Tuesday, Jun 11, 2024

Youth Follies

Youth. The years of life full of energy, full of vitality, full of excitement. We often reminisce with fondness about those days full of hope for a bright future when we thought we could conquer the world. The young are not yet encumbered by familial responsibilities, not yet discouraged by the twists and turns and the challenges that life places before us, and not yet cynical because of its disappointments. How often do we hear the refrain, “Oh, how I wish I were young again”?

The young are convinced that the world revolves around them. They are most opinionated and have the answers to everything. Time has a way of mellowing people, and with maturity comes the realization that they are not as prominent as they thought they were and that their opinions are not necessarily the right ones…at least not always.


The vim and vigor of the spring times of life are a gift from Hashem to propel us to explore the depths of Torah to develop into adulthood and to build our lives successfully. However, juvenility has its drawbacks. The bliss of ignorance and the lack of exposure to the practical aspects of life can cause the young to act in a manner that the more initiated and experienced would not. The effervescence of youth must be guided and nurtured by the sagacity of elders. Otherwise, it could spell trouble.


In this week’s sedrah, Rashi says that the city of Shechem was predestined for misfortune. This is where the shevatim perpetrated the sale of Yosef and where Dinah bas Yaakov was kidnapped. Also, in later years, that was where Klal Yisroel was split into two kingdoms, Malchus Yehudah and Malchus Yisroel. Is it possible that a common thread passes through all of these ill-fated occurrences?


When the Torah describes Yosef’s character, it mentions two traits that are incongruous with each other. “And Yisroel loved Yosef more than all of his sons, since he was a ben zekunim to him, a child of his old age” (37:3). Onkelos translates zekunim as wise. Although Yosef was young, he was wise beyond his years, like a zokein. Yet, earlier, the Torah tells us, “But he was a youth with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah.” Rashi explains that he acted with the immaturity of youth. How do we understand Yosef’s nature in light of these two incompatible descriptions?


The Vilna Gaon already mastered the entire Torah – both niglah and nistar – at the age of bar mitzvah. Can we then even begin to fathom the level of the Rambam? And even this greatness paled in comparison to the level of the holy Tanaim and Amoraim. Far and beyond this is the sphere of the avos hakedoshim and the shevatim. How, then, do we understand the seemingly irrational behavior of Yosef, his bringing, the tidings of his brothers to Yaakov, and relating his dreams to his father in front of his brothers?


The sefer Mizkeinim Esbonan offers an explanation based on the Seforno. Beyond a doubt, every one of Yosef’s actions was weighed and measured exactly according to the Torah. The bad reports about his brothers that he brought to his father were kosher lemehadrin. Yosef was a kadosh who conducted his life with the highest standards, and he expected the same of his brothers. When he saw what he perceived to be a compromise of these standards, he felt it to be his responsibility to correct them. It was his sheer concern for the brothers and the fulfillment of halacha that motivated him to notify Yaakov of their conduct so that he could admonish them. Yosef looked at his dreams as not merely nocturnal visions, but rather as prophecies, and a novi who suppresses nevuah is chayov misah.


Yet, the Torah tells us that his actions were borne of immaturity. How does this jibe with his strict adherence to halacha?


Reishis chochmah yiras Hashem” (Tehillim 111:10). The first step in the life of an eved Hashem is to acquire knowledge of Torah. But once attained, he must work on the second step: “seichel tov lechol oseihem,” implementing this acquired wisdom into daily life. This requires a special understanding. It is possible for something to appear perfectly correct in theory, but practically speaking it is the wrong thing to do. Traditionally, even great talmidei chachomim could not become rabbonim unless they had shimush, practice in the presence of an older, experienced posek.


Who is a wise man? He who sees the outcome of his actions” (Tomid 32a). Usually, the ability to see the proper application of knowledge comes through experience. “There is no one as wise as the one who has been tested” (Sefer Akeidah). As Chazal say, “At the age of fifty, one can counsel others” (Avos 5:21).


This is how to understand Yosef. He was a tzaddik of the highest caliber, with lofty standards and the best of intentions. “But he was a youth” and yet uninitiated. He could not have possibly known the ramifications of his actions, that eventually they would lead his entire family into golus Mitzrayim.


The brothers, for their part, were also sure of their correctness. They were convinced that Yosef was telling on them so that he would be the sole heir of Yaakov’s legacy and they would be banished just like Yishmoel and Eisav were. In their eyes, Yosef was a rodeif, a pursuer intent on ruining their lives. Thus, he was chayov misah. Had they only consulted with their elders, they could have avoided much strife. For reasons of their own, they didn’t bother to ask. Consequently, they all ended up in Mitzrayim.


The tragic story of Dinah also has the same flaw. Shimon and Levi had only the best intentions when they attacked the city of Shechem, avenging the honor of their sister. With passion and courage, they wiped out the city that bred the perpetrator of their sister’s dishonor. But they acted impetuously, not bothering to ask their father. This caused the nations in Canaan, who greatly outnumbered them, to wage war against them. If not for the merit of Yaakov and miracles from Hashem, they could have been annihilated. Yes, they had good intentions, but they should have consulted with Yaakov, their father, before acting.


Hundreds of years later, another misfortune transpired in Shechem. With the petirah of Shlomo Hamelech, his son, Rechovom, took over the malchus. The people were complaining that his father’s reign was too tough on them. They requested that the taxes be relaxed. He did consult with the elders, his father’s advisors, and they advised him to empathize with them and to give in somewhat to their requests. But instead of following their advice, he listened to the council of youngsters to tighten his grip on the kingdom and to rule with an even tougher hand than his father did. Consequently, most of Yisroel turned against him and he was left with but a small portion of the malchus. The split of Klal Yisroel brought about a dramatic plunge in its spiritual level.


Three misfortunes, all in Shechem, and all with a common folly. In each episode, the younger generation failed to either consult with or follow the advice of the elders and it led to trouble. We must learn from this that no matter how learned we are, no matter our belief in the righteousness of our cause, we cannot take action before receiving the consent and blessings of those greater than us who possess daas Torah and a vision far beyond the here and now.


We don’t have the understanding or the words to describe the greatness of Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l. We can only repeat that which we heard from his talmidim – that it was beyond them to evaluate his greatness. He was described by one talmid as a “sulam mutzav artzoh,” a person standing on this world, “verosho magiah hashomaymah” with his head reaching way up into the heavens. His ga’onus, his brilliance, his ahavas haTorah, his vision, his passion for his brethren, and his love of Hashem were all beyond our scope of perception. Which makes the following anecdote about him so incredible. It was related by Rav Shlomo Lorencz of Agudas Yisroel, a confidante of numerous gedolim.


Before the fourth Knessiah Gedolah of Agudas Yisroel in 1954, there was a controversy as to whether a certain group should be part of the convention. Rav Aharon felt strongly that they should be included. Having just arrived in Yerushalayim straight from the airport, he was rushed to a preliminary meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah. Hearing the topic being discussed, he got up and delivered a fiery talk requesting that despite this organization’s acting against the opinion of gedolim, it is a mitzvah to be mekarev them and to include them.


In the middle of his drashah, Rav Shlomo Lorencz passed him a note saying that the Brisker Rov was against inviting this group. Seeing this, Rav Aharon abruptly ended his drashah and called for a recess. He asked Rav Shlomo to take him to the Brisker Rov to hear his shitah directly from him. When Rav Aharon repeated to the Rov what he had been told, the Rov answered, “It is emes la’amito. Rav Shlomo is trustworthy to repeat my words exactly the way I said them. That is my opinion and there is absolutely no doubt in the matter.”


Immediately, Rav Aharon returned to the meeting of the Moetzes and, without any concern for his own honor, he delivered a fiery, convincing speech not to allow this group to take part in the Knessiah. In fact, that is what the Moetzes decided. As Rav Aharon commented to Rav Lorencz, “You’ll never hear me argue with the Brisker Rov. His words are holy and the halacha is like him” (from Sefer Bemechitzosom).


One manhig hador totally subjugating his opinion to the daas Torah of another. Need we say more?  



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