From the Editor – Yom HaAtzmaut Edition 5782
BY RABBI ELIE MISCHEL
“We defy anyone who goes about with his eyes open to deny that there is, as never before, an attitude on the part of young folk which is best described as grossly thoughtless, rude, and utterly selfish.” (Hull Daily Mail, 1925)
Since time immemorial, adults have looked down their noses at the “younger generation,” so clearly inferior to their own. We, of course, are no exception, wringing our hands in frustration as we point out the pervasive problems with “Millennials” and “Gen Z.” Hypersensitive, anxious and unable to cope with the stresses of life, our children are keeping the psychologists busier than ever.
I remember remarking to my wife that when we were kids, summer camps employed one “camp mom” to make sure homesick campers had at least two shoulders to cry on. Now, however, summer camps employ an army of camp moms, psychologists and social workers, and believe me – as the husband of a camp mom – they work hard.
Jewish tradition would seem to confirm this attitude towards the young. “Rabbi Zeira said: If the earlier [scholars] were sons of angels, we are sons of men; and if the earlier [scholars] were sons of men, we are like donkeys, and not [even] like the donkeys of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa and Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair, but like other donkeys” (Shabbat 112b). In this passage and many others, the Rabbis refer to what is often called יְרִידַת הַדּוֹרוֹת, the “decline of the generations.” The theory is that successive generations move further and further away from the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, progressively weakening each new generation’s connection to Torah and relationship with Hashem.
Speaking at a seminary in Jerusalem last month, I explained to the seventy earnest young women copiously taking notes that, according to this logic, they are the worst Jews the world has ever seen – at least until they find their bashert and, G-d willing, raise a generation even worse than they are!
Depressing indeed (at least I got some laughs). But as he so often does, Rav Kook turns the simple understanding of this notion on its head. In his remarkable essay, HaDor, “The Generation”, Rav Kook explains that the “decline of the generations” refers only to individuals, to the great leaders and scholars of the Jewish people. With each passing generation, our Torah leadership declines, just as “the face of Moshe was like the sun, while the face of Yehoshua was like the moon” (Bava Batra 75a). Our personal experience bears out the point; with no disrespect to our current leadership, we no longer possess thinkers like the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Rav Soloveitchik, leaders of the last generation.
But though our leadership continues to decline, הַכְּלָל הוֹלֵךְ וּמִתְעַלֶּה, the broader nation of Israel is growing ever greater, building upon the accomplishments of earlier generations. In other words, the young people of today are not the worst generation our people have ever seen; they are the greatest! Rav Kook would often say that our בָּנִים וּבָּנוֹת, our sons and daughters, are הַבּוֹנִים וְהַבּוֹנוֹת, the builders of the Land of Israel. Over and over again, he would speak of the younger generation’s thirst for greatness and idealism, a greatness their parents too often failed to appreciate. As Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff once said, “Israel is a country that was built by children who didn’t listen to their parents!”
Smile if you like, but my conversations with hundreds of young people who have chosen to make Aliyah have convinced me that Rav Kook is right. Though the young men and women of our community have not been drafted to storm the beaches of Normandy like the “Greatest Generation,” many have, in unprecedented numbers, volunteered to take up arms and protect our people by serving in the IDF and to strengthen Israel society through Sherut Leumi. With unbelievable courage, they are making a go of living in Israel, thousands of miles away from their families and friends, determined to play their part in the glorious story of Medinat Yisrael.
In celebration of the miracle of modern Israel, we dedicate this Yom HaAtzmaut edition of HaMizrachi to the brave young people who are doing so much to build our land and our nation. May they go from strength to strength!
Rabbi Elie Mischel is Editor of HaMizrachi.