Teenage Rebellion

Chaya Youngworth, Johannesburg, South Africa
Essays 2019 / Personal Growth

Many young people struggle internally; they look at themselves and wonder, “Who am I? I’ve changed over the years both in appearance and personality, but what stays the same? What is my essence?”

By looking internally, this can also enhance the question, Sometimes it can feel like one is two faced and sometimes contradictory. “Am I good or bad? Do I believe in G-d or not?” all these questions that tug at a person’s conscience.

With teenagers, questioning oneself can make them worry and possibly become self-conscious or depressed and as a result lead to rebellion. I guess it’s an expression of the teenager’s uncertainty, perhaps fitting in with the crowd and going along with their friends is much easier than confronting that inner battle. It’s also a time to try all that one’s parents have forbidden in the past and to engage in the world by discover new things. A teenager can also have an intense inspiration and yearning to change the world but the only way one feels they can express this, is through rebellion.

We will address this issue, by looking in to spiritual makeup of a person according to Chassidus. Through this, we will be able to understand why a person could have a hard time figuring out who they are, we will also discover the source of teenage rebellion and how one can, not only overcome it, but also use it for good.

What is the essence of a person?

The answer is that the essence of a person is the soul, which G-d gave us and that keeps us alive but what does that mean, what is the soul?

Right in the beginning of Tanya[1] the Alter Rebbe introduces us to the fundamental concept that a Jew has two souls- The G-dly Soul and the Animal Soul. This is a major life changing concept because this shows that a person instead of having one ‘force’ inside him that doesn’t know what it wants in life, he has two different forces within him each with a different personal drive and therefore each a different way of dealing with a situation. To understand this further let us, look into the two souls.

1. The animal soul:[2]

Right away, the name of the soul hint to its tendencies, the soul is called ‘the animal soul’ and not ‘the bad soul’.  The reason for this is that the soul is not bad but it’s likened to an animal. An animal is an instinctive being that does all it needs to do to survive. So to the animal soul lives in the blood and is what keeps the body alive, it’s the soul that needs to eat, it’s the soul that needs to sleep, etc…  The animal soul is an instinctive soul that is very connected to the body and as result, wants only to indulge in physical desires and doesn’t necessarily think of higher things like G-d or what a person needs spiritually.

It is also the source of negative character traits that stem from the four element namely; anger from the element of fire, pleasure from the element of water, frivolity from the element of air and laziness and depression from the element of earth. Even though the energy of the animal soul is self-serving, there are nevertheless a few positive character traits within the animal soul such as compassion and generosity.

This soul is derived from an energy called Klipas Nogah, which is a neutral energy that is neither good nor bad but can be used for either good or bad.

2. The G-dly Soul:[3]

The G-dly soul is described as being “Literally a piece of Hashem” and unlike the animal soul it comes directly from G-d and is not derived from the four elements. When the Torah tells us about the creation of man it says “He blew into his nostrils the breath of life.” When exhales out it comes from deep within them and this shows that the Soul is purely G-dly.

This soul is good and only wants good, it has a deep desire to connect with its creator. It is likened to a candle whose flame is constantly reaching upwards and wants to connect to its source the sun. This soul is not concerned with the physical needs of the body and the pleasures and desires of this world. Rather it is concerned with a person’s spiritual welfare.

This information provides a person with a clarity because now they know who they are. Furthermore, now we understand why the person is unsure of their true identity in the first place, as there are two completely opposite forces battling inside the person.

Now that we understand the two souls what about the teenage rebellion, what is the Chassidic view on that?

The Rebbe quotes the following “The rebellion in young people is not a crime. On the contrary: it is the fire of the soul that refuses to conform, that is dissatisfied with the status quo, that cries out that it wants to change the world and is frustrated with not knowing how.” Based on what we have learned above this makes a lot of sense. The G-dly soul is very powerful and it realises the power of the youth, it so badly wants an expression in the world but it doesn’t know how to direct that need. It therefore gets expressed through the energy of the animal soul in this world by trying to do revolutionary things, change the statues quo and reject authority.

One of the names of the Tanya is the book of the intermediate, the book for the average man. Who is the Average person according to the Tanya? It’s one who continuously struggles with his animal soul. As we have seen above it’s only natural that one is going to struggle if they have to opposite forces within them, each wanting to gain control over him. Life is all about the struggle. Life is not meant to be so clear cut, had G-d wanted it to be that way He would have created us perfect, but He didn’t, He put two souls within him, He wanted us to struggle for when one overcomes the struggle they are stronger and greater than before. Every one appreciates that which they have worked hard for in order to achieve, so when you overcome the fight you can be proud of yourself, no need for all the confusion because remember, you’re not two faced, you’re two souled!

Practical Application:

I have often thought about the fact, that these teenage years are so powerful; it is the time, when a teenager is establishing their personality. No longer does one have to be in the shadow of their parents and blindly follow. They get to establish themselves as a person because once you get older it’s much harder to change. Now that one is establishing their personality and some of their values, they can do this in a revolutionary way, but revolutionary does not only have to be through the energy of the animal soul, it can in fact be done though the G-dly soul and in spiritual matters. To illustrate this I will bring an example; let us say a child was brought up in a normal religious home, they were taught to do the Mitzvos they went to a Jewish school etc… That was not enough for the child, they wanted more in their Yiddishkiet, and they decide to learn Chassidus, which they feel, enchants their Judaism and strengthens their connection to Hashem. In the above example, the teenager can be considered doing something rebellious; they are going against what they were brought up with. They are doing something rebellious but they are doing so through the energy of the G-dly soul.

It is not about shunning the energy in the youth; on the contrary, it about channelling that energy and doing amazing things with it through tapping into the energy of the G-dly soul to do revolutionary things and make ourselves into better people.

Take away lesson:     

Utilize this opportunity when you feel that inspiration do one good thing, do an act of kindness, learn something or take a few moments to connect with G-d in prayer and through this you will be a happier and better person.

Embrace the internal struggle and know that this was given to you by G-d himself in order to grow you in ways you would have never imagined and believed you were capable of. Out of the greatest darkness comes the greatest light “עליה לצרך ירירה”[4 “The decent is only to raise you higher!”

I too am a teenager, I question who I am, I challenge my parents and teachers and I too don’t always want to behave the way I was brought up to. The above teaching has helped me, out of some of my hardest times, that I have come through with the greatest accomplishments, even writing this essay was not necessarily an easy task but sitting down and doing so has taught me so much and I hope it will inspire its reader’s too.

[1]  Tanya Chapter 1

[2] Tanya Chapter 1

[3] Tanya Chapter 2

[4] Torah Or, Beraishis