Every once in awhile, the older youth tried to straighten us up. Lectured us and admonished us not to act so silly.
“Stop trying to be so wild.”
Their efforts were entirely fruitless. And it got so that most people just left us alone – except for our parents and the Rabbeim. They never stopped lecturing, and they never stopped scolding. The problem was, they never told us why we needed to behave.
Everything was preached from a solid foundation of what had always been. Torah this. Torah that. We live this way because that’s the way it is. We live this was because it’s the way our father lived. We live this way, and we walk this path because it’s the only way, the only path we’ve ever known.
But they never explained why.... Only that we were and we did.
That sure made for some messed-up minds and messed-up lives. Not for the drones – those who accepted without question what they were told. But for anyone with a speck of spirit, it could get a little crazy.
You can just picture the writer, probably was a teen in yeshiva somewhere, did not care for the dress code and other rules and regulations, was absent from the beis medrash more than there, is looking for something, someone headed off the derech if not already there.Think about it. You are in a box – a comfortable box, but a pretty confining one. You wonder what’s outside. You peek out a bit now and then, and peer around. But deep down, you know that if you step outside that box, you are speeding directly down the highway to hell and could arrive at any instant. Boom, just like that.
The book is Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler. The writer did go off the derech -- the derech of his Amish community. I cheated and took the liberty of substituting the word "Rebbeim" for preachers and "Torah" in place of Amish, but other than that, the words are his.
Perhaps instead of looking only internally at our community to try to figure out why people go off the derech, maybe we should think more broadly about the issue and see how the problem manifests itself in other communities and how they respond. Maybe we could even learn something from the failures and the successes of their educational institutions and support networks. Maybe we could learn something from the voices of those, like Ira Wagler, who write about their journey.
One other heretical thought -- maybe instead of blaming the community, the yeshivos, Rebbeim, parents. etc. for not doing enough, we should recognize that rebellion happens. It happens in all communities, it can happen to the best families within those communities, it can happen despite the best efforts to stop it. Perhaps there are no solutions in our imperfect world.