Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Terumah 74 - The Shulchan - table and Collaborative Living

The parasha- portion reading of Terumah deals mainly with the Mishkan-tabernacle and its components.  The table – shulchan was placed near the north wall of the Tabernacle's outer chamber, had 12 specially baked loaves of ' show-bread' on it at all times, in 2 columns of 6 each. Frankincense was placed on the loaves. They were baked on Friday and put on the   table on the Sabbath. The old loaves miraculously remained fresh, were divided amongst the priests- cohanim.

 Like the Ark, the table had a crown – the rim. The crown of the table symbolized the ' crown of kingship'. God's material blessings   flowed through the table and its loaves topped up with fragrant frankincense, to the people and ensured material well- being and abundance which came with ease and comfort.  The table had some complete measurements indicating that people can be ' complete' as far as their material needs are concerned and their ' inwards' be blessed so a little satisfies a lot. But the height of the table- shulchan was a broken measure 1.5 cubits warning against haughtiness and encouraging continuous spiritual growth. The table was made out of wood depicting the dynamic nature of economic growth and blessing. The wooden table was plated with gold to remind us that our intentions in striving for material success must be holy and pure and for the good of people. The protective rim or crown was a barrier reminding us to keep out baser motives and that our material success stands upon purity and holiness. The 12  loaves , representing the 12 tribes , were shaped like a letter ' U'- a flat bottom  and ends turned upward  with a slight fold on the tops, so that the' arms' of each loaf seemed to support the loaf above it. Each individual loaf was supported by metal tubes so that their 'outstretched arms' would be able to bear the burden of the other loaves. This paints a picture of material success based on a commitment to the well- being of the community as a whole as well as ourselves and other individuals. This means attending to the needs of others, but at the same time making sure that our own economic concerns and needs are being met.

The table is symbolic of material well- being and abundance based on our commitment to ourselves and also the family, classroom or community.  But when we look around we witness family fights about who is going to sit where and when it comes to food – either it looks like that some kids have never seen food in their lives or some kids are such ' picky' eaters that can never be satisfied.

We can use the CPS – collaborative problem solving approach to ensure that the spirit of the table – meeting the concerns of the group as a whole and its individuals – can be expressed by our families.
Seating at the table. -  Problems should be solved in a pro-active way and not in the moment – in the heat of the moment. We can arrange a family meeting to discuss the issue. The focus must be first on ' concerns' - where I want to sit is a solution to a concern. Possible concerns – the need to sit next to somebody who would offer help , feel left out of the conversation because of the seating , need access to the kitchen , bathroom etc. We should try to speak in the plural – we and us. This helps kid see themselves as part of the family and that individual choice per se may be limited , but not choice itself , as there are so many more opportunities when we work as a family .

Picky or gluttonous eating habits – We should try and encourage Mindful Eating   where the focus is on tasting food rather than filling one's stomach and cleaning the plate. Kids are asked just to taste the food , they don't have to finish and clean their plates. It helps to have small quantities but plenty of variety.  The taste of food is considered the spiritual part of food. Mindful eating helps kids focus on the process of eating, and this has enormous benefits for the digestive system and obesity . Kids also develop a taste for different foods. It is also helps people to practice mindful eating when there is no talking while people are eating.Mindful eating thus facilitates God's blessing - our insides are blessed so a little goes a long way.

When the holy temple existed , the altar would be an atonement for the people of Israel. Today , as the temple and the altar no longer exist , our tables atone for us. They atone for us when we use our tables to feed the poor or needy , and for families to connect in a way , that shows caring and dialogue which is filled with words of Torah.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mishpatim 74-Unloading the burden and Collaborative Problem solving

Verse 23:5 from the book of Exodus – Mishpatim says that if you see the donkey of someone you hate / an enemy crouching underneath its burden , would you refrain from giving help TO him ?- you should  help repeatedly  WITH him.

When we come across a person who needs help with his suffering animal, even if we have problems with the person, we have to subdue our evil inclinations that encourages one to let an enemy suffer and lend a hand. The donkey can also be seen as a metaphor for a person's materialistic side  – donkey in Hebrew is a chamor -  which has the same root as the word 'materialism '  and the person is  carrying the burden of his sins or a pile of unsolved problems. We can lend a hand and work with the person to unload  his problems.

We may be justified in 'hating' the person in an objective way as he is a ' sinner' that refuses to repent or we have personal issues with the person. The way we subdue   our evil inclinations that encourages one to let an enemy suffer is not with pure willpower or grit but by changing our mindset.

We can relate and connect to his divine spark rather than to his actions, which we cannot condone.
We can emulate God's ways – the Tomer Devorah describes God's attribute as one who is patient with us, bears insults and despite our sinning against him, he never withdraws any love or support from us.
We can look at ourselves in the mirror and see that we ourselves are not saints and in fact not much better than the sinner. The Mesach Hachmah notices that when a similar teaching of this law is repeated in book of Deuteronomy , the Torah says 22:4 –you shall not see the donkey of your BROTHER falling on the road…….., you shall surely with him stand him up – the one you hate became your brother . What happened in the time between the book of Exodus and Deuteronomy that your enemy, the owner of your donkey now became your brother?   There was the sin of the Golden Calf and other sins in the desert, which meant that people could no longer look down on others. They were now all brothers in sin. The Mesach Chachmah adds that he does not know anyone on the level who is permitted to ' hate a sinner'.

In family situations challenging kids can be rather mean and when their  limbic brain activates the emotional rush, we hear  words like – you are the worst mom or meanest mom in the world , I hate you , I wish you …… etc . So when  there is plenty of emotional baggage , it is easy to justify that giving love and of ourselves should be made contingent and conditional on good and respectful behavior on their part. The CPS – collaborative problem solving approach mantra is ' children do well if they can and not children do well if they want to '. I believe the same goes for adults. This mindset helps us avoid' doing to' kids and trying to motivate them to ' wanna behave appropriately '. Instead we ask what is getting in their way, what they need from us, so we can engage in 'working with' kids in a collaborative way.

The Kli Yakar in his commentary on the verse focuses on the differences in ' doing to ' someone or ' working with ' someone. He says we should not give help TO a person as this would be 'enabling' him and he would never solve his problems. One should help WITH the person. As he is part of the problem, he should be part of the solution.

 The CPS approach says that without the participation and input of the kid we cannot get a clear understanding of the underlying problems and his concerns which sets the stage for finding solutions for his problems. The verse says that one should offer help as many times as is needed.  In real life situations, the first solution is rarely the final and durable solution. Education is a process. The beauty of CPS is that there is learning taking place all the time and we are promoting relationship between parent and child which is one of the main goals of our interventions.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Yitro 74- Honoring Parents and CPS – collaborative problem solving approach

A frequent question that parents ask me concerning the CPS – collaborative problem solving approach is – are we not  undermining  our authority as parents if the  focus is  on cooperation and not Kibud Av ve'Eim
=complying with and respecting the wishes of parents.?

I don't think it is our purpose to raise kids who will jump through our hoops, but rather we should ask , what do they need from us , how can meet their basic needs of (a) autonomy = being connected to their inner beings and core values , feeling self –directed, (b) competence ( c) and relatedness = a feeling of belonging and connectedness. In this way we can raise God fearing, compotent , caring and responsible children.
The following is a story, an incident - which a Bnei Brak Rabbi and speaker shared with his audience.

 I was sitting on my porch one afternoon , when my neighbor called out to me and said – Reb Dovid -  your son is climbing the very dangerously high tree next to our apartment block. I said -  that's  OK , he has  got my permission. The neighbor thought Reb Dovid was out of his mind – climbing   that  tree  was dangerous!  Reb Dovid then shared with his neighbor the   CPS  dialogue,  he had with his son about climbing the tree.

 A: Empathy + info gathering stage
Dad: ( neutral   language )  I have noticed that you and your friends have been climbing that big tree , what's up ?
Son:  We all love climbing the tree, it is great fun, also there is not so much to do around here.

Dad – reflective listening – I understand it is fun and not much around for you to do -  I  am just worried – here the dad puts his concern on the table and we have  B:  Define the problem stage . You guys are climbing pretty high, sometimes till the 3rd floor and without any ropes for protection. It is pretty dangerous, one small slip and you understand what will be the result ? I am concerned about your safety.

Invitation stage : I was wondering if we could brain storm a solution together where you could still climb the tree and enjoy it , and still be acceptably safe if something might happen ?
Son: Maybe someone could stand with a rope on the balcony of the 3rd floor and the boy climbing would be tied to it ?
Dad. I like the idea but I don't think it is realistic. We need a plan that would work all the time, even when you are alone.
Dad: I was wondering if you could still have fun climbing just up to the first floor. I am OK with this.
Son: I hear your concern and I can appreciate the danger, I am willing to give it a try.
Dad – so it is climbing till the 1st floor. I like your idea about the ropes, it reminded me about the climbing wall at Park Ha'yarkon  ,  maybe we could go there  in the school holidays or on Fridays during the summer. 
Dad:  Let's talk again about how this plan is working out in about 2 weeks from now .
Son- OK

Reb Dovid then turned to his neighbor . You forbade your son to climb the tree. He not only climbs the tree but climbs till the 3rd floor . He has thus transgressed the law to honor parents and also compromised his safety and  put  himself in a really dangerous situation.

Honoring parents is an important mitvah- commandment so parents should be careful not to be the cause of their kids not being compliant by demanding compliance. When parents' concerns are addressed by the solution , parents are actually setting limits. With CPS parents feel they are being ' heard' for the first time and kids feel that their  concerns are not being ignored but taken seriously.  When  we  work with kids, we foster cooperation and support , and solving problems in a collaborative way. In this way we not only nurture the  relationship  with our kids and  build trust,  but also  teach them so many life and communication skills.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

B'shalach 74 - Subject or Object ?

This Shabbat we read   parashat B'shalach It  is called Shabbat Shirah because we read ' shirat ha'yam ' the song that the children of Israel sang in praise of their salvation by God at the red sea. We will also be celebrating Tu Be'shevat – 15th day of Sh'vat on the Thursday following this Shabbat.

The Parasha begins with Pharaoh escorting the children of Israel out of Egypt. We are told that Moses acted on a promise made to Joseph that his bones were to be taken out of Egypt when the time to leave came. The Medrash describes Moshe as a having a wise heart who takes the opportunity to do  Mitzvot – Moshe busied himself with the bones of Joseph, while the children of Israel were busy plundering Egypt, busy with gold and silver. The obvious question is that the children of Israel were also doing a mitvah , obeying God's commandment. They were told to go to their neighbors and ask for gold and silver etc in order that God's promise to Abraham – that they will leave with a great fortune should be fulfilled.

There are mitzvoth that we invest lots  of thought and energy- we are givers -  subjects – 'gavra'. There are mitzvoth where we are more like objects –' cheftza '  - receivers = like the mitzvoth to eat 3 meals on the Sabbath. When we are takers and receivers we tend to lose sight of element of mitzvah and be more self-centered and taking for ourselves. Moshe – Moses chose to focus on ' giving ' , being  a' gavra'- subject and not an object – cheftza-who receives.

The children of Israel are then saved by God's open miracles at the red sea. They are in a sense 'objects' – cheftza , receivers of God's goodness. They become ' subjects'- gavra  by ' giving ' of themselves – giving praise to God  , acknowledging the miracles and showing appreciation in song –' shirat Hayam'  - the song of the sea.

Tu b'shevat is the new year of trees , the cut of date in determining the age of trees, also each year has different tithes and tithes must be taken from crops of the same year. During the winter trees have been in hibernation absorbing water from deep beneath the ground. Most of the rain for the season has fallen and on Tu B'shevat they will begin to draw sustenance from their own sap in order to grow, bloom and prosper. The trees will regenerate utilizing their own resources. They will become the giving entity that they were meant to be. Before Tu be'shevat  the trees were ' cheftza , after Tu Be'shevat they become subjects- gavra .

As parents and teachers we should be helping kids become ' givers'  - gavra. But when we reward or praise them for doing   good ,  or punish/consequence them for infractions - doing to them - we are turning them into objects. Instead we can work with them and solve  problems. Instead of praise  use '  declarative  language '  just describing what we saw and then pausing. This gives the kid time to reflect on what you have noticed and  also experience some inner pride or other feelings for eg.  satisfaction. We show him that it is his  inner  feelings of pride that are important and not pleasing us.  We can then ask open ended questions – how did you feel about what you did ? what were you thinking about when you drew the dog? What made you give the little boy a cookie ?,did you see his face light up .

'These comments and questions help a kid focus his attention on his feelings and thoughts rather than on his accomplishments. He is talking about what he did and self- assessing. By emphasizing the process rather than the product, the kid will realize that it's the trying that counts.'  Myrna Shure 

Teaching expressing gratitude, thanks and appreciation is important , but not because it will help you get what you want or if you do not give thanks people will stop giving to you. It is an important expression of who you are as a person , as a subject as a gavra.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Bo -74 Dignity and Respect - A lesson in Faith from the Exodus experience

In Parashat Va'eirah G-d commands Moses and Aaron to be give Pharaoh the respect of a king. In  Parashat Bo ,Verse 11:8, Moses says to Pharaoh that as a consequence of the 10th and last plague, the killing of the firstborn Egyptians ,all these servants in his presence would come before Moses and tell him to leave the country –you and the entire people that follows you. The fact was that Pharaoh himself would come running to Moses and Aaron and ask them to leave. Out of respect for crown Moses did not mention him in this humiliating context.

The Exodus story instills in one a belief and trust in G-d's omnipotence and dominion over  the  world. What does the command to be always respectful despite provocations have to do in belief and trust in G-d. ?

 Getting angry and being disrespectful is ' as if one has worshipped idolatry' – he has set himself up as the centre of the universe. But there is more to it. How often do people say – If I don't scream or shout and get angry , nothing will get done.  The person is denying God a role in the world, he is not leaving any place for G-d's help and assistance. When we are respectful and use non-violent communication we are acknowledging that we don't control people and the world and ask for God's assistance to help us influence or guide others for the good. We believe that G-d runs the show. When we use anger and disrespect we say that we control the world.

When we throw out all the instruments of control  like  anger and disrespect we allow our positive characters to surface . We can then influence people and lead by greatness of character and nobility and emulate God's traits of compassion and holiness etc. We live in the world where our ability to control others whether they are our staff, students, spouses and children is very limited. It is a trusting relationship and our characters that encourage others to seek our guidance and company.  Being respectful is firstly for our benefit , it defines who we are and our relationship with God.