Can We Change?

Can we change? As individuals and as a society? Or are we Americans doomed to some sort of vicious cycle that will continue to cause pain and grief, mostly for our children?

Well, how about if we ask those children themselves – those teenagers that have been thrown ever so brutally into the headlines over the past week. Our teens … oh, our beloved teens … forced to grow up much too quickly. In the past week, American teenagers have matured far beyond the maturity level of many American adults today. They will save us from ourselves …

They really will.

Because they sincerely believe that change is possible. They believe it so strongly that they refuse to entertain the cynical dismissiveness of the adults who just shake their heads and say “Here we go again…”. If we avert more tragedy in the future it will be thanks to the naive, innocent youth of our time, who believe in change within themselves and within each other. Even if – and despite the fact that – we adults sometimes have trouble believing in it.

Yes, change is possible.

I have an image in my mind that brings tears to my eyes. Not tears of grief, but tears of hope. It is the image of a 90-year-old man with a shining, radiant smile on his face as he listens to the very intent words of a boy about 75-80 years his junior. I have no idea what they were speaking about, but it is clear that this young boy is very serious about life and has found an adult who takes immense pride and joy in that seriousness.

I don’t know the boy’s name but the older man in the picture is the Rebbe, the Moses of our generation. (Here is the shot:

Exactly 3,330 years ago – to the day – Moses prepared to take leave of his beloved children and pass on to the next world. Listen to his parting words to a people who are about to face the immense challenges of building society and were surely full of self-doubt. ‘Do I have it in myself to follow my dreams? Can I truly become a better person? Is there hope for our society? For our planet? Are we being too naive and innocent to imagine a world of peace and prosperity? Perhaps the “adults” are right – a utopian world is too remote and unrealistic … after all, I know all the demons in my own closet … are we humans just doomed to failure?’

No, says Moses (Deut. 30:11) –

“These Mitzvahs which I command you today, are not unreachably remote from you – no matter where you are. It is not even so far away that you have to go elsewhere to learn it … that you should say, ‘Who will go up to “heaven” for us and fetch it for us, to expound it to us so that we can fulfill it?’ … for this thing is very close to you: The Torah is not a cryptic or obscure document accessible only to an exclusive elite; God has placed it, as it were, in your mouth and in your heart so you can fulfill it correctly and confidently.”

A young educator who established a friendly rapport with his students was advised to adopt a more distant manner. “The children don’t need a friend in you,” he was told, “what they need is an authority figure.”

On a visit to New York, the young man consulted the Rebbe on the matter. When he mentioned the critique he had received, the Rebbe assumed a serious demeanor.

“Today’s children,” the Rebbe said, “do not need to be overly criticized or lectured about their shortcomings. They are their own biggest critics. Instead, they need to hear more about their strengths and incredible potential.” (Seeds of Wisdom, Kalmenson, p. 65).

Let’s start believing in our children. They will then believe more in themselves. And then, perhaps, we’ll start believing more in ourselves…

About the Author
Rabbi Yossi Deren was born in Nashville, Tennessee in 1973, lived in Western Massachusetts through the '80s and today serves as the Spiritual Leader and Executive Director of Chabad Lubavitch of Greenwich, Connecticut. Together with his wife Maryashie, they founded the synagogue-center in 1996 as Emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory.
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