Sunday, April 19, 2009

Testing Our Frumkeit

Just when I thought things are getting better, I read something in the Jewish Observer that makes me think - one step forward; two steps back. I am referring to an article based on an address given by Lakewood Mashgiach Rav Matisyahu Salomon at a recent Agudah convention.

In an attempt to try and explain the phenomenon of rebelling children he turns to religious explanations and solutions. He suggests that this phenomenon is our era’s Nisayon… our trial and tribulation - just as the Spanish inquisition was the Nisayon of that era. Are we doing what is right in the eyes of God? Apparently not it would seem. Or else we wouldn’t be having these problems.

Rav Salomon cites various examples of Gedolim in the past who - when confronted with troubling issues – cried bitter and tears and prayed for help. His message is: ‘Pour out your hearts to HaShem’ when you see rebelling children.’ ‘Let us not blame the schools or their Chinuch techniques.’ ‘That is what the mockers of Torah do.’

He says that children today are suffering a spiritual starvation - and that is why they rebel. They see parents as role models. Parents set the tone in the home. If parents do not have the right attitude in the home, the children will perforce rebel.

Would Rav Salomon say this about Rav Shach? It is well known that Rav Shach’s son ‘rebelled’. He studied at a university - receiving a PhD, was a professor at Yeshiva University and served in the Israeli Defense Forces. These are areas that were anathema to Rav Shach.

I’m sure that Rav Salomon would find a way to explain that without detracting from his premise. But this example serves to illustrate the fallacy in focusing solely on the religious example one sets in the home.

I do not question Rav Salomon’s motives. They are pure. It is always a good idea to reflect on our lives and see where we can improve. And prayer is always warranted in times of trouble – as it is even in times relatively free of trouble in the form of Hakaras HaTov – gratitude.

But to focus exclusively on religiosity makes it seem like all else is for naught. He makes no mention at all of well researched and well known multiple causes for rebelling children. Nor does he mention any of the solutions suggested by professionals - some already implemented in his own community.

On the contrary. He says that blaming our schools is what scoffers and mockers do - and we ought to stop! ... as if it were perfect the way it is - the way it has always been. It is as if all the innovations developed in recent years do not exist. There are no problems with our current form of Chinuch - a Chinuch that has left countless numbers of children behind because they couldn't keep up - became discouraged and turned 'elsewhere' for support.

I would ask the esteemed Mashgiach why he did not make reference to any of that? Not one sentence in the entire article. Not a word. No - it is all about God’s Nisyaon for us. Focus on that - and eventually all will be well.

If one takes Rav Salomon's words at face value - and dismisses or ignores the actual causes and the corrections already in place - it should follow that we should dispense with faulting the system in all other areas where problems exist. Or taking any practical steps – whether individually or communally - to help solve them.

Mental disorders like clinical depression - don't look for causes or cures. Psychotherapy and medications? ... a waste of time and money. Based on the article - prayer and tears is all we need. Any epidemic will disappear if we just Daven enough. But I respectfully ask, could the suicides that have taken place in Lakewood in the past – one very recently - have been avoided if the Roshei Yeshiva and students there had Davened harder? Is there anyone who seriously believes that the Roshei Yeshiva and students in Lakewood do not Daven hard enough?

Perhaps we could take Rav Salomon's thought even further. Why put all our efforts into treating physical illness with modern medical techniques? Why bother looking for causes and cures? If we are today experiencing an epidemic of cancer, let us just Daven harder and not bother with modern medicine.

I should add that there has been a lot of prayer on behalf of my grandson and I am extremely grateful for that. Tens of thousands of people have doing that - and still are. But should we have ignored the chemotherapy - and only just Daven harder?

What about child molestation? Are children being abused because we aren’t setting good religious examples in the home?! Perhaps we need not be so concerned with the predators in our midst and realize that God is just testing us!

Rav Salomon would probably strongly deny that he meant we should ignore medical treatment for physical illnesses. He might even concede that we should seek professional help for those who have mental disorders like clinical depression. …And that we ought to be doing more to recognize those among our youth with the potential for rebellion. …And that child molestation needs to be dealt with in practical terms too. He probably even supports research in all of these areas and lauds the progress that has been made.

But one could not see that from the article. All you can see there is Frumkeit. Why are we having these problems? We aren’t Frum enough. Nothing else mentioned. Nothing else matters.