It's Not Quite That Simple

For the week ending 26 December 2020 / 11 Tevet 5781

The Beit Midrash on Holiday

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We firmly believe in Hashgacha Pratis, Divine Providence. From the path taken by the ant gathering his food for the winter, to the most cataclysmic earth-shaking events, nothing in the world happens unless Hashem wills it to happen. As Bnei Torah, our job is to notice and to learn. The Coronavirus pandemic is raging around the world, and Israel was not granted an exemption. I would not claim to truly understand the reasons for anything, but I can, at least, observe.

The Yeshiva, since before last Purim has been in a situation of tzimtzum thatadds a protective element of confinement. The students have been confined to capsules of forty, and restricted in their movements, both outside the Yeshiva and within its walls. To say that it has been a challenge would be a gross understatement.

When one studentin a capsule tested positive for coronavirus, the whole program had to go into quarantine. And the restrictions then became even more confining. Each apartment, consisting of ten or so students, was made to quarantine by itself for fourteen days, with all the learning, shiurim via Zoom, exercise and meals taking place in the close quarters of their bedrooms.

One might think that under such difficult conditions, harmony among the roommates and within the program would break down, raw emotions emerging at every little irritation. At least that is what I would have thought. And so it gives me great pleasure to relate to you the following story.

After a few students in the Beit Midrash program (which is a capsule) tested positive shortly after Succot, all members of the program were quarantined for fourteen days. During this period, a few of the students were not feeling well and the Yeshiva arranged for Magen David Adom to come to test the entire group. Of the thirty-two who were in the program, twenty-six of them tested positive. And so another period of quarantine began.

When they finally ended their quarantine after almost a month and were now able to leave their rooms and return to the Beit Midrash — they were elated! Their rabbeim wanted to do more for them and organized for them a three-day trip to the northern part of Israel.

According to the rules of the Health Ministry, the capsule had to stay together and not mix with any other group. They needed a place to rent that would accommodate them exclusively. A facility was located in Sdei Eliezer, a settlement north of Rosh Pina. The owner was hesitant at first because he had just hosted another institution the week before and they were extremely rowdy, disturbing the neighbors and incurring visits by the police. The owner told Rabbi Uriel Goodwin, who had organized the trip, that he should find another place. He had decided that the absolute maximum number of young men who could be controlled on his estate was twenty-five. The Ohr Somayach group was thirty-seven, including the rabbeim and the bus driver. Rabbi Goodwin assured the owner that he would vouch for the good behavior of the students, and the owner reluctantly relented — but insisted on strict rules for the pool use and the maximum noise level.

The property is beautiful. It has acres of grassy land, a basketball court, a soccer pitch, a very large swimming pool and a fruit orchard with pomegranates, tangerines, grapefruits and pomelos. With permission of the owner, they took terumah and maaserot on the ripe fruit with a beracha — a first for many of them. They disposed of the terumah appropriately and gave the maaser rishon to a Levi.

The weather for all three days was quite warm. They really enjoyed the swimming pool and the sports facilities, while also setting aside fixed times for davening and learning Torah.

After their first day at the estate, the owner came over to Rabbi Goodwin and told him: “I’ve never seen bochrim ( yeshiva students) like your bochrim. They have real derech eretz (good manners and good character). They speak beautifully to one another. They are very refined. They even play sports like Bnei Torah. In fact, I’m so impressed that I am going to make you an offer that you won’t believe. It’s azechus (merit) for me to have them on my property. I’d love you all to stay another day for free.”

On the evening of the second day, after a schmooze and a siyum, they had a barbeque, a bonfire and a kumsitz with music, singing and telling stories of our great and righteous ancestors. The owner joyously participated. He again repeated his offer, this time with even more earnestness. The group stayed for an additional afternoon. They then continued on to Amuka, where they davened for shidduchim, and then returned home to the Yeshiva in Yerushalayim.

It is clear to me that their experience during their quarantines only increased their love and respect for one another, and created a sense of unity that can only be admired and emulated. One might perhaps say that if this alone was the purpose of their group bout of coronavirus — it was well worth it.

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