Editor’s Note: Rebbetzin Jungreis, a”h, is no longer with us in a physical sense, but her message is eternal and The Jewish Press continues to present the columns that for more than half a century have inspired countless readers around the world.
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“Rebbetzin,” people say to me, “we’ve been following your recent columns on compassion. You presented the challenge, but what is the solution? How do we impart these values to our children? How do we instill them in our homes?”
Ours is the generation that has been destined to live in the period when the footsteps of the Messiah are audible, provided we know how to listen. It is written that among the many tribulations of that period will be a blatant rise of chutzpah, and we are taught that when chutzpah abounds there is no room for rachamim – compassion – or chesed – loving kindness.
When our sages make reference to the chutzpah at the end of days, it is not the “positive chutzpah” we Jews are required to have if we are to live a Torah life. That positive chutzpah gives us the courage to face the mockery of the world. We have the chutzpah to keep kosher when everyone else eats treif. We have the chutzpah to learn Torah when others are indulging in the enticements of our contemporary society. We have the chutzpah to reject the latest fashion trends and dress modestly, as befits sons and daughters of Israel.
But the new chutzpah that plagues our generation was born in insolence and feeds on arrogance, selfishness, and feelings of entitlement and self-absorption. It doesn’t recognize concepts such as reverence, honor, humility, and kindness. If our children are devoid of Torah values and see only their own needs, it is not just their schools, their peers, their sick video games, and all the other allurements of our new technology and social media that are to blame. Parents must take responsibility as well.
If we fail to be Torah role models, if we create homes where chutzpah is the mode of communication, it follows that chesed and rachamim will be missing. So rather than ask how we teach these values to our children, we should be asking how we teach them to ourselves.
The good news is that we do have an answer, a solution, to the ills that plague us. It is there for us to take and it is available to everyone. Its potency is guaranteed for all time. Its healing power is eternal, for G-d Himself prescribed it. We must only seize it and the rest will fall into place.
I have often quoted the admonition of our sages that we turn the pages of Torah, because everything is in it. Yes, everything is in our Torah. We must only discover it and make it our reality. But how are we to embark on this course? How are we to translate theory into action? It won’t be easy but it’s definitely doable. It will require hard work, discipline, and genuine commitment.
Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, the great sage of mussar – ethics – taught that it’s easier to learn an entire tractate of Talmud than it is to change a character trait. Remember the story of the cat that was trained to walk on two legs, carry a tray, and serve as a waiter? It became a wondrous example of how an animal can be trained to shed its “cat calling” and emulate a human. Everyone was amazed. Then one day while the cat was carrying its tray it saw some mice scurrying by – and immediately it dropped the tray and ran on all fours in pursuit of its prey.
The painful moral of the story is self-evident. You can train, you can make resolutions, you can make promises – but to overcome your nature is an altogether different matter. When push comes to shove, people tend to revert to their old selves, their old habits, their old temperaments. Yes, perhaps for a few weeks or even a few months we think change has been made but when our buttons are pushed, everything erupts all over again.
How do we become people of chesed and rachamim? The answer is clear: we must only follow the dictates of our Torah. Instead of philosophizing and making empty promises we must start doing, and through our actions train ourselves to become different people. At Mt. Sinai, when G-d charged us with His Commandments, our immediate response was “we shall do it.” That is the key to bringing about that much-sought-after change.
Let us give ourselves a neshamah test to see how we rate, and as we respond to the questions let us do so with honesty. We can fool many people but it’s dangerous when we fool ourselves. So let us examine our hearts and minds and see how many of these questions we’ll be able to answer with an emphatic yes.
Is there fighting or shouting or cursing in our homes? Do we speak to our spouses and children with respect, kindness, and consideration or do we label our spouses or children with hurtful, pejorative names?
Do our children see us relating with honor and respect to our own parents? When our parents come to visit, do we rush to welcome them? Do we rise in their honor? And do we teach our children to do the same? Or do we allow them to stay glued to their cell phones, computers and other diversions? Do we allow them to grunt under their breath a “hi” or “hello” or do we insist that they rise and eagerly embrace Bubbie and Zaidie with love and warmth?
These are just a few questions. There are more. Stay tuned.
(To be continued)