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." 2. At the ages of two and three he is called "pig." 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. 6. Upon having children, the person becomes a brazen dog. 7. When old, the unlearned person becomes a monkey; and the Torah sage becomes a king. Each stage is called an "olam [world]," teaching that people perceive the world entirely from the perspective of their stage at any time. That stage is the person's entire world. We showed that maturity requires a progression from humility to fear of sin to Torah wisdom. The word "revak [bachelor]" is related to "rock [only]." The unmarried person thinks in terms of him or her self only.
Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, who taught the lesson from the midrash about the seven stages of life [that each stage is its own world], was once walking in the hall of the Ponovezh Yeshiva, accompanied by a grandson. An American came into the Yeshiva to visit. He was obviously a classic tourist. He had a camera, together with several lens attachments, hanging on a string around his neck. When he saw Rabbi Levenstein, the tourist couldn't decide whether or not to take a picture of him. So, he came over and asked, as if the answer would decide whether he was "worth" a picture, "Who are you and what do you do here?" Rabbi Levenstein answered quite simply, "I'm Chatzk'l the shamash [servant]."
After the tourist left, his grandson asked why the esteemed and venerable rabbi referred to himself by a casual nickname and as a servant. Rabbi Levenstein replied, "What is a mashgiach? I make sure the boys are alright and that they come to doven and learn. I'm just a shamash."
This grandson, now an esteemed scholar in his own right, said that we see, from this story of his grandfather, that great Torah people do not need praise and compliments. They are secure, ego-free and self-sufficient. To put it into our context, they are humble. Rabbi Levenstein had been through the progression of 1. humility to 2. fear of sin to 3. deep and enduring wisdom. Such a scholar has made himself into a king and is one from whom we stand to learn and gain.
Starting after the horse, the life stages are not determined by, nor limited to, any chronological age. Starting after the horse, the stages depend on levels of maturation, of life events or milestones and of human development. The gemora [Pesachim 113b] describes the characteristics of a horse - and they all are very non-complimentary, shameful and bodily-oriented (arrogant, promiscuous, ravenous appetite, etc.). A key crossroads for the journey through the stages of life is whether one gets past the stage of self-oriented, physical horse, and sees beyond the blinders which limit the vision of horses.
A young newliweded husband told his wife to make steak for supper. She made chop meat. He got angry. She said that he was in kolel, she was working two jobs to support them, she grew up in a poor family in which they could afford chop meat and they could not eat steak. Since he slept late, she felt he was lazy and unfit for staying in kolel. She felt resentment that he demanded steak and expected her to earn the money to feed his rich taste. She demanded to know what he was going to do to provide a livelihood. He said that his rich grandfather would arrange something. She demanded to know specifically what that meant. He repeated with indifference that his rich grandfather would arrange something for him. A fight followed. She demanded a divorce. He got "one up" on her by abandoning her and making her an agunah.
Before they were married, both of these people would have been certain that they were ready for marriage. The wife, although she had more grounding in matters of financial practicality and responsibility, was not a communicator. She did not discuss with him what she was going to buy or prepare, or why; she just acted on her own as she saw to be right. This was provocative and disrespectful of her husband. She challenged and provoked him about money in a way that escalated the tension and made for confrontation. He was "stuck on steak," to the point at which he would "declare war" on her over it. He was unrealistic, infantile and in utter denial about anything beyond his "horse blinders." It was as if he viewed her as being in his life as a steak dispenser, not as a wife or person. He had no sense of responsibility, of priorities nor of human relations. He never saw that verse of King Solomon's wisdom [Proverbs 15:17], "Better is a meal of a vegetable and love is there than a luxurious beef meal and hate is with it." What he was doing in kolel is beyond me, because he obviously had no connection to Torah. What he was doing in marriage is equally beyond me, because he obviously had no connection to any stage beyond the self-absorbed horse. They both had what to learn about relating to another person in "post-horse," "post-revak" life. Imagine if the above silly couple would have gone to a Torah counselor or posek to learn what to do, instead destroying their marriage over a portion of chop meat and a taking of rigid positions. I tell couples that their policy should be, "We don't have fights, we have shaalos." I ask them, "Would you rather be yourself or would you rather be effective?"
A young man married. Over the first year, the wife's health was not good. She cried to a friend of mine, "He told me that in the first year of our marriage I've been sick 58% of the time! He's been keeping records of when I'm unhealthy! He's complaining about how much he has to take care of me and that I'm not at his service!" The husband didn't understand that when he stepped out of the chupa, he had responsibility to care for her. Had he been sick, she would have cared for him. He was still a revak, as one alone and out for himself. He was still a horse.
At the stage of horse, a person shows whether he can humbly and objectively interchange with a spouse, children, fellow humans and the world outside of his skin; following, and growing in, fear of Hashem, Torah and mitzvos - every moment and under all circumstances for the rest of his or her life. How one proceeds from the crossroads at the horse stage determines whether one is headed towards completing and culminating his life as a monkey or a king.