Levi decided that he needs to serve Hashem with total
devotion. He became a tremendous masmid. He kept
mitzvos with meticulous care and davened with
After a while, Levi felt himself developing a real
relationship with Hashem. He felt himself interacting with
the world on a higher level. "Chance" occurrences made sense
and he felt himself being guided to a higher purpose.
Levi tried to describe his experiences to people, but they
brushed him aside. People told him he was becoming too
intense, too frum. But he knew that Hashem wants a
person to serve Him with total devotion since that is what he
had been told by his teachers and that is what he had read.
Levi stood his ground and he felt himself become closer to
Hashem. At the same time, he felt himself becoming more and
more estranged from his family and friends and he threw
himself into his devotions with even more fervor.
After several months, Levi crashed. His isolation and
overstress took their toll. With no one to turn to, lacking
support and suffering from mental exhaustion, Levi felt that
he was being rejected and he began to feel bitter.
Eventually, he fell into a deep depression, gave up his
avodas Hashem and stopped keeping mitzvos.
Tragically, stories like that of Levi are not uncommon. They
usually take place during adolescence, though they do not
always end as sadly as Levi's story.
One of the attitudes many of us have absorbed from the
Western culture environment is the need to `stay normal.' We
have developed what we believe to be a healthy cynicism that
we believe is necessary to stop us from `going overboard' and
We can pray with devotion, but not too loudly and without
excessive emotion. We need to perform all the mitzvos
with all the hiddurim and buy the best tefillin,
esrog, etc. but when we actually perform the
mitzvos, we should not get too excited. Of course, we
believe in Gan Eden and we can imagine that it is probably
quite nice to be there. Gehinnom also exists, but we will
worry about that when the time comes.
Therefore, when we see someone behaving with what we feel is
excessive abandon, we feel obligated to teach him to learn to
control himself and fall into line with the rest of us.
Perhaps we also feel that he is challenging our standards --
is he more observant than we are?
However, the adolescent, with his untarnished yetzer
tov, is just learning to interact with true spirituality.
He actually believes that it is all true. He longs for the
bliss of Gan Eden. He sees the flames of Gehinnom before his
eyes and fears its tortures. When he performs a
mitzva, he tries to evoke the "love and trembling" of
the "leshem yichud." He seeks to connect with Hashem
and maintain His presence in his mind, as we are supposed to
There is a famous story of someone who jumped into a river to
save a drowning man. He was successful and afterwards the
rescuer admitted that he could not swim but felt such a need
to help the man that he just jumped in and he was confident
that he would be successful. This story is used to inspire
people to "just go for it!" However, we were all witness to
the tragedy that took place a year ago when a fine young man
jumped into the sea to save drowning people and he was
himself drowned, leaving a widow and young family.
Therefore, when we introduce a student to the viewpoint of
spirituality, we also need to try to give him the tools which
will enable him to control his level of devotion and to deal
with the ups and downs which he will experience. It is easy
to say, "Go for it! You can do it if you try!" But we are
dealing with powerful emotions. We might assume that the
audience understands the need for gradual development; going
from level to level in a stable manner. But there are some
people, particularly when they are youthful, who feel the
need to go all-out without restraint. Their idealism is
admirable and we all hope they will achieve their goal. But
we know that many pitfalls lie on their path and we need to
be there to help them and perhaps hold them steady if they
begin to fall. Each person needs his customized program.
From our experience with life, we do know that the excesses
of adolescence can lead a teenager to run the risk of driving
himself too hard and to eventually crash from emotional and
physical exhaustion. Therefore, we might need to advise him
how he can build up to his goal of total devotion. However,
we need to distinguish between teaching him to control and
channel his energies, on the one hand, or trying to get him
to suppress and ignore his energies on the other.
We want our son or student to be "another Chofetz Chaim," but
in order to help him develop into an "old Chofetz Chaim," we
must help him to be a "young Chofetz Chaim." (All this
applies equally to girls, of course.)
We need to relate to his desire for spirituality and treat it
with respect. Indeed, perhaps we can even allow ourselves to
be inspired by his youthful energy and fresh approach to help
us reinvigorate the way we serve Hashem.