A Leil Iyun is basically a school-wide slumber party, with speeches, shiurim, teacher-led discussion groups, and inspirational videos all night long.
The theme was “Telchi michayil el chayil” – go from strength to strength. With that sort of vague title, I can’t even begin to recall what it was about, or what we did or what anyone said. The fact that after around 10pm my brain shuts down, and by midnight I’m a drooling idiot, just cements the fact that I was bound to not remember much.
But I remember what happened after.
I stayed up late because the program ran late, and I sincerely wanted to take advantage of the unmatched opportunities being offered me. You’re only in 10th grade once, and you only have a 10th grade leil iyun once, and the Rebbetzin was only going to give a seminar on that topic once… So you had to “chap arein” and take advantage.
The result was that most of us didn’t get any sleep until nearly dawn. Did I say drooling idiot? By the time I got home I was a moaning zombie. I collapsed into bed and slept until noon, when my mother asked me to help prepare for Shabbos.
I was less than willing. I was still tired. I didn’t want to vacuum or wash lettuce. (I never wanted to vacuum or wash lettuce, but surely this Friday I had a good excuse not to!)
My mother was unimpressed. With all of it. She was unimpressed with the school for incapacitating her daughter on Friday. And she was unconvinced that there had been any point to it at all. When I dragged my feet and moaned about how tired I was, she might have said something snarky about my bais Yaakov. When I curled up at the top of the (vacuumed) stairs and declared myself too exhausted to put the vacuum away, she might have hinted that my sulky, recalcitrant attitude meant that the wrong topic had been addressed the previous evening.
It wasn’t a shining moment for either of us, but I reached a new low: I saw red. A violent, rageful red that tinted my field of view. I hadn’t ever seen it before, and I’ve only experienced once since.
What did my mother know about my school? What did she know about the leil iyun? I had had a meaningful night of inspiration and growth! I had spent the night learning about how to be a better, stronger, bas Yisroel — an evening the likes of which my mother could only dream — and she had no sympathy or concern for that. All she cared about were mundane things like the vacuum being put away.
How dare she speak that way about my school? How dare she denigrate the Rebbetzin? How dare she minimize the importance of this evening to my personal development?!
I had the self control to merely snap something furious and storm out.
And in the back of my sleep-deprived brain my superego cried. It knew that my over-the-top reaction just proved my mother right.
To this day, I have no idea what I supposedly learned that evening at school. But I do recall what I learned at home the next day. And I also learned that a combination of cloistered elitism and lack of sleep is like a magnet applied to a person’s moral compass. It inexorably draws it away from its natural, true, bearings.
We are taught that we must be taught to be ethical creatures, and that’s why we have such rigorous schooling in Torah. But, as Shulem Deen points out, humans are naturally ethical. We don’t need to be taught ethics; they are self-evident to anyone who isn’t a sociopath.
What we need to be taught are the things that draw us away from natural ethics, and the things that are not self-evident.
Looking back at that day, I realize that I had been taught to value everything in school above natural ethics (see: Why I Didn’t Help the Old Man) and above what I learned at home.
The fact that these ideas are imparted in an environment much like one used for classic brainwashing (sleep-deprived, cloistered), makes me suspicious.
If you need me to be isolated and tired to receive your message, I’m staying home and sleeping in.