Reader’s Matzav: Why I Didn’t Totally Go Off the Derech


off-the-derechDear Editor,

Let me state off the bat that I am not a strong writer, so I hope that the editors at will take my random thoughts here and perhaps organize them and enhance them just enough to bring across my feelings effectively to the readers of this site.

I am not an at-risk expert nor do I claim to be one, but my experiences as a teenager years ago taught me numerous things that suddenly have come to my mind as I now get ready to grapple with some similar issues with my own children who seem to be growing faster than my wife and I are prepared for.

I recall an article about kids-at-risk here on some months ago and I found it interesting as it analyzed which children are more prone to go off the derech.

My situation was unique in that I was not a typical off-the-derech type of teen. I came from a what I guess was a regular family, with a stable household. My parents and siblings were regular, normal, nothing out of the ordinary. I don’t think there were circumstance that would, based on the “rules,” push me off the Torah path. I went to normal yeshivos (I did switch several times, but not for academic reasons) and generally did well. At no point during my trials and travails did I suffer academically, which an educator who helped me told me was a reflection of my desire not to be viewed as a failure and my true desire to succeed.

My weakness was simply a desire to have a part of the instant gratification world that we live in. A psychologist told me that most kids who go “off” are looking for peace of mind, or suffer from other things – broken family, low self esteem, weak scores in school, social frustration, abuse, and more. It took 2 years until a rebbi, whose class I wasn’t even in, zeroed in on my weakness. The way he put it after I confided in him was that the world out there looked so glamorous to me. I wanted a part of it. As exciting as learning was portrayed as, and as stable and wonderful a home as I was raised in, there was always the tempting world out there. Somehow, the unknown is always more tempting.

Without getting into specifics, I fell spiritually. Some people knew, some didn’t. Out of pride, I kept it from most of those close to me. There is no need to detail my misdeeds here at this point, but when I was finally receiving the help I needed, the rebbi who assisted me was able to identify what held me back from giving up altogether.

I was shocked to learn that I was from the more mild cases of at-risk. It was also rare that I was not flamboyant at all. I just felt that my life was dry. Even with some fulfillment I felt, it just wasn’t exciting. Whatever I wasn’t doing and whatever I couldn’t do seemed more exciting.

At one point, I felt like I was going to explode. No one seemed to understand me in my school. I tried to hide what I was feeling; I just felt too much shame to say it outright. The hero rebbi who helped me finally figured it out. And he said to me what I couldn’t find the courage to say to him. And he also said that he believe that it was my personal pride, and my family pride, that held me back from completely destroying myself and leaving everything behind for a life out in the world. I could not see myself bringing shame to my family, and myself, my rebbi said. The more I thought about it, the more I saw that he was right.

The main struggle was dealing with what I was presented with as a teen and the exciting world out there. To this day, I don’t know how I managed to fight through to get where I am today. Had I succumbed to the temporary and instant enjoyment and made that my life, I don’t know where I’d be. I realized how I had sunk, and having tasted from the forbidden waters, I turned around. (Obviously it wasn’t as simple as it sounds. It was painful, and some of the scars remain to this day. Hashem should help me.)

My question to this day is how to hold back a teenager growing up in this world from falling for the glitz and the glamour of the world in 2009. As someone who went through it, I don’t even know the answer.

I’ve read several times in the name of someone about how hard it is for teens nowadays and the challenges they face from the outside on a ruchniyus level. How can we compete with all the exciting temptations of the outside world? I know what I went through years ago. I can’t imagine how much harder it is for a teen now in our day. What happens when a teen is smart and stable and everything, but just can’t resist? What if his yeitzer harah is just too strong?

What I did learn, at least in my case, is that more than trying to make learning fulfilling, and more than trying to explain the importance of our Torah lifestyle, what can keep a kid on the straight and narrow, as it did for me eventually, is family and caring. A healthy and loving family will keep more kids on the path than anything else, in my experience. And the caring of a mentor, rebbi or friend will guide a kid as well and provide encouragement and positive feelings that can’t be gotten elsewhere. The kid will then often be too shamed to get involved in what he shouldn’t.

These are just some feelings I am throwing out there now that I am now in a different role, the role of a father, who is somewhat scared as my children approach adolescence and their teenage years, when they will be faced with challenges that will be very difficult. Maybe I am being overly-scared because of what I went through and my ups and downs, but this is what I feel.

I know that in addition to family, love, caring, etc., I have left out maybe the most important ingredient and that is davening. What is interesting is that even with all the guidance I got, I don’t remember as a teenager being told to daven as the key to help me settle down and deal with my problems. Now, as an adult, and parent, I hear it all the time: daven, daven, daven – that’s the best segulah for good children.  

Praying to our Father in Heaven is surely the greatest way to make sure that children will lead productive lives and be able to handle the tough spiritual challenges that come their way as they try to make their way to adulthood. The nisyonos out there are as strong as ever, though. So what can we do to keep a kid from the tempting world?


Someone Who Feels Like It Was Just Yesterday


  1. You have some good points here, and that next to the last paragraph sums it up well. There is a way – not that I can quantify it – to give kids self pride. We have occasion to drive near a public high school when the kids are swarming and I’ve had constructive conversations with my girls. They pity the fashion victims, are grateful they’ve been given some breathing room for self expression, as well as fitting in with the crowd, but if given the option, that’s not what they have a yetzer for.

    I think that what I’m trying to say is, we have to give our kids breathing room within accepted parameters. For too many of the kids, the parameters are too narrow, and even if say boys are given options (time to play ball, etc.) there’s some condescension, e.g. oh, you NEED to do that, with the unspoken message being, if you were a masmid you wouldn’t need that. This wasn’t the case a generation ago, and there are some good 50something products around to prove that they were on to something.

  2. I beg to differ; you were not someone who was about to go off the derech, and it is inappropriate to think of yourself that way.
    You were going through normal teenage chanllenges, and as hopefully all teenagers in good Yeshivos do, you had someone who you were able to look up to, but was able to relate to you and the struggles you went through.
    The most important thing I learned as a teenager was that adults aren’t programmed; they know what you are going through, and are there not to help you through it, but to guide you to do it yourself. For this reason I shteiged through Yeshiva and Kollel and became a proffessional at some point.

  3. I can only present my answer.
    take my case for example.
    I had everything. everything you could imagine.
    all the glamour, glitz you refer too, and more.
    grew up in a normal secular environment. normal family, normal life.
    and over the span of, a year, two years whatever it is, in the prime of it all,
    drop it.
    drop it.

    If the life your desire on the other side was as good as you think, NO ONE would leave it, especially in it’s prime.
    and you’ve got tons like me. tons.
    keeping in mind, no one said a torah life was easy, or glamours in this world, so the line “but then you can say the same thing about torah, that no one should be leaving it” doesn’t work, becuase no one, no one comes to judism for the perks (in this world anyway)
    no one.

    if that’s not enough intelectual inspiration i don’t know what is.
    the problem isn’t intellectual inspiration for these kids, so the answer is there isn’t an aswer.plant good seeds, and daven. and hope they come back. the rest is up to hashem.

  4. I know exactly what the writer is saying. I did the same exact thing. The only difference is that I was an out of towner. I didn’t have anyone to talk with. I felt totally alone. I wasn’t really close to anyone at Yeshiva. I just went home. Now after many years I am coming back. I have found comfort learning again with the new Artscroll Gemarah. It makes learning very inspiring. I also started to daven from Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch’s Siddur which is also an inspiration because it puts HKBH into true perspective of how our avodah is supposed to be. Last, I read Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan’s book Likutai Chassidus “The Light Beyond” which fianally gave me an understanding of who HKBH is and what he wants from me and Am Yisrael. Yeshivas need to learn from my experience. Yeshivas need to teach all the above or the buchrim will be lost.

  5. I don’t believe this person really went off the Derech! He just think he knows why others do, so he’s portraying himself as such. It’s a hoax!!!

  6. I wish I had a happy ending. I am currently in my upper thirties & not married.
    I grew up in a large very frum family. I now live out of town alone.
    On the outside I come across as being frum. however, on my own i am unable to
    resist temptation. I have a hard time dating frum girls because they are so different
    to the femails of the non jewish world that I have exposed myself to.
    I wish I would have a rebbe or confidont that I can clear things up & build a happy jewish home.

  7. The answer is an OZEN SHOMA”AS. Everyone, but teens in particular need a listening ear. They want someone who won’t go crazy from any idea they come up with and instead analyze and guide their motivations to the best results. It can be a parent, a rebbe, or a mentor. No matter what form the listening ear comes in, everyone needs one.


    Something to think about.

  8. I feel the only way, to compete with the glamour on the outside, is to elvate the glamour on the inside. In my humble opinion todays educators are vey qualified acedemicly, but some of them lack the neshomah to glamorize our holy torah way. I had a rebbi A’H that when a student would ask a tosfos kasha, he would jump up and exclaim “you just hit the jackpot”
    & he would repeat it lots of times “did you hear what Yossi asked”. By doing so, not only did he glamorize the gemorah, he made Yossi feel like a million dollars. Yes, I believe that family is very important, but that’s just a specific part of the equation. Everyone must feel that he is part of something so spirtual, that he would feel humiliated should he trade his religion for some instant gratification.
    The mechancim must stress & demonstrate this.
    When “Yossi” knows (& he knows that we know) he
    is part of such a glamoures structure & we need him, every bit of the way, he will have amunition to fight his burning yetzer horah.
    And of course daveing & more daveing is always needed.

  9. as someone who went through similar experiences and still has nisyonos and temptations even though Im well past my teens i think i can say there is no foolproof answer. the yetser hara is part of life. i think it was the the chidushei harim who said that if someone rised to such a level where he ha no nisyonos there would be no reason to live anymore. thats what god wants from us, to fight to overcome. unfortunatly the opposition is getting stronger everyday. i think it part of the solution is to make yiddishkeit exciting. be excited about davening and mitzvos and make sure your kids see it. it starts when they are young and se that avodas hashem is exciting and makes you happy. when they get older they’ll carry that with them and then can learn the depth in yiddishkeit and will understand why its fullfilling.

  10. Zippi has hit on a good and important point – kids need breathing room. And they need to be able to make small mistakes, small “deviations” from the lock-step set-in-stone standards that are demanded nowadays.

    There was recently a discussion on some of the blogs about a yeshiva which airbrushed a student’s blue shirt into a white one in a publicity photo. This is a perfect illustration of the problem. A boy who’s sitting in beis medrash, learning, dressed neatly, and he’s pasuled because he’s wearing a blue shirt.

    We sometimes push kids off the derech who would otherwise wobble but stay on.

  11. Wow finally the light is shining through the dust and dirt of excuses of why one may go off exactly that there are no excuses just ones own decisions can impact his life be it for good or the opposite ch”v
    I would say that the way to counter the glitz and glamour of the outside world is to bring in your own glitz and glamour its not enough to do a mitzvah or keep shabbos in a dry fashion make it fun make it geshmak make them want to do a mitzvah again
    But most of all a young child must be taught IN A LOVING WAY schar veonesh so that when they get older and there father is not standing over them to dole out punishment for misdeeds they will know in the back of there heads that there are retributions for bad behavior
    May hashem give you the kochos to bring simchas hachayim and menuchas hanefesh into your home and may you be zocheh to lead your children b’derech yisroel sabba

  12. Our job is to contrass to our children the temporary thrill with the emtiness that follows. Even for a gentile the real happiness is through hard choices. You can quote as needed from books like “chicken soup for the soul” etc.
    Than it’ll be clear to see how much more fortunate we are, where as by them these decisions are very difficult and like tredding in darkness, and even after all that they’re still mostly un-happy, whereas we have it all worked out by the manual of creation… etc….

  13. #8 – connect with some ehrlicher frum people who know both worlds. Maybe people who work with BT’s or BT’s themselves.


  14. Dear Please help…
    there are yeshivas, or even rebeim in particular neighborhoods that may be able to help, such as Aish Hatorah in Israel/monsey, ohr someach in israel or shor yoshuv in Far Rockaway. maybe you could be in touch with one such yeshiva and get the help that you are looking for. With Hashem’s help, may you find the direction that you’re looking for and be matzliach.

  15. So what’s the author’s point? That he was tempted, and didn’t go down that path? I commend him for that, but honestly, so what? Everyone has temptations, it’s called the yetzer hara.
    I went totally off when I was younger, and luckily found my way back. Maybe I should write in my whole story (I’ve posted pieces of it as comments before) so people can see what to look out for when it comes to their kids.

  16. The author specifically stated that “Without getting into specifics, I fell spiritually. Some people knew, some didn’t. Out of pride, I kept it from most of those close to me. There is no need to detail my misdeeds here at this point…”

    Does he need to lay out his misdeeds, one by one in all their gory for you, so that you can “believe” he want off the derech? Perhaps his off the derech activity was worse than yours was, it’s no claim to fame either way, and no one needs to boast that “my sins were probably worse than yours”.

    Just because he hid his misdeeds from others does not mean they were “mild”. One other poster mentioned your “point”, and I think it’s simply a case of not reading carefully.

    If someone, for whatever reason, feels a need to share some of his past, let us share his pain and hear his message.

  17. Dear please help,
    I have been in a very similar situation myself and I have come across the right people, if you would like we can exchange contact information and I can introduce you to some real good people out there who can really be of help.

  18. Great letter. I can totally relate. I believe that the best thing mechanchim can do is to increase the level of understanding of what we are doing, and appreciating yiddishkeit. If kids enjoy yeshiva and feel happy and comfortable there, the outside influences will be less enticing.