"The July and August headache" is how secular parents
describe the two months of their children's summer vacation.
This "headache" is caused by two reasons whose source is one:
the tedious boredom that children and adolescents suffer
during the seemingly endless weeks when time hangs heavily on
their hands and life is nothing more than a broken record.
This boredom causes parents a double headache: They are
concerned to find something to fill the vacuum, and they are
deeply worried about what their children do during their
leisure time when their only aim is to free themselves from
responsibilities and adult supervision.
School's summer vacation does have a clear-cut objective of
providing rest and relaxation for the children after a year
of tiring studies. This period, despite its worthy goal, is
beset with danger even for the Torah-observant, where there
have been, Rachmono litzlan, many cases of physical
and spiritual casualties. For non- religious Jews this period
is absolutely disastrous. People who find no real
satisfaction or contentment in their lives during the busy
year, go out of their mind when bored to death with nothing
Without the spiritual delight of Torah study, which fills all
available time of a Torah-true Jew, without the sublime taste
of actual Jewish life in which every moment of this world is
as sweet as honey, there is no outlet for the
neshomo's search for spiritual nutrition. Vacation
time vividly reflects these children's lack of spiritual
The endless, desperate search for satisfaction
causes people to try some bizarre schemes. The newspapers
reported that someone from Paris circled the world riding on
roller skates in just over twenty-eight months. This person,
a public relations professional, wanted to combine his love
for sport and hiking with his profession, but did not
envisage people's tedium with attempts made to break new
"I feel just fine!" the breathless but evidently ecstatic
adventurer remarked to the reporters and photographers. "My
trip was truly unbelievable." He told them that the "dramatic
peaks" of his world trip were when an irate driver in Russia
tried to push him off the road and an incident where he
almost skated over a poisonous snake in Texas.
Meanwhile in Hawaii a British citizen stopped disappointedly
in the midst of an attempt to sail around the world in a
pedal-powered boat. After more than twenty thousand miles and
five years in which he ate only rice and peanut butter, he
finally decided that life in such a boat is "like a jail."
"I reached the conclusion that my objective -- to encircle
the world by using only foot power -- contradicts another
objective of mine: finding satisfaction in the simple things
of life. Reality struck me hard. I understood that I had
undertaken something unreasonable, had suffered sea sickness,
fatigue, and felt like a mouse on wheels."
All these strange "challenges" actually express the search
for the unattainable: a feeling of sublime happiness for
which the neshomo thirsts. People look for "hobbies,"
"recreation," "social status" and "achievements" to gain some
satisfaction in life. The more ingenious chase after
"colossal challenges" such as climbing mountains and circling
Maran HaRav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky zt'l in Chayei
Olam (ch.6) shows us the Torah-true perspective on such
"When we think deeply, we realize the nefesh is
intrinsically not satisfied with the vanities of olom
hazeh. It longs to cling to the elevated, the sublime and
the sacred, but lacks the understanding of how to achieve
this (and this is so it can enjoy "free will"). Only through
intellectual analysis and siyata deShmaya can the
nefesh grasp this.
"Nations who did not acknowledge Hashem's existence chose
different types of avoda zorah to worship and honor.
Later atheists decided to esteem and sanctify philosophy.
They declared it to be the most spiritual entity, deserving
"In contemporary times since atheists have difficulty with
all intellectual concepts they have found another way to
quiet their longing for spirituality and loftier values: They
adopt the political stand of some party (and naturally hope
to obtain honor or money through it). They become devoted
followers and labor for the party and honor it as the most
sublime value. They even think that anyone opposing their
party's stands should be persecuted.
"Even one who follows his whims, searches and holds on to
something he regards worthy of praise and worship, be it
either his king or his nation, his ideology or his political
party. Eventually he feels an emptiness and depression in the
depths of his soul and tries to quiet it by indulging in
lowly vanities (playing soccer, saving stamps, and other such
pastimes or attending theaters and circuses). The end result
is a feeling of emptiness and a sense of missing something
undefinable. Chazal (Midrash Koheles) write on the
posuk `And the nefesh is not filled'
(Koheles 6:7). `This can be compared to a villager who
married a princess. Should he bring her everything in the
world, it would be insignificant to her because she is the
daughter of a king. So with the nefesh, all delicacies
[of this world] are worthless since it comes from Above.'
"Indeed this craving for ruchniyus and kedusha
shows us the aim of our being created is for avodas
Hashem, the living Elokim, our Rock and Creator.
Anything the mouth can speak, the eye can see, one's
intelligence grasp, and the heart feel, is all from Hashem,
and everything is considered as worthless for Him. The
nefesh will neither be filled nor find any rest except
in clinging to its Father in Heaven, Hashem, since it is
derived from Hashem and created by Him."
Emptiness and spiritual barrenness, a feeling
of having attained nothing but vanity, causes acute,
subconscious pain that gnaws at every intelligent person. He
feels his life is aimless and concentrates on mere
People use many multicolored expressions to depict this
oppressive feeling. Many define this problem as "boredom," as
though it were merely a lack of activity, something to be
solved through keeping oneself busy. That crushing boredom
actually shows something deeper, something relevant to the
most internal layers of a person's soul.
A newspaper once wrote that the only topic the media refrains
from delving into, and will for no price discuss, is the most
widespread malady of the West: boredom. The reason for their
refusal is that "the remedy is also the cause for the
Shaul Adar, a reporter, wrote: "One of the most resolute
rules in the world of mass communications is its being
forbidden to discuss boredom. Although one of the most
important topics in contemporary life is that people have
spare time without knowing what to do with it, this topic is
taboo. The lives of many people consist of wading through
time while working and then living through some necessary
additional hours of boredom before starting one more day of
work. Nevertheless, on television it is forbidden to discuss
this. This subject is considered uninteresting and
subversive. Television as the most available remedy to
boredom finds it preferable neither to deal with this popular
arrangement nor upset it since bored people spend more hours
watching the TV.
"Occasionally resistance breaks down and these chasms are
Shaul Adar relates about a series of programs depicting the
lives of soldiers in England forty years ago. The endless
staring at the walls, the senseless tasks, the maltreatment
of the weaker soldiers and sinking deep into delusions,
filled the world of the unfortunate soldiers and officers.
"Except for the particular language spoken and decor being
used, this was an instructive depiction of military service
anywhere in the world. To stare into space and dream is the
only hope of finishing three years [of military service]
peacefully." He adds that more than forty years after the
period portrayed in that program "people have more money,
much more leisure time, but less strength and ability to
entertain themselves. They need others to `motivate' them and
tell them what to do with the tons of time on their
As previously mentioned, from our perspective, we see that
the problem is not boredom. It is the result, the symptom, an
indication of the sickness based on spiritual emptiness, of a
lack of aim in life. It is so with everyone who has thrown
away the yoke of Heaven. For such a person all the world's
delicacies will not satisfy his neshomo "because it is
It is known that even those who have been privileged to enjoy
excessive wealth, those who fill life's routine with
entertainment and pleasures or in whatever way their heart
desires, also feel pain from the lack of an objective in
Someone looking from the sidelines sees the lives of
international millionaires and financial magnates apparently
gilded and utterly impressive. Only on closer examination and
removal of their outer shell does one reveal their
excruciating internal battles.
A recent newspaper report about a well-established wealthy
businesswoman in Israel who seems to have all one can wish
for in life revealed her quest for internal happiness and her
torment over her failure to educate her child and his bad
behavior toward her. "My confrontations with my 16 year old
son scare me. He has no gratitude for all I have given him
over the years. This happened suddenly and I have no control
over it. It is extremely painful to say this, but at the
moment he is connected to me mainly through the bank cash
machines. `What was so terrible? Is was only 400 NIS!" he
tells me. I ask him, `Did you ever in your entire life earn
400 NIS?' I come home and find him with another fifteen
adolescents and the house is a real mess. `Mother, what are
you doing here?' `My dear son, I live here.' `Mother, do me a
favor and go away.' I remain at home with tears in my eyes.
Where did I go wrong? And this is a child who loves his
mother and is connected to her."
The woman told us that she had tried to infuse him with the
importance of valuing money by setting him up with work. "I
sent him to work in a bread factory. He was so shocked at the
sight of the factory that he never returned. I arranged work
for him with my friend Chanan Exef (at Motorola) . . . The
taxis back and forth to the job cost me more than what he
actually earned. I should have received a prize from the
local taxi company for all the business I gave them.
Sometimes I paid them some 4,000 NIS a month.
"I never had the courage to face him squarely and say `No!' I
was so concerned with the welfare of my vulnerable and
darling boy, I made sure he had everything in life. A few
days ago we talked about violence. `What do you want of me?'
he asked. `You never taught me to restrain myself.' He was
right. He always knew that if he pressured me just a little
more he would get what he wanted."
The newspaper that published the above points out that this
businesswoman and her family are continuing, despite
everything, to live a life replete with internal
contradictions: On the one hand, they live like the top
echelon of rich people, often travelling abroad, rubbing
elbows with the affluent and world magnates, and being
exposed to the media. On the other hand, she rebels against
the insufferable ease with which her son wastes money,
against high society's hypocrisy, against the frequent gossip
and jealousy behind one's back and is a fervent preacher of
living with internal happiness.
A letter sent from London in 5698 (1938) appears in
Michtav MeEliahu (at the beginning of volume 1),
written by HaRav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler ztvk'l, to
his son R' Nochum Zeev shlita when he was a young
talmid in a Lithuanian yeshiva. The title of the
letter is: "A Life of Happiness." HaRav Dessler writes that
even when one systematically searches for the truth, one will
not find an answer to the question "Does he know of a
[specific] happy person in the world?" On the other hand,
when we ask others whether they have ever met or seen happy
people they will surely answer positively.
End of Part I