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Failing Our Children – Again

We, as a society, have failed our children when they cannot safely go to school, concerts or about their daily lives. We have also failed them when we promote policies that increase their chances of  growing up in unstable households and being illiterate, unpracticed in logical thinking, unnecessarily drugged, addicted to violent video games, in a culture that devalues life, and without a moral compass. Compounding our failures is not a good idea.

My heart, like yours, goes out to those children who faced gunfire in Parkland, Florida and whose lives were lost or forever changed by that event. A massacre like that, just as previous mass shootings, should call us to re-evaluate and assess our nation. However, while emotions should prod us to action, just what those actions should be must be dictated only by facts and reality. Emotions, by their very definition, are unstable and volatile. Justice and policy should not be.

I was barely an adolescent when the Twenty-sixth Amendment gave eighteen-year-olds the right to vote. The slogan I remember from that time in the thick of the Vietnam War was, “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” At the time, it made perfect sense to me. I am not so sure about it now.

In the real world, adults make life and death decisions that impact children all the time. And while I completely understand that young adults don’t want to be called children any more than I did at that age, society does need age limits for many activities. We set the age for obtaining a driver’s license, buying cigarettes or liquor, marrying or voting. When we sentence someone as a juvenile offender rather than as an adult or when we provide benefits to those below a certain age, we are making a decision as a society that there is a distinction between children and adults. Caring for children often means not allowing them to make their own decisions.

In the 1960s, adult educators abdicated their responsibilities and handed college campuses over to the students. Unwilling to accept the obligations of loco parentis, administrations responded to violence and destruction by handing the keys to the rioters. That weakness has now progressed to the point where students in colleges are truly treated as fragile children, incapable of being exposed to a view with which they disagree. Indoctrination has replaced imparting knowledge on too many campuses. Granted that mature thinking is absent among many who are in their twenties, thirties and beyond, but in retrospect lowering the voting age gave a right to vote while at the same time we were busy eroding the meaning of adulthood and diminishing civic obligations.

The Florida teenagers who are advocating for gun control and see the NRA as an enemy are acting in a manner consistent with their age. As adults, our role is to use the opportunity to broaden their horizons. Changing gun laws may perhaps be needed for a safer society. However, without honest analysis of many factors, there is no way to know whether or not that is true or what such changes should be. There might be other steps that can be taken that would have a greater effect at less of a cost. Emotional outbursts rarely lead to changes that do more good than harm.

Our veneration of feelings over facts is not a healthy one. As adults, we need to support young people who have been hurt. Part of that support is not feeding them myths about magic solutions, not letting them be pawns in the hands of manipulators, and helping them understand the trade-offs, potential unintended consequences and complexities of any legislation. Our society has many flaws; sacrificing one Constitutional right and scapegoating one issue can only bring more grief rather than less.

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What kind of role models are these!

My wife and I love listening to your podcast.

I have a question that no Rabbi has been able to answer to my satisfaction. (It could be that they have answered the question accurately but it never resonated with me.)

It’s about Jacob and his children. Jacob is revered by us and his children were given the privilege of having tribes named after them. What bothers me is that these were not nice children. Judah had a terrible mean streak and was known to hang out with women of ill repute. His brothers sold a brother into slavery. They lied to their parents, they wiped out entire cities for revenge. (If I was Jacob’s neighbor my kids would have been under strict instructions to avoid them at all cost!)

Where does the reverence for Jacob’s children come from and why do rabbis insist on calling them righteous?

Cliff

Dear Cliff,

We’re not sure we can answer this question to your satisfaction, but we are going to try and contribute perspective which we hope you will appreciate.

Recently, a book about a complicated woman, Dr. Anne Spoerry was published.  (In Full Flight by John Heminway)  She fought the Nazis while part of the French Resistance. She was betrayed and sent to a concentration camp where she collaborated with the Nazis in monstrous crimes against other captives.  To escape war crime prosecution, she fled to Kenya and spent the rest of her life saving the lives of thousands of Africans.

To the Africans whose lives she improved and saved while working devotedly on that continent she is a heroine. The concentration camp internees who saw her as a sadistic torturer viewed her very differently. A snapshot of her work for the Resistance before she was sent to a concentration camp would reveal another aspect of her personality. We haven’t read the book yet, but we surmise that Dr. Spoerry was an incredibly powerful and complex woman. We may never know the truth about her feelings, motivations and even her actions but her life does serve as a reminder that God created humans as amazingly complicated beings.

What does this have to do with Jacob’s sons? The Torah consistently presents complex pictures of human beings. It is not a history book, but a guide to life. If the people in it were one-dimensional saints or sinners it would not be useful to us because that is not how any of us really are. The Torah teaches that the greater a person is, the greater is his capacity both for good and for evil. In fact, ancient Jewish wisdom, based on the following verse, teaches that anyone who is great enough to accomplish exceptional things will, by definition, do some wrong things as well.   “There is no righteous man on earth who does only good and never sins at all.”  (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

Jacob’s sons were establishing a movement that, to our day, exerts tremendous influence. They were powerful people given a powerful heritage. We disagree that Judah wasn’t a nice person. He failed to live up to his own standards and picked himself up and tried again. He candidly acknowledged his errors and demonstrated remarkable courage with Joseph in Egypt. In doing so he made it easier for the rest of us to follow suit.

It’s also worth remembering that Jacob and his family didn’t live in a small and wholesome LDS town in Utah or in a church-centric community in Oklahoma.  They lived in a world yet unimpacted by Judeo-Christian values.  Their neighbors behaved barbarically and inflicted cruelty upon one another.  There was no civilized alternative to Jacob’s sons wiping out the men of Shechem.  It wasn’t simply revenge for rape. It was a process of civilizing the world.

None of the other actions you mention such as the brothers selling Joseph or Judah’s visiting a woman he thought to be a prostitute can be fully explained in this response. They’d need more space and time.  Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to treat the narrative like a modern fiction story. There were elements of good and bad in all the actions. Often, the right thing to do inevitably has aspects that are damaging and those who do wrong often have good inside them as well.  Like us, the brothers had to deal with circumstances that are multi-faceted and complicated.

Through their successes and failures they maintained their allegiance to the God of their fathers and to His greater picture. They strove to improve and pass on to their children a call to become greater. They were men of a caliber that we can’t begin to comprehend but the emanations from them still lend strength to us.   These are some of the reasons their descendants were called ‘the Children of Israel” and why the word Jew is proudly derived directly from the name of the fourth son, Judah.

We hope that at least some of what we tell you here resonates. 

Cordially,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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Boats Float; Planes Fly; Couples & Businesses Crash

One of the most sensually satisfying things I’ve ever done was building a seventeen-foot sailing boat out of oak and spruce, plywood and glue, bronze screws and canvas.  If I close my eyes, I can still smell the aromatic sawdust.  After eight months of part-time, loving labor, launch day was almost an anticlimax.  It floated, I climbed aboard, hoisted sail, and glided off across the lake. 

No surprise there; I had purchased plans from an accomplished New Zealand naval architect, Richard Hartley, and followed them diligently.  What is more surprising is that I later built another boat which also floated.  This one was nearly forty feet long and was constructed from steel and cement.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Its hull was a one-inch thick sandwich of steel and cement.  I was not at all surprised when, on launch day, it not only floated but floated exactly to its waterline which I had already painted in bright red on the hull. 

Why wasn’t I surprised?  Because I had purchased plans from a designer in Vancouver who was a recognized expert in ferro-cement boats and I had followed all details diligently.  What percentage of the boats and ships that are built by large shipyards or by serious amateurs float? Actually, about one hundred percent.

We have friends in Nevada who are constructing a small airplane in their garage.  They are among the thousands of ultra-light aircraft enthusiasts around America who have built their own small airplanes.  What percentage of these airplanes fly?  Actually, about the same as the percentage of airplanes built by Boeing that fly—one hundred percent. 

The same goes for houses and skyscrapers.  Just like boats and planes, one can construct a house or a skyscraper knowing that if directions are followed, the building will stand.  One hundred percent of buildings constructed according to currently understood engineering principles stand.  We’ve been constructing boats and buildings for a long time.  We know what works and why. 

However, although we have been getting married and building businesses for thousands of years, neither of these two enterprises offer anything near the same likelihood of success.  This is puzzling.  After all, there are countless books on starting a business and getting married just as there are entire libraries providing guidance on building boats, planes, and houses.  We ought to be able to absorb the necessary data and embark on life as an entrepreneur or as a spouse with as much chance of success as ship builders, airplane builders, and home builders.  Yet we all know that the percentage of new businesses and new marriages that succeed long term is well below the figure for ships, planes, and skyscrapers.  Why would that be?

As usual, ancient Jewish wisdom leads us to the Scriptural solution.  God directed Moses how to build the Ark of the Covenant and then told him to place inside it “…the testimony which I shall give you.” (Exodus 25:16)

God directed Moses to build the Table and then told him, “And you shall set the bread of display upon the table…(Exodus 25:30)

God directed Moses to build the Menorah and then told him, “…and they shall light its lamps…(Exodus 25:37)

However, when God directed Moses to build the altar (Exodus 27:1-8) the construction details were not followed by what to do with the altar as was the case with the Ark, the Table and the Menorah.

Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the entire purpose of building the Ark was to place inside it the Tablets; the Table, to place upon it the bread; and the Menorah to light it.  But building the altar had purpose and meaning in itself.

In our attempts to replicate the Tabernacle in our own homes by making them suitable dwelling places for God, the altar symbolizes the marital bedroom and also the source of sustenance.  In other words, the altar is linked to both marriage and our means of earning a living—our businesses. 

The Ark, the Table and the Menorah were physical objects and building them resembled building boats, planes, and homes.  However, the altar was a spiritual entity and building it was meaningful in itself.

A ship is built for the purpose of launching it; an airplane is built for the purpose of flying it; a building is constructed for the purpose of occupying it.


However, a marriage needs no other purpose to exist.  Its very existence provides meaning.  Certainly, it is the best place to raise children and adds to the health and income of the spouses, but even without those things it has meaning.  And a business, though obviously needing to provide goods and services and make a profit, often gives its owners and operators significant meaning and purpose in life even during the start-up years when it may well not yet be profitable.

If I spot someone erecting a building, I might well ask, “What’s it for?”  But if someone tells me they’re getting married, I wouldn’t ask, “What for?” 

Yes, there are libraries of information on how to build physical objects like boats, planes, and houses. And you will only fail by ignoring those physical directions.  Happily for successfully building spiritual entities like marriages and businesses, there is also information available but it is naturally spiritual information.  It is as reckless to start a marriage or launch a new money-making enterprise without consulting and following the spiritual blueprints.

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Granite Men; Marshmallow Boys

Imagine a woman in the mid 1800s crossing North America by wagon train. Now imagine her amazement if she was to travel a  similar distance today by jet. Multiple blessings of gratitude would spill from her lips. I tried to keep this in mind recently when I was cramped into a small seat, grazing shoulders with my neighbor, not quite sure where to place my legs and basically confined to that place for six hours.

Still, the trip was long. I was not disciplined enough to focus on work or even to concentrate on the current book I am enjoying reading. American Airlines, aware that a benumbed clientele makes for a successful flight, provided each passenger with a personal entertainment device that had more movies available than I have ever seen on an international flight  let alone a domestic one.

My flight was long enough for me to watch a personally constructed double feature. My first choice was a relatively recent movie that a friend had recommended, The Intern, starring Robert de Niro and Anne Hathaway. After that, when there were still a few hours left to the trip, I pulled up the classic from 1942, Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. My interest in Casablanca, which I last saw many years ago, was sparked by references to it in a wonderful book I just read, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The book highlighted certain details from the movie. (I include this completely irrelevant information only because I know many of you are voracious readers and I do recommend this book.)

Seeing the two movies one after the other inevitably led to comparison. I particularly want to focus on the male leading men. I don’t know how old Rick, Humphrey Bogart’s character is supposed to be, but my guess is that if you showed the movie to college students today, most of them would guess that he is older than the audience thought him to be in 1942. His face is mature; his bearing solid.

The Intern reiterates that Robert de Niro is playing a seventy-year-old character. His face, too, is mature and his bearing solid. To the amazement of his younger male colleagues, he not only wears a suit and tie to work, but—prepare to be shocked—he shaves each and every day including on weekends.

The contrast to the younger men in the movie could not be greater. They are soft and cuddly looking. Not only are most of them not clean-shaven but their hair is not even groomed. They probably don’t know how to fasten a tie and might not even own one. While not the main point of the movie during the course of events, as they grow to respect and admire Mr. de Niro’s character, some of them begin to model his physical appearance. Nevertheless, before that happens, they represent the desired look for their generation. With the exception of military men, the rugged, strong, manly look is not common. Neither, is the rugged, strong, dependable man. The popular phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ in and of itself suggests that being manly is problematic.

Casablanca was made at a time when the Allies’ success in World War II was uncertain. At its conclusion, Humphrey Bogart says, “I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Stopping the Nazi threat to civilization took priority over personal ambition, love and emotion.

There are young men today, many in the military, who do live for noble ideals greater than their personal feelings and fulfillment. They are not the young men popularized today on Youtube, Netflix or in movies. Humphrey Bogart portrayed a flawed character, not a saint. In that way he honestly represented a generation of young men from the 1940s, warts and all, to whom we owe a great debt. The culture may not present that type of man as a role model, but as even one of today’s movie shows, that doesn’t mean that young men (and women) today don’t crave exactly those examples.

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Would you rather live in an Abraham world or a Nimrod world?
The choice is still being made today.

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THOUGHT TOOLS

  • Boats Float; Planes Fly; Couples & Businesses Crash February 20, 2018 by Rabbi Daniel Lapin - One of the most sensually satisfying things I’ve ever done was building a seventeen-foot sailing boat out of oak and spruce, plywood and glue, bronze screws and canvas.  If I close my eyes, I can still smell the aromatic sawdust.  After eight months of part-time, loving labor, launch day was almost an anticlimax.  It floated, Read More

ASK THE RABBI

  • What kind of role models are these! February 21, 2018 by Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin - My wife and I love listening to your podcast. I have a question that no Rabbi has been able to answer to my satisfaction. (It could be that they have answered the question accurately but it never resonated with me.) It's about Jacob and his children. Jacob is revered by us and his children were Read More

SUSAN’S MUSINGS

  • Failing Our Children – Again February 22, 2018 by Susan Lapin - We, as a society, have failed our children when they cannot safely go to school, concerts or about their daily lives. We have also failed them when we promote policies that increase their chances of  growing up in unstable households and being illiterate, unpracticed in logical thinking, unnecessarily drugged, addicted to violent video games, in Read More

ON OUR MIND

  • Body and Soul February 12, 2018 by Susan Lapin - While preparing Gila Manolson's book, Hands Off: This May Be Love for a second printing, I took the opportunity to look through it again. The following quote jumped out at me: "God created our bodies and souls to work together as one, with the soul defining one’s identity and the body expressing it. Our dress, Read More

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About Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Rabbi Daniel Lapin, known world-wide as America’s Rabbi, is a noted rabbinic scholar, best-selling author and host of the Rabbi Daniel Lapin Show on The Blaze Radio Network. He is one of America’s most eloquent speakers and his ability to extract life principles from the Bible and transmit them in an entertaining manner has brought countless numbers of Jews and Christians closer to their respective faiths. Newsweek magazine included him in its list of America’s fifty most influential rabbis.

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