Monday, April 27, 2009

Filling the Soul's Need for Excitement and Avoiding "Empty Yiddishkeit"

I wrote yesterday about how being brought up with negative associations with Yiddishkeit can lead to children/teenagers/young adults going off the derech, leaving the path of halachic observance.

But the truth is, one must ask himself what kind of Yiddishkeit was there in his home to begin with? Was there really that much for the child to leave? Or was it all a mile wide and an inch deep?

Faranak Margolese, in her book Off the Derech, addressed the problems of "empty Yiddishkeit" in chapter 11. She talked about some people never grow up with all kinds of bad or horrible experiences in their families or with Yiddishkeit. They left observance, but it did not follow divorce, abuse, yelling parents, condemning principles, Morahs or Rebbeim. They had a relatively happy, normal time growing up. So what was the problem? Why did they leave observance behind?

It is "empty Yiddishkeit," or as Mrs. Margolese calls it, "neutral" Judaism. It is clear that leaving observance often is the result of having a Yiddishkeit that is void of spirituality, passion, or love of G-d. My rebbe always quotes Tzav V'Ziruz #9 (from the Piaczena Rebbe, Rav Klonymous Kalmish Shapira) in this regard for an absolutely fundamental point that one must understand in order to successfully raise one's self and one's children (adaptive translation):
The soul craves excitement and sensation. This does not only apply to joyful feelings alone. Rather, it merely loves "feeling." It even desires sadness and crying. People love to watch horrifyig scenes, and to hear scary stories, even to the point of causing one's self to cry, just in order to feel something. This is an absolute requirement of the soul, like any of a person's other natural needs.

Therefore, only one who fulfills this requirement with Avodas Hashem and with exciting Torah and tefillah will guard his soul. But if someone does the work of serving Hashem without feeling, then the soul will gratify its need for excitement with other, cheaper things, even through aveiros, just in order to fulfill its fundamental need for excitement. Or, if it is unable to achieve excitement through anything at all, it will become diseased, as it would if any of its other physical needs were not met.
I think of this teaching often and I think I need to re-read it even more frequently. It is fundamental to understand its principle not only for the way I bring up my children, but also for how I live my life as a Jew personally.

If I do not bring up my children in such a way that mitzvos, learning, chessed, davening, Seudos, Shabbos, brachos, etc. are exciting, then the question will not be whether they will simply continue living without that excitement or not. Rather, they WILL achieve excitement. The only question is: Through what?

If my kids see me getting excited and jumping up and down at a baseball game, but falling asleep whenever I pick up a sefer to learn, where will they learn they can fulfill their soul's need for excitement? If they see my wife's eyes light up when new furniture is delivered or when buying a new dress, but if they never see her saying Tehillim or speaking words of Emunah with great feeling, then where will they learn that exicement can be found?

If one looks at his (or her) own feelings and finds that avodas Hashem/Yiddishkeit is not one's main source of joy/pleasure/excitement in life, then *this is a major problem,* both for one's own situation and for how one's children will grow up. It should be a wake-up call to start taking whatever steps fit the predilictions of one's own soul to start reorienting one's hopes and dreams about what will give him fulfillment and excitement in life.

Once a person at least gets on the right track by moving in the right direction in avoiding empty Yiddishkeit, and moving toward a fulfilling Yiddiksheit, then he will take a major step in avoiding that particular cause that could lead to one's children going off the derech.

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Yosef Hakohen said...

Yasher Koach for the posting:

Filling the Soul's Need for Excitement and Avoiding "Empty Yiddishkeit"

It is so true! I am therefore grateful that my Torah teachers had this passion, excitement, and love; moreover, I also experienced these qualities in their children. They were joyously alive in a way which uplifted the neshamah (soul). Through connecting to these teachers and their families, I was able to experience the title of the old Chaim Berlin record: "Torah Lives and Sings!"

Yosef Hakohen

molly said...

im guessing you keep second half of sefira...

ThePeoplesChamp said...


Good stuff. From my experiences (personal, friends and being involved with a Yeshiva for "off the derech kids"), I can tell you kids can't and will not accept "picandchoose" Jewish Orthodoxy. They will not sit by and daven while his father (who just happened to pop into shul that Shabbos right as they were bringing out the torah) firsts has to discuss last nights Yankee Game, the recent economic turn and his neighbors wife. The kid understands quiet well the G-d his father is praying to- I mean there's no problem getting that 7:06 train in the AM and staying till 8 at night, but heaven forbid the father makes a Zman Kriyas Shema once on a Shabbos.
Leading by example is not going through the motions. It's about feeling what you do. It's about being excited to get to shul on time or running to your morning seder, or singing zmiros on SHabbos with full Ahavas Hashem. That's where we need to start. The kids are Holy and pure and are looking for completeness as the Piaczezna tells us. We need to give it to them in the right way.
In today's day and age with the while world against the kid, the kid needs that. It's his only shot.

Neil Harris said...

You beautifully captured the words of your Rebbe.