Tag Archives: balance

There Are Good Men in the World

protest
Found at AOL.com – photo credit unavailable

Bigotry is bad – no matter who the victim.

When it comes to racism, America has made it clear that prejudice based on color cannot be tolerated. Roseanne Barr destroyed her career with just one racist twitter and had to be removed from her own show for the transgression of an offensive comment.

Equality is in; demeaning stereotyping is not only out but seemingly bad enough to be deemed unforgivable.

Except when one group is the target.

Who are these terrible people exempt from the sin of stereotyping?

They are men…

-Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Hating Men: The New Racism

Yes, I am deliberately writing this in the shadow of Judge Brett Kavanaugh being sworn in late yesterday as the newest Supreme Court Justice. This, of course, followed incredibly contentious confirmation hearings where both sides of the aisle pulled out all the stops in either trying to push through confirming Kavanaugh, or utterly destroying his reputation.

I’m not going to get into all of that. I’ve already written extensively about the Kavanaugh confirmation process HERE, HERE, and HERE.

I want to write about what we can expect next, which is the topic of Rabbi Blech’s essay: misandry, which is:

Noun – Definition of misandry: a hatred of men

Before anyone says it, yes, men have committed terrible, terrible acts against women and children across human history and into the current age. For example, there’s a huge surge in child trafficking in Africa and:

over two million people are trafficked annually, and of this number there is an estimated 30 000 children as young as 4, who are being prostituted in South Africa.

Stories about child abuse are rampant, including a recent story from Ireland about a two-week-old baby hospitalized after being sexually assaulted by a 25-year-old man.

Looking at rape statistics in the United States:

A 2013 study found that rape may be grossly underreported in the United States. Furthermore, a 2014 study suggested that police departments may eliminate or undercount rapes from official records in part to “create the illusion of success in fighting violent crime”. Based on the available data, 21.8% of American rapes of female victims are gang rapes. For the last reported year, 2013, the prevalence rate for all sexual assaults including rape was 0.1% (prevalence represents the number of victims, rather than the number of assaults since some are victimized more than once during the reporting period). The survey included males and females aged 12+. Since rapes are a subset of all sexual assaults, the prevalence of rape is lower than the combined statistic. Of those assaults, the Bureau of Justice Statistics stated that 34.8% were reported to the police, up from 29.3% in 2004.

Given the quote above, we may not have a very accurate picture of how many girls and woman have been raped based on victims not reporting as well as police departments apparently gaming their numbers. This may be why we see such a surge of “believe the victims” statements coming from the #MeToo movement and wider feminism. In fact, going back to the Kavanaugh hearings, once there was a disclosure from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford alleging that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her approximately 35 years ago, those who had been protesting against Kavanaugh for his perceived stand on Roe vs. Wade and other topics, focused on his guilt as a sexual abuser. From what I could see in the news, many woman projected their own victimization upon Kavanaugh, and now that he’s been confirmed, no doubt they will believe that Republicans in the Senate (and probably in the general public) all tacitly approve of sexual violence against woman.

So we have a perfect storm from which to accuse all men everywhere of participating in rape culture which must be battled at all costs, including violent protests.

I agree that sexual assault must be battled and the perpetrators arrested, tried, and if convicted, incarcerated to the maximum penalty allowed by law (and I think those penalties should be severe), but is it true that all men are evil?

yelling
Found at The Irish Times – no photo credit available

No, but is it true that all men are, if not overt sexual offenders, covertly supportive of the subordination of women, especially as related to the sexual act?

That’s like asking if all white males in America tacitly approve of racism because of their white privilege, simply because we were all raised in a culture that is systematically racist.

It’s a tough one to crack.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.

Genesis 2:18-22 (NASB)

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.

Ephesians 5:25-30 (NASB)

I’m not going to do an exhaustive search of what the Bible has to say about male-female relationships, but given these two examples, it seems that men and women are literally made for each other, and intended to work together cooperatively within the context of marriage. Further, men are expected to sacrifice themselves to protect their wives (and children), even unto death.

Do you know any men who fit that description? I do, plenty of them. They don’t make the news because men loving their wives and children, providing for them, and protecting them isn’t sensational, and it doesn’t rile people up.

In his article, Rabbi Blech quotes a number of feminist sources saying some pretty rough things about men such as:

“I want to see a man beaten to a bloody pulp with a high-heel shoved in his mouth, like an apple in the mouth of a pig.” -Andrea Dworkin

and

“All sex, even consensual sex between a married couple, is an act of violence perpetrated against a woman.” -Catherine MacKinnon

I haven’t researched the contexts for those statements, and perhaps their original contexts modify them, but you have to admit, on the surface, they seem pretty raw.

In the days, weeks, and months to come, I expect to see plenty of misandry in the news and social media, specifically because of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.

What I hope people consider, and especially those who think the Kavanaugh confirmation equals “all men are scum” (although I found this article from last July encouraging), is that you’ll take some time to think of the men who are or were in your life who aren’t or weren’t scum, and in fact, who are or were really supportive.

Maybe it was your Dad, an Uncle, or Grandpa. It could have been a teacher, a neighbor, a bus driver. If national attention has become a raw nerve in terms of Kavanaugh in specific and men in general, it’s important to remember the other side of the coin. Men, from God’s point of view, were not intended to victimize women, we are intended to protect and nurture women, including from men who would harm them.

man rescuer
Man rescuing a woman and child after Hurricane Harvey – photo credit unavailable

One of my Facebook (and in real life) friends posted a lengthy quote about a week and a half ago:

Men ask why women are so pissed off. Even guys with wives and daughters. Jackson Katz, a prominent social researcher, illustrates why. He’s done it with hundreds of audiences:

“I draw a line down the middle of a chalkboard, sketching a male symbol on one side and a female symbol on the other.

Then I ask just the men: What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? At first there is a kind of awkward silence as the men try to figure out if they’ve been asked a trick question. The silence gives way to a smattering of nervous laughter. Occasionally, a young a guy will raise his hand and say, ‘I stay out of prison.’ This is typically followed by another moment of laughter, before someone finally raises his hand and soberly states, ‘Nothing. I don’t think about it.’

Then I ask the women the same question. What steps do you take on a daily basis to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted? Women throughout the audience immediately start raising their hands. As the men sit in stunned silence, the women recount safety precautions they take as part of their daily routine.

Hold my keys as a potential weapon. Look in the back seat of the car before getting in. Carry a cell phone. Don’t go jogging at night. Lock all the windows when I sleep, even on hot summer nights. Be careful not to drink too much. Don’t put my drink down and come back to it; make sure I see it being poured. Own a big dog. Carry Mace or pepper spray. Have an unlisted phone number. Have a man’s voice on my answering machine. Park in well-lit areas. Don’t use parking garages. Don’t get on elevators with only one man, or with a group of men. Vary my route home from work. Watch what I wear. Don’t use highway rest areas. Use a home alarm system. Don’t wear headphones when jogging. Avoid forests or wooded areas, even in the daytime. Don’t take a first-floor apartment. Go out in groups. Own a firearm. Meet men on first dates in public places. Make sure to have a car or cab fare. Don’t make eye contact with men on the street. Make assertive eye contact with men on the street.”

― Jackson Katz, The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help

(The first man to minor in women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, holds a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and a Ph.D. in cultural studies and education from UCLA.)

It bothered me, but it took a while for me to figure out why. One man responded thus:

Funny, he never asked what men do to protect their wives and daughters from assault. Let alone the neverending worry that comes with the weight of responsibility of being the protector of the family. Men aren’t heartless mongrels. Unfortunately, they don’t teach that fact in women’s studies.

This is a portion of my response:

This bothered me a lot when I first read it, but I couldn’t figure out why. Then, last night, I had a nightmare about two people trying to take my grandson from me. Even though I stopped it in my dream, I still work up horrified.

I realized the question you ask men isn’t what they do to protect themselves, but what they do to protect their families, because after all, that’s our role, at least once we marry, and especially once we have children, and in my case, grandchildren.

Also, this wee missive assumes there is only one kind of assault, sexual assault. In fact, men, women, and children are subject to all manner of physical assault.

grandpa
Found at Care.com – photo credit unavailable

Know that if there are some men in the world who are dangerous to women and children, there are also plenty of us who are not, and in fact, who are dedicated to protecting our families. I hope you know a man like that. If you do, and if he’s around, you might want to talk with him for a while today and remind yourself that men can be good, too.

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Vayetzei: The Mosaic of God

Jacobs_LadderJacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely, God is present in this place and I did not know!”

Genesis 28:16

What was the source of Jacob’s surprise? Jacob realized that he can relate to God even during sleep.

The Talmud (Berachos 63a) says that there is a brief passage upon which the entire body of Torah is dependent: “In all your ways know God” (Proverbs 3:6). Rambam and countless other commentaries refer to this statement, saying that one should serve God not only with the actual performance of mitzvos, but with all of one’s daily activities.

Dvar Torah for Vayetzei
based on Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
quoted by Rabbi Kalman Packouz at Aish.com

Yesterday, I quoted another Aish source, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, who suggests we should act the way we want to be. This was in part, to support how in serving God, we need to bring both a sense of justice and mercy to the table, so to speak. We need not to be severely biased in one direction or the other, though according to some areas of Jewish thinking, even God created the world with a very slight leaning toward mercy.

In his commentary on Torah Portion Vayetzei, Rabbi Packouz presents an interesting and related challenge.

What is true spirituality? My beloved friend, Rabbi Avraham Goldhar, who has a revolutionary approach to helping kids get better grades with less study time in both secular and Jewish studies, came up with the following paradigm of attributes to clarify the definition of spirituality.

  1. Emotion — Intellect
  2. Kindness — Justice
  3. Community — Solitude
  4. God — Nature
  5. Serenity — Challenge

Put a check mark by one attribute from each pair that you think is more spiritual.

Now, if you want to try something interesting, put an “x” mark by each attribute that you associate with the Jewish people.

Here’s the point Rabbi Packouz is making, a point that dovetails nicely with what I was saying in yesterday’s morning meditation:

What is fascinating is that most people associate spirituality with emotion, kindness, solitude, nature and serenity … and the Jewish people with intellect, justice, community, God and challenge. The reason is that we have an Eastern notion of spirituality — an all encompassing emotional bliss connecting with the universe. The Jewish approach to spirituality is based on fulfilling a purpose, to fix the world (tikun olom)– which requires intellect, justice, community, God and challenge.

For the Jew, intellect is to be channeled into emotion — emotions can’t rule you; you must do the right thing. Justice provides for a world of kindness. A society has to be willing to identify rights and wrongs and stand up to evil. If not, one can attempt to do kindness, but end up enabling evil. Community provides you with an understanding of who you are – a member of a people – even when you are alone, you are still part of something more. Realizing that there is a Creator and having a relationship with the Creator makes the natural much more profound. This world is a veiled reality with the Creator behind it. People can only receive serenity when they live up to their challenges; otherwise, they are tormented in their pursuit of serenity by not living up to their potential.

mosaicYou cannot lead with any one side of the equation, so to speak. You can’t even lead with just a few different but specific attributes. And yet people in religion do this all the time, usually to the detriment of the faith. In reading Rabbi Packouz, I get the impression, at least in the ideal, that Judaism strikes the desirable balance between emotion and intellect, between mercy and justice. Of course, the idea that the universe was created by God with these two elements is also a Jewish idea.

Don’t get me wrong, this probably isn’t literal and factual in terms of the process of Creation, but as a metaphor, it tells an important tale, one that we need to learn in order to truly serve God.

Rabbi Twerski ends his Dvar Torah like this:

A person should eat and sleep with the intent that food and rest are essential to have a healthy body, which enables one to do the mitzvos properly. Someone who is weak and exhausted cannot concentrate on Torah study or do mitzvos properly.

One engages in work and business to provide the needs for one’s family, and to acquire the means to do the mitzvos. Money is necessary to give tzedakah, to purchase tefillin and tzitzis, to build a succah, to pay for an esrog and for matzoh, to pay tuition and fulfill all of the mitzvos. If one partakes of world goods for the purpose of being able to serve God properly, then all of one’s actions become part and parcel of Torah and mitzvos.

If I may take a few liberties here, I’ll add that we should use every aspect of who we are in the service of God, not just a few. It is true that each of us has talents or areas where we excel. For some, it’s compassion, and so they serve God by being compassionate helpers. For some it’s intellect, and so they serve God as teachers and as students, always learning and passing on what they’ve learned.

And now you see why we need to work in a body. No one of us has the capacity to serve God in all areas. If we imagine that we do, then everyone around us will get a limited and probably inaccurate image of who God is, what God does, and what God expects of human beings. If all we know of God is from someone who is exceptionally merciful, we may think of God as loving and permissive in the extreme, but having few behavioral expectations, limits, or discipline, like some sort of “cosmic teddy bear.” If all we know of God is from someone who is exceptionally just, we may think of God as harsh, cruel, rule-bound, inflexible, and blind.

Look back at the numbered list I posted above. God possesses all of those qualities. He exists along all points of all continuums, from emotion to intellect, from kindness to justice, from community to solitude. There is no place where God does not exist, and there is no person God cannot comprehend.

But no human being lives with the same infinite set of perceptions and qualities as God. We are limited. We are finite. We have biases. We lean in one direction or another. No one of us gives anyone else an accurate picture of the attributes of God. That’s why we need to operate in a body. That’s why we need community, either physical or (if an approprite physical community of faith is not accessible) virtual. Because only together, as a body, can we balance and guide each other. It takes all of us, like the bits and pieces that make up a mosaic, to be the image of God.

alone-desertSometimes you’ll encounter someone, a person of faith, perhaps a leader, Pastor, teacher, or writer, and they gather a great deal of attention to themselves. When you encounter this person, remember that he or she is only one person. If that person is not tempered, guided, and corrected by a balanced community (plenty of “religious leaders” exist in an unbalanced community, made up of only people who think and feel just like they do), and I don’t care how powerful they are or believe themselves to be, then that person, all by himself or herself, cannot possibly represent God in all that God is.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that he or she can be such a “holistic” representative, even if that person thinks of themselves that way. Alone, a person is just one, and only God is complete as One. It takes a “village,” not only to raise a child, but to be a community in the image of God.

I shall praise God among a multitude.

Psalms 26:12

While the prayer and performance of a mitzvah are always praiseworthy, it is especially meritorious when an entire community participates in it, as the Sages teach, “The prayer of a multitude is never turned away.”

-from Devarim Rabbah 2

Good Shabbos.