Youthful Indiscretions and Deferment of Gratification

An installment in the series

From the Waters of the Shiloah: Plumbing the Depths of the Izhbitzer School

-For series introduction CLICK

By Rabbi Dovid Schwartz-Mara D’Asra Cong Sfard of Midwood

In general children and adolescents have a hard time deferring gratification.  They want what they want, all of it, now… not later and if there are doubles and triples available they’ll grab those with gusto as well.  Impulse control, patience and rainy-day/retirement planning ripen with age and are the hallmarks of a mature sensibility. The inability to just wait or to ration pleasure has been the absolute ruin of many a young man. In spite of near-universal juvenile unrestrained self-indulgence most of us were still lucky enough to avoid the long arm of the law, or at least the disapprobation of authority figures, in our youth.  Even so in middle age we intermittently look back appalled at how we could have been so totally rampant, uninhibited and out of control.

…and HaShem said to Himself “never again will I curse the soil on account of man, for the inclination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”.

– Bereshis 8: 21

The second Izhbitzer, The Bais Ya’akov raises questions about the reason that the pasuk provides for the Divine decision to never destroy the earth again.   To begin with a superficial reading of the verse would beg the question of liability for mans evil inclination and seems to point the finger at HaShem. Also, if having an evil  inclination from ones earliest youth is reason enough to save post-diluvian generations from utter destruction, why was it not enough to save the Dor HaMabul-the Generation of the Great Deluge?  Presumably, in terms of having a proclivity for evil from their earliest youth, individuals who comprised the Dor HaMabul did not differ from individuals who comprised generations after the Great Deluge.

What is true for the microcosm that is each individual human is equally true for the macro-man that is humanity as a whole. Individual human beings have an infancy, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, height-of-powers, middle-age, old-age and dotage. So does humankind. The sins of the Dor HaMabul as expounded by the Written and Oral Torahs are characteristic of youthful indiscretions on a global scale. Ironically, though the individuals involved may have been living well into their 7th, 8th or 9th centuries, their utter lack of respect for boundaries, their insatiable self-indulgent sensuality and inevitable dissipation were the indiscretions, crimes and sins of out-of-control children, not of scheming, calculating adults. As a generation the ten generations from Adam to Noach, the Dor HaMabul, embodied humankind’s childhood and early adolescence.

The Gemara in Kidushin 30 B teaches that the single antidote for the Yetzer Hara-Inclination to evil is the Torah. But lacking the maturing, impulse-controlling Torah, humanities earliest generations grew expansive in pursuing their passions and hearts desires to the hilt. They had neither the aspiration nor the capacity for self-contraction or for damming up the cascading, white-water urgency of their hungry spirits. They attained instant gratification all at once.

Chazal tell us that the pasuk “What is Shahkai, that we should serve Him? (Iyov 21:15) was the mantra of the Dor HaMabul.  The Divine name of Shahkai is deconstructed to mean “He who said to His creation ‘ENOUGH!’”.  It is the Name of tzimtzumim– constriction and the setting of boundaries. It is precisely such a limitation enforcing Deity that the infantile, unrestrained Dor HaMabul rejected. The Divine name of Shahkai is the one that informs the p’sukim:  “At Your snarl the primordial waters fled, at the voice of Your thunder they hurried away… You set a boundary which they should not cross over, that they might not return to cover the earth.” (Tehilim 104:7, 9 )

But when all that satisfies comes in a flash it cannot endure and must disappear just as suddenly. The Mabul destroyed the sources of instantaneous immoderate gratification in an instant. We are not punished for our sins but by them. As the Dor HaMabul rejected the Shahkai aspect of Divinity It withdrew to the supernal spheres and with It the constraining Force holding the primordial waters back from “returning to cover the earth.”

We find a parallel to the Dor HaMabuls self-destruction in the Torahs laws of Shmitta-the Sabbatical year. Each year’s agricultural produce is the sum total of HaShems benevolence to the farmer. The concept underpinning Shmitta is that the farmer should exercise the impulse control and rainy-day planning not to consume his entire crop, this Divine bounty, immediately. That instead he set aside a portion of the crops each of the first six years and defer part of the gratification to enjoy during the seventh when his fields will lie unplanted. By not grabbing all of the bounty that HaShem gave on him all at once the farmer could ensure that the goodness and bounty would last and that he would endure on his land, his earth, forever. Instead, when the Bnei Yisrael sowed during Shmitta they reaped the whirlwind of the seventy year Babylonian exile (see V’Yikra 26:34). This was not so much a punishment as the logical, inevitable conclusion of snatching all the goodness at once. The Shmitta years were supposed to have been spaced and intermittent, constrained and bounded, not expansive and uninterrupted…but so was the gratification from the agricultural bounty.  The seventy years of agricultural desolation of the Babylonian exile were more than poetic, quid pro quo justice for seventy desecrated Shmitta years. In fact this desolation was a dehydrated Mabul.

A deeper reading of the pasuk reveals that it is not HaShem that caused the Great Deluge by implanting the evil inclination into humans but that it was humanities collective immaturity, the indiscretions and instantaneous gratification of an infantile humankind that made the Great Deluge inevitable. Once this period of immaturity was outgrown HaShem could, Kivayachol-so to speak, declare that this kind of maximal instantaneous destruction would never need to be repeated: and HaShem said to Himself “the inclination of humankinds heart is evil from its youth. But… having dissipated and destroyed itself the period of youth is now over. As humanity develops into a more Torah-informed being, one that exercises self-control and defers gratification never again will the need exist for Me to curse the soil on account of man.”

 Adapted from Bais Ya’akov-Noach Inyan 35 (pages7475

Updated 1:15 PM


4 comments on “Youthful Indiscretions and Deferment of Gratification

  1. Per chazal on an individual level we are born with a yetzer hora but only get the yetzer tov when we become bar/ bat mitzvah (per the Lubliner kohen we then also get an extra infusion of yetzer Hora as well!!!)

    Writ large and going with the Bais Yaakovs approach I guess we could say that Humanity got its infusion of Yetzer Tov with the Revelation at Sinai or, perhaps earlier, with the beginning of Avraham Avinus “career”

  2. amazing shiur on the flood.. all infants and young children are selfish and can’t delay gratification. they can’t control, nor limit their desires or actions, so all of us are born with a yetzer tov & a yetzer hora?
    tora channels the yetzer hora to a yetzer tov.

    the immaturities of our youth and our unchanneled actions due to the yetzer hora caused the flood, but as we mature, torah and teshuva shows us the way toward a yetzer tov???

    excellent but we miss your classes in person. haven’t heard a cultural reference, nor a schwartz impersonation in a long time!!

    zie gezunt and keep on sending these amazing essays.

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