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I Am Saddened (Part Three)


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

In my last two columns I published a letter from a mother/grandmother who felt very saddened and discouraged at the shameless chutzpah that marks today’s parent-child relationship. In the first segment of her letter, she cited the disrespectful conduct of children, and in the second, she gave examples of the deplorable behavior of young adults – even married couples.

To be sure, there is a huge difference between the two. When children are chutzpadik, you hope that in time, they will learn, but when young adults are insolent, it is reprehensible – they should know better, but alas – it seems that they don’t. The following is my reply:

Dear Friend:

The chutzpah to which we are witness today should not surprise any of us. Long ago, our sages predicted that impudence and brazenness of the young would mark the pre-messianic period, referred to as “Ikvesa d’Moshicha.” We are into that generation. It is we who have been destined to witness the breakdown of our beautiful family life – the ignoble rebellion of the young against their elders. But that, in and of itself, should give us hope, for what we are witnessing are not random happenings, but the unfolding of prophesy.

Our Talmud relates that Rabbi Akiva, upon beholding the ruins of our Temple, smiled, while his colleagues wept. “How can you smile?” they asked.

“I smile,” he replied, because now that I see the prophesy of destruction fulfilled, I know that the prophesy of birth and redemption will also be realized.”

Similarly, we should take comfort in the knowledge that, even as we are witness to this intensification of chutzpah, so too, with the help of G-d, we will behold the time when Elijah the Prophet will come, reunite the generations and restore our people to their glorious past.

But this in no way means that we should countenance this chutzpah and regard this shameful behavior as acceptable. As Torah Jews, we have a manifest destiny to swim against the tide and battle the cultural waves that threaten us. Our ability to cling tenaciously to our Torah values has enabled us to overcome the vicissitudes of every generation and convert our homes into fortresses of Torah – fortresses in which the Word of G-d prevails and illuminates our families – We can do no less.

Recently, I was invited to speak for N’shei Agudas Israel on this very subject – “Enforcing and Enhancing the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av V’eim.” In my talk, I pointed out that if we are to address this issue in a meaningful manner, we must first identify the cultural manifestations of our 21st century, which condones and generates chutzpa vis-à-vis parents and elders. Therefore, before we even attempt to address this crisis, we would do well to expose the value system that gives license to this abhorrent attitude so that we may insulate our families from its ravishing effects. In the limited space of this column, it is impossible for me to cover everything that I discussed, but I will outline just a few points.

1) Being a Pal to Your Children – Ours is a culture that encourages friendship rather than respect between the generations. “I want my children to like me. I want to be their friend” is the popular mantra by which we raise our children. So it is that toddlers raise their hands against moms and dads without being reprimanded – that children horse around with their parents, even to the point where they call them by their first names and don’t hesitate to lecture them: “You don’t know what you are talking about” or they indicate the same through their body language…rolling their eyes in exasperation and giving a look that says, “I can’t believe that you’re so stupid!”

Some of these young people are so far removed from Torah that it doesn’t even occur to them that sitting in their parents’ seats or failing to rise in their honor is a violation of Torah ideals. Unfortunately, nowadays, such respectful conduct is regarded as archaic. How sad that we have lost our way.

I shared with my audience, that I, who belong to another generation, was raised with a different set of values. On Shabbos Eve, when before Kiddush, our parents bentsched – blessed – us, we rose in awe and gratitude and kissed their hands. To contradict our parents in any manner, shape or form would never have occurred to us…to refer to them as “he” or “she” was so alien a concept that we couldn’t ever conceive that Jewish children could speak of their parents in such a manner.

Moreover, when we visited our Zeide (of all my grandparents, only my maternal Zeide, HaRav HaGaon Tzvi Hirsh HaCohen,zt”l, survived the Holocaust), we children witnessed the reverence and love with which our parents related to him. The honor and love that they showed him remained forever engraved on our hearts. Sadly, this new generation has not been privileged to see such an example. Their frame of reference is one of disrespect and disregard. Too many parents mistreat their own mothers and fathers. Now, if this is the example that children see from their own parents, what can we possibly expect from them?

2) “Me Generation” – We live in a selfish, egocentric world in which sacrifice, devotion and commitment are rare. Parents are selfish, and they raise children who are even more selfish. “It’s coming to me!” – “You owe it to me!” they protest, but it never occurs to them that the reverse is true…. that it is they who “owe one!”…and it is they that it is they who are indebted!”

On what is this egocentric morality based?

(To Be Continued)

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