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Torah Never Takes a Vacation

Aryeh Blum

Bein hazmanim has always provided an opportunity for gedolei Yisrael to escape to the mountains, enjoy solitude in nature, and renew their strength in calm, serene locales. We’ve all seen pictures of the gedolim of the previous generations strolling through the summer forests or sitting in the yard of their dacha surrounded by piles of seforim. What about the Torah leaders of today? Where do they go when they need to air out from the pressures of round-the-clock audiences and communal obligations?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Aharon Yehuda Leib Shteinman

Ten Minutes at the Beach

When Rav Aharon Yehudah Leib Shteinman was a young avreich and a father of small children, he customarily traveled with his brood during bein hazmanim to Meron, Tzfas, and Tiveria. He devoted another day during the vacation period to a family trip to Yerushalayim. At night, he would stroll through the streets of Bnei Brak with his children, utilizing the private time to share his wisdom with them and give them instructions for living.

Yeshivas Ponovezh is located on the tope of a hill in the middle of Bnei Brak. Many years ago, before the yeshivah was surrounded by apartment buildings, the hilltop afforded a clear view of the Mediterranean Sea. In general, Rav Shteinman tended to come to the yeshivah only on Friday nights, when he had a learning session with Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz ztz”l. But during bein hazmanim he would bring his children to learn in the Ponovezh beis medrash for a change of scenery, where they could see the sea.

In the past, the Rosh Yeshivah established a policy that every father should dedicate some time during these days to spend with his family, whether on a vacation, on a trip, or simply with a change of scenery. “Even if it is not necessary for the head of the household himself, it is vital for his wife and children,” Rav Shteinman asserted. He maintains that the days of bein hazmanim were designed to engender family unity and to allow a father to focus on his children and dedicate himself to them.

Nowadays, the Rosh Yeshivah, who is a young ninety-nine years old, no longer goes on vacation. Rabbi Uri Kellerman, the head of Yeshivas Kfar Chassidim, once suggested to Rav Shteinman that he come to Kfar Chassidim for a restful vacation. Rabbi Kellerman promised to provide all of the gaon’s needs; the yeshivah would supply him with food and sleeping accommodations, and he would lack for nothing.

Rav Shteinman declined the offer with a smile and an original excuse. “If I were able to leave the yetzer hara in Bnei Brak, I would take you up on your offer. But since the yetzer hara wants to accompany me on the trip, what would we accomplish?”

Nevertheless, Rav Shteinman customarily puts in an appearance at Machaneh Bnei Torah, a program headed by Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi, which takes place for hundreds of youths, many from Mizrachi backgrounds, in one of the vacation spots in the north.

On his way back home, his companions customarily stop the car near the seashore between Haifa and Netanya, and Rav Shteinman alights from the car to recite the brachah of Oseh maaseh bereishis. He spends ten minutes in that spot, gazing into the depths of the sea, then turns on his heels and returns to Bnei Brak.

As soon as Rav Shteinman crosses the threshold of his home, he announces with a broad smile, “That’s it; we have returned from the dacha, for we have seen the sea. Now we can begin learning with intensity.”

 

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