I will spare you the details of the ensuing debate among the boys as to whether the yeshiva would allow a small grill to be brought in to provide this younger boy with his needed calories; suffice it to say that as far as I know, it didn’t happen.) It’s not the Rosh Yeshiva’s yeshiva, the Rebbeim’s yeshiva, or anyone else’s yeshiva – you have to make it your business to be here to learn, this boy recognized, because it’s YOUR yeshiva. And showing up is just half the picture -- this older bachur did more than show up himself; he communicated to those around him why it was important to do so.
Don’t you wish you have an older chavrusa like that when you were a teenager?
My son is a quiet type, but somehow he doesn't have a moment of his day to himself. He doesn’t only have chavrusas with beis medrash chaveirim who he knows well and has been together with for years, but he has younger guys who he learns with as well – he has a twice a week mishmar with a 9th grader, he has a chavursa with an 8th grader learning mishnayos, he has a halacha seder with someone else in the mesivta, he just asked me about setting up a night seder during the summer with a 10th grader who asked to learn with him. This is a boy who is perfectly happy when he gets the chance in the summer to sit in a beis medrash with no chavrusa and just keeping finishing masechtos. But that’s not how the yeshiva operates – you can’t help but be drawn into helping the next guy, setting up yet another chavrusa when someone (especially a younger bachur) asks. It’s not enough to finish the masechta yourself – what have you done to help the other guy do the same?
And again, I am a cynic (I prefer the term “realist”). I can appreciate why a parent might say, “Why should I send my son to a yeshiva where there are bachurim more concerned with spending Shavuos night, of all times, fressing rather than be in yeshiva?” This why we have a proliferation of yeshivos, each one of which tries to be more exclusive, to take only the idis she’b’idis she’b’idis; we have parents competing for their metzuyanim (what parent does not think their child is a metzuyan?) to gain entrance into these exclusive clubs. It could be that this is what your child needs; it could be that the Shavuos fresser will drag him down and create an environment that is not conducive for growth. What chinuch is best for your child is a personal decision. All I can say is that 70 boys finishing Kesubos, which by my guesstimate is close to a third of the yeshiva, are enough proof for my own cynical reservations that the that the system works – that they not only are not dragged down where they are, but that they elevate and inspire those around them, myself included.