Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Vayechi 75 - A Father's Blessing to his Sons

Joseph- Yosef visits his sick father Yaakov- Jacob with his 2 sons – Menashe and Ephraim.  Yaakov wanted to bless Yosef's sons. Suddenly the divine spirit – ruach ha'kodesh that was resting upon him departed from him because he saw a spiritual defect and blemish present in Menashe and Ephraim. He saw in a prophetic vision that wicked people would descend from them- Yeravam and Achav from Ephraim and Yehu ben Nimshi from Menashe. So Yaakov asks Joseph – Who are these '? Yosef replies בני הם אשר נתן לי אלוקים בזה, - that they are my sons which God gave to me   -'   ba'zeh ' as they are with all their spiritual defects from a holy union here in Egypt. Yosef's answer helped the divine spirit – ruach ha'kodesh to return to Yaakov who then proceeded to first bless Yosef – Joseph - that God should bless his son's and that because of their actions and who they were, people would associate their names with their righteous ancestors, myself Yaakov and Abraham and Isaac. The greatest blessing a father can receive is to have his sons blessed and achieve greatness. Yaakov then blessed Yosef's sons ' by you shall Israel bless saying ' May God make you like Ephraim and like Menashe '.  May people bless their sons in the hope and wish that their sons grow into great men like Ephraim and Menashe. Ephraim and Menashe became symbols of commitment to their heritage and spiritual growth despite living in exile and in a hostile and hedonist    Egyptian culture. They achieved more than their potential by moving up a generation from being grandchildren of Jacob to becoming his sons are thereby the founding fathers of their tribes. In their personal lives they showed brotherly love and no sign of jealously as the older brother – Menashe had no problem with his younger brother Ephraim getting the blessing of the first born child.

. We need to ask the following questions - What was it in Joseph's answer about his sons that made Yaakov suddenly change his mind about blessing Menashe and Ephraim? Nothing changed the fact that they are spiritually blemished and that  wicked  people would come from them. The Torah talks in general terms - Israel =Jews will bless children and not specifically about fathers blessing their sons. So why don't Sages and Rabbis bless children  with the blessing – May God makes you like Ephraim and Menashe. Why is  this blessing only for fathers and  irrespective of their spiritual stature?  When Jacob blesses his grandsons, he says  - by you בך   in the singular, referring to Joseph, Israel shall bless…  The Torah should read – By them or by you in the plural referring to Menashe and Ephraim will Israel bless… What has Yosef- Joseph got to do with this blessing?

Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro explains that it was Joseph's   unconditional acceptance of his sons   with all their faults and blemishes and standing by them that made Yaakov change his mind.  Menashe and Ephraim had a father in Yosef that   unconditionally   accepted   them and saw   his children as a gift of responsibility from God. This will guarantee that they will turn out fine. The success of children depends on them being blessed with a father like Yosef.  So the blessing is only suited for fathers. It is the fathers who pray and bless their sons that they will have a father like Yosef that will help them grow into men of the stature of Menashe and Ephraim. Joseph is referred to as the ' stone of Israel - אבן= אב ובן ' having the ability to connect father and son.

 As a father Joseph helped to make his children identify and feel part of his vision and mission of his family to be a ' light unto the nations'. It is a well- known fact that many children of Rabbis serving country and small town districts where there is no or very little formal religious Jewish education do very well when they go to study in schools or yeshivot in bigger cities. Because they identify and are part of their parent's mission and vision, their study, religious observance and social commitment reaches high levels of understanding and performance. When kids share a common mission, there is also no place for envy or jealousy as they see each other as friend and ally in their holy mission.

One of the basic needs all children have is to be loved unconditionally, to know that they will be accepted even if they screw-up or fall short.  Most parents believe that they love their kids unconditionally, but what counts is whether kids feel just as loved when they mess up or fall short.  Saying to a kid “I love you, but not your behavior” is problematic. The kid wonders: what’s this elusive me you say you love when all I hear is disapproval and criticism. Instead of criticism, we can engage, ' working with the child ' in a non-judgmental way to solve problems in a collaborative way and help them engage in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution and do some Teshuvah – repentance. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Vayigash 75 - Nurture Yourself so that You Look Good

At their first meeting Pharaoh is struck by Jacob- Yaakov's appearance .This prompts him to ask Jacob his age, something that a king would not normally inquire of a visitor. Yaakov felt that he had to justify   and explain why he looked much older than he was. He answered that he was 130 years old.  He   had not lived as long in a qualitative sense as his forefathers as his life was not a happy one with many problems, living as a stranger in other peoples lands. The commentators note that God criticized Yaakov.  Yaakov's complaining about his life was in fact a complaint against God. Although Jacob had   had serious problems concerning Aisav-Esau, Lavan, Dina and Joseph  that made life very hard and difficult for so many years, there was a 'happy ending'. In any case, despite problems people should be happy and grateful for life itself. As a consequence, Yaakov's lifespan was shortened by 33 years because of the 33 words of complaint he had voiced. Instead of living to 180 years like his father Isaac- Yitzchak, Yaakov died at the age of 147. But if we look at the verses in the Torah, we see that  Yaakov only uttered 25 words including the words and 'Yaakov said to Pharaoh.'  Only if we add Pharaoh's question – 8 words, we get 33 words. Yaakov is not only held  accountable for complaining about his life but also for the way he looked – something that prompted Pharaoh to ask his question. If we happily accept reality and don't complain we will have less stressful lives, deal with situations more creatively and   look so much better.
As parents we have a responsibility to nurture ourselves and have the right attitude so we look good. We need to be thankful and feel honored by God for believing in our abilities and giving us the privilege to raise these ' challenging kids '. We need to be the source of happiness, hope and joy, so it is fun to be around us. We have to be the ' Thermostat' that calms things down  in the home, avoids conflict and solves problems in a collaborative way, rather than causing stress.

Nurturing oneself is for your children and the following story explains it well. It is important for all parents and especially parents of challenging kids.  A woman went to check out what was happening at her neighbors, a young widow who  had 7 children. The kids were in the yard, some were crying and the others did not look too happy. The woman went into the house and to her dismay found the mother eating a good meal. The widow explained that if she wants to have the strength and energy to look after 7 hungry kids, she needs to eat well. So we need to be selfish - it is for the kids.

 Nurture yourself; consider yourself a person who has needs, for relaxation, privacy, rest, exercise, to eat well, reading, socializing, and learning, being empowered emotionally and spiritually. Live your own life .If you don't consider yourself worthy of the above, your kids will treat you as a doormat and not a real person with needs.
 Be positive and think positively about others and remember the CPS mantra, – children (also people) do well if they can.  Deal   with negative thoughts and decide that you want to be happy and not be  right. When we rely less on others, and don't have expectations we are less likely to become angry. Don't take issues personally, mouthing is part of the poor coping skills. Put your relationship with your kids first before getting them to do things. Remember to use – LEE = low expressed emotion and not HEE- high expressed emotion.   

 Nurture your relationship with your spouse, spend time together not talking about the kids, best to have fixed times during the week.  Let your kids do 'sleep over's' during the school week - respite for you and generally they ' think ' better at others and it is a good learning experience. Find mentors, buddy-tutors, family, baby sitters who can spend time with your kids, good for them, respite for you. Get support from local charities, your community, an older brother or buddy from the local school.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Understand that education is a process; there are no quick fixes or magic bullet. Patience is the name of the game. But think positively about your kids so that you attract positive forces. Only talk to the few people who understand how stressful parenting a challenging kid is, get support on forums or other support groups. To the others say that your child has certain challenges and that you are following expert advice.  But believe in yourself, that you are moving in the right direction and have the ability to parent your kids.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mikeitz 75 - Joseph - Honoring your father

Joseph has become the ' viceroy' of Egypt, second in command to Pharaoh. He is blessed with 2 sons. He names his eldest son Menasheh acknowledging that God has helped him to forget all the  hardships which his brothers inflicted on him and his entire father's home.  This seems to explain the 22 years that Joseph did not contact his father and put him out of his misery and focus instead on creating a new family and history.  Joseph was being thankful that God removed any ill feeling that he had for his brothers and that he understood that everything   that happened was part of a Divine master plan. Joseph saw his purpose was   to reunify the family and to realize his dreams. Only after the brothers had done Teshuvah= repentance and regretted their ' selling' of their brother could the family be reunited. He couldn't reveal his destiny to his father because he was part of an agreement made by the brothers that 'banned' anyone revealing to Ya'akov- Jacob what had happened and Joseph's whereabouts without their consent. Even God was party to this oath and so Isaac who through prophecy knew of Joseph's plight was unable to comfort a mourning Jacob.

 Contacting his father and performing the mitzvah of honoring his father presented another problem. It could be only done at the expense of his brothers. They would have been disgraced when the reality –' a beast has devoured my son Joseph and torn him to bits' was found to be a cover up for the sale of Joseph. This would have also compromised family unity. There are limitations and boundaries to the mitzvah of honoring parents. The Talmud –Ketuvot 103 relates how 'Rebbi' on his death bed gave instructions to his sons as to what positions of leadership some of his   sons and students were to be assigned. R' Haninah was to be given the position of Rosh Ha'yeshivah.  He refused to accept the position as this would be at the expense of R' Afes who was older than him. Rebbi's sons and students did not insist on honoring Rebbi's instruction as it would be at the expense of someone else.

I find it interesting that both Isaac and Jacob did not rebuke their sons for not honoring them and not fulfilling the mitzvah of ' Kibud AV'. It could be that parents perceive their parental authority and honor is not dependent and derived from the Torah itself.  Teachers teach kids that the Torah gives a parent authority because of their positions as parents and there is a very important mitzvah to honor their wishes and respect them.   Parents however cannot demand obedience because of the Torah. It not only undermines their authority, but it comes at a cost to children. Parents who invoke the Torah in the hope that kids will respect them come across as weak and have no stature, personality or leadership to deal with their kids. Parents should embrace the ' authoritative pose or stance ' of leadership rather than ' authoritarian '. Their source of authority is not because of the 'power' their position or status gives, but their sense of humility about the great responsibility of parenting and addressing the needs of kids in a way that respects their dignity. Their credibility is independent of their status but rather depends on who they are as teachers, guides and care givers. I remember a father asking a Rabbi if his child has to stand up when he comes into the room. The Rabbi said yes, but you also have to be a father. And that's why the child stands up and addresses the parent – My father, my teacher. Demanding respect and having demands that are developmentally not appropriate or you know your child is not the easy going compliant type of kid, will just create conflict and disrespect. You will also have some responsibility for the child's behavior - transgressing the mitzvah of' ' Kibud Av ve Aim ' as your parental demands are for sure to be ' a stumbling block before the eyes of a blind person'. Focusing on 'compliance' means that parents have to resort to the use of power either using punishments, consequences or trying to control through seduction with rewards. Not only do kids resist being controlled but these methods do not contribute to a commitment and kids internalizing the values behind the things we ask them to do. Better to use  ' I messages ' -  the playroom is in a mess , It would  be great to have a nice, clean and tidy room instead of you made a mess of the playroom , go and tidy it up! I messages focus on how the parent feels, they don't judge the kids and provoke resistance but allow the kid to take responsibility for her behavior. We can use ' dialog questions '  and even better use collaborative problem solving as a tool not only to solve problems but to collaborate with kids in all areas of life. Parents start to feel listened to when they use collaborative problem solving. When kids feel understood and they concerns heard, they are more likely to hear the concerns of parents and take their perspectives. They learn to trust their parents as guides and seek them out for guidance, support and feedback as they navigate their worlds.  And in this way parents earn respect and honor in the most authentic way.  When parents don't focus on their honor and are prepared to 'forgo ' or relinquish it  =' mochel  bich'vodo' , they  make room for their roles as guides and teachers  and this actually enhances  the respect and honor kids will have for them. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014


FGX Powerstrip - Explanation

Dr Adam Saucedo - the science of Powerstrips 1

Powerstrip ingredients

Powerstrip ingredients article


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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Vayeshev 75 - Favoritism

Jacob-Ya'akov develops a special relationship with Joseph- Yoseif and invests a lot of time learning with him and passing onto him his spiritual heritage. Yoseif's brothers see this relationship alienate their father's love for them and feel that their spiritual futures are being threatened. Only one son succeeded Abraham and Isaac and it seemed that they were going to be excluded from the family. Ya'akov gave Yoseif a coat of many colors symbolizing royalty and leadership, a recognition of Yoseif's potential and talent and also to encourage the other brothers to work on themselves. This was supposed to be a form of constructive competition – kin'at soferim, but was viewed  by the brothers as   favoritism. This caused discord, hate and jealousy. The brothers sold Yoseif into slavery. They  felt fully justified in taking this step to protect their spiritual worlds and future..  Because of this, the Sages warn parents not to show favoritism between kids . This  applies even when it comes to sharing inheritance, one needs  to treat kids equally and fairly. Even a so-called ' bad' child  should get the same inheritance as a 'good' child.  The consequence of this favoritism was the exile and bondage in Egypt. If not for the sale of Yoseif, the exile which started from the birth of Isaac- Yitzchak would have played itself out many more years in the land of Canaan and only  the last generation would spend the exile in Egypt.

When we talk about favoritism and possible sibling rivalry, we need to note that we are dealing with the perceptions of children. Only when kids become parents themselves, they will appreciate, like a candle a parent can light up a child with love and this does not detract from their ability to love other kids. The problem is how we love children. Traditional parenting encourages parents to show more love, warmth and enthusiasm when kids behave themselves and are successful in school, on the sports-field, socially etc and withdraw the love and attention when they behave badly or are unsuccessful. Love is seen to be something to be earned and can 'leverage ' good behavior.  Teachers and some parents go a step further – they think that if David sees that Josh is being praised for good behavior and high tests scores, this will encourage David to behave well and work hard for tests.  What really happens is the challenging kid feels less loved and jealous of his brother.  It is the challenging kids, the trouble makers, the unsuccessful kids who need more attention and love. They need  to be reassured that they are loved and accepted for who they are and not what they do.

Sometimes it is the good and easy going child that needs more attention and love than what they are getting at the present time. Some kids, especially kids with challenges require more 'maintenance ' and time to meet their needs. These kids are usually challenged in the areas of flexibility, frustration tolerance and adaptability so the rules are different, expectations are lowered and fewer demands are placed on the child.  We can explain that we treat kids differently, but fairly. Fairly does not mean equally, it means that every kid's needs and concerns are being addressed and met. A kid will understand that his brother will need extra help with maths or English. In the same way we can explain that he needs help  with the skills needed for ' behavior' , frustration tolerance , anxiety etc. The focus however must be on hearing and listening to the concerns of the ' easy child' , addressing these concerns, making sure he has good friends and trying to compensate him in other ways to show you understand that it is not easy for him. The social life of a family can be very much compromised by a challenging kid and cause a lot of frustration for the other siblings.

When a kid feels frustrated about ' perceived ' favoritism it is often more about the kid than the way the parent is treating her kids. We need to start by asking – why does he feel that way, are there are needs or concerns that are not being addressed.?  It is hard for a parent to explain this, but some kids are more assertive in getting their needs met, has a better relationship with the parents, and sometimes for eg a married kid with or without kids may need more use of the family car, than a single kid.  Single kids feel that a  married kid has in a sense  left the family. Lack of fulfillment or frustrations in other areas may cause a kid to feel sorry for themselves , so they seem to be focused more on how much they are ' receiving ' and less on how much they are ' giving'.'

Kids that become jealous of siblings and blame parents can find them in a place that works against them. Even if the claims are true, blaming parents or being jealous of other siblings will just get in the way of effectively dealing with the situation... Accepting the reality liberates one from negative feelings and allows one to take responsibility for one's life and access the help needed. In any case our perceptions of reality are often flawed and reality changes. If Joseph's brothers would have accepted the reality, they would have been free of anger and jealousy and been in a position not to fight reality but to create a new reality.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Vayishlach 75 - Proverbs- Mishlei and the Pygmalion Effect

There is a lot of thought and psychology   behind Ya'akov's – Jacob's display of vulnerability, respect and servitude when he bowed 7 times before Eisav-Esau and called him my master. He bowed 7 times until he reached his brother and he certainly reached him. Eisav's compassion and mercy was aroused and he embraced and kissed Ya'akov and then he together with his brother cried. R' Hirsch explains that tears flow from the innermost feelings, so one can only cry if he is genuinely moved... The verse from Mishlei- Proverbs 27:19 say      כַּמַּיִם, הַפָּנִים לַפָּנִים--    כֵּן לֵב-הָאָדָם, לָאָדָם. as in water, face to face, so too, is the heart of one person to another.  When one has positive thoughts and feelings about another person, these feelings will be reflected back to you as the other person will tend to feel positively about you too. A negative response from a person is a generally a reflection of how you feel about them. The feelings have to be genuine, coming from the heart and lightening up the face. These positive thoughts and feelings will lead us to act accordingly, with more empathy, compassion and kindness..

The idea in Proverbs precedes the so-called Pygmalion effect, documented in the 1960's, which showed how positive teachers'   assumptions, expectations and beliefs about student's intellectual potential affected student's performances in a positive way. Parents and teachers who believe that children have also a brighter side to their human nature and can behave in a virtuous and altruistic way can likewise impact on children and set into motion a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How we view children, our beliefs and subsequent expectations about them will guide and dictate our interventions and interactions with them. Parents and teachers who have a dark view of human nature and only see the negative side as in the verse -' since the imagery of man's heart is evil from his youth' –   כי יצר לב האדם רע מנעוריו  
 will resort to very controlling environments with rewards, consequences and punishments. The message to kids is that you can't be trusted to learn or behave unless you are given rewards or threatened with punishments. And then we see how kids become so addicted to and dependent on rewards and punishments.  When we write off kids as disruptive, defiant, manipulative or destructive they are likely to 'live down' to these expectations.

 The key to a parent-child or teacher-child relationship is the child learning to trust the parent and teacher, so that kids want 'relationship', sees  them as  guides and someone to come to , especially when they ' screw up' and make mistakes. Rav Pam relates that as a 'Rebbi and teacher' - a kid came late for class and offered some excuse adding that he could bring a note from his parents. Rav Pam responded that he had already explained why he came late, why  would he need a note from his parents.'' In truth, I wasn’t sure if he told me the truth, but I couldn’t let him feel that I don’t trust him.”  Most teachers would be much more focused on their fear that the student will feel he put one over on the teacher.  They probably wouldn’t even consider the harm that distrusting their student would cause. 

We can help students develop good values and middot by attributing to the students the best possible motive consistent with the facts. So when they are generous and pro-social we do not say they were motivated by self-interest. When  they don't meet our expectations it could be that that they are good kids but were unaware of how their actions impact on others and are lacking skills rather than being selfish, defiant aggressive and lacking in compassion. And we would then  in a collaborative way, ' work with' kids to   teach important life lessons and solve problems by finding mutually satisfying solutions .In this way the kid contributes to the solution, learns important life skills and a trusting relationship with the parent or teacher is enhanced. 'Treat kids 'as if they need to be controlled' we may well undermine their natural predispositions to develop self-controls and internalize commitments to upholding cultural norms and values' – Marilyn Watson. 'Doing to ' kids with rewards and punishments just teaches them to ask – what's in it for me and feel sorry for themselves. It does not help kids to reflect on what type of person they want to be and how their actions impact on others.

Higher expectations of kids are positive, but we need to ask ' higher expectations for what'? If our expectations for academics are higher test scores, we will teach to test .If we expect more engagement, curiosity, and self-directed learning we will teach accordingly. If our high expectations for kids behaving themselves and being responsible is being compliant and following instructions we will be controlling. But if we understand that kids learn to be responsible by making decisions and acting in a pro-social way, we will allow them to participate in making decisions and solve problems in a collaborative way.

We all have a brighter and a darker side to our human natures, capable of being generous and selfish, helpful or hurting. But the good news is that if we follow the advice in the words of Proverbs- Mishlei and take into account the Pygmalion effect we can help ourselves and those we interact with to become more positive and caring people.