Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Av 5760 - August 16, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Happiness and Wealth

by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

"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 to do.

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 tranquility.

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 records.

"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 the world.

Maran HaRav Yaakov Yisroel Kanievsky zt'l in Chayei Olam (ch.6) shows us the Torah-true perspective on such occurrences:

"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 complete devotion.

"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 materialism.

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 disease."

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 explored."

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 hands."

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 from Above."

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 their lives.

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

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