Q: My 14-year-old daughter is going through a difficult stage in terms of being a teenager. Baruch Hashem, she is talking to my husband and me, rather than ignoring us, but her main questions deal with the black and white of people not acting according to Torah dictates, and as Jews should reflect a more elevated standard of religious behavior. I don’t believe that any of her questioning has affected her behavior or actions, but I can’t sit back and hope that her feelings will simply “go away.”
How should I respond to her?
A: Nothing in life that is worth working for is simple. The secular society around us likes to paint a picture of easily accessible immediate gratification being available in all areas of life. And yet, as we can see, those lives that can be viewed as masterpieces of human spirit are created with much hard work and a focus on goals. A religious, fulfilled life is one with vision and inspiration. To attempt to perfect one’s middos by striving to emulate the G-dly attributes of Hashem is a continual, painstaking task.
“Jealousy, strong desire and the desire for honor take a person out of this world” (Pirkei Avos 4:21). These words pertain to all of us. These human limitations are universal, causing all of our religious/ethical standards to be lacking, to some degree. The Torah itself is perfect, and it purifies our souls. The following analogy can be applied: When you take a shower, only you and Hashem know if you are actually cleansing yourself with soap or are just getting wet. Similarly, in the case of whether or how we apply the Torah to our lives, only Hashem knows if we are cleansing our neshamos or merely making external symbolic gestures.
When one desires to look at the character flaws of another Jew, one will clearly find them, as all human beings are imperfect. That is why avoiding lashon hara is difficult for so many — it is so easy to view another’s limitations and comment on them. Teenagers often complain about how adults are hypocritical. Teenagers’ unrealistic visions of human beings reflect their belief in their own invincibility: “If only I were given the right opportunity, I could do anything.” Adults are aware that they need to “answer to others” — be they co-workers or relatives — and that affects their behavior in decision-making and general behavior, in schools and organizations. Teenagers live in an unrealistic vision of the world, where they need to answer to no one.