Building Mentchen for Others

Recently I read Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx. The author recounts his connection with Joe Ehrman. Joe was once and NFL star and is now a minister, a high school football coach. Joe changes lives by teaching boys how to be men of substance and impact by focusing on relationships and a cause beyond themselves.The book has inspired me to give some deep thinking about what I have learned about being a man. I have found it to be a deeply moving and recommend the book. I have been thinking a lot about which masculinity have a received from society. What masculinity do I want to communicate to my children?

In discussing some of our biggest issues of our society Joe argues that its root cause is that boys do not know how to become men. All too often a man is built for himself. False masculinity is based on the “conquest on the ballfield, in the bedroom or the billfold”.  How might we  build men for others?  He teaches:

For those with no voice, no position, no privilege, no power, no authority, you be those things for them. Seek justice. Encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless. Please the case of the widow. ( page 108)

Echoing the words of Isaiah he is teaching boys to become men by taking responsibility for others. We are taught to be in competition for money, fame, women, and power.  Instead we should be working toward realizing the relationships in their communities.

I could not get his words ” Defend the cause of the fatherless” out of my head when reading Ki Tetzei , this week’s Torah portion. There we read about the stubborn and rebellious son who is killed in the name of the misdeeds he has as of yet to commit (Deuteronomy 21: 18-21). How did the this son end up this way?

Putting this back into the context of the first section of Ki Tetzei we see something interesting First we read:

10 When you go forth to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands, and you carry them away captive,11 and see among the captives a woman of goodly form, and you have a desire for her, and would take her to you for a wife; 12 then you shall bring her home to your house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; 13 and she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in your house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her, and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. 14 And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall let her go where she will; but you shall not sell her at all for money, you shall not deal with her as a slave, because you have humbled her.      ( Deuteronomy 21: 10-14)

Here we meet a man who objectified another person. And not just a stranger, but his wife. Then the Torah goes on to talk about a man who takes two wives. It might be the same man who just took this captive wife as a second wife. The Torah instructs him not to treat the children differently. And then it seems that he does just this and we learn about the stubborn and rebellious son. In this reading of the Torah portion as a progression we see that the man in question was built for himself . In turn he builds a son who is built for himself. The progression is clear that if he is power-hungry and goes to war. This might lead to his “humbling” his wife. This might lead to his humbling his children.

We need to fill our children with love, hope, and affirm their goodness. We need to give more thought to how we can all rebuild ourselves to be for others. By the same progression we see how true masculinity will in turn help our children be built for others which will in turn make a better world. This stubborn and rebellious child has a father, but like so many people in our society this father is emotionally absent. Today we are called to defend both those that are fatherless and those who are functionally fatherless.  We need to rebel against the societal norm of masculinity. The only things that is in our way to achieving success is our own being stubborn.


3 Responses to “Building Mentchen for Others”

  1. 1 Uri Cohen August 30, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    Good one. On masculinity, check out Searching for My Brothers, by Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin.

  2. 2 Hody N August 30, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    Very well said, Rav Ari.

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