A number of years ago, when I was a bochur learning at the Mir in Eretz Yisroel, Rav Binyomin Finkel, the son of the rosh yeshiva, Rav Aryeh zt”l, gave a shmuess for the bochurim immediately preceding the summer bein hazemanim vacation. To a room packed with bochurim expecting a talk about the importance of not slackening off during this time, Rav Binyomin began by extolling the amazing opportunity presented by this time when we are off, when we are uninhibited and unfettered by the constraints of the zeman and of yeshiva rules and regulations. “It’s bein hazemanim,” he said. “You can do what you want.”
Something in the back of the minds of us listeners didn’t seem right. Of course we all revel – deep down, or not so deeply down – in being “off,” but was Rav Binyomin telling us that this was indeed how it should be?
Smiling at us in camaraderie, however, Rav Binyomin went right on. “Yes,” he confirmed. “Why should you feel the pressure of all the strict yeshiva rules during bein hazemanim? Bein hazemanim is a time to let loose, to do your own thing, to do what you want, not what the yeshiva tells you to do.”
Was this tzaddik truly telling us all these things?
He continued, “Did you ever have a cheishek, a desire, to stay up all night and learn through the Rambam’s hilchos deyos? During the zeman, you can’t do that. A yeshiva can’t have bochurim doing whatever they want. There has to be a curfew, and there has to be a communal limud with everyone studying the same areas. Otherwise, it would be chaos and the yeshiva could not teach or function.”
“But during bein hazemanim? Do whatever you want! Did you ever have a cheishek to find some out-of-the-way bais medrash and just sit there and learn through the Peirush Mishnayos of the Rambam, or his Shemona Perakim, or any other limud, Mishnayos Middos, Kinnim? Well, now’s the time to do it! Who’s going to stop you?”
“It’s bein hazemanim. We’re free. There are no rules. None of the usual constraints. It’s time to let loose and do what your heart desires.”
By now, we understood exactly where Rav Binyomin was going with all this and we were smiling with him. In his inimitably humorous and witty style, Rav Binyomin was telling us exactly what to do with our bein hazemanim freedom. Indeed, we should let loose. Indeed, a person needs a change of pace and some time to freely chase his whims rather than feel constrained and made to conform with the strictures of yeshiva, school, work or societal norms.
With all that said, it was understood that we would use all of this freedom to our benefit, not to do ourselves harm. What thinking, rational person would use his freedom against himself? Sure, we all have a yeitzer hara telling us to waste our precious free time on inanities – at best – or on questionable or even destructive behaviors. We have enough seichel, though, to recognize the immaturity and short-lived gains, if any, of such notions.
One who wants to use his free time to the max will let loose in a way that ensures that he will not only enjoy right now, but will be filled with a lasting joy that will long outlive his vacation time. We all want to do what is right and good. We want to use our time wisely, and yes, we want to use our time off to refresh, recharge and enjoy. Everyone needs some downtime, when we can let loose and do our own thing. We can and we should do so, Rav Binyomin taught us, and we should indeed truly enjoy our vacation time.
Did you ever have a cheishek to just enjoy yourself – with family, friends or alone – while shutting out the world around you? Perhaps societal expectations or the necessities of work never really allowed for that. Now, however, during vacation time, we can go ahead and just do it. Unplug yourself from all the apps, the chats, the clip viewing and sharing, the constant text blasts and the non-stop flow of pointless information. Do it for one whole day – or for two or three! You’re on vacation and you can do as you please.
Have you ever thought about going through a certain Hebrew or English sefer but never had the time? Or perhaps among your crowd it’s just not considered “normal” to be learning such works or being busy with self-improvement. Or maybe you wanted to take a certain step but were afraid of being looked at as hopelessly nerdy for it.
Well, now’s the time to let loose and do as you please. Stick it to everyone else. You’re on vacation. You’re unshackled, unfettered and there’s no need to conform. Go for it. Be a nerd for a day. You might so enjoy not caring about what everyone says, you’ll have a hard time stopping when vacation’s over.
• • • • •
The Mishnah (Avos 6:2) tells us that “ein lecha ben chorin ella mi she’osek b’talmud Torah.” No man is truly free save for one who toils in Torah study.
A frum fellow once had a not-yet-religious Jewish college student over at his home for a Shabbos meal. The Shabbos table discussion was fascinating and covered multiple areas, and at one point they came to discuss the above Mishnah, which the Jewish student had recently heard about.
“I can understand that there may be benefits to religion and to living a religious life,” the student maintained, “but how in the world can you claim that your life is the freest life? You yourself admit that there are so many restrictions, so many dos and don’ts. You might claim that the restrictions are good for me, okay, but how can you claim that the life you live now is freer than the one I do? I can do whatever I want. Can you?”
The host smiled at his guest and asked, “Tell me, can you see yourself leaving everything you are used to doing and instead sitting and learning in a study hall for hours and days on end? Or would you find that pretty difficult at this stage?”
The student chuckled and replied that he’d surely go out of his mind if he’d be forced to sit and study for hours like that.
“And tell me,” the host continued, “would you easily be able to give up all the things you normally do on Saturday and decide to fully keep Shabbos instead?”
The student laughed. “I’d have a very difficult time with that one, that’s for sure!”
“And how about deciding to keep strictly kosher?” the host pressed. “Or limiting what you did, what you watched, or where you went?”
“Man,” the student held his hands up, “don’t press all that stuff on me just yet!”
“I’m not pressing anything on you,” the host assured him, smiling. “I’m just showing you that you are not half as free as you think you are. I just gave you a host of examples of behaviors and a lifestyle you do not find yourself free to do. It’s too difficult, and I don’t blame you. Anyone brought up the way normal Western kids are brought up today would find himself none too free to control himself, his activities or his impulses.”
“So you see that while Western man sees himself as being free, he is actually quite beholden to his impulses. He has no training in how to be truly free to act as he might believe rather than as he might desire.”
“Take myself, on the other hand,” the host pressed further. “Am I not free to go to a non-kosher restaurant and dig in? Is anyone stopping me? I’m stopping myself, that’s all, but I am free to do it in an instant if I’d want to. I just don’t want to.
“It’s the same with every other ‘restriction’ of an observant lifestyle. Of course there are restrictions, but they are self-imposed. Nobody is out there with a stick forcing an observant person to do anything. He decides to impose these restrictions on himself, and he is free to choose to do otherwise should he so desire.
“In short,” the host concluded, “while I may not be free, I choose to be so. The Torah empowers me to make this choice. Western man, on the other hand, finds it near impossible to limit himself, even when he knows that certain limits may truly be for his own benefit. A lifestyle of such limited choices is hardly a free one.”
“So who’s free?” the host challenged with a grin. “I can switch on that light in a second if I wanted to. Do you think you could start keeping Shabbos from now on without the Torah teaching you how to do so?”
Shocked, but won over, the student admitted that perhaps his life was not nearly as “free” as he’d always assumed it was.
• • • • •
While it is true that there is usually nobody actually forcing us to do what is right, yeshiva and school rules as well as societal and family norms do not always allow us to choose to do what we know is right. Oftentimes, if not most of the time, we feel somewhat forced to act properly, to behave the way we know we should. We don’t feel like it’s a choice we really made.
Well, now we’re on vacation. True, camps have rules as well, but they are quite relaxed, and societal norms, depending on where we are, are either minimal or also much relaxed. Now is our chance to let loose and be free. We can be the ones to decide to do, behave, act and engage in what we know is right and good even though no one is forcing us to do so. It’s our life. We’re free to live it meaninglessly – or meaningfully. We’re free to act immaturely and on a whim, or to show ourselves – no one else – what we’re really made out of.
It’s bein hazemanim. It’s summer vacation. We’re free. We can enjoy ourselves the way we want. Even when society may have decided that one must enjoy himself in certain popular manners that are “expected” and “in” – however empty, short-lived, wrong or immature such “enjoyment” may be – we can do what we want and have no need to answer to anyone else.
We’re free. We can let loose. We can have a really fun-filled, enjoyable, relaxing, safe and proper vacation and nobody can stop us.
Go for it.