Unfortunately, many people take this to mean that we don't need to try as hard and that there are all sorts of ideas that allow us to feel like we can indulge ourselves more, that Hashem understands and so forth.
Anyway, he commented that while this is true to a certain extent (for example, there really are people who fit the definition of a tinok sheh nishba), he feels that this is actually a very great generation. And he went on to explain why.
It got me thinking about how right he is.
If you think about it, it's amazing that there are any people who are looking for spiritual growth, who wrangle with how to apply ancient Torah wisdom to our lives and middot work today (WITHOUT watering it down with pop psychology), and who look to cultivate a relationship with Hashem when there is so much against us.
Even in the frummest communities, there are "experts" and media bombarding us with turning to therapists, medication, and other secular remedies as the ultimate solution. Davening and genuine deep-digging cheshbon hanefesh are often considered side dishes to the secular methods, rather than the main course.
(If utilized correctly, these secular-based resources can help temporarily, but the primary goal of any nisayon -- which is from Hashem in the first place -- is to turn to Hashem and develop a relationship with Him, and to allow your individual soul reach its full potential and illumination.)
Combined with that, there are so many band-aid distractions so readily available at our fingertips! Especially with today's technology, options, and accessibility, you could easily sink into novels, movies, drugs (both legal and illegal), alcohol, accumulating material positions, social media, filthy images, gossip and texting/email altercations, news, "ooh, shiny!" information, and so much more.
When I was in high school in the Eighties, I knew exactly who I could go to for drugs or a gun. (There were at least 2 boys I knew of who kept a handgun in their school lockers.) I didn't do so, but I easily could have. Things are much worse and even more accessible now.
And for women, the Internet is like an unending magazine. Women aren't as likely to go for the hard core filth, but the tiflut is definitely a pull. Sure, watching an unending stream of cooking or baking how-to videos seems so innocent compared to what other people are watching online, but is watching 8 different videos on making homemade marshmallows really the best use of one's time? When standing before the Heavenly Court (we should all live to 120!), is that going to be overlooked or will one be brought to account for not doing teshuvah or saying Tehillim during those 2 hours when practically speaking, only 15 minutes of 2 videos gave you enough to know about making those marshmallows?
Your Brain Under Attack
Video games also affect the brain, decreasing the Beta waves (which indicate liveliness and degree of tension in the prefrontal region of the brain) and increasing aggressive behavior, among other things. (They can also be incredibly addictive.)
With modern music, producers use research to determine song arrangement so that the brain is hit in a certain way (called a "hook"). The opening chords of a song and other parts of the song are arranged so that when you peruse the radio or hear the song blasting out of a passing car, it hits your brain in a way that makes you want more of that song (and just one reason why pop music all sounds the same).
They even polish movie scripts down to a science. Especially with movies produced in the past 10 years, you can time the necessary plot points down the minute. Author Eibhlin MacIntosh described how if you split a movie into 6 parts (1st plot point, 1st pinch-point, midpoint, 2nd pinch-point, 2nd plot point, etc), you'll see that in a movie that runs, say, an hour and 43 minutes, the first plot point occurs at exactly 16 minutes, then the first pinch-point occurs at 32 minutes, and so on.
Children's movies, BTW, have become appallingly violent and foul. True, children's movies always contained garbage due to the fact that the movie industry was conceived and populated by degenerates. But my son showed me the clip of one popular movie in which a male bird kept getting whomped painfully between the legs -- and that was supposed to be comic. And there's other stuff that I really can't write about because it's so vulgar, but if you've even seen the 3-minute promo of any animated children's movie today, then you know exactly what I mean.
Yet very young children watch all this.
And this is just the media stuff, which you can enjoy privately while still looking very pious and sedate on the outside. And with all the piracy going on, you don't even need to pay for entertainment any more (unless you want to or if you have a guilty conscience).
Advertisers also whittled their methods down to a science.
And what about food? Sugar and chemicals hit the brain in specific ways to make you want more of that too.
What are we supposed to do when our very BRAINS are under assault?
Your Soul under Attack
Yet other anti-God and anti-Torah propaganda is packaged in the veneer of scientific objectivity. And let me tell you, sifting through that to figure out what is the chaff and what is the actual science is quite a process. You also have to be able to see what's not there, like the research and studies they left out of the article, book, or paper.
(Helpful tip: Regardless of the prestige of a particular publication or scientist, anything synonymous with the word "assume" is not scientific, but taking you into the realm of the scientist's imagination. The Greeks already did mythology; we're supposed to be beyond that.)
Do you want to settle down with a good novel? Me, too. But I can't! Have you ever read a fantasy or science fiction novel featuring God? (With maybe one or two exceptions, they are always either polytheistic or atheistic.) And what about mainstream novels for any age? Do any of them ever tout appealing characters who are also moral monotheists? Or at the very least, a Republican? You know that when frum people read any novel in any genre, they need to ignore a lot of garbage, both ideologically and practically. And that becomes part of the reading experience for frum people.
Furthermore, non-fiction has also become dicey, weaving in Leftist/Liberal secular immoral values and potty language. Even books written by religious right-wing conservatives contain problematic ideas and foul language (not to mention the turn they take into Christianity or touting as "Christian" what are essentially Jewish values.)
(This does not even begin to cover the halachically problematic Far East mysticism increasingly popular within any self-help material.)
And finally: This is so bizarre to me, but religious right-wing conservative women who pound away about traditional values also have taken upon themselves the body-baring clothing, va-va-voom makeup and hairstyles, and potty-mouthing that actually demean women and go against the civilizing genteel dignifying influence women traditionally had on Western society. Do you remember how men used to have to curb their language and behavior around women? Well, no more! Now we can ALL be uninhibited cussers!
In short, everything's a big immoral mess AND this mess is constantly pounding on our heads (literally!) with increasing force and stealth.
Shining through the Muck
Needless to say, there are also non-Jews who try to make space in their lives for spiritual pursuits.
Here are other signs that you possess an amazing neshama (soul):
- Do you try to dress with dignity and modesty even though the entire surrounding culture (and even parts of the frum community) disdains this?
- Do you make time for Hashem (even though all the distractions -- including "kosher" ones -- are so sticky and alluring)?
- Do you make some attempt to watch your mouth (both foul language & lashon hara) even though the entire surrounding culture thinks that foul language is cool and lashon hara is virtuous (or at least, funny)?
- Do you make some attempt to guard your eyes from forbidden sights?
- What about your thoughts?
- Do you make some attempt to discipline yourself with regard to online activity?
- Do you ever scrutinize yourself to see what you've done wrong and then actually try to make amends and improve that part of yourself?
- Do you ever read mussar (when you could be reading a NYT bestseller), listen to a Torah shiur (when you could be pirating a movie), or listen to Shwekey (when you could be listening to a digitally designed secular pop song)?
- Do you do anything else encouraged by the Torah despite the fact that there so many other things (sometimes under the guise of "kosher") grasping at you like Voldemort's underwater Inferi?
Rabbi Anava is right that we are actually an exceptional generation. The fact that the soul-light is able to glint through any of this muck is the biggest indication of how exalted our souls actually are, despite how we may otherwise behave.
And the main thing is to ask Hashem to help us continue to uncover that light until we can burn through all the muck and illuminate all the darkness.
Because we can. It's definitely there within us.
I think this is the class by Rabbi Alon Anava mentioned above:
Can You Handle the Truth? (H/T Shirat Devorah)