Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
In this article I will deal with two interrelated problems. First, coping with a permissive society and all its temptations – especially in the area of sexual immorality and modesty. Second, educating youth – particularly, in face of the summer vacation and its challenges.
The Generation of the Flood
The Kabbalists said (Zohar, Parshat Pinchas 216:2) that the people who lived at the time of the Flood were worthy of receiving the Torah, for their neshamot (souls) were lofty and filled with great vitality, and even the neshama of Moshe, the transmitter of Torah, was present at the time. However, the yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) overcame them, and instead of directing their enormous vitality towardstikkun olam, they turned them towards lust for materialism, until all flesh had perverted its way on the earth, more than any previous generation. All that Torah vitality – likened to water because by means of the Torah the world receives its’ life and perfection – instead, came as a rushing flood, drowning and obliterating them from the face of the earth. Even that same person who had the neshama of Moshe, and had the potential of receiving the Torah, drowned along with them, as is hinted at in the verse: “B’shagam hu basar” (Genesis 6:3), whose gematria is equal to that of Moshe (Chullin 139b).
Generation of the Desert
Those elevated 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, provoking the decree: “Every boy who is born must be cast into the Nile” against them. But in the merit of the righteous women who did not lose faith and continued giving birth – they were redeemed. Yet again, the sitra achra sought to doom them by drowning them in Yam Suf, but Hashem split the sea, bringing them through to the other side. The Egyptians, who inherited their lustful behavior from 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 to be obliterated 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, all the time in the desert, they did not have to work for a living, plow or harvest; their food descended from the sky, and their clothes and shoes did not wear out. They were all similar to yeshiva and kollelstudents, sitting in the Beit Midrash everyday, 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 came to do so, they despised the cherished Land, claiming it was possible to fulfill “the Torah and mitzvoth spiritually, devoid of physical activity”. “But in truth they were mistaken, because the main point is to fulfill them precisely in the Land” (‘Likutei Torah’ from the Alter Rebbe, Parshat Shlach 38:2). In any event, because they failed to realize the value of the Land in its entirety, they dreaded the difficult war involved in conquering it from the Canaanites, were terrified of the war against the yetzer involved in revealing the holiness of the Land, transgressed in the ‘Sin of the Spies’, and they all were sentenced to die in the desert.
And yet, Moshe Rabbeinu begged Hashem to let him cross the Jordan, and allow him to continue guiding the people in their worldly lives, with the Torah guiding and perfecting all the desires and passions, thereby bringing the Final Redemption to the world (see, Sotah 9a; 14a). However, Moshe’s special generation, those individuals with the lofty souls, had already died. And the next generation was not on an appropriate level to reveal the Torah in its entirety and bring redemption to the world, consequently, even he died in their sin, and the redemption was postponed to the distant future (see, Bamidbar Rabbah 19:13).
The Oral Torah and Procreation
Delving further, we see that the lack of Torah She’be’al Peh (Oral Torah), which had not yet been revealed in its entirety, caused them to despise the Land of Israel, because the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz (settling the land) is akin to the study of Torah She’be’al Peh, given that 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, which is approximately two generations, the Jewish nation did not increase at all. In effect, their spiritual life in the desert to a great extent 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 great that Rabbi Akiva, the ultimate scholar of Oral Torah, said of the generation of the desert that they have no share in the World to Come (perhaps he meant that only in the olam ha’nishamot (World of Souls) they have a share, but in the World to Come, where the soul returns to the body, they have no share). However, 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, and on the contrary – they are referred to as Hassidim, since on account of their great devotion for Torah, they abandoned worldly affairs.
And this is also the conclusion of the gemara (Sanhedrin 110b), which state at the end of the topic 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, the verse says in regards to them: “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 – all the more so, do they.
To their credit, it can be said that there was a need for a spiritual period of time detached from worldly life to a certain extent, in order to set and straighten the status of Torah study. For if not, there was concern that before the Torah had been properly internalized, the materialistic desires would prevail and drown 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, get married 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 elevated souls will appear once again for the third time, as hinted at 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 be revealed, in the sense of ‘sins of youth’, and in addition, enormous devotion in receiving Torah, in the sense of ‘kindness of youth’ will also be revealed, and consequently, good will prevail over evil, and evil itself will become 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). Hence, the Torah was not intended to eliminate the yetzer ha’ra – materialistic desires – but rather to ‘season’ them, and thereby, make them better.
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 materialistic inclinations for good and holiness.
When dealing with educational problems among youth, all types of recommendations crop up. Some suggest paying more attention to the youth, others recommend setting limitations. Some propose organizing fun activities and encouraging happiness by singing, playing tunes, dancing, etc. – and following every crisis – to recite the ‘Tikkun HaClali’. Others suggest arousing the idealistic side of the youth through volunteering to help settle the Land, and giving needy people a hand.
There is a certain amount of truth in all of these suggestions and other similar ones, but none of them can present a real solution. Some of them are beneficial as first-aid, others as a supplement to the real thing – which is 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 lot – 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 (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 oriented properly. 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 illuminates and guides one’s life.
The learning should be tailored to the level of the youth, and the topics studied should be connected more to everyday life, such ashalakha, 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 does not know how to do so. It is also written: ‘Learn them and safeguard them, so that you will be able to keep them’, clarifying 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.