“Thou Shall Not Be a Nerd!”
Okay, this is uncomfortable, but I am going to say it anyway. Many parents will identify with it, and many children of parents will probably also nod their heads. If you are a teen, you are allowed to read this article too. It might actually help you understand your parents…if such a thing is possible.
To all parents who have teenagers or even pre-teens, I am about to burst your bubble. Remember when you were a teen or even a young married? You were so “with-it.” You dressed in style, you knew the “shprach,” you knew what was in and what wasn’t. Your friends viewed you as being on the cutting edge.
You saw yourself as “getting it,” “with-it,” and for sure not “nebby,” “nerdy” or “mufka.” (And, yes, I assume I am dating myself just by using the word “nebby,” as it is probably no longer in style. Calling all teens: Is there another, newer word out there that describes…well, a neb?)
Then (if you are a woman) you had to go to the school play or PTA and your teenager almost had a fit urgently begging, asking, telling (or warning) you to (gasp!), “Please don’t wear that!”
Or (if you are a man) you decided to take your son to school or yeshiva because he missed the bus for the third time that week, and the kid, trying to sound matter of fact, says, “Ta, you can drop me off a block before yeshiva… I will walk the rest.”
If you are clever, you will listen to him and just drop him off a block away. If you are not clever and insist on doing him the favor and taking him all the way to school, you may cause him the discomfort of telling you that he doesn’t want his friends to see his “nerdy” father or, heaven forbid, his “old-fashioned car.”
We start to wonder: What happened? Just a few years ago, all my friends thought I was soooo “with-it.” I was a great dresser, I knew how to talk to people, and people would even ask me for my opinion. And now? My kid is embarrassed to be seen with me because I am such a neb/nerd (insert favorite pejorative).
There is nothing new under the sun, and anyone who understands how the yeitzer hara works shouldn’t feel bad at all and not even feel nebby…
You see, the power that the yeitzer hara has over us is the power of dimyon, imagination. He paints for us a picture to make us think that we mamish cannot do without this or that. Or he makes us think that there is no way we can possibly be “that frum” or “that holy.” Yes, we want to do the right thing, but we also want to be “normal.” And he also paints a picture of what “normal” means.
The entire koach of the yeitzer hara is dimyon and not real. It is for that reason that the in-style item of yesterday is super nerdy and out of style today. It is for that reason that something that was once considered nice, even the height of beauty, is today considered ugly!
Did you know that in pre-war Europe they used to send skinny girls to “fat camp” before they entered shidduchim? Really! People associated “fat” with affluence. Therefore, if a girl was plump, it was a sign that she was a “catch” in poverty-stricken Europe. I heard this directly from my grandmother, who grew up in Europe and was one of the skinny girls who was sent to fat camp! This isn’t some “heard from a friend, who heard it from a friend” exaggeration. It is first-hand testimony.
The Revolving Tactic of the Yeitzer Hara
So, the yeitzer hara can change things around. One day, he will make you think that fat is nice and the next day skinny is nice. He can make you think single-breasted suits are nice and then only double-breasted suits are nice. He can even make you think that bell bottom pants are nice! That is how crazy he is.
So, when your kid is embarrassed of the way you dress or talk, or calls your gorgeous 2005 Lincoln Town Car a jalopy, tell him that when this car originally came out and you drove it, you were on top of the world.
Nothing changed. The only thing that changed is people’s dimyon of what is nice.
A New King? Or An Old King with “New” Ideas?
I once saw in the sefer Bais Yisroel on Parshas Shemos that this concept is alluded to in the words “Vayokom melech chodosh – A new king arose in Mitzrayim.”
The Bais Yisroel explains that the yeitzer hara, who is the ultimate “melech zakein – old king,” knows how to be mechadesh, creating all kinds of new yeitzer haras. He is a “king” who is constantly making things “new.” He is always finding new tactics to entice us to do aveiros.
What was Paroh’s first decree? Paroh said, “Hava nischakma – Let us outsmart the Bnei Yisroel with our chochmah, our wisdom.”
“Do you know how Paroh used chochmah?” the Bais Yisroel asks. “Paroh said that the only way to get rid of the Yidden was by bringing ‘chochmas chitzoniyus, chochmah from the outside world, into the Jewish mind.” The Bais Yisroel explained, “Paroh said, ‘If we fill their minds with the chochmos and shtussim of Mitzrayim, the land of tumah, they are finished!’”
That is the way the yeitzer hara worked already then in Mitzrayim, and that is the way the yeitzer hara works today. The yeitzer hara wants nothing more than to bring the chochmah, the culture, along with the lowliness of the goyim, into the Yidden. There is only one problem. The yeitzer hara understands that we have somewhat learned his game. The yeitzer hara knows that if he tries to tells us, “Okay, go out and buy a book full of apikorsus,” we will not listen to him.
So, he must try new tactics. One of those tactics is to get on the cutting edge of knowing what is going on and making sure that we are up to date with the best and the newest. To do this, we have to be plugged in to all kinds of social media and the like. If not, how can we be “with-it”?
The Tool to Fight This Melech Chodosh
We sometimes make justifications, especially when it comes to new devices or programs, that we need this and that for this mitzvah and that mitzvah, this important purpose or that important purpose…
Perhaps that is true, but because the yeitzer hara has such a power of dimyon, we cannot rely on our own seichel, even if we are generally clever and even keeled. Whatever we might think, we are nogei’a b’dovor. The dimyon portrayed by the yeitzer hara is the greatest negius. We should always have a spiritual mentor with whom we can consult, both for us as individuals and for our entire family unit.
That is why it is so important to approach the entire sugya of melech chodosh, the constantly renewing yeitzer haras, with the opposite of “chochmah,” the opposite of “hava nischakma.” Instead, the ideal way to fight the melech chodosh is with simple emunah. Ask someone who is not nogei’a b’dovor and blindly follow his advice, with emunah, as if it came from Hashem.
Emunah can help us overcome all the new enticements of the yeitzer hara. It can also infuse us with chizuk that we are not relics of the past. On the contrary, the more we understand the yeitzer hara’s tactics, the more we realize how yesterday’s cool or with-it person can be today’s neb, and the more we realize that even what we did yesterday, when we thought we were with-it, was nothing more than a mirage.
And…if you really want to be naughty, perhaps you can have a glint of mirth and humor in your eye when thinking about the surprised cold shower that will wash over your “with-it” teen in some fifteen years when their kid won’t want to be seen with them!