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October 30, 2014 / 6 Heshvan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘chutzpah’

Don’t Sweat Over Small Stuff (Part One)

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

There’s a popular adage that tells us not to sweat the small stuff. I always thought that it meant we should not make an issue out of insignificant incidents that impinge on our kavod. When we are victims, we should categorize all this as “small stuff” and the best way to deal with it is to forgive, forget and move on.

Our sages teach us, “Everyone who overlooks and forgives his kavod will have his sins forgiven.” In our society however, it’s the reverse. When we are the victims who suffer a slight, we are quick to protest, declare our outrage, and indignantly refuse to forgive or forget. But if we inflict the hurt and are guilty, we wonder what all the fuss is about. After all, it’s all “small stuff” – why is everyone getting into a sweat? So we dismiss it all with a wave of the hand.

I bring this to your attention now because the Yamim Noraim are soon approaching – a season that demands that we do teshuvah, examine our lives, reconnect with Hashem, His Torah, and His mitzvos. This self-scrutiny requires that we evaluate our character traits and the manner in which we communicate with our fellow man – especially those who are nearest and dearest to us, for it is there that we tend to be most negligent. We are the generation of Ikvesa D’Moshicha – the generation that is destined to precede the coming of Messiah, when chutzpah will abound and the young will rise against their elders. This chutzpah will be so prevalent that often, we will not even be aware of it.

A mother and her teenage daughter came to consult me about a situation that was creating conflict at home.

“Would you like to tell me about the problem?” I asked, as they made themselves comfortable in my office.

“Problem?” the teenager repeated sarcastically. “I have no problem; it is ‘she’ who is making the problem.”

“Who is ‘she’?” I asked, pretending that I did not understand.

“She,” the girl insisted, pointing in her mother’s direction.

So again I asked, “Who is she?”

This interplay went on for quite a few minutes, with the girl stubbornly refusing to utter the word “mother,” and I, refusing to give credence to “she.” Finally, she grudgingly conceded, “Okay, my mother,” but even as she did so, she flippantly added, “Rebbetzin, I don’t know what you’re making all this fuss about. She/he, mother/ father, it’s all the same. I think you’re making a whole big hullabaloo about nothing!” And then, to add insult to injury, chutzpah to chutzpah, she muttered under her breath, “This is the craziest thing … wasting all this time on such nonsense!”

“What did you say?” I asked.

“Nothing, nothing. Let’s just finish…it doesn’t mater.”

“But it does matter,” I insisted. “It matters a lot. We can’t address your issues without first rectifying this grievous wrong.”

“I can’t believe this!” she responded sarcastically. It’s a grievous wrong to say ‘she?’”

“Yes,” I answered, “if that ‘she’ is a reference to your mother.”

“This is really sweating over small stuff,” she muttered, under her breath.

“What you consider ‘small stuff,’ I told her, “is a violation of the Fifth Commandment.”

“Give me a break! Everyone I know refers to their mothers as ‘she.’”

“But we are not everyone,” I told her. “We are Jews who stood at Sinai and have an imperative to live by the Law of G-d, and one of the basic tenets of our faith is to respect and honor our parents.”

“What does saying ‘she’ have to do with anything?” the girl continued to argue.

“Everything,” I said. “‘She’ is not a respectful way of speaking about a parent. ‘She’ is anonymous; ‘she’ can mean anyone. Your mother is not a ‘she.’ It is not a ‘she’ who gave life to you, cared for you and nurtured you. It is not a ‘she’ who agonized and continues to agonize over you. And it is not a ‘she,’ who is sitting next you, crying.

Just look and see the tears your mother is shedding. Tears like that cannot be shed by a ‘she.’ They emanate from the broken heart of a mother who loves her child more than life. …a mother who has no peace knowing that her child is troubled. No, such a person is not a ‘she’!”

For the first time, the girl was silent, but I wouldn’t let go. “I also heard you mumbling under your breath,” I told her, “that I was wasting your time! Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps the opposite may be true…. that you are wasting my time? But your chutzpadik feelings of entitlement have blinded you so that you see no one but yourself.

“If your eyes were open you would realize that there are many people waiting to see me this evening, and you would apologize for taking so much of my time. You would be humbled by the awareness that after our talk, you will be going home, while I will remain here until I see every individual. And yet, you dare to say that I am wasting your time. Never mind that I’m a little bit older than you. Never mind that common decency would dictate that you say thank you a thousand times.

“So why, you may wonder, am I doing this?” I challenged. “We are a people who sealed a covenant at Mt. Sinai and honoring parents is the root of all our relationships. The manner in which we relate to our parents will color all our interactions, so if you do not understand the difference between ‘she’ and ‘my mother,’ then you don’t comprehend the basics of derech eretz. Without derech eretz,” I told her, “you will never know how to live by that covenant. You will never know shalom bayis – a good marriage, and worse, your own children will suffer the consequences, for your chutzpah will define their lives.

We spoke a while longer, and she finally did listen, although I sensed that she still had a belligerent attitude. I got up from behind my desk and reached out to her, but even as I did so, I felt her resistance. Nevertheless, I enveloped her in my arms, gave her a brachah with a kiss, and said, “Now let’s start all over again,” and for the first time I saw tears in her eyes that told me that her Yiddisheh neshamah had awakened. And so it was that Baruch Hashem, we did start all over again.

To be sure, I could have avoided this entire confrontation and ignored her insistence on referring to her mother as “she.” Through bitter tears, her mother confided that “she” was a good word compared to some other terms her daughter used. Her mother also admitted that for a moment, she was nervous, wondering whether I had been too strict, making too much of “small stuff” rather than focusing on the major issues.

So I explained that it all starts with “small stuff,” which, if allowed to go unchecked, can poison all relationships. If a parent becomes just an object, then children will have license to say or do anything they wish. Children do not feel duty-bound to honor a “he” or a “she.” But when it is “my mother” or “my father” – it’s an entirely different story. In short, a breach of derech eretz leads to escalation of chutzpah, which leads to family breakdown.

Let us examine our relationships and pay special attention to areas that we consider “small stuff,” for we might just discover that “small stuff” is not so small after all.

I Am Saddened (Conclusion)

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

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.

I Am Saddened (Part Three)

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

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)

Daughters And Daughters-in-Law Also Need Help – The Readers Respond (Continued)

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Special Note: As I indicated in a past column, I was planning to conclude the discussion on daughters and mothers-in-law, but as it turned out, I received an avalanche of mail, which I felt should not be ignored. Some of these letters expressed so much anger, bitterness and downright hatred that I could not publish them, and even those that I did publish, I had to tone down and re-phrase to temper the animosity that they conveyed. As I mentioned in the past, Baruch Hashem, these types of situations are not the norm (at least, I would like to think that they are not). I would like to believe that the great majority of our families have shalom bayis, and that our generations live and communicate harmoniously in accordance with the teachings of our Torah.

I realize that many people attribute this type of negative, obstreperous behavior to the tenor of our times. We are living in Ikvesa d’Moshicha, a period, our sages tell us, in which chutzpah will abound – the young will rise against their elders, and children will relate to their parents and in-laws with insolence. But to me, that is not quite acceptable. I do not consider that to be a legitimate excuse.

We are a nation that, from the moment of our birth, from the very genesis of our history, were given a mandate to be different, to march to the tune of a different drummer. Indeed, that was the first call of Hashem to our patriarch Abraham, who founded our faith: “Lech Lecha – Go for yourself!” Be different and live by My values, My teachings! Discover your true essence; fulfill your mission, be My representative, My witness, and establish an abode for Me here on Planet Earth so that I may dwell among My children.” So, while in our society it may be in vogue and politically acceptable to be chutzapadik to parents and in-laws, for we Jews, I repeat and emphasize, such behavior is unacceptable, and worse, such an attitude places the very life of our nation at risk.

In the “Shema” we are told to love Hashem “b’chol l’vovcha – with all your heart.” The word “l’vovcha” – heart” is written in the plural – “hearts.” Now we all know that each person has just one heart, so what is the meaning of that expression?

We learn that in every heart there are two conflicting pulls – yetzer tov and – yetzer ha’ra, the good inclination and evil inclination, and the Jew is mandated to harness the evil inclination, as well as his good inclination, into the service of G-d…. yes, to love Hashem even with our evil inclination.

But how, you might wonder, can we accomplish that?

Everything that Hashem created is good. As a matter of fact, the yetzer ha’ra is termed “very good,” provided, of course, that we know how to make it work for us. Chutzpah, as we said, is one of the tragic behavioral patterns of our society, so it is for us to seize that chutzpah and transform it into an asset. Let’s have the chutzpah to say “No!” to prevalent cultural mores. And even if others, G-d forbid, open vile mouths against their parents or in-laws, we should have the chutzpah, the courage, to zip our mouths, swallow our anger, and tenaciously cling to our commandments. Let us bear in mind that nowhere in the Torah does it state that honoring parents and grandparents is only applicable if they accommodate our needs and grant us our wishes.

The Fifth Commandment, in no uncertain terms, demands that we honor our parents and in-laws period. And even if unfortunately, they do not lead a Torah way of life, nevertheless, we do not have license to be chutzapadik to them. Our sages have given us a whole set of rules as to how to deal with such conflicts without offending or being insolent.

Undoubtedly, it is wonderful when bubbies and zeides become involved with raising their grandchildren – babysitting, teaching them, telling them stories, taking them on trips, and a host of other things.

I myself was privileged to have had such parents. “Mama,” a”h, my mother, was a great rebbetzin, but was called “Mama” not only by her adoring grandchildren, but by everyone…. she was also a loving mama to multitudes. Mama visited with us regularly, always bringing joy and blessing with her presence, and to this very day, my children cherish those memories. As the years passed and she became a great-grandmother, she was there for her great-grandchildren as well.

My father, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt’l, was a great Rebbe, but he too was known to everyone as “Zeide,” for such was the love that exuded from his beautiful neshamah, not only for his family, but also for the larger family of Am Yisrael. My parents established a yeshiva in Canarsie, Brooklyn, and every morning, Mama stood at the entrance to the yeshiva greeting each child with a cookie and every day, Zeide visited them.

Our Hineni organization had its beginnings in my father’s shul. No matter how ill or feeble my father may have been, he came to every class just to give a brachah to all the Yiddishe kinderlach, and every person whom I had the privilege of bringing back to Torah became the grandchild of Zeide and Mama.

My husband, HaRav Meshulem HaLevi Jungreis, zt’l, was the most loving father and grandfather. We could not afford to buy expensive presents for our grandchildren or take them on vacations, but my husband would take them to feed the ducks. He would take them into our back- yard and explain to them the wonders of Hashem’s Creation, and of course, he was always there to teach and tell them stories.

When, during a routine check-up, he learned that he had a malignant tumor, his immediate reaction was to go to his grandchildren and teach them Torah. I could go on and on with a thousand and one stories, but what is significant is that my children learned their lesson well, and today, they do the same for their children and grandchildren.

But, and here is the big But, this way of life is not typical of every family. Mama and Zeide were one of a kind, and they left their imprint on all of us. But this does not mean that grandparents that do not have the patience or the temperament to baby-sit or be assistant mothers and fathers are not equally committed to their children and grandchildren. It’s different conditioning, different upbringing, and different culture. And if there is a grandparent, not capable or inclined to get involved, s/he should never be labeled selfish or mean, or G-d forbid, become the object of hate.

Our first letter writer complained that she has four small children and never has the opportunity to go out with her husband. Her mother does not help her or make herself available to baby-sit.

Well, I have news for you, my dear friend…. my mother and father did not have parents to help them raise their children. Alas, their parents all perished in the flames of Auschwitz, but they raised beautiful children and mind you, as they did so, they also had to struggle just to put bread on the table and pay the rent, and I can assure you that my mother did not have any household help either.

As for going out with their husbands – that possibility never occurred to them. They were just grateful to have children to raise. Nothing was too much for them, and I must add that my husband and I never considered the idea of going out to dinner either. We simply could not afford this luxury, but never felt that our marriage suffered as a result.

Having said all this, I recognize that what I have written applies to past generations, that today, things are different; people have different needs and expectations, but that still doesn’t give license to anyone, be it a daughter or daughter-in-law, son or son-in-law to make demands upon his/her parents or be chutzapadik. Yes, you can respectfully ask if it is possible – if it is convenient – but to make demands and then express hatred if you are rebuffed and threaten to deny your parents the privilege of having a relationship with their grandchildren is antithetic to our Torah way of life. The chinuch that children absorb from such parental examples can scar them for life.

Our generation has become an “entitlement” generation in which young people believe that their parents “owe them,” and indeed, that is reflective of our culture, which advocates rights rather than responsibilities, entitlement rather than indebtedness. American culture is based on the work ethic… “I struggled, I made it on my own – now it’s your turn. I cannot be held responsible for supporting your family or raising your children. I did mine, now it’s your turn!”

I am speaking of course, in generalities. There are always exceptions to every rule. Just the same, there is an old Yiddish saying, “As the non-Jewish world goes, so goes the Jewish world, and unfortunately, part of the virus of our environment has infected us.

Nevertheless, let us bear in mind that grandparents that are proponents of this contemporary value system are, nevertheless, committed to their children and love them. They are not mean; they just have a different way of looking at things.

In any event, remember all your life that we are Jews and we survived the centuries, not because we conformed to the culture or mores of the times, but precisely because we had the chutzpah to reject that which was in vogue and cling tenaciously to our Torah way of life. In this period of Ikvesa d’Moshicha, it is more critical than ever to once again harness our traditional chutzpah, which is rooted in courage and say “No! We are Jews and we shall live by the traditions of our fathers.”

May Hashem help you and your family to find harmonious shalom bayis. If I can be of further help, come and see me.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/rebbetzins-viewpointrebbetzin-jungreis/daughters-daughters-in-law-also-need-help-continued/2008/11/26/

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