Sunday, June 12, 2005

Off of the Derech or in the Derech Hashem?

"An interesting and important essay by Reb Michoel Gutmacher, a talmid in Ohr Somayach's semichah program hailing from France: I don't agree with everything he writes, particularly, in that I do not think you may tell a person to sin a smaller sin so as to save himself from a bigger sin. You may say: "It is forbidden to do X, but if you feel you must do X then [insert here the modern equivalent of yilbash shechorim v'yisatef b'shechorim etc.]." It may just be a matter of semantics, but educationally I think it must be made clear - if the person asks! Otherwise, Torah is being presented in a false light. But it is a very vitak work nonetheless.

Off of the Derech or in the Derech Hashem?

My goal here is just to do the Ratzon Hashem and help the world, and if I wrote something that is not Emes, may Hashem forgive me, and may it become annulled as if I never wrote it...

(I wrote this essay as a consequence of being a Dorm father of 10 Girls at risk (15-18 years old) during their school-year, and I hope it will help others)

Why do our kids go"off the Derech" is a very simple question, but maybe so simple that we are blind by it.

As the Ramchal says in Messilas Yesharim: The more obvious and known something is, the more we will forget it and lose its true meaning.

Our kids live in a generation of physical pleasure and spiritual stimulation(from the side of Tumah), now it is known by Chazal that one need to make a balance in the world . If we are not able to show our kids a Yiddishkeit of pleasure, a Yiddishkeit of spiritual experiences, we won’t be able to fight against the Tayvos of the Goyshe world (Chas VeShalom).

Now, Of course one has to keep Mitzwos!

Of course one has to be a frum Jew!

Of course one has to learn Torah!

But weren’t the Halachos kept in a much better way at the Time of the Bais Hamikdash ?! and still, the Holy house got destroyed.

As Rabbi Hirsch explains:The outward and visible life of the temple was superficially correct and strictly according to the letter of he Law, presenting the illusion that the temple was still filled with the Glory of G-D (Chapter 1 of Isaiah, collected writtings).

And as Chazal teaches us: every day that the Bais Hamikdash is not build is as if we destroyed it that day! (Lo Aleynu)

This seems to show that there is still something wrong in the way we approach Hashem, Torah and Mitzwos, because this is the way you will teach it to your kids.

This comes essentially from a lack of true Avodas Hashem and devotion ; as the Maharsha writes in Sanhedrin 106b: without devotion to G-d a person's intellect will not lead him to truth. This is one of the reason, I believe, that Hashem needed to send Baaley Teshuvah: to rejuvenate this lack of devotion.

And more than ever in this generation and even more in America, where everything is about the outside: about how much I learned or how frum I look, if we don't carefully focus on the inside then we lose ourself and our Kids in a superficial frumkeit.

Most of the kids that went off the Derech are kids that deep inside them, felt their Neshama crying and be frustrated from a lack of True Torah, a lack of passion in doing the Mitzwos, a lack of spirituality which since Shabbatay Tzvii (Imach Shemo), became something almost Taboo and dangerous, or reserved for high Tzaddikim, we had people like the Ramchal, the Baal Shem Tov, the Gaon of Vilna trying to show that this wasn’t true, but the truth is that Gemara-Halacha and mysticism need each other, unfortunately nowadays even a big part of Chassidus has fallen into the hand of the Yetzer Hara using tools like habit and a lack of Derech Eretz, just like the student of Rabbi Akiva who loosed their sens of respect for each other even though they were all Tzaddikim.

So now, this is I believe, one of the approach we have to use to help our kids and redirect them towards the True Derech Hashem:

but before this we have to set up a few rules:

Before helping the kid one has to:

  1. Ask Hashem for help.

  2. Love him: to understand that this kid is at risk because his Neshama is higher than others and therefore might have even more potential than others, you have to see his greatness. As Rav Kook writes: In our generation there are many souls who are on a very low level regarding their willed holiness. thus, hey are afflicted with immoral behaviour and dreadful beliefs . But their innate Segulah light shines brightly.(Igrot vol.II, letter 555 (1913)). Rav Kook went on to explain that heretics and non-believers usually lose their inner segulah-holiness. However, we live in special times. The Zohar describes the pre-Messianic generation ("Ikveta deMashicha") as being good on the inside and bad on the outside". that is to say, they have powerful inner holiness, even though their external, acquired holiness is weak and undeveloped (based on Olat Ri'iah vol. I p.236).

  3. Do it in a way that is not going to humiliate him (in private) (Sefer haChinuch Mitzwah Asseh 218).

  4. Speak to him with calm and softness and that he should know that you do it for his good and to bring him into Olam Haba. (Rambam,Hilchos Deos chapt. 6 Halacha 7).

For kids that have already issues with Yiddishkeit:

Teach them with Love that they are not a failure to the system! Just the contrary! They are the hope of the Jewish people, the one that can finally bring Moshiach! Why ? Because your kids, are aware of what is missing, what need to be added to Judaism to make it better.

You can finally focus and be aware of why you do Mitzwos and their deeper meaning, so that you can understand why they can bring you closer to Hashem .

Kid! find out what is bothering you! what is your Neshama telling you, speak it out.

You want to have pleasure, there are Kosher ways to have pleasure . I have even better than that for you, you can taste a pleasure higher than any physical pleasure of this world, and this is to meet with Hashem . And you don’t even need to meditate to achieve this, you just need awareness of what reality truly is. Every Mitzwah can become a meeting with Hashem until you start to have a relationship with Him.

This way you are going to start to feel Him more and more until you’ll Love Him, and you’ll understand that every Halachos He has given you are meant to be pleasurable and meaningful.

This way being religious becomes enjoyable, which is crucial as Rabbi Dessler zt”l writes:

''Service without joy -without heart- is no service at all ... He has not even started on the road of true service of Hashem. And this is the root of all sin.” (Michtav Eliyahu, Ki Tavo).

This is probably related to the fact that it says in Sanhedrin 106b: “Rachmana Liba Baei” - “Hashem recquires the Heart.”

One has to be clear in his mind when dealing with kids taht the most important is the devotion, not the material. Derashos Haran#6 says: Someone who devotes his body and soul to G-d and strongly desires to serve Him (even without being a scholar), will reach a higher level than someone who is a scholar (but is lacking desire).

Of course, there might be a problem here for the parents or the Teachers who never made that reality real, making this reality real is achieving Yiras Shomayim .

Reshis Chochmah Yiras Shomayim, this is the first thing our kids need, the first Chochmah they have to learn, to be in AWE of Hashem.

So, If you never showed your kid a beautiful landscape, or observed a stunning piece of art or taught an incredible insight in Tanach-Gemara or ate a delicious fruit and said: “Wow!, isn’t this great ?! Isn’t it amazing what Hashem created for us to enjoy ?!”

Then you will have a lot of difficulty to change the child’s reality.

But you have to do it now .

You have to tell them that for YOU it doesn’t matter so much that they’ll should be religious or not . The kid needs to feel that you love him no matter what, and that the only reason you want him to be frum is because that’s the only way he can be truly happy, the only way he can achieve the highest level of pleasure.

The only reason he should be frum is because that’s what Hashem wants, because He loves you and he wants You to love Him.

But not because you want it for your own pride, so that you will be admired in the community... this is only selfish reasons, therefore it is written: Success in the education of children depends upon the purest of motives. (Mechilta Mishpatim).

The Chovot Hatalmidim from Rav Shapira zt’l clearly explains in his Hakdamah that the child has to come to want to do the Mitzwos by himself, the desire has to come from him, from his Neshama not from you. Otherwise one day he is going to drop everything in one shot, nobody is going to understand ; until now he was just making you a favor, sometimes just so that you won't feel embarass when people will ask: how is your son/daughter doing ?...

You, parents-teachers are just guides to help THEM CHOOSE instead of YOU choosing for them. THEY have to want to be frum.

All those kids have different issues, and need their issues to be healed to become more frum.

How can you tell a child to walk in the Derech Hashem if his leg is broken!?

Heal first the leg then he will run by himself.

Most of those kids know the halachos anyway, they are just missing the taste that goes with it.

Don’t tell him not to do Mitzwos, don’t tell him what is Assur, tell him what is Mutar, what is enjoyable in Yiddishkeit. If you don’t know then you have the same problem as the kid, but you buried it in you long time ago and never dealt with it, you were until now like a robot, and it is the opportunity for you to become a true Jew now, don’t focus on the past, focus on now .

I believe strongly after having discussed it with Rebbeim, that the kids that went out of the Derech need to go through the same process as a Baaley Teshuvah, Now the Baaley Teshuvah need also to be taught the same way I described it here for the kids, so that the Baaley Teshuvah also won’t fall in the hand of a boring Judaism . They have passion, and we have to keep the coals hot, to inspire the frum world.

Interestingly Ha-Gaon Rav Moshe Sternbuch(Responsa Teshuvos V'hanhagos, Orach Chayim 350) writes:We must begin with a Baal Teshuvah as with a child, who at first lies flat, then progressively learns to sit, crawl, stand, walk and eventually to run. So too, we educate him according to that which he is able to accept... according to his capabilities little by little....therefore there is no need to start with Shabbos, but rather with that which he is able to accept.

Therefore both Baaley Teshuva and Kids at risk should be focused on Asseh Tov before the Sur Mera...

The Gerrer Rebbe once said, “We are told in Tehillim first to leave evil and then to do good. I will add that if you find it difficult to follow this advice, you may first do good, and evil will automatically depart from you.

According to Tosafos (Nazir 28b-29a) the concept of education for mitzwos is only pertinent to instruction in the active performance of Mitzwos, however to warn against transgression is not an element of education. A possible explanation for this comment is that the purpose of education is to instill love for the Torah. The Baalei Tosafos maintain that this love is developed by the performance of positive Mitzwos rather than by refraining from wrongdoing. Therefore, someone who is not ready to accept the"Yoke of Mitzwos" completely should fulfill positive Mitzwos and experience through them the beauty of the Torah. “Contemplate/Taste and see that G-d is good” (Tehillim 34:9). (From the book After the Return, by Rabbi Mordechai Becher and Rabbi Moshe Newman.)

And as Rabbi Daniel Mechanic says, the way to be Mekarev nowadays is with: cholent, vodka and Carelebach...

I believe also, and this is my own opinion, that a big mistake is done with the Baaley Teshuvah: They are taught to become FFBs, which is wrong, and on the contrary the FFBs should be taught how to be Baaley Teshuvah.

The frum world of course has to give the Chochmah from the Mesorah with the different Hashkafos.

The Baaley Teshuvah has to give the passion and their originality .

Thus creating a new type of Jew, a Jew who serves Hashem with heart and head, unifying the eastern world and the western world (Sfardim with Ashkenazim, Chasidim with Misnagdim, Mekubalim with Yekes...).

There is also too much Taboo, there is a need as much for the Frum world than the Baaley Teshuvah world to learn with Rabbis how to deal with drug and sex and all the different issues we are confronted with nowadays, things that people are scared to speak about, many are shy and end up never speaking about, the Rabbis have to introduce it. there is a big confusion among kids, at 15 they should already know why sex and relationship with the other sex before marriage is destructive, how alcohols and drugs are dangerous and give them a false idea of what joy and spirituality is.

They have to be prepared, they have to be aware of the dangers of the Goyshe world.

And more than anything they have to know that if they stumble and they are not always Tzadikim, they are normal, and they won't be rejected, they are still Tzadikim, and we still love you, and we are going to help you.

But if they stay too long with a sense of guilt and sadness, then Chazal says that this is the root of all sins.

Teshuvah works for absolutely everything ( Tomer Devorah ).

I want to bring out a last two very important points:

  1. For some of our kids at risk, sometimes, one would have to tell them to continue doing what they do wrong, but in a way that will bring them to eventually stop doing it. There is this concept in the Zohar: to give a gift to one's Yetzer Hara. Also it is written that, to commit a minor sin in order to save oneself from a greater sin is not only permitted, but is also obligatory( Shabbos 4a, Tosafos and Meiri). For example: If the kid smokes 10 cigarettes on Shabbes, Chas veShalom, tell him to smoke 9, then 8 ... until he totally stop.

  2. As we all know there is this concept of Shelo Lishmah that will bring you to the Lishmah (Pesachim 50b).

It seems clear that nowadays this Heter that the Chachamim gave in order to study Torah doesn't work anymore, as a support I will quote Rav Dessler: In recent times we have witnessed a great decline in external motivations for Torah and Mitzwos... Nowadays the Shelo Lishmah of Torah has virtually disappeared... the result is that the Shelo Lishmah of Torah has been destroyed. So far from conferring any prospects of material advantage, to be a Torah-student nowadays demands self-sacrifice. He goes on to explain that the reason Hashem has taken away this ladder from beneath our feet is to make up our mind to return. Then Hashem himself will raise us to the top. (Michtav Eliyahu, chapter on Teshuvah)

All that, that is happening nowadays is a clear sign for everybody to return towards a true and sincere Avodas Hashem with the burning desire in our hearts to come close to Hashem so that His Glory should finally be revealed. For this, one need a great effort (self sacrifice) each time he studies Torah: he has to be aware that he does it because that is what Hashem wants, but not only that, he should do it with pure intentions, with Ahavah and Yirah which are the two wings to elevate us and the Torah.

One's divine service must be a balance of love and fear (great awe) of G-d. This love and awe of G-d are referred to by the sages as “trey gadfin,” in Aramaic “two wings,” with which one can elevate oneself to higher and higher levels of divine service. One cannot fly with only one wing. By Rabbi Binyomin Adilman Based on Chiddushei HaRim Al HaTorah, pp.160-61.

The Sefer Charedim in his introduction on the mitzwos brings the Zohar that says: Mitzwos done without Ahavah and Yirah are not Mitzwos.

The Malbim seems to clearly express this self sacrifice: What is needed is an extreme effort to retain contact with one's awareness of the creator: an effort against nature, almost against gravity. (On Mishley 4:13)

The Maggid of Mezrich says: the expression, “Lishmah” refers to the name of the Torah: The word “Torah” indicates something that teaches the way in which one should go (Likuteim Yekarim #201). It has to bring me more clarity, it has to bring me closer to Hashem.

For our kids Chinuch

I believe there should be 5 main Focus in the Chinuch

  1. First Middos, Derech Eretz Kodem LaTorah, the child has to understand clearly that the whole goal here is to become a Mentch by purifying his character traits constantly, this should be his main focus everyday of his life, because this is the only way to connect to Hashem and be Happy, and have pleasure all the time. He should use his Torah learning for this purpose essentially! The Chofetz Chayim said that the only thing missing for Moshiach to come is to fulfill: Veohavtah Leracha Kamocha. Orchos Tzaddikim says in the Hakdamah: no deed is of much value without pure awe... and if you do not have good traits, you do not have Torah and Mitzwos, for all of Torah hinges upon the perfection of one's traits. One's Olam Haba depends essentially on this. The Vilna Gaon writes: The prime purpose of man's life is to constantly strive to break his bad traits, and to improve. Otherwise what is life for ?All sin stems from unimproved character traits. ( Even Shleymah 1:1,2)

  2. Torah, needs to be interesting, this is Torah! if it is not wonderful at least at the end of the Shiur, the child is not going to be interested, he is not going to remember either, it becomes just a science or a piece of information in space . Avodah Zarah 19a: A person only learns Torah if he finds it interesting... Rashi: A student should only be taught the Gemora that he interested in .If he is taught a different Gemora, it will not be retained since attention is dependent on interest. Maharal: The reason is because torah requires a connection to the recipient. The Shiur needs to have practical aplication, so that the that the Torah becomes Toras Chayim. Torah by definition is something that attracts the mind and touches the heart . The focus has to be the quality of learning, how well the Torah is changing me, as opposed to quantity. we can see this in the story of Doeg ( Sanhedrin 106b: Eyn Toraso Shel Doeg Ela Mesafa veLachutz: Doeg's Torah (knowledge) was merely from the lips outward (that is: he did not internalize it in his heart - Rashi) and even though he knew so much, he became wicked and died prematurely. We are not interested in someone who 30 years later has just acquired more knowledge, this is worth nothing! The Meam Loez says: Even if one is a Torah scholar, but lacks awe of G-d, his scholarship will be of no value in the eyes of G-D (Ekev10:12). It has to be a Torah that fills his all body and changes his behavior until he becomes a true Yiras Shomayim, which is the goal of his learning... unfortunately, too many people get distracted with the details of the learning and forget the Tachlis of all those details, what we learn from it. One has to remind himself all the time why he is learning and what is his goal in life.

  3. Mitzwos need to be explained, why is it going to bring me closer to Hashem, what’s the purpose of it ?! But even more important than that, one has to focus first on the mitzwos that are most important and relevant like the six constant Mitzwos. One has to learn how to make them pleasurable which will then be a sign of closeness to Hashem.

  4. Tefilah needs to be studied constantly, almost every day, it teaches you how to speak to Hashem, is there something greater than that? that is the essence of the Jew. Everybody can be like Moshe Rabbeynu means, to my humble opinion, that everybody can have an intimate relationship with Hashem, each one on his level, you can really speak to Him and He will really respond .

  5. Everything else

As the Messilas Yesharim explains that everything in this world is to help us come closer to Hashem, it is up to every individual to judge carefully and see if he is coming closer. But one has to be very honest with oneself and one has to know the Emes about one's intention when choosing to use this material world.

My goal in writing all this is obviously not in order to go against the system that we have, but I believe that all the troubles that we have with our kids is part of the message that Hashem is sending: look, there is a lack of awareness of your goal in your Torah and Mitzwos, make Teshuvah = feel that you are coming closer through your actions, if you don't, then it is a sign that something is lacking.

I will end up with a quotation from Michtav Eliyahu: We see holy sparks ( our kids) held prisoner by the forces of darkness. WHO IS RESPONSIBLE ? THOSE WHO LEARN TORAH BUT FAIL TO PRACTICE WHAT THEY LEARN IN EVERYDAY LIFE.

As Rabbi M.C. Luzatto wrote, heavenly lights which are left unused and are not engaged in the world of action are prey to the forces of evil (Adir Ba-marom,Warsaw ed. p.22) The result is utter confusion and instability... (Ekev).

May Hashem help us achieve Truth in all our ways.


  1. This is very good, and inspirational, advice. As a BT, I can really relate both to the sense of excitement about Torah, as well as the robotic dullness which can come when that excitement is not nurtured. Thanks for posting this! By the way, what are the "six constant mitzvot" a reference to?

  2. The six constant mitzvot are treated in wonderful detail at:

    The following translation of the Biur Halachah OC 1:1 is taken from Rabbi Forsythe's site, cited above:

    1. To believe that there is one G-d in existence Who made to exist everything which exists. Everything which exists now, or existed in the past or will exist in the future forever is His will and exists because He wants it. And, He brought us out of Egypt and gave the Torah to us. And this is an active commandment, as the Torah says, "I am the L-rd your G-d Who took you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery." The meaning of this is, "You must know and you must believe that there is a G-d of the universe Who supervises, just as He took you out of Egypt."

    2. We are to never believe in any other god beside Him, as the Torah says, "You will not have any other gods besides Me." Even if one acknowledges that the Holy One blessed be He is the ruler over everything, except he will imagine in his mind that He turned over the management of the universe to an angel or a star, this is succumbing to idolatry and violates "You will have not have any other gods besides Me." Instead, each person must believe that the Holy One blessed be He by Himself and by His own honor supervises everything in existence everywhere and that everything else is a creation which has absolutely no power to do anything without His will. Therefore, the Holy One blessed be He is called the "G-d of gods."

    3. To attribute oneness to Him, as the Torah says, "Hear, Israel, the L-rd is G-d, the L-rd is one." The meaning of this is that," Hear, Israel, and know that it is Hashem Who caused everything in existence to be. He did this with His will and He is our G-d Who supervises everything everywhere in existence. He is One G-d without any partners.

    4. To love the Omnipresent, may He be blessed, as the Torah writes, "And you will love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart...". And how will a person come to achieve this love? Through Torah. And the Sifri (Midrash) brings [the question] that with [the Torah's] saying, "And you will love...", I would not know how to love the Omnipresent." Therefore the Torah continues by saying, "And you shall put onto your heart these things which I command you today." Through this, you will recognize He Who spoke and the universe came into being. This means to say, that through contemplation in Torah, a person will recognize the greatness of the Holy One blessed be He. There is no way to appraise Him. He has no end. [Considering, understanding this] causes love to dwell automatically in a person's heart. And the point of the mitzva is that a person will see that he direct all of his aim and all of his thinking after love of Hashem, may He be blessed. And he will cause his heart realize that everything that there is in the universe, whether wealth or children or honor, is all the equivalent of nothing in comparison to the love of G-d, may He be blessed. A person must always exert himself in seeking the wisdom of the Torah in order to grasp knowledge of Hashem. The person who ensconces his thinking in materialistic matters and worldly futilities, not being for the sake of Heaven, but rather to please himself and attain honor, nullifies this active commandment, and his punishment is huge.

    5. To have fear of Hashem, may He be blessed, before oneself in order to remain free of sin. On this the Torah says, "Fear the L-rd your G-d." When a sinful thing will come to a person, he is obligated to awaken his spirit and to put into his heart in that situation that the Holy One blessed be He is the Supervisor of all deeds of every human being. Even if [the sinful] deeds will be in the dark, Hashem will respond to them punishing vengefully in accordance with how evil the deed is. The prophet says, "'If a person will hide in the most hidden place, will I not see?' says Hashem."

    6. Not to stray after the impulses of the heart. The substantiation for this is the Torah verse, "And do not go straying after your hearts and after your eyes." Our Talmudic sages said, "'After your hearts' means heretical ideologies, and 'after your eyes' means sexual improprieties." In the reference to "heretical ideologies" is included every concept foreign to, or the opposite of, Torah instruction. In the reference to "sexual improprieties" is anyone who chases after any worldly desires [money, honor, food, self-indulgence of any kind, power, etc.], when [the desire is] without any good intention. This means to say that a person may not follow such desires except where they produce good health and enable the person to strive in service the person's Creator. [The sinful violation in when the person] intends only continuous indulgence of great worldly delights for his spirit.

  3. I stumbled across your blog while I was researching some of the writings on Hilchos Deos. I am a child psychiatrist who deals with many youths (mostly non-religious) and am interested in the question of how and what of Jewish teaching and wisdom can be of help to the families I see. I found your discussion though but interesting reading, partly because you use terms that are unfamiliar to me, but I can gather enough that I think I can find considerable value in it. I have enough experience with at risk youth in group living situations that I chuckled a little bit when I thought about your role as a dorm-father and the responsibilities and challenges it must have presented.

    We live and work in different worlds, and at times use different language, but there is much we have in common in our views and beliefs. If you are interested in further persuing this dialogue let me know, and we can proceed.
    Saul Wasserman MD

  4. I am forwarding your comment to the author of the piece, Reb Michoel Gutmacher, whose address is