Baruch Hashem, my Hebrew skills had also improved.
I knew that it was very important for women to know Tanach well (and mussar and relevant halacha), so I decided to study the parsha each week with the major commentaries.
Obviously, that goal meant biting off more than I could chew, which I realized after only a few weeks.
But it also brought some very nice surprises.
First of all, I fell in love with the Kli Yakar's peirush. With so much beautiful metaphor and so much sympathy toward women, it inspired me to focus on him & Rashi for the rest of the year.
Secondly, I realized that seeking out the good points in every scenario was a vital part of cultivating an authentically Jewish mindset.
No, not whitewashing bad behavior, but simply seeing the positive aspects or intentions of a situation.
Literally all the mefarshim do this.
It's especially interesting when juxtaposed with their uncompromising commitment to Truth, their tremendous fear & love of Hashem, their profound piety, and their clear-eyed ability to call a spade a spade.
For example, the Ohr Hachaim explains Hagar's untoward behavior toward Sara Imeinu after the birth of Yishmael as a well-intentioned misunderstanding of the relevant halachot.
Hagar wasn't even Jewish. Furthermore, she was of Egyptian stock and that's not good. It exerted a pull on her when the going got rough, as Rashi explained.
Yet the Ohr Hachaim saw her as not-as-bad-as-she-seems.
He did not approve of her behavior, but simply explained (using lots of proofs from the Gemara that my husband helped me with) that she hadn't meant to be so disrespectful; she'd simply misunderstand how the halacha worked.
The Kli Yakar also did this with Achashverosh, explaining that Achashverosh meant to atone for his sins via his use of the Temple garments and vessels.
(Please see The Kli Yakar - Parshat Titzaveh & How to Avoid being a Pathological Pollyanna–and scroll down to the section on Mountain of Sludge)
His intentions, explains the Kli Yakar, made Achashverosh "karov l'shogeg – close to being an unintentional sinner."
Close, but not quite.
The Kli Yakar still states unequivocally that Achashverosh was a rasha.
And those are just 2 examples.
Anyway, this attitude running through all the mefarshim brought me to realize that the truth of a matter is defined by seeing the positive in a situation.
NOT by denying wrongdoing or evil, but seeing some positive aspect, even if it's only a vague inner intention of the mind.
This is in direct contrast to Western society today, which considers negative statements of proof that you're seeing the truth.
What is a Real Courage or Honesty?
Courage is also often defined by the willingness to state the negatives.
In contrast, whenever a positive aspect is mentioned among the negatives, it's often contradicted or even shouted down.
Again, I'm not talking about using a positive to justify or defend bad behavior.
Rather, if you state that there was a positive result amid negative consequences or acknowledge a good intention despite the wrong behavior, then you risk being accused of being in denial, being politically correct, an apologist, a flatterer or a suck-up, being too "nice," repressed, justifying or excusing bad behavior, and so on.
Today, it actually takes more courage to stand up and point out what is right or good.
Real honesty means stating the actual truth — the WHOLE truth.
Why Aspects of Mainstream Chinuch Feels Helpful, But Actually Isn't
Oh, yes, on an individual level, yes. A great many people have been helped.
But overall, we're seeing a downward trend in this particular area.
But why? With so many organizations and professionals available nowadays, and with so many classes, courses, and books on parenting, why are we having increasing problems with youth?
Even more striking, in families that possess a wide span between the oldest and the youngest child (meaning that their oldest is a married 40-year-old and their youngest is a 19-year-old in sem or yeshivah), the siblings don't even look or act like they were raised in the same family.
It's the same family, same parents, more or less same parenting (even though many times, the parents do raise their younger children differently than they raised their older ones), but a completely different generation.
I don't know all the reasons, but let's look at one, and that's the chinuch guidance many parents (particularly the mothers) received from chinuch "experts."
So what was happening in the world of frum parenting, starting around the 1990s (and in the 1970s-80s in the secular world)?
First of all, you would be inundated with very disturbing stories of people being mistreated by their frum parents or their frum school (which, again, is a reflection of the same trend starting earlier in the secular world).
VERY disturbing stories.
And they were often behaviors that no normal person would ever think to do...not even once.
In other words, you really don't need to warn parents and teachers NOT to do such things.
For example, some people are serial killers or mug little old ladies walking down the street.
Do you need to warn people NOT to do this?
Do you need to exhort against the terrible pain murder or mugging causes the victims?
NO. Of course you don't!
No remotely normal person WANTS to murder innocents or mug little old ladies.
So who were these chinuch people talking to with their really disturbing stories?
Taking the Most Horrible Extreme & Applying It to Normal People: Huh?
If you're speaking to people who DO think serial killing or mugging little old ladies is a justifiable activity, do you think that telling them "this is really bad and here's why it's really bad" will stop them?
Likewise, most of the parents and teachers who are liable to act out in such abusive ways often lack the self-awareness to connect the stories (and their sad outcomes) to their own behavior.
(I'm talking about people who regularly exhibit dysfunctional behavior, not occasional one-offs.)
For example, back in the Nineties, a story made the rounds telling of an angry father who engaged in a physical abusive incident against his teenage daughter, violating several major Laws, plus the societal norm of behaving less aggressively to a girl than one would toward a boy.
This is obviously very disturbing.
It's also very unusual.
Because of this particular father tromping on both halachic & social restraints against such behavior, it's clear that there's something very wrong with him.
For example, Judaism is impeccably clear about the prohibition against becoming violently angry, and against bodily attacking people (unless for self-defense).
It's forbidden. This is the Rambam (Maimonides) and all the other major Sages throughout the ages.
Furthermore, this is his own child and a daughter (it's natural for fathers to be softer on their daughters than their sons).
Clearly, he is an abnormally dysfunctional person.
Now...would you personally ever do such a thing? Even if you're were really angry?
No, of course not.
Do you know anyone who does?
Probably not. Or if you do, you know ONE.
Yet this story was repeated ad nauseam and always presented in a "SEE WHAT'S WRONG WITH OUR COMMUNITY – AAAAAAAGH!" approach.
Okay. Yes, OBVIOUSLY, it's very wrong and must be taken care of.
But what about all the good parents?
Not perfect parents, but people who are doing things right — or at least SINCERELY TRYING to do the right thing?
Why was chinuch instruction 97% of the time "SEE WHAT'S WRONG WITH OUR COMMUNITY?!!! – AAAAAGH!" rather than "see what's right"?
Why was it so defensive and reactive (like, "we must prevent this horrible thing and its awful result!") instead of proactive ("Let's achieve this wonderful goal and strive for this lovely outcome – and you all have the beautiful soul potential within you to make it!")
Why couldn't they have presented it at least 50-50?
And why do I as a parent have to be lumped in the same category as the deranged father above, as if we all are on the brink of such behavior?
Again, the above chinuch-dynamic was a direct result of the surrounding culture and fashionable psychology of that time.
It wasn't an authentically Jewish style or method.
Yes, we were TOLD this was an authentically Jewish style, but as we all know, saying something doesn't make it true.
And we see now that it didn't help; our amount of problems with youth has increased.
This is because many of the allegedly Torah-based chinuch methods were not actually based on Torah.
Rabbi Borg Gives a Shiur
Basically, it consisted of a detailed description of the dangers of all sorts of modern technology for our children, along with a detailed analysis of how there was no possible way to prevent our children from seeing or using this technology, no matter how aware & protective we are as parents.
And that was it.
Just really depressing & hopeless.
There was no finale like, "And so clearly, the only thing we can do is turn to Hashem. He set up this situation to bring us closer to Him — and show the power of the sincere heartfelt prayer of a loving parent!"
Or something like that.
Just...all is hopeless. "We are the Borg. Resistance is futile."
Give up. Don't even try. There's no point because you cannot fight it anyway.
And where was God with this Borger rebbe?
I didn't see Him anywhere the entire lecture.
And just for knowing, I believe that Rabbi Borg intended to be helpful, but simply got caught up in the wrong mindset (i.e., a non-emunah mindset).
Ironically, a friend who also attended the lecture praised it.
The rabbi's knowledge of all the ins and outs of the situation impressed her.
When I pointed out that he offered no solutions or chizuk, she wasn't so bothered by that lack.
For her, the mere awareness of the issue was impressive. Yes, the rabbi was "raising awareness"! (This is another modern concept that can be positive if it actually leads to solutions—but the way society is set up, it often leads to impotent frustration instead, resulting in chafing masses.)
I think there's also relief in feeling that "I can't really do anything anyway," which superficially relieves self-blame and intense shame when things go wrong.
But you can have hope & personal responsibility WITHOUT toxic shame and self-recrimination.
And that is actually what Torah Judaism offers us.
By knowing that Hashem is cultivating every step of our individual journey for our benefit and by knowing that our neshamah is pristine and good, we can more easily face challenges without getting bogged down in miserable feelings.
You are Really Awful – But Fear Not! The Chinuch Expert is Here to "Save" You!
I ended up receiving a daily newsletter titled something like Merry Motherhood – Raising a Happy & Heimish Mishpacha!
It sounded good & I thought that having a daily chizuk for parenting would be good for me.
But I cancelled after a week because it such a downer.
Once again, I was reading about really awful parents & teachers, accompanied with an explanation about why this behavior is so bad and how important it is to avoid it.
Just like with the story of the deranged father above.
And the implication is that I need to know this, that your average parent needs to know this, because...we are liable to be really awful & abusive – unless we are told NOT to be!
Yes, there's a secret monster inside us all just waiting to jump out & devour our children & students!
We're all ticking time-bombs just waiting to explode!
It's such an incredibly negative & insulting message derived from modern pop psychology, in which everyone is pathologized and anyone who is emotionally healthy is simply labeled as "asymptomatic" or "no apparent dysfunction" or whatever.
In brainwashing people into thinking that they are innately bad, it can actually cause bad behavior.
It's also so un-Jewish.
Why assume the worst about everyone?
What about giving the benefit of the doubt?
Seeing a person's good points?
What about knowing that the core neshamah is good & help people access that?
And isn't it a tad arrogant for the "expert" to feel that he or she has achieved wonderfulness, but no one else is wonderful (unless, of course, they follow this expert's sage advice)?
What about realizing that Hashem is running things and that most people already possess a sense deep down of what's wrong or a sense of what their child needs, but may simply need help accessing that?
Why Did Things Move in This Direction? And What's the Real Solution?
I can't know everything, but these are some possible reasons:
(1) First of all, the Jewish neshamah has a definite Tzedek, tzedek tirdof (Justice, justice, thou shalt pursue) aspect to it.
Many, many Jews absolutely cannot stand to see any kind of unfairness or victimization.
So upon encountering abuse, the soul cries out.
And that's normal, even positive.
You want to protest this awful dynamic. You feel like it shouldn't go on for another moment and that it should never happen again.
You feel like it's absolutely unconscionable & must be stamped out immediately.
That's all good.
In fact, that's very good.
But it all depends on how this goodness is channeled.
In the secular world, assimilated Jews channel this via the only means they know: liberal values.
So they support socialism (and even communism), think that abortion & euthanasia are acts of compassion, and so on.
And they really believe they are fighting injustice.
Likewise, these frum professionals also believe they're doing something helpful by assuming the worst and slapping the most negative examples in our faces all the time.
Not to mention, it's so disturbing to hear that you the reader get all riled up...with absolutely no outlet for your outrage.
So you're all riled up and...?
So you also can end up hating the frum community because it's portrayed as so awful with no tikkun in sight.
(2) And even more deceptively, a lot of frum people think that things are better among the non-Jews. (And from personal experience? It's not.)
How did this misunderstanding happen?
For one thing, a lot of these chinuch people read the secular literature on child psychology, parenting, etc. Some learned in universities, even Orthodox universities, in which whatever-current-popular-psychology-model is promoted.
They consult with other frum people who've also been deeply influenced by pop psychology, particularly the Victim Model.
Additionally, all popular theories contain some grains of truth, else they wouldn't have such popular emotional appeal.
The Victim Model also has some grains of truth to it.
(3) I think we've all heard about the concept of a certain "ruach" that comes into the world at different times, which is why you'll see entire continents get caught up in the same ruach. Again, this needs to be channeled properly. We really need daas Torah to deal with any ruach.
(4) Finally, when you're working with difficult people & difficult situations, you get inundated by them, which makes it appear that the entire world is profoundly dysfunctional in THIS particular way, based on your copious encounters.
That's pretty normal. But again, it's important to cultivate yishuv hadaat by stepping back and re-orienting your perspective.
I admit that it bothers me a lot that many of these chinuch people are from a yeshivah background and they learn Gemara regularly (along with parsha & mussar).
And despite their Torah background, they are still so impacted by other influences, like the emotional appeal of pop psychology, the presentation of current popular theories as the only game in town, and their own correct outrage at the injustice, plus the fact that their profession causes them to be inundated with problems & giving them a skewed perspective.
And again, it's understandable why they're affected in this way, but I can't help feeling that their learning should provide more of a buffer and imbue them with more yishuv hadaat than they seem to exhibit.
For example, when I was in junior high & high school (in the American non-Jewish public school system), it seemed like the sxual abuse or exploitation of girls was all over the place.
And in the secular world, it actually kind of is.
For some reason, I attracted a lot of secret confidences at that age, so I think I was exposed to hearing this information more than others.
And these problem increased despite so much available support: hotlines widely available & advertised (including on TV shows popular with young people), vastly increased "awareness," specialized organizations, the widespread acceptability of going into treatment for any issue, support groups, female judges, female empowerment, and blah, blah, blah, blah.
For all it helped. (Not.)
Unfortunately, as is characteristic of Esav, the Western World has managed to convince nearly everyone that it holds the solutions to everything and that even though everything has obviously gotten much worse, the solutions still lies within their theories – and ONLY within THEIR theories – and that, anyway, no other society is doing any better.
That's what they claim.
And a lot of frum professionals totally swallow this, going so far as to look to the non-Jewish community for solutions — including the Catholic Church, of all things, like "Look at how the Catholic Church has dealt with their problems of abuse!"...and there's no cognizance that, while there are good people in the Catholic Church, overall it's an organization based on tumah & just wants to cover things up. If a perfunctory admission of guilt will make them look pretty, then they'll do that.
"Fauxpologies" (fake apologies) are very popular with bad people. Fauxpologies enable awful people to continue indulging themselves, more than almost any other strategy.
Beloved Am Yisrael, they are not an example to follow.
Note: Of course we can use the facilities of the non-Jewish world: transportation, hospitals, courts, prisons, etc. But these aren't solutions to overall problems. The secular world does not actually have solutions. They pretend to & promote themselves as such, but they actually don't.
Without Torah (and this means the 7 Mitzvot of Noach for the non-Jewish society), there is no other way to improve society.
And those frum Jews who deal with problems need to use their Torah learning to find the answers and use that learning to act as a buffer against Edomite influences & theories.
If they come from a yeshivah background and keep up their learning, then they definitely have it within them; they just need to focus on continuously accessing it.
And so once again, we see that looking INTO Torah provides us with what we need.
Despite the Downturns, Things are Still Looking Up
- There ARE good therapists.
- There ARE good chinuch advisers.
- There ARE good people working in these fields.
- There ARE people, even with a university background in secular theories, using authentic Torah to sift through & offer you guidance that is truly beneficial.
And we've seen frum professionals doing a real cheshbon hanefesh and coming around to authentic Torah guidance.
It's very hard not to swallow whole these secular theories.
Despite my initial secret misgivings about some of it, I also got swept up in these theories at one point.
These theories are promoted in such a persuasive manner, it's hard not to get caught up in them, especially if you spend years immersed in them via a college education.
Furthermore, you often get a lot of disapproval and even polite name-calling ("in denial," "do you really think you know better than...?", etc.) for merely questioning these theories or bringing up contradictions.
So I had to work through this (with the valuable help of Chazal, whose Torah-based wisdom is truly eternal), and I don't think we should think badly of professionals who also initially got caught up in it, then turned themselves around (which, in their field, takes tremendous courage & a commitment to Torah values).
It also showed me how much a regular non-talmid-chacham can gain from learning Torah sources on his or her own level. Hashem crafted Torah to be accessible to any sincere seeker on his or her own level, even if it's a low level.
Yes, the more skills & the better hashkafah you have, the more you'll gain from Torah sources.
But a person has to start somewhere, so why not start wherever one is & build up?
When I encountered a fresh look at the old chinuch information that inundated us when my children were young, it showed how problematic and davka un-Jewish it was, and that's why very little of it was actually helpful or effective.
And it's wonderful that people are waking up and looking to Torah & connection with Hashem via tefillah and talking to Him in order to raise their children and generally live their lives better.
And I very much hope that continues to strengthen.
May we all merit to be mechanech our children & students in the way that's truly best for THEM.