By a bochur
It was encouraging to read the op-ed this week about the urgent need for suicide awareness and prevention of this tragedy – especially among younger people.
I read through the comments written on COLlive.com and I felt that a point that was missing is discussing the root cause of this issue. While many of the adults are asking, “Where did we go wrong?” I will attempt to present a certain angle that from my viewpoint may not be a direct cause of these tragic events, but is definitely something that contributes to the feelings of despair many young people feel.
The Rebbe’s approach to things was always to get to the root of the problem, so it only makes sense to start with the facts: Too many of our children aren’t happy with the lives they were brought up with, too many aren’t happy in School/Yeshiva and don’t have a feeling for Yiddishkeit. The question is why? Where did we go wrong?
So in my own personal life and from speaking to many of my friends who have had their own share of challenges, I’ve come to notice that many of these children grew up in one of two kinds of homes.
(Note: I am by no means saying that this is the case for everyone. Each person has their own story and their own free will so there is no “formula” for what causes any type of behavior. And I don’t claim to have all the answers, but as a regular bochur, I do bring the perspective of myself and my friends.)
1. The more “Relaxed/Chilled” home: Where the children attend the regular Chabad schools, and are raised by loving parents who want the best for them. Although they are part of the mainstream community, they watch movies/television and have unfiltered internet. Shabbos table discussions are usually about current events. There are rules and standards, but the parents want to lead a more open-style household, while still having expectations for how they want their kids to behave.
2. The more traditional Chassidisher home: Where there is no internet or movies and TV shows and no outside influences. The children are raised with rules by loving parents who want the best for them and have expectations for how they should behave.
Both these kids go to the same school and learn in the same class, they both have their groups of friends and all in all they are happy.
Now, although they come from completely different style homes, when they reach High school/Yeshiva age they suffer from the same problem: they aren’t interested in yiddishkeit.
The parents receive calls frequently that their child was caught with this or with that, their child refuses to listen, and everything they are instructed to do is answered with one question, Why?
You call them and beg them just to do what they say, just go to that farbrengen, just take that test, just pay that knas, just don’t wear that skirt, just give them your phone. but every rule just leads to the same question, Why?
Now before I try to explain this, some may ask, why do I have this problem if I raised my children in a Chassidisher home? In regards to the child from the more “relaxed” home, it only makes sense that if you send your child to a school that teaches and expects certain values then when your child comes home and sees that many of the things he or she learned about is totally disregarded or never discussed in his or her home, then obviously there will be conflicting messages and your child will ultimately believe that all these things are just “school stuff” and when they get older they will disregard it.
But the other parent thinks, I raised my child in a strict Chassidisher home, where the ideas and values taught and expected in school are the same at home, and everything was with a smile, then why does my child have this problem? So firstly, conflicting messages can also arise when your child sees you doing something as simple as talking during davening, or saying something negative about someone else. But the main point is, that although the conflicting values is definitely a major aspect of the problem, there is something much deeper at play.
Imagine there was a wealthy family, and for generations they passed down a heavy bag of stones from father to son that must be carried at all times, every generation did so happily with pride, after all it was only a small price to pay for the very comfortable and wealthy lifestyle they were able to live.
One day, the father decides it’s time to pass this great responsibility over to his child that he should have the honor to continue the family tradition of carrying this bag, the child is taught exactly how to hold it, when he should put it down when he shouldn’t, when to hold it to the right side and when to hold it on the left side and other important rules, till the day finally came when the child officially began his new job of holding this important family heirloom.
After a few weeks, the child started complaining, “why must I carry this heavy sack, let me do as I please!”
The father tells him that he must carry it, this is who he is and this was the tradition of his father and grandfather, going back generations.
The boy did not want to upset his father but deep inside he just didn’t want to continue living this way. One day, as the boy walked alone he reached the top of a hill, where he decided that he had enough and made the decision to leave the heavy bag there on the ground never to be seen again.
What his father hadn’t told him was that the bag didn’t contain just any stones, but diamonds and gold, and he was given the ultimate task of protecting his family’s wealth.
Friends, the reason our children aren’t happy with the system, the reason they feel trapped in the lifestyle they are being raised in is because they feel they are being forced to carry around a heavy bag of stones with rules and regulations.
No one ever bothered to explain to them the true contents of this bag.
That there is an eibishter who you can understand, and He created you for a reason. That you have something to accomplish in this world that no one else can, that Torah is true, that chassidus is true, that the Rebbe isn’t a historical figure, but the Rebbe understands you and through his teachings helps guide you through the process of living beyond your own self imposed limitations, reaching higher than what you could have ever imagined being capable of, as well as to see the truth in every possible situation in today’s modern world.
And, most importantly, that YOU MATTER and are infinitely important and necessary.
Over the last 70 years the Rebbe’s words truly reached every corner of the world with shluchim who inspire and teach millions on a daily basis, many wonderful books have been written in a number of languages by prominent scholars on the fundamental ideas of these teachings, and if someone were to walk into any Chabad house worldwide they will immediately be taught these ideas.
But unfortunately, the reason your child asks why about everything and has zero interest is because they never heard these words, not at home or in school. He or she looks at Yiddishkeit as a systematic culture based on limitations and rules, they lack belief in the foundation of Yiddishkeit and how it’s relevant to them – we were never taught that.
So obviously, if they grow up thinking they are being forced to carry a useless bag of stones, their question will be, “why?”
If we treat education as a series of “do’s” and “dont’s,” then the child’s Yiddishkeit becomes about doing what they want and not getting caught so they can please the school, so they won’t upset their parents – but to themselves it means nothing.
So he or she can pay a knas or receive another form of consequence, till they either drop out or get kicked out, but sadly the problem was never truly resolved at its core and will ultimately lead them to feel resentful towards Yiddishkeit.
And so, if they want to leave behind this (what to them feels like a) burden, the enormous fear of upsetting their parents, losing their friends and feeling alienated is too much for them to handle.
Education starts in the home. Therefore, we must ask ourselves, are we raising our children to live a certain way of life or are we raising our children into a culture?
Let’s take the time to teach our kids that the sack they hold contains diamonds and gold, tell your children about the beauty of Yiddishkeit, explain the existence of the eibishter in a way they can understand, and how much they matter to Him.
Teach them that they have a neshama and are here for a purpose. We must bring our children to the Ohel as often as possible and explain to them that the Rebbe lives through us and everything the Rebbe spoke about was said for us to understand, and to show us the world in a totally new way.
Teach them how we know the eibishter gave us the Torah and answer all their questions, and if you yourself aren’t sure don’t be afraid to ask someone before answering your child.
The Community’s Issue
Schools and Yeshivos must engrave these ideas into the children’s heads, not only in the form of learning inside but really explaining and translating the words into English in a way that the kids can grasp the ideas.
Yeshivos and schools, as well as communities in general, need more teachers and Mashpim who can speak about these fundamental ideas as well as be available to speak to our children one on one. If we never explain these things, is it really so surprising how many of our children turn to various podcasts and YouTubers (the modern day haskala movement) for teachings on everything from psychology to conservative values to atheism R”l? we must show our children how all true ideas stem from the source of all truth, Torah, and everything to know about what makes us who we are can be found in chassidus.
In conclusion, how can we allow a child to feel that it’s more important to his or her parents or educators what color their yarmulka is or what color their skirt is, then if they actually believe in or are internally happy with the ideas they were raised on?
What many might not know is that just because you see a girl dressed fully tznius and just because you see a bochur wearing his hat and jacket doesn’t mean that everything is okay on the inside. How can we sleep comfortably at night knowing that there is a child who thinks that the Rebbe’s teachings and Torah in general is a compilation of abstract and non-relevant ideas?
How can we rest knowing that there is a child who doesn’t believe in anything? And how can we rest knowing there’s a child who feels that there is no way out of his or her pain when they no longer have the tears to shed?
There will be those who say that you can’t expect children to understand these ideas, to which I say, firstly, children will understand if you explain it to them in ways they could, don’t underestimate the power of your words.
Secondly, if not now, then when? Every child is precious, every word makes a difference, and every second counts. A simple smile, though it may help, is just not enough. When we show our children that Yiddishkeit is the main purpose and most important part of our life, then they will sense the truth of our words and actions and will with the help of Hashem inspire them, as well as ourselves, to reveal the truth of who we really are and most importantly the ultimate truth, that this world, no matter how we may perceive it now, is truly a beautiful garden, not just any garden, but rather the personal garden of the Eibishter, and that we have the distinct privilege of being His gardeners, with the coming of Moshiach now.