Last week, a member of Chabad was putting on tefillin for a teenage boy outside a very, VERY secular high school, like he usually does in northern Tel Aviv. The principal of the school saw this and came out to scold the Chabadskir and the student, because "G-d forbid" a Jew should willingly do mitzvos! He accused the Chabadskir of "sowing rebellion." Interestingly enough, I believe that a half-a-year ago a large group of his 12th graders wanted to sign a petition stating that they refuse to join the army in protest against the Judicial Review. Something he supported.
The day after the tefillin incident, a large segment of the student body (if not most) came out and protested against the principal. And as a sign of rebellion, many of the boys put on tefillin en masse. I received a video clip of said "protest." In it was a Chabadskir working hard along with one or two Sphardi men, full of tattoos, wearing tzitzis, dressed as they were in some gang (ONLY in Israel). It turns out one of them is some big television/radio personality. He personally supplied 20 pairs of tefillin. They knew exactly how to put on tefillin and were helping out the boys who did not. A good friend commented: It's ironic. The elitist, secular, Ashkanazi (the model secular-Zionist of yore), is getting "one upped," by a bunch of "low-life" Sphardim.
The Gemara notes that one of the signs of the "birth pangs of Moshiach" is the increase of chutzpah in the world. Usually, this is a bad thing. Hopefully, this too counts towards that chutzpah.
A few weeks ago, I was speaking to a friend of mine with two very different sons. His first son, well, he's a good kid, but has a big ADHD problem. He's certainly no dummy, and he does not cause fights or damage, but he does pretty stupid things, because, after-all, he's a teenage male with ADHD. The second boy, doesn't have. He's a regular kid, who doesn't get in trouble and does what he's supposed to do. Bright boy, but nothing too special. Both are learning in yeshiva. The first is learning in a yeshiva which, in theory, is designed for such kids. And the second is learning at a respected yeshiva doing well.
The first is not happy. His yeshiva is, unfortunately, not running smoothly and many of the boys are not happy there and want to move to another. Yet (at least he understands this), they have nowhere else to go! If they go to a regular yeshiva, they will only slip further down and possibly take others with them. Of course, that's assuming they could get in, which they can't.
His father explained that if he simply had a learning disability, and that was it, he COULD go into a regular yeshiva and he would hire a tutor to help him along. However, as mentioned, he does stupid things which lands him in trouble. And no matter how many times my friend tries to explain to his son that his actions have consequences, the ADHD always kicks in, and rational thought gets kicked out.
I could not help but think of this situation in this week's parsha.
Time and time again, Pharoah refuses to give in to Moshe's demands. First, Moshe gave a warning, then he gave a "simple" plague, then with each and every refusal, the plagues became harder and harder, yet Pharoah, even after brief periods of clear-headed thinking, always went back and made horrific decisions, which ultimately destroyed his own country. Everybody around him saw what was going on, but he had something in his head, which kept him from learning his lesson.
And then I started thinking about us regular folks. How many times do we make poor decisions, only to not learn our lessons, and go headfirst into more poor decisions. Each and every decision we make eventually determines what options we have in our future.
My friend's first child has no options. His job is simply not to get kicked out of his yeshiva, because he had no other place to go. The second child was full of options. His ability to behave properly allows him to have several options in his hands. The first got himself stuck where he's in survival mode. He cannot move upwards at this point, he can only hold his position. The second has several options and can choose which option will help him continue to move upwards.
For a teenager with ADHD, we can all say, "Okay, he has ADHD, he's a teenager, he's a boy, he has the brain the size of a peanut; he can't help himself" and we try not to judge him. But what about us?
Whenever we fail in something, we need to take pause and look over what led to our failure. Was it because we made a logical, albeit, wrong decision? Or perhaps we made a stupidly wrong decision without thought? Or perhaps the decision WAS thought out and WAS correct, however, Plans From Above were simply different than ours?
When we take that moment and review, we can then, hopefully, learn our lessons for the future. If not, we can end up continuing a spiral of mistakes which will continue to limit our free will. If so, we can continue to move upwards with many more options in our hands.
Have a wonderful Shabbos!