Contact Us

The Kabbalah of Adolescence

The Kabbalah of Adolescence

 Email

Do you remember what it was like to be an adolescent? The anger, the confusion, the rebellion? The intense need to express yourself, even in ways that were upsetting to the people around you?

Or maybe you are the parent of an adolescent. Maybe you long for the days when he or she was a sweet, compliant child, wanting nothing more than to be just like you.

Thankfully, adolescence doesn’t last forever. And in most cases, if you have truly good, solid values that you’ve transmitted with love, your adolescent will pass through this phase of turmoil and breakdown and come out the other side as a person who makes you really proud.

In fact, interestingly, it often turns out that the more trouble he gives you, the more likely he is to impress you—or even amaze you—later on.

That’s because, as the child temporarily removes himself from your guidance and your dominance—your “light,” so to speak—he begins to question, to look inside for answers, to explore his own feelings and to express himself from the inside out.

In an often chaotic, foolish, even destructive way, he begins to manifest his innate power to think his own thoughts, come to his own conclusions, choose his own goals and make his own decisions.

And in doing so, he slowly begins to experience the sense of self without which he would always remain a child—someone less than, and dependent upon, you.

Turning a Moon into a Sun

As difficult as it often is, this is a necessary stage in the evolution of an authentic human being. A young child, as sweet, precious and adorable as he may be, is largely just a reflection of his parents. Whatever you think, he thinks. Whatever you believe, he believes. Like the moon, he may be lovely, but he is a reflector. You assert, and he believes. You decide, and he accepts. You give, and he takes.

As human beings, created in the image of the Creator, our destiny is not, ultimately, to be moons. We were created not simply to reflect, but to shine. We are destined to become suns, to offer our own unique “something” to the whole of Creation.

But the transition between reflecting and shining, moon and sun, is not smooth and linear. There is no logical progression from one state of being to the other.

For that reason, this transition requires what is often known as a transformation—a leap from one state of being to another, completely different one. And when it comes to a transformation, the rule is this: in order to go up, you must first go down. If you want to become something new, you must first let go of what you were before.

Sometimes this process is easy. Sometimes the darkness of the transition between the old and the new is almost imperceptible. And sometimes the darkness is so intense that it feels like there’s no light at all. When this is the case, it means that you must go deeper, farther within yourself, to find a level of light and power with which you weren’t in touch before.

But whatever the case, the important thing is this: the darkness doesn’t occur for its own sake. It has no intrinsic, permanent reality. It's there only on behalf of the transformation—the different, far greater light—that will come as a result.

Searching Beneath the Lamp

Nine years ago, I lost a younger brother to a sudden and terrible illness. My spiritual studies, which had been extremely important and pleasurable to me, became painful and difficult. All I could ask myself was: “Where is G‑d, and how can He do this?”

My teacher told me a story that I will never forget. You may have even heard it before, although probably not in this context. Here’s the story:

Two men left a party, and came upon a third man on his hands and knees under a streetlight, searching for something.

“What are you looking for?” they asked him.

“My watch,” he replied.

Ready to help him in his search, they asked: “Where exactly did you drop the watch?”

“Over there,” he answered, pointing off into the distance.

“So why are you looking here?” one of the men asked in confusion.

“Because it’s dark over there,” the searcher replied.

The Experience of Darkness

Most of us look for our answers in the light—in what we already know, what we can understand, where we’re comfortable: in the tried and familiar. But the real answers, the ones that really matter, usually aren’t there. Those answers, the ones that allow us to see or be something that we couldn’t see or be before, are “over there”—in the place where it’s dark.

Transformational challenges don’t necessarily have to be particularly intense. They can be as minor and trivial as a frustrating conversation, hurt feelings, a disappointment at work or an unexpected bill. These things can certainly be used as impetus for us to grow and expand, to learn new things and try new ways of being. Or the darkness can be, G‑d forbid, enormous and incomprehensible.

But whatever the case may be, if you search for answers only where it’s light—in the places you know, in the habits that make you comfortable, in the paradigms you already have—it’s almost certain that you will never move very far from where you are right now.

But if you become willing, instead, to be with the discomfort of the unknown, to reach—even for occasional moments—into the vast mystery, you may discover there an entirely new potential, a new understanding, a new level of light. And this light, the light that comes from the darkness, does not shine from the outside in. It shines within the depths of your heart, your mind and your soul—from the inside out.

The Threefold Process

This threefold process of transformation—from light, to darkness, to a much greater and more internal light—is one of the spiritual poles around which the world spins.

In fact, when our great-great-grandparents, Adam and Eve, ate from the Tree of Knowledge and were exiled from the Garden of Eden, they were following this template.

In the Garden of Eden before the sin, everything was beautiful. Everything was holy. There was no chaos, no rebellion, no darkness at all. Adam and Eve, together with everything in the Garden, simply reflected the intense divine light of creation.

But G‑d put a snake in the Garden—a snake that would seduce our forebears into rebellion, and introduce darkness, evil and exile into their paradise.

The snake did not get there by accident. G‑d intentionally included the potential for darkness in His plan for creation. And, He included it such a way that it would be internalized—made a very part of who we are.

That’s because, in order for you to have the potential to transform something, it has to be yours.

When G‑d put the snake into the Garden of Eden, He ran a great risk. His choice to do so guaranteed that we would fall, that we would rebel, that we would sin. He gave us an enormous challenge.

But at the same time, He gave us an unparalleled opportunity—one not shared by even the loftiest of angels. He gave us the power to transform all of the darkness of our world into light. He gave us the power to transform ourselves from passive recipients of His light to true partners in Creation.

The Paradigm of Transformation: What Goes Down Must Come Up

Kabbalah calls this process yeridah l’tzorech aliyah—a “descent for the purpose of the ascent” that will follow. It is the divine template through which all true transformation occurs.

Simple growth does not require this threefold process. It’s linear, natural, logical and progressive. But transformation, an essential change from one state of being to another, always takes this path, to one degree or another.

Here’s how it works:

In the first stage of the process, there’s harmony, a sense of oneness, light. Everything’s working just fine. But this harmony is superficial, and therefore intrinsically unstable. Like the Garden of Eden before the fall, as long as circumstances are right, everything looks good. But the potential for divisiveness and destruction is always there; it just hasn’t been actualized yet. As long as the light shines, darkness will be suppressed. But it still exists in potential.

In the second stage, the unity falls apart and the potential for darkness is actualized. There is breakdown and chaos. Like the Garden of Eden after the fall, like our rebellious adolescent who suddenly rejects the values of his parents and wants to “find himself,” what was once harmonious turns to chaos. But this chaos has an intrinsic purpose. It’s there for the sake of the higher level of oneness that will come in its wake.

The final stage is transformation. Like the phoenix from the flames, out of the chaos comes a brand-new unity and a brilliant new light. And this time it’s permanent.

That’s because now the light is no longer imposed from the outside. It has become an authentic expression of what lies within. Once this happens, there’s simply no darkness left anymore—not because it’s suppressed, but because it has been turned to light.

Becoming Partners in Creation

This transformation process takes place at all different levels in all aspects of life. It’s also the paradigm for creation as a whole.

At the end of the process, we will no longer obey G‑d only because He knows more than we do, because He’s infinitely bigger, stronger, and holier than us.

Instead, we will do G‑d’s will because it has become ours. Instead of being simply G‑d’s servants, or even His children, we will be His partners as well, sharing His perspective, shining side by side.

Going back to our adolescent rebel, once he completes this process, his values, beliefs and commitments are no longer merely a reflection of his parents’. They are now his own. At this stage, obedience is simply not an issue. Rather than obeying his parents, he relates to them, shares their perspective and their goals, and even better, expresses them in his own personal and unique way.

Global Adolescence

Our world is approaching the end of its long period of adolescence. That’s why so many of us are seekers. That’s why so many of us dream of a peaceful, harmonious, good and G‑dly world, a world of abundance, purpose and meaning. Without necessarily even realizing it, we have begun to share the vision of our Creator.

Our struggle is not yet completely over. Obviously, we need to grow. We are still very much in the process of becoming all that we are destined to be. But we are getting closer and closer to the end of that process. And once we find—fully find—our own inner light, it will be ours forever. There will be no more struggle, because who we should be and who we genuinely, passionately want to be will have become one and the same.

That’s what G‑d wants from us—and even more important, for us. Our ultimate destiny is not to simply submit, to bow our heads and do the right thing. We certainly will do the right thing, but in a way that is infinitely more powerful and meaningful.

We are destined—were always destined—to fully embrace our own essence, to experience G‑dliness not only from without, but from within.

In fact, it’s the purpose of Creation.

The Era of Transformation

At this time in history, we are witnessing the breakdown of many of the things we once took for granted. Whether this breakdown expresses itself in our leadership, our values, our children, our communities, our environment, our sense of security or our dreams, it can be tremendously painful, frightening and confusing.

But this darkness, as always, is here for one reason: to push you to transform, to fulfill your true potential, to become the person you were truly born to be. These times are intensely challenging. But there has never, in all of history, been an opportunity like the one before us today.

And this opportunity, this potential for transformation, expresses itself not only in a global sense, but in the very real and tangible details of your personal life.

Next time you feel stuck, frustrated or disappointed, confronted by an obstacle or challenge—whether in a relationship, work, or any other area of life—be aware that you are being presented with a divine opportunity to access your latent power to make the darkness shine.

You may feel frightened of the darkness—the vulnerability, uncertainty or discomfort that almost always accompanies real change. But this time, don’t stop there. Instead, ask yourself what you would do if your fears were not an obstacle.

Maybe you’d communicate more authentically with someone you love. Maybe you’d try to understand the other person’s point of view. Maybe you’d make that phone call you've been putting off. Maybe you’d join that class, apply for that job, start that exercise program, deepen your relationship with G‑d, give someone a hug or a smile, or be the first one to apologize even if you weren’t the only one who was wrong.

The bottom line is this: At every moment you have a choice. Like the man with the missing watch, you can confine your search to the space under the light, remaining limited by your past, by what’s safe and familiar. Or, you can venture instead into the unknown and unfamiliar, to seek out and reveal the greater light and potential concealed in the heart of the darkness.

The choice is yours.

Shifra Hendrie is a personal and spiritual coach who has been studying and teaching the principles of authentic Kabbalah for over 20 years. More about her writings and programs can be found on her website.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
15 Comments
1000 characters remaining
Nehama Hendel Athens January 18, 2017

Beautiful article Reply

Dr. Frieda Birnbaum saddle river, nj February 5, 2012

Only when we find darkness,can we let the light in. Reply

`john lagos, nigeria December 30, 2011

creative adolescence it is lovely and educative thanks a lot Reply

Anonymous New York, NY November 17, 2011

Glad I read this Beautiful read, and like what someone mentioned earlier "beauty is truth". Reply

Dr. Frieda Birnbaum saddle river , new jersey via valleychabad.org November 10, 2011

To treat life as if there are no other options but to face your fears, your goals, rejection and possibly get wha you want is living your life to its fullest, what other choice is there. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma November 9, 2011

this is a fabulous article! It contains deep truths and the metaphors taken from what we know, of Nature, of light and reflection are well worth considering. This is truly beautiful and I think there is so much to plumb within this article, for us all.

Reflection and Shine.

I am so glad I read this.

Beauty IS Truth. Reply

Anonymous Denver, CO November 7, 2011

Adolescence I wonder if adolescence is a real growth cycle or manufatured by the modern western world?

Teenager is a made up word by commericalism, allowed a division between parents; must have own hair style, own clothes, own language...and look what you have on the streets today - follow the instructions of the Torah sages; not the yellow pages Reply

Rochel Chana Riven Crown Heights, NY November 7, 2011

Loved it I loved reading this! Very refreshing. Thank you! Reply

Alan S. Long Island November 6, 2011

one way too look at it I believe the ideas , while thought provoking, gives but one factor in an equation too complex for the human mind. These ideas can help to make sense of the rebellious adolescent, toddler or any person for that matter. But does a person have to have a rebellious stage in order to shine? Must a person 'hit bottom', so to speak, in order to go forward. If anything, I believe that more people do just fine by simple maturation than the numbers that eventually shine by first rejecting their parents and seeking their own levels of comforts. Reply

Zach Weiser Philadelphia, pa December 12, 2005

Wonderful, excellent. Thank you. Reply

Anonymous December 11, 2005

What if the adolescenct's parents are "Baalei Teshuva" who have changed their values through the Teshuvah (return to Jewish life) process and the adolescenct still "remember" the previous way of life? Reply

Anonymous Boston, MA December 9, 2005

progressive To me, this essay mostly is perceptive, stimulating in a good way. But be cautious about that "fulfill your own potential" mantra, the progressive dogma of last few centuries because it doesn't lead to Gdliness but, usually to tower of bavel fantasies and, on individual levels, to enslavement to one's own appetities masquerading a philosophies, goals, darkness not light, yavan not Yisrael. Reply

Anonymous December 7, 2005

The kabbalah of the adolescence Dear Sirs,
I deeply appreciated this article, but I am a little concerned with the fact that the author emphazises that one needs to seek in the darkness to find ultimately the inner light. Isn't there a possibility that we and also our children may get into this light not by way of overcoming darkness or turmoils, but by simply following a path of virtue, or compliance with God's will? I had no crises during my adolescence, but after years my faith and trust in God had to be proven due to life's difficulties, and God was never outside myself! Thank you. Shalom! Reply

Miss Muslima London, UK via jrcc.org December 5, 2005

Adolescence :)) Wonderful essay, it brings back memories, of not too long ago:) Reply

Anonymous December 5, 2005

Skip the Adolescence Analogy What Torah sources are there about adolescence? Where in Torah does it say anything about adolescence being a time of anger, confusion and rebellion? (actually, sounds like a good description of some toddlers)

What child, given a proper chinuch, would suddenly rebel against his parents' values, Torah values?!

Halacha describes a girl's responsibilities once she turns 12 and a boy's responsibilities once he turns 13. No transition there. If Yom Kippur was the day before their 12/13th birthday, they are not required to fast the entire day. If Yom Kippur is the day after their 12/13th birthday, they must fast the entire day.

Otherwise, the article articulately describes change, and the bottom line about choice is so important. We need constant reminders about it. Reply