Let me preface with the obvious: I am not writing this out of need.
I feel no obligation to justify myself to anyone who at first glance doesn't agree with my views. As much as I am open to hear other people's views and opinions, I am not phased if my views are only a minority or even if you don't respect them. The point is not that at the end you will end up agreeing with me.
Simply put, I am writing this for anyone who finds themselves battling with the same issue I have dealt with the past couple years. That hopefully I will help shed some light and perhaps a new perspective. Now you might claim, and you may be right, that my actions aren't so shocking. How many bochurim per grade don't finish 'the system.' Some hang on longer than others, but its become a common occurrence for people to 'drop out' somewhere in between. I therefore want to make a seemingly bold statement: I don't see myself leaving the system. Yes, technically, the system dictates semicha in a yeshiva-ish environment, but when has Chassidus ever been taken simply at face value. I see leaving the system as the only way for me to stay in the system. Let me clarify:
Where is the balance between individuality and conformity? Or, in other words, is there a place for personalized worship in organized religion? The more leniency allowed, the weaker the "community" becomes. Unlike other ultra-orthodox groups, it does seem like Chabad accepts the possibility of the gray zone. The Rebbe pushed many not to give up their individual passions and activities that weren't openly Jewish, but rather to stay and use out those talents as its own way of serving G-d. From Hendel Lieberman as an artist, to Dr. Hanoka as a solar physicist. However, how far, exactly, can one really stretch the lines? The Rebbe did give unique instructions that didn't follow the norm, but they were in unique circumstances to a certain few. Especially with the Rebbe's stress on the specialness of Tomchei Temimim and staying in the system until marriage.
On that point, I think another issue has to be addressed. Is Tomchei valuable for what it offers, or is it special in it's right? If the only benefit one can see in going is the fact that the yeshiva is called Tomchei, is that enough?
Let me relate this issue to my past year as a shliach. I had no system, no schedule, no order, no purpose. No one even seemed to care. Sorry, let me rephrase, no one cared. Under the false pretense that bochurim at my age don't want to be given a schedule, don't want or expect any attention, we were allowed to live life "as we so desired." I claim this is a case of the chicken and the egg paradox, but that's another discussion. Sadly, the way I see it, it doesn't get any better the older you get. For most, I think the only thing that keeps them there is the fact that they don't see any alternative.
It is on the basis that I brazenly ask, is this what the Rebbe wanted?
I say no.
I say no not because I disregard the importance of the system, but because I believe staunchly in what I believe is the Chabad outlook on life. The ultimate goal is to utilize one's abilities to their greatest capacity in the service of G-d. That comes to everyone in their own shape and form. For many it may be in the yeshiva. However, for many it could be helping a shliach in Thailand, it could be going to a trade school, the possibilities are truly endless. For me, I believe (and hope) that it will be in Machon Lev. Why Machon Lev? What can I say, I'm a sucker for 5 shek falafel.
Obviously, the ultimate goal is to find one's own potential in the holiest of venues as possible. I would never go over to any bochur and tell him that I am happy I had to pave my own path. That yeshiva is pointless and he should try and diversify his portfolio. I would try to tell him, though, that he has to find his own path. He should try his hardest to find it in a lubavitcher yeshiva, but if he feels he can't, it doesn't me he is rebelling. On the contrary, he cares enough to utilize his potential that he will overcome the fear and stigma of going against the flow.
That maybe one day, we will break some long-overdue misconceptions. That chassidishkiet doesn't just come in black and white (pun intended). That shlichus might not be practically for everyone, and not going isn't in defiance to your sincerity. That one has the right, and the obligation, to take his life into his own hands.