Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

9 Tammuz 5762 - June 19, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family
Relating to Emergent Ruchniyus

by R' Zvi Zobin

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 total kavona.

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 losing control.

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 do.

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.


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