In last week’s column I responded to the mother/grandmother who wrote about the escalation of chutzpah on the part of the young vis-à-vis their parents. In my answer I suggested that we have adopted some 21st century attitudes that not only countenance this obstreperous behavior but actually endorse it. I also mentioned that while we may take certain consolation in knowing that our sages predicted what we are experiencing today, nevertheless, it does not mean that we of the Torah community should countenance it. Chutzpah toward parents/grandparents, teachers and elders in any shape or form is unacceptable.
There is a well-known Yiddish saying, “Azoi vee ess…” The way the non-Jewish world goes, so goes the Jewish world,” meaning that we are very much influenced by our environment. Without realizing it, we often adopt the norms of society even when those norms negate our Torah way of life.
No matter how turbulent the spiritual climate of our generation may be, we have a mandate to live by the timeless truths proclaimed at Sinai. Moreover, we have a responsibility to insulate ourselves and our children from the corrosive influences of the secular world, but in order for us to do that we will first have to identify them.
In last week’s column, I discussed a few of those influences, and now I will put forth some additional popular catch phrases that have come to be regarded as “truisms” in our culture, but which, in essence, are antithetic to our Torah way of life.
1) “It’s my life.” “I can do whatever I choose.”
When young people come to see me with their troubled parents they often try to justify their hostile behavior by rationales such as, “It’s my life… Leave me alone… Get off my back…I can do whatever I want…”
In response, I ask them, “Your life? … Is it really your life? … Perhaps you can tell me what part of it you created? Your fingers, toes, eyes? What part?”
“Tell me,” I continue to challenge, “did you choose the family into which you were born? Did you interview potential parents and decide who would be the right candidates for you? Or perhaps you designed yourself to be short or tall, male or female? So what exactly do you mean when you say, “It’s my life? What part of it did you create?”
2) Hakaras HaTov – Gratitude
“Know,” I tell them that your life was given to you in trust by G-d for reasons known only to Him, and you will have to give an accounting for every second, every hour, every day that you spent on this planet. Moreover, it was G-d who appointed your parents to become your mother and father. It was He who chose to place you into your family. It was He who decided that you would live in the 20th /21st century, and it was He who designed the challenges through which your life would be tested.
No matter how vehemently you protest that it’s your life and you are free to do as you wish, you are accountable and will have to answer for every moment that He gave you. Most importantly, you have a responsibility to convey your hakaras tov – gratitude – to Hashem and to your parents, for that is the very first step in fulfilling the mission for which you were created.
From the moment you open your eyes and whisper “Modeh Ani – I thank You for returning my soul” – to the moment that you close your eyes, you dare not lose sight of this truth…. you are indebted to the three partners who created you: G-d, your mother, and your father.
Lashon HaKodesh is G-d’s Holy Tongue. Every word is definitive, so Modeh is not only an expression of thanks, but it also means “I confess.” When you say, “thank you,” you are confirming that you are indebted, that you “owe someone,” that you have to give back and make this world a better place to justify the gift of life that G-d granted you.
There was a time when this wisdom was so basic to our faith that every child was aware of it. Honoring parents and revering G-d was the milk on which children were nurtured. I recall my own childhood. We were raised to live by this credo – to express our gratitude to Hashem, to bring honor to His Holy Name, and at the same time, strive to be a source of nachas to our parents. We hoped to make them proud and shield them from grief. Instead of feeling entitled, we felt indebted; instead of declaring, “It’s coming to me,” we knew that no matter how much we gave, we could never adequately thank them.
I remember how shocked I was when, upon coming to America, I heard one of my classmates say, “My mother owes me $2.00 for babysitting. How could a parent owe anything to a child, I wondered, and more, how could a child even entertain such a thought?
If we could help our parents ease their burdens, we regarded it a privilege. How happy we children were if we could make a little money babysitting for neighbors so that we could add to the family coffers. This desire to ease our parents’ lives was a constant – it never dissipated – if anything, it intensified with the years.
When my beloved husband, zt”l and I were married, we didn’t even open the envelopes that guests handed us, but we immediately gave them to my father to help defray the wedding expenses. And to my husband’s credit (he was also a Holocaust survivor and penniless), there was never a question in his mind that we would do that with the wedding gifts.
Contrast all this with the demands made by children nowadays. Consider the attitude with which they take their gifts, the indifference with which they view their parents who very often are compelled to take on extra jobs in order to fulfill their children’s expectations, and think about the resentment that their children harbor if those expectations are not met.
The aforementioned are just a few cultural manifestations that generate chutzpah and I invite you to ponder them. There are many more, not the least of which is “scapegoating – shifting blame.” “It’s not my fault I come from a dysfunctional family…. I am the victim of a bankrupt educational system… I was subject to child abuse.” The complaints are endless, and they all serve to exonerate the individual from responsibility and indulge in self-pity. Instead of teaching those who feel victimized to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and start anew, we allow them to wallow in the past and succumb to spiritual and emotional paralysis.
But no one need grope in the darkness. We have been given an awesome gift – Torah. Its power is such that it can mold us into new people and actually recreate us. We need only seize it and it will illuminate our paths on the great highway of life.
Please G-d, in a future column, I will write on this subject in detail.