Friday, August 11, 2006

Chizuk and Encouragement

[Note: Many of the posts contained here were written for specific people. I've tried to remove all names, but there still may be things that don't apply to everyone. -taon]

The only evil I see here is the attitude that someone who is constantly struggling with their Yetzer Horah - often losing the battle - is dirt. And I do mean "evil". Quote: "There is an evil sickness (r'aah choleh) among us that when we speak about our Gedolim we tend to envision them in terms of their final stature. When we speak about the Chofetz Chaim, we marvel at the miracle of his Shemiras Halashon. Yet how many know of all the downfalls, defeats, and retreats that the Chofetz Chaim had in his battle with the Yetzer Horah on his way to reaching that level?" (R. Yitzchok Hutner Z"L, Pachad Yitzchok letter #128).

Rav Hutner continues with a posuk in Mishle: " 'Seven times the Tzadik falls and then gets up'. Fools think that this means the tzadik rises despite his seven falls. Wise men know [this comes from the Chidushei HaRim - M] that the Tzadik gets up BECAUSE of his seven falls.

"'And G-d saw all he created and behold it was very good'. Good - refers to the Yetzer Tov. 'Very good' - refers to the Yetzer Horah.

" . . .Please don't think of Gedolim who are one with their good impulses. Think rather of the greatness of the gedolim in terms of a terrifying battle with all of their low and dark impulses. . ."

Your fights with the Yetzer Horah make you nothing but a human being. Your losses against the Yetzer Horah make you a human being. The glory that a Malach brings to G-d's Name is not nearly as meaningful to Hashem as the glory brought by you to Hashem - because you have to struggle and the Malach does not. All the Malachim in the world can not bring Hashem the glory that you can. Life, the Torah tells us, is a struggle. We win some, we lose some. Maybe even we lose a lot. But we keep on trying. And - listen to this because this is the key - it's the TRYING, not the succeeding - that makes us great. And that only humans can do.

You've heard what all the ignorant people around you have said about you. Now listen to what the Torah has to say about you:

You know the Halachah that saving a life supersedes all Mitzvos: To save a life, we would take non-kosher medicine, break Shabbos, eat chometz on Pesach.

There are 3 exceptions to this: Giluy arayos (severe sexual crimes), avodah zarah (idolatry) and shefichas damim (murder). For the first two, there are special pesukim that tell us they are exceptions. But nowhere does it say that one should be killed rather than kill another.

The Gemora says we don't need a special posuk to tell us that. It's simple logic. If someone demands "Kill your friend or I will kill you", no matter what you choose, someone will live and someone will die. SO who should live and who should die?

Objectively, whoever is more valuable to Hashem is the one who should live. But, says the Gemora "How do you know that your blood is more valuable [to Hashem] than his?" There really is no way of knowing. Thus, since the person being threatened cannot take his friend's life, he must do nothing, come what may.

Now let me explain what this means. If someone were to come to the Chofetz Chaim and demand "Kill "person x" or I will kill you", he would have to think "Who is more valuable to Hashem - me or "Person x"? Who should live?"

Then he concludes:

"I don't know who is more valuable to Hashem - me or him. Therefore, I have to allow myself to die so that "x" can live and fulfill his mission in this world".

Now imagine, had that really happened - had the Chofetz Chaim given his life in order for you to live - imagine the awesome responsibility you would feel to live up to your greatest potential, to fulfill what is obviously your incredibly vital purpose in this world.

Well the only reason that it hasn't happened is because nobody made the Chofetz Chaim such an offer. Or Rav Moshe Feinstein, or Rav Shlomo Zalman. But the responsibility, the lofty purpose and awesome value of yourself are all still there.

The next time someone tells you that you are dirt, it would do you well to remember that the person doing the name calling would have to let himself die that you may live, because who knows who's worth more.

And this Halachah applies to you, not when you become perfect, but as you are now. A rebellious teenager struggling and often being vanquished with her personal Yezter Horah.

And I want to tell you something: You're going to be held responsible in Shamayim for your awesome mission in this world, a mission that you can fulfill, despite whatever you've done yesterday.

Here's what the Gemora gives as an example of a very, very, high madreigah: Someone who fears Hashem as much as he fears people. R. Yochanan ben Zakai blessed his great disciples that they should one day reach this level!

Now listen to another Gemora: There are 2 types of thieves. One who steals openly (a "gazlan") and one who steals in secret (a "ganav"). The Gemora says that the one who steals secretly pays more fines, because besides being a thief, he also showed that he was more afraid of people than of G-d (since he hid from people but remained in sight of G-d).

In other words: A common thief is held responsible and pays for not being on the level that R. Yochanan ben Zakai wished on his greatest disciples! Every thief is held responsible not only for being a thief, but for not being the lofty Tzadik that he could be!

As a Rabbi I'm telling you that the Torah is on your side - not theirs. The Rambam writes that everyone - even a rebellious teenager - can become a Tzadik as great as Moshe Rabeinu. And the Rambam calls those who do not believe it "dummies" (Golems).

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The purpose of the Torah is NOT to make us happy in this world, although it does that, too (see below). The purpose is to connect us to Hashem so that after our 120 or so years in this world, we will be infinitely happy for the next many millions of years. Please refer to the other topics in this forum.

The Yetzer Horah tries to make even religious Jews unhappy – that is part of its job – and sometimes the Jew succumbs, and the Yetzer Horah succeeds. But it is so much easier for the Yetzer Horah to make a non-religious person unhappy, since as he gets older and older he has less and less to look forward to. The highest suicide rates are for older adults. White men over 85 have the highest rate, a rate of 65/100,000, which is about 5 times greater than the suicide rate of teenagers. Suicide rates increase with age, with particular jumps in rates at ages 25, and then 65.

For a religious Jew, the more time we spend in this world, the more we accomplish. For the Torah-less population, the more time you spend in this world, the more over the hill you are. It’s apple pie simple: if you are religious, then it is your spiritual accomplishments that make you happiest. Those grow with time; the soul gets stronger. If you are non-religious, then all you have are physical and emotional pleasures, and they get weaker and weaker as time goes by.

Never mind the difference between the religious and non-religious in the next world...

As far as Baal teshuva versus always frum goes, whatever situation Hashem puts you into is best for you. There are Baalei Teshuva who become frum for less than the best reasons, and there are frum-from-birth people who just are frum because it is the default value of their lives. In both cases, it is infinitely better than not being frum, but the Baal teshuva and FFB both have their nisyonos. It is up to Hashem to see which nisayon he wants, in His infinite wisdom and infinite kindness, to give to whom.

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EVERYONE IN THIS WORLD FALLS!!!!!!

There is no exception to that rule.

We all mess up. All of us. Me, you, your teachers, my teachers, Moshe Rabbeinu - all of us.

"Seven times the Tzadik falls and then rises." Says the Baal Shem Tov: This means that BECAUSE of the seven times he falls, that’s why he rises.

We have a dangerous tendency to look at ourselves as soldiers who never go a drop out of line. When in reality we are struggling human beings who fall seven
times before we can go higher.

You have done teshuva. The past is ERASED. Meaning, it never happened.

After you do teshuva, not only is the punishment erased, but the very action disappears from history.

You did Teshuva. Therefore: It never happened.

It never happened.

That’s how Hashem looks at it.

And you should, too. You've become stronger, wiser, and a better person. Bottom line, you've fallen and risen, like a true Tzadik.

It may seem weird that Tzadikim can do even big aveiros - but it's not weird at all. Tzadikim are fighters - soldiers not like those you see in their dress uniforms all spick and span and shiny and smiley in a parade - but like the soldiers in the trenches, filthy, dirty, fighting for their lives against the enemy - constantly getting wounded, crawling through the mud with bullets flying over their head. They learn to fight while tired, dirty, wounded, and bleeding. They learn to stitch up their own wounds without the benefit of anesthesia. They learn to go for days in pain, without food or shelter.

And when the soldier shows up back at headquarters after their mission is accomplished, and he stands there in the doorway - we all know that the more dirty, tired, wounded, battered, and hungry is appears when he returns, the more of a hero he is, because it shows what he’s been through.

When you go up to Hashem after 120 years, and all the malachei hashareis see a soldier returning home, battered, wounded, but alive - alive because she did teshuva and always came up on top - they will be soooo jealous of you - they will beg G-d for a chance to come to this world and fall like you did just so they can have the opportunity of getting up and starting over the way you did, because getting up after you fall is what makes you a hero. But Hashem will say to them that such merits are reserved for my children, those who I caused to be descendents of Avraham, Yiztchok, and Yaakov, who I gave a part of Me to them as a Neshama, so that they can get up after the Satan flattens them, so they can fight My wars for me on Olam Hazeh.

You did good. Don't let the Satan trick you into thinking you didn’t. You did what Tzadikim invariably do - fall - and you did what Tzadikim hopefully do - get back up.

That's ALL that counts.

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Instead of asking why so many teens do not want to be religious, let us ask why so many teens (and adults) do want to be religious. Try it; it has been done, and the answer will surprise you. The vast majority of people who are religious today are so only because, well, they were religious yesterday. Habit, environment, upbringing, or as the Navi Yeshaya puts it, “mitzvos anashim milumada”.

That’s a big part of the problem. If religion to you is only the way you were brought up, and a convenient lifestyle, then it is easily expendable in anger, worth chucking in order to hurt your parents, make a statement, or express independence. If religion is no big deal to begin with, then it is worth burning as firewood if life gets a little too cold.

And because going “off the derech” brings so much aggravation to so many people around you, because it is sure to get everyone’s attention, it burns long and hot, and burning it can keep you “warm” for a very long time.

There are other reasons, too, why we are sabotaging the efforts of our Torah to prevent our youth from disaffiliating themselves. But this, for now, is enough.

The solution is to fortify our children with Emunah in the Truth of the Torah, to teach them WHY they should value the Torah so much that no matter what happens in their lives they will not consider burning it for firewood. Or to make a point, or to make someone angry.

We have to teach them the love of Hashem and Torah, the reason why it is worth keeping no matter what, the meaning and beauty of the Torah so that they themselves will not give it up, the way their grandparents, not long ago, would not.

The problem is, there are very few adults who can teach this, because the adults themselves rarely understand it.

Not long ago, the Skulener Rebbe ZT”L would remain awake nights, unable to sleep because of what is happening to our youth today. He said that the reason this is happening is because our children’s knowledge of Judaism is just surface-level, with no real, heartfelt connection. He advised, as a solution, teaching them about Reward and Punishment, Hashgochoh, Hashem’s omnipresence, and similar topics.

Not that he needs any approbation, but experience bears this out.

So don’t blame religion on why kids don’t want to be religious. It’s not the fault of their religion – it’s the fault of their lack of religion. Even if they learned all their years in a yeshiva, they may not know the correct answer to the question, “Why am I frum?”

That is a problem. Because the Yetzer Horah will gladly whisper in your ear all kinds of compelling answers to the question, “Why should I not be frum?”. You yourself need to learn why he is wrong.

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Being a law-abiding citizen doesn’t make everyone "happy" but we do it because (a) it's the right thing to do, and (b) if you don’t you're toast.

Eating right doesn’t make everyone happy but we do it because we know it’s good for us.

Religion is not some kind of man-made therapeutic psychological way to make yourself happy. Religion is what G-d revealed to us as (a) what our souls need in order to be infinitely happy for eternity in the afterlife, (b) what we need to do in order not to experience unspeakable suffering forever in the afterlife, (c) the right thing to do, and (d) more along the same lines.

Kids who are not religious don't jump off the roof, even though doing so may be fun. Living la vida loca may make someone happy in the short term, but people, even non-religious people, do not do it because they understand it is bad for you.

So too being not religious is bad for you, in all the ways described above, and more.

And I didn’t even get to the benefits in this world of being religious.

If someone is religious not because he believes that G-d actually came and gave us the Torah and told us to be religious, but because he believes religious is some way to self-fulfillment, like new age spirituality or meditation, then even if he fulfills all the Mitzvos, he is not really religious at all. He is not fulfilling G-d's will, but his own. He is a plain atheist, an Apikores, and it really doesn’t matter if his religion makes him happy because he’s not religious anyway.

If kids would be jumping off the roofs and playing in traffic because "safety doesn't make everybody happy", we would not bother trying to figure out why these activities are "fun" for them; we would rather explain to them the value of protecting your life and the stupidity of putting yourself in danger for some immediate gratification.

So too if kids rebel against religion, no matter why they enjoy their rebellious lifestyles, what we need to do is to demonstrate to them the importance of being religious, and the stupidity in throwing away eternal, G-d given happiness.

As far as being a bad person is concerned, if G-d did not give us the Torah, and we are all nothing but an evolved from of pond slime, then killing a person is not different than killing an animal. A cannibal is not different than a carnivore. Nothing is really "bad" unless you have an objective criterion against which to measure the badness or goodness of an act.

G-d gives us life; he gives us everything we have - and all he asks "in return" is that we do not commit certain acts which will harm our souls, and perform others which will bring us eternal happiness. If I saved your life, introduced you to your husband, and gave you a million dollars and then later you would refuse to do me a small favor, because you can’t be bothered, I would say you're a bad person.

So what must we say about someone who is given life and everything in it by G-d, and then refuses in return to do the Mitzvos because "they don’t make him happy"?

What should we say about someone who is given eyes, but when the giver of those eyes says "please don't use them to look in certain places", he says "leave me alone"?

What should we think about someone who is given an arm by G-d (how much would you pay for your arm?) and is asked only to put on Tefillin, yet refuses?

If a bad person is someone who treats others badly, then what should we say about someone who treats badly G-d Himself?

If those who left religion were happier, we could begin a discussion. But they are not. They leave their families, their communities, and wallow on the streets trying to pursue happiness and never attain it. They are the least happy people I know. They rebel out of anger, or spite, or some other dysfunction. But no, being not religious does not make them happy at all.

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HAVING A RELATIONSHIP WITH G-D

You can't have a relationship with G-d without fulfilling the Torah. What kind of a relationship is it if you don't care about what the other party likes? Dislikes? Loves? Hates?

Imagine a woman who doesn't care what her husband likes, wants, or cares about. She cooks him whatever SHE wants, acts the way SHE feels like, and treats him the way SHE thinks he should want to be treated.

So he can't stand supper, hates the way the house looks, loathes the place they go on vacation; his opinion is not even listened to, never mind considered. He hates it. So one day someone asks her, "Your husband likes Chinese food. Why don't you, for once, just make it for him?"

And she replies, "What does it matter? I love him, that's what counts!"

What kind of relationship is that?

So when G-d tells us, through the Torah, what He likes, what He dislikes, what He wants, and someone says "I don't care, the main thing is that I have a 'relationship' with G-d", they are missing something somewhere.

G-d DOES care about our fulfilling the Torah, Kashrus, Shabbos, skirts and all. That’s His desire, His will. So if someone refuses to His face to do anything He wants, says openly to everyone they know that they DON’T CARE what it says in G-d’s Torah, slapping Hashem in the face all the time, what kind of relationship is that?

What would you do if you were in that position? Where someone said they “have a relationship” with you but didn’t care one drop about what YOU ask for?

I’d dump them in a split second.

But it’s worse than that.

Imagine if you were to take some poor and helpless person off the street, get them on their feet, give them a gift of, let’s say, a million dollars, not for any selfish reason but because you love them.

Then, while you’re taking them shopping one day, you happen to need a quarter for the parking meter. You turn to your loved one and say, “Do you have a quarter on you?”

And they answer, “I’m sorry, but I really don’t like lending money”.

Pretty sick, huh?

So listen. G-d gave you eyes. How much are they worth to you? How much would you sell them for? A million? Ten million? I know you, and I know you’re smarter than that.

So Hashem gives you eyes, with no benefit to Him, simply because he loves you. And all He asks is that you don’t look in certain places, don’t read certain things.

G-d gave you two ears – how much are they worth to you? – and asks only that you don’t listen to Loshon Horah or Nivul Peh.

He gives you food and asks in return only that you make a Brachah.

He gives you the ability to work and play, and asks in return only that you keep His Shabbos, the day that means so much to Him.

And you know why it means so much to Him? Because it’s the day that He finished creating you. And creating you means so much to Him that He declared that day a national holiday. Once a week. He gained nothing from creating the world. Only we do. And all he asks is that in return for creating our world, we keep His favorite day, His Shabbos.

So you want a relationship with Hashem? Fine. That’s great. But a relationship means to hook into the other party’s feelings, their desires, their values, what’s important to them.

And to Hashem, that’s the Torah. Without that, what kind of relationship can there be?

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G-d’s “tests” are different than the tests you get in school. The tests you get in school, the higher a mark you get, the easier it is afterward. If you fail, you do the course over. Maybe you have to go to summer school. You pass, no more course. If you get a really good mark, you get a scholarship.

If you look at G-d’s tests like that, you have a good question. But the difference between G-d’s tests and school’s tests is that with G-d’s tests, it’s not the grade that counts, but the effort.

It’s like lifting weights. Your progress is not because of amount of weight lifted, but the effort you put in to the lifting. The more effort, the greater the effect on your body. Your body has no idea how much weight you lift it only knows how hard you tried. And you know what bodybuilders always say: “No pain, no gain”.

Or, in the language of the Mishna: L’fum tzaa’ra agra.

It’s not the Mitzvah itself that makes you “spiritual”, it’s the EFFORT that you put into doing the Mitzvah; the CHOICE to do it, the COMMITMENT to get it done, and the STRENGTH you exert in doing it.

You know what happens when you work hard to finally lift your 450 pounds? You know what the next step is? We don’t let you lift the same weight more and more easily. Rather, we add more weight so that you are always exerting your maximum effort. You do yourself no favor keeping the same amount of weight. You won’t grow; you will eventually get smaller.

Same thing with your Neshoma. You work hard. And you finally lift that weight, and you grow, a lot. Much more than people who were born frum and don’t know how to exert the effort that you did.

But G-d sees your potential. You can be great, very great. I know that. So G-d isn’t going to let your potential die. You lifted 450, fine. Don’t settle for what you are today. Go for more. Harder. Heavier. That’s the next step.

Don’t worry if the new “test’ is too hard for you. We all fail. It’s part of life. G-d understands that. No big deal. But you gotta get back in there and keep trying. Don’t give up. You can really, really be great.

I know you’ve been through rough times. And you know that I’ve been through rough times this past year too. Really messed up rough times. And you know how I get through it all? When the going gets tough, at the moment where I need to muster my strength, I think of all my friends who are so strong in their rough times. I think of you and all the others who we know who survived really trying times, and that gives me strength. It really does. That’s what gave me the strength to get through my “test”.

We’re all in the same boat – me, you, and many others that we know. We’re supposed to get strength from each other, since all Jews are all parts of one Soul. I’m supposed to get strength from you, and you from me. We can do it. Really, we can.

So come on, get back in there. I know you can do it.

And ignore the part of the community that gives you grief. Rabbi Shlomo Freifeld ZTL used to tell people in your position, “Don’t judge religion by its practitioners”. That’s something to remember.

G-d knows you can do it. You just have to focus, and you’ll reach your potential.

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Here's the rule: Nobody goes off the derech for no reason. Going off involves ruining your relationship with your family, your school, ruining your future sometimes, and various other aggravations. It's just not worth it.

However, when there's a problem in the kid's life - such as friction between him and his parents, or between the parents themselves, or sometimes more subtle issues, then the kid in his anger and pain lashes out at his upbringing and lifestyle.

That rule holds true more than 90% of the time.

So deal with the causes not the effects. His going off is the effect - the result - of something in his life. Hook into that part of him - the part that's pushing him to go off - and help him cope and deal with it.

It's like when someone hits a dog with a stick (I'm borrowing a moshol from R. Yisrael Salanter now, and editing it for our purposes). The dog starts attacking and biting the stick, thinking that the stick is the problem. But what the dog should be biting is the person wielding the stick.

Same thing here. His going off is the stick. There's something that you should be attacking that's causing this to happen. Find out what it is, and help him deal with that.

After you have shown him that you care about what is painful in his life, you will have earned the right in his mind to talk to him about his behavior.

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Once a Jew always a Jew. You may not be practicing Judaism any longer but you are still Jewish and still obligated in the Miztvos.

It is true that not everyone fits the same mold, but at the same time everyone must be true to the reality of who they are. For a Jew to say he wants to be not Jewish is like a horse saying he wants to be a monkey. He can try climbing trees but it won't work. You're a Jew, you're not a goy. You never will be, no matter how hard you try to hide it.

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The "spark" of Yiddishkeit is buried under your life as an American teenager. Life today is hard on feelings of Yiddishkeit.

You can rekindle the spark. Two suggestions:

1) Get a good friend - peer or adult - who does have a feeling for Yiddishkeit. That will help.

2) There was a Sefer made specifically for this purpose. Learn it. It’s called Chovas HaTalmidim by R. Klonimus Kalman Shapira ZTL. In English, it’s "A Students Obligation," Aronson Press. If you can handle it in the Hebrew, it’s better. His language itself is inspiring.

You're in the same boat with lots of teenagers - and adults - and kids. Its part of what we have to work on to be successful. But it can be done.

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Start slowly, perfecting your personality traits - bain odom l'makon and chaveiro - from the most basic steps, up. I would suggest following the curriculum in the Mesilas Yeshorim. He has a step-by-step ladder for people who begin on the ground and want to climb spiritual heights.

If the Mesilas Yeshorim is too heavy for you, try Chovas HaTalmidim, by Rav Kloynimus Kalma of Warsaw ZT"L. It is a guide to spiritual growth, step by step, but written specifically for teenagers. It's very good.

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It takes time, but people's opinions of you will change. It may take a few years, but it will happen. Especially if whatever you did that gave them the bad impression was done when you were a kid. As you get a little older, people will cut you more slack than you think for what you did when you were younger. It won't happen overnight, and it isn't comfortable, but if you stick it out, you'll see it will work.

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Hashem did "Harden Pharoh's heart" as a punishment for his sins. And the Gemora (Makos 10b), "In the way a person desires to go, he is led (from Heaven)". Also (Yoma 39b), someone who wants to lower himself, gets help to do it.

However, don't judge yourself guilty so fast. Instead of all the Gemoros I just quoted, the Chazal that I would say applies most is, "Do not judge someone until you've been in their place" (Pirkei Avos).

And I have another Chazal for you. When the Jews came to the Yam Suf the sea did not want to split. "Both the Jews and the Egyptians worshiped idols", it said. So why should we save one and drown the other?

"Yes," said Hashem, "but the Egyptians worshpped idols willingly and the Jews were forced to do so."

It says absolutely NOWHERE that the Egyptians forced the Jews to worship idols. They made them work, but religion was never the issue. So why does the Medrash say that the Jews were "forced" to worship idols?

The answer is that the Jews were tortured and persecuted and killed and beaten. And when someone is in that much pain, we can't judge them. We don't know what we would do if we were in that position. And Hashem judged them then to be not responsible for their idol worship because their lives were just too excruciating to be able to resist temptation.

Hashem does punish. But maybe you don't deserve such a punishment like you think. Or at least, maybe not before you get a chance to show Hashem how you can really serve Him when the mess that you're going through is over. And it can end.

Or maybe - no, not maybe, this is for sure - Hashem only expects you to do the best that you can right now. He knows you and your abilities, but He also knows what you are going through, and he wants only that you be whatever you can be now.

And believe me, when you do one little Mitzvah, when you make one little Brachah, and despite everything you are going through you muster the Ruchniyus, and the strength and the Simcha within you to thank Hashem for a little candy bar by saying shehakol, that it means more to Him than everything in the world.

Hashem is there, in Shamayim, surrounded by His heavenly hosts, His angels, His serafim, millions and millions of them, singing praises to Him. It's the most awesome sight in all of existence. Too awesome for us to comprehend. And it never ends. It continues forever.

But suddenly, Hashem hold His hand up (kavyochel, of course), and shouts "Shaaa! Quiet! My child is making a brachah!"

But no matter what, you should always know that every little Mitzvah you do mean so so much to Hashem. Much more than the biggest Mitzvos of the biggest people.

And that's because Hashem knows how much that doing that little Mitzvah means to you.

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Doing aveiros does indeed give you momentary pleasure. In fact, the fact that it is an aveirah even adds to the pleasure ("Mayim genuvim yimtaku"). If sins would not be fun, there would be no reward, no credit, for avoiding them. It's OK not to go to a party because you would feel guilty and not enjoy it, but it's much higher if you don't go because you know it's wrong, even though you would enjoy it.

Many people are really uncommitted to Torah on the inside and are performing out of habit, but not everybody. I am not. And I know others, on our plain-person level, too.

The thing is, many people are happy just going through the motions. It's a pity on them. You're not happy like that, Boruch Hashem. So you should get answers. I have found, when I ask teachers why they didn't answer such-and-such questions that they were asked, that the reason is because they do not know the answer themselves. Perhaps they don't care about the question. But someone else may, and therefore they should know the answer.

(PS -- It would be better for them if they would know the answer even if they aren't "bothered" by the question. Understanding Torah is a positive thing.)

You can know the answers. They are there. I would recommend reading some good Hashkafa books.

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Don’t be confused by the lack of guilt feelings for lots of things that you do. Our feelings do not define reality. You can be do something innocent and yet feel guilty, as well as be guilty and feel innocent. The Yetzer Horah doesn’t want you to be frum, so it does not allow you to feel guilty for certain things that you do. It wants you to think well, I don’t feel guilty doing this, that means it’s OK. And so you only refrain from those things that you feel guilty doing.

The lack of guilt feelings could be for many reasons, including a possible desire you may have to want to blame your father for your predicament. “Look what he made me do” part of you deep down may be declaring triumphantly when you eat at Domino’s Pizza.

You say you messed up which means that you KNOW what you’re doing is messed up, yet you don’t FEEL guilty about most of the things you do. It’s a question of what you KNOW versus what you FEEL.

The Seforim write that in such a case, knowledge is the way to go. Since feelings are caused by so many things, not all of which are reasonable, they often lie. If you’re driving a car at 60 MPH and hit a patch of ice, your feelings tell you to slam on the breaks. If you do, you’re dead.

If you wake up in the middle of the night and c”v there’s a fire, your feelings tell you to run out the door, which is the worst thing you can do.

If you have a mosquito bite, your feelings tell you to scratch it.

Your feelings are telling you one thing here, but your mind tells you something else. Do what you know is right. Follow your spiritual knowledge, not your feelings of innocence.

Not everyone can feel guilty about everything that is bad. It’s a high madreigah to feel like that. The fact that you don’t feel guilty doe not mean anything. It’s still wrong. You can still refrain. Please, please do it.

You already went through so much Gehinnom on this earth, who knows how much of your sins were mischaper (atoned) because of your suffering, and who in the world can judge your actions without going through what you did? But please don’t let the mess that you are in conquer you. You must conquer it!

Hashem loves you. Klall Yisroel loves you. And one day, you are going to find a man who loves you more than you can imagine. Life will be different in the near future. You just have to hang in there, tell Hashem that you want to be frum, put in all your efforts to do it, and Hashem will help you.

Others will, too.
But please, no matter what, don’t give up. You can win this battle.

---

You need,

(a) Someone to talk to, an adult preferably, maybe someone in your new school who you can confide in. Preferable someone who you can call 24/7 when you are in trouble, or just need chizuk. This is vital.

(b) A circle of friends, if possible, outside of your school. An “after school life”, so to speak, of more desirable quality. Perhaps in the Shul you daven in? Perhaps neighbors? Perhaps old friends from your past?

(c) To know your boundaries. You may not be able to always resist temptation, but you should put all your strength into making sure you do not do something that has a permanent effect on you. In other words, do not change your lifestyle, your self-image, or the type of people you identify with.

There is a difference between you being you, just doing things that you normally would not, versus you changing into someone who is comfortable with those things. If you want to survive, you will want to avoid as much as possible those things that will “change” you.

Behaviors that can change your reputation should be avoided at all costs. If people look at you differently, you may look at yourself differently (The Kotzker Rebbe said, regarding the posuk about the Meraglim, “They looked at us like grasshoppers, and so it seemed to us”, that because others looked “down” on them, they came to look down at themselves).

(d) To know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. You will not be in school forever. High school will pass quicker than it you think. When that happens, you can return to the lifestyle that you crave. DO NOT GO TO PUBLIC SCHOOL. It would be better for you to get a job and a correspondence diploma, or perhaps even a GED, than to go to Public School. Depending on what state you live in, you will probably be past the age of compulsory education next year (or maybe even this year). You may want to forget your last year of high school and go to Eretz Yisroel. But all of this will only happen if you stand as firm as you can in the meantime, so that by the time you have the option of returning to where you want to be, both you and whatever Yeshiva you would like to go to are comfortable with it.

As far as being a teenager goes, it is true that young boys and girls have a bigger than average Yetzer Horah (so says Rashi and the Rambam), and that they are not children anymore, but not quite adults either (so says the Gemora), which makes life complicated. Some teens go through adolescence easier, and some more difficult, which is natural (so says Rav Shach). So you could be right. Nobody knows you as well as you (so says Rav Chaim Volozhen).

One more thing. If you do slip up, don’t worry. That’s life. Get back up, shake your head, and start again. One of the first things they teach fighters is how to fall properly. You’re a fighter now. The main thing about falling properly is to know that you can get up and fight again. In the spiritual “ring”, you never lose – you can only give up.

You can survive this but you have to be strong. If you need anything, just holler.

---

One day, Klall Yisroel will benefit from you. You will make a great psychologist, because the main problem with psychologists is that even though they may have much book knowledge (and that's even if), it's coldly clinical, often with no real down to earth empathy or heartfelt concern over what’s going on with their clients.

You will. When a kid comes to you saying that they want someone to love them so much that they would do anything for them, you will know what the girl really means, and needs, rather than just taking notes and mumbling "uhuh, uhuh."

And when a kid says to you their mother insists she look like a malnourished, emaciated, dope-head fashion model, you will know exactly what’s going on inside her, rather than just pick up your pen and paper and mindlessly repeat, for the hundredth time, in a mantra like fashion, "So how did you feel about that?"

And because you really care, you will be successful.

You will be a champion, one day, for people who need you. And it will be you that they need, because you will (a) know what they are going through, (b) care that they are going through it, and (c) be there for them.

You will make sure that when someone says they have questions about Yiddishkeit, that they will get answers.

Hashem has a great future prepared for you. And He prepared it for you because YOU are the one who can handle it. Now you’re going through a painful, torturous time. But please, please don’t give up. Please make it out of the pain that you are going through, because we all need you. And I am not kidding.

Just look at the boards. This is the real world. Look at all the people just like you, going through similar situations that you are going through. Who is out there to help them? You know the unfortunate answer. So tell me, how valuable do you think it is - to the world, to those who are suffering, and to Hashem - to have someone who actually understands, who really cares, and who will actually do something about it?

How long do you think the Michoel, Gavriel, and all the angels in Shamayim would be willing to wait, to have someone like you can be - and want to be - out there for those who need?

Your experiences now, like those of the Jews in Egypt - are a "kur habarzel" - a blast furnace, where raw stone turns to gold.

Forget your principal's comments - they were not directed at you. They were directed at the person who he thinks you are. Maybe she deserves it! But it’s not you. If your principal would really know you, if he'd just see how these thousands of people respect you, he would have a whole different picture.

---

Here's the thing, though. Hashem was there for you. And still is. It's just that one of the main ingredients in this world is darkness (see "The Creation of the World: How?" and "Why?"), which means that even when Hashem is helping us, we rarely see it.

It's like one of these cartoons where a guy is walking down the street with a body guard, and every 5 feet another assassin pops his head out of somewhere and the bodyguard, silently and unbeknownst to the guy he’s protecting, whips out his gun and shoots the assassin. So by the time they get to where they’re going, they leave a trail of like 20 dead bodies in their wake. But the guy turns to his bodyguard and says, “What do I need you for? Everything went just fine!”

Ah. If he would have known what was really happening….

So let’s try to imagine what kind of trail Hashem has left behind your back. There is, of course, no way of knowing for sure “what if”, but let’s consider the possibilities:

Nobody can say what would have been, but one thing is certain. Everything Hashem does is for the best.

So if you want, you can complain to Hashem after 120 years, that you wanted to stay in Israel. But don’t be surprised when, in response, Hashem will play you a movie of what WOULD HAVE HAPPENED HAD YOU STAYED in Israel, and, after seeing it, you will thank Hashem with tears in your eyes for making sure you left.

It is difficult, sometimes, to feel that our lives are being controlled by Hashem in the best way possible for us. It’s hard to believe our bodyguard – Bodyguard – was working overtime behind our backs when we were oblivious to the dangers. But we have to constantly tell ourselves that Hashem is running the world, and that as difficult as it is to feel, is running it the best way possible for us.

This does not mean that we should not try to change things for ourselves, especially by praying. What it does mean is that we need to focus our energies on those aspects of our lives that we can control. We shouldn’t spend our lives trying to fix or be upset about things that are out of our control.

In the end, things will work out for you. The only question is when will we be able to see it.

---

Lots of people, especially teenagers, value too much the feeling of being uplifted that they get from their year in Israel, or from some other growing experience.

Of course the feeling is valuable, but when I say "too much" I mean that when you experience what is called a "rifyon", a "dip" so to speak in your spiritual life, like when you do aveiros, you lose the momentum of the spiritual high that you were on, and suddenly you dint feel so wonderful anymore, and then hopelessness sets in.

The reason for this is because you use your "high feeling" to measure your status, which is a mistake.

Spiritual highs are like any other highs - they're great while they last, and they make us feel good but they don't stay forever. In Gan Eden they will, but not in this world.

Yom Kippur gives us (or should give us) such a kind of high, when we feel that our neshomas were cleaned out and we have a new start. The greatest Gedolim have said that they feel the effects of Yom Kippur until Sukkos, or, the latest calculation I've heard, until Chanukah.

Nobody can stay on the high that they got in Eretz Yisroel forever. When we break the momentum of that feeling with some sins it feels like we've fallen off a cliff.

But that feeling is the Yetzer Horah. He wants to take that "high" and use it against you. He wants you to use it as a crutch, get used to leaning on it, knowing full well that it’s not going to be here forever.

Don’t let him do this. Here's the reality:

Teshuva helps for everyone, no matter what they did, because it is a gift from G-d. G-d gave you the Yetzer Horah and He gave you teshuva to fix the damage the Yetzer Horah does. When you do Teshuva, not only are your sins forgiven, but all the damage that was done to your soul is repaired, good as new. Better, even. And whatever that spiritual "high" you had meant, doing Teshuva means much much more. You will be totally pure, clean, and higher than you were even before you did the aveiros. Here's what you have to do:

1) regret what you did
2) commit yourself not to do it again

... that's it. It's harder than it sounds, I know, but Hashem loves you so much and He knew that one day person “X” is going to do these sins, but X sincerely, really, seriously wants deep down to grow. So Hashem gave X the ability to do teshuva, so that the Yetzer Horah will not be able to stop X from getting what she wants. Teshuva is a miracle - it undoes the past. it's like having Hashem Himself on your side against the Yetzer Horah. X and Hashem fight this war together against the Satan.

It's like that Disney story where this little baby lion, the baby of the king of lions, gets lost in the neighborhood of wolves and suddenly some wolf sees the king's little kid lost far away from home and he figures he's going to have a good snack. So he corners the little lion cub, his mouth watering.

The little baby is scared stiff, knowing it’s all over for him. Then, right before he gets eaten, this big shadow covers the room, and the wolf hears this great big ROAR in back of him. He turns around, and it's the cub's father, the king of lions himself, who came looking for his lost cub. Well, you can imagine what happens to the wolf.

OK, so you’re a lost cub cornered by the Satan. Don’t worry. Your Father is stronger than the Satan, he is the King of Kings, and Master of the Universe, Who is looking for you because He knows you are lost. All you have to do is call out to Him and he's going to come and rip the Satan apart with Kavyochol all of His power.

That's right. You have Hashem's power itself at your disposal. "Rav L'Hoshiyah" we say in Shemoneh Esrei about Hashem. One translation is: Hashem uses His power, His greatness (He is "rav") to save us ("L'hoshiyah"). All you have to do is call out to him. Do teshuva, that's how you call on Hashem. Then He comes in and uses ALL HIS POWER, i.e. all of Hashem's power, to undo the damage the Satan did to your soul, forgive your sins, rewrite the past, and make sure that you don’t get eaten.

When Hashem made you, He knew that you were put in a world of wolves. And He knew that you can’t survive alone. That’s why he created the "calling system", where whenever you get in trouble, you call Him - through teshuva and tefilah - and He comes and saves you. Then you continue your journey. It's you and Hashem against the wolves.

So don’t get eaten. Do teshuva and Hashem guarantees He will comes and save you.

And when you’re saved through Teshuva, you become higher than you were even before you sinned.

---

Please listen to me. The Yetzer Horah is very tricky. One of the tricks he uses is to make a person believe that unless they can "feel" religion, it is valueless to them. Like if it doesn't make you more spiritual, or you don't really want to so much, it's not "for you." Some people even think that if they don't feel it and they're religious anyway, that makes them fakers.

This is all bogus. The reality is that Torah is simply the food and water and air that your soul needs to be healthy. It's like when your doctor gives you a diet and he says eat this or die. It doesn't matter if it's "in you" or not, you just better do it.

So too with religion. It's wonderful if you can feel it "in you", but honestly, that's not really what you should be relying on to keep you motivated to be frum, because such feelings come and go. The Yezter Horah makes you think that searching for the "in you" feeling makes you so honest and "real" such that you don't recognize these thoughts as coming from the Satan.

The thing that really motivates people to maintain their frumkeit is more like Hey I believe in G-d and I believe in this religion and its good for me, so I will do it.

The Torah doesn't have to be "in you" for it to be real. At least not at your age. And at least not in the way you mean.

The fact is, the Torah IS in you, even if the Yetzer Horah currently does not allow you to feel it. Everyone is a Tzelem Elokim and has a piece of Hashem inside him. It's just that we are also made of dirt - flesh and blood - and these two parts of ourselves are always fighting to control us. To be able to feel only the spiritual side of you is wonderful, but because we are not only spiritual, the physical side of us will often come to the forefront and block out the spiritual.

That's normal. It happens to everyone. And when it does, we have to fight it.

So please don't let the Yetzer Horah convince you that Hashem or the Torah has "left you", or that you are any less spiritual then you were. It's not so. Hashem and the Torah is as much in you as it ever was. And if you fight the Yetzer Horah and not put on that light on Shabbos, the Torah will be in you more than it ever was. It's the fight and our decision to do what's right that really makes us spiritual.

---

You’ve correctly identified part of the fight, that is, connecting to Hashem, being committed to His Mitzvos and His lifestyle, living and loving Torah - that is indeed not always easy, especially if you have had bad experiences in school. But there’s another battle, perhaps even more difficult than the first, and that is, not to let those bad experiences give you a sour taste for those ideas that you were taught! Don't lose sight of the value of Tznius - yes, the nitty gritty details in centimeters and denim, because they count too! - or anything else that you may have been taught that is correct, just because it was taught in the wrong way or with the wrong attitude. Letting your bad experiences make you reject certain parts of Torah that are true is allowing your misguided teachings to affect you as much as if you would blindly follow them. You must try hard not to let your experiences negatively affect your life, and that entails (a) not accepting wrong things, and (b) not rejecting things you know are true just because they were taught in a bad context

---

One day, when we all get to shamayim, we will find a totally different world, a world that we never expected to be. We will find that the simple people who struggled to climb higher, inch by inch, and just as they felt they were finally, after so much effort and so much pain, finally way above ground level, slipped and fell right back where they started, and got up again and began their climb over, form the beginning, and rose, and fell, and kept on getting up again and again, and never reached the top because they kept slipping and falling - we will find that in the next world, those simple people are not simple anymore, that they sit next to Hashem with crowns on their heads telling of how they kept trying and trying to climb that wall. And we will find those who, while in this world, were blessed with greater agility and climbing skills, and scaled record heights, are groveling at their feet. And they, the ones who clambered over walls and mountains and all obstacles will ask Hashem Why Oh Why am I not the one sitting next to You relating to audiences of millions of malachei hashareis of my accomplishments in the physical world.

And Hashem will say "Because the malachim are not interested in how high you climbed. Why would they be impressed with how high you climbed? They can climb a billion times better than you did. They can reach higher places than you ever did. If you would tell them stories of how high you climbed, they would not be impressed; they would be bored. The malachim are impressed by how hard you struggled. That even they can't do. If I wanted you to go high I would have given you wings. I gave you not wings but Bechirah, the ability to struggle, to get up over and over again and put an effort into the climb. That even the malachim cannot do. We are not impressed in This World with how high you went; the lowest here are higher than you. We are impressed in This World with how hard you tried.

" And that's why we're so impressed with those who tried. Now go back to your lowly place at their feet while I and my entire pamaliah shel maalah hear them tell the stories of their struggles in the past world."


---

The Yismach Moshe asks how anyone can do an aveirah knowing the dire consequences of his actions. His answer is that Chazal say "ain odom choteh ela im kein nichnas bo ruach shtus" meaning a person does not sin until a spirit of craziness takes him over.
In other words, Hashem always balances the Yetzer Tov with the Yetzer Horah such that resisting sin will be a struggle.
And thank G-d for that because that struggle is what makes us good Jews. If it wouldn't be hard it wouldn't be worth anything.
Sometimes having difficulties is normal, and apply to all of us. Motivation isn't what you need, you have that. What you need is the knowledge that you're not going to win every battle with the Yetzer Horah and that you are not expected to. And that if you lose a battle it means nothing except that the next time you're going to try again and then hopefully win.
Even if you know it's wrong and you do it anyway, that's the normal Yetzer Horah vs. Yetzer Tov lifestyle.
The way to grow is to keep trying. Every time. Seriously. And - this is extremely important - to realize that just because you lost the battle today does NOT mean you're going to lose tomorrow.
It's like a world series. You lose the first game, it does NOT mean you're going to lose tomorrow. But if you let it get you discouraged you'll be in trouble.
You need to understand that Hashem made the world that you will win some and lose some. There's nothing you can do about that. That's life. What you have to do is to realize that every day is a new game.

---

Whatever Hashem does to us in this world, be it pleasure or pain, is a Nisayon. Our entire purpose in this world is only to have Nisyonos. There is no other purpose. So everything that happens - every single thing - follows that purpose.

The pain, the testing of your Emunah and Bitachon, your newly found (but unrequested) sensitivity and intimate knowledge of a sickness, are all things that, in G-d's plan for "Batshua", have the ability to being her closer to fulfilling her job in this world.

The ability to give people chizuk who are in a similar position, the ability to feel what they feel, the ability to maintain unwavering Emunah and Bitachon, the ability to be a model of spiritual strength and steadfastness - all these and more - are ways for you, in this temporary, dark, fake, non-understandable world, to get a closeness to G-d that is permanent -will last for millions and millions of years, is clear, loud, and glorious.

In the next world, those who have gone through suffering in this one, and have maintained their faith and Knowledge of Hashem, are going to be the ones who are the healthiest, strongest, fittest, happiest, and the ones who are going to enjoy the infinite pleasure for eternity.

Those who were not zocheh to fight for their Emunah in this world, will be the ones who need Tehillim in the next. But then Tehillim will no longer help.

Nobody asks for Nisyonos in this world, and certainly, when someone is suffering, we try through prayers and actions, to alleviate it for them as much as we can.

But when Hashem does reveal to someone what their Nisoyon is in this world, and gives it to them, we look at it as an opportunity given to us to be great.

Become a role model and an example of strength and Faith in the face of suffering in a world where we have so precious little role models. Be someone for people like me to look up to, because no matter how many seforim one reads or how many questions one answers, it’s nothing compared to someone who has to walk the walk of strength in the face of suffering. How can I do less than admire - and envy - someone with such Emunah? Moderators need people to look up to, too.

Rav Osher Zelig Margolis ZTL once asked the Satmar Rebbe, when the Satmar Rebbe was leaving Eretz Yisroel, "Rebbe, now that you are leaving, who should we go to for blessings?"

The Satmar Rebbe answered, "Go to a Shul one morning, and when the people are rolling up their sleeves to put on Tefillin, look for someone with a number tattooed onto his forearm (which mean he was in a concentration camp). That person, you can go to for a Brachah."

There are so little people nowadays that we can go to for Brachos. You will be one of them. Rav Osher Zelig Margolis ZTL was a gaon, a Tzadik, and a master of Kabbalah.

But even he needs people to go to for blessings. And those who are Omed B'Nisayon have the power to change the world with their blessings.

One day, the greatest Tzadikim can come to you for Brachos, because of your strength and Faith.

Please, if there is anything I or we here can do - even if you need some words of Chizuk (everyone does)- we want to help.

---

Real people do have problems, though they may not want the world to know them.
And not everyone ends up a "success" story - though one’s efforts certainly matter -- very very much.

And as far as "giving up" on yourself because you believe you will never succeed, bear in mind that many, probably most, of the "success" stories that you hear and read about, also thought that they would never succeed.

And so, so far, you have one of the characteristics of most of the successes, namely, that you can’t see success in the future.

That's fine. But it just means that you may very well be on the path to success but you don’t realize it.

The trick is to keep trying, even though right now you may not be able to see the prize in sight.

It's hard to see the exit out when the lights are off, but it's there. And B"H many have made it out successfully.

With siyata d'shmaya, may you do so too!

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