|It's summertime now, and for millions of children worldwide, that means summer vacation. The teachers, too, are enjoying a well-deserved break. However, educators have begun to call into question the merits of a lengthy summer vacation. Children often lose skills over the summer, and much time is lost at the beginning of the school year, making up for what was forgotten over the summer.
In many religious schools (yeshivos), summer break has been foreshortened, to three or four weeks instead of ten. Even schools that have a longer summer break fill in with summer learning programs, and Jewish overnight camps place a heavy stress on Torah study, not to lose any time over the summer. Indeed, the Lubavitcher Rebbe has often said that the learning in summer camp has an added benefit, as it is in a stress-free atmosphere in pleasant, natural surroundings.
Every area of Torah study, whether in the works of Chumash, prophets, Mishnah or Jewish law, is fundamentally different than studying secular subjects. Every other type of study -- mathematics, science, English -- were created by the human mind. What is important is that we accumulate knowledge and information. Torah, on the other hand, is G-dly wisdom, which creates life. Through study of Torah we become bound to G-d Himself. It is a unique way to build a relationship with Him. That is why it makes no sense to take a break over the summer. We don't take a vacation from eating, from sleeping, from breathing -- and there is no taking a vacation from Torah study. It is essential to our survival, as individuals and as a people.
We all know the importance of instituting healthy habits from childhood. Tooth brushing, hygiene, good diet. In the same way, spiritual habits must be inculcated at a young age. There is only a short time in which to instill in a child a love for Torah and G-dliness that will sustain him or her for life. That is why Jewish schools tend to keep summer vacation short, or supplement it heavily with Torah study programs. The learning during the summer need not be heavy and oppressive -- it can entail lighter subjects that children will enjoy. But as we say in our prayers, "They [the words of Torah] are our life and the length of our days." Torah was not created by life, but creates life.
In truth, the Torah not only creates spiritual life, it even gives physical life. The book of Zohar writes that G-d used the Torah as a template for creating the world: "He looked into the Torah and created the world."
We, too, through studying Torah, create a new reality in this world. For example, the book of Ezekiel describes, in precise detail, a vision he had of the future third Holy Temple. Our sages say that Ezekiel thus handed down a message -- through studying the laws and details of the Temple, it is considered as if we built it in actuality.
Based on this statement, the Lubavitcher Rebbe instituted the custom of studying the laws of the Holy Temple during the three-week mourning period commemorating its loss (from the 17th of Tamuz to the 9th of Av, beginning this Tuesday). When we fill our minds with a vision of the Holy Temple as it once stood, this in turn fills our hearts with yearning and hope for the rebuilding of the Temple. This, in turn, sets in to motion a process that will culminate with the ultimate Redemption with Moshiach, may it come immediately.