In this blog I will deal with two interrelated problems: First, coping with a permissive society and all its various temptations, particularly in the area of sexual immorality and modesty; and second, educating youth, especially in view of the approaching summer vacation and its challenges.
The Generation of the Flood
The Kabbalists said (Zohar, Parshat Pinchas 216:2) that the individuals living at the time of the Flood were worthy of receiving the Torah, for they possessed lofty neshamot (souls) filled with great vitality; even the neshama of Moshe Rabbeinu, the giver of Torah, was present at the time. However, the yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) overcame them, and instead of channeling their enormous vitality towards tikkun olam, they directed it towards a lust for the physical, to the point where more than any previous generation, all flesh had perverted its way on the earth. All the potential Torah vitality – which is likened to water because via the Torah the world receives its’ life-force and is perfected – instead, came in the form of a torrential flood, drowning and obliterating them from the face of the earth. Even the individual with the neshama of Moshe, who could have potentially received the Torah, drowned along with them, as is hinted in the verse: “B’shagam hu basar” (Genesis 6:3), whose gematria equals that of Moshe (Chullin 139b).
Generation of the Desert
Those lofty souls returned to the world once again during the generation of the Exodus from Egypt. And once more, the sitra achra (the side of impurity) aimed to overpower them, particularly Moshe, and the decree “every boy who is born must be cast into the Nile” was provoked against them. However, in the merit of the righteous women who did not lose faith but continued giving birth – they were redeemed. But once again, the sitra achra sought to doom them by drowning them in Yam Suf, but Hashem split the sea, bringing them through on dry land to the other side. The Egyptians, who in their lustful behavior continued the in the spirit of the Generation of the Flood, drowned. The Israelites on the other hand, arrived at Mount Sinai, proclaiming: “We will do and obey all that God has declared” (Exodus 24:7), and received the Torah.
Why not the Final Redemption?
However, in order to overcome the yetzer ha’ra and the lust that caused the Generation of the Flood and their obliteration from the world, the generation of the desert had to abstain from worldly matters and deeds. Moshe Rabbeinu was even required to separate from his wife. Thus, for the duration of time in the desert, they did not have to work for a living, plow or harvest; their food miraculously fell from heaven, and their clothes and shoes did not wear out. They were all similar to yeshiva and kollel students, sitting in the study hall day in and day out, learning Torah from the greatest rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva of all times – Moshe Rabbeinu, A”H.
They Despised Worldliness
This all would have been fine had their studies been aimed at entering the Land. The problem was that when the time arrived, they despised the cherished Land, claiming it was possible to fulfill “the Torah and mitzvoth spiritually, without any physical activity.” “But in truth they were mistaken, because the main goal of the mitzvoth is to fulfill them precisely in the Land” (‘Likutei Torah’ from the Alter Rebbe, Parshat Shlach 38:2). In any event, as a result of their failure to recognize the value of the Land in its entirety, they were terrified of the difficult war required to conquer it from the Canaanites, dreaded the war against the yetzer involved in revealing the holiness of the Land, transgressed in the ‘Sin of the Spies’, and were all sentenced to die in the desert.
Nonetheless, Moshe Rabbeinu begged Hashem to let him cross the Jordan, thereby continuing to guide the people in their daily lives, with the Torah directing and refining all the desires and passions, and in this manner, the Final Redemption would have come to the world (see, Sotah 9a; 14a). However, Moshe’s special generation, those with the lofty souls, had already died. The next generation, although, was not on an appropriate level to reveal the Torah in its entirety and bring redemption to the world. Consequently, even Moshe died on account of their sin, and the redemption was postponed till the distant future (see, Bamidbar Rabbah 19:13).
The Oral Torah and Procreation
Delving further, we find that the lack of Torah She’be’al Peh (Oral Torah), which had not yet been revealed entirely, caused them to despise the Land of Israel, seeing as the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the Land) is consistent with the study of Torah She’be’al Peh, for the objective of both is revealing the Divine light in our material world.
This was also reflected in their negligence of fulfilling the mitzvah: “Be fruitful and multiply”. A surprising fact is that for two hundred and ten years of exile in Egypt, the Jewish nation multiplied three fold in each generation, while for forty years in the desert – approximately two generations – the Jewish nation did not increase at all. Thus, to a great extent their spiritual life in the desert suppressed the relationship between husband and wife.
The Legacy of the Generation of the Desert
The sorrow over the ‘Sin of the Spies’ and the missed opportunity was so immense that Rabbi Akiva, the greatest Sage of Oral Torah, said of the generation of the desert that they have no share in the World to Come (perhaps his intention was that only in the olam ha’neshamot (World of Souls) they have a share, but in the World to Come, where the soul returns to the body, they do not). Nevertheless, Rabbi Eliezer, who was a descendant of Moshe Rabbeinu, and in many ways continued his path (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:7), stated that they do have a share in the World to Come; on the contrary – they are referred to as Hassidim, since on account of their great devotion for Torah, they willingly abandoned worldly affairs.
This also is the conclusion of the gemara (Sanhedrin 110b), which, at the end of the topic, states the words of Rabbi Yochanan who decided in favor of Rabbi Eliezer that the generation of the desert do have a share in the World to Come, for after all, in regards to them, the verse says: “Thus says the Lord; I remember the kindness of your youth, the love of your bridal days, that you followed Me into the wilderness, to a land where nothing grows” (Yirimiyahu 2:2). Thus, in their merit, all of Israel has a share in the World to Come – how much more so do they.
To their credit, it can be said that a period of time for spirituality, somewhat detached from worldly life, was necessary in order to establish and strengthen the status of Torah study. Otherwise, there was concern that prior to the proper internalization of the Torah, the materialistic desires would prevail, drowning the spiritual aspirations as occurred in the Generation of the Flood. In a similar fashion, this custom has been followed by Jews throughout generations – to delay getting married until Torah study shapes a persons’ character, and only afterwards, marry and earn a living.
Generation of Mashiach
The Final Redemption will come through the revelation of Torah specifically in the Land of Israel. As Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin said, that in the generation of the Mashiach, those lofty souls will appear once again for the third time, as hinted in the verse “And renew your youth like an eagle” (Psalms 103:5). At that time the complete tikkun will take place, because both the enormous materialistic passions of the Generation of the Flood will appear, in the sense of chatat ne’urim (‘sins of youth’), and in addition, there will appear great enthusiasm in the acceptance of Torah, in the sense of chesed ne’urim (‘kindness of youth’). Consequently, good will prevail over evil, and evil itself will be transformed into good (Tzidkat Ha’Tzadik 95).
The Torah as a ‘Seasoning’ (Antidote) to the Yetzer
“God said to Israel: ‘My children! I created the yetzer ha’ra, but I also created the Torah, as its tavlin (literally ‘seasoning’; figuratively, an antidote); if you occupy yourselves with the Torah, you will not be delivered into his hand” (Kiddushin 30b). We see from here that the Torah was not intended to eliminate the yetzer ha’ra – physical inclinations – but rather to ‘season’ them, and thus, transform them into good.
This is the essence of the generation of Mashiach, where all the forces will be revealed with enormous intensity. Permissiveness breaches all fences, and the various passions and inclinations erupt boundlessly. The yetzer can no longer be shoved aside, in an attempt to subdue its powers. Rather, we are required to utilize the higher, Divine advice – to engage in study of the holy Torah straightforwardly and in depth, in order to enlighten and guide life, and by doing so, be able to direct all the worldly and physical inclinations for good and holiness.
When dealing with problems in educating among youth, all types of recommendations come up. Some people suggest paying more attention to the youth, others recommend setting limitations. Some propose organizing fun and enjoyable activities for them, like singing songs, playing tunes, and dancing; and following every crisis, to recite the ‘Tikkun HaClali’. Others suggest arousing the idealistic side of the youth by having them volunteer in settling the Land, or performing acts of kindness for the needy.
All of these suggestions and other similar ones have a certain amount of truth, but none of them can present a real solution. Some of these suggestions are beneficial as first-aid, others as a supplement to the real thing – serious Torah study. This is the most important challenge for teenagers: to elevate their own aspirations, and to present them with personal, moral challenges and the great vision of tikkun olam.
How to Learn
And if we find that the learning does not help, apparently, it is not being studied with a sufficient amount of seriousness. An hour of study here, and an hour there is not enough. Rather, one must learn a great deal – encompassing entire topics, so that the Torah indeed illuminates and guides one’s life. This is the meaning of the verse describing the Torah: “It is not an empty teaching for you. It is your life, and with it you will long endure on the land which you are crossing the Jordan to occupy” (Deuteronomy 32:47). Or as our Sages said: “If it is ‘empty’ (i.e., you do not see a blessing in learning) – ‘me’kem hu’ (it is your fault)! Why? Because you do not weary yourselves in studying Torah” (Jerusalem Talmud, Pe’ah, Chapt. 1, Halakha 1).
Occasionally, the learning is not properly oriented. For example, it is too difficult, to the point where the students get discouraged, or there is too much pilpul (long-winded argumentation) or insignificant dikdukim (fine details) at the expense of simple and insightful learning which truly illuminates and guides one’s life.
The learning should be tailored to the level of the youth, and the topics studied should be more connected to everyday life, such as halakha, mussar (ethics), and emunah (faith). As the author of Ha’Meir L’Olam wrote: “The main reason the Torah commanded us to study is only in order to fulfill the mitzvoth, for without studying, one cannot know how to do so. It is also written: ‘Learn them and safeguard them, so that you will be able to keep them’, from here we learn that this is the main reason for the commandment of Torah study. This is explicitly written in the first chapter of the Book of Joshua: ‘This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth… that you may observe to do according to all that is written therein” (see, ‘P’ninei Halacha: Likutim A, Chap.1, Halacha 4, footnote 2).
Towards this goal, it is essential for parents and rabbis to diligently plan an uplifting and beneficial program of study throughout the entire year, and especially during summer vacation.