New Jersey mall shooting 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Two weeks ago, my wife and daughter were caught in the Garden State Plaza in New
Jersey, where a shooter roamed a mall, forcing them into hiding until rescued by
a SWAT team. The day after this horrific and traumatizing event, a friend called
me from Israel and said, “It’s time for you to move here. America just isn’t
safe anymore. There are too many crazy people running around shooting
The irony of hearing that one is more likely to be killed in an
American mall than an Israeli street was rich. How did we come to this? The
public shootings that are today coming to define America are being perpetrated
by men who are increasingly enraged, broken, depressed or insane. Not all angry
men, of course, are shooters. But in the American male’s brokenness, even the
much healthier ones are compromising their marriages and crippling their
Immersed in a culture that is obsessed with success through
competition, the American male is trained to feel like a failure so that he will
work harder and compensate for his feelings of inferiority.
the world’s most prosperous nation, but there is a price it pays for its
The narrow definition of achievement as being entirely career
rather than character based is robbing otherwise good men of self-esteem and
making them a muddle of broken dreams. The American male lives in a society
resembling not a circle in which all are treated as though they possess innate
value, but a triangle in which only a tiny few are perched at the top and the
overwhelming majority are made to feel that they are various stations of the
He is painfully aware that the recognition and respect of his
peers will not come from assisting his kids with homework or being faithful to
his wife. Treating his co-workers with dignity will never bring him into the
Forbes 400. Reading his children a bedtime story will not get him an invitation
to the White House.
Only money brings prestige, and power brings respect.
Since he has only a little of each, he looks at himself as the inferior of men
who may be far less moral. His children do not make him feel heroic, and his
wife struggles, but fails, to massage his macerated ego. If he is a big zero,
then the woman dumb enough to marry him is a zero squared.
distress, he turns to various forms of escape, designed to either make him feel
better about himself or numb his pain. Becoming a sports fanatic allows him to
live vicariously through his favorite team. Their triumph is his triumph.
Through workahalism, he convinces himself that one more hour at the office will
bring him the victory he so desperately craves. The attentions of another woman
makes him feel desirable.
Alcohol numbs his heart even as it poisons his
soul. And porn, which is becoming an epidemic among American men, allows him to
experience a similar numbness, the non-feeling of emotionlessness which is the
real reason that so many men masturbate, for the deadness that follows orgasm.
He wishes not to feel because when he does feel, all he feels is pain.
comes home a shell of a man, a defeated creature who doesn’t love himself and
therefore cannot love his wife. His marriage is reduced to a series of
meaningless and monotonous gestures, coldly functional, bereft of intimacy or
warmth. The compliments his wife offers echo off. Since he doesn’t believe in
himself, he treats her comfort as patronizing. Later, he will complain that his
wife does not lift him up when he is down, even as he has pushed her away on
countless occasions when she has sought to offer comfort.
inspiration, he fails to inspire his children. He does not parent them so much
as admonish them. So they are reduced to searching for substitute heroes, from
sports figures to rock stars. The company of their friends soon becomes far more
satisfying than their father’s company, further compounding his feeling of
isolation and loneliness.
And the great tragedy of this daily scenario is
not the devolution of a decent man but rather the fact that in reality, all
along he was a hero, a man who goes out every day to feed his family. He
struggles with temptation, yet comes home to his wife. But having bought the lie
that only money matters, he is blind to his own worth.
And when the
feeling of rejection becomes too acute, he is overcome by a dangerous rage and a
desire to punish the society that he feels degrades him.
When I spoke to
the police after my wife was, thank God, rescued, they told me that over the
past 10 years there has been a change in how law enforcement deals with a
shooter. The practice used to be to set up a cordon and negotiate in order to
persuade the shooter to release his hostages. Now, however, the assumption is
that a shooter is not there to rob a bank or steal electronics.
there to simply kill. No cordon is set up. They simply storm the place where he
is holed up in order to end the shooting spree.
The ancients regarded the
man as the sun and the female as the moon. Like the sun, the man bestows his
light on the woman, who reflects his love and illuminates the night. But what
happens when the sun ceases to shine? I am, of course, fully aware that plenty
of shooters are simply clinically insane and defy any cultural diagnosis. I am
not here to offer a simplistic answer to the pandemic of shootings in America.
But I am also aware that unless we reverse the trend of making men feel like
achievement machines, unless we stop making money a commodity by which males
purchase self-esteem, we will not end the brokenness, the rage and the insanity
that are making the average American mall an unsafe place.
whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” will soon
publish Kosher Lust: Love Is Not the Answer.
Follow him on Twitter