Recently I came across a long-lost friend on Facebook. G-d, how I hate Facebook. But, I use it to get the word of emuna out (and to shamelessly promote my articles, of course!). These days, if you want to get in touch with someone, you’ve gotta find them online. Before I continue my ranting, let me get to the point... As I was looking through my friend’s pictures to see what she had been doing with her life, I came across many pictures of her and others having a grand ol’ time in various parties and nightclubs. As I rocked my four-month-old baby in one arm while using the other one to click through pictures, I realized that part of me envied her freedom. For a quick moment, I let my mind journey back to the “prime of my youth”, when life was carefree and anything but serious; where responsibility beyond term papers was a concept that didn’t exist in my immature mind. Life was fun.
But was it, really?
As I allowed my senses to recall the taste of the Night, I began to feel the loud, pounding music of the nightclub throughout my body. I felt the collective excitement that spread like a shock wave between me and my friends. I could taste the tangy sweetness of the Cosmopolitans and the bubbly, flowing champagne. The sweet, musky aroma of aged cigars delighted my senses. I was surrounded by beautiful, exotic people from all over the world who were dancing or lounging around intimate, candle-lit tables. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and relished the moment.
The shrieks of kids fighting jolted me out of my daydream. Instantaneously, I went from being a single, happy-go-lucky girl to a tired, stressed, mother of four. Later that night, after I finally got the kids to sleep, I let my mind wander back to that point in my life. Was it really as glamorous as I was remembering it? I began to wonder...
As I recalled the “Era of No Responsibility”, I began to separate fact from fantasy. Fact: I was single, I went to clubs very occasionally, and I never had more than half a drink. Fantasy: going out was like an episode of Kardashian something-or-other with glamour and decadence galore. Fact: Nightclubs are sweaty, stinky, and stuffed with sardine-people, wiggling to get some space at the bar like freshly caught fish. Fact: Everyone is giving everyone else evil eye, microscopically analyzing each other from head to toe- literally. And believe me, they’re not looking to hand out compliments. Fact: There is no place to sit unless you paid hundreds of dollars for the privilege of renting out a wobbly, mirror-plated, 2 X 2 foot table for 12 people to crowd around while desperately trying to portray the image of coolness and nonchalance. Fact: The music pounded away at everyone’s poor, suffering eardrums. No one could hear anything that anyone else had to say, unless they were wearing secret microphones underneath their Dolce and Gabbana skin-tight shirts. And I’m talking about the men, here!
As I wondered further, more questions popped into my head. Why are people going to clubs at all? What are they looking for? And what is the point of blasting that deafening music?! I began to realize something- we live in a generation that has experienced the epitome of physicality as we understand it. We are bombarded by physically-oriented sensations from the moment we wake up (our alarm clock) to the second we fall asleep (the television). In between, we have the iphone, the radio, the morning news, the overpriced coffee stop on the way to work, the in-your-face billboards, the evening news, prime time television, the restaurants lined up one after the other, and a mall on every corner. Women are flaunting their bodies everywhere we turn. No one bats an eye if they see a woman immodestly dressed, even to the point of showing what’s going on underneath her clothes! These days, no one balks at anything! Not even the sight of a Rolls Royce makes most people’s jaws drop! Maybe if there were a famous movie star in that Rolls Royce...
I am officially renaming Generation X to Generation N- “Generation Numb”. We have become so desensitized to everything around us, that aside from getting slapped in the face, most of us won’t have a reaction to anything! All of our senses have become numb. Our eyes are numb to immodestly dressed people, whether in real life or in pictures. Our ears are numb to all of the gossip and the brain-damaging garbage that they call music these days. They have become so numb, that many people blast their music beyond the normal comfort level of a healthy ear’s tolerance. Our sense of smell has been numbed to a good, home-cooked meal. Instead, we prefer to go out for dinner, letting our noses single out the preferred restaurant among the others. Our sense of taste has been numbed to healthy, low-additive, low-sugar foods. Most foods, especially fast foods, are not just loaded, but overloaded with all kinds of toxic chemicals. They not only make you want to overeat, but they also deaden your taste buds.
Do you remember that Pink Floyd song, “Comfortably Numb”? I think they were ahead of their time when they sang this one! To me, this sums up the state of our generation. The problem goes beyond the five senses. We have become emotionally numb as well. Young men and women, even pre-teens, are becoming intimate without thinking twice. I’ve even heard of people meeting in clubs and going home together, without even knowing each others’ names! Women are coerced by society to become more emotionally detached from intimacy by the destructive forces of television and magazines like Cosmopolitan. They try to make women feel archaic and ugly if they’re still pure! As if that were even an assumption- most women are assumed to have lost their purity. You’ll never see a popular magazine promoting chastity! Like, that’s so 1800’s! It’s a very sorry state of affairs. And what about the next generation? They’re brought into this without a say in the matter. It is perfectly acceptable for a woman to have a baby without knowing who the father was, never attempting to find out, and raising her child without a father! The child grows up thinking not having a father is a normal thing! Or, if the woman marries someone else, the child may not even know until later in life that this is not his real father! It’s a tragedy of the greatest proportions!
Our emotional numbness has numbed out hearts in another way that’s just as tragic. How many of us really feel the pain of another person? When we hear of a friend or family member that is sick, or is going through a divorce, lost a job, or whatever, do we really feel their struggles in our hearts? Or is it a superficial pain: “Aww, I’m so sorry that happened to you!” Two minutes later, we’ve most likely forgotten about their struggles. When we see homeless people on the street, begging for a few coins so they can eat something, do we get a tinge of pain in our hearts and thank Hashem that it’s not us in that position? Or do we callously walk by, pretending as if we didn’t see them? It seems to me that the only people on earth who really still feel the pain of others are the Tzaddikim. They are the ones constantly praying on our behalf, begging Hashem to open up our hearts and end our suffering. Even more incredible is the fact that we don’t even feel our own pain! We don’t feel the pain of our souls, who cry out helplessly when we do a transgression. We don’t see what blessings we’ve just forfeited and exchanged for harsh judgements. We don’t see that we’ve just tilted the scales of the entire world to the side of Judgement. We can spend our entire lives in spiritual pain, but we only feel it when it starts to manifest in a physical way. You can read more about this concept in my article, “Spiritual Anesthesia”.
What is the way we can regain some feeling, some tingling back in our hearts? I think the only way is to disconnect from this reality. Instead of going out on Friday or Saturday nights, spend them at home, reading, enjoying Shabbat dinner with your family. Reconnect with them after the hectic rat-race of a week. Television should be thrown out the window and replaced with after-school family activities. Go for a walk with your kids, play soccer, learn to appreciate the beauty and wonders of nature. There are so many ways we can bring ourselves back to a state of spiritual sensitivity. Throw away the garbage magazines, as my mother would call them, and replace them with books of emuna and spirituality. When was the last time you read “The Garden of Emuna”? Did you ever experience the joy of reading “Chassidic Pearls” to your children during Shabbat dinner? Eating kosher meat is another way to make our hearts more sensitive. Kabbalah teaches that a person absorbs the energy of the animal that he eats. If it is a non-kosher animal, or was slaughtered in a non-kosher way, this contributes in a major way to a spiritually thick, fatty coating around our hearts that creates an impermeable barrier to emotions. Nothing goes in and nothing comes out. And, of course, we must pray for Hashem to open up our hearts. We must sincerely beg Hashem to help usfeel, so we will be more motivated to live a spiritual life. We can enjoy life in a simple and beautiful way- all we need to do is be more sensitive.