Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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17 Cheshvan 5761 - November 15, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
The Strength to Climb Higher

by Chaim Walder

Moishy's troubles began six years ago when he was thirteen and a half. He wasn't doing well in yeshiva and was threatened with expulsion. He was a young, sad boy who had no cheishek to learn and derived no joy from it. However, he was a gutte neshomo. He wanted to remain in yeshiva in order not to distress his parents and be forced to roam the streets.

From then, up until a year ago, he went through a number of educational frameworks. Although he always started out on the right foot, this was inevitably followed by decline, and then at the end of each zman, total failure. This brought the heads of the yeshivos in which he studied either to propose other places of learning, or to let him to remain on probation.

Throughout that entire period Moishy tried and tried, but nonetheless, he derived little enjoyment from his learning. He found it hard to get up in the morning. He was hurt when anyone made any sort of remark to him about his behavior. He was filled to the brim with pain and frustration. On the one hand, he was miserable in the framework in which he found himself. On the other hand, he wanted to remain there.

Five years passed. A kid with sad eyes who can't find himself, but nonetheless didn't go down the drain.

This past year, however, he has no problems. Perhaps it is due to the framework in which he is currently studying, or perhaps he has matured and learned how to overcome his weaknesses. One can say with certainty today that he will remain in that framework until his wedding and will grow in learning. Within a year or two, be'ezras Hashem, he'll marry and build a fine Jewish home. We can safely predict this. For we are acquainted with his wonderful nefesh, his ability to put himself aside, to persevere for years on a path very difficult for him and to do it only because he knows that it is the only viable alternative for boys. He knew that only by remaining on the path can he acclimate to his social milieu, marry a fine girl, feel the purpose of life and bring nachas to himself and his parents.

This story should be told to whoever feels signs of weakening or, cholilo, has already despaired.

Moishy clutched the Tree of Life and refused to loosen his grasp, even though others had long ago given up on him: some with the first jolt, others with the third. The ability to hold on and not to slacken or loosen one's grasp makes all the difference.

How do we explain this? Why does one hold on while others give up?

It is completely dependent upon the education one receives from childhood until adolescence, as well one's character (this time we will use the term "character" and not "nefesh").

Withdrawal from the framework is a form of running away from confrontation, from difficulties and from adversity. Withdrawal usually occurs in moments of weakness and crisis and out of temporary pressure. Married people also have moments of pressure and crises, moments in which they wish to retreat, to leave everything, to rest, to flee. . . but they don't. How can this be explained?

There are many reasons, the most important being that a sense of responsibility is ingrained in each and every one of us: concern for one's family, one's children and their future keeps us in line during such moments of weakness. Although the nefesh wants respite, childhood training to be a responsible person draws out one's reserves of strength.

Some falter, nonetheless; get up and leave. If one is fortunate, his spouse assumes the burden. If not, the house falls apart and collapses, and the larger the household, the louder the noise made by the crash.

The strength to withstand difficulties, to persist and not falter is instilled in a person during his childhood by means of the personal example of his parents and the chinuch they give him.

In the past, people were stronger. They coped with unusual difficulties and were able to overcome them. That was because they had received a Spartan chinuch and were disciplined. Parents had total control over their children and made demands slightly exceeding their children's capabilities. By having to cope with adversity, such children developed the ability to grapple with difficulties and -- you'll be surprised to hear -- loved their parents all the more. They emerged mentally healthy, and above all, happy. My father she'yichyeh would say that he trained his children to be porters. "Life is a burden, and one who learns how to carry, learns how to live," he said.

An erroneous outlook, prevalent over recent years, urging parents to refrain from making demands of their children in order not to burden them is what has made today's children incapable of contending with adversity. A weak nefeshnachas, self- esteem and spiritual and personal progress. Immediate gratification and comforts generally cause children to make additional endless demands and give rise to immature behavior stemming from the fact that the child has no other aspirations apart from the candy which he wants at precisely that moment. He has learned that he need not bother to make any effort in order to get what he wants.

He has also learned that the worse his behavior, the more he will receive from his parents who want to quiet him. He isn't "bad." He simply has learned to be that way.

In general, after he disappoints his parents, despite (and actually because of) all they have given him without any limit, the trampling stage ensues. His parents, who have despaired of the positive approach, begin to discharge all of the bitterness accumulated within them over the years because of him, which has constituted a difficult and painful load. That is how we end up with children who have no backbone and no sense of responsibility, yet no lack of negativity.

Of course, not all cases fit this mold. Sometimes outstanding parents who have invested all of their energy in their children suffer from children who have disappointed them. Sometimes such children were influenced by a bad friend or have undergone a bad experience no one knows about and whose consequences they bear alone. (This topic should be addressed in a separate article.)

The best combination is that of encouraging the child, showering him with warmth, attention, and encouragement while, nonetheless, making demands of him (which somewhat exceed his abilities) and setting limits which must be strictly maintained.

Parental authority must also be exerted: parents must not sanction chutzpa nor undermining of authority in any way whatsoever. They must fashion a clear hierarchy, and not foster equality between parents and children. They should be sensitive of their children's honor at all cost and not humiliate them. They should display concern for their children's distress and not ignore it, and surely not ridicule those areas in which the child seeks to stand out. They should constantly indoctrinate their children with the eternal values of Torah, yiras Shomayim and derech eretz, stressing this in a calculated manner at times and sometimes incidentally, so that the child will clearly know and sense what his parents expect of him and how he can bring them nachas.

It is important to stress: Just like one can't drive a car without cooling the motor with water, one can't insist sternly that a child do what is demanded of him without showering him with encouragement and warmth. When the motor lacks water, it simply burns out. The soul is consumed.

When a child who has been raised according to such an approach reaches a crossroads in life, he will at least clearly know where he is headed. Even if circumstances threaten to boot him from his framework, and even if he has moments of weakness, thoughts of dropping out will never occur to him, because the bonds linking him to his parents are still strong.

When Yaakov blessed Yissochor, he said: "Yissochor chamor gorem." Why was Yissochor, the talmid chochom who studied day and night, compared to a burden-bearing donkey?

HaRav Shmuel Sompolinski once told me: "`Avdo behefkera nicho ley,'" means that only one who is on the level of a slave enjoys hefker, while a free person does not enjoy hefker because he needs to be in a framework. Yissochor, who was wiser than his brothers, searched for true repose, and he saw that `repose is good and that the land is pleasant' and discovered that this is achieved only by, `and he bent his shoulder to suffer.'"

Twenty years after my father told me this, I have finally begun to understand what he who raised us to be "porters" meant.

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