By Alexandra Fleksher
Yeshiva Week, as it’s called in many circles – particularly in the tri-state area – is quickly approaching. While it takes place after the secular holiday travel season, we make our own special kind of contribution to tourism. South Florida residents know to stay away from the restaurants. Disney World has a sharp increase in mincha minyanim in various corners of their parks. Spirit’s LGA and EWR routes to FLL and MIA are pretty much all booked with frum Jews. International travel – from the Bahamas to Yerushalayim – is also a thing during Yeshiva Week.
Vacation, taking a break, having some well-deserved R&R, or whatever you want to call it, is very important to our emotional and physical well-being. Spending time with our family members in a different environment with the opportunity to experience new surroundings and activities is a wonderful way to make memories and connect with each other.
In reality, many families do not have the means to go on expensive vacations, or vacations at all. Pricey Yeshiva Week getaways are hard to justify to the tuition committee. And with the time taken off for yomim tovim, taking off another week of work in January may not be feasible.
The good news is that parasailing and 5-star resorts are not required. If traveling is not an option, exploring new places locally or a short drive away can accomplish many of the same goals. We all know that family vacations don’t always hit the rest and relaxation spot, so incorporating self-care activities into our daily lifestyle, or taking an “emotional health day” off of work for maintenance, is likely more effective than a stint soaking up the sun on the beach after months of running on empty. Getting back to reality after vacation can sometimes require yet another vacation.
Still, the question remains: why are we vacationing? Why are we getting away? What are we getting away from?
As frum Jews, we lead very intense lives. Consider the basic requirements of the average frum male: minyan three times a day, set time for learning, and support a family. Each of these elements requires emotional, physical, and spiritual stamina. Furthermore, our whole mentality as frum Jews is that we don’t breeze through life. We don’t chase after the things that make us feel good. We’re in a constant battle to not give into the desires of the body, and we work mightly to keep our souls alive.
We’re also not meant to be focused solely on ourselves, fulfilling our wants and whims. We have responsibilities to our families and to the klal. And we have responsibilities to ourselves. We have a legacy we were born with that requires us to step up to the plate.
There’s more. We have goals to improve our middos, to avoid speaking lashon hara, to be acutely conscious of how we show up and travel through this world. It’s no walk in the park.
All of this is a lot, yet it shouldn’t drain us. It shouldn’t be that come Yeshiva Week, we live a week in the life we don’t get to live during the year, and we throw off all the external trappings of being frum. Because if we do, they’re just that: external trappings. They have to mean something to us, and be so part of our identity that no matter where we go or what we do, they come with us. Because they are us.
Sometimes our lifestyle can feel draining. We invest considerable resources in being frum. Tuition, housing, Shabbos and yom tov expenses. To afford all this, we have to work very hard. Sometimes we find it overwhelming to juggle our spiritual and working lives, especially if we work in the secular world. Sometimes it feels that something has to give, and unfortunately, first to go is our enthusiasm for our observance at best or our actual observance at worst. Because we just can’t keep it all up. We have a hard time doing everything well.
So come time for Yeshiva Week, we need to get away. But we have to ask ourselves what we’re getting away from. If it’s our life, then there may be something within us that needs exploring.
Leading a life committed to Torah shouldn’t feel like a burden. We should be able to look at our lives and see how our loyalty to halacha and Torah living has only enhanced our lives and our personas. We should be able to say – or at the very least, strive to say – that we couldn’t imagine living a life without Torah observance because it is so part and parcel of who we are. Torah is sweet, and the ways of Torah are pleasant. We need to ensure that our observance is healthy and our experiences with Torah are positive so we can feel this way.
I recently interviewed the renowned Torah teacher Michal Horowitz for Faces of Orthodoxy, the social media account I run. She describes how transformed her students are from learning Torah regularly. When they say they love her, she tells them what they really love is Torah. As Michal says,
Sometimes we become so busy in life we forget to make time for Hashem. We all have to do something for our neshama. We can be observant but do everything by rote. It’s very important to make time for Torah. There are so many learning options today. I met a woman in Toronto who told me she listens to my 10-minute parsha shiur on the OU’s All Parsha app while putting on her makeup. No matter your age, if you find the right teacher, Torah will change your life. Every human experience & emotion is in it. If you make time for it, it will give you clarity, enhance your personal interactions, develop kindness & sensitivity within you. It’s revolutionary.
If our identity is formed and shaped by the Torah, if we can’t imagine ourselves separated from its values, if living a Torah lifestyle is personally meaningful and fulfilling, and it has made you a better person, then no matter where we go or what we do on vacation, our Torah identity will be coming along for the fun too.