Michael Jackson, Jewish Parenting, and Neverland
(Sermon for Yahrzeit of Aaron Fisch z"l)
Parenting of Yitzhak
II. Michael Jackson and Parenting in
III. Our Challenge to Parent Our Children Properly as Jews
I. The Parenting of Yitzhak
In this week’s sedra, Avraham is confronted with tragedy.
His wife, Sarah, has died. Although she was of ripe age, the Midrash teaches that she actually died untimely, perhaps under shock that her husband had brought her son to be offered as a sacrifice.
Now alone as Yitzchak’s only living parent, Avraham confronts the duty to see his son married properly. He sends Eliezer, his servant, to find a wife for Yitzchak, subject to the instruction that she be a girl from a good family – namely, from Avraham’s extended line – and not from the foreign Canaanite nation, with its horrific customs and immoral values. And although Rivka descends from Betuel, and is the sister of Lavan, she still comes from a “good family” – by the standards and yardsticks that measure the social order that existed before Torah spread through the world.
Avraham has parented well. Sarah has parented well. They have not waited to the Eleventh Hour to see that their child, on the brink of leaving the nest, has decency and values. They have implanted and assured those values in so many ways – even by banishing from their home the foreign and corrupting influence of Yitzchak’s half-brother, Yishmael.
Even the servant, Eliezer, understands that this family – Avraham and Sarah -- wants its child to live by carefully monitored values. So, as he searches for Yitzchak’s future wife – the woman who will become our Second Matriarch – the servant sets parameters and standards. She must be kind. She must be compassionate. She must be caring. She must be mannered. So Eliezer negotiates with G-d to show him a person who will offer him water, and who will offer water to his camel.
It is about parenting. It is about imparting values. And it is about protecting the child from bad and evil influences.
II. Michael Jackson and Parenting in
Unexpectedly, I found myself traveling on the freeways most of last Wednesday, when the Michael Jackson story erupted into a media feeding-frenzy. No matter what talk station I sought, the conversation was salacious, incendiary, and vicious.
Certainly, the allegations, if proven, are horrific. But the frenzied commentary also emerges from the nature of our mass newsmedia. Live radio and 24-hour television news demands that time be filled. A succinct account cannot fill three hours of a talk host’s program. And “good radio” is measured by the amount of telephone lines that light up, the amount of listeners riveted. Arbitron and Nielsen polls dictate the approach. The more salacious, the more the gossip – the more people who will remain riveted.
I do not know whether Michael Jackson is guilty. Our legal system is predicated on the principle that every person is innocent until proven guilty, but none of us really believes in that legal fundamental. We “know” that O.J. Simpson murdered Nicole, even though he was found innocent by a jury of his peers in a fairly conducted trial in an open courtroom. And, certainly among radio talk hosts, we “know” that Michael Jackson did “it.”
But I do not know. I know, from his interviews, that he has an eccentric understanding of the way that grown men and other people’s children are supposed to interact, to interrelate. But that does not, in itself, convict him of child molestation. I know that he apparently paid someone $20 million ten years ago, in order to terminate a child-molestation accusation and avoid prosecution, but that does not prove much to me. I have been a civil litigator for ten years, representing some of the most important corporations and prominent people in
So I do not know whether Michael Jackson “dunnit.” And, on a much deeper level, I do not care. I do not associate with Michael Jackson. Odds are that I never will meet him. The chances that he would invite my pre-adolescent son to spend a night at his ranch are less-than-nill. And – most important here – the chances that, if invited, my son actually would spend a night at Neverland with Michael Jackson were/ are/ and always will be -- well, Never.
And that really is the discussion that the Michael Jackson matter should be eliciting. What kind of parents would allow their child, in the aftermath of the prior scandalous allegations and mega-million-dollar out-of-court settlement, to spend private time with Michael Jackson? Who would take such a chance? What cost-benefit analysis could justify that risk?
And what kind of parents are we? We do not know Michael Jackson, and no one of his milieu invites our children to spend the night – but ABC television does, and so does NBC, and CBS, and Fox, and the myriad cable/satellite stations. Do we know what our children are watching on television, as strangers enter our home each night through the tube, babysitting our children and spending a chunk of the night with them? So many of us do not.
Earlier in my parenting years, as my college daughters were growing up, I knew that I did not want them watching “
We became censors. As Jerry Springer and Geraldo moved to daytime, along with reruns of “Married with Children” and so much of the network sitcom trash, we no longer treated that time zone as safe. We monitored, and we censored. That is how we reared our children – censoring television. Even “Nickolodeon,” which began as a “safe harbor” on television a decade ago, soon moved into “Nick at Night.” Now, “Roseanne” is there – and our son is not.
In 1993, after law school, we drove from
If the censoring of television and music became part of parenting my daughters when they were in grade school, I now also censor video games as my son grows up.
I had no idea that the evil and trash elsewhere in our culture had permeated the joystick sanctuary. But it has. Virtually every interesting game that is not sports-based entails glorifying anti-social behavior: racing away from the police, shooting people, murdering people. Clerks at the stores have told me that some games even entail rape. Well, not in the Gamecube at Chez Fischer, they don’t.
There is a broad spectrum for parental preferences, and reasonable minds may differ. Not each parent would make my choices. That’s fine. But if L’Affaire Michael Jackson teaches us anything constructive – if we are to draw anything from the story beyond the salaciousness and the gossip -- every parent must begin by asking “How could it be that the plaintiff’s parents ever, in a zillion years, allowed their son to spend private time alone with
“And what are we doing to assure that our children’s precious minds and innocent souls are protected from other societal pollutants aiming to poison that preciousness and to tarnish that innocence?”
III. Our Challenge to Parent Our Children Properly as Jews
At the same time, Jewish parenting is not only about monitoring, protecting, and censoring out the evil and the trash. A Jewish parent must proactively impart The Good. Not only must the Yishmael be banished away from the environment in which Yitzchak is reared. Not only must the Canaanite woman be kept away from Yitzchak’s wedding canopy. Rather, there must be a proactive and positive component.
We cannot merely rear our children with a void and vacuum. Rather, we must act proactively to parent with good values. We must teach compassion. We must teach goodness. We must teach caring.
And we must teach our children Torah and Mitzvot.
It is incumbent on every Jewish parent to teach Torah to his or her child. A parent can teach Torah by sitting down with the child, as I do with Aharon, and literally studying a text together. Or a parent can teach Torah, as Ellen does, by encouraging the child at the Shabbat Table to recite the story of the weekly parsha, and by discussing that parsha story with him or her. Or a parent can teach a child Torah by sending the child to a
But this is what we must do. We must parent. And, to parent most effectively, we must teach by example. If we are not caring, how caring will our children be? If we are not compassionate, how compassionate will they be? If we punctuate sentences regularly with expletives, will they not do the same when they grow older?
But if we are respectful, they will grow to be respectful. If we are mannered and speak respectfully of others, then they will have role-modeling to emulate. If we praise their teachers when we speak to our children – or in the presence of our children -- despite any personal misgivings we may harbor, we thereby will teach our children to respect those teachers and to learn whatever those teachers have to offer.
If we want our children to study Torah and to honor Mitzvot when they grow older – and to teach those values to their children (that is, our grandchildren) – then we must role-model for them by regularly doing Mitzvot in our daily lives and continuing to study Torah throughout our adult years.
Every time, we tell our child that we are going to a Torah class, we role-model for them. They see. They absorb.
They absorb how we speak to our parents. They absorb how we speak to each other. They absorb how we regard their teachers, and they absorb how we relate to other authority figures in their lives. Children see. Children hear. Children absorb everything. And they grow up to emulate.
When Sarah banished Yishmael from the house where Yitzchak was being reared, she demonstrated that she understood. When Avraham sent for a wife outside of
The Michael Jackson Affair demonstrates that we still live in a world filled with Darkness and with Light. We absolutely must banish the Darkness from our children’s homes and lives. That is clear. But it is not enough for us merely to banish the Darkness. We have to bring in the Light. We have to teach them Torah and Miztvot – and we have to role-model by publicly studying Torah ourselves and by conducting our homes and our lives on the road with an uninterrupted commitment and adherence to the Mitzvot that the L-rd G-d commanded the Nation He summoned to Sinai.