It was about halfway through my first year in yeshiva. The war in Gaza was going in full force. Rockets were pummeling Israel, Israel was fighting back, and the world sat back in their comfort and judged.
I had been put in a unique situation, because I was writing for a website, Chabad.org, that had a huge following of people that wanted to know what was happening in a more real perspective. Open-minded folks that wanted to hear the news from the front, without the lies the world was telling them.
I was the only one writing for them at the time that was willing to jump into the fray and get the word out about what was happening.
I had already reported in Sderot once, before the war, and it was calling to me again. I told Chana Weisberg, my editor at the time, that I wanted to go in. She said okay, as long as I understood the danger I was putting myself in. At that time, rockets were barraging all of the south of Israel regularly, and people were fleeing. I understood the danger, but I wanted to go.
I told one of my rabbis in yeshiva that I would have to miss the next day of learning. I had been warned by him before that he really didn’t think it was good I was missing so much class during the war, but I figured he would understand. He didn’t.
Now, this isn’t one of those stories of a kid from yeshiva who is complaining about his rabbi. In fact, his points were all so true, and so strong, that I became extremely confused.
“Elad, you’re here to grow. You have only one year to do it in. Every moment is precious, every moment counts. You won’t ever have a chance like this again. Your growth is the most important thing,” he said.
I remember listening to him, realizing that what he was saying was true. I had missed so much, and I had fallen behind many of my classmates.There’s no question that every moment in yeshiva counts when you only have one year to do it in, and since I was already one of those guys that had trouble sitting down and learning and focusing, I knew I would be making a heavy sacrifice by continuing to miss class.
And so I did what I usually did at these times. I went to what I considered my mentor at the time, another rabbi in the yeshiva. He always seemed to get me, and I needed to hear what he had to say.
We met in his office. It was late at night, maybe eleven or so. He smiled at me, and grabbed a bottle of whiskey that was sitting on his desk and poured us both a glass. We said l’chaim, and I laid it all out for him. How I felt about my writing, how I felt about yeshiva, how I felt that the first rabbi was right, that I should probably listen to him, but this just felt so important, I didn’t know what to do.
He looked at me this whole time, with these serious but soft eyes, and I remember how his smile slowly left, and I could tell he was thinking this all over, and after I finished talking, we sat there for a bit in the quiet and the dimly lit room, and I watched as he mulled over what I had said.
At first, he didn’t seem to answer my question. He said, as he took another sip of l’chaim, “There’s so much misinformation out there. Lies. And it’s holding us hostage. Our leaders hostage. They act because of what the world tells them, and not because of what they know is right.”
I nodded, and noticed that his eyes were a bit red.
“Hashem put you in this situation for a reason,” he continued, “You’re a writer, and your words have the power to change the world.”
Our conversation continued, and I told him how I felt about missing class and how I wasn’t doing enough and he nodded, and said, “Your doing this will help you embrace your Judaism more in the long run. I think you should go.”
And I remember how when he said that, something felt like it clicked in my head, and I knew he was right, and I knew I had to go.
The next day, I went to Sderot.
That ended up being one of the most meaningful days of my life, and I don’t think I ever understood the nature of Israel more than that day. I published the piece on Chabad.org, as well as on my own personal blog at the time. It became the most popular piece on my own blog, and generated enormous discussion. Who knows, maybe it changed the way people saw things.
I do know one thing for sure: that experience of sitting down with my rabbi, hearing what he said, that moment forever changed the way I looked at the process of growth. I learned that sometimes, advice can be objectively good and true, but still not be the right advice for us. That our road will never be the same as everyone around us, and that truth is tailor fit to each person.
I’ll always be thankful to my mentor and rabbi for guiding me in a way that was beyond the objective. I hope that one day, everyone will have access to such advice.