Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Personal Responsibility

Due to the recent spate of drug overdoses, suicides and bad OTD stories, there has been a lot of talk about it in the social media. I would like to add an important point: 

Very often, the parents or rabbis or institutions have some, or even a lot, of guilt to bear. Everyone has to look at themselves in the mirror and make an honest accounting if they have done wrong or could be doing more right to help these kids. 

It is also a tragedy whenever we lose a kid, whether physically, spiritually or both. There must be heightened awareness and lots of money and resources invested into helping them in any way we can. 


Big "but". We are Jews. As Jews we believe in a major rule in life and that is "personal responsibility". When someone acts irresponsibly, when someone hurts another person - he or she must bear some of the blame. One can't just dump the guilt on everyone else.

Let us take the black community as an example. It is true that they were subject to much discrimination. It is true that they were horribly mistreated. But the fact is that blacks are more than FIVE TIMES more likely to be incarcerated than whites. The fact is that 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers [!!!]. Should we blame everything on society? Are they not at all responsible for their actions?? Are they not at all responsible for continuing the cycle of poverty? I hurt for them but also believe that those black people who first get a job, then get married, then remain faithful to their families and jobs will be doing themselves and the world a TON of good. And that is solely up to them. In America today, a black man could theoretically even be President of the United States [theoretically:-)], and any other job besides that [except maybe for Rosh Yeshiva if he never converted or Morah if he is a guy]. 

Back to our kids. I listened to an interview with the anguished father whose daughter overdosed. He spent an absolute fortune of money to help his daughter. A fortune [they have lots of other kids too]. He and his wife flew every week or every other week to her rehab center in California. He and his wife were constantly meeting with people who might be able to help her. They let her stay in their home even though she was keeping nothing of Yiddishkeit - despite the TREMENDOUS pain it caused them. They showered her with love. What didn't they do??  

She was 20. She was a "בת דעת" by all accounts. She was suffering emotionally but was not mentally insane and she knowingly caused her parents the most heart-rending pain possible. Watching your Beis Yaakov daughter dressing immodestly, not keeping Shabbos, not keeping anything [except for Yom Kippur, kashrus and candle lighting] is TORTURE. Watching her go out to do drugs is TORTURE. Then finding her dead of an overdose on a Shabbos afternoon is BEYOND TORUTRE. 

Am I wrong? Did she do nothing to hurt her parents? Is she not responsible at all for ruining their lives forever?? Do we cry for her? Yes!! Could she have made better choices? Of course. 

Again - there are other people who hurt the poor girl and also will have to answer to Hashem. One can understand the pain she felt on some level. But does this totally make her inculpable, אנוסה, guiltless? I will let Hashem judge but I am very uncomfortable with the notion that we can just blame everyone else for our pain and then hurt other people with our actions.

In other words, in addition to the compassion we have for the kids, let us also have compassion for the adults and families that suffer. And let us teach our children that they have to take responsibility for their actions. Life is not a picnic and nobody can live your life for you. I have had my fair share of difficulties over the years and I learned that at the end of the day there is ONE person who really cares about me, ONE person who can really make my life worth living, ONE person who can help me deal with all of the suffering and pain I have experienced. That person is me. 

I can point fingers all day and blame people for this or that but I really don't think Hashem will care to hear when I meet on him the day of my funeral. Everybody has their "story" of why things went wrong, how they were victimized or messed over, but that doesn't absolve anyone of the responsibility to take personal responsibility for their lives and the ramifications of their decisions.   

Every person has the amazing power to connect to Hashem, to rely on Him in times of distress. He is always available. We also have many other resources as Jews of people and organizations who are there to help with ANY PROBLEM we face. So we are not alone. 

But the ultimate responsibility for our actions and choices is ours and ours alone.