A Little Bit of Toughness Can be a Good Thing

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Sometimes it seems to me as if we are living in a Kafkaeque world where common sense has all but disappeared. After reading and writing a book review on Raising Boys by Design, I wanted to share some after-thoughts–especially in light of an interesting news story that appeared in today’s morning paper.

We have forgotten that a little bit of toughness can be a good thing.

Sometime ago at the beginning of 2013, a little six-year old boy was suspended for pointing his little finger and saying, “POW!” Who would imagine that fingers could be so dangerous! Yet, this is the kind of draconian rules that are being handed down in schools today.

Believe it or not.

Another school has taken a different approach. Athletic events cannot have “winners,” or “losers” and all athletic events must end as a tie so that nobody’s “feelings,” will get hurt. At another school, the traditional Thanksgiving holiday has been cast aside since it was hurtful to Native Americans. Similarly, children cannot play cowboys and Indians—Heaven forbid!

The latest close encounter with political correctness running amok occurred yesterday when  Aledo High School defeated Western Hills High (Fort Worth, Tex.) by the lopsided score of 91-0. One parent filed an official bullying report because of the public whipping.

Texas regulations require Aledo’s principal to launch a full investigation into the bullying allegation. I hope the charges will be dismissed because of the absurd premise that underlies the allegations. In life, there are often winners and losers; no amount of political manipulation will correct this disparity—not without destroying the very forces that pushes individuals and communities to achieve beyond their limitations.

Part of growing up requires that we realize that sometimes we fail to realize our goals. However, this realization need not engender pessimism or despair. Responsible educators and parents ought to teach children that every person can achieve personal excellence in any field of endeavor if they have the passion and the will to achieve their dreams.

The students at Western Hills High School and take pride knowing that they tried their best to play against Texas’s toughest football team but failed. There is nothing wrong with losing and it is tragic that the some misguided parents wish to punish the excellence of one of its local teams. Instead, they should be bursting with pride and use the experience to improve their game.

Had our grandparents indulged their children to shy away from “winning,” it is doubtful our soldiers would ever have defeated the Nazis and Japanese Empire during WWII. Whenever Israel is fighting for its life and is on the precipice of victory, too often, the State Department does everything to deny Israel its victory because we don’t want Israel to appear as the “Victor.” This attitude will only lead to greater tension and conflict between Israel and her neighbors.

As I mentioned in the previous posting, Robert Bly’s Iron John stresses the need for men to help cultivate vigorous masculinity through images that enhance valor, strength, protectiveness, and emotional centeredness. Without the help of our fathers playing a constructive role in parenting, our young boys will eventually look for other outlets to become men through participation in gangs. One of the worse things a mother can do is deny her male child the opportunity to explore what it means to be a man.

It is important to note that men have traditionally been the head of each household, the breadwinners who often took on all sorts of combat roles in times of war to protect their families against all outside attacks. Traditional fathers knew how to discipline and set boundaries for their adolescent children. Today, much of this old traditional child-rearing is no longer fashionable. In fact, it is often lampooned by people who ridicule the societal role of the traditional male. By raising soft males, our society is doing a disservice to our country and our families. Effeminate males are too afraid to fight for what is right and to protest against what is wrong. How will such feeble willed-males ever be able to protect the hearth and home from foreign attacks? God imbued men with testosterone for a good reason because it helps ensure the preservation of the human species.

Masculinity is something we should teach our boys in schools to celebrate—and not eradicate or effeminate.

Raising Boys by Design: A Book Review

Raising Boys by Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal About What Your Son Needs to Thrive


Raising Boys by Design: What the Bible and Brain Science Reveal About What Your Son Needs to Thrive. Authors: Gregory Jantz, PhD. and Michael Gurian 240 pages; Publisher: WaterBrook Press (2013); ISBN-10: 0307731685. Price: $14.99.

By Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel

CHULA VISTA, California — It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglass

This book is a fascinating study about  the scientific differences between boys and girls, men and women. This book will challenge certain politically correct
notions about the sexes that continue to wreak havoc on the lives of the young.

Since the 1970s, there has been a concerted effort on the part of many well-meaning radical feminists to so redefine gender equality by getting young boys to get in touch with their femininity, i.e., by helping boys develop what has long been regarded as typical feminine characteristics, e.g., compassion, tenderness, docility. At the same time, effort has been made to train young boys away from male competitiveness and male aggressiveness.

The blurring of male and female distinctions in some places results in strange behavior where little boys are encouraged to wear pink dresses, while little girls are taught to act like “one of the fellows.” Our society’s penchant for combating maleness has had a dangerous effect in creating neurotic, insecure and inferior men who haven’t a clue what it means to act or be a man.  The authors contend that “For every girl in a correctional facility, more than eight boys are incarcerated. Boys are expelled from public school at almost three times the  rate of girls. Almost twice as many boys struggle with completing regular  schoolwork and
proper behavior in school as opposed to girls, and they make up 80-90% of discipline referrals to the principal.” (p. 12).

Male aggressiveness is often seen to be more a part of nurture than it is nature. Advocates for the unisex approach to child rearing operate on the dubious assumption that men and women are identical beings—except for their sexual organs.

The two authors manage to combine both biblical thoughts  on raising boys along with the scientific perspectives gleaned from contemporary studies in brain science. For example, a boy’s brain functions differently from a girl’s brain is based on the impact that testosterone has during the age of adolescence. Both parents play an important role in helping children get in touch with their respective genders.

Unfortunately, due to the phenomenon of divorce, many young males grow up without fathers who provide good role models to help these youth mature into healthy and balanced male adults. Such situations often place a burden  on the mother that is emotionally exasperating for both mother and son!

The authors further argue that parents need to help their sons get in touch with their capacity to become heroic.

Indeed, the cover of the book shows a little boy wearing a superman cape—an image that I can personally relate from my childhood. Comic books actually help young men learn how to individuate as healthy males. Being a part of the Boys Scouts also offers a valuable template in developing the traits of a HERO  (Honor, Enterprise, Responsibility and Originality). (Part 2, p. 71-88 In a world where families are divided, the authors stress that grand-parenting plays a pivotal role in actualizing a healthy male identity (pp. 74, 95).

The authors cite King David as an excellent example of a modern hero for young males. Actually, had the author referred to David when he was a shepherd, I would have agreed. However, King David is not the best role model for young men to aspire for.  King David was indulgent; he stole another man’s wife and ordered the murder of her husband! Lastly, he was a very poor parent when it came to raising healthy male role models. Each of his sons were morally scarred by their father’s upbringing. Of course, David did show moments of courage, contrition, valor and finally found personal redemption in the second half of his life.

One of the most interesting section of their book deals with the importance of certain “rites of passage,” where adult males help young men become adults (pp. 179-191). Interestingly, the authors believe that the Bar Mitzvah is an excellent approach—one which the Christian community ought to consider incorporating its own version (and often does through the ceremony better known as “Confirmation” (pp. 182-183).[1] This observation made we wonder about the modern synagogue, where more and more women are assuming the role of the rabbis in congregations. One wonders whether the feminization of the American
rabbinate in particular has altered the manner, which young men are becoming adults or not.

Based upon Jantz and Gurian’s study, there seems to be a qualitative difference between male and female mentors for young adolescents. I was left wondering whether female rabbis might have greater effectiveness working with girls, while male rabbis are better suited for young men. The famous 20th century anthropologist Mircea Eliade explains that among primitive peoples, men help bring young men into adulthood, while women bring young women into
adulthood. More studies need to be conducted on this matter and at present, the jury is still out.

One of my favorite books dealing with the importance of male initiation rites conducted by men is Robert Bly’s brilliant Iron John,  where he addresses the devastating effects of remote fathers and mourns the disappearance of male initiation rites in our culture. Continue reading “Raising Boys by Design: A Book Review”

Some Reflections on Isaac’s Near-Death Experience


Popular culture often adds its own midrashic spin to famous biblical stories. The episode known as the Akedah, “The Binding of Isaac” illustrates the harrowing chapter when Abraham almost saw his future go literally, “up in smoke.” Bob Dylan and Woody Allen both add a remarkable subtext to the story where Abraham nearly ritually slaughtered his son as a sacrifice to God.

Dylan sees a dark side to God’s behavior. In his song, Highway Sixty One Revisited, Dylan writes:

  • “Oh God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son.’ Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on.’ God say, ‘No.’ Abe say, ‘What?’ God say, ‘You can do what you want Abe, but the next time you see me comin’ you better run.’”

Some people experience God as a demonic being that is out to “get us,” if we fail to worship God properly. In the Midrashic imagination, God’s behavior in this instance is reminiscent of Job’s experience. Job, as you probably know, experienced God as an adversary. In fact, the name, “Iyob” means “enemy,” and the identity of this “enemy” remains an enigma throughout this particular biblical book.

Woody Allen offers a neo-Kantian approach to the Akedah story. Like Kant, Allen contends that Abraham actually fails the test.

  • God: “I jokingly suggest you to sacrifice Isaac and you immediately run out to do it.” And Abraham fell to his knees, “See, I never know when you’re kidding.” And the Lord thundered, “No sense of humor. I can’t believe it.” “But does this not prove I love you, that I was willing to donate mine only son on your whim?” And the Lord said, “No, Abraham, that doesn’t prove anything at all. All it proves that lunatics and fanatics will follow any order no matter how asinine, as long as it comes from a resonant and well-modulated voice.”

Woody Allen’s interpretation is one that even some Hassidic Rebbes have embraced. Emil Fackenheim, one of the greatest  Jewish theologians of the Holocaust, recalls the following story told to him by a Hasid:

  • A Hasid once called me: “I want to see you.” I asked, “Why?” He said, “I have something to teach you. So he showed up, about 25 years old, in his black garb and payot [side curls]. What I remember was his question: “Did it ever occur to you that the God who asks Abraham to do the Akeda [binding of Isaac] as a sacrifice, sends an angel to stop it?” And he said, ‘God was fed up with Abraham: when he asked him to sacrifice his son ‑‑ that was the test ‑‑‑ He wanted Abraham to say NO!” [The Hasid might have been surprised to know that Immanuel Kant made the same observation over 2 centuries ago!]

Yes, the story of the Akedah creates cognitive dissonance in us.

How do we differentiate between the voice of God and the voice that mimics and parodies God, but is in reality, the voice of cruelty and evil?

If one examines Midrash Rabbah on the Akedah, the Sages intimated that Satan is the one who instigated this ordeal for Abraham. In symbolical and psychological terms, Abraham’s test consists of differentiating between the true voice of God and the voice that parodies God (Satan).

I believe that the Midrash offers a profound insight.

The Akedah teaches us that there are two types of religiosity. One is authentic and life affirming, the other type of religiosity is a cheap imitation because it doesn’t inspire people to live in accordance with Judaism’s highest principles.

Discerning God’s voice isn’t too hard, for any God who would demand that we sacrifice our children, is hardly worthy of our love or our devotion. God did not want Abraham to kill Isaac ‑‑ He wanted Abraham to just say NO! The prophet Jeremiah makes this point abundantly clear in his condemnation of Molech worship, which had taken root in ancient Israel:

  • Because the people have forsaken me, and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their ancestors nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent, and gone on building the shrines of Baal to burn their children in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it enter my mind. Therefore the days are surely coming, says the LORD, when this place shall no more be called Tophet, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of Slaughter (Jer. 19:4-6).

The Talmud adds an important interpretation of the above Scriptural text:

And it is further written, “which I did not command or decree, nor did it enter my mind.” —   This refers to the sacrifice of the son of Mesha, the king of Moab, as it is said, “Then he took his firstborn son who was to succeed him, and offered him as a burnt offering on the wall” (2 Kings 3:27) –  This portion of the verse refers to the daughter of Jephthah. (Judg. 11:13) “nor did it enter my mind”  —  This refers to the sacrifice of Isaac, the son of Abraham.[1]

Unfortunately, we have witnessed the horrors of 9/11 and countless acts of terrorism in the world where parents send their children to maim and destroy in the Name of God. Too often, religious people use God to justify every conceivable evil.

Rav Abraham Isaac Kook once said that a great amount of the world’s suffering is because people have a confused conception of God. As religious people, we must make sure that our thoughts of God are clean and free from the dross of deceptive fantasies that are based on human inadequacies.  Faith in God must enhance human happiness and promote a  reverence for life. Continue reading “Some Reflections on Isaac’s Near-Death Experience”