Young adults I have mentored have described homes that are battlegrounds. I’ve heard about parents who are unabashedly contentious and critical of each other, fathers who behave like boot camp generals, mothers who are unrelenting perfectionists and who don’t give their children love. And the list goes on.
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Young adults very rarely rebel against Hashem. They know too little about Hashem to wage a rebellion against Him. Young adults are predominantly rebelling against their dysfunctional parents. It’s up to parents to ensure that their children have healthy and wholesome role models.
Youth are also turned off by perceived injustice and hypocrisy. One area of particular concern is when questions about Yiddishkeit are deflected or repudiated. I’ve met people who have were scorned and ridiculed by teachers for asking fundamental questions.
Many of the young women we work with gave up tznius. What happened? Several of them were disparaged by their principals after inquiring why it was necessary to conform to a certain standard of tznius. Other young ladies were turned off after they later discovered that what purportedly was absolute halacha was merely a chumrah created or adopted by the school. Children are absolutely repelled by what they view as disingenuous behavior.
Hostile or dishonest reactions to questions are anathema to Yiddishkeit. Torah learning is predicated on shakla v’tarya, questions and answers.
A young boy learning about the miracles of the midbar asked his rebbi, “How is it physically possible that the people wore the same clothing for forty years and that it didn’t wither?” The rebbi, annoyed at such an irreverent question, snidely responded, “So Yankel, I see you are mechusar emunah!”
The rebbi may be surprised to learn that the Rosh asks this very question on his pirush to the Chumash. Whether this confounded the Rosh or one of his students is immaterial. Rabbeinu Asher gave enough credence to the question to record it for posterity and offer an answer. His solution is quite intriguing. He could have simply insisted that there is nothing beyond Hashem’s purview. Instead, he offers a more pragmatic explanation and states that we find a parallel to this extraordinary occurrence in nature: When a snail grows, the shell has to be enlarged to fit the snail’s body. According to the Rosh, the clothing worn by Dor HaMidbar took on the property of the snail, which gradually extends its shell by adding new parts at the shell opening.
We similarly find that the Ramban questions (and answers) how the teivah was able to physically accommodate an innumerable amount of species of all forms and sizes. The Netziv questions (and answers) the reality of finding fossils from prediluvian times (some posit he’s referring to dinosaurs), when all remnants were supposed to be eradicated in the mabul. The point is that not only is every question deserving of an answer but there’s virtually no question that hasn’t been grappled with by Chazal. We should anticipate children’s questions and scour our repository of seforim and consult with gedolim for answers.
Our greatest gaonim – including the Steipler Gaon of the past generation (who though renowned for his tremendous geonus and hasmodah, was not particularly known as a ba’al machshavah) – wrote sifrei hashkafa, never shying away from issues that needed to be addressed, explicating Yiddishkeit in the vernacular of their respective generations. We must create an environment and a Hashkafah curriculum where respectful questions are not only tolerated but where they are encouraged.
My Rebbi, Rav Pam, zt”l, often discussed the Gemara that condemns someone who merely learns Torah but doesn’t teach others (Sanhedrin 98b). The Gemara condemns this person as one who is defaming Hashem’s Word. Rav Pam explained that Torah learning is incomparably contagious and joyous – so much so that it is virtually impossible to contain one’s love for it.
A person who learns Torah and is not bursting at his seams is not appreciating the Torah for its true value – in effect he is diminishing the value of Torah. Rather than appear as a burden, Torah is supposed to be the key to happiness and ultimate fulfillment.
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Our children are trained to get caught up with the subtleties and nuances of mitzvah observance before they have a genuine appreciation for being a Yid. Children can grow resentful of punctilious observance if they don’t understand the grand scheme.
One student complained, “Nothing is josher – everything is off limits. I can only eat such and such. I am restricted in my dress. I have to guard my language and always behave dignified.” I explained to him that the word “kosher” has the identical letters and can be construed as k’sar – like a prince. A Jew, like a prince, has a certain diet, dress code, and etiquette because of his ennobled status. Observance is not a burden, but rather the greatest honor and privilege.