Torah study during summer vacation

Talk to children in advance about learning during the summer vacation, and plan together how to use their time well. (Don't miss topic at end: Aliyah during the 9 Days.)

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, | updated: 08:34

מצווה. הרב מלמד
מצווה. הרב מלמד
פלאש 90

The Challenges of Summer Vacation

Each year, school summer vacation arrives accompanied by concerns and stress. True, it is way too long and in need of being shortened, but as that is not happening at this point, parents ought to prepare beforehand, so the vacation passes smoothly, and does not turn into a time of chaos and spiritual decline.

To this end, parents should speak with their children before the vacation begins, and together, summarize their schedules and various plans for vacation time, and later on, make sure they adhere to them. In principle, most children agree that it is important to set specific times for Torah study during the vacation, to utilize their free time by reading insightful books, helping their parents, and other useful activities.

And when matters are agreed upon from the start, it is easier to put them into practice.

Why it is Essential to Get Up on Time

First of all, it is important to be strict about time schedules. Waking-up in the morning should be at a reasonable hour – at the latest, 8:00 A.M., and bed-time should be the same as throughout the school year, or at most, an hour later. The root of all problems begins with the disruption of sleep. When youth go to bed at 2:00 A.M., and wake-up at 10:00 in the morning, essentially, they live without parental supervision and guidance. They come home when their parents are sleeping, and wake up after they’ve left the house. Parents have no opportunity to hear about their children’s activities, or monitor them.

Thank God, we have the mitzvah to read ‘kriyat Sh’ma‘ and pray within a precise time, and thus, even a person who by nature is a late riser, given that he aims to fulfill the mitzvah, merits waking up on time, and organizes his life properly, praying in the 8:00 A.M. minyan at the latest.

All the problems start when children go to bed too late. During that time, when their parents are sleeping and there are almost no adults on the streets, they begin to do stupid things. That’s when they have the opportunity to start experimenting with drugs.

After all, a youth who gets up to pray, eats breakfast, and sets specific times for Torah study, does not suddenly start taking drugs between morning prayers and breakfast, or between his regular Torah study and his other hobbies!

The decline into loathsome behavior, negative friendships, and doing drugs, begins in the wee hours of the night, when bored youth who got up late in the morning, can’t fall asleep at night, and hang out with friends with nothing else to do but drink, eat, laugh at nonsense, and seek out thrills.

This is what is explained in Pirkei Avot (3:4): “Rabbi Chanina ben Chachinai says: He who keeps awake at night, or travels alone on the road, and makes room in his heart for idleness, sins against himself.” The commentators explained that nighttime is intended for sleep, or diligent Torah study; someone who remains awake at night idly, is asking for trouble.

Serve as an Example – on Shabbat

Obviously, simply refraining from negative influences is not enough. Summer break should be filled with positive content, and most importantly, by setting specific times for Torah study, which is ‘our life and lengthening of our days’, and every Jew, whether old or young, while in school or during vacation break, is obligated to learn Torah every day. Parents should summarize with their children which books they will study, and what their goals should be.

Summer vacation is an especially good time to learn topics that are easy and close to one’s heart. It also can serve as an opportunity to review familiar topics. In any case, learning should be done with straightforward and comprehensible books, so that the children or youth – each according to their level – can feel confident and pleased in their studies.

It is advisable for children to learn partly on their own, and partly with a chevrutra (study partner) of similar age, and parents should help them arrange this. Boys and girls should learn separately. Younger children should be motivated to learn by giving them small prizes, while older children should be inspired with rewards appropriate for their age.

If the family has children of different ages, parents can ask the older ones to learn with the younger ones, and in this manner, increase their study time.

Learning with Children

The best advice for educating children is for parents themselves to learn Torah together with their children. Frequently, parents complain about how worn-out they are from summer vacation. Their children drain them emotionally, nudging them to find something for them to do, and constantly complaining that they’re bored. No matter how hard parents try to keep them occupied, the kids continue nagging.

Instead, it is better to arrange a meaningful study session together, and at times when they are bored – offer to continue learning. Learning together will turn vacation time into a productive and pleasant period, and the parent’s relationship with their children will be built on a positive and uplifting basis. As a result, the moral requests parents make of their children, will be more understandable and acceptable.

Build the World of Values

Although most of learning is conducted by teachers on behalf of the parents, the parents still have the most central part of the mitzvah to teach them Torah: understanding the overall vision of the Torah. This is done in open conversations with the children about life and its meaning, by sharing, according to their understanding and age, the moral goals that the parents set for themselves – Torah study, observance of mitzvot, work, and responsibility for Klal Yisrael. Vacation is a good and appropriate time for such conversations as well.

Making Aliyah during the Nine Days

Question: Rabbi, Shalom! First of all, I would like to express my appreciation for your series of “Peninei Halakha” books, which conveys both halakha and knowledge about who we are, and where we came from, and how we have come to this point. With God’s help, all your actions should be blessed, and you should enjoy happiness and pleasure, and good health all of your life!

Precisely because of my appreciation for you, Rabbi, as an honest posek (Jewish law arbiter), and also as a Zionist in the deepest sense of the word, I turn to you with a somewhat delicate question regarding the limitations of the Nine Days before Tisha B’Av. Here are the facts: My brother, his wife and their two small daughters will come to Israel from Canada on Wednesday (they arrive in Israel on the 4th of the month of Av). They are not religious, but quite traditional. I am a chozer b’teshuva, but we come from a very proud Jewish and Zionistic family.  My brother and his family’s Aliyah are a significant and exciting event for all of us. My wife and I immigrated to Israel alone 24 years ago, and I have only one brother. Our parents are still in Canada, and my sister-in-law is an Israeli who left the country many years ago to be with him.

My question borders between halakha, feelings, and a Klal Yisraelattitude: How much is it permissible for us on the day and week they immigrate to celebrate their aliyah? Is it permissible to sing, to play musical instruments, to wave balloons and colorful and happy signs at the airport? Is it permitted to do so in the apartment they will arrive at on that day? And is it permissible to celebrate a family meal with friends in a restaurant? At home? Is a meat meal permissible, and can wine be consumed at such an event?

Rabbi, if you can give me general or specific guidance on the matter, I would be very happy, and it will make it easier for us to experience this great and awesome event, as appropriate for an Israeli and a Torah observant Jew, and also as a loving brother who tries to be compassionate.

Answer: Rejoice in the Mitzvah

This is indeed a joyous occasion for the observance of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land of Israel), which our Sages said is equal to all the mitzvot. Just as when a tractate of Talmud is completed, it is permissible to perform a seudat mitzvah (a joyous mitzvah meal), all the more so for such a great mitzvah as this, for in addition to its mere greatness, it is to be hoped that it will advance and elevate the future of your brother’s family for the better.

Therefore, you are allowed to celebrate at the airport, and you should wave a sign with the words “Ve’shavu banim le’g’vulam”(“And the sons have returned to their border”), or something similar.

In addition, it is permitted to hold meals in honor of their aliyah with drinking wine and eating meat, provided that the meal takes place on the day of aliyah or the following day, for indeed the kabbalists (Rabbi Avraham Azulai in his book “Chesed L’Avraham”) said that on the first night a person enters the Land of Israel, he receives a new soul, whether he is aware of it or not, and therefore the following day deserves to be celebrated.

If you have dinner at a restaurant, you should find a way to make it clear to those around you that you are celebrating Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, and thus, it is not a violation of the mourning for the destruction of the Temple – the exact opposite – a seudat mitzvah that rectifies the mourning.

Incidentally, I must point out that your question moved me to tears. May you merit all the blessings and goodness of the Land of Israel.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at: http://revivimen.yhb.org.il/



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