When I was learning in the Mir Yeshiva in Yerushalayim 25 five years ago, the main meal was lunch, which consisted of either roasted chicken or schnitzel. Supper was very light: some bread, soup and a boiled vegetable. The American boys were used to dinner being the main meal of the day, so many would go out of yeshiva to a falafel or pizza store to buy supper. This resulted in many boys being late for night seder, since there were no eating places close to the Mir at that time. I approached the rosh yeshiva, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, and told him the situation, and I assured the rosh yeshiva that if the yeshiva would serve a full-course meal, most of the boys would stay and would arrive on time or even early to night seder. Rabbi Finkel said, “I will think about it.” I got my answer the next night, as the Mir served chicken and potatoes for supper. From that night onward dinner was a filling meal, which the boys enjoyed, and facilitated their arriving on time for night seder.
The Mir Yeshiva still follows this strategy. Last year, the health ministry had many health regulations for yeshivos with foreign students regarding COVID. The boys who arrived needed to be in “capsules”—isolated groups of a maximum of six people. How would the boys be able to learn from their respective rebbeim in much larger groups? The Mir came up with an ingenious solution. When they arrived at the airport, there was a coach bus waiting for the students with a package of food on each seat for each bachur. The bus drove them to a resort hotel in beautiful Ein Gedi, which the yeshiva rented. Each room housed four to six boys and had a porch facing a center courtyard. Each day, rebbeim came from yeshiva to the resort and each rebbe would stand in the open courtyard to give shiur at the appointed time, with all the boys listening from their respective balconies. Meals were delivered to each room’s door and on Thursday night after night seder, cholent was delivered to each student’s door. No detail or expense was spared to ensure the students’ physical needs were met.
Why did Rav Finkel and the Mir Yeshiva invest so much to satisfy the physical needs of the boys? Isn’t yeshiva primarily for the mind and the soul? Rav Finkel understood that attending to the physical comfort and nourishment of the students is in fact a spiritual endeavor, which also nourishes the mind and soul. When students feel loved and cared for, they can focus and concentrate better on their learning.
We can also see Rav Finkel’s philosophy in Parshas Lech Lecha. After Avraham defeated the four mighty kings, the king of Sodom came out to greet Avraham…empty handed. Soon after, Malki Tzedek, king of Yerushalayim, also came to greet Avraham and his students. But Malki Tzedek presented Avraham and his group with food and wine. Rashi explains that Malki Tzedek understood it was appropriate to serve them food and drink, since they were exhausted and hungry from fighting the war. Rashi also quotes the Midrash with an alternate explanation. Since Malki Tzedek was a kohen, his serving of bread and wine was akin to offering a korban (sacrifice), since bread is the staple offered as a korban mincha and wine is used for nesachim (libations) on the mizbei’ach (altar.)
I believe the two explanations can be understood as the deeper dimension of one another. The Gemara says someone who hosts a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) gains the merit of offering a korban in the Beis Hamikdash. Another Gemara says providing wine to a talmid chacham is akin to pouring wine libations. By Malki Tzedek feeding Avraham and his students, he accomplished both.
Rav Finkel understood that investing in the students’ physical needs is also a spiritual endeavor. While meeting the physical needs of any person is a great chesed, as is hachnosas orchim (hosting guests), the Gemara is teaching us there is an additional zechus (merit) to meeting the needs of talmidei chachamim and yeshiva students. This has merit similar to offering a korban and bringing libations, since they have dedicated their life to the study of Torah.
Look around you: a shul rav; your child’s rebbi; a couple of guys regularly learning in your local beis medrash. These are people dedicated to a higher purpose. Any favor or service you can offer them…is like offering a sacrifice in the Beis Hamikdash!
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.