In a quiet moshav, an enigmatic natural phenomenon is going on. Unfathomable chessed is being done by youths who have chosen to enable parents and families of special-needs children to vacation.
Bein Hazemanim (vacation). Families are on the road from here to there. Yeshivas are traveling to summer camp. And those who aren’t — go out on day trips, looking for a change of atmosphere, at the seaside or on trails throughout our beautiful Land of Israel, to gather strength for the year to come.
This week, in the heat of the scorching summer days, I left Bnei Brak, the city of Torah, and, in my wanderings, came to a moshav, just a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle in the Center of the country. At the entrance to the moshav, one instantly leaves the city behind and enters the calm and quiet of Moshav Nechalim, with its distinct country flavor.
The quiet on the streets of the moshav do not disclose all that is going on within the campus of the Nechalim Yeshiva. The scene that was revealed to me there was thrilling and moving: about 300 special-needs boys and young adults at Ezer Mizion’s overnight camp. Each camper had a personal counselor, a yeshiva bachur who decided to volunteer in this summer camp instead of spending the time with his friends. The work is intensive: 17 hours a day of dedicated supervision and care of the children, and all with a spirit of joy and camaraderie. All the social myths are broken there, here on campus at Nechalim Yeshiva. There is no pursuit of honor; no place for egoism; a true oasis of tikkun hamidot, character perfection, in its purest sense.
I stood there open-mouthed, accompanied by my host, who’s been leading this camp for two decades, the renowned man of chessed Rabbi Meir Quinn. I wondered to myself , in a generation like this, that is so totally focused on self-love, what brings a respected 20-year-old yeshiva bachur (student) to volunteer and act as a support to children with special needs, instead of hanging around with friends on the shores of the Kinneret?! I wondered, and I’m still wondering!! No one on the outside could grasp it. Only one who has seen it for himself can understand how amazing it is and what an antithesis it is to the general, modern social phenomenon. It’s a marvel unexplainable.
And meanwhile, back at the homes of the campers, the parents and siblings rest up after another year of challenges, of emotional and physical struggles, another year of selflessly looking after their dear child, who needs supervision 24/7. During this hiatus, they inhale the clear, rejuvenating fresh air that will empower them for another year of boundless giving.
The following day, I happened to meet the grandmother of a boy in the day camp. She tells me that her son (father of the special child) told her that for 13 years (ever since the child was born), he hadn’t slept a single uninterrupted night, as he’s been sleeping during these days. Frightening!!
The finest boys in the Yeshiva world walk around there, on the Nechalim campus, each one hand in hand with his camper, all with a big smile on their faces. Everyone is happy, and I, as an onlooker, can only be proud that these are our boys! These are the products of our Yeshiva world!! The salt of the earth!! Far more than what is gained by the recipients, is gained by the givers in their sensitivity towards others. Thinking about devoting one’s life to the benefit of others is the first step towards middos (character) improvement.
At the end of parashas Devarim (last section of the Torah), we find the command “to go in His ways and cleave to Him.” Rav Shamshon Refael Hirsch comments on this (Devarim 11:22), “‘And cleave to Him,’ as it says in Sifri (a commentator): Even when you are in the company of other people, remain close to Hashem (G-d). Seek the society of those whose Torah and deeds will inspire you to go in the ways of Hashem.”
If you want to construct for yourself a positive environment and a quality society, seek the friendship of those whose Torah and deeds will inspire you to go in the ways of Hashem!! — people like the counselors at Ezer Mizion camps.
For some, “relaxation” means something different. Their menuchah (rest) is “menuchat shalom v’ahavah…menuchah sheleimah she’Atah rotzeh bah – a rest of peace and love… a perfect rest that You favor.” The kind of rest that compels anyone who sees those “resting” to say, “Praiseworthy is she who bore him… Praiseworthy is his Rebbe who taught him Torah.”
You can spend Bein Hazemanim baking in the heat of Teverya or running to get in all the water, rock and sand trails. Or you can build yourself up during Bein Hazemanim by volunteering on behalf of others and thinking about people in need, in the various organizations and within the family and home.
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