This post is based on a session with Rav Lichtenstein held on 20 Elul 5772, September 7, 2012. We have tried to maintain the original formulations and flavor as much as possible, including original Hebrew (and Yiddish…) phrases. The text was not reviewed by Rav Lichtenstein.
I will try to relate to issues and questions you will raise. Let me make a general remark: the older one gets, the more people imagine that he has accumulated knowledge of the years, and all the issues with which he had difficulty and with which the audience has difficulty, these are to become part of an exchange, and he can provide resolutions to whatever questions you want to raise. In my mind, this role always is associated with Coleridge, who, when he was young, wrote some good poetry and some good philosophy. When he was old, he became the Sage of Highgate, and people were עולה רגל to his home to ask and ask and ask.
I don’t have any illusions about being the Sage of anyplace and, in any event, trying to don that mantle, the איצטלא דרבנן in Chazal’s language, is sometimes morally problematic, as it gives one a self-image of being the source of knowledge and wisdom to all those who seek it. I am as much of a מבקש as the people who come to seek it.
Over the years, a high proportion of questions likely to arise over here probably have been asked elsewhere, and, in that respect, maybe the experience of the past may be of assistance in the present, and, beyond that, in the future. But I really don’t want to present myself – maybe it would be better if I were – as that which I am not – as a person who – Chazal said: בנוי לתלפיות: תל שכל פיות פונים אליו – that’s the Mikdash, and Mikdash has a multiple role in our lives – apart from being a source for inspiration and a source of knowledge – we think of Mikdash, in one respect, as a place where one is מתפלל, one brings קרבנות, עבודת ה’ in that respect, and rightly so. But just two weeks ago, in פרשת שופטים, we read about the Mikdash as a source of knowledge – the בית דין sat there – the function of the בית דין comes to the fore with regard to תקיעת שופר בשבת – which is performed in כל מקום שיש בי”ד. Apart from that, there are certain areas of Halakhah which are only malleable and applicable in Mikdash – both that for certain halakhot you need to have the presence of a kohen, to be דן דיני נפשות, for others you need a בי”ד הגדול sitting smack at the gateway, as it were, to Mikdash. We are convened in a more modest setting. In any event, a person who tries to respond to issues and questions needs סייעתא דשמיא, and for that I am מתפלל, not only for this particular group, but in general. It will serve our collective purposes better if we put what we are doing here in the proper spirit.
Question: What recommendations does Rav Lichtenstein have for parents who struggle to infuse their children with religious commitment while trying to allow them the freedom to think, develop and choose their own path?
It depends what you mean by allowing freedom and at what stage this issue arises. Clearly, a person desires, very strongly, that his children subscribe, basically, to the tenets, the lifestyle, the beliefs, the mindset, of the world of תורה ומצוות. It’s part of what we would want even if we had not been commanded to seek it and to nurture it, and על אחת כמה וכמה since we have been commanded. The major concern of משה רבנו in ספר דברים as you read straight through has to do with the future – the near future and the long future. The near future: this is משה רבנו’s farewell speech, and, that being the case, he keeps talking about כי תבא אל הארץ, and what will happen at a broad social scale in terms of personal שמירת המצוות, in terms of the collective, communal, social structure and fabric of society.
To all of that, we do not subscribe to a kind of indifference: to say, well, we are very liberal, and we certainly do not subscribe out of liberalism to any more radical formulation. The president of one of the Ivy League universities in America defined the purpose of a liberal education as to make you think differently than your parents thought. That’s an aim. Part of the problems which we encounter, sometimes as parents, sometimes as spiritual parents, have to do with the clash between that kind of ethos and our ethos.
Our ethos is one which speaks, as it says in ספר דברים – ושננתם לבניך, השמר לך ושמר נפשך מאד פן תשכח את הדברים אשר ראו עיניך… והודעתם לבניך ולבני בניך. So one generation is not enough – בני ובני בניך. And there are many rishonim who think that בני בניך is not just two generations. With regard to the פסול עדות – a child is פסול לעדות for his father, for his grandfather. There’s a מחלוקת in the sugya in בבא בתרא קח if one is פסול לעדות for his great-grandfather, the idea being, according to some rishonim, that there’s a certain distance. Buber made a point of noting that the Torah speaks of עונשין, punishments, etc., rewards, for subsequent generations – the Torah stops the former at רבעים – there’s still a possibility of seeing great-grandchildren; great-great-grandchildren is already borderline, to say the least (although Rav Elyashiv, of course, made it, big).
So the sense of continuity is part of the responsibility we have as parents, for our children; we seek their welfare, we want to encourage and develop their welfare in every area of life which is significant. If Freud tells us that to be a viable person we need to able to work and to love, so I don’t know whether we read Freud or rely upon him. But those are certainly among the important functions in our life. If we are concerned about developing an ability to work, have a career, develop skills; על אחת כמה וכמה we need to be concerned about developing personality and developing character, in the spirit of the mishnah in בבא מציעא.
The mishnah in בבא מציעא speaks with regard to השבת אבידה: if your friend, and your father or rebbe, lost objects, the latter take precedence. If it is your rebbe on the one hand, and your father on the other hand, so here it breaks down. Ordinarily speaking, if the rebbe is one person and the father is another person, and the mishnah states that the אבידה which you are to recover of your father’s is secondary to that of your rebbe – because זה מביאו לחיי העוה”ז and the rebbe מביאו לחיי העוה”ב. I am not getting involved in the question of emotionally where a person is going to be – these issues are raised by some people, and we generally find it difficult, and we don’t want, to get involved in that priority. Godwin, a famous Catholic philosopher-theologian from 18th century: if there’s a fire burning and your mother’s in the house as is Fenelon– it’s important for humanity that Fenelon survive rather than your mother. But there’s so much truth in Rav Yisrael Salanter’s statement: he wanted to speak of the significance of natural instincts: a person has a son and he has a talmid, the son is, religiously speaking, a scapegrace, a good for nothing, a sheigitz of the first order. The talmid is absolutely devoted, follows the path of the rebbe, pursues all his avenues. And then, in the middle of the night, you’ll wake him up because there’s a fire in the house and both are there, he will save his son. That’s probably truer to psychological reality. I’m not getting involved in that. Simply relating to the debt that one owes a rebbe and a parent, optimally, the conclusion of the mishnah in Bava Metzia – if the father is also his rebbe, then one should save the אבידה of the father – that’s the more optimal situation [where the parent is also a rebbe] – for many reasons and in many ways.
Mosheh Rabbeinu was very worried about this, we have it to some extent in Ki Tavo, more so in Nitzavim. The concern that someone in the future – there is going to be someone פורה ראש ולענה – it’s hard to say whether Mosheh Rabbeinu felt this pressure on his own. The Yerushalmi says that Mosheh Rabbeinu’s grandsons were priests for עבודה זרה! עבודה זרה! But, we are talking about Mosheh Rabbeinu, presumably the ability to transcend personal worries was very characteristic of him, but still, whether one is to speak in the personal or collective vein, we have a responsibility to our children, we have a responsibility to ourselves, we have a responsibility to Klal Yisrael, and we have a responsibility to the Ribbono shel Olam. All of that, each taken individually, and certainly taken collectively, is an impressive collection, and the pressures of this are many.
That is a primary duty of a person, it is through that that education begins – ושננתם לבניך – it’s partly out of one’s commitment to the values, if a person believes in a certain lifestyle, if he has a certain picture of reality, he has a certain scale of values and ideals, one is very much concerned with transmitting those, and it’s a source of great joy if that has taken place at some level, and of terrible anguish if it has not. So that’s not something that can be viewed from a liberal standpoint with indifference. While it very well may be that the university president that I mentioned before has his own values: if his son would become a dogmatic Moonie or if his son would run to Uman for Rosh Hashanah, he would be upset, but he plays the liberal.
There’ s a mitzvah of chinnukh, and chinnukh has multiple significance for us. To be מחנך one’s child is to communicate knowledge, at one plane, first and foremost to communicate values, to communicate beliefs. There are certain tools to that and certain levels of responsibility. That’s a major concern. If it goes well, fine, it’s a source of great joy and fulfillment. But when things go awry, there are different levels of response.
It is partly a question of different stages, when it happens, and to what extent it happens, how distant, how great is the gap. One response is: if the child is not שומר תורה ומצוות and has abandoned his faith, abandoned his people, and abandoned the Ribbono shel Olam – we don’t want you in the house, etc. – that’s one extreme. Not wanting him in the house can have all kinds of different motivations. If it happens to an older child and there are younger children there, many parents, in that situation, are concerned – this older child – they realize they made some mistakes in bringing him up, and they are full of anguish and remorse, perhaps – or perhaps pain, and they are afraid that the influence will filter down, particularly if, as is often the case, the kind of values which the older, free-thinking child will have may be buttressed to a great extent by everything else that the younger children absorb – that’s what comes off the internet, that’s what comes off the newspapers, the street, and all that. So they’re worried about that, and there’s a possible reaction.
It’s not limited to that kind of situation: sometimes there’s a certain degree of self-flagellation, of pain – if the child would become a bank-robber, the chairman of Murder, Inc., how would a person respond. Rabbeinu Gershom Me’or haGolah had a son who became frei – I don’t know, I don’t recall if it’s mentioned whether it happened under duress, but given the response – probably not. Poskim record that he sat shivah – that’s not a correct formulation – he sat two weeks, not one week. The pesukim at the end of Parshat Beha’alotekha mention: ואביה ירוק ירק בפניה, הלא תכלם שבעת ימים – the Gemara relates that this is a קל וחומר – if her father had revoked the relationship with her (or, had it been the other way, but the pasuk has it this way) then it would be one week, so this should be too, but דיו לבא מן הדין להיות כנדון – we never go beyond the halakhah from which you are deriving – so a week suffices, but optimally two weeks. There’s a מחלוקת פוסקים – as to when he sat twice: did he sit two weeks when the son died or when the son became frei. That’s one response.
Sometimes a person will go through with this response out of fear that the house itself will be infiltrated and polluted by this child. Bear in mind that in all likelihood, very often what happens when there is tension between parents and children, the response comes from one of two directions. Sometimes the child adopts things which he knows are going to hurt his parents, that’s his way of beating them over the head: I wanted to do this and do that and you didn’t let me – subliminally, I’ll show you, I’ll be מחלל שבת, I’ll have the final word. Many children today know, subliminally, and in some cases clearly, obviously, that they have the last word – they have the stick with which they can beat their parents over the head and there’s nothing the parents can do and in many cases that they want to do. And sometimes it’s the reverse – sometimes parents use religion in order to impose – if the child is a shomer mitzvah but they have other issues with him – they use the frumkeit against him. So it becomes a bit of a morass.
Practically, in terms of what should be done. One of the greatest leaders of the Torah world of the past generation had two granddaughters who went to Bais Yaakov to receive the proper training that a good Jewish girl should get. At some point they went, as in the slang of the public is called, off the derech, and this person that I am talking about (I’m not going to tell you who it is) sent a message to his daughter (his son-in-law had already died) that, בשום פנים ואופן, she should not reject them, should not cut off relations with them, and do anything possible to maintain the relationships. I heard this from a reliable source, a person close to that family. I don’t know, but I imagine there are two versions of the motivation behind this: whether it’s a hidden hope, while if you throw them out, that’s it; if you keep them in the house, then there’s some hope that, through the relationship, maybe they’ll have second thoughts; I know some cases in which that has happened, though it’s unlikely. Then there are others who feel, and I think, in the case I am talking about, that was the case, that the religious aspect is beyond recovery, but there’s value in interpersonal human relationships between a child and parent per se. It’s not something which is neutral – it’s something one wants to maintain and develop, and that loss is painful in itself. There you would have an attempt to sustain the relationship for either one of two reasons.
Sometimes there are situations which are very difficult to resolve. At one time, the question would arise about חילול שבת – what do you do if someone is not observant on Shabbat – do you tell him: on Shabbat go to your friends or keep him in the house. Today, in many instances, other kinds of issues come up. A son who may have started as a yeshiva-man but the yeshiva is long behind him, but he may feel some connection still, and he may think it’s nice to bring a girl home for Shabbat. Of course, they don’t want two separate bedrooms, a room for him and for her – obviously, there are halakhic issues of לפני עור. There are also human issues. Today, many liberal people don’t take this as being a terrible thing. But people of earlier generations, the parents and the grandparents, are shocked. So what do you do?
To take another example, with regard to Shabbat, which can come up in one of two respects: a lack of synchronization between parents and children: it could be case where parents who are not observant and the children are ba’alei teshuvah. Or the reverse, what you are talking about: parents who are observant and the child is off the derech. What do you do in that situation? Do you invite them for Shabbat or not? A close friend of our family has a son who, despite a Yeshivah education became totally frei, and he has two children who barely know that they’re Jewish. For years this woman would not invite the son for Shabbat because he would drive home Friday night, so she was concerned, at the gut level, about לפני עור, and she didn’t invite him. At some point it began to pain her and she spoke to me. I said to her: listen, I’ll tell you what Rav Shlomo Zalman would tell you if you went to ask him. He would tell you to invite them for Shabbat, and tell them they are invited without telling them that you expect them to leave Friday night, but you are not fooling yourself or anybody else – you know they will drive home. But the choice is – and it’s a cruel choice – between having them lead a totally secular life, without any window upon יהדות – and then you kept your hands clean but your children’s hands are much dirtier. Or do you, in a sense, lend a hand to this chillul Shabbat. Rav Shlomo Zalman’s psak was: invite them, give them an option to stay for the whole of Shabbat, don’t pressure them, and when they leave – they leave. It’s better than nothing. When I told her this, she was overjoyed – she thanked me, she didn’t know what to do for me – I told her: it’s not my psak, it’s Rav Shlomo Zalman’s psak.
With regard to leading that kind of life – for some it’s a question of embarrassment from the neighbors. It depends on where you live. In some places, they assume, everybody knows, that there are people whose children don’t follow what they want. If you ask me, and barukh Hashem I don’t have that situation, if you would ask me, absolutely don’t break off relations, try to maintain a certain degree of warmth and rapport, try to avoid as much as possible throwing any spots and the confrontations. Try to salvage whatever you can; but even if you’re not salvaging much for Shabbat, something yet may be salvaged. This is a very painful situation; we all know people who have had this experience, but if you are asking, הלכה למעשה, what to do, I think that doing what Rabbenu Gershom did may have been good in his time, but it has little constructive impact in our own. To a great extent, certain segments of our world – charedim have it much better on this now – although at times they had disasters with this – the Jewish world in Eastern Europe between the World Wars – the decline in שמירת שבת was frightening – today they have a strong hold on their people, but in the Modern Orthodox world it’s more common. Sometimes people then draw the conclusion – why didn’t I become charedi 30 years ago – but usually when that conclusion is drawn it’s too late, and that doesn’t always work, either.
Follow-up question: How does one make sure that the children pick up the values of the parents?
The desire to make sure is a very natural one, and some people, depending on where and when you live, needed to cope with this situation, where they wanted to make sure, and they realized that you can’t make sure. To make sure, you need to do one of two things: either total discipline, clamp down hard, try to prevent any exposure to anything which is not part of the world of Torah u’mitzvot, but to do that, for many people, means that you lead a bifurcated life, a life where they are lawyers or have some other career which leads them out into the general world and take the risks, but if they don’t want to take the risks, and they’re raising their children to be charedim, to some extent they need to be charedim themselves.
In America today, for example, אין בית אשר אין שם מת – there’s hardly a family where at some point, to some degree, someone is not following what the parents would want. I went to the Rav once with regard to a relative of mine where a daughter had gone off the derech, and her parents had a question as to whether they should try to work out a compromise – they give up Shabbat for kashrut – to work out such a deal. One of the parents was in favor, and the other was in favor of trying to fight an all-out battle, to maintain the whole front. I was in Boston at the time, going to school, and they called me and asked me to speak to the Rav about it. I went to speak to the Rav, and explained the situation and I was sitting right next to him when he spoke to the parents. And his response was: הלכה לא כדברי מר ולא כדברי מר: don’t try to fight the whole front and don’t try to fight half the front – don’t fight.
He told the following story, which I have put into print on several occasions: when the Rav was in Eretz Yisrael in 1935, he went to visit a number of places. He came to a frei kibbutz, where some of my mother-in-law’s relatives lived. (Incidentally, Rav Dovid Lifshitz also had close relatives who came out of Eastern Europe totally frei, and he insisted on maintaining a warm, close relationship with them.) To return to the earlier story – they sit down and the host, the relative, put some food on the table. Naturally, the Rav couldn’t eat it, out of concern that there were probably problems of תרומות ומעשרות, טבל. The man turns around and says to the Rav – I know why you don’t want to eat; you’re afraid of the kashrut, but you should know that our kitchen is totally kosher. The Rav was absolutely thunderstruck. How did you come to that? He told the following story: Rav Kook once came to the kibbutz for Shabbat. Naturally, he couldn’t eat their food, so he brought his own food and sat down with them in the dining hall Friday night, same thing Shabbat morning, same thing for se’uda shelishit – he came and ate with them – he’s eating his food and they’re eating their food. Motzaei Shabbat they have a kumsitz with a bonfire and he sits with them there. Sunday morning, he’s about to leave, he said: thank you very much, it was very nice to spend Shabbat with you; I hope that next time I’ll be able to eat your food. They were מכשיר the kitchen. I’m not telling you that in the case I discussed with the Rav that happened, but this relative of mine has kept a strictly kosher kitchen for years, and I eat there. In so many families there is something has gone amiss. There’s a book: Off the Derech; you might want to look at it.
You ask about making sure. I wish you the very best in everything. I have the same wish for every bachur at this yeshiva, and in every other yeshiva, but to make sure? There are bachurim who learned in this yeshiva who became frei when they left – though it should be noted that there was a higher percentage at Volozhin who became frei than at Yeshivat Har Etzion – we live in a world which is more complex, more problematic, than we like to imagine. One way to try to avoid that is to lead a life in which one doesn’t have such tensions and such conflicts, but it’s very difficult. Read Chaim Grade and what he writes about Novardok. Rav Kroll, who was an adam gadol in Yerushalayim who knew כל התורה כולה בעל פה and went through the Shoah – he grew up in Warsaw, and he said that in the Gerrer shtiebel in Warsaw 80% were mechallel Shabbat – that sounds incredible but he was a very credible person.
One can do many things in order to try to ensure that your children will adopt your values, but I can’t say that you can make sure. My daughter Esti once attended a session here in Alon Shevut which dealt with issues of chinnukh – she reported back to me that someone there (Rav Tabory, I think) quoted me as saying that a father has two responsibilities to his children – to learn with them and to play ball with them, and if you want them to learn you need to play ball. Of course, playing ball is only a metaphor – it’s a metaphor for: if you want the child to share your values, to share your world, you need to take part in his world. I cannot tell you that there are not people did not share their children’s values at all and their children grew up ok nonetheless, but that’s a risk.
I think it’s important try to find a balance in terms of who’s sharing whose world. The temptation to bar all the doors, to avoid any possible contact with things we don’t approve of, is great, and people imagine that it will work, even though it didn’t work for this one and it didn’t work for that one – sometimes it does – and the culture in which they find themselves is important for that. But so much is dependent upon the variables. One of the variables needs to be the flexibility with which you approach this. You can be Bismarck in your home – but, first of all, I don’t want to be Bismarck, even if it had nothing to do with Yiddishkeit. Secondly, it is not the best way to increase desire on the part of the child to be what the father wants him to be. The Sifri which says: ושננתם לבניך, ואהבת את ה ‘א’ – we think that ואהבת means that you should love, but the Sifri says that it is not that you should love but you should engender love – you should make people want to love the Ribbono shel Olam, as, and this is the model for this, Avraham Avinu did – Avraham is described in the pasuk as: אברהם אוהבי. If that is the counsel which is offered vis-à-vis the general world, with regard to your own home, על אחת כמה וכמה. In every case in which someone goes off the derech it is a tragedy for the parent. There is, partially, a way back. I mentioned this relative of mine before, and she has come back a long way – she davens in a Conservative shul, etc. – much better than it could have been, and much better than it was, but it’s not what the rest of the family wanted.
Coming back to that story with the Rav – it’s one of the things which is a significant way of pursuing these issues – and that’s to avoid playing “double or nothing.” That’s been tried, and in many cases it didn’t work. To some extent, one needs to share one’s own life with his children and hope for סייעתא דשמיא.
I will end on this note: I have quoted this episode on a number of occasions. In 1973 we met a person, while watching the Tzahal parade on Yom haAtzma’ut, man who came from Cardiff, Wales, which is not exactly Volozhin, not Yerushalayim and not Bnei Brak. And we talked to him, and it turns out that this man raised a family in Cardiff, Wales, all his grandchildren are frum, the boys came to learn in yeshivot in Eretz Yisrael. I went over and asked him: Mr. Cohen, in Cardiff, Wales, how were you able to raise such a family? He said to me: in order to raise children properly, you need two things: you need to have sechel and you need to have siyata di-Shmaya. In order to have sechel, for that you also need siyata di-Shmaya. That remained in my memory and I think it’s a wise thing.