Thursday, June 13, 2013

words from someone who went off the derech

I won't tell you where the quote is from until the end:
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.

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.
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. 

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. 


  1. "Perhaps there are no solutions in our imperfect world."
    I would say that there is certainly no (absolute) solution. If there could be a perfect situation (great parents, perfect rebbeim, etc.) which could prevent OTD, then there would be no bechira either! I don't believe we find in chazal any criticism of Avrohom Avinu in Yishmael's chinuch, or Yaakov Avinu in Esav's - nevertheless they went off the derech (chazal do say that Yishmael did teshuva at the end).

  2. Exactly.
    I was going to use the very example you did of Yishmael and Eisav, but then I held back because maybe it's only post-Ya'akov that you have an idea of "af al pi she'chata Yisrael hu," that no matter how far you stray, you can never really leave the fold. Not that's it's easy to avoid people straying or to get them to come back, but there is at least something there that remains, no matter how hidden and buried, that can then be built upon. But all that is a technicality -- the main point is still true.

  3. But there's Ksuvos 45b reu gidulim shegidaltem, and the punishment of Miriam bas Bilga's family at the end of Sukkah. I agree with you but you have to deal with those gemaros. Could be znus at that age and azus panim are different,but that's an answer to say but not believe.

    1. I think it simply means that usually it is possible to attribute a child's going off the derech to the parents misparenting - not that it is inevitable.

  4. I hope nobody says that the family in those cases are totally innocent and we shame them just to scare other people. That would be an awful awful pshat.

  5. That gemara is speaking about zman habayis. As I wrote, we live in less then perfect times. In those days the halacha of moridin v'lo ma'alin applied. Acc to the Chazon Ish, it no longer does because absent hashgacha geluya, how can we speak of merida? You are comparing cases of deliberate rebellion with modern cases of ignorance and apathy leading people astray. (this is from Chaim signed in as Ariella)