by Rav Yechezkel Norman
The Sensitivity Gap
In the sixties and seventies I remember a term that was
constantly used to define an apparent phenomenon. It needed
to be understood and classified especially if some brave soul
wanted to attempt to improve that situation. It was "The
This term explained why the younger generation living in
America was not following the paved road of their frum
European parents and grandparents. Their orthodoxy was
loosening up as they began forging relationships with the new
world. "The land of the free." They were filled with hope to
"make it" with a successful career in the land of
Today's hardships though, are different. Yiddishkeit
is solidly established in many communities internationally.
Frum families from all walks of life, whether it is
the working class or the Kollel people, and from the
respected to the simple, are all-too-often experiencing the
pain when their children or grandchildren leave the paved
road of their elders. This time it is in spite of the
academic education and prominent positions their parents may
hold. Another "generation gap," another "communication gap" --
but this time around it lacks definition.
What's wrong with the yellow brick road? Why isn't the
message crossing over to the kids? This topic is broad and
has been discussed for over a decade. It's the story of
"Children/Teens at Risk."
Explanations -- such as the attraction of external influences
relayed through all forms of media and the outreach programs
sponsored by the entertainment industries advertising new
lifestyles -- were given. Perhaps it is also a lack of love
or simply negative vibes from well-meaning parents and
teachers who may have misjudged situations and reacted
wrongly that turned these kids off.
Besides the above contributing factors, I would like to
discuss a point that may help stop a forming gap or may even
help bridge an existing one. I will call it the "Sensitivity
Gap." If this idea is understood well, it can yield amazing
Let me explain this concept with two examples. A couple was
going shopping with their seventeen-year-old son. He bought a
Danish and began eating it as they were walking in the
street. His father objected, saying it is not respectable to
eat in the street. His son said he didn't feel that there was
anything wrong. Also, he added, "Many other people eat like
this, so why are you making an issue out of this?"
He continued to eat his Danish, hoping that his father would
back off. But his father started getting angry and said
loudly that it is disgusting to eat like this in public, it's
eating like a dog! The son got even more upset at this
reaction and told his father to leave him alone. His father's
anger escalated -- until the boy finally threw the Danish on
the ground and grunted as he walked away from his parents.
Another example: An eleven-year-old boy was having
difficulties getting up for davening on Shabbos
morning. His parents tried all kinds of tactics, hoping to
convince him to get up for shul - - but to no avail.
The father, who began wondering that perhaps he was pushing
his child too much, spoke to a mashgiach about this.
The mashgiach reasoned that by this age he should be
getting up for tefilloh already. He advised the father
not to let his child play around anymore, since the time has
come for him to go to shul.
Well, the parents felt they got `a green light' to use force
to get him out of bed, since they had tried many other things
already. Soon this boy was getting water splashed on his face
and was physically pulled out of bed. The boy had to get up,
but he made sure to move at an irritating, turtle- slow
Eventually, he would arrive at shul at Chazoras
Hashatz or, on the better days, at Borchu, with
his father very displeased and swallowing his anger.
Nonetheless, the parents felt that this was their only
recourse in order to fulfill their parental chinuch
Any parent of children reading these two scenarios and
identifying with them, I'm sure has comments on them. But
objectively speaking, when examining both instances it's
clear that the parents were assuming that their child has a
level of sensitivity that is comparable with theirs about the
issues. Otherwise, why would they deal with him in such a
Yet in truth the "Sensitivity Gap" between them is wider than
the Grand Canyon due, at least, to the many reasons mentioned
earlier. The younger generation doesn't have and never
developed a variety of sensitivities regarding topics that
are taken for granted by their grandparents, parents and even
some childhood friends.
Let's examine the two cases under observation. First, what is
so bad about eating a Danish in the street? In masechta
Kiddushin (40b) the gemora says as follows: The
Rabbis taught in a Beraissa, "Someone who eats in the
shuk (commonly translated as a marketplace) is
compared to a dog. Others say, he is disqualified from giving
testimony." Rashi explains the reason for his
disqualification is that, in spite of the fact that he is a
religious, observant Jew, "since he doesn't care about his
own dignity, he will not be ashamed to cheapen himself (i.e.
without shame -- SMA, that is, he may accept a bribe) and
The gemora teaches us how degrading it is to eat "in
the shuk." This idea is in fact brought down in the
Shulchan Oruch as halacha.
There are technical details about applying this halacha but
they are certainly not the issue here. I want to focus on the
disparity of sensitivities that exists between parent and
The father's reprimand should be transmitting a message of
refinement and dignity. But before reasonable communication
begins there has to be common ground, a conduit to carry the
message to the other side. The son obviously lacks the
feelings of dignity discussed in the halochoh. He may
actually feel, to his parents' shock, a sense of pride or an
expression of self- worth from eating in the street as he
sees many other "normal" people do. He doesn't want to feel
different from them. The gap between him and his parents is
as massive as the Grand Canyon.
Doesn't the Mishna at the end of masechta Sota
state that prior to the coming of Moshiach the face of
the generation will resemble the face of a dog? No shame!
They take pride in publicly doing and advertising disgusting
things. While frum people pay extra in order not to be
in places of indecency in hotels, airlines, and the like, the
secular society pays more to be there. The entertainment
world thrives on various forms of indecency, especially
seducing the youth.
The son who doesn't share the father's values because he may
have been unduly influenced by the secular society needs to
be dealt with from an entirely new vantage point. The father
can't expect his son to immediately respond to his own
sensitivities, as strong as they may be, since a major gap
Regarding the second scenario, instead of the father finding
out at what age his child needs to attend shul, he
should investigate why his son doesn't want to go. Just
pushing him to do something he doesn't want to do could
create negative energy and makes it that much more difficult
for him to `come around.'
Chazal teach us (Brochos 6b), "Matters that are at the
loftiest part of the world, yet people cheapen their value.
This is tefilloh." In Chazal's rebuke lies a
fundamental insight how people relate to tefilloh. Why
is tefilloh so lax with us?
It's because people don't feel its importance and as such
they don't give it its proper worth and it becomes a burden
three times a day. Even in Chazal's times, people were numbed
to davening, and we have not necessarily improved on
We're back to our Sensitivity Gap. Parents may realize how
much they need Hashem's help for a successful life and how
many things can go wrong and all the thanks they must extend
to Hashem for all they received already.
Can a standard child be expected to feel this? His world is
fun and playing with his friends. Tefilloh doesn't
naturally attract him. Perhaps his poor understanding of the
Hebrew text takes away his interest in shul. Maybe he
can't sit so long or has a short concentration span as a lot
of children have.
Instead of letting the anger increase, the parents should
actually be mechanech their children as they develop
his interest in davening. They will have given him
tools for life by developing a sensitivity for the higher
goals of Jewish living.
I hope my point about the Sensitivity Gap of today's times
was presented clearly. This idea can be applied to many other
areas as well, as with clothing styles that lack
tznius, non-refined behavior, conduct, and language,
and the like. Youth needs areas of development in their
sensitivities, and our sensitivities also need to be
developed for them. May Hashem help us raise our children so
that the gaps are bridged.
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