I had the opportunity last week, while attending the Torah Umesorah Convention, to hear insightful words from a widely respected, veteran educator and leading thinker, Rabbi Dr. Aharon Hersh Fried. Dr. Fried, in discussing the various challenges facing our generation and specifically the children, distilled all the various issues into one root problem – cynicism. Society today does not take life seriously, nothing is sacrosanct, authority is flouted, few things are worth standing up for. People are cynical about relationships, respect, commitments and responsibility. It’s the `whatever’ generation.
Otherwise productive people fall into addictive behaviors and do great damage to themselves and their family. Where does it stem from? They lack a positive, meaningful higher value worth fighting for and latching onto. If a person truly valued his role in life as meaningful, productive and satisfying, his or her behavior would reflect that, and the person would avoid falling into the pit of self-indulgence that is the fertile ground in which an addiction and irresponsible behavior grows.
A most meaningful and potent antidote to this attitude is articulated in a number of places in this week’s parsha. The Torah speaks in several places of Yiras Hashem, fear of G-d, in connection with specific mitzvos. Rashi points out again and again (Vayikra 25:17,36,43) concerning the mitzvos whose fulfillment or transgression is known only to the person, require the special awareness that Hashem also knows what’s going on. If a person thinks that no one knows what he is doing, he will have a very difficult time maintaining his integrity and fidelity to the Torah, or in fact, to any set of moral principles.
By strengthening one’s awareness that Hashem knows all and sees all, a person has a fighting chance to remain honest in business and compassionate in his dealing with others. This awareness is the antithesis of cynicism. Rather than emptying one’s behavior of any significance, thereby devaluing the consequences of his actions, which is the essence of cynicism, one injects meaning and purpose by realizing everything is in Hashem’s presence; it is meaningful, important and long-lasting.
The cynic lives in the world of the casual and temporary, the one who fears Hashem lives in the world of the significant and eternal. The particular `world’ that we live in, is the best predictor of the world our children will inhabit as they grow to adulthood. Even if our cynicism does not do significant damage to our productivity and stability, there’s no guarantee our children won’t be affected in very serious ways.
The seriousness of purpose that the Torah requires is not something we can ignore. One whose life is suffused with awareness and fear of Hashem enjoys a life that is stable, happy and contented. The cynic finds neither happiness nor contentedness. Our greatest dream for our children is to be happy, productive and content. We need look no further than the Torah’s directives to help us reach our goal.
Best wishes for a joy-filled Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann