Growing From The Mistakes Of Our Youth
As a teenager, I attended a school in Israel called Neveh Zion. Neveh is a special school for children that are highly intelligent but don’t conform to regular behavioral norms. In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, I was the wildest of my group. However, when I showed up at Neveh, I met other boys that made me look like a sweet, disciplined student.
Each dormitory room was filled with mischief and mayhem. There were boys from all over the USA and everyone brought their own emotional baggage with them.
Every day was filled with more action than the day before. The Rabbeim that dealt with us were and still are angels for being able to cope with the amount of bad behavior that went on. And because of this, we the alumni have a lot of appreciation for their caring and patient teachers. When a Neveh alumnus meets another alumnus from a different year, we always share war stories of the madness that went on during their Neveh experience.
Amazingly, I survived my first year and returned for a second year. In my third year, I became a dorm counselor, and years later I was employed by Neveh to do fundraising for their new building.
During one of my fundraising trips to the States, some of the Rabbeim (teachers) and I were the guests for Shabbos at the home of a former, very wealthy alumnus in Great Neck, New York.
During the Friday night meal, the Neveh alumnus, being a true Neveh guy, got up, raised his glass of wine, and made a toast to his wife, “My dear, I would like to thank you for the most delicious meal, and if you hear some crazy things about me tonight, I promise you nothing is true!
Rabbis, I would like to thank you for honoring me with your presence in my home this fine evening. I know that it is customary when you have rabbeim to ask them to say a D’var Torah. However, as you know I am a Neveh guy, and therefore, I will give you guys the night off!
However, what I really want for entertainment is a good, juicy Neveh story. One that I never heard before, and one that will put all the other Neveh stories to shame!”
The Rabbeim looked at one another as if they were clueless. Decades of working with at-risk youth and they were all drawing blanks. They had plenty of Torah to share, however, Neveh stories were not on their minds. Suddenly, one of the rabbeim turned to me and said, “Yitz, you were in Neveh. Surely, you have a great story to tell.”
I turned to the host and said, “I do have a story for you, however, before I start, I suggest we delay it until after your nanny puts your young children to sleep so that they won’t have any nightmares.”
The hostess smiled in complete agreement, and I bought time to rack my brain for a thrilling story to tell!
The more time that passed, the more the host’s patience was wearing thin, “Nu, the kids are asleep. Let’s hear it, Yitz!”
The Rabbeim had all their eyes fixed on me, hoping that my story would both entertain their host, yet not embarrass the institution too much!
So, I stood up and told the following crazy story that I suddenly remembered:
One night, towards the end of the school year when most of the students were out of town, I was in the dorm playing cards in room 202 with a few buddies. The room belonged to my friend David and his roommate. It’s important here to share with you a little more information about David. David was a few years older than us. He stood over 6 ft tall weighed 220 lb.’s. and has a heart of gold. David did not get a chance to spend a year in Israel at the regular age of 18, due to an illness in the family and was now trying to make up some lost time.
Being friends with David had a lot of perks. David had the nicest Aunt who lived in the German colony and his age and credit status allowed us to rent a car and travel all over Israel on our own.
So, there we were playing cards, joking around and suddenly, David`s roommate came running into the room excited. He shut the door behind him and said, “Guys, you are not going to believe what I found! I was deep inside the storage basement, trying to find my lost basketball. I moved around a couple of very old bags and hidden below one of the bags was this!”
Filled with excitement, waiting to reveal his treasure, he showed us an unused large grenade!
The guys started passing around the grenade as if it was a piece of fruit, admiring its shape and size. I was under the impression that it wasn’t real since it was made from rubber and had Hebrew words written all over it. It was smooth, not bumpy like the ones in the movies. It seemed that someone must have volunteered at the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) for a couple of weeks before returning home and took the grenade with him as a souvenir.
My friend David was the only one in the group that freaked out. David screamed at the top of his lungs and argued with his good friend and roommate to get the grenade out of the room. The heated exchange between them got intense.
When nothing else worked he got up and physically through his best friend with the grenade out of the room and locked the door behind him.
I remember at the time noticing how out of character it was for David to be so forceful. It was as if I was watching a teddy bear turn into a ferocious lion in front of my eyes. He came back to the card table and started explaining to us the difference between fun and craziness. That being older he felt responsible to watch over and protect us.
Unfortunately, the boy was determined to find out if the grenade was real or a fake, and if it was real, how powerful was it?
I took a quick look around the room and observed that my host and hostess were fully engaged in the story while my rabbeim were looking down at the floor shaking their heads.
“Go on, go on, what happened?” asked my host.
I continued my story. A few minutes later we heard a huge blast outside the door. It felt like the dorm building shook and so we all ran out to see what had happened. Everyone in the town heard the blast and thought we were hit by a missile!
What had transpired was the boy had pulled the pin and threw it from the second floor onto the campfire area where the grenade exploded. Thank G-d no one was hurt. I will forever be grateful to David for saving us from getting blown up.
If he hadn’t interceded, we all would have been blown to bits.
In this week`s Parsha, Noach offers a sacrifice after he exits the ark. Then, the Torah says that Hashem is appeased by Noah’s sweet smell of Noah`s offering. Hashem then says that he will never destroy the world again, since the inclination of a man’s heart is evil from his birth, the word to explain from his birth in the Torah is מנעוריו. This word מנעוריו usually is translated “as from his youthfulness”.
Chasidus explains that the Torah chose to use the word with the connotation of youthfulness to point out to us that all our shortcomings stem from our youthful behavior. When we are young, we do things without thinking about consequences. Our job in life is to educate ourselves to make cognitive decisions and to mature and grow, wiping out past impulsive and emotionally charged decision-making.
To think about long-term life objectives and to make sure that each decision that we make is carrying us closer to these goals.
Will this decision bring me closer to Hashem, and my fellow Jews or G-d forbid take me further away? Many times, this means sacrificing what your ego wants for a higher purpose. However, it is through this sacrifice that one truly grows as a person.
The Lubavitch Rebbe points out as well, from the wording of “FROM HIS YOUTH,” From connotates the second stage, meaning that the evil inclination is placed on top of the pure and good already existing soul. At his or her core, every person is good. Therefore, one can simply remove his outer evil garments and return to his essence which is completely pure and holy.
I would like to end with a beautiful short story I recently saw posted that drives home this concept.
A friend I rarely see, came up to me at the tefillin stand and said,
“A few years ago, I asked you what can I say to get someone who refuses to put on tefillin to put them on? You told me something … I tried it… and it worked!
I was on a plane going to New York… I went up to three Israelis and asked them to put on tefillin. One of them said that he had already put them on, one had me help him, and the third guy completely ignored me.
Again, I asked him to put them on, but he was tough. It was as if I wasn’t even there.
His friend said to me, ‘I’ll give you a hundred dollars right here and now if you get him to put on tefillin.’ He was so sure his friend wouldn’t put them on.
I told him that I can’t do a mitzvah for money, but I’ll try.
I said to his friend, ‘It seems like you are forgetting something. Since all the Jewish People are really one, when you do a mitzvah, when you put on tefillin, you protect the lives of our soldiers on the front line wherever they are. You protect our soldiers in Hebron…, you protect our soldiers on the Golan…, protect our soldiers by Gaza…, wherever they are.’
He looked at me for the first time…, then he said, ‘Okay.’ He held out his arm and let me help him put on tefillin.
Thanks for the advice, it worked!”
Israelis are tough on the outside, totally thick, but if you can figure out how to get inside, they are soft and loving.
This lesson is ultra-important for parents raising teens.
When we see our teens behaving the way teenagers act, do not allow yourself to judge your child as intrinsically bad. Instead, say to yourself how unfortunate that such a good child is acting foolishly and immaturely. Hopefully, they will soon learn from their mistakes and correct their actions soon. This allows your teen to view his or her mistakes as nothing extreme, so they can easily improve and modify their behavior, instead of harboring internal negativity.
Have a wonderful Shabbos.