Dear Coach Klein,
I recently had a friendly debate with a few of my friends in yeshiva about extra curricular activities in high school, namely sports, and whether or not they qualify as bitul Torah. A friend of mine was in shock that my Ida Crown friends and I do not consider the countless hours spent in wrestling practice to be bitul Torah.
One fellow Ida Crown alum explained that as high school teenagers, many of us sat around not doing much at all or were involved in other activities much worse than nothing. He explained that wrestling itself did not stop us from learning Torah since we wouldn’t have been learning anyway and therefore wrestling in high school is not considered bitul Torah. A fair point.
Another friend pointed out that the concept of bitul Torah does not insinuate that every second not spent learning is bitul Torah. Rather, bitul Torah is when a person doesn’t properly value his time and is not kovea itim l’Torah or perhaps he is, but nevertheless spends too much of his free time doing useless activities. He then demonstrated that wrestling does not come at the expense of being kovea itim l’Torah and based on how seriously the Torah takes physical health, wrestling is not considered “useless” either. Therefore, wrestling does not fit into either criteria of bitul Torah. A very fair point, indeed.
I took this these answers one-step further. I explained to my friend that ICJA wrestling is much more than just exercise. I told my friend that I simply would not be half the person I am today if not for the wrestling team and its coaches. During my wrestling career, it became evident that I could justify with all the reasons in the world why I shouldn’t have gone to Sunday morning wrestling practice, but when the next wrestling meet comes around, my opponent will not take that into consideration. He will not “go easy” on me because I have an “excuse” to be out of shape or take bad shots. Wrestling taught me responsibility. I could continue getting mediocre grades in school and blaming it on learning disabilities or I could take responsibility for myself. I didn’t have to accept anything less than an “A,” even if that meant spending triple the amount of time studying than everyone else.
Coach, you gave me this understanding using a metaphor for life: you explained that at the end of the road is a giant scoreboard (hopefully the kid running it knows what he’s doing), and that scoreboard doesn’t take excuses (or NCSY conventions) into account. You taught me the importance of dedication, and how meaningful it is to be dedicated to something greater than myself instead of wasting time on short-term, meaningless pleasures. In the middle of my high school career, I took a step back to consider where I was going and decided that I wanted to achieve greatness in every aspect of my life. Once I saw that I could achieve greatness in wrestling with some discipline and dedication, I realized that I can and must do the same with the rest of my life.
When I arrived at Yeshivat Hakotel, a year and a half ago, it quickly became evident that becoming the person that G-d expects me to be, and achieving ultimate greatness in His world will take more responsibility and dedication than I have ever imagined. I have some friends that, unfortunately, could not handle the notion, and either gave up completely or didn’t give it their all. They decided that they had a good reason not to become great in Torah making remarks like, “We have never been taught how to properly learn Gemara, nor have we ever been expected to sit and learn for hours at a time. All these New Yorkers had morning seder for 6 years!” My friends made great excuses. But I understood that excuses are temporary, and that at the end of the road, I’ll be judged by how much effort I put forth, nothing else. I already knew what it meant to take responsibility for myself and to be truly dedicated. It took four years of ICJA wrestling to figure it out, no more and no less. Of course, learning all day was difficult, and still is, but I’m doing everything I can to succeed. I write this at 4AM, as I sit on guard duty watching over the yeshiva. I live in the holiest part of the holiest city of the holiest country in the world, all because you taught me the importance of being dedicated to something truly important.
Soon, I will be going to Tzahal for a year and a half, unlike many of my friends who initially expressed interest but then shied away due to the danger or because they didn’t want to do guard duty in the freezing cold for four hours straight. I wrestled at ICJA, so I am willing to dedicate myself to what I believe is right, no matter what challenges it entails. Coach, if not for you and your team, I would not learn half the Torah that I do today, let alone live a life devoted to Torah and its values. Our time spent in wrestling practice was the antithesis of bitul Torah. It gave me the tools to build my foundation of Torah study and a life centered around it. Thank you, Coach.
Zach Cohn (’12)