a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson
Radio Show Transcript - April 25, 1999
Feder: This is Toward
a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson and Rabbi Jacobson
is here in the studio. First of all, we want to thank all of
you who have written in and called, we want to urge you to keep
on communicating with us.
The idea of the day, something
that everybody is talking about, is the tragedy in Littleton,
Colorado. Now I put a few thoughts together and have some introductory
questions, but obviously, this is something we can explore in
Murder is as old as Cain and Abel.
If you look in the Bible, itís one of the oldest things there
is. And murder is committed for all sorts of reasons: poverty,
oppression, revenge, war, plain ordinary madness. But in this
case, as everybody notices, whatís different is you have a bunch
of middle/upper-middle class kids who are not suffering from
all the aforementioned usual reasons why people have all this
What we canít know isóand these
things are happening more and more every couple of monthsówe
canít know what the personal psychology is in these kidsí homes,
but we can ask some of the more obvious and profound questions
can this be explained?
do we deal with this, digest this, in our lives?
on earth do we take preventative measures against things
like this happening in the future?
So this is a whole lot to chew
on, but I hand it over to you now.
Jacobson: Well thank you.
Feder: The ball is in your
Jacobson: At the outset
I should say that whenever you deal with any type of tragedy
of this nature, itís very difficult to talk about it in a logical
and organized way, but when you put yourself, G-d forbid, in
the shoes of the parents and family that have been broken and
will be broken forever because of this unfortunate incident,
then you know that after all the hype in the newspapers and
all the radio talkshows and everyone finishes and exhausts their
thoughts about it, and the psychiatrists and the psychologists
and the educators and the President, etc., these people will
live with this for the rest of their lives.
When you put yourself for a moment
in that type of situation, talking about it is almost useless
because you donít feel you can console, or in any way repair
and heal the pain involved of the losses. I include the pain
even of relatives of those who perpetrated this, even though
I donít want to equate the two, but this is a tragedy all around
that has forever altered the history of certain family units.
That, I think, is the first thing that must be acknowledged.
Yet, Maimonides does write that
víhachai yiten el libo, "the living shall take to
heart." When all of us witness things of this nature (we
see it in our own communities and in our schools, which makes
it so much more devastating), that young people can turn on
their own friends in a school which is supposed to be an oasis,
a haven, from all the violence in the street, it forces us,
and we are compelled, to address it.
But what does it mean to us? This
isnít just their tragedy, because itís our tragedy. Itís a country,
an environment, that allowed something like this to happen.
Now of course it can be dismissed
as an aberration, but even if one argues that thatís the case,
Talmudic law, Jewish law, dictates that when something happens
in your community, in your country, you are responsible for
it. You have to do something about it. Even if it was an aberration.
Compound it with the fact that itís not an aberration, unfortunately,
as we see with certain trends, you are forced to look at it.
Unfortunately, we deal with problems only when they emerge and
we canít ignore them any longer.
So when this happens, everyone
wrings their hands and screams and criesÖ
Feder: And yet it has happened
over and over again in the last few years.
Jacobson: Right. And I think
what has to be addressed, as you put it, is preventive measuresóbut
more importantlyówhat is the root? How is it possible, if people
who are not mentally imbalanced should be able to consider,
let alone pull off (they say it was pre-meditated with over
a year of planning, so this is not exactly an act of insanity),
what kind of environment and education can allow things like
that to happen? Does it have to happen to each of our families,
G-d forbid, before we wake up to recognize that we have to look
So Iíd like to share some thoughts
in that vein. But I wanted to just lay it out, although qualifying
it by saying that thereís always deep pain when you feel the
pain of others involved, and this isnít just an academic analysis
and psychological overview, but one has to look at it like itís
your own family and your own brothers and sisters, and community,
Obviously, no one condones murder,
and everyone is shocked by the event. But even from shock you
can also define a societyís attitude. The shock is that innocent
blood was shed, but I havenít heard shock at an educational
system that can allow for that. If education is to mean anything,
who cares whether theyíre brilliant mathematicians or philosophers,
or physicists, or doctors, or computer engineers if a person
can lift his hand to another person? From my point of view,
and from everything I experienced in my school years, education
is not about knowledge, itís about living. To learn how to live
a productive and constructive life.
Feder: In a communityÖ
Jacobson: Yes. And not only
do we not hurt another, but you enhance other peopleís lives,
because without that, whatís the point of going to school anyway,
to make money? To have a career? To make ends meet?
So what weíre looking at here,
if you cut to the chase, is the question, what is at the heart
of education? What do we expect from the best of our students?
Because when things like this happen, and everyone likes to
relegate it to, "Oh, this is an exception. These are these
type of kids, they must have grown up in certain broken families.
There may be problems with their school. But itís not in our
I completely disagree with that.
I would say, maybe our educational foundations need some correcting.
Maybe there some basic fundamental elements that are lacking
and when they filter down, spill over, it can end up in an act
like that. Obviously, in 98% of the cases it wonít be that extreme,
but this may be happening to kids all across the country, except
some of them wonít act out their most violent instincts, and
Feder: When you say education,
you donít just mean school, do you? I mean, youíre talking about
how a society educates? How a culture educates? What you absorb
from living in your own house? From watching television? From
going to the movies or watching what the President does? Education
comes in many forms, not just when you walk in the door of a
Jacobson: Iím glad you pointed
that out. When I say education I mean as a holistic environment
that is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Education is not just
actual school, itís whatís going on at home, whatís going on
in the streets, itís whatís going on on television. And beyond
that, education doesnít stop when you graduate. Education is
in all of our lives because even as adults we are constantly
being educated by our environment. Except as adults we are,
so to speak, more protected. Weíre not in our formative years.
So not every event and incident shapes us.
But we need to discuss all of the
above and to do this in an organized way, we need to do this
piece by piece or else weíre going to become overwhelmed.
Feder: So which section
of the world that educated these kids should we look at first?
Jacobson: Before we get
into the specifics of whether itís school or home, we should
look at certain basic principles of just what is education.
I bring a story in my book, Toward a Meaningful Life, in
the chapter on education, about parents are having problems
with a child whoís rebelling quite seriously and come to their
mentor, their rabbi, their Rebbe. And he listens to their problem
and he looks at them and he says, "Youíve come to me eighteen
years too late."
Not that he wasnít offering to
help, but his point was very well taken based on a verse in
King Solomonís Book of Proverbs, "Educate your young according
to their way, so as they age and grow older, they will not wander
away from it."
In other words, education is much
more than the transmission of knowledge. Itís the shaping of
a life, of lifeís attitudes, that childís attitudes, the viewpoint:
what matters, whatís important, what isnít important.
Feder: But this is always
within the context of interacting with your family and with
a community, otherwise, whatís the point?
Jacobson: Of course, of
course. So the first and foremost element of education is human
responsibility. That youíre here on this earth with a cause
and a purpose, and you have to live up to that calling. This
isnít a jungle, this isnít just a random life that is driven
by whim and instinct, and it isnít just a struggle for survival,
survival of the fittest, I may add, which only lends itself
to a completely narcissistic attitude.
Feder: At this point itís
almost impossible not to say that as we lookóI came down here
in a cab today, I must have inherited some money from somewhereóitís
impossible not to look around, read the newspapers, see what
goes on, everything from top to bottom, and see that there is
a complete absence of any sense of right and wrong, an absence
of morality (Iím stating this in an extreme case) that greed,
that lust, that violence, that sex, that everything involved
with getting and spending, is celebrated perhaps more now than
Iíve ever seen in the time that Iíve been alive.
And if thatís whatís all around
these kids, what is left for them?
Jacobson: Iíd like to focus
on two major points which Iím leading up to which will address
the point you just said. And that is, number one, from a Torah
perspective, from a Jewish perspective, and from a universal
perspective, a person without a cause is worse than a person
without oxygen. "Cause", that invisible word "cause",
itís not tangible. You canít point your finger at it, you canít
touch it, but cause gives purpose to your life. It gives you
a reason to rise to a higher calling. I think when thatís lacking,
thereís an unbelievably deep, profound void in a personís heart
and soul that needs to be filled, and they will find one way
or the other to fill that void.
Feder: The vacuum canít
Jacobson: Right. It cannot
be tolerated. You can get away with it, you can distract yourself,
but particularly young people who, in a way, are not yet completely
immersed in the material world of building a career, or making
a living, have that free time and, in a sense, that luxury to
where that vacuum wonít come back to haunt them.
And I speak of myself as well,
as a teenager going through adolescence, and a parent should
never forget his or her own youth, because thatís the best way
to be a teacher to your own young children, is by remembering
when you were there. If you forget that for one moment, you
canít relate. So we all have that type of passion. A young person
has a deep, burning fire inside of them. They call it hormones,
or adrenaline, or the "fire in the belly," but they
have it inside of them.
Many people often see that that
fire is a destructive thing. You know, "young people rebel,
they demonstrate, they donít get along with their parents, they
fight with establishment," but in truth, the fire is coming
from a very healthy place. Itís the power and the fire of the
spirit that refuses to conform to the status quo and wants to
change the world but itís frustrated and it doesnít know how
So you hear a lot in the news today
about these kids, how they were saying that "we were ostracized,
we were different, we werenít accepted." I donít know the
particulars in their particular case, and they have had warped
minds and been poisoned by all kinds of other ideologies, but
one thing is clear: if you cut through all of it (in psychology
it is known, the problem that you are told is never the real
problem, thereís always something else beneath the surface)
you hear one basic thing: the cry of young people not feeling
that they have a calling to fulfill, or they feel that they
are outsiders and not being respected for that.
Now we know that young people donít
really have developed ideas about things. A young person needs
to have that vacuum filled, that fire fed, and it has to be
channeled. And if it isnít channeled, it will be destructive.
Thereís no question in my mind that today, you see that drugs
and youth, or for that matter music, which is a major industryÖI
always wondered, why in this century did music become such a
major industry? Why wasnít it an industry 100 years ago? Or
even 50 years ago? And Iím sure there are many different reasons
given, "Once LPís and CDís became more available,"
but yet, music has always been part of the world, but now itís
a billion/trillion dollar industry.
I think that music, particularly
as itís taught in Kaballah (Jewish mysticism) music is like
the wings of the soul. Music is a way that the soul travels.
Itís spiritual travel, essentially. And when you have a deep
vacuum and void of nothing transcendent in your life, you look
for quick ways to satisfy that need. And music does it quickly.
In a 2-3 minute song, who doesnít dance to the music, or sing
along? It can transport you to another place.
So that can be very healthy. Music
is a tool that, in lack of other spiritual values, is a form
of spiritual yearning. And many young people may not acknowledge
it, and many people may not acknowledge it, but from the perspective
of spirit, the search of spirit, to actualize itself, to soar,
music offers a very easy alternative.
Feder: Well, you know, these
kids in Littleton were big music fans.
Jacobson: Yes. This is the
point. When the vacuum is really not filled, music cannot replace
the true needs that a spirit has to have because you canít just
get away with listening to rock or some other alternatives.
And Iím in no way trying to criticize the entire music industry,
because, in essence, it's a pure thing. But everything has to
be channeled properly.
So weíre dealing with young people,
and the point that I want to make, is that it is critical for
parents, educators and schools, that you have to instill in
people from a young age, the younger the better, the attitude
that they are responsible to a higher being.
You know, the separation of church
and state in the United States is quite obvious, and no one
disagrees with that. And I donít want to come across at all
preaching, or pontificating, and wringing our hands saying,
"Oh, look how terrible, they have no G-d in their lives."
But I do want to say something
in defense of the founding fathers who are so revered in this
country, the Constitution. Even atheists use dollar bills that
in American currency has the words "In G-d We Trust"
engraved in them. And I havenít seen any of them burn that money.
Thereís certain wisdom in that
element that they put "In G-d We Trust" on the bills,
even though the same constitution guarantees the separation
of church and state, which the same founding fathers felt there
was no contradiction in putting that statement on the currency.
Which is rare. I donít think any other currency in any other
country has that. And there, perhaps, the church is much more
powerful that it is in this country.
I think the reason thatís behind
it is that their intention was not a religious G-d, but a non-denominational
G-d, meaning that the idea "all men are created equal"
is impossible if you do not accept a Creator. Because perhaps,
if there is no Creator, then maybe they arenít all created equal.
Maybe some are better than others, or not equal.
The statement "all men are
created equal" paradoxically, means that a person can get
up in this country and say, "I have no G-d in my life.
I want to burn the American flag". That itself is guaranteed
as a right, because we believe that since G-d created you, you
have the right to do that.
So the idea that there is a higher
calling, that you in your life are responsible for that higher
calling, is a foundation without which all education will erode.
Feder: But that if you think
you were created by a higher power then there is a meaning to
your life. If there is no other apparent meaning at all, at
least there is that meaning.
But let me make this statement.
Maybe thereís 130 kids at Littleton High Schoolís senior class.
Iím willing to bet, the world being what it is in America today,
that 90 of them donít believe in G-d, or donít even think about
G-d. And they havenít gone around blowing people up and shooting
people. They seem to be able to get through life. And parents
may take them to church or synagogue or whatever. But I know
teenage kids, and a lot of them are questioning at most, and
some of them are just in a modern world where they donít really
believe that much. They may be seeking, but they donít necessary
believe. A lot of people in this world, a lot of teenagers,
get by without this belief, without this knowledge, without
murdering anybody, without stealing, without doing all these
Jacobson: Itís a very fair
question. And how I would like to respond would be to go back
to something I said earlier: symptoms that express themselves
in extreme ways reflect on the state of mind of all young people
today. The reason that 98% or 99.9% of young people would never
stoop or consider doing something like that is that they did
"get" a G-d in their lives, except itís not called
G-d. It may be called responsibility, it may be that they grew
up in a home where their parents cared enough and the education
around them gave them that sense that thereís just an absolute
line that you do not cross.
I donít care what you call it.
But the fact that there is an absolute line that you do not
crossÖwho created that line? As soon as you say "absolute"
line, that would be the only way I could agree and say, yes,
I think 99% of the kids would never do a thing like that.
Iíll challenge you in return. If
they donít believe in a G-d, and they donít have any absolute
values, what makes them not cross that line? What is the taboo?
Feder: Well, like you say,
they must have some values. Maybe theyíre not sure exactly what
they are, but they do have some basic values, the most basic
value of all being respect for someone elseís personal life,
for the integrity of their existence.
Jacobson: This is the point
that I want to lead to. The word "G-d" is a very distorted,
misconceived and stereotyped word in this country. And I hesitate
using it because of the stereotype. When I say G-d, I do not
mean what most people would react to. Usually most people react,
"Oh, so we need religion in order to counter such type
Feder: They think you mean
like some sort of organized religion.
Jacobson: Right. Or a question
like yours. You can be a very good person. You see so many people
who are completely virtuous and who are non-criminals and have
no G-d in their lives. On the other hand, you have many people
who are great believers in G-d and they have quite criminal
So Iím quite familiar with that,
which is why I like to quote the story where this rabbi was
going to a synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, and he invited one of
his neighbors, and his neighbor said, "You know, Rabbi,
whatís the point of me going along with you? I donít believe
And the rabbi smiled and said to
him, "You know, the G-d that you donít believe in, I also
donít believe in."
When I say the word G-d, I donít
mean it in many of the images that most have, including myself.
What Iím talking about is that absolute line, that "you
are not all that there is." You said it very clearly. That
respect for another person.
Let me ask you a question. If we
live in a society of survival of the fittest, dog eat dog, you
do anything for yourself to survive, and that we have evolved
from bacteria millions of years agoÖ Have you ever seen considerate
bacteria? They step away so another bacteria can make its move?
So I ask you this? What gives the
human that invisible instinct that they will not cross a certain
line? That they should actually have absolute respect and can
never cross that boundary?
Frankly, I donít like to bring
up this topic. But I think, that if you really went down to
a philosophical view on this, I can make a very strong argument
for anarchy. Because, let me play the skeptic for a moment and
you, Mike, can play the believerÖ
Feder: This is going to
be very hard for me.
Jacobson: Well, try your
Feder: Iíll get a medal
if I do all right on this.
Jacobson: Well, thatís also
a statement. If a skeptic can play a believer, and a believer
can play a skeptic, what does that say?
Feder: Okay, shoot.
Jacobson: I will now proceed
to make an argument for anarchy. Complete anarchy. That the
only thing that keeps the glue together in a society is primitive
fear. We donít want to be hurt so Iím not going to hurt someone
else. But green lights and red lights are simply arbitrary necessities
in order for us to be able to co-exist. But thereís nothing
absolute about red lights and green lights. If nobodyís watching,
why canít I pass a red light unless Iím afraid of a cop who
may give me an $80 ticket and points on my license.
For that matter, if Iím alone,
or if I can get away with a crime, I can cheat the government
or I can get away with a crime against another human being and
Iíll never be caught so I wonít be embarrassed by it, why shouldnít
And I could go on with a list but
we donít have all evening here. But a list of similar questions.
Whatís the argument against anarchy? So let me immediately eliminate
Someone may say, well, thatís true.
Morality is ultimately arbitrary. Moral relativism as they call
it. And what keeps a society together is some type of fear.
Fear of punishment. Conscience.
Feder: Fear of embarrassment.
Jacobson: We also have this
evolutionary quirk called a conscience which weíd love to get
rid of. You know, we feel bad about certain thingsÖ
Feder: Associated with shame
Jacobson: Yes. A conscience.
Like sometimes you do something and you donít really feel good
about it afterwards, but Iím sure that someone could patent
a pill, a "conscience-killer pill"óI donít want to
give anyone ideasóbut you know, you do something and you donít
feel guilty. Guiltless behavior. Great!
But the argument against all that,
whatever argument youíll give me, and Iím sure you can give
me one, I will say to you, you call that G-d. You donít want
to use the word G-d but call it some other name? But basically
it comes down to this. That there is an understanding, some
kind of inherent feeling, that "Iím not all there is. Because
if life is all about me, number one, then the end always justifies
the means, and I should be able to do anything I want if I can
get away with it."
Feder: With all due respect,
if you look around, and as simply as the President of the United
States, and almost everyone who is examining him, everybody
who is in Congress, everybody who is in the Senate, if you went
down the line, everyone of our leaders, our theoretical moral
leaders, if you look at our business leaders, if you look at
stock traders, if you look at all these people, one after anotherÖ
But letís limit it to the President
of the United States who is theoretically "the father/leader
of our country"Ö
Jacobson: The paragon of
Feder: Öthis man gets away
with anything he can and so do half the Senators and half the
Congress people. If you look in the newspaper the other day,
a religious leader out in Brooklyn got indicted for stealing
$7 million. Everywhere you look, this is my answer to that,
people are getting away with everything they can get away with,
and if they get caught, they deny it anyway and hire a lawyer.
Jacobson: Okay. So how many
steps away is your description from a few teenagers in Colorado
getting up and murderingÖ
Feder: Not far, not farÖ
Jacobson: Itís just that
thatís shocking and this, well, everyoneís doing it. Thatís
the whole entire difference. And thatís why, going back to my
original premise, is that sometimes you need an infection to
burst out and then you suddenly see that that infection is not
only there, itís all over the place.
And I couldnít agree with you more.
I donít at all, and I want to qualify that weíre not here for
a fire and brimstone talk of how bad society isÖ
Feder: Thatís my job.
Jacobson: Öbecause I believe
in human dignity, and the Divine presence in our lives, and
when you respect, you have confidence that people can rise to
the occasion. But I think incidents of this nature, in addition
to everything you just put on the platter, for an intelligent
person, a sensitive parent, if you really want to do something
about it, you have to use all of this as a springboard, a catalyst,
to create awareness in your own lives.
Iím not getting into a discussion
now of "Do you need a G-d to have morality or donít you
need a G-d to have morality?" But Iíll put it this way:
If you donít have some absolute respect, a line that cannot
be crossed, that itís not all about you, your survival and your
comfort - from my point of view, donít call it G-d if need be
- but thatís what must be taught to young people and to older
And the younger itís taughtóimpressionable
children pick it up. And education, going back to your point,
is not just whatís taught in school from nine to three, itís
24 hours a day. If what a child picks up in school is contradicted
at home, it's inconsistent. That what you learn at school you
donít need to do.
Feder: I think at this point
we should take a little break to re-identify ourselves. Youíre
listening to Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson,
and Iím Mike Feder. This is WEVD 1050 AM in New York.
Let me give you some of the ways
in which you can send us questions on the various topics you
are listening to, anything that you have to direct towards us.
The most important thing is the telephone number: 1-800-3MEANING
or 1-800-363-2646. You can also e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Iíd like to also tell you that we
have a new website thatís currently under construction where
you can download transcripts of this program. Itís www.meaningfullife.com.
I also want to mention that each
week the blueprint, the guide that we refer to quite often is
Rabbi Jacobsonís book Toward a Meaningful Life and this
is published by William Morrow, currently in the stores, and
this is wonderful, inspirational book which I personally can
urge you to buy. I wouldnít tell you unless I really liked it
myself and got a lot out of it.
Okay, so we talked about the vacuum
and the emptiness, but I want to get back to examining the nature
of this emptiness and this vacuum. I mean, teenagers have always
had this wandering spirit, this feeling of having no identity
and trying to fill something up. This has been happening since
there was the first teenager however long ago it was. But what
is the nature, in your opinion, is there a special quality to
our current American emptiness thatís different than it ever
Jacobson: I believe again,
with a short qualification that when you are living history,
itís hard for you to see things in perspective. We see things
right now and we donít always have an immediate birdís eye view.
So often we think we may be living in the best of times or the
worst of times. With that being said, and as a student of history,
I think we all can acknowledge that we live in an unprecedented
prosperous time. Prosperity in the United States (although thereís
a poverty level of course) is unprecedented in the sense of
travel, communications, leisure and free time. And it continues
Free time sounds like a great thing.
We all say, "Oh I wish I had some free time." But
free time, when thereís nothing to fill it with, can be one
of the most challenging things in a personís life.
Feder: Like the saying,
"Idol hands are the devilís playgroundÖ"
Jacobson: Yes. But Iíll
put it this way. From a psychological point of view, when a
person doesnít have a driving force, for example, depression
is, as one of the Chassidic teachings state, not as big a problem
as the bigger problem: that it demoralizes you and you donít
feel motivated to make a move, so it creates a kind of vacuum.
Thereís an interesting statement
in the Bible. It says when they threw Joseph into the pit, it
said the pit was empty. It had no water. So the commentaries
all ask, "Is that not redundant? If the pit is empty, obviously
it has no water?"And they explain, it had no water but it had
snakes and scorpions.
And psychologically this is often
taken to mean that when thereís a vacuum, there will always
be something to fill the vacuum. There is no such thing as a
vacuum in life. So when you look around today, thereís so many
alternativesófrom the Internet, to video games, to music, television,
sportsóand the channels continue to grow. And each of them independently
are fine programming. Some is destructive, but letís say neutral
programming, but the bottom line is there is a lot to fill your
time with. And the spirit is not being nourished and fed.
The single most important thing
I would say to any parent listening in this country or wherever
it may be that we can learn from an incident of this nature
is, start nourishing your childís spirit. The spirit is not
nourished like a body is nourished. Itís not through food and
itís not through drink and itís not through entertainment, and
itís not through television, and other forms of recreation.
A spirit is nourished first and foremost by paying attention
Do you know what a child needs
more than anything else? Not fun and games. A child needs the
acknowledgment that I exist and that I matter. Itís an invisible
type of food, because it doesnít sound like youíre giving the
child anything, but a child who is deprived of that, look at
the devastating results we see today. When a child is given
that, itís almost invisible, like health, it doesnít feel like
anything. When youíre healthy, you donít feel anything. But
we know what itís like when youíre deprived of health.
A child needs to know that I matter,
I matter to you. Youíre ready to spend a few minutes with me,
it doesnít matter for what. Maybe just sitting with a child
when theyíre crying, or laughing, or just stooping down and
picking them up. Itís that type of respect that the child learns
from how to respect another personÖ for no other reason except
that they exist. Not only when the child does something great
at school, so of course you reward him or her, obviously it
goes without saying that you would acknowledge achievements,
but respect when there is nothing the child did.
The child comes and the parent
spends that one or two minutes that acknowledges, with total
respect, the childís presence, is perhaps one of the greatest
lessons of feeding the spirit. So the spirit doesnít need much.
But what it needs qualitatively is very profound.
Do you think abuse and dysfunctionality
is only when the parent strikes the child or is abusive in some
other way? Do you think itís not also abuse when parents comes
home and all they have on their mind is the stock market or
the newspapers, or theyíre tired and just want to go to bed
and they donít even see their child, or even look at him. They
say, "Hey, the childís doing well. Your marks are good, great."
"Howís it going? Great. See you tomorrow."
That is, in a subtle way, as abusive
because itís not feeding the spirit of the child.
Feder: Let me ask you this.
Youíre bringing up some point that is, of course, extremely
profound and is, in a way, the answer to this problem. To spend
time with your children and show them respect and care and sympathy.
But, you know, cows, dogs, mice take care of their children
without having to be told. Why does such a wonderful creation
as a human being need to be instructed in this?
Jacobson: Maybe this is
one of the reasons why so many people envy animal bliss. Well,
barring the option of becoming a cow or a mouse or a chicken,
I think that the challenge of free will in life offers us a
great gift, and like every great gift, thereís another side
to it, which is a great risk for pain.
Human beings, and without getting
into the philosophical side of it, were blessed with something
that cows donít have, which is, to choose to do this or to choose
not to do this.
Feder: Thatís a blessing?
Jacobson: Yes. You know
why? Because when you do it, and you choose to do it, it really
means something. When a cow does it, a cow really had no other
option. And with all due respect to cows - I hope there arenít
any listening to this show - they are basically playing out
a pre-programmed script, which is beautiful. As a matter of
fact, the Talmud says that if we didnít have the laws in the
Torah, we would learn modesty from cats, and we would learn
ethics from other animals.
So animals have much to teach us
on how to behave, but they canít teach us one thing, which is
to choose to do so.
Iíll pose this question, what would
be wrong if the child remains in his parentsí home and is always
provided for by the parent? As a matter of fact, the parent
does everything for the child, walks for them, talks for them,
like a child in its motherís womb. Itís protected. It doesnít
have to go search for its own food or nourishment. It canít
be hurt as easily.
Birth is actually quite a difficult,
traumatic transition. Now you suddenly have to look for your
own food so thereís the potential for famine, illness, lack
of protection. But that is what lifeís gift is. Itís the gift
of birth which is a gift that, to put it in Divine terms, that
G-d blessed us with life, with the ability to choose, and when
you choose, itís yours, and you made a real difference.
Inherent in that, unfortunately,
is also the ability to not choose, or of choosing in the opposite
direction. Is it worth it? I cannot make that statement. Only
G-d can tell us if itís worth it. And obviously, by blessing
us with life, He told us that itís worth it. With all the pain,
G-d is saying that no matter how painful it is for Me and for
you to see tragedies like this happen, it would be more painful
if I took away your free will.
Feder: Letís bring this
down to earth here. Truly, letís make this practical. Letís
say right now you were out there in this community, in Littleton,
Colorado, and there are people suffering unbearable grief. And
this relates to the show we did two weeks ago about pain and
suffering, the pain and suffering of innocence.
Letís say youíre out there now.
What would you be doing, what would you be saying? How would
you talk to people who are responsible? Who are responsible
for leading and educating their children in a professional way?
What would you say to them? What would you look for out there?
How would you try to influence them?
Jacobson: Well, thereís
a short term and a long term, but most of this show is dedicated
to the long term preventive overall perspective on education,
attitudes between parents and children, but the short term canít
In the short term youíre dealing
with an unbelievable amount of pain and if I were there, which
Iíd rather not be, because itís so overwhelming, you need to
do nothing more than just console and hold the hands and cry
together with the people who have suffered so.
To get up now, and have an academic
analysis of the problem with the people who are suffering, I
donít think would be at all appropriate. Right now you have
to cry with them, share the pain, and in some way we believe
that that somehow soothes and relieves someone of it. Thatís
the first and foremost thing if I were there.
Independent of that, if you can
sit in a room with educators or with professionals there to
help to just get through it, I think that this is perfect time
to make a crisis call to educators both there and across the
country, to talk about how you infuse some type of real deep
meaning (if youíre afraid of the word spiritual, donít use the
word spiritual) in childrenís lives and education in some way
that is both experienced in school and spills over into the
home and vice versa, and you use this as a catalyst for addressing,
in very specific ways, how do we infuse our education with that
element, and make this not as a short-term solution to what
happened in Colorado but as an overall perspective.
Thatís what I would more than encourage.
I think itís a matter of life and death. Of childrenís lives
and, we see here, by extension, of other peopleís lives. I think
we can discuss some suggestions that every parent and every
educator can implement even before the entire system is overhauled.
Feder: I was just about
to say that we need some specifics and now is the time. Itís
a fatal disease that we seem to be struck with in this country,
so what are some suggestionsófirst of all, generically, and
then specificallyóabout how people should approach this.
Jacobson: Itís such a large
topic that I feel anything I say is inadequate, so I just want
to qualify this that Iíll comment on a few things that come
to mind. Obviously, Iím not addressing now how to change the
educational system. That needs some serious thought. Basically,
curriculums must includeÖ the foundation of all education has
to be included in educationÖit cannot be left unspoken. Maybe
1000 years ago it could be left unspoken when we were in a healthier,
more naïve environment. But today, the foundation of all
education must be spelled out.
And that foundation is, why are
we here as human beings?
Feder: And there would be
a course in that.
Jacobson: Yes, a course,
exactly. If you donít want to call it G-d, donít call it G-d.
There are non-denominational, and non-religious terms that it
can be identified. The idea of absolute respect for a human
being. Find a word, create a new word. Donít call it spirit,
find a word that everyone finds acceptable, politically correct,
because semantics is not the issue.
Speak to the heart of people and
people will know what youíre talking about.
Feder: And this would be
in elementary schools too?
Jacobson: I think from beginning
to end everywhere. This would have to be the basis of it all.
Itís not going to be easy. Because remember, the problem is
often more with the parents and the teachers than it is with
Remember, children are very impressionable
and very receptive to truth. They are receptive to responsibility.
But the teacher and educator may not be that responsible themselves,
so they may not be ready to teach that which needs to be taught.
Feder: Well, obviously someone
fell down on the job out there and is doing so, and weíre all
guilty of this, all across the country.
Jacobson: On a more specific
level, I would speak to parents. Because ultimately, schools,
itís easy to cop out and say that schools are taking care of
our kids, but we see increasingly how thatís not the case, and
a great case can be made for home education. But I would say
this to parents: ultimately, itís your children, itís not the
schoolís children. The schools are trying to do the best job
they can and they care, but itís your children and itís your
If youíre not responsible for them,
who will be? As Hillel said,
Feder: "If not now, when?"
Jacobson: Right. So I would
say on a personal level, on an individual level, things can
be done immediately which is, before your child goes to sleep
every night, from a young age and on, you speak to them about
those things. Not whatís on television, and not what we read
in the newspapers, and not even about tragedies, but talk to
them about why life matters, why your life matters, why my life
matters, why life is sacred. In a positive way. I donít mean,
donít kill someone. Sacred in a positive way. And ways that
you can make your life sacred, from when you wake up in the
morning, to how you treat others, how you treat yourself. If
you treat yourself with respect it will extend to how you treat
Even though I donít think itís
popular to put a ban on television, but I highly encourage,
and I think itís getting there, that parents should seriously
look, even though television is a great babysitter, to look
at how much violence their children are exposed to. And donít
get me wrong, Iím not trying to blame everything on the video
machines, video gamesÖ Everything starts from the spirit, it
doesnít begin with the technology out there, but the entire
environment is prone to different attitudes, violent attitudesÖ
Feder: The violence that
is on video games that I have seen, when my son and his friends
play with them, is 100 times worse than what you see on television
and when you go to the movies. But I see parents bringing 6-year-olds
and 8-year-olds to see things that are so startling and so disgusting
thatís itís unbelievable. And Iíve done it myself when I was
feeling lazy with my own kids.
Jacobson: As Iíve said,
people have to look at their childrenís lives as sacred and
pure. And every step and every scar leaves an effect imbedded
forever and ever. And itís a matter of sensitivity that needs
to be addressed. It is critical for parents to be able to make
time for their children. Obviously to create an uproar in the
educational system, to the people on school boards, the people
who are underwriting school budgets, and to bring it to that
type of level of attention.
This isnít going to be easy, because
weíre dealing here not with educational systems, weíre dealing
here with the fabric of an entire society and I donít know if
responsibility is the number one priority.
Feder: This is a rhetorical
Jacobson: And since itís
not, how are we going to be compartmentalized and say that our
schools will teach our children responsibility as number one,
but weíre not that way. I donít see how thatís going to fly.
But weíre going to have to dedicate more such shows, and maybe
thatís why weíre on the air, for events of this nature, and
to be able to bring it to public attention.
Iím not naïve enough to think
that suddenly you bring certain things to peopleís attention,
tragedies, etc. and then suddenly everythingís going to change.
Unfortunately it doesnít work that way.
But if one person changes, thatís
something. And I think itís our job, you and I, and anyoneís
whoís listening to this, to have that personal impact. Ultimately,
thatís where the battle is fought. In Washington, youíre not
going to really win on a broad scale. World change happens one
soul at a time, one person at a time.
Feder: Youíre giving people
a hard challenge here, because Iím just thinking about myself,
and youíre asking people to examine their own hearts and the
way they live their own lives before they can speak to their
children at night. In other words, I have to know, what does
life mean to me, before I can tell my childrenÖ
Jacobson: Well, actually
thereís a back door. Iíll tell you what you can do. Donít do
it for yourself, do it for your child. Look at it that way.
In other words, I may not change myself, but for my child, I
may go ahead and pay the price. And sometimes thatís enough
of an ulterior motive.
As a matter of fact, thatís not
unheard of. Thereís a prophet, Malachi, in the book of Tanach,
in the Bible where it says, "At the end of time, the hearts
of the parents will return through their children."
So maybe that takes on different
shapes. Maybe sometimes through the positive elements of our
children because they inspire us to relive our youth and give
ourselves a second chance, so to speak, and also in the negative,
when we see children acting out in this way, it also awakens
Feder: We would like to
take a moment to thank the people who have made these shows
possible, Marti and Charles Yassky, and also tonight, we want
to thank Robert Klein, in honor and in memory of his sister,
Judith Stenn, whose birthday is April 23, 1942, and she passed
away March 30, 1989.
We have about one minute left if
thereís anything you want to say or add.
Jacobson: Well, in the spirit
of Robert Klein who has dedicated this show in memory of his
sister who passed away, I do want to say that the Jewish faith
has the firm belief, more than a belief, but the reality, that
a soul never dies but lives on eternally. This is by no means
a consolation for any tragedy that occurs, because the tragedy
is still alive for us when someone is cut away from us, but
we do believe in the eternity of the soul, and to try to make
sense of a loved one being torn away from us can only begin
if we use that as a catalyst for our own growth. And I donít
say this at all to console anyone, I do say that with all the
pain involved, we here on this earth have to do everything possible
to take the souls that are with us, our children, and look at
them as souls that are traveling through the vehicle called
the body in this life, and pay attention to them before you
put them to sleep and when they wake up in the morning. Teach
them that life is sacred and our lives are sacred and meaningful,
and that they make a difference.