||THE SEVEN STAGES OF LIFE, PART ONE: DIFFERENT STAGES ARE DIFFERENT WORLDS
- March '02/Adar-Nisan 5762
The midrash [Kohelless Raba, chapter one] identifies seven distinct and separate stages of life.
1. In the first year, a baby is called "king." Everyone jumps whenever he cries, everyone fusses about him, hugs and kisses him. He is a ruler over all and no one can rule him. 2. At the ages of two and three he is called "pig." He is happiest playing in mud, getting himself filthy, frolicking and having happy-go-lucky irresponsible fun. 3. At ten, the child "jumps like a young goat." 4. At twenty he is a horse, egocentric, preening and beautifying himself, yearning to get married and driven by physical, animal desires. 5. Upon marrying, the person becomes a donkey, a beast of burden. 6. Upon having children, the person becomes a brazen dog, in order to provide bread and sustenance. 7. When old, the unlearned person becomes a monkey, a babbling bent over fool; and the Torah sage becomes a king, saintly and majestic with his learning, wisdom, life experience, spiritual growth and shining face. As a baby, one is like a king because Hashem made him cute and adorable. This was a one-time gift. When elderly, after a lifetime of Torah, he is a king because he made himself glorious with Hashem's "system" for life and Hashem's purpose for His giving life.
Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein z'l, former mashgiach [spiritual administrator] of Ponovezh Yeshiva in B'nei Brak in the post-war generation, said that in each of the seven stages in this midrash the person cannot see or understand the stage which is before or after it. His ability to understand, see or experience life is entirely colored, shaped and determined by the stage which a person is in.
In fact, the original Hebrew does not refer to "stages of life." Although the midrash indeed describes seven stages of life, the word used by the midrash is "olamos (worlds)." In other words, when in each stage, one perceives life as if that stage defines the world. That stage is all one knows at the time. It is the whole world to the person. All of one's ideas, wants, focus, priorities, interests, opinions and behavior are determined by the stage in life that one is at. Rabbi Levenstein specified that the stage of the single person, before marriage, the horse, is characterized by "blinders." Just as a horse with blinders only sees what is in front of him, in his immediate and narrow focus, the single person likewise goes with blinders, just like the horse, seeing a narrow focus and centered around himself.
Any stage, other than the life-stage that one is in, is alien to a person, even one stage away. You might ask, "Even the stage I just got out of - is that also alien?" Yes - even the stage previous to yours, even though you were just there - it is foreign and incomprehensible. You do not live in that "world" any more, your mind does not operate there. "Having been there" is not the same as actually being there. Therefore, if one marriage partner is in a different stage of emotional development from the other, they will not understand each other, relate well nor be able to communicate. This is particularly evident when I do marriage counseling and one is on a higher level of emotional or relational development than the other. The one less developed has no idea what the other is getting at or fussing about when demanding maturity, communication, understanding or mentshlach behavior. They say things like, "You're just too sensitive," "You're impossible to please" or "Stop playing with verbal toys." The person cannot see or understand "another world," does not want (or is not equipped) to care about another's feelings or condition.
We see a similar lesson from the holy Hebrew language itself. The word for bachelor is "revak." The letters of the root word are: resh vov kuf. In grammar, vov is a light consonant. As such, "revak" is related to the word whose root is the same, minus the vov in the middle. The Hebrew word composed of the remaining two consonants, resh and kuf, is "rock," which in Hebrew means "only." The unmarried person sees the world in terms of him or herself only. Regrettably, so does the immature married person.
People tend to behave subjectively. This is often wrong and harmful. Life presents constant shaalos (practical Torah law questions), conflicts and nisyonos (tests). One must act in each and every thing according to objective Torah law, and as a mentsch. It takes enormous introspection, character, honesty and work on oneself to get beyond one's subjectivity and self-interest, to factor other people adequately into one's decisions and behavior.
Subjective behavior stems from what people really want deep inside, from what their opinions and interests are, and from "where they're really at." The only way to assure proper and objective behavior is to consult the Torah (or a Torah authority) to determine what our actions and opinions must be.
People in any one of the seven stages of life totally operate in terms of that stage. They do not understand any stage before or after. Even if one intellectualizes stages before or after, it is detached or idealized abstraction. It is not truly felt, perceived, experienced or understood. And it is possible for people to remain at a given level in terms of maturation and development even after their age should have them at a higher level. In my marriage counseling work, I repeatedly see people whose emotional maturity level and chronological age have little or nothing to do with one another.
Therefore, to the extent that one's understandings, opinions, behaviors and drives operate at a given level, and one has not come to the level which life requires of him at the given time, one is not going to manage successfully - in human development, maturation and relationship terms. For example, a person is at the emotional development stage of the self-centered, self-adoring and self-impressed pre-marriage stage. He has entered into marriage because he is lonely or he is at the age where "it is expected." His chronological age is not going to be even with the requirements that life imposes on him after he steps out of the chupa. His years may be enough for marriage, but (S)HE as a person isn't enough for marriage! Yet, he says, and believes in his mind, that he is marriage material. His very motive of loneliness or social approval has a selfish basis. True marriage means making another person important and happy. Marriage means to become an unconditional provider of good to a spouse and children - with the atmosphere predominantly peaceful.
Once a person gets past the stages of babyhood, one progressively comes to greater and greater levels mental understanding and emotional maturity. Accordingly, one's level of responsibility for his behavior grows and his ability to function more and more wisely and responsibly should grow. But since people can get locked in stages that they don't grow beyond, they may not make it, in human development terms, through all the stages of development by the time they grow old. To be continued.