The Level of Our Generation
...we live in an age of unprecedented luxury, where all of our material wants are immediately satisfied, where we really have too much to eat, where children often have more spending money than did whole families of a generation ago.
We feel that this is a very admirable situation. This is the way things should be, and there is no danger lurking in all this plenty. But perhaps we should take a second look at our complacency.
A recent experiment performed by an Austrian ornithologist points a finger at this danger. Professor Otto Koenig of Vienna took a large colony of cattle egrets and housed them in a large enclosure where he could observe them. He allowed the birds to wallow in total luxury. With scarcely a move, they were able to get all the food that they could eat. There was plenty of water for drinking and bathing, and an endless supply of nest-building materials. The birds were given everything they needed – an existence of almost complete leisure.
Under normal conditions, these birds develop a society that parallels ours in many ways, including very strong feelings of family responsibility. But when they were subjected to a life of absolute ease, almost every pattern of family and group existence was disrupted. Care for the young was haphazard; at times, eggs were pushed from the nest and broken, and sometimes as many as three females tried to hatch the same brood. Normally, young egrets show a sturdy independence, but when they were raised in luxury and given an overabundance of leisure, they learned little about fending for themselves. Adult birds were still being fed like infants by their parents, or even grandparents. Young birds frequently pecked older ones to death, indulging in a form of cannibalism unknown under normal conditions.
Professor Koenig’s experiments on birds can shed quite a bit of light on our own human problems. When we look at the many troubles that plague our youth – their insecurity, their lack of independence, the alarming rate of juvenile delinquency, drug addiction and sexual misconduct, even among our middle class youth – and when we wonder what we have done wrong, we may find the answer in Professor Koenig’s experiments. We may have produced a society that is strictly for the birds!
…It is perhaps significant that, today, Succos is one of our most neglected holidays. In a world of crass materialism there is no room for the G-dly, the spiritual, or even the naturally beautiful. There is little place for the faith of the past, for tradition, for holiness, or for truth. The poor Succah, therefore, stands abandoned and tattered, left to the mercy of the winds of change. Its once bright decorations have been torn down by grasping hands, its lovely fruits, devoured by greedy mouths. We are so busy running, how can we possibly find seven days to tarry in the Succah – or seven minutes, or even enough time to put our head in the Succah and utter a blessing? We are so busy, but do we know where we are going?
The festival of Succos is the time when we stop to seek direction, to see where we are running. We relax for a week by sitting in the Succah, returning to the simplicity of a dimly distant past and renewing our faith in the simple things of life. The Succah is waiting with its message of beauty and simplicity, beckoning us to enter, relax and tarry a while, to take some time out to enjoy life.
EXCERPT FROM: Encounters, Pg. 83-85,
Most people are servants of their passions, but the truly free person is the one who can control his desires. When the sages taught “Only one involved in Torah is truly free” (Pirkei Avos 6:2), they meant to say that only Torah allows one to free himself from the shackles of desire and to truly exercise free choice. Without Torah, one is not free at all, he is a slave, controlled by a master foreign to his better instincts. While intellectually he might have correct ideas of how to live, ultimately his master - his passion - will force him to act otherwise.
by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan