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by Rabbi Yaakov Menken

"Jacob went out of Be'er Sheva, and went towards Charan." [28:10]

Why does the Torah tell us that Jacob left Be'er Sheva (and say "went" twice)? We know that the Torah wastes no words, so this is strange. Let it merely tell us that he went to Charan, and we will know that he left Be'er Sheva, where he was before.

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki) explains that the Torah is telling us that the departure of a holy person has an effect. The presence of a holy scholar changes the standards of a city, and he has a positive effect on those around him. Our own moral conduct has an effect on our neighbors -- and having an outstanding model to emulate affects each one of us.

The Chasam Sofer asks: why did the Torah only teach this important lesson when talking about Yaakov? Why not tell us this about his grandfather Avraham, first of the Patriarchs?

The answer, says the Chasam Sofer, is quite simple. In Avraham's case, he was surrounded by idolators. Those who Avraham and Sarah influenced in Charan went with them to the Land of Canaan; those left behind were not looking for Avraham's influence, but for that of the leading idolators. Yaakov, by comparison, lived with Yitzchak and Rivkah his parents, and they were affected by his departure -- not just on an emotional level when their son left, but spiritually as well, because of who Yaakov was.

Who, and what, are the influences in our homes? Whose influences are we importing? If we look for spiritual leadership, and bring the influences of these people into our homes, then this will have an effect. If we cannot bring them themselves, then we can bring their books and discuss their thoughts, bring their voices on tape and hear their words. If we seek out such positive influences, then they will change us -- their departure would affect us.

If, on the other hand, the influences we import are portrayals of violence and immorality, these will also have an effect. Let us not pretend that they do not. Lawrence Keleman, a lecturer at Neve Yerushalayim College in Jerusalem, has written a book on parenting called "To Kindle a Soul" [Targum Press/Leviathan Press, 2001]. He devotes an entire chapter to one of the most common babysitting devices in US society -- the television.

Dr. Brandon Centerwall of the University of Washington did a fascinating study, comparing the introduction of television into a community with the homicide rates over a decade later. "Given that homicide is an adult activity," he wrote, "if television exerts its behavior-modifying effects primarily upon children, the initial 'television-generation' would have had to age 10 to 15 years before they would have been old enough to affect the homicide rate."

In 1950, the US and South Africa had nearly-identical homicide rates. By 1956 the vast majority of US families owned a television -- and within 15 years the homicide rates in the US rose 92%, while South Africa experienced no change. Fourteen years after South Africa's white families purchased televisions, the white homicide rate had moved 130%.

They even demonstrated a correlation across US regions. The West South Central census region saw television a full six years after those in the Mid-Atlantic region had their sets. The homicide rates also began to ascend a full six years apart. There was no denying the cause and effect relationship.

Dr. Centerwall wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association that "the epidemiological evidence indicates that if, hypothetically, television technology had never been developed, there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year in the United States, 70,000 fewer rapes, and 700,000 fewer injurious assaults."

After monitoring a group of children through to adulthood, two Psychology professors at the University of Illinois concluded that more than poverty, grades, broken homes or even exposure to real violence, television viewing at age eight proved to be the clearest predictor of violence as an adult. "Nobody outside the tobacco industry denies that smoking causes lung cancer," said Professor Leonard Eron. "The size of the correlation is the same." Today, of course, even tobacco companies admit what we knew for decades.

So tell me -- would you give your kids cigarettes?

Good Shabbos,

Rabbi Yaakov Menken



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