…children who are spinning out of control, and who refuse any form of intervention, must understand that there are gedorim, red flags and lines which cannot be crossed while still using the home as a base once they have gone off the derech. There is no unconditional love in these circumstances. When a child does not want any help from therapists, psychologists, social workers, family members, rabbonim, he/she cannot expect that his/her parents will love him as before. Such a child must know and feel that the door is always open as long as he/she opens a pesach shel machat.
Having dealt firsthand with similar situations for over sixteen years, it is our very strong recommendation to parents that their message to their OTD child and his/her siblings be one of unconditional love with no exceptions. Love does not mean acceptance. It means that the place our children hold in our hearts is not diminished regardless of how much they disappoint or even hurt us.
The Orthodox Jewish world continues to seesaw back and forth about the pros and cons of the Asifa on Technology at Citifield in New York. Debates abound about on the best Internet filters, blocks and technological band-aids to which will surely repair the dangerous environmental influences of the outside world. Let’s ban or block the Internet and suddenly our children will be less distracted, our communities more heimish and our learning and davening more for the sake of Heaven instead of rote blabbering to get it over with.
In 1944, Rav Eliyahu Dessler said in Strive for Truth (v.3, p.143) “Human beings believe, in their arrogance, that if they continue developing the world on the basis of ever expanding technology they will eventually achieve an environment that will afford everyone unlimited gratification of the senses and a life of ease and pleasure. So long as people remain ‘takers,’ their efforts will inevitably be directed toward selfishness…”
With the advance of technology and the ease of availability, the temptation of distraction has become a daily struggle for Jews across the spectrum to remain upright, even in their own homes. But the Internet is only part of the problem. Go into almost any shul today and you’ll find congregants reading their emails on their cell phones and leaving davening to answer their phones, tallis over their heads and tefillin perfectly squared. Attend any d’var Torah, graduation ceremony, wedding or bar mitzvah and you’ll find people distracted with texting.
The real problem is chutzpah and selfishness, and parents are teaching it to their children by their own actions, and then wondering… what went wrong.
Rabbeinu Bachya asserts in Duties of the Heart: “Their evil inclination induces them to abandon the spiritual world wherein lies their salvation… it makes self-adornment more attractive to them… it impels them to gratify their desires for self-indulgence… until they are sunk in the depths of its seas.”
In the rush to satisfy our thirst for instant gratification, information and acceptance, we’ve created a Jewish society devoid of cohesiveness and spirituality, full of chutzpah and apathy. As Rav Dessler predicted 68 years ago, “They persist in thinking that soon, very soon, they will hit the right formula, and if not in this generation, then in the next, universal happiness will come. And so they bring up their children to study nothing and think of nothing but technological advancement…” (Strive for Truth, pg. 152).
It seems that children and adults 68 years ago were also steeped in the excesses of technology, although it was not as insidious as in our generation. Unfortunately, Jews today are becoming apathetic robots. In their quest to look frum, with their starched white shirts and impeccable Borsolino hats, and in keeping up with the Goldbergs, they have truly collapsed into a materialistic society, all “for the sake of Heaven.”
Consider the case of Yaakov, who goes to the store to buy a pair of expensive shoes on sale at a department store, known for its lenient return policy. There he meets his friend Shimon, who has just bought the same pair of shoes Yaakov wants. Shimon relates to Yaakov that he “purchased” the $300 pair of shoes for only $200 by switching the price tag while no one was looking, and that Yaakov can have them for $250, thereby saving him $50 while Shimon makes some money on the deal.
Shimon is proud of himself and Yaakov gets a bargain.
Where I come from, this is called stealing.
Or consider Reuven’s practice of going to an outlet store to buy fancy white shirts for Shabbos, in order to sit and learn in one of America’s finest yeshivos, where he wouldn’t dare stand out wearing a blue shirt. Lo and behold, Reuven ends up at the local Nordstrom return counter, telling the clerk the shirt is imperfect and he wants to exchange the shirt or get a refund.
Why would religious people, steeped in Torah learning, resort to lying and stealing?
The Orchos Tzaddikim in Sha’ar Hasheker says, “Alchemists turn copper into gold where even the experts cannot tell the difference. So it is with the mind of the charlatan. He rationalizes and justifies his lies until they appear even to him as truth.”Allan J. Katz
As we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, the ten days of repentance, and the awesome day of Yom Kippur when our judgment is sealed for the coming year, it’s so important for me to tell my readers how much I love the Ribbono Shel Olam, the Master of the Universe.
Why? Because when you love Hashem and are firm about it and focused on it, then it’s unshakeable,
Two weeks ago I decided, on the spur of the moment, to shoot over to Migron and spend the last Shabbos with the residents there before police and soldiers arrived to throw them off the land and out of the beautiful caravans they’d purchased. Fifty families, hundreds of children, had to leave because of a High Court decision.
Ya’akov Katz, “Katzele,” head of the National Union party, told me, “It’s Netanyahu’s fault because he fought against the new ‘Regulation Law,’ which failed to pass in the Knesset and could have bypassed the High Court decision.”
The prime minister felt that doing so would have slighted the country’s justice system and so he prepared replacement caravans a little lower down the mountain.
The people of Migron weren’t crying. They’d fought for six years and lost. They sang joyous songs together and had a big Kiddush while the children played on the swings outside for the last time. (Of course there will be new swings.)
The rabbi banged his hands on the shtender during his speech but summed up with: “This week is Parshas Ki Seitzai, ‘when you go out,’ and next Shabbos we’ll read Ki Savo, when you come in (to the new Migron!).”
And I was thinking, why wasn’t Benjamin Netanyahu there for Shabbos, to identify with the plight of the settlers? It would have been so beautiful!
Anyway, let’s return to my opening paragraph, to how much I love Hashem and why it pays for you to love Him too.
We know Hashem is perfect and His Torah is perfect. Reb Yehoshua ben Prachya says in Pirkei Avos, “You must judge all people on the scale of merit – this is God’s will.”
We know Hashem must keep His own Torah. Thus, when I love the Ribbono Shel Olam with complete focus, I can say to Him, “Please, my Beloved, judge me l’kaf zechut (on the scale of merit).”
He’ll answer, “But I know everything about you. Do you want to see your list of degrading sins?”
I, however, remain focused and say, “Excuse me, I love you, but who gave me my cunning yetzer hara? You did, Abba. I’ll be better in the coming year, but I want You to be better as well, and bring Mashiach and the glory of Israel!”
Now I hear a “sound of silence” from Above, and I quickly interject, “And you can’t say that your nation doesn’t deserve a new light shining on Zion! Because it was the wicked Balaam who told us a great secret about you [Bamidbar 23:21] when he said, ‘He [Hashem] sees no sin in Yaakov!’ ”
And then I smile upward and add, “And in Perek 2 of Pirkei Avos, Hillel states: ‘Do not judge your friend [all of Israel] until you stand in his place [and understand where he’s coming from].’
“You can’t judge me until you come down to my level. I’m human, I kvetch, I need my morning coffee, I have to make a living, but it’s Yom Kippur, I’m fasting…”
When you love Hashem, you discover that you are allowed to speak like this to your Maker.
Years ago at a wedding I found myself sitting next to the gadol Rav Rafael Soloveichik, zt”l, and I got into a conversation with him. He told me “Hashem loves chutzpah” – it’s actually something desired because it proves your faith (based on a Yerushalmi).
And so I urge my readers to come to Yom HaDin with love and chutzpah, like a child to a father. And may we receive a good judgment for ourselves and our charming nation.
And may I remind my readers that while it’s easy to criticize Prime Minister Netanyahu, remember this: Do not judge your fellow man until you understand that you wouldn’t want to be in his shoes for all the honor in the world.Dov Shurin
It is hard to believe that Elul is upon us and that the Day of Judgment is only one month away. In a short 30 days we must face our Creator and have our deeds evaluated in the hopes of a receiving a merciful blessing for a good and healthy year. We spend the month of Elul focused on repentance, and we learn the holy books of mussar to inspire us to grow and change.
Over the past two months I have learned some important lessons from a brave mouse. Are we permitted to learn from the animals of the world? Chazal tell us that if we did not have the Torah to guide us, we would be able to learn how to behave by studying the animals. We could learn modesty from the cat, industriousness from the ant, and fidelity from the dove. As I have exhaustively searched for my illegal tenant, I have realized that not only is this mouse smarter than me, but that I can learn from its actions.
Chazal tell us that we can learn from all of Hashem’s creations. We can learn from the industrious nature of an ant – it lifts large amounts of food for storage when it will not live long enough to enjoy the large reserves of food it is toiling so hard to store.
A mouse of my acquaintance took up residence in a large industrial kitchen. One night it tore into three bags of flour in order to enjoy a midnight snack. The 150 lbs of flour that we had to discard could have provided hundreds of years of nourishment for it and its descendants. I wondered why it did not just stick with one bag; why ruin three bags of flour in one evening binge? I wondered whether it was the excitement of breaking into a new bag; once it had free reign, one bag was not enough.
The next week, I had ten bags of jellybeans in my office in preparation for a camp activity. Like the mouse, I had to try all ten flavors. This experience comes up often in the course of our lifetimes. We often become heady with the feeling of having free reign, neglecting to think about the repercussions of our actions. During these days of teshuva, however, we are reminded that we cannot always eat what we want or spend our lives doing whatever we wish. We came to this world for a purpose, and we must focus on our goals in order to live successful lives. Living a life of never-ending jellybeans will allow us to enjoy the bounty of Hashem’s beautiful world, but it must be accompanied with efforts to change ourselves for the better. In the absence of growth-oriented pursuits, we are living the lives of the wild mouse or the relentless jellybean-eaters. Hashem gave us the Torah and its commandments in order to guide us in living a life of meaning and purpose throughout the year.
Shortly after the mouse-in-the-flour episode, I met my friend the mouse in the bakery and watched as he was cornered, a glue trap on one side and a broom-wielding kitchen worker on the other. The mouse apparently chose to face a six-foot tall man rather than a six-inch long mousetrap. The mouse ran straight at us, and as the frightened worker hopped on the chair and I stepped aside in a temporary state of shock, the mighty mouse ran towards his freedom. Amazingly, despite the great disparity in our sizes, the mouse appeared to be less scared of us than we were of him!
It reminded me that fear and respect is often wasted on relatively silly fears, instead of reserving our awe for that which is worthy of respect. Try to recall the fear that races through your heart when you see the flashing lights in your rearview mirror as you get pulled over to the side of the highway for exceeding the speed limit. Remember the feeling of trepidation as the man with high black boots and shiny buttons asks for your license and registration. While this experience generally does not yield more pain than a fine and points on your license, the fear of the eight-inch piece of paper leaves you begging for mercy with the respect and dignity reserved for royalty. Are we not embarrassed at the contrast between the respect accorded to a stranger with ticket-wielding power and the lack of reverence that we display to our Creator when we speak to Him three times a day? When I consider that during these days of judgement, everything is on the line, in contrast to the small fine administered in the course of speeding ticket, I realize that my priorities are not aligned with the reality before me.Rabbi Gil Frieman
Dear Dr. Yael:
I have five children, and am struggling with my oldest son. He can be so good at times, but then he will talk to me with such chutzpah. I want to have a good relationship with him, but I worry when he speaks to me this way – and therefore, I end up reacting badly. This creates a vicious cycle, as he speaks back to me with even more chutzpah. I know I should react differently, but how can I respond kindly when he is speaking to me in such a disrespectful way? Wouldn’t that set a bad precedent?
My other children are beginning to follow his behavior, and I feel like the situation is spiraling out of control. What can I do to stop my other children from speaking to me in the same wrongful manner as their brother? And how can I get my son to speak to me more respectfully?
A Frustrated Mother
Dear Frustrated Mother:
Thank you for your letter. I do not know your son’s age, but if he’s age-appropriate he should view my DVD, “Chutzpah is Muktzah2” (available in Judaica sefarim stores). If he’s past the age of eight, making him too old to get much out of this DVD, perhaps you should purchase it for your toddlers and younger children. The DVD teaches them how to behave with derech eretz (e.g. saying please, thank you, don’t wake Mommy, I’ll do it with pleasure, I am sorry, etc.) and features great musical interludes with famous Jewish singers.
The issue you raise is, unfortunately, very widespread. But you are already one step ahead of the game, as you recognize that your son’s behavior is inappropriate and are properly taking steps to rectify the situation. It is important to speak to your son when he is calm, explain to him that you love him, but it is hurtful when he speaks to you disrespectfully. Tell him of your desire to have a good relationship with him, and that you want his input into how this can happen. Try to come up with a joint plan focusing on how each of you treats the other. Explain to your son that as his mother, he must speak to you with derech eretz – but that you will change your tone with him as well, speaking towards him with greater derech eretz.
To give the plan an improved chance of success, devise ways to ask each other to do things while explaining the reasons why at times those things cannot be done immediately. A good way for your son to speak to you (and for faster results for you to speak to him) is to say “I’ll do it with pleasure” when you ask him to do something. Another thing to say if he can’t fulfill your request right away: “Is it possible for me to do it in one minute?” If he does not seem amenable to these scripts, develop your own verbal thoughts that work for both of you. (Remember that a prepared script is likely to make it easier for your son to speak more appropriately to you, as he will have a better idea of what you are looking for.)
Make sure to heap praise on him when he speaks with derech eretz. Similarly, if he reverts back to speaking disrespectfully, calmly say, “Can you please say that again with derech eretz?”
It is not a good time to attempt to change your son’s behavior if he is extremely tired or hungry. In those situations, it would be better to have him get some rest or eat something. Then you can quietly and calmly tell him that although you know he was tired and/or hungry, you still expect more from your special son than to speak with you in an unsuitable way. By staying calm, you are telling your son – without engendering more disrespect – that his actions are unacceptable.
Once the tone with your oldest son improves, your other children will likely follow suit in the way they speak with you. But you should speak with each of them as well. You and your husband should also converse in the same mode, setting a good example for your children to emulate. Children generally learn and act through the examples set by their parents. Additionally, it’s a good idea to role-play with them on ways to speak more respectfully, as this will ready them when the real situations arise.Dr. Yael Respler
Dear Dr. Respler: At the recent wedding of my best friend’s son, I arrived for the chuppah early so as to secure a seat close to the front and by the aisle. I didn’t want to miss anything.
The room quickly filled up and soon there were no seats available. Suddenly, a woman walked in and placed a chair in the aisle, right in front of me and sat there, blocking my view. I knew she was the type of person who might start yelling at me if I said anything to her and, as this would cause a commotion, I decided to remain quiet. I definitely did not want to create a scene. I wasn’t the only person being affected. Another close friend of the chosson’s mother was sitting next to me and this woman blocked her view as well.
This friend quietly approached the woman, whispered something in her ear, and the woman immediately left her seat. I asked my friend what she had said and was astounded by the eloquent way she handled someone who was clearly demonstrating chutzpah.
In a quiet and respectful manner, she told that woman that the position she was sitting in would probably block the photographer from snapping proper pictures. She said it in a quiet and respectful tone.
I was very impressed with her answer. Dr. Yael, please address the issue of how we can help people who behave inappropriately change their action without creating an argumentative situation. As I usually opt to remain quiet while seething inside, any helpful advice would be appreciated. A Passive Reader
Dear Passive Reader: Thank you for raising this matter. I will try to give you some ideas as to how to put the technique you’ve lauded into action. I agree that your friend handled herself appropriately and astutely.
People who behave inappropriately generally have low self-esteem and do not respond kindly to criticism. Your friend seems to have learned how to make people feel at ease, treating them in a non-threatening way. The statement to the woman obstructing both of your views, that perhaps the photographer would not be able to take appropriate pictures, was not a criticism or negative statement but rather a non-threatening observation, which allowed the other woman to move without feeling defensive or disparaged. Furthermore by showing the other woman respect, she allowed her to feel at ease.
Recently I was stuck in a traffic jam on a side street in Brooklyn. I was blocked off due to a problem ahead of me and there were several police officers monitoring the situation. Seeing that I could not proceed, I just sat back and relaxed. Next to me was a young, impatient frum guy who started honking his horn. I did not quite get why he was honking, as clearly nothing was moving because something was going on.
A young police officer strutted over to me and started screaming. I pulled down my window and he said in a loud, irate tone, “Lady, why are you honking? Don’t you see there is a problem?” I knew that I had not honked; it was the frum guy next to me who did. Quickly assessing my situation, I realized that I could not tell the cop that I did not honk, since saying that would mean I was massering (informing) on him. I also hoped that with my knowledge of psychology, I would be more successful in dealing with the police officer. So I listened to the cop yelling at me and I apologized by saying, “I am so sorry, sir. You are right to be upset. You protect our city, so please accept my apology.” This did not appease the young police officer, who seemed to enjoy yelling at me. He continued to yell, and when I thought he was finished I started to roll up the window.
But he kept yelling, trying to put me in my place. I rolled down the window and listened politely until he felt satisfied that he had yelled enough. Baruch Hashem, he did not issue me a ticket for honking inappropriately. And all the while the young frum guy gazed at what was happening, knowing that he was the culprit and appreciating the fact that I was taking the blame for his misdeed. With the police officer gone from the scene, the problem was resolved five minutes later and it was full steam ahead.
In my story, I attempted to accord the police officer extreme respect. Likewise, in your story, your friend demonstrated respect to the other woman. Had she said loudly and disrespectfully, “Don’t you know that the way you are sitting will interfere with the photographer?” I am not sure that the results would have been as effective as they turned out to be. By exerting effort to demonstrate respect, she validated the other woman’s ego.Dr. Yael Respler
Natan Sharansky, famed refusenik and former Knesset Member who today heads the Jewish Agency, spent nine years in prison and labor camps in the former Soviet Union. His crime? The desire to live in his ancestral homeland, the Land of Israel. When asked in an interview how he survived the terrible conditions of the Russian Gulag, including 400 days in punishment cells, he answered that his faith, his Book of Tehillim (Psalms), and his feeling of “inner freedom,” gave him the strength and courage to go on. Behind the steel bars, he said, he felt freer than the prison guards who held him captive.
Freedom is a state of mind. And real freedom requires a little chutzpah, audacity.
It has been said, ‘It is easier to take the Jew out of the Exile, than to take the Exile out of the Jew’. While in Egypt, the Jewish people could not even hear Hashem’s promise of Redemption because of their “shortness of spirit” (Exodus 6:9). Even the name Mitzrayim implies constriction and limitations, from the Hebrew meitzar. The bondage in Egypt wasn’t merely a physical bondage, but a mental one. And so, while still in Egypt, Hashem began the process of taking the Jew out of the psychology of Exile, ridding him of his slave mentality.
According to the Midrash, during the plague of Darkness, the Jewish people searched under the cover of night in their Egyptian neighbor’s homes for valuables. Later, when it was time for the Jewish people to ask the Egyptians for those possessions, they would not be able to deny owning them (Shemot Rabbah 14:3). While the image of Jews snooping around for gold and silver always bothered me, this brazenness was necessary to take the ‘Exile out of the Jew’.
A slave’s time is not his own. So the first mitzvah that Hashem gave the Jewish people was to proclaim the New month (Exodus 12:2) – empowering us to create the calendar and proclaim the festivals – making us the masters of our own time and the masters of our destiny.
And in the greatest act of chutzpah, Hashem commands the nascent Jewish nation to slaughter the Egyptian god, and roast it over fire. The Torah is not a recipe book, but requires that the Passover Offering be roasted. Why? Because when you are having a barbeque in your backyard, the whole neighborhood knows! Just imagine what it must have smelled like that night in Egypt, as the Jews prepared to leave.
A little chutzpah is also necessary in our service of God, as individuals.
Rabbi Moshe Isserles (16th C. Poland) writes at the beginning of his commentary to the Code of Jewish Law, “One should not be ashamed in front of another who mocks him in his service of Hashem.” If you are always looking over your shoulder, you’re not free. As Jews, we take pride in eating our unleavened bread and bitter herbs, along with all of the other mitzvot we observe, without wondering what the neighbors will say.
Audacity, or brazenness, got us out of Egypt. That attitude kept us going for 2,000 years without a homeland, and it’s that same attitude that founded the State of Israel against all odds.
No longer are we ‘shtetl Jews’. As of the founding of the State of Israel, Jews are finally free to live and practice their Judaism without looking over their shoulders. But today, the State of Israel is in desperate need of leaders with some chutzpah. Leaders who don’t cower at international pressure or capitulate to the demands of the White House. Leaders who will do what is in the best interest of this country’s safety and security – at all costs. Leaders with some backbone.
The next time you hear someone repeating the old stereotype that Jews are pushy, remember that Jewish survival has always required a little chutzpah.Rabbi Shimshon HaKohen Nadel