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I wasted my youth. I am 35 years old. I had a toxic relationship with my parents, especially my mother. My career never started, and I am still looking for a fresh start and finding it humiliating at my age.

What does the Torah says about wasting your youth? Is redemption possible?

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    Rabbi Akiva was an ignoramus until age 40, so that could be a bit of encouragement. – Daniel Oct 27 at 11:19
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    If your job was done, you’d be dead. The fact that you’re still with us means you still have what to accomplish. Don’t give up! – DonielF Oct 27 at 12:38
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    "I wasted my youth." It could be that you failed, until today, to utilize your youth productively, but it is only wasted if you learn nothing from it. If you are now changing your direction and focusing on reconstructing your life, then you will find there are many valuable lessons to be taken from your past - you still have 35 years of experience to draw on. If you can apply what you have towards a more productive future, it will not be wasted all. – simyou Oct 27 at 16:09
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    Some more background to add to @Daniel : judaism.stackexchange.com/a/57673/3 – WAF Oct 27 at 18:00
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    @Al Only when it comes to practical Halacha. OP isn’t asking for halachic advice; he’s asking for Jewish advice, which, if asked properly to avoid the too broad/primarily opinion-based issues, is perfectly on-topic. – DonielF Oct 27 at 18:31

12 Answers 12

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Talmud Sukkah 53A:

חסידים ואנשי מעשה כו': ת"ר יש מהן אומרים אשרי ילדותנו שלא ביישה את זקנותנו אלו חסידים ואנשי מעשה ויש מהן אומרים אשרי זקנותנו שכפרה את ילדותנו אלו בעלי תשובה אלו ואלו אומרים אשרי מי שלא חטא ומי שחטא ישוב וימחול לו

The mishna continues: The pious and the men of action would dance before the people who attended the celebration. The Sages taught in the Tosefta that some of them would say in their song praising God: Happy is our youth, as we did not sin then, that did not embarrass our old age. These are the pious and the men of action, who spent all their lives engaged in Torah and mitzvot. And some would say: Happy is our old age, that atoned for our youth when we sinned. These are the penitents. Both these and those say: Happy is he who did not sin; and he who sinned should repent and God will absolve him.

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What happened happened and the Torah approach is not to dwell on it, but rather focus on improving going forward. Regarding sins from the past, the Rambam writes (Hilchot Teshuva 1:3)

Teshuvah [repentance] atones for all sins. Even a person who was wicked his whole life and repented in his final moments will not be reminded of any aspect of his wickedness as [Ezekiel 33:12] states "the wickedness of the evil one will not cause him to stumble on the day he repents his wickedness."

On your career having not yet started, maybe you never found your vocation. The Torah has things to say on this as well. R Akiva Tatz writes (in his Thinking Jewish Teenager's Guide to Life) that, to find one's vocation, a person should think about his strengths (what he knows really well), his passions (what he loves to do) and what the world needs (and ready to pay for). At the intersection of the three he will find his unique role in life and unique contribution to the world.

R David Lapin expands on this (in his Lead By Greatness) and provides a very actionable approach for someone to discover his strengths, capabilities, passions, spiritual values and how they correlate with possible future careers.

So there is plenty of positive to focus on and time for a restart if you feel like it.

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    +1 Very good answer and interesting references. Thank you. – Reeel Oct 27 at 22:44
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There is nothing that does not come from G-d - even evil has a kernel of good. This is why evil is referred to as a klipah, a shell - it separates holiness from G-d but the holiness is still there, buried within.

While it is not advisable to deliberately pursue a sinful life for the sake of "redeeming" it later, once it is already done, there is always a way to redeem it. Instead of seeing your youth as being "wasted", figure out a way to use what you have learned through your experiences to improve yourself spiritually and improve the world around you.

The most straightforward way of doing this is helping others who are going through similar situations. This is advisable for one who has experienced the worst evils (drugs, abuse, etc.) provided one can avoid backsliding. A period of separation may be necessary to ensure that you are no longer drawn into it yourself.

For mundane matters that are neither holy nor evil, it is often possible to use them to come to deeper understandings later once one has a solid backing of Torah.

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I think there is maybe something by Rambam about not seeing yourself as either good or bad, but just thinking of acting rightly in the very next moment. So, the present is everything.

A similar idea is clearly laid out a few times in the book of Ezekiel, echoing the Torah's teaching about repentance (i.e. choosing a better path) being restorative.

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Rabbi Nachman of Breslov said:

הַיּוֹם בּוֹ נוֹלַדְתָּ הוּא הַיּוֹם בּוֹ הֶחְלִיט הקב"ה שֶׁהָעוֹלָם אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְהִתְקַיֵּים בַּלְעֲדֶיךָ

The day that you were born is the day God decided the world could not be preserved without you.

Think about this and find out why.

  • I think the question was looking for something from the Torah. Does this adage have a Torah source you could include to strengthen the answer? – WAF Oct 27 at 17:25
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I'm not a Jew, beware.

You could have a look at Derech Chaim ("The Way of Life") by Rabbi Dovber, the second Rabbi of Lubavitch. Part one is called Shaar HaTeshuvah, "The Gate of Return", I don't know about the other parts.

It begins like so:

Behold, every day at the beginning of one's morning prayers, each person says the words, "My G-d, the soul which you placed within me is pure".

This is a work of Kabbalah / Chassidut and must be combined with the Mitzvot or you'll have a bad time, e.g. a "soul without a body" situation.

I don't know if you read, write and speak Hebrew; it's a better language for study than English is.

There's no limit to what you can do wrong and still redeem yourself; this is because it is fundamentally impossible to violate another soul, because soul extends directly from G-d without division.

You can, however, change the way you perceive the world and are free to feel doomed and evil until an infinite number eternities have passed. If you know Rick and Morty, it's what Rick does. You are probably more free to stop doing that than this cartoon mad scientist.

It's "just" the things you want to build on this world that are the limiting factors; these things are quite literally your demons, and it's not possible to live and not come in contact with both angels and demons.

If I strike a hammer at a nail, the "strike" is a demon. Demons shouldn't be feared. Angels are what's scary, they might actually convince you to change something about yourself.

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In addition to some other fine answers, here's another thought.

In Pirqei Avos (4:1), Ben Zoma asks and answers:

איזה הוא עשיר? השמח בחלקו, שנאמר ״יְגִיעַ כַּפֶּיךָ כִּי תֹאכֵל אַשְׁרֶיךָ וְטוֹב לָךְ׃״

Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot. As it says, “When you eat the labor of your hands, you are enriched and it is good for you.” (Tehillim 128:2)

The plain meaning of his statement begs the question: While it is good to be happy with what you have, without care, it can become a recipe for complacency. If I am content with anything, what motivates striving?

I think the answer lies in Ben Zoma’s proof-text. Specifically when you eat "the labor of your hands" are you "enriched and it is good for you.” True wealth is associated with labor and earning, not complacency or passivity.

I think the key term to understanding Ben Zoma’s intent is “chelqo — his portion.” What is a person’s portion? Well, we are told, “All of Israel has a cheileq le’Olam Haba, a portion toward the World to Come.” (Sanhedrin 11:1) Our portion is toward — not what we have now or did in the past, but route to a goal; in this case a life’s ultimate goal. A person’s cheileq is not what they have in a moment; it describes the full path a life takes. In other words, Ben Zoma is not advising that true wealth is to stop striving for something beyond what we have, but to find happiness in the journey of trying to accomplish.

(Source, to self-quote, Widen Your Tent, Mosaica Press 2019, pp 281-282.)

Your past motivates your future. I doubt you are honestly assessing your past; saying it was entirely wasted was more likely an exaggeration. But even if you really had nothing to show for your past but regret, that regret is a big part of your future trajectory in life.

Reish Laqish was a highway robber before becoming one of the more quoted figures in the Talmud. So, he knew something about "wasted youth" and getting one's life on track. He teaches (Yuma 86b) that teshuvah, a return to Hashem and the right path, that is performed out of love turns even sins that are intentional acts of rebellion into merits.

For just this reason -- because those sins plus the regret of harming the Cause you now love, points you in the right direction. The path of your life, as a whole, can be enriched, a thing of beauty.

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One of the central themes in the educational teachings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, aka The Lubavitcher Rebbe, is the concept of a descend before an eventual and greater ascend. It is difficult to point to one source, as this theme emerges over and over again in his letters and teachings.

Because this is the way the world was designed: Any descent always results, eventually, in an ascent. The more broken is the world, the more it can be improved. Yes, a more difficult job, a longer path home—but eventually it will be achieved.

Just like a deltaflyer cannot fly from standstill; it requires a downwards jump. The greater the initial fall the greater the potential ascend. So it is with man: any seemingly great fall or descend only sets the stage for an even greater ascend. The prior fall is not a flaw; it is a feature! The greater the plunge the greater the redeeming potential.

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So sorry to hear how difficult things are right now - may your sun rise soon even brighter than the darkness of your sunset! It's especially tough to get out of bed in the morning feeling the weight of all those years on your shoulders. The only way I know of to get through any searingly painful tragedy is focusing on living in the present - what does the Almighty want me to do right now at this point in time at this location on earth? I found the "3 good things" exercise worked for me where I kept a pen & notepad on the dinner table and wrote 3 things I appreciated that day. Stick with it for a few weeks and see how it goes.

One The OU shares an incredible story about the life of a violent highway robber who became one of the greatest sages in our history.

Shimon, the son of Lakish, was the leader of a group of bandits, during the role of the Romans, after the Destruction of the Second Temple. He had a reputation for great strength, with a wild, even violent streak. He was also supposed to have great leadership ability, with very high, if somewhat misdirected, intelligence.

One time, Rabbi Yochanan, a great Torah scholar, was bathing in the Jordan River. All of a sudden, another figure plunged into the water and swam to him. Rabbi Yochanan said, “Your strength should be devoted to the Torah!”

Rabbi Yochanan was known as one of the most handsome men of his time. Shimon, quickly noticing this, responded, “Your beauty should be devoted to women!”

Rabbi Yochanan searched for a way to persuade the leader of the bandits to abandon his present lifestyle and come into the Bet Midrash (a room or building dedicated to the study of Torah), and to adopt the lifestyle of the Torah. Nothing he could think of was likely to work, except for one.

Rabbi Yochanan had a younger sister, whose beauty even surpassed his, translated, of course, to the feminine side. Certain that his sister would see the same great qualities in Shimon as he did, Rabbi Yochanan said, “Ben Lakish, Repent! If you begin to study Torah, you can have my sister, whose beauty is even greater than mine (with her permission, of course), as a wife!”

This was more than enough to draw the interest and attention of Shimon. He accepted the offer, began to study Torah, married Rabbi Yochanan’s sister, and eventually became the student-colleague of his brother-in-law. Known in the Talmud as “Resh Lakish,” he entered history as one of the immortal Torah giants, in scholarship and character, of the Jewish People. (Masechet “Bava Metzia,” “The Middle Gate,” 84a)

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Rebbe Nachman taught: “If you believe that you can destroy, believe that you can repair.”

And more than this, when a person [without intention] fell spiritually very deep, his desire and efforts to come back to the right path generate more glory for God's name. Here is the quote from book here:

What brings Hashem the most glory is when those who are very far from Him come close to serve Him. Through this, Hashem’s name becomes greater and gains more importance in both the upper and lower worlds. Therefore, a person should never give up from returning to Hashem just because he has distanced himself through his many sins, because it is specifically from people like these that Hashem’s name is tremendously elevated. (Likkutei Moharan 1:10)

You can find more in the book Meshivat Nefesh (Revival of the Soul). Here it is available for download in english translation.

More books for download You can find here.

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Exodus 25, with the exception of chapters 32–34, the Torah describes the creation of the sanctuary, Mishkan, Tabernacle in English. The story of the construction of the Tabernacle follows almost immediately after the revelation of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), when the mobile sanctuary is to be made. In 25:8 and 9, for example, we read that G-d commands, “Let them make a Mishkan [a dwelling] for me so that I may dwell among them. Exactly as I show you – the pattern of the Mishkan and the pattern of the utensils – this is how you should make it.”

There is a derash that can be mind for a halakhic lesson, a mitzvah. It parallels the creation account told in Genesis.

Both accounts tell of a creation in which G-d approves. They are seven sections where G-d speaks, paralleling the seven days of creation in Genesis (Exodus 25:1; 30:11, 17, 22, 34; 31:1, 12).

Six days of work and on the seventh day G-d rested. After the Tabernacle is completed, Moshe keeps the first Shabbat. This completion took place on first day of the first month as indicated in 40:17, the same day talmudic sages say the world was completed or formed.

The wording of 39:42, 43 runs reminiscent to Genesis: verb vayechal, “finished,” is used in both instances in 40:33 and Genesis 2:2 for completion.

Moshe tells the people that they must participate in the building of the Tabernacle. They bring all their utensils to make a contribution. G-d did not desire help when creating the world. There are some sages who say that, "The Holy One, blessed be he, as it were, does nothing without contemplating the host above." This means that G-d works from angels but the Rambam equates angels with nature. It is saying that G-d works through nature.

The narrative of the building of the Tabernacle in Exodus is explaining that people continue creation from where G-d ceased. All must participate and put their best effort.

People have a choice. They can sit in contemplative study, perform religious rituals, and wear modest clothing, contributing nothing to society and act like cows who also do no wrong and preform their duty mowing grass. This is not what G-d desires. If it were, He would have never made humans, only cows.

The second option is more attractive. People can use their intelligence and improve themselves and society by doing the Torah's mitzvot. Teach about G-d, and contribute to society, as psychologist Erich Fromm wrote to “be all that you can be.” This is similar to tikkun haolam, “fixing the world.” Only that we do not fix the world that the Bible calls "Very good," but maintain it, and it is like building a Tabernacle.

Thus, it is never too late to learn Torah and put it to practice. No life is a wasted life. We are all created in the "image" of G-d.

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    Why is this answer downvoted when it addresses the question according to the Torah? – Turk Hill Oct 27 at 17:08
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    I didn't downvote, but your answer has a lengthy derasha which is not really relevant for the question. Your last line is correct, and addresses the question, but it does not relate to the preceding idea. The OP is looking for Jewish ideas on finding his way late in life. Your answer presents a perspective on the relevance of Judaism to life, but it has no special relevance to his stage in life. – simyou Oct 28 at 13:21
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Proverbs 3.6 In all your ways acknowledge him, he will make straight your paths.

Psalm 39:4-5 "Oh LORD, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah"

Psalm 90:12 So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Isaiah 41:10 Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.

Deutoronomy 30:19-20 "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that LORD sword to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."

Joshua 1:9 "Have I not command you? Be Strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."

Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and light to my path.

Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya! Please take a moment to look over our tour for some useful information about the site. Would you please edit your post when you can to expand a bit on these quotes, to elaborate on how, exactly, they reflect on the OP's question? Thank you for sharing your insights, and looking forward to learning with you! – DonielF Oct 28 at 18:09

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