After 500 years or so of enlightenment, Western man finds himself back where he started: The world crumbles. Our families splinter. Husbands ignore wives, wives ignore discipline, and children ignore everybody.
So, where shall wisdom be found? It's no surprise that our TV screens are filled with shows that presume to answer this question. Shalom in the Home (TLC, Sundays, 7/6 central) is one of those shows.
Every week, Rabbi Boteach Shmuley blows into town in his Streamliner, and he's there to help. The format is familiar. Act One: Some family is about to self-destruct when help arrives in the form of an Expert (Super Nanny, Dr. Phil, Rabbi Shmuley, et al.). Act Two: Each member of the family looks in the mirror and weeps like a baby. Act Three: Everyone promises not to FILL IN THE BLANK anymore. Everyone hugs and weeps a little more. Exit the Expert to solve someone else's problems.
But will the changes last?
Shmuley is a sensitive, animated soul-like Fiddler on the Roof's Motle the tailor at middle age-but one suspects that the families are changing merely because he wants them to change. Like a 19th-century Methodist camp meeting, the frenzy works everyone into contrition, but it's the kind of contrition that doesn't last.
Yet-for all the manufactured tears and the compulsory penitence-Shmuley possesses that rarest of gifts: wisdom. Dr. Phil offers confusing but provocative platitudes like "Failure is no accident." Our Health and Wealth Superstar Preachers say powerfully underwhelming things like "Start declaring God's favor over your circumstances!" But Shmuley goes beyond the quotable stuff with real counsel.
In one episode, he advises a teenage girl to ask her father for advice at least three times a week, even on small matters. In the same episode, he suggests that the children cook dinner at least once a week, so they can have something to do together. These suggestions are not flashy or quotable, but they are concrete. Sometimes that's what we need.