a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson
Radio Show Transcript - January 30, 2000
Rabbi Simon Jacobson: Good evening, this is Simon Jacobson. Tonight
were competing with the Super BowlI guess
only our loyal listeners are tuned in here. (I hope I
didnt remind anyone to tune into the Super Bowl
now!) But you may find some interesting stuff here on
this show as well
you can always catch the game in
progress. Excitement always happens in the second half
week we had a fascinating show with Stephen Dubner, a good
friend of mine and author of the book Turbulent Souls,
and we spoke about parental influences and how to educate
children when you believe in an absolute system of religion
or morality while allowing children the freedom to grow.
I was thinking about what to talk about this evening, a
friend mentioned to me that he had a question that someone
had asked him about how one honors parents who dont
seem to deserve honor. Then later in the day another friend
asked me the same question, completely unrelated. So I guess
thats a sign that thats the topic that should
be addressed. I know its a very painful one, but at
the same time a very relevant one to many people.
made me think about the discussion we had last week with
Mr. Dubner, about the issue of imperfect parents. Parents
really do get a real bad rap, especially in our generation
with everyone baring
their souls in confessionals and the healing and
recovery movement, but theres a very good reason for
it: parents definitely do shape their children.
the same time, if you look into the Torah, for Jews particularly
(yesterday was the Torah reading that included the Ten Commandments),
the fifth of the Ten Commandments is Honor Your Parents,
i.e., honor your father and mother. The Torah goes
even further and promises that in the merit of doing that,
you will have a long life. As a matter of fact, when the
Ten Commandments are repeated a second time, in the final
book (Deuteronomy), it even adds another element there:
that you will not just have a long life, but you will also
live in peace, and have a good life.
tonight were going to address this issue of honoring
parents. Every one of us has been a child, continues to
be a child (hopefully our parents are alive), so its
a very relevant topic and I welcome calls on all issues
related to this topic (1-212-244-2050). I must say that
many of us are very angry about this issue, so anger also
relates to it because people have a lot of anger against
their parents, against their childhood, the way they were
hurt when they were still vulnerable and impressionable.
what exactly are our obligations to our parents and what
is this whole concept of honoring them anywayparticularly
in a situation where on one end of the spectrum you dont
really feel that they deserve it, and on the other end there
was even severe abuse; parents who have hurt their children
in very profound ways. Issues that children have with parents
who continue to haunt them, the scars that we pick up on
different levels of abuse, whether its overt or subtle.
How do we address that and what exactly is this fifth of
the Ten Commandments of honoring parents?
especially would like to hear from people who are very angry
with their parents and also of course people who are very
loving toward their parents. It will be interesting to hear
from you the different dynamics in our relationship with
week I asked Mr. Dubner the following question, which we
all have to ask ourselves: On the one hand, you look to
your parents as your source of nurturing, a source of comfort,
which even unhealthy parents definitely provide somewhat
(Im not talking about extreme cases of course) and
at the same time, how do you separate the two feelings of
love and hurt? The same parents who love you, have, on the
other hand also hurt you?
a child, even for an adult, its very confusing, and
it becomes a very snowball type of combination of the good
and the bad. As adults, we have the intelligence, the discretion
to be able to distinguish.
as children, that distinction isnt that obvious and
thats a big quandary, because if you got from your
parents healthy nurturing, and on the other hand they may
have given you certain values that you really cant
embrace, or values that you see real faults in (you know,
the lies my father told me), its the first
time you realize that your parents arent perfect.
is a serious issue. Id like to begin by giving some
perspective here, namely, the anatomy of what exactly the
commandment honor your parent means.
the real question thats asked in Jewish thought, in
Jewish philosophy, is a more fundamental one. Judaism does
not believe in any intermediaries. In other words, we have
a direct relationship with G-d. There are no partnerships,
no intermediaries, no hired guns; each of us prays to G-d.
G-d gave us a soul and empowered us with the ability to
overcome our challenges in life. We have a mission. As I
very often say on this show (Toward
a Meaningful Life), meaningful life implies
a direct mission that we have, a meaning and purpose in
our lives. And that is a direct relationship with G-d.
the question is asked, Where is there any room for
honoring anyone besides G-d? Its true, parents
may have provided for us. Of course, if they were healthy
they gave us nurturing. Many parents are selfless in their
love and in their dedication to their children. But honoring
your parents seems in some way to imply that parents have
some type of partnership with G-d
but we should be
honoring G-d alone who gives us life.
Talmud does say that there are three partners in the birth
of a child: the mother, father and G-d. The parents provide,
so to speak, the stuff of which the body is made. G-d provides
the soul. Thats why you can have a relationship between
a man and a woman, a potential father and mother, husband
and wife, and it doesnt bear a child. So G-d is the
third partner -- the Creator of life.
seemingly, birth should be honoring G-d, not the parents.
We don't recognize any form of "partnership" with
G-d in creation. And one of the fascinating answers to this
is that when we honor our parents, even healthy parents,
were not honoring our parents, were honoring
G-d who gave us life through our parents.
in essence, its really a recognition of G-d. For instance,
there is a distinct law in Judaism that if parents tell
a child to do something that transgresses G-ds law,
meaning the ethical laws of how we behave with each or other
or any type of Divine law, any law that G-d dictates, the
child does not have to comply with that request of the parents,
even though theres a commandment to honor your parents.
But the commandment to honor your parents does not supercede
the commandment of G-d because you honor your parents not
because they have power or because they think theyre
important, or because they provided for us, you honor them
because G-d gave life to us through them.
thats a major distinction. Thats why if one
has to choose between following a parent's request and following
G-d's law, we defer to G-d. Honoring your parents is not
an end in itself: theres a meaning there, a significance,
a spirit behind it -- it is a means to honor G-d.
the interesting distinction that Id like to make as
well is that the commandment says, honor your parents; it doesnt
say love your parents. The Torah doesnt
tell us to love our parents. That means the commandment
doesnt include that. Honor can include that, but thats
an optional thing. There is a commandment to love G-d. There
is a commandment to love your fellow. Why isnt there
a commandment to love our parents? Because they dont
always deserve our love. But if we dishonor the life that
G-d gave us through our parents, then its not that
were dishonoring our parents, were dishonoring
ourselves, were dishonoring our own personal life.
lets go to the phone. I have Helen here on line one.
Caller: Thank you Rabbi. This is like some sort of omen from G-d.
I am of the Jewish faith, and I lost my husband about eight
months ago. Since then its been beyond agony. The
insults: why didnt Dad do this, why didnt Dad
I only have one son. Why dont you move
to Florida? Im ashamed to be with you. I have a million
friends. We only had two-three people at the funeral. You
dont have any friends. You dont look right.
Jacobson: Who is this speaking?
Caller: My one son. Every time he talks to me he just drags me down
through the mud. I dont know how to answer.
Jacobson: This is your son speaking to you like this?
Caller: Yes. He hardly sees me. He tells me, Im busy,
Im working late. I have two little kids. And
then when he speaks to me on the phone, its such abuse.
There are things I cant even tell you over the radio.
I was in the car once and he said, Get out.
Its unbearable abuse. I dont think we deserved
it. Why didnt Dad have more money? Why didnt
he invest like other men?
Jacobson: Helen, I feel deeply for you. Im a parent myself.
No individual, particularly a child, has the right to be
abusive to anyone, particularly a parent who has provided
for him, and I really feel for you. Im sure our hearts
go out to you in the listening audience as well. I will
address both sides of the coin, because obviously, the commandment
of honoring your parents, even in a situation where someone
may feel justified not to, or even if something that their
parents did to them was inappropriate, honoring your parents
is an unconditional commandment. And thats why it
doesnt say love. Because if the commandment
was to love your parents, that couldnt be unconditional
because there are situations which may not warrant love.
honoring, as I said, is honoring the life that was given
to you. Now, if a parent, in addition to that, also earns
your respect, then of course the honor extends to the parents
personality as well.
Im talking now about the minimum. Theres a story
in the Talmud of (I believe it was) Rabbi Akiva, the great
sage, whose mother at an older age became senile: she would
often walk barefoot out in the street, and behaved in ways
that were quite embarrassing. It says that Rabbi Akiva,
the great teacher, would get down on his hands and knees
and put his hands under the feet of his mother so she shouldnt
get cut and bruised with her bare feet on the ground.
could have said, Well, my mother is senile, my mother
is incapacitated, she should be locked up. He recognized
and respected in his mother the power of G-d's gift of life.
But again, he was seeing the G-d that worked through his
mother. And Im sure in his case, his mother was also
quite healthy in rearing him. But the point is that the
responsibility of a child to a parent is a very profound
one, and in our day and age, which is another topic altogether,
you see so many children when their parents grow old really
just look at it as a nuisance and try to either get them
out of the way and just come for the token Fathers
or Mothers Day with a tie or a some flowers. Its
sad to see, and its really part of the discussion
as well, but Im trying to begin, firstly, with the
approach of what is it that we are honoring exactly, and
what do we do when we have all that anger?
the case, for instance, of Helens call, of a son who
behaves that way, its simply abominable and unacceptable,
because even if he should have complaints to his mother,
he has no right to reciprocate and no right to be unhealthy
are ways to deal with that which Id like to address.
But first lets go to the next call. We have Rochelle
on the air.
Caller: Im calling because I want to know what happened to Mike
Jacobson: Okay, thank you for that call. Mike Feder, for those of
you who are unaware, has been co-hosting the show with me.
Last week I did the show with Stephen Dubner, and in the
next few weeks, Ill be doing the show alone. Mike
and I remain good friends, and weve been experimenting
with different formats. Actually I had an interesting discussion
with Mike about the show and we felt that there are certain
issues, for example, that taking calls vs. having an intelligent
conversation with Mike (which is always a great delight),dont
always jive, so we agreed to experiment with some different
formats. As a matter of fact, I used to be a guest on his
show on WBAI several times and those shows were really fascinating
as well as our shows together on Toward a Meaningful Life. So youll
be hearing from Mike. Stay tuned and Ill let the audience
know whats going on.
back to the topic, how to honor parents who dont seem
to deserve honor. This, of course, touches upon the responsibility
of the parents, and the responsibility of the children.
this idea of honoring parents is really honoring the G-d
that gives life, which is honoring your own life. Because
what often happens (and Im taking one scenario) in
the case where parents have done serious damage (when I
say damage I mean that on a psychological level they have
hurt the child), and in a very legitimate way, the child
is angry and has been affected by it, thats has a
serious impact on children, who were vulnerable at the time.
Its a very serious thing that when G-d gives a life
as a gift to a family, instead of honoring that gift, they
in some way take it for granted and dont provide for
the child a nurturing affirmation.
one scenario would be that the child grows into an adult,
and now has a mixed love-hate relationship with
the parent or even a cut-off point where they cant
really communicate well because it always turns into some
big argument, or even a loving relationship that is masking
some deeper fears or some deeper pain that exists.
know, its the typical family situation
where people go to their token parties, the annual get-together,
and take the photos, but beneath the surface is simmering
a lot of anger and pain. So the question is, the challenge
to us (and the commandment to honor ones parents is
a challenge to us), how do we rise to the occasion? What
do we do with this situation?
think its critical to understand that this is not
just about your parents, its about yourself as well.
Because part of the effectthe negative or detrimental
effectof unhealthy parenting on a child, is that the
child may begin to lose his or her self-esteem, self-confidence
that is cultivated in a home that is nurturing, welcoming,
and makes you feel that you really belong.
remember once seeing a moving episode where one of our contemporary
healers, (I think it was John Bradshaw) was doing a seminar/workshop
(I saw it on video) in a room of 50-60 people, and he had
everyone close their eyes and depict and envision what it
was like the moment they were born. And he says, Remember,
now, youre being cradled by your mother at her chest,
and you hear her heartbeat. And an actual recording
of a heartbeat is played in the room, which is a very soothing
sound; it has a certain symmetry, a certain rhythm, like
water rushing. And you hear the heartbeat beating and he
begnis speaking about how youre being welcomed into
the world. The mother is saying I hold you close to
me. Ive been waiting for you for many months. Ive
prepared a special room for you with a special bed. Whatever
youll need in your life you can always turn to me.
You always belong no matter what happens in your life. Things
may be difficult, but remember theres always someone
who holds you near her chest, who holds you to her heartbeat,
and the warmth that the mother infuses the child
Literally, everyone in the room started crying because obviously
the exercise was meant to show the contrast of how many
of us really feel regarding that type of belonging and nurturing.
thats really what a healthy parent is doing. Its
an invisible message because obviously the child doesnt
understand the physical words I love you, or
I want you. But theres a sense of belonging,
of knowing that theres someone who holds you, and
that theres a rock-hard foundation that you can always
depend upon. It is simply that foundation in life that gives
us our sense of self-esteem and dignity; the sense that
we belong, that we can do anything we wish.
it you can have all the toolsthe intelligence, the
emotionsbut you dont have that security. So
a parent is supposed to provide that. Now, you grow into
an adult and they didnt provide security entirely,
that leaves an insecure adult.
in the healthiest of homes (because we live in a very materialistic
universe where parents are involved in business and at work),
theres always a level of absenteeism, some would even
call it a subtle abandonment that exists, even in the best
of situations. But, of course, even in the worst situations,
one cant compare it to overt abuse.
what do you do with that? The Torahs injunction, commandment,
to honor your parents is really a challenge to us. Its
not just about your relationship with your parents, its
about your relationship with your life. Remember, what your
parents gave you was life. And if they did not provide to
you the healthiest type of nurturing, its not just
a question that now Im going to get even or that they
dont deserve my respect, what happens to your life?
Do you also dishonor your life?
honoring your parents is like telling
you to honor the life that was given to you, even
if your parents were almost incidental, or they did everything
possible to crush that life. In the worst scenario, the
life is still there. Should you dishonor the life, you will
become not only a victim of your parents, but you will continue
to loathe yourself and dishonor G-d and your own soul.
therefore, honoring your parents is really about our connection
to G-d. Now its interesting, in the Ten Commandments,
we all know that Moses came down with the two tablets. (Incidentally,
the two tablets are often mistakenly drawn with oval tops.
The truth is, the Talmud says that the tablets were actually
rectangularthey had four corners and were not oval
when he came down with the two tablets on which were written
the Ten Commandments, five of them were inscribed on one
tablet and five on the other. And in the holy books it tells
us that the five on one tablet were the laws and the commandments
between human beings and G-d (in other words, our relationship
with G-das we see in the first commandments I
am the L-rd your G-d, Dont create other
gods, Dont blaspheme G-d) and the
second tablet contains the next five commandments which
are between man and man, human relations (Thou shalt
not steal, Thou shalt not murder, Thou
shalt not covet).
is the commandment to honor your parents? Its the
fifth of the first
tablet; the fifth of the laws in our relationship with G-d.
Now, one can easily argue that honoring our parents falls
under the category of our relationship with other people.
But if you bear in mind what Ive been saying, youll
realize that honoring your parents is actually one of the
laws between us and G-d, its a relationship with G-d.
Its not between you and your parents. Obviously it
spills over and in a way you can even call it an intermediary
between the first five commandments and the next. Maybe
thats why its the fifthbecause it carries
G-d over into the next dimension. In other words, its
how G-d plays itself out in human relations and then that
carries over in how we treat others, but its ultimately
about the sanctity of life.
in that circumstance, no matter what, honoring your parents
is an absolute commandment without conditions, because in
the worst scenario, honoring life is the key. G-d is essentially
saying that even if you had parents who did not deserve
your honor or respect or love, since you were born through
them, honor that element.
what does that mean practically? Well, well get to
the practical in a moment while I take a small break here.
listening to Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson.
Were on every Sunday from 6-7pm on WEVD 1050AM
on the dial. This show is brought to you by the Meaningful
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contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also have a new and developing website which offers transcripts
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We invite you to visit the website at www.meaningfullife.com.
Your communication impacts and shapes the thrust and direction
of these shows, because its all about life, meaningful
life, how to find meaning in life, just as the topic of
honoring parents from tonights show really came from
grassroots questions that I received (not that I dont
have any issues with my parents, I must say, because the
fact is that although they are relatively healthy, everyone
has his or her issues) so I really welcome questions. You
can also reach us at 1-800-363-2646 (1-800-3MEANING). Id
also like to welcome everyone in the tri-state area to join
us for my Wednesday Night Class, an extension of the show,
every Wednesday evening at 8pm, at 346 W. 89th
St., on the corner of Riverside Drive.
were talking about honoring parents and well
go to Leslie on the line.
Caller: Hi Rabbi. About seven years ago I lost my Dad and I was saying
the Kaddish prayer for him, and I also know in coming back
to my Jewish roots that the son carries on for the father
with tzeddakah and all of that, but I was saying Kaddish today for some
relatives who were lost in the Holocaust that I really never
knew (my Mom had asked me to say it). And no matter what
synagogue I go to, it seems like theyre going to the
track. These guys are saying Kaddish very fast. And I am
just coming back to my roots and starting to read. How would
you suggest, since Im trying to honor somebodys
memory, that I go about getting them to slow it down.
Jacobson: Its a very legitimate question, and I thank you for
the call because the fact is, unfortunately, you go to a
synagogue and often the services are almost done like lip-service.
I would, practically speaking, go over to whoevers
saying Kaddish, or the rabbi or someone you see who is learned
or respected in the minyon,
or quorum, who is praying, and simply say that youre
someone new to this and youd like to say the Kaddish,
and its a very personal experience, and if possible
could it be said in a slower way so we could all take it
think if you do that in a non-challenging way, usually youll
get a good response. There will always be some obnoxious
people who look down at that, which I find extremely distasteful
and antithetical to the concept of Kaddish, but thats
what I would do just to create the kind of environment where
people are sensitive. And I think that your call is quite
was reading recently some reviews on a fascinating book
by Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor at the New Republic, and though hes a non-observant
Jew, being a self-proclaimed agnostic, he wrote this fascinating
study called Kaddish,
where he talks about his whole metamorphosis, his whole
catharsis, of the year that he dedicated himself to say
just for the record, let me explain what Kaddish is. Kaddish
is the traditional Jewish prayer that is said after the
passing of a parent. Kaddish is said by the child three
times a day, and in this case, Leon Wieseltier actually
assumed that type of tradition, and he
discusses in the book what it did for him and his
whole growth. He had to really face his own doubts and his
own questions. So Kaddish is one of the most profound traditions,
because it really touches upon the issue of honoring your
parents not even in this lifetime but in the life afterwards.
In other words, as the Zohar says (the classical book of Jewish
mysticism), honoring your parents is a command that you
can fulfill even after their passing.
actually a law in the Torah which is that the honoring of
your parents continues on, which is why you have the tradition
of Yizkor on Yom
Kippur and other occasions, the idea of remembering and
commemorating your parents. Its one of the most moving
things to see a child, no matter what age, even a child
whos now a grandfather, go into a synagogue and dedicate
and remember his or her parents, because memory is one of
the most powerful forces that we have.
that honor continues even afterwards, and thats something
that Id like to touch upon. But first, lets
go to Daniel in New York.
Caller: Hello Rabbi Jacobson. I have a question. Im temporarily
separated and I have contact with my children. One time,
before I left home, I was very upset with my older boy.
He was then 14 years old. I was angry, not directly at him,
but at my partner, and I got very angry and got very physical
I want to know, how can you regain the trust that you had
and get your son back to the place that you had before?
Jacobson: Im always moved by these questions because people
really bare their soul on the air and I am honored by the
confidence in me, and Ill try to respond in kind.
a parent has abused the trust of a child: you hurt a child
and the child says, I cant trust you anymore,
I cant turn to you, and particularly if the
parent was wrong in doing so, I think the single most important
thing is accountability and recognition that I made
a mistake. You see, young children think their parents
are G-d, that they are perfect. Often, the insecurity of
parents as their children grow is projected onto the children
by cultivating the type of attitude that we are superman
and superwoman, mother and father, which often is essentially
a way of masking and compensating for the insecurity of
its extremely healthy that a parent at some point
shows the child that he or she is not perfect. The parent
doesnt have to tell the child Im imperfect,
but at the same time doesnt try to project some type
of false image. Children learn from honesty. Remember, a
child loves his parent naturally, as a parent does the child.
However, were human beings and we make mistakes.
is the key. Trust is not built on perfection, as many people
are often mistaken by thinking, but trust is built on accountability,
because you can trust that if a person makes a mistake,
and we all do, they will be accountable.
think the best thing you can do, Daniel, and I say this
to all of us as parents since we all make mistakes, and
often bad mistakes, is be accountable. You cant just
go buy the love of a child and say, Okay, Ill
never do it again. You can do that a few times but
then the child is disappointed enough that he or she wont
come back. And the child cries. The key is to be accountable
and show that youve actually changed.
often hear parents tell me, So we werent such
great parents when we were young. Why does my son or daughter
have to take it out on me now?
say to them, My friend, you know, you may have caused
such damage that that child cant forget. You forgot
because you were just an adult acting out. But youve
left an imprint. Remember, a child is like a warm ball of
wax. Every imprint on that wax has an effect forever. The
child remembers it forever.
they say, What can we do?
something. Yes, its hard for an adult. Change something.
If you really sincerely change something, the child will
see it. And thats why you cant just say, Let
bygones be bygones and lets just forget the past.
No, you have to do something that actually and sincerely
shows change. Remorse is not enough in most cases. Its
important that we do something. And Daniel, I think if you
do something, your child will reciprocate. It may not be
immediate, it may be down the line, but remember this: You
have nothing to lose. What will happen is that you will
have become a more honest person, and you will have grown
from it, and theres no doubt that the growth of a
parent has an impact on a child, even a child whos
we go now to Yosef on the line.
Caller: Hi Rabbi Jacobson. My name is Yossie and I have the honor
of attending your class every Wednesday. Basically the reason
that Im calling is that I have not spoken to my mother
for approximately four and a half years. The main reason
why I havent and why Im still not touching base
with her is because of the abuse that she put my father
through. A little bit of courage that I have is because
I saw from King Solomon, from Mishlei, where he writes, its better to sit in a deserted place
than seeing a woman who is filled with anger and bitterness.
at the same time, as you opened the show today, I was thinking
that it says at the same time, a wife who is filled with
fiery wrath, but it doesnt say if the mother is filled
with anger and with bitterness.
any event, I feel that something that blocks me from growing
spiritually and physically is that, like you said, a person
has to honor the element of life, and the fact that your
parents, despite what they put you through, still gave you
life. So if you dont love yourself, you cannot transcend
that and give love to others and then to bring it to a higher
I just want to know how I can go about this.
Jacobson: Okay, Yosef, thank you for the call. Its my honor
to participate with you as well in the Wednesday Night Class.
To respond to your question, each case is a different one
and has to be dealt with on a case by case basis. Its
hard to make generalities.
I would say this. One of the practical things I was going
to address is the question: so how do you honor that life that came through
your parents and with the emphasis on Honor your parents.
thats also, by the way, the reason we say, Honor
your parents and you will live long because the way
you honor life is the way it reciprocates in your own life,
that it gives you long and good years.
how do you honor that with a parent whom you cant
really communicate with? Or that youve decided that
for healthy reasons it may be better to stay away from them,
because every time youre with them it just infuriates
you, its not good for you, its not good for
are indirect ways of honoring your parents, for example,
through prayer. You can pray for the soul of your mother
or father. You can pray that they should see the light.
That they should heal. That they should come to understand
their own soul. That they should perhaps forgive themselves
and their parents as well, which is often the case.
doesnt mean that you have to be in the proximity and
in the line of fire to receive abusethats why
its often important to pull awaybut to pray
for their soul. And actually there are two opinions in Jewish
law whether one is supposed to honor a wicked parent. Maimonides
says yes and another commentator, the Tur, has the opinion
that were not supposed to honor a wicked parent.
you see, the difference of opinion is not necessarily because
theres no honor there. The question is how that honor
should be expressed. And honoring a wicked parent means
that you are honoring not the wickedness obviously but the
life that they bore. And you pray for that parent. And one
would say Kaddish for that parent, G-d forbid, after that
parent passes on, because you always believe that the soul
remains intact. Not only your soul, but the soul of your
parents as well. Because remember, thats where their
life began as well. So were sanctifying, were
celebrating the sanctity of life in general.
in your case Yosef, I have to know more of the details of
the situation, and I welcome you calling me after the show
or at some other point, or emailing me, and I will be happy
to try to respond, because I really have to understand whether
there was any effect on you, or if its only your anger
about her behavior toward your father. Is your not talking
to her helping the situation or making it worse? Its
really important to evaluate it. By talking to her, will
you be hurt? There are factors here that need to be addressed
before I can comment.
meanwhile, the minimum is to pray for that parent, because
the interesting thing is that we dont want to get
caught up in the same trap of spiting ourselves and saying,
You know, Im so angry that Im cutting
off a part of myself.
want to be able to be a good parent. There are many people
who, because they had bad parenting, dont want to
become parents themselves, and this just exacerbates and
magnifies the problem, because you allow the holocaust to
continue in the next generation.
key is to stop the pattern, stop the poison. So thank you
for the call. We go to Bob.
Caller: Yes, this is about a compulsion to engage in sex with pay,
prostitution. I feel like Im ready for a more permanent
relationship but its hard to do. What do you suggest?
Jacobson: I dont really see the connection between that and
our topic here, but I guess its a good question in
any case, when a person has a compulsion in any given area
thats unhealthy, the key is to channel it in healthy
ways. My suggestion is to find a person, a partner or a
person that you can marry in a healthy way and have a good,
healthy relationship. I mean its a simple ABC type
of suggestion, but since I dont know more details,
I believe that the issue is channeling our energies, even
when they are acted out or in some way compulsive, to channel
them in healthy ways.
so lets get back to our topic. For some reason I always
gravitate toward talking about some of these abusive and
negative topics, not because I take any pleasure in that,
but because they happen to be real situations that I think
need a forum, and need a platform to be able to communicate
because so many of us have been silenced. There are so many
of us as adults who dont really address this issue,
and we express our anger and our rage and our inadequacies
in all kinds of unhealthy ways.
why I really feel like its an honor to be able to
address a topic like this. And what weve been talking
about is honoring your parents and how to honor them when
they dont seem to deserve honor.
should say, on a happy note, that there are many of us who
really do have very healthy parents, and I think its
a tribute and we should take a few moments at least to acknowledge
the fact that there are many factors and many elements in
parents that are very healthy. Of course, in that situation
we dont need an explanation why we should honor them,
yet, I still think that even in the case where there is
a healthy situation, each of us can honor our parents in
a deeper way when we recognize that we are honoring the
parent not because he or she was healthy, and not because
we were given a lot. Those are additional (albeit excellent)
youre honoring your parents for a deeper absolute
reason: because they are part of the chain of life. They
are part of the chain that brought you where you are, that
gives you the resources and allows you to make your contribution
in this world.
if parents, as Ive mentioned, earned that right, and
have provided that nurturing, then we have of course a commandment
to honor them (not just for the life that was given to us
through them, but) also for providing for us. And this honor
is fundamental to our relationship with ourselves, with
I was emphasizing of course the other side because usually
you dont have to discuss honoring parents in a situation
where parents are healthy and everyones happy. No
one would have the question why we should honor them.
I was discussing issues where often the eclipse of the sun
teaches us more about the sunlightsituations where
we dont always seem to feel the need or see the ability
to have that honor.
we have Barbara from New York on the line.
Caller: Hi Rabbi. Thank you for taking my call. Ive been listening
to your program and I wanted to ask you a question about
how to handle a situation. I havent spoken to my parents
for nearly five years. They really do not want to have anything
to do with me or my family
Jacobson: You made that choice or they made that choice?
Caller: Actually, a fight ensued and I told them that I really didnt
think I could see them anymore, that it was just too painful,
and then they did some really horrible things and disconnected
their phone. I dont even know what their phone number
havent had any communication with them at all. So
I havent spoken to them at all, and recently it came
to light that my father is very ill. My brother and my aunt
told me that, and I did send him a card with a little note
on it saying how sorry I was to hear that and that my thoughts
and prayers are with him, but I havent heard anything
Im worried now about what to do and how to handle
it in case he passes away soon. He is 83 and I know hes
ill and Im really not sure how to handle this.
Jacobson: Well, let me just ask you, Barbara. What is the reason,
if you can capture it in a sentence, of what created this
rift? Does it go back to your childhood or is it something
Caller: I guess its all the way to my childhood, but basically,
I had seen them and been with them for the entire day doing
a lot of what I thought were wonderful things with them,
and then I didnt hear from them for like three or
four months. My daughter had been ill and I called up because
I needed to talk to them, and they never called me back
to ask me if she was okay. Then Thanksgiving was coming
up three or four months later and I still hadnt heard
from them so I called up and they didnt want to talk
I said, Look, lets just drop it and we just
wont see each other anymore.
Jacobson: What do you think is the reason for what happened?
Caller: I dont know. I honestly dont know.
Jacobson: So you have no idea why your parents reject you.
Caller: Theyve always favored my brother over me and they made
that very clear.
Jacobson: Both your father and mother, right?
Caller: Mostly my mother. My father has been swayed unfortunately
over the years. And I have a lot of really good memories
about my father and I guess that hurts me a great deal,
but I really dont know how to handle this in case
he does pass away soon.
Jacobson: Do they live close by?
Caller: I live in Westchester and they live on Long Island, so its
only an hour or two away.
Jacobson: Well, personally, if I were you, unless I hear another reason
otherwise, I would pick myself up and go visit him. Because
exactly the way youre saying, if hes about to
pass away or if hes really ill
Caller: The problem is that what they did to me last time was they
called the police in their town and told the police that
I was harassing them which was not true and they told the
police to tell me never to contact them. When the policeman
called me and told me this I was in shock and then they
sent back some presents that I had given them and I havent
heard from them since and Ive had no contact with
them. And I spoke to my brother about seeing them, and he
said, I wouldnt go over there if I were you,
they may slam the door in your face, they may call the police.
So I havent made any contact with them.
Jacobson: Do you have a good relationship with your brother?
Jacobson: So maybe you can say to your brother, I really want
to see Dad. So maybe I can go with you, you and I, lets
go together, and then create the environment. And
then he can tell your mother, Come on, behave like
or something like that. Thats what I would do. I would
insist. Even if you told me that you feel so sore that you
just want to cut
yourself off completely
But I hear in your
voice, Barbara, that you have to pick yourself up, ask your
brother to go with you, go visit your Dad. Forget about
the past, you just want to see your Dad whos not well,
wish him the bestboth as an obligation as a child
and the fact that it will do good also for him to see that.
Jacobson: Because this may be the last opportunity to see him. And
I would just tell your brother that you want him to go with
you. And prepare the ground if necessary so you can preempt
any situation with the police. Your brother, I guess, can
intervene. Your mother wont call the cops on him, right?
Caller: No I dont believe so. Okay, thank you very much for
Jacobson: Well, the calls keep coming in about people who either dont
speak to their parents or who cant relate to them
(were always going to hear more about the negative
stories) which are painful to hear, but it is a reality.
just want to say on a more mystical and Kabbalistic note,
honoring your parents is really reflective also of a mystical
concept, so Ill try to capture it in a nutshell. The
name of G-d, the Tetragrammaton, in the Kabbalah and Jewish
mysticism, is made up of four Hebrew letters: the yud,
the hei, the vav, and the hei, which
really in a sense capture all of existence. It all begins
with the yud. The yud is like a dot, a point: the point of conception, the point of
departure, the beginning. Then comes the hei,
which spreads out and develops into a more developed idea.
Then comes the vav which is like a line, a vertical line
that draws the energy downward, and then the final hei where its expanded in the recipient.
in other words, any flow of energy, any type of transmission
of communication from teacher to student, begins with a
point of departure, expands, is transmitted, and then expands
again in the recipient.
the yud, kei, vav, kei [for purposes too detailed to go into here, the
hei is written and spoken as kei, when the letters are said in sequence]
is really in microcosm, in a sense the blueprint, or you
can call it the building blocks of all of existence including
Kabbalah explains that the yud, kei, the first two letters, are compared
to father and mother, and the last two are compared to son
and daughter, which of course includes all children. Honoring
your parents (on a mystical level it is also an internal,
personal experience) is essentially the fusion and the union
between the parent within your psyche and the child within
your psyche, in other words, between your intellect and
your emotions: intellect being compared to father and mother
and emotions being like the children of our thoughts so
to speak. Dishonoring your parents, or being unable to honor
them, in a sense, does not allow that circle to be complete.
So we see here that its not just a question between
human beingseven internally, personally, psychologically,
theres a certain circle that needs to be completed,
a certain cycle, and that cycle includes a point of departure,
the expansion which is compared to father and mother (kabeid
es avicha ves imechahonor
your father and mother) and the children, meaning
the results or the products, honoring that completes the
I hope that was clear. It is somewhat mystical, but at the
same time it captures an essence that all these commandments,
(and actually I dont even like to call them commandments,
because commandment has a negative implication that youre
being commanded to do something. No one likes to be commanded
to do anything. A better word actually is connection)
are really connections to our psyche, our soul and to the
we live in a time when everyone wants to be connected, whether
by telephone, email, cell phone, fax, but also psychologically,
connections implies a type of open channel and
open flow, and the connection of honoring parents is really
an opportunity and a challenge to us of how to look at our
own lives, how to create that type of flow between your
own, so to speak, parent and child. For instance, when all
our activities, in a way, are a result and the fruit of
our labor, in essence, thats a parent/child relationship
in our personal lives.
the root, the source, of where the fruits and where our
activities come from is not just the right thing to do,
it also creates the connection, the connection to the past,
the honoring of the life that was created. And it just shows
us how a commandment, or the connection called honoring
parents really is a very all-encompassing one that affects
all of existence, both personal and interpersonal, and on
many, many different levels.
of course I was addressing this evening the issue of how
we deal with the situation of honoring your parents when
your parents seemingly doesnt deserve it, to the point
where you cant even communicate with them. Even there,
theres room for honor, as I said, through prayer and
through other methods that we do in our own personal lives.
the key is never to cut ourselves off to the point where
we cease to honor the life itself.
have time for one more call. Shelley is on the line.
Caller: Hi Rabbi. Im concerned for the first lady who called
you in tears over the way her only son was treating her.
I feel that your advice subsequently (during your show tonight)
is for the sons or the daughters who have been hurt by parents.
And you addressed them with great kindness. But what about
the children who are very rude and abusive to their parents
and ungrateful, like the situation of the first caller tonight?
She† needed your compassion and your advice.
Jacobson: I agree. I wish I could get in touch with Helen again.
Caller: Right. I feel so concerned that the next caller directed you
to the childrens problems with their parents, but
I know so many parents who are in grief over the way the
American children treat them rudely.
Jacobson: Shelley, thats a very good point and I would love
to dedicate another show to it, but on a personal note,
I would love to get in touch with Helen, if shes still
listening, because obviously the most important thing is
that a parent has to get out of the line of fire and danger
of a child who is really abusive.
sure that I or others can help her, wherever she may be,
and just make sure that theres protection, because
children can sometimes be very abusive and violent, and
I really am concerned for Helen. But overall, I agree that
we really do need to dedicate a show and talk about the
issue of how parents deal with abusive children,
which can be equally painful
or even worse than the first problem. Even if that abuse
from the child may be justified (not the abuse but that
the anger of the child may be justifiedthe abuse is
not), it is definitely a good topic and I will address it.
I appreciate the call and I give you my word that I will
address this topic.
winding down here. Youve been listening to Toward
a Meaningful Life with Simon Jacobson. Weve been
talking about honoring parents, both those who deserve it
and those who seemingly dont and what it all means.
usual, its a topic that came from you, and Id
like to acknowledge that by saying that this show is supported
by listeners such as yourself. This particular show was
underwritten and dedicated by Mark Siden and I want to extend
my thank you to him for that. I really want to welcome everyone
to participate in trying to help us keep this show on, to
have topics like this discussed, about children, about parents,
about issues that really perhaps arent even discussed
on other shows. So we invite you to make your pledge and
contribution to our non-for-profit organization, the Meaningful
Life Center. Please call 1-800-3MEANING (1-800-363-2646)
so we can continue to bring programs like this to you.
my honor to speak to you all and I hope youll join
me again next week on Toward a Meaningful Life, every Sunday evening from 6:00-7:00pm on
WEVD 1050AM. Thank you.