The Connection Between the Older Bochurim and Us

Thoughts on Emerging from the Covid-19 Lockdown

In some Chassidishe circles, there is an inverse shidduch crisis. We are all familiar with the imbalance between boys and girls in shidduchim, as there are more available girls than boys. In some places, the opposite is true. There is a whole subculture of older bochurim who are having a very difficult time finding a shidduch.

In the Chassidishe world, boys and girls become engaged at earlier ages (many boys are chassanim when they have barely turned eighteen years old), translating, very sadly and unfairly, into a bochur of twenty-two being considered way over the hill.

Many Chassidishe yeshivos grapple with this issue. On the one hand, they must have uniform discipline in the yeshivos, and that means the same rules for everyone. On the other hand, one cannot compare a bochur who has been in the yeshiva for six to eight years to a bochur who just joined. The older bochur has often been through a lot, is much more mature, and needs much more leeway.

This article, however, is not about the older bochur crisis in some Chassidishe circles, although perhaps that should get its own treatment. Rather, it is about some thoughts of what seems to be a very slow, staggered return to “normal” after being in a very abnormal Covid-19 situation for several months. As we see an easing on some of the lockdown restrictions, and with so many of us itching to return to “normal” life, I thought of an incident that transpired with a group of older Chassidishe bochurim a while back.

Personally Hearing Their Pain

There was a Chassidishe yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel that had a group of older bochurim who had been in the yeshiva for a number of years. Each one had a different story as to why it was difficult for him to find his basherte. For one, it was a personal issue. For another, it was a health matter. For a third, it was a family issue. The common denominator was that each member of the group had already been in the yeshiva gedolah for more than five years and there was no yeshuah in sight.

The yeshiva they were in, however, was no longer thriving, and the leadership of that particular community decided that it would be appropriate to close the yeshiva and transfer its talmidim to other yeshivos within the network of yeshivos that served that kehillah. As can well be imagined, the older bochurim were extremely bothered by the decision. At their age, they had a certain comfort zone in their yeshiva. One bochur had a mini kitchen set up in his dorm room. Another bochur had his creature comforts. The thought of starting over in a new yeshiva with new rules at their age was extremely troubling to them. They voiced their concerns to their rabbeim at the yeshiva, who went to the rebbe of the community and conveyed their feelings.

The rebbe was faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, he felt that for the benefit of the entire community, the right thing was to close the yeshiva. On the other hand, he identified with the plight and feelings of the bochurim. What did he do? Despite not living in the city where the yeshiva was located, the rebbe decided to pay an onsite visit. Not only that, but he opted to have a discussion with all of the older bochurim in the yeshiva and to personally hear why they felt so strongly that the yeshiva shouldn’t close and that another yeshiva couldn’t meet their needs.

Upon arriving, the rebbe asked all of the older bochurim to gather in a classroom without any hanhallah members, just the older bochurim with the rebbe, who sat down and let them talk. Each bochur explained why it would be difficult for him and why he so badly wanted the yeshiva to remain open.

A Lost Opportunity

A few days later, one person associated with the yeshiva was thinking about the incident and how the rebbe had gone so out of his way to listen to the bochurim to the point that he insisted on travelling to meet them on their own territory rather than have them come to him. Suddenly, he became very emotional and perhaps even upset.

“How foolish can these bochurim be?” he asked. “How could they have squandered the opportunity? Here they had the heilige rebbe in a room with them. The rebbe asked them, ‘Mein kind, tell me what is bothering you. I want to hear what is difficult for you.’ What did they tell him? That they wanted to remain in the yeshiva because this one has a toaster in his room and can make his own food? That this one likes it because he has his own room and in a different yeshiva he will have to have a roommate? Ribbono Shel Olam, they could have said, ‘Rebbe, rebbe, I can’t take this matzav anymore! I am a bochur in this yeshiva for five years already! Please look at my plight. Look at how remaining stuck at this stage of life is so difficult for me. Rebbe, please plead for rachamei Shomayim upon my behalf for me to become a chosson!’ Instead, they were busy with mundane questions, such as whether they will be able to make grilled cheese in the dorm of the next yeshiva?”

Pining for “Normalcy”…or for the Geulah Sheleimah?

As we start to see the easing of the coronavirus lockdown, and as we see things slowly reopening, I am hearing so many people saying or indicating, “I wish things would get back to normal. Normal school, normal yeshivos, normal chasunos, normal social life…”

Although, of course, we all want these lockdown conditions to end and we want to see the end of this terrible mageifah, I must say that part of me is so sad and disappointed. Is this the only thing we want after two months underground? After losing so many precious neshamos, so many of our leading lights? After so much suffering amongst so many Yidden? Is this the only thing that we will walk away with? “Ah! Boruch Hashem, life is back to normal. The stores are open, the yeshivos are open, the gyms are open, the pizza shop is allowing sit-down meals again…”

Is this what we have been davening for?

After experiencing such a mageifah, when many of us thought that perhaps Hashem would finally take us home and deliver us from this horrible golus, can we instead just be happy that we can go out to eat again? Or even go out to daven and learn again? Is this all we have to show?

The aforementioned story of the older bochurim is ringing in my ears. Somehow, when I heard the criticism directed at them, it resonated with me. How could they not avail themselves of that opportunity? How could they be busy with toasters or with keeping seniority in the room that they had in the dorm, rather than utilizing the opportunity to ask the rebbe to daven for rachamei Shomayim and transform their entire matzav from that of a pitied older bochur into that of a fresh, newly-married yungerman ready to establish his own family with his whole life ahead of him?

As we begin to open, I, too, am wondering: How foolish can I be? Is this the only thing I want – that life should be normal again? That the kids can go to school, that we can go to shul, and that we can go out to eat? Really?

After all this, perhaps we should broaden our horizons as to what we really want.