Amid heated debates over a recent article, longtime chosson teacher Rabbi Pesach Shmerling expounds on the need to instill core values early on.
By Rabbi Pesach Schmerling
Chazal observed that just as people’s faces differ one from another, so do their opinions and outlooks. The Derher Kislev issue published a compilation of the Rebbe’s public talks on the topic of family planning. The article sparked much heated discussions. I would like to share some thoughts on this important matter.
There is a famous vort about the years a bochur spends in yeshivah, that they are likened to the furnace for life. When the furnace gets heated to the highest degree, it will heat up the entire house, even the farthest rooms from the furnace. If the furnace is only partially heated, then the rooms closer to the furnace might still be warm, however, the rooms further away will be cold. Mashpiim share this concept with the Bochrim imploring them to give it their all while in yeshivah, as this will set the tone for the rest of their lives.
This idea is true regarding all aspects of talmidei hayeshivah: learning, davening, farbrengens, mivtzoim etc. But this is especially important when it comes to matters of אמונות ודעות, weltanschauung and outlooks on life, chassidishe ‘derhers’ and ‘opleigs’. The הנחות העולם run contrary to תורה וחסידות and one needs to be strongly fortified not to be influenced by them. This was true in previous generations as well, but with the exposure to the outside world so prevalent in current times, the importance of this cannot be overstated.
One of the greatest issues of our times is the worry about how to make a living1, and from that stem the ideas that one needs to practice family planning, and other worldly הנחות.
The Rebbe as the רעיא מהימנא of our generation feeds us אמונה (as explained in the famous מאמר ואתה תצוה), ensuring that our אמונה should not remain abstract, rather it should permeate our entire beings בפנימיות. The perceived ‘reality’ of our lives and existence in this world in general is a העלם והסתר on the אמת , and therefore the truth of אלקות, תורה ומצוות ודרכי החסידות etc., needs to be constantly reinforced and strengthened. Throughout the נשיאות the Rebbe fought mightily against this קליפה, college and family planning being just two expressions of it.
In the last two decades these הנחות העולם have made a major comeback in our community.
One of the expressions of this is the fact that many Chassanim and Yungeleit are strongly considering family planning (many practicing it without any basis in halachah whatsoever, without getting a proper heter for this), and have a hard time internalizing the Rebbe’s teachings on this topic.
When the Frierdiker Rebbe נ”ע was on the ship fleeing from the Nazis ימ”ש on the way to America, he asked Rabbi Nissen Mindel ע”ה and Rabbi Hodakov ע”ה to compose a list of activities Lubavitch should undertake once they’ll arrive in the US. The Frierdiker Rebbe explained the need to do this while still on the ship, rather than waiting till after arriving and settling in, when they would have a clearer picture of the situation on the ground: ‘Once we are there and faced with various difficulties and ‘realities’, we can get discouraged, whereas if we plan now what we understand needs to happen, then even if at first we might not be able to do all the things on the list, we will keep on working and eventually we’ll also accomplish those.’
We can’t wait until a bochur is older to begin ingraining in him the Rebbe’s outlook, as this takes years to inculcate and be properly internalized. When the Chosson or Yungerman is facing the realities of married life, the הנחות העולם attitudes already have a strong hold on him, and it is extremely difficult to overcome them.
Some have questioned if it is appropriate for bochurim to read about this topic. Some have raised the notion that perhaps it is appropriate for older bochurim, but not for young mesivta bochurim. The Rebbe, however, clearly had no such reservations and spoke about this very topic, on close to 30 occasions (only a handful of them being sichos to women, while the majority of times were at farbrengens on Shabbos and weekdays), in the presence of hundreds of bochurim of all ages. Do some think that for those months the younger bochurim shouldn’t have attended the Rebbe’s farbrengens?!2
If forty years ago the Rebbe wasn’t concerned at all that talking about this topic, at length and in much greater detail than the overview printed in the Derher, and not once or twice, but on close to 30 occasions, would somehow damage the purity or innocence of the bochurim, then certainly today such concerns are not applicable.
Another ‘objection’ raised was the Rebbe’s directives to N’shei Chabad to lead the campaign to raise awareness in the public about this issue, so why is this directed here to bochurim? This is not about making a campaign, or getting bochurim to campaign about this. Rather, this is purely educational, just as they learn the other inyonim the Rebbe taught us.
This last point also explains why there wasn’t more elaboration in the article about situations which allow for a heter to practice birth control, and more explanation in regards to a woman’s needs etc. This overview was not meant as discussing the practical application (that and other sholom bayis concerns a chosson teacher needs to explain to a chosson before his marriage, and perhaps a woman’s magazine like N’shei Newsletter and similar forums are the right format for such an article), rather it was meant purely for sharing the Rebbe’s general outlook on this topic, in it’s pure original format.
The Frierdiker Rebbe writes in a letter (printed in beginning of קונטרס עץ החיים): “Days will come and the young generation will come before their leaders, especially to the deans of the yeshivos and their heads, with a soulful demand, stating: Why didn’t you admonish us for our behavior, why didn’t you tell us the truth, the truth of the living Torah of G-d in its entirety, why didn’t you instruct us in the path of daily life . . how we need to fulfill His mitzvos, as we’re commanded “with joy and gladness of heart” which is a big task . .”
The Derher will clearly have a great zechus for having supplemented major contributions in the education of the young generation of Lubavitch today, in addition to the infinite zechus of the tens or hundreds or more children who will be born as a result of this most important overview!
1) See for example the famous Sichah (Yud Shevat 5718), printed in the first volume of Likutei Sichos (p. 139 and on) and reprinted in the קובץ כ”ב שבט (p. 43 and on) which the Rebbe personally handed out to men, women and children. When one listens to the recording of this Sichah one can clearly hear the strong passion in the Rebbe’s voice while saying this Sichah. The Sichah discusses the גזירת כל הבן הילוד היאורה תשליכוהו as the approach of throwing the children into the culture of the times, in order to ‘ensure’ their future livelihood etc.
2) The same holds true for mivtza taharas hamishpocho, which the Rebbe spoke about for years, also in various detailed aspects, in the presence of bochurim of all ages tens of times.