Thursday, September 18, 2014

Adrian Peterson's Rosh HaShanah Moment

Adrian Peterson is a top-level, record-setting, award-winning star athlete. He is also a father of six children, and this past week he was indicted by a grand jury for "reckless or negligent injury" for beating one of his children, age 4, with a switch - a leaf-stripped tree branch, apparently on bare skin, causing deep wounds.

Mr. Peterson's defense is simple: he never intended to cause harm, he was trying to help his child. "I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child." Indeed, other athletes and public figures chimed in that this is a standard way to discipline children in contemporary society. The implication: I was disciplined with a switch and I grew up to be a healthy, well-adjusted, normal human being, and so in my mind, this is a good way to raise a child.

This is not the place for a discussion of Jewish tradition's complex approach to disciplining a child (but click here for a source sheet on the topic from a class of mine). Rather, I want to focus on Mr. Peterson's implication that he is healthy, well-adjusted, etc. It would be wrong for me to assume anything about him, especially when I have so many flaws and abnormalities of my own, but I would ask this about football players in general: are we sure that someone who makes his living playing a sport in which absurdly bulked-up humans crash into each other in front of millions of viewers on a weekly basis for several years (if they are lucky and good), before retiring with severely damaged backs and knees, and frequently with serious concussion damage suspected of leading to unusually high rates of depression and suicide, is... healthy?

Similarly, a while back I heard a radio pundit talk about how her parents were worried about the impact of high doses of television on the childrens of the '70s and '80s, and how "we turned out fine". Perhaps that generation - my generation - is fine, but when we read about out-of-control obesity, high rates of emotional and anxiety disorders, poor levels of social and civic engagement and so on, shouldn't we at least question whether we "turned out fine"?

Perhaps many of us naturally think of ourselves as having turned out fine, like Adrian Peterson and like the woman on the radio. But this is part of the Rosh HaShanah challenge: to look at ourselves and ask, "Are we healthy? Or do we need to change something?"

As long as we go about our lives believing that we are okay, we lack the impetus to re-evaluate and determine a more positive direction; we will go right on doing what we've always done. But consider the words of Cris Carter, a former football star: "My mom did the best job she could do, raising seven kids by herself. But there are thousands of things that I have learned since then that my mom was wrong...  She did the best she could, but she was wrong about some of that stuff she taught me." The same is quite possibly true for ourselves; we've done our best, but that doesn't mean we've been right.

As we approach Rosh HaShanah, let us ask ourselves whether we are where we ought to be, whether the way we were raised and the way we have raised ourselves has brought us where we should be, and whether we want to try something different as we move forward.

May we thoughtfully re-examine ourselves in the coming days, and enter the year 5775 wiser, more realistic, and with a path toward the people we wish to become.


  1. Adrian Peterson is not married to the mother of that child, or to the mothers of any of his children, I think.

    This was his idea of "quality time"

    He had only a limited time to be with that child, so he couldn't take a different approach and have that count.

    1. Peterson should have spent quality time with one wife, not many mistresses.

  2. Adrian Peterson has had problems.

    One of his seven children (so far) was killed by the mother's new boyfriend.

  3. Of course, Adrian Peterson went much too far (because of where he hit him) and also the boy's mother took him to a hospital, which is how we know about it, biut as I said, it was his idea of quality time.

    He had to make up for all he times he wasn't with this child, who had pushed another boy away from a videogame.

  4. Regarding your source sheet:

    Quote one has a mistranslation or mispunctuation:

    It should not be:

    "If he wishes to instill awe his children, household or community – if he is a leader –"


    "If he wishes to instill awe in his children and members of his household, or on the general public if he is a leader "

    How much attention did somebody pay to that translation? It's even ungrammatical, omitting the word "in":

    1. Hi Sammy,
      I hear your perspective, but I think not. The use of the hyphens indicates that "if he is a leader" refers to the community, which is the immediate antecedent.

  5. Also: The New York Times has an op-ed piece today by a black minister with a doctorate in religion who works as a professor of sociology at Georgetown University (that's how he got to write an op-ed piece in the New York Times) who notes the word used in Mishlei 13:24 (Shevet) is the same one used in Tehillim 23:4 where it certainly not something used to hurt someone.

    It's a shepherd's rod, like what Moshe Rabbeinu had, I guess. Moshe never hit anything except the ground, or a rock with it.

    And you could add that the complaint that the Navi has against King David (I thought this was in Sefer Shmuel and had a hard time finding it, but it is Melachim at 1:6, in the Haftorah to Chayah Sarah) is not that he didn't beat his son, but that he never said to him any time "Why did you do this?"

    (The son is not Amnon or Avshalom, but Adoniyah, and I had to use an English concordance, which gives the citations of the word "father" in (his) Biblical order, to find this.)

    The Kohen Gadol Eli also didn't manage to bring up his sons right, but the complaint there by the Navi is not that he didn' t rebuke them, because he did, but that, knowing their character, he left them in, their high positions to which he had previously appointed them. (Shmuel I 2:23-25)

  6. Re: "if he is a leader'"

    It culd be understood as something separate, and it is harder to follow - I had to refer to the Hebrew so that this read right.

    It seems clear to me that "or on the tzibur if he is a leader " is a single clause.

    That doesn't come through in the translation, and you say to yourself: What?

  7. I don't understand the Malbim. There's something left out here. I can fill it in, maybe, in a number of possible ways, but I don't see it there.

    The later (1985) JPS translation of Mishlei 19:18 has a possible different translation or meaning: (paraphrasing) Rebuke him (ki) when (not "because") there is hope and don't let him ( his death. even the 1917 one has this idea of his destruction = death. (Set your heart to, like you wanted it, the same word as in Bircas Kohanim))

    Isaac Leeser has "crying" not death. Is there some source?

    Mishlei 23:13-14 is definitely hitting (makeh) with the "shevet", but what doing otherwise leads to is death, like the more obvious translation of Mishlei 19:18,
    (the meaning would be: you'll prevent him from committing crimes, or getting into fights, because such people can get killed - being bad doesn't mean never making a blunder)

    Moed Katan - the meaning is doing this once someone has grown.

    Citations 6 and 7 mean don't overdo it, ad the rambam again says that. Adrian Peterson, of course, could not be judicious, because he had limited "quality time" with his son.

    The Talmud in Gitten even says, don't create too much of a feeling of awe in your house. (then nobody will stop YOU from sinning, would appear to be the idea.)