Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Hello. Welcome to Toward a Meaningful Life with yours truly, Simon Jacobson. We’re here every Sunday from 6-7pm. Today is Father’s Day, and I don’t even know if it’s condoned in Judaism, but some would say every day is Father’s Day, every day is Mother’s Day, every day is son’s day, every day is daughter’s day, every day is secretary’s day… We have to be kind and mentschlich all year round.
However, since it is considered to be Father’s Day, we are dedicating this show to fathers, to men, in general. The title is “Why Do Men Get Such a Bad Rap?” And do they deserve it?
Someone sent me an email that said, “Men get a bad rap because they deserve a bad rap.” So we’ll discuss that. There’s an interesting convergence of events in my own personal life which is that today happens to by my father’s birthday as well. And in addition, for those of you out there who are interested in my life, my youngest brother, Yosef Yitzchok, became a father Friday night at 9pm; his wife gave birth to a son, their first child. So he’s a father for the first time.
So we have a lot of fathers around and I myself am a father as well, and a son.
So I was asked my brother earlier today, “What was your first immediate reaction to becoming a father? What was the initial emotion?”
And he answered, “Gratitude.” It’s an interesting reaction. Gratitude to G-d I assume, and for the awesome ability to bring a new life into this world. I thought that would be a good way to segue into this show because my follow-up question to him was, “So are you prepared to be a father?”
And of course the answer to that—I didn’t even have to wait for an answer—is that no one is prepared to be a father because there are no training courses to become fathers. There are Lamaze courses in how to give birth and the technical ways to support your wife when she’s in labor and giving birth, but to be a father, none of us are prepared, because until you don’t do it, you just aren’t one.
It’s one of those things that you only achieve by experience, and even experience doesn’t help you, because once you’ve experienced being a father, in a way, it’s too late for your kid. I think that’s an important message and an important way to begin so I would like to open up the phones to fathers and sons out there. I would really like to hear from anyone who has an interesting experience as a son or as a father. Do fathers get a bad rap? Do men get a bad rap?
There’s no one in this world who is not influenced and affected by his or her father and mother. Even though the following story is a mother story, I guess it’s equally appropriate to a father.
Three mothers are on a beach. They’re already retired, in their mid to late 80’s, and they’re sharing about the wonderful sons that each of them has.
One of them says, “My son, on my 80th birthday, came down to Miami with his entire family. They spent a week. They really catered to me; they wined and dined me; it was really beautiful.
The second one looks at her and says, “Ach, my son took us all for a safari for a month in Africa at his expense and we had the time of our lives.”
And the third one looked at both of them with compassion and said, “You don’t know what a son is until you’ve met my son. My son goes to therapy four times a week. He’s a high-powered attorney in New York so he pays top dollar for this therapy, and all he talks about is one thing. Me. That’s a son.”
The interesting thing, being a son and a father myself, is that it seems easier to be a son than a father, because you don’t have to do anything as a son, frankly—even though we have the mitzvah, the commandment, to honor our parents, which is of course one of the hardest ones to do, but in a way our parents unconditionally love us.
The interesting thing is, our children also unconditionally love us. But being a parent you’re already an adult, and therefore you’re accountable and you’re responsible.
So when we talk about a father and a son, it’s a deep type of relationship. I was reading some articles about some people’s experience with their fathers. Obviously some of us have had very terrible experiences, and therefore, Father’s Day is not necessarily a day for those people to celebrate because they had miserable or abusive fathers, and I definitely want to acknowledge that. It’s not all “hunky-dory” and party time.
But yet, our fathers have had an important impact on each of us, like a foundation. Especially in the hectic times that we live in, you find that many more women are career women, so fathers are, so to speak, reclaiming their position at home, their parenting. Is it true that women are more nurturing and more appropriate parents and the fathers are more detached, like we usually hear?
On a personal note, I love my father, there’s no question about it. My father’s a journalist so my most prominent memory of him is the newspapers all over our home, with him sitting late at night at a typewriter. The things your father does are so magnified in your own life because as a child, your father is almost G-dlike.
In psychology some people even see the father as the Divine archetype. That’s why we say, “Our Father in heaven” as a metaphor to the concept of a father. We’ll discuss a little later what exactly is the quintessential or perfect father. But my own memories of my father are magnified memories of an individual, of a looming presence in many ways—inaccessible because his own life is in his own orbit. A mother is usually more nurturing and more available on a day to day basis, at least in my situation it was such.
But as it is with all foundations, foundations in life are usually invisible. They’re under the ground. And lately, and this is very encouraging, when we hear people talking about their lives, we’re recognizing more and more how parents have an impact on our lives, and our course, the father element as well as the mother element have a very deep impact on who we are and whom we are expected to be.
When you read the story about Mozart, I’ll never forget how his father’s image was always haunting him, that he’d never do enough, never live up to his father’s expectations.
So we all have elements of that and it really defines for us our own masculinity and being who we are.
Another thing I often ask people is, “Are men truly more insensitive than women?”
That’s another stereotype but the question is, is it really a stereotype? Are men truly more insensitive than women? Women are given that role of sensitivity, motherly, nurturing, warmer. Men are more the aggressors, warriors, the hunters. And more importantly, are the roles that we’ve traditionally identified as male or female actually inherent or are they genetic or socially oriented and really acquired? That’s another good question. In other words, who are we on our own and who are we as opposed to what society and our communities have imposed upon us.
And finally, one person wrote to me a good line, “Are there any virtues in being male?” With all this talk about men being insensitive and the rap they’re getting, are there any virtues in being male?
I’d like to believe there are, simply for narcissistic reasons, however, it’s definitely a question that I also want to address.
I have a friend who lost his father when he was a teenager, sadly, and I speak to him a lot about it. Sometimes you need the eclipse of the sun to really appreciate sunlight. This loss had a major impact on his life. I could even say that a certain insecurity settles in, because in losing his father, he lost that undaunting pillar in his life, the person whom you know you can always turn to and just know that he’s there.
So if a person loses his father, often that’s when you begin to appreciate this pillar.
Now many sometimes cover up with bravado, but there’s no question that there’s an impact. And of course the worse scenario is a living dead father, meaning, someone who is not deceased on a biological level, but on a psychological and emotional level he’s worse than deceased because he’s there and he’s not there. And that’s basically an absentee father or someone who’s been abusive, whose son can’t even reach to him and is longing to reach because it’s such an important thing in our lives to have someone who you can talk to in that way.
Even as I speak, I’m thinking about my own fathering of my children. Someone wrote me an email this week knowing that I was going to be talking about this show, and cited something from pop culture, a “pop” song from Harry Chapin, “The Cat and the Cradle and the Silver Spoon.” And he explained the lyrics of the song, that the child waits every day for his father to come home to play ball with him, spend time with him but his father never has time. But he says, “We’ll soon get together again, son.”
And then when the son gets older, the son is always aspiring to be just like his father. At the end of the story he becomes exactly like his father, so when his father calls on him, as an older gentleman, he’s unavailable as well.
And the person who wrote me this email asked, unfortunately, is there a father today who is not that way? Is there someone out there who has really utilized the time and given his child quality time, and realized that fathering children, being a father, is a full-time job and as important if not more important than a career, because it shapes the future forever and ever. It may be the most significant thing a father can do—and I say this to my brother, because he’s beginning to be a father. Don’t learn from me and from our father. Be a better father!
In retrospect, when we think about it nostalgically, everyone would agree that theoretically we should spend much more time with our children. But in reality, you don’t really find fathers doing so, and the question is, can that be reversed?
I just realized something. Maybe the reason I’m not getting some calls is probably that all the great fathers and sons are spending time with each other instead of listening to this show. You know, they say that the only one there’s no hope for is an orator and a writer. Everyone has hope. But when it comes to a writer or a speaker, and I guess that radio show host goes into the same category, there’s no hope. No hope for teshuvah, no hope for regret. You know why? Because every time they hear something inspiring, they think to themselves, “Ah, great material for my next speech, my next show, my next book.” Instead of applying it to yourself personally.
Now, Adam and Eve had no father and no mother. Yet on a somewhat humorous note, I once asked the question at one of my classes, do you think that Adam had a navel, a belly button? We know that a navel comes from, of course, the umbilical cord that’s attached from the mother to the fetus, feeding it through its embryonic stage and pregnancy.
So since Adam was never in any normal pregnancy—he was created by G-d—did he have a navel?
The interesting thing is, the Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, says that there’s a concept called tabur of Adam Kadmon. For the listeners who may not know what that means, it means the navel of the primordial man. On a Kabbalistic, mystical level, it’s a metaphor, a dimension called the navel, which would imply that Adam also had one.
So the interesting thing is, whom was he attached to? He did not have biological parents. Yet, when you think about it, he did have a source. He too was created. And perhaps that’s where we begin to identify with G-d as father or mother, because you do find both references to G-d—sometimes father sometimes mother—even though it is predominantly father. (You do find G-d as shepherd, you find G-d as provider; there are many different metaphors or ways G-d is described.)
But clearly we see that Adam, too, needed to have a sense that he came from something before him, and perhaps that’s the essence of what a parent is about, that we’re not just self-made creatures.
Even realizing the contribution of our parents, most of us think we’re self-made. It’s not that our parents created us—I’ve talked about this on the show many times—it’s G-d that gives us life. Yet there is an element of knowing that life came to you and didn’t just fall out of heaven but that there are parents who provide, who are given the gift of being able to nurture and cultivate and educate us. It’s really a message and a lesson of perpetuity. It’s a feeling of being connected to the past, and as someone once put it (I don’t know what the source is) a good parent provides deep roots and broad wide wings.
I’ll take it a step further, that trees which have deep roots grow taller and bear greater fruit. So the interesting paradox is that it is through our roots, through our connection to the past, that gives us the ability to forge ahead into the future.
Of course, any time a child is dependent upon a parent, there’s always the risk of that parent being abusive or in some way hurting the child. If anything identifies or captures what a child is all about, it’s vulnerability, the epitome of innocence, the epitome of purity. My brother was telling me that when he saw his child, he saw the innocence, that moment of truth that something’s greater than you and I and all the vanity and pettiness of life. A child is completely innocent.
In a way, when we look a child, we’re really looking at ourselves in the purest form. So parents are given this gift, and what do we do with it is the big question.
Well, most of us forget after a while, because we go back to our work, so while that miracle of birth was great for the moment—and it’s great to write about and it’s great to remember perhaps on our birthdays—but on an ongoing basis, that foundation, the roots, become imbedded, they become submerged.
I remember recently Robert Bly came out very strongly with this “Iron John”—men bonding with their own masculinity, reconnecting to their own raw warrior that a man is. So he wrote, I believe, a book called Iron John. Anyway, I read an interesting article by someone who had taken one of these Iron John retreats. You pay $1500 to grunt, perspire, wear leopard skins, animals skins, and just bond with other men. And they went to this $1500 seminar, and when one of the executives came back to work on Monday he said, “I had this great weekend. We were grunting, we were perspiring, we were getting in touch with the man inside each of us.” And there was a construction worker there, one of the employees, a real blue collar type of guy, who in broken English said to him, “If you want to perspire, come with me and work with us one day. Why do you have to go to this weekend and pay $1500?”
So the executive said, “No, I don’t have time to do that every day. On weekends, I can designate a specific time, I can choose when I want to perspire.”
And this construction worker said to this chief executive, “perspiring when you wanna perspire, ain’t perspiring at all.” In other words, if you do it when you want to do it, that’s not perspiring. That’s called planned, premeditated exertion, which is not really exertion.
What struck me about that was his natural reaction that sometimes we don’t need to contrive or create a whole stage of how to become masculine, it just means being secure with your own position and working hard at it.
And that brings me to the roles of men and women. Is it true that a mother is just a more natural parent and a better parent? Or can a father be just as good a parent? I’d love to hear from the listeners your thoughts on this.
Okay. We have Victoria on the air.
Caller: I think men are trying really hard.
Jacobson: I thought you were about to say, “Men are jerks.”
Caller: No, no, quite the contrary. I’m not a parent but I have a good example—a friend of mine who’s in his 40’s. He became a father for the first time a few years ago and is a very active parent. His wife works in New Jersey, and since they live in Manhattan and he works in Manhattan, he’s the one who winds up taking the baby to the doctor a lot of the time. If the babysitter has to leave early, he brings the baby to the office.
He is a very active parent. There’s a new magazine actually that’s coming out called “Dads,” which I think is reflective of men wanting to know more about how to be good parents. I think it’s still a very white-collar phenomenon. I think men who work in offices can bring their work home, they can work from laptops and they can balance it a lot easier.
You were talking about construction workers. My father was a construction worker for many years, so it was very difficult for him to be an active parent with us. He’d come home and quite frankly he was exhausted and we had to leave him alone!
Our mother’s instructions to us were, “Let Daddy take a shower and relax for a while,” because he had labored all day and couldn’t be as active. On the weekends though he was.
Jacobson: Victoria, do you think that women sometimes feed into that and allow men to be that way, or almost babysit for them? Do you think they turn them into almost this immobile parent type of person?
Caller: Sometimes. I’ll take it even a step further. I think mothers do it to their sons. You know, in some households…
Jacobson: Emasculating they call it.
Caller: No, actually the opposite. I think they put them on pedestals. So you have the boys who don’t clean up after themselves. Mom can’t stand the mess so she cleans the room. And they continue this probably in a dorm. And then when they get married, some lucky woman is picking up after them and they’ve never really learned how to take care of themselves in cohabiting with people. So a little bit of that happens.
It’s far more subliminal than it was years ago, but I think there’s a little bit of that that still goes on.
Jacobson: Well, Victoria, thank you for your call. I appreciate it and let’s go to Neal on the line.
Caller: Hi. Well I was listening to your show and I called in to participate. One concern I have about fathers today—and I’m the father of a son, 21, and a daughter, 18—there seems to be, and I don’t think I’m saying anything that’s a revelation to a lot of people, and that’s a marginalization of men in society generally, and certainly in the lives of their children and families.
Jacobson: And you feel that way?
Caller: Yes I do.
Jacobson: Marginalization in the sense of not being treated like an equal parent, is that what you mean?
Caller: Not exactly. More of a lesser importance of their role in the family. I’m troubled a little by the phrase, “single mother.” It’s almost become a heroic title, and I wonder if we’ve turned it completely around from being, I use the word “shameful,” which may be too strong for some people, but we’re going in the right direction, to being heroic. And I think that’s a little bit of a description of what I’m talking about.
Jacobson: If someone asked you to describe the difference between a mother and a father in the perfect scenario possible, what a mother provides, what a father provides for a child, how would you…
Caller: Well that’s a hard question. It’s multi-faceted. Certainly mothers are either stereotypically or truthfully nurturing figures in their children’s lives. They bring their own strengths to the growth and development of their children. I think fathers bring not necessarily opposed strength, maybe complementary in some cases.
In many cases I think it’s just a practical case of having two parents who can share thoughts and strengths and feelings. Perhaps back each other up if you will. I do think that fathers bring all of the things that are attributes of a male personality and character into the fathering.
Let’s say a child of either sex or gender is going to grow up into a world with men and women in it, why not experience that first in the home and see that men and women are different, both from a strength and weakness point of view? And why not let them experience that in the safe harbor of the home, because when they do go out into the world, they’re going to go out into the world of men and of women.
Jacobson: I was reading in an article this past week that because of the increased rate of women working and in careers that there are many men who have begun to really bond with their children at an early age. It’s not just the stereotypical or traditional role as you put it that the mother is the one who cradles the child in the first few years, but that fathers have begun to really take a position, even on a physical level—feeding the child or holding or cradling the child, and in a sense creating a bonding at an early age.
Caller: I think there’s a couple of problems and a couple of fallacies with that. First of all, one of my thoughts about feminism is that we’ve bought into the belief that men and women are interchangeable. That one is equal to the other. Certainly in the work force and therefore in the home. I don’t believe that. I think that they bring different strengths and weaknesses to the family and to each other in various relationships.
So I don’t think you just plug in the father with the mother and say, “It’s the same thing.” That may be why you don’t see as many men at the playground with their children as you do see women. They may take the children and do other things; they may just not be as involved in that way. And yes, it’s great that fathers are bonding with their children, but let’s not talk about it as some peculiarity: they should be bonding with their children and they ought to be part of their children’s lives. Let’s not put it under glass in a museum.
Jacobson: No, I completely agree. Well said. It’s very good that you’re putting it that way. So, do you think men get a bad rap?
Caller: Well, men are getting a bad rap as a spin-off to the feminization and the feminist movement. Absolutely. We’ve become the target of jokes these days. When you look at satires and parodies of our culture, television commercials, you would never see some of the commercials where they poke fun at men turn around and have them poke fun at women.
We’ve done an about face. Unfortunately, we’ve swung to the opposite extreme. We’re now marginalizing and spoofing men, and unfortunately we used to do that to women. So we’ve come no further. We’re just doing it in a different way.
Jacobson: But don’t you find it as a paradox that women at the same time feel that they’re second class citizens, both at the workplace and school, equal opportunities.
Caller: Yes, certainly that may still exist, but that’s the central rationale to feminism, that women were treated as second-class citizens and now it’s their turn to be first-class, but oops! We’re going to do that by making men second-class citizens and I think that’s foolish. I think you cannot in logical and rational terms take a bad situation and just turn the players around and make it a good situation. If it was bad to treat women as second-class citizens, if it was bad to put them in a position below what their worthy status was, why turn it around and now do it to men and then say that that is the way to correct it. It makes no sense to do that.
Jacobson: Okay. Thanks for your call and for your good thoughts, Neal.
I want to add a thought to what Neal said, what provoked me was, I think we live in an age of insecurity. And that insecurity is nondiscriminatory, both in men and women. In a way, men get a bad rap from various reasons and then women get a bad rap that they’re not as mentally competent or as stable or that women are too emotional… What’s happening is that everybody’s being attacked one way or another, and I don’t even know who’s doing the attacking. I don’t even think it’s just women against men and men against women. I think there’s something more going on. There’s this type of erosion of inner security, inner sense of confidence of who you are. There’s no question—and we’ve talked about this on this show many times—that people have a both a masculine and feminine personality; and men and women need both elements.
There’s nothing wrong with that and each of them contributes something. As soon as it becomes an issue of which side is going to win, as soon as it becomes a race, a marathon, then we’re already in a losing situation because we’re in it together. Children cannot be born without a man and a woman, who are partners. In the Kabbalah there’s much discussed on this topic: how Adam and Eve were not even created as two entities, they were one entity, male and female. The Bible puts it very clearly, there’s even a myth about that. People think that first Adam was created and then G-d separated Eve from him. That’s the second part of the narrative. If you look at the Bible, the first time it’s stated, it says, “G-d created the human being in G-d’s image.” What does this first human being entail? It says, “Male and female.” Androgynous.
And it’s only in the second stage that G-d split them into two, meaning that the masculine and the feminine, especially on a cosmic level, are really two forces at work. That’s why there’s a masculine dimension to the Divine and there’s a feminine dimension.
I find that there’s a lot of insecurity about who we are. It’s almost that if you want to establish your turf, you need to knock and undermine someone else’s turf.
So why do men get such a bad rap? My answer is that sometimes men deserve to get a bad rap. However, that needs to be qualified. I don’t know if there’s a man whom I can point to who’s really at fault. It’s become almost a vicious cycle where we are training ourselves and our children by repeating old habits. Both men and women are suffering from this greatly and I’d like to address some of that, how to reverse this process. But first we need to identify the issue at hand.
Many single people who are looking to get married come to talk to me, especially in New York. As people get older it gets a little more difficult because people are locked into their approach to things. We live in a highly career-driven society where income and status and many other superficial things are really much more dominant than personality, and it gets increasingly difficult to create a good, healthy match.
But I do have to say—and I say this as a man—that men are in some ways a little less flexible than women, especially as they get older. They have a certain type of babyish attitude. I think there is a certain emasculation that has happened, and I don’t mean now the brute aggressive, macho type of individual who just has the veneer of toughness, I mean that type of inner strength and certain masculine inner strength.
You now, women have their own strengths. Some even say that women are stronger than men. You find in real times of hardship it’s women who have the type of perseverance to endure. You hear the story about the women who were able to tolerate great famine and other situations, and you see great people in history, whether man or woman, who had that inner type of majesty that allowed them to be who they were.
But I think that our career-driven, highly materialistic society, has completely masked and shrouded who we truly are, both as men and as women. So we say that men get a bad rap… not because a man is in some way an inherently problematic state of being, but rather because society, in its own vicious way, has created these molds, these roles, that everyone has to fit into and they’re not necessarily who we truly are.
I mean, to say for instance that a man never cries, which you do hear. Parents tell that to children. “Men don’t cry.” Or even situations where a man may cry and then he’ll be looked at as, “Oh this person must be weak.”
Tears are one of the strongest things in our lives. Obviously there are times where it’s appropriate to cry and it’s appropriate not to cry. But it’s feeding into a stereotype that women cry. Something happens and it’s the women that begin to cry. Or other stereotypes of that nature.
And they’re not necessarily false stereotypes. They happen to have some truth to them, because you see that that’s how we’re living our lives. But is that truly what makes a man a man? That he never cries?
So to really define what it means to be a man, what it means to be a father, requires real introspection. That’s what I found about being a father. It’s not a state that you can prepare for. You can prepare for a business presentation. You can prepare yourself to run a computer. You can prepare yourself even as an athlete. But there are some things that come with experience that you can only learn with experience.
You know, with an athlete, there’s no question that when an athlete gets into the game or gets “into the zone,” it only happens when it happens. But there are months and years of training like a soldier trains many years for one battle he may fight.
But when it comes to being a parent, there’s no such thing as a parent in training, meaning there’s no camp or course that teaches you how to be a parent.
Do you know when we are parents in training? When we’re children. We’re inevitably all parents in training, just by being. Being around our parents. Being around our environment.
So you’re thrown into the situation. One of the things that I’ve learned is that the key is introspection, to look at who you are. It’s not an issue of what is expected of men in society. I hate that type of expression: what is expected of men. Who’s expecting? Who’s determined the standard?
The way to often describe an individual is not by looking at who we are in the social setting, but rather to look at the quintessential man and the quintessential woman.
I mentioned a newborn child before. You look at a newborn child and do you know why we’re drawn to the face of a beautiful newborn? Because we’re drawn to innocence. We’re drawn to our own innocence.
I know it’s summertime so it’s not really appropriate now, but do you ever remember waking up in the morning when there’s been a real snowstorm at night? You may remember this as a child or even as an adult. I know I’m still enchanted by it even today. Snow falls. And you wake up in the morning and there’s this clean, white blanket of snow that just covers everything. The garbage bags and the flowers. The streets and grime. This white blanket that covers the entire street. There’s a beauty to it.
And as a kid I remember watching and saying, “Okay, who’s going to make the first footsteps on this block?” And then you see the first footsteps and then the second footsteps. It’s still nice because the imprints are there and then you may walk out into the snow and make your first footprints.
But then an hour or two passes and rush hour begins. And what happens? A path is tread and it starts to get a little gray, and then grayer, and then finally black. And then the grime begins. It’s so painful to see in a way. Painful, of course, not as in a tragic way, but as a metaphor, because this clean, white snow is suddenly trampled upon and slowly defiled as the rest of our lives.
Children are like freshly fallen snow. And that’s the beauty to it. The reason we’re drawn to them is that in a way we know that that’s our quintessential self. Each of us has a little boy and a little girl inside us, a little father and a little mother. Because remember, it’s not just being a biological father to a child, you father yourself, you father other people as well in the way you behave as a man. And you mother people in the way your feminine energy expresses itself.
So we want to know, what does the snow look like before it was stepped upon? You know, when I became a father, I already had a father who had a father who had a father. We’ve been walking already in the snow for a long time. Is there some father, some archetypal father that we can find about whom we can say, “Ah, this is our father.”
Perhaps that’s the reason G-d is called a father. Many people have a problem with that today—you know, identifying G-d with the masculine identity with being a father. But father in heaven, Avinu shebashamayim, Avinu malkeinu, has a certain beauty to it.
You see, the reason so many of us have a problem with it is that fathers have given G-d a bad name when you call Him Father. But if fathers were great, we’d say, “How great G-d is; He’s a great father.” Or for that matter, mother.
So I think both fathers and mothers have gotten a bad rap, and therefore calling G-d a father has, so to speak, projected itself on it. But the truth is, when you look into the Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism, the word “father” as used is used very interestingly. (I’m speaking about fathers tonight, so I’m going to emphasize them. We’ll deal with mothers another time.)
When we talk about the building blocks of existence called the ten spheres, the esser Sephirot, these are ten emanations, or ten energies, that begin with chochmah, binah and daas (wisdom, understanding and knowledge) and then goes into love (chessed), discipline (gevurah), compassion (tiferes) endurance (netzach), humility (hod), bonding (yesod) and finally sovereignty (malchus).
But interestingly, chochmah and binah are called father and mother. Abba and ema in Aramaic.
It’s interesting that of all things, we identify two basic steps in the conceptual process as a father and as a mother. But one of the reasons that we do so is that when you look at it that way, we can in a way study, almost like in a laboratory, in a dispassionate and detached way, what is a father. So we call chochmah father and binah mother.
What is the difference between chochmah and binah? These are the first two steps in any conceptual process. In any creative process, three steps are necessary. One is the concept itself. Conceptualizing. The spark of an idea. That’s chochmah. Like the spark that just falls into your mind; like a kernel or a seed.
The second step is developing or fleshing out the idea. Embellishment. Comprehension of it. Developing it into a larger concept.
And finally daas is that final conclusion where you bond with the idea. It’s almost like you snap your fingers and say, “Aha!” You connect with it. It’s a bridge between intellect and emotions.
But I’m just going to dwell for a moment on the two called father and mother. So you see here, father is identified with a conceptualization that is concentrated in one spark, which of course encompasses everything that will be developed from this innovative idea, from this flash, however it’s not developed yet.
So when you look at it in the context of father and mother on a biological level, the father provides the seed that fertilizes the egg and it’s the mother who carries the child. In other words, the child’s development, the development of the concept, happens within the mother’s womb where the child develops physiologically, emotionally, and so on. It is the mother who gives birth to the child.
However, she cannot give birth without the union and without the fusion of the spark or you can say the male seed that united with the mother.
So father and mother are both necessary to give birth. And do you know who the children are? The children in the conceptual level are emotions, feelings. A healthy intellect yields fruit. The cognitive process is a form of gestation of pregnancy where concepts develop into implementation, and implementation is always connected to an emotional experience. So the emotions are the children of our intellect.
But within the intellect you have the father and the mother. Why am I discussing it on an esoteric level? Because I want to carry it over to ourselves as fathers and mothers. What you find there is that both father and mother are absolutely necessary. But what they contribute, and of course qualifying that each of them overlaps and there’s the father within the mother and the mother within the father, but essentially, what the father contributes is, in a sense, the concept itself.
And what the mother contributes is the development of that—not to say that one is necessarily more creative than the other, it’s just that these are two forces at work. What does it mean in our personal lives? Simply this. One of the things that you always hear from children, especially those who have been deprived of a father, is that they are lacking that type of steady firm oak tree that they can rely upon, a type of security.
That in essence is not the same as when you hear, for instance, of a mother who may spend more time than the father with the child in developing the child’s personality. What is the father contributing? The father is contributing something which is like a steadfast kernel that is the foundation of the home.
So even if the father isn’t there every moment, the child knows, “I have a father there. My father will come and get me. My father’s there as a steadfast foundation.”
A mother’s relationship with the child is much more visible and much more powerful on an ongoing basis. It’s more dynamic in that way. But I must qualify by saying that both are necessary. Fathers can learn much from mothers how to father and mothers can learn much from fathers.
But the point is not to discuss who’s going to be a better parent. We’re dealing with a situation of two partners, with each of them giving something that the other just doesn’t have in quite the same measure. And both complement each other.
You can almost say that, as the Talmud puts it, “The father may be more aggressively stronger, and therefore brings the wheat into the home, and it’s the mother who threshes the wheat and bakes bread out of it.”
So there’s a sense of someone taming the elements of the aggressive world and the other refining it into something that’s usable.
The Talmud even says that the difference between the charity of a man and the charity of a woman is that a man may give money but a woman would give food that is readily available to her.
So you find that there are two different ways of nurturing. Are men truly more insensitive than women? Not necessarily. You can say sensitivity may be a feminine energy, but men have within themselves feminine energy, and there are men who are very much in touch with their sensitivity.
And we live in a world where we do need and require two forces at work: one sublimating the elements and taming a harsh world out there, and another creating that refined, gentle sense of things.
It’s the men who can learn tenderness from a woman and it’s the women who can learn the kernel, the strong foundation, from the man.
Sometimes the relationship with a father is an invisible relationship. When I think about it on this show I definitely appreciate my father. I’m sure when I speak to him next, I’ll probably get into an engaging discussion, in a good way of course, which continues to enhance the relationship.
Those of us unfortunately who have suffered a loss and have no father, or who in a way have a father but don’t have a father at the same time—an absentee father or someone who’s even worse than that—I want to share a blessing that G-d does not deprive us of our fundamental needs. If we can’t find it one way, there’s always “bypass surgery”: you can always find it another way.
And perhaps there are times when we may need to look for another man in our lives, a mentor or a teacher, or G-d Himself, to provide that type of fatherly foundation, fatherly security that we need. I want to wish that upon us all. As I said, each of us can definitely use that.
I’d like to invite you all to our annual camping Shabbaton, which has come to be known as the Woodstock camping Shabbaton, so we will be doing one this year as well for fathers and mother and potential fathers and mothers, and for anyone—it’s not just a family-oriented event, it’s open to everybody. It will be taking place on the Delaware River this year the weekend of August 11-13. Due to the great demand, we suggest that you call us now at 1-800-363-2646 (1-800-3MEANING).
I also would like to thank those who have sponsored this show, which includes James and Georgeanne Garfinkel, James and Anne Altucher, and Robert Klein, and some of the other fathers who are our sponsors. Since we have another minute here, let me go to Helen on the line.
Caller: I’m reaching my 80th birthday, and I lost my father in 1989 at age 89. There hasn’t been a day that has gone by that I don’t think about my father. One of the things that I wanted to tell you is that as much as my father always told me how much he loved me, he called me his million dollar daughter, I don’t remember ever saying to him, “Papa, I love you.” And that really hurts even though as I say I’m an old lady right now.
I know your father. I know of the wonderful things that he does, and I suggest, Rabbi, that you please call him up, and tell him, “Dad, I love you,” or “Papa I love you,” because it is so important. I don’t want you to reach my age and not have done that.
Jacobson: Helen, that’s a great suggestion. Thank you. I do appreciate it. And I’ll tell my father right now on the air, “I love you.” I’ll also call him afterwards. And I hope all of us as sons and daughters can tell our parents that we love them and for the parents out there, I hope you can earn the right to be loved besides being honored, and that requires sometimes that type of extra effort. Father’s Day is not just for children to buy ties for their parents, but it’s also an opportunity for parents to think about their role and what a father is and what a mother is, for that matter. It’s always a pleasure talking about a topic like this even though it has many issues. May we always truly be fathers to our children and mothers to our children.
This has been Simon Jacobson with Toward a Meaningful Life. I welcome you back next Sunday from 6-7 pm. Thank you.