I was built for Yom Kippur, as well as for Rosh haShanah, Tisha b'Av, Purim, Shavuos night, etc. – like many people, I thrive on intense emotion, and these days designed for extended periods of intense emotion are perfect for me. They seem more authentic, more alive, than the rest of the calendar.
The result is that I never want to come down from Musaf on Yom Kippur; I want to carry it right through to Minchah and Neilah. And so it was that yesterday I continued my tradition of teaching a class through the Yom Kippur break. I’ve been doing it since my Rhode Island days, and thank Gd I’ve had the health to sustain it. This year, thanks to Toronto’s situation at the west end of the time zone, we had a hefty two and a half hours.
So we learned Orot haTeshuvah from the text itself yesterday, covering the first, fifth, sixth and seventh chapters. One particular point of interest was Rav Kook’s statement (fifth perek) that a person is meant to develop his natural abilities and tendencies, and not to squelch them in pursuit of idealized perfection. Even though following one’s core nature might lead to error and sin at times, it would be, in Rav Kook’s words, a far greater sin to deny that inherent nature, like the nazir’s self-denial in pursuit of purification.
To use Rav Kook’s own words:
שלמותם של החיים היא דוקא עם המשך התגלותם על פי טבעם העצמי. וכיון שהטבע מצד עצמו אינו בעל הסתכלות והבחנה, הרי החטא מוכרח הוא מצד זה, "ואין אדם צדיק בארץ אשר יעשה טוב ולא יחטא." וביטול עצם טבעיותם של החיים, כדי שיהיה האדם בלתי חוטא, זהו עצמו החטא היותר גדול, "וכפר עליו מאשר חטא על הנפש."
On one level, this seems to say that one shouldn't refuse to enjoy humor in order to rein in his character, and one shouldn't decline to enjoy hiking, if hiking is something he enjoys, in order to spend 100% of his time in the beit midrash. But it also speaks to developing one's talents and abilities, in general.
This reminded me of a story I once heard about Rav Ruderman at Ner Yisrael in Baltimore – that he had accepted a student who was gifted as a pianist, and he told the student to continue to set aside time to develop his piano talents. [I’d love verification on this story, from anyone else who has more information.]
But then I heard another story, about a young Jewish woman who is a contestant on America’s Next Top Model, and is facing serious decisions on Shabbos and dress in order to develop as a model. We must develop our talents, right? It would be a sin to squelch them, right?
And it reminded me of a family I know whose pre-teen daughter was developing into a star athlete, with her team coach talking about the Olympics. How far could they take her before they would be misleading her into thinking that chillul Shabbos and other competition-related transgressions were an option? Or before she would decide for herself that these were an option?
I don’t think career-long violation of Shabbos is what Rav Kook had in mind when he noted that following one’s core nature might lead to error and sin at times.
Rav Kook’s words here are loaded. They work well for adults, encouraging us to find out who we are and what we can do, and not to lock ourselves in boxes in pursuit of perfection. But I wouldn’t recommend these words, carte blanche, as a strategy for raising children. For children this advice needs moderation, because children cannot necessarily put on the brakes when necessary.
To use the example above: Training a child for Olympic-level competition is cruel, if you don't want the child to compete on Shabbat.
I do believe that every talent can and should be used in a positive way, and I’m behind the idea that squelching talent is denial of a Divine gift. I hear Rav Kook’s point about this being a great sin. And I believe we should support our children in discovering their talents, and in developing them. But there are limits to what we can do with those talents, and I fear that this is an adult challenge, not one meant for kids.