Two Months In

What I learned from Menachem Begin, Struggling, and Life.

Today, I went to a museum that showcased the life of Menachem Begin. It was all fascinating, but one idea stuck in my mind. He claimed that it was good to struggle in your youth. There is a problem though: this sentiment goes against a massive philosophy that is seemingly apparent to me in my western upbringing. We aim for a good life without struggle. We hope to make our children’s childhood better than our own. We work in order to save for vacations, we spend all week looking forward to the weekend. Work is a means to an end. This sentiment is repeated in many of the mantras that guide the way of life for many Americans. Yet, Menachem Begin tells us we are wrong.

The point of our youth is not to be carefree and sheltered. He says quite the opposite: It is good to struggle in our youth, and he was not the first to say so as it is a direct quote from the book of Lamentations (איכה 3:27). This is a common idea in Jewish thinking and ethics. We usually find this being actualized when children grow up in poverty. It is not a choice, kids need to mature quickly when in a struggling family. We would say they don’t have the luxury of enjoying their childhood, but perhaps the reverse is true. The normal child does not have the privilege of knowing how to struggle.

I have now spent nearly two months in the country of Israel and I have grown and learnt an immense amount. I have been pushed harder and further than ever before , and I have found myself lost and confused. In America, I had an amazing childhood filled with loving parents, supportive siblings, close friends, a great education, fun memories, and a plethora of remarkable opportunities. I cannot be more thankful, but I cannot help but wonder if there was something missing: the struggle.

At first I hated the struggle of Israel. The grind that comes with working a normal 9 to 5 job was tiresome and repetitive, the culture shock left me feeling left out, the language provided a barrier that seemed insurmountable, and Yeshiva made me feel insignificant. But, something has changed within the past couple weeks. Instead of dreading the next day, I have started to anticipate and ready myself. I have gained this inner strength and resilience that is only born out of a struggle. Pushing myself in high school gave me self-discipline, but I never felt it gave me control over my will. I had to convince myself to do hard tasks, but now I just do them. Struggle is the mother of grit.

Struggle has not only enabled me to excel in tough situations, it is has entirely changed my perspective. My experience in Yeshiva has transformed from a painstaking and tiring ordeal into a transformative and humbling lesson. I have found myself surrounded by the smartest teenagers in Israel. Some of them left high school with college degrees, others had studied the entire body of Talmudic literature before graduating. These ‘kids’ are preparing to become leaders in the Israeli army, and I am just, … here. To know that I have barely achieved anything in comparison is exhilarating and motivational. I came as some random American who barely knew how to speak Hebrew, and two weeks into the year I am starting to debate the finer points of Talmudic logic and Jewish legalities in that language I didn’t know with the finest students of Israel. This drastic change of events can only arise out of a struggle.

Menachem Begin was right, it is good to struggle in your youth. And it is not because struggling is bad, but because struggling is the fastest and most efficient way to learn and grow. When you accept the fear of failure and develop a determination to get past whatever obstacle is in front of you, you can truly charge through life achieving more and more each day. This may seem cliche, but it is nevertheless true. To struggle means to mature, and I only wish I started earlier. It is hard to place yourself in a situation where you know you will struggle, but if you really want to succeed you need to. A comfortable life means a mediocre life, and we should never settle for mediocrity (in terms of personal growth). We all need to struggle a little bit, and we cannot be afraid to accept the challenges that present themselves.

Now that I am entering the phase where I am accepting the struggle as a valuable experience, I will continue to look for new obstacles to overcome. I have found the joy of overcoming a challenge, and I have felt the motivation from failing. This year is a year that will hopefully be filled with growth and learning and there is no room for mediocrity. I will push myself to both my mental and physical limits and see how far I can truly grow. I am prepared for this year, but I want to share what I am learning and experiencing, and if I have learnt one thing in the past month it is that we need to experience struggle.

The goals of American society: to create a sheltered existence, void of troubles and hardships is entirely messed up. It leaves kids lost when life gives them an opportunity to struggle. For the most part, we are taught to take the easy path even though the hard path is the most rewarding. Menachem Begin knew about the benefits of the hard path, that is why he advocated it day in and day out. I was lucky enough to be given room as a kid to stumble around my own problems. We cannot and should not protect those we care about from the harshness of life. The things we truly love, we must be willing to let go out into the world.

My father has a poster in his office that says “growth and comfort cannot coexist.” We cannot shy away from the hard path, we need to chase it. We cannot wait for life to hit us hard, we need to place ourselves in hard situations. We cannot keep accepting the ‘safe choice’ in the name of comfort, as comfort is just another name for mediocrity. We must all look critically at where we have grown comfortable, and force ourselves to grow. To struggle is to grow and to grow is to live.