We continue our discussion based on the midrash [Kohelless Raba, chapter one] which identifies seven distinct and separate stages of life. Let us briefly review.
1. In the first year, a baby is called "king." Everyone kisses him and jumps at his "command." 2. At the ages of two and three he is called "pig," always dirty. 3. At ten, the child "jumps like a young goat." 4. At twenty he is an egocentric and visceral horse, who lives from appetites and hormones, rather than intellect or soul. 5. Upon marrying, the person becomes a donkey, a "beast of burden." 6. Upon having children, the person becomes a brazen dog, seeking after livelihood. 7. When old, the unlearned person becomes a monkey; and the Torah sage becomes a king, having earned accomplishments, distinction and honor.
Each stage is called an "olam [world]," teaching us that people are locked in to their opinions, wants and perceptions due to their life-stage, maturity level and subjectivity-level. So, it is probable that, more often than not, they will act and speak based on their internal "content" (or lack thereof!). Each person only sees and understands the world based on his stage. Therefore, life is, to him, the "world."
After twenty, the midrash stops referring to ages and, rather, refers to milestones or events at which new stages happen. This tells us that people can be locked in to stages and levels of maturation indefinitely, and might never proceed towards king at the end of the list - even if they live to be very old. In my marriage counseling work, I see people married for decades who have never left the stage of the immature, hormone-driven and egocentric horse.
As one grows and proceeds through life, one passes though progressive levels of added capacity for responsibility and giving to others.
Therefore, it is all the more vital to cultivate humility that enables one to go beyond his "blinders" that are part of his self-absorbed horse stage. The earlier that the trait of humility is assimilated, the sooner and more fully he absorbs fear of sin. This prompts him to learn Torah, to act in all things according to Torah law and to acquire a lifetime of wisdom and meaningful experience. Torah, at the bottom line, is not opinions. It is objectivity, it is life, it is what G-d says is mandatory and for the best. To make it from the stage of horse to the stage of marriage starts with humility that allows one to see beyond himself, to see another person there in real and substantive terms, and to see the Torah of G-d and its applicability to every moment, in every situation and at every stage of life.
When Avraham came to the land of the Plishtim [Philistines], he said that his wife Sara was his sister. The Torah says that she was very attractive. King Avimelech took her for a wife and G-d came to him in a dream and said not to touch Sara or else Avimelech would die. Avimelech ran to Avraham and asked why he said that Sara was his sister when she was actually his wife. Avraham replied that he feared he would be killed so that any man who would want her could take her because "There is no fear of G-d in this place [Genesis 20:11]." Malbim, in his famous commentary on the Torah, points out that Avimelech's country was relatively civilized. Nevertheless, it does not matter how sophisticated, philosophical or progressive a country or society is. When human beings want things, they can legislate, manipulate, or pervert any laws they wish. They can even pass a law that somehow allows a man, who wants someone else's wife, to kill the husband, take her and get away with it. Man-made laws cannot be trusted. Only G-d's law can be. Only when there is fear of G-d at the root of law and action is there a basis for trust and a standard upon which to consistently rely.
Only when there is fear of Hashem, and action that is only according to His law, can behavior be considered to be right, good and wise. In our context, lacking fear of Hashem causes the failure to behave according to one's stage in life, to its responsibilities and to what life objectively requires at each moment.
The Torah cites that one of the descendants of Noach was Yokton [Genesis 10:25], whose name is related to the Hebrew word koton (small). Rashi says that he made himself small to be humble. The Torah cites that Yokton had 13 sons, each of whom became a leader of a nation. Each son became accomplished and distinguished in his own right. Because Yokton was humble, he merited that all 13 of his children would become great and successful. Keeping the marriage context in mind, humility is crucial for the producing of good children - as well as progressing and maturing beyond the stage of horse.
The gemora [Avoda Zora 20b] teaches that humility leads to fear of sin, which leads to enduring wisdom [Pirkei Avos, chapter three]. Torah wisdom brings us through the stages of life, and brings us to functioning as mature and responsible adults throughout life. This is what brings one through the journey to old age, which is the stage at which we see what one has done with his life - who he really was, and what he made of himself as a Jew and human being. If he degenerates into a babbling monkey, then the culmination of his life is idiocy, filth and waste. That is the profit of investing in a life of egocentricism and this-worldliness. This is what King Solomon refers to as "hevel" [everything of this world is ultimately nothingness and futility; Ecclesiastes 1:2]. Keep in mind that the midrash above, upon which this series is based, and which reports the seven stages of life, is built from the book of Ecclesiastes writing the word "hevel" seven times. This is the basis for the seven life-stages, the seven "worlds" which one sees and passes through. If one passes through each stage according to his own devices and inclinations, the culmination of his life is the foolishness of a monkey. His life was empty and purposeless.
The conclusion of Ecclesiastes is that all that life amounts to is one's fear of Hashem and fulfillment of His mitzvos. If one passes through the seven "worlds" of earthly life with fear of Hashem and through Torah, he shines with the glory and majesty of a king. To be continued.