Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Beshalach -75 Guidelines or Rules

After the miracle of the splitting of Red Sea, the Israelites sing the prophetic Song by the Sea – שירת הים.  In verse 2 the Israelites proclaim –'This is my God and I will glorify him.'  זה אלי ואנוהו- . The Sages learn from the word ' ואנוהו ' different teachings and interpretations. The verse teaches us a guiding principle of life – that we should try to emulate God's ways and resemble him in our interpersonal relationships – "אני והו  " I and him. Just as He is gracious and merciful, so should you be. The verse can be read - this is my God and I will build him a sanctuary = מקדש   from the word נוה, a home. The ultimate sanctuary is when a person makes himself a sanctuary for the Divine Presence by making himself holy and emulating God's ways. A third teaching is that we are encouraged to serve God in a beautiful manner – be beautiful in front of God with Mitzvoth, from  the word נוי  - beauty, by seeking and buying a beautiful etrog, lulav,tefilin , Torah scroll etc.  We should spend an extra third of one's money for hidur mitzvah – to beautify the mitzvah.

It seems that we have 2 expressions of glorifying God – by resembling and emulating God in our man to man mitzvoth and buying beautiful objects of Mitzvah that give value to the God- Man mitzvoth. Every Man - man mitzvah has an element of the Man- God relationship as God commands us to relate to people in His way. But what about Man- God mitzvoth, must we also see them in the context of man -man mitzvoth.

If a person spends more than an extra third for ' Hidur Mitzvah ' – adding beauty and gives value to the mitzvah, he enjoys the fruits of the Mitzvah – the reward in this world, and his reward in the spiritual world to come is not diminished. R' Isaac Sher says that we have a principle that there is no reward in this world for Mitzvoth that are between man and God. Only mitzvoth between Man and man are also rewarded in this world, because besides doing God's will, a person sees fruits to his actions in that his actions impact on and benefit others. God rewards him for this in a way that he will have the means and more opportunities to continue making an even bigger impact.  R' Isaac Sher asks - how come for a God-man mitzvah a person is rewarded in this world when it done with extra-ordinary hidur – beauty? The answer is just as we impact on others in a positive way in our man- man mitzvoth so too, we can impact and impress on others the value and importance of God-man mitzvoth by the way we do and relate to these mitzvoth.

We see that in both the Man-man and God-man mitzvoth we tried to make a contribution and impact on other peoples' lives in a physical, emotional and spiritual way.

The tragedy of modern education is that we focus mainly on behaviors of the child and not the whole child. We ignore feelings, values and motives that are behind the behaviors or mitzvoth. We have a blind faith in extrinsic motivation, the ' lo lishmah ' and will use all the bribes, prizes and rewards to get behaviors and mitzvoth and ignore why the kid is doing the mitzvah. The only thing we are teaching  the kid is to ask – what will I get if I do this , what will be done to me if  I don't or do this , in short – what's in it for me. The kid is made to think about consequences, but only consequences for himself. We use praise to help the kid think about himself, instead of helping the kid reflect on how his actions impact on others. We teach rules and the consequences and punishments for breaking these rules. We don't teach values and encourage commitment to these values. We don't give children ' guidelines for living' that will give them a vision and guide their behavior.

R' Isaac Sher brings to our attention the opening words of the Mesilat Yesharim – the Path of the Just explaining man's duty in his world. The Mesilat Yesharim does not say on what man must work and labor, but begins by saying that, man must clarify his purpose in life, attitude, direction and orientation that will guide and give value to his life. The Torah gives guidelines by which we can give purpose and direction to our lives. The verse we have been discussing – זה אלי ואנוהו teaches us guiding principles of life – that we should try to emulate God's ways and resemble him in our interpersonal relationships. Just as He is gracious and merciful, so should you be. We can try and make ourselves a sanctuary – מקדש for God and impact on others in a physical, emotional and spiritual way.

As parents and teachers we should be focusing on Torah values and guidelines for life and how our actions impact on others around us and not on rules and consequences. So kids will be able to reflect on what type of people they would like to be    and say –' this is my God and I will glorify Him' , emulate His ways  and become a sanctuary for His divine presence.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Chayei Sara/ Bo 75 Modern Leadership

The reason why the Israelites had to eat the Korban Pesach – the Pesach sacrifice  ' in haste = be'chipazon ' and in a state of readiness to leave ואכלתם אתו- קרבן פסח – בחיפזון  - שמות 12:11
 is because the departure from Egypt would be in such speed, haste and without any delay .In fact their dough did not have enough time to rise, nor did the Israelites have time to make any other provisions.  

The ' chipazon ha'shechina' and ' me'hirut ha'shechinah', God's speed and haste in bringing about the redemption can be compared to a train suddenly appearing and all those who want freedom have to make sure that they get onto the train and don't get left behind. God was in exile with the Israelites in Egypt and when He left, the people had to make sure that they were ready to leave with God and not be left behind. God in a sense moves on and runs ahead and we have to make sure that we are with God. Rabbeinu Yeruchum says that this idea – the chipazon ha'shechinah = the speed and haste of the Divine Presence is mentioned by Eliezer, the servant of Abraham. Eliezer   cannot accept   Rivkah's =Rebecca's staying on for some time with her family and then going to marry Isaac. Eliezer says to Rivkah's family – Gen 24:56 'do not delay me now that God has made my journey successful'.ויאמר אליהם אל תאחרו אתי וה' הצליח דרכי

What has the fact that God has made Eliezer's journey and mission a success got to do with not delaying and moving on. God has made Eliezer's journey successful by going ahead of Eliezer, leading and guiding him to success. If he delays any longer, God will have moved ahead and Eliezer would then miss the train.

In the light of our understanding of God's ' chipazon' – speed and haste, Rabeinu Yeruchum interprets the Mishnah from Pirkei Avot 2:21 in a novel way. - Rabbi Tarfon says- the day is short, the task is abundant, the workers are lazy, the pay /wage are great and the Boss is insistent and urgent.
אבות 2:21        רַבִּי טַרְפוֹן אוֹמֵר, הַיּוֹם קָצֵר וְהַמְּלָאכָה מְרֻבָּה, וְהַפּוֹעֲלִים עֲצֵלִים, וְהַשָּׂכָר הַרְבֵּה, וּבַעַל הַבַּיִת דּוֹחֵק:
Rabeinu Yeruchum says that the Boss is not standing over his workers and demanding productivity. Like a modern manager, the Boss is setting an example and running ahead = דוחק The workers have to catch up with their Boss.

The verse from the Song of Songs 1:4  says -draw me; we will run after youשיר השירים  - משכני, אחריך נרוצה. If God is drawing his people close to Him, why do they have to run after Him?  If we want to be with God, feel his Divine Presence we have to appreciate the ' chipazon Hashem – God's haste and speed and make sure we are there moving ahead with him.  We need to act with zeri'zut, zeal, drive, passion and with momentum in order to connect with the divine presence.

The ideal parents and teachers are said to be those that are demanding of kids so they achieve the highest standards and achievements in their academics, social and sports activities. Maybe parents and teachers should try to be less demanding and more authoritative, so that kids seek relationship and guidance. Kids will say ' Draw me and we will run after you '.  It is because of the parents and teacher's personalities, drive, joy and passion for what they do that kids want to join in with them. Parents and teachers set an example and get kids involved with them. They allow kids to participate in the decision making process. They understand that responsibility comes from making decisions and not by following instructions. The kids then feel self-directed and autonomous, displaying zeri'zut, drive and passion for what they do.

We can learn from God's Leadership – ' chipazon Hashem', that leaders don't demand from others or push from behind, but they are running ahead, leading from the front. When kids experience such leadership they cannot but want to join in and follow the leader. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Vaeira 75 - Things get worse before they get better ?

Moses and Aaron asked Pharaoh    in God's name to send the Israelites into the desert so they could worship and celebrate God.  The sidra Va'eira begins with God's response to the complaint of Moses that his mission to Pharaoh was not only unsuccessful, but made things much worse for them. God criticizes Moses for lacking in faith. The Patriarchs had faith and did not complain despite the fact that God's revelation was ' not open but hidden by the miracle of nature' and that promises God had made to them were unfulfilled. God revealed himself to Moses by the name of ' Hashem', a term that implies God's trustworthiness to carry out his word and promises and reveal Himself through open miracles. And despite the initial setback, Moses should have had more patience and faith. Moses dared to reproach God because he could not see his people suffer.

The fact that ' things get worse before they get better ' challenges our resilience and faith in God, ourselves and process.  According to the Kli Yakar we see this phenomenon in nature – the darkest hour of the night is the one preceding daybreak, in the winter the coldest time is before sunrise, sick people nearing death usually have a spurt of energy before death overcomes them. When natural forces or powers are threatened by confrontation and possible destruction, they gather up all the energy they can muster to resist. So here Pharaoh's actions in intensifying the persecution and labor are a sign that his end is near and the ' redemption ' is close by.

'Things get worse before they get better ' is something traditional parenting therapists and educators tell parents. They explain that giving parents tools of ' control', helping parents become more firm, consistent and contingent and reclaim parental authority and be the boss will make things worse in the beginning as the child resists and displays a ' counter-will. This is needed to compensate for the years of passive, permissive, non-consistent and contingent parenting.  Sometimes things do improve as kids become initially very enthusiastic about the ' rewards' but when rewards lose their novelty and punishments, consequences and time-outs are introduced and the dynamic becomes very confrontational and the rewards are all seen to be controlling. So often things don't get better.

'Working with' approaches like the Collaborative problem solving are likely to improve situations without making things worse. The focus is on building a relationship and communication. The kid feels understood and heard when care givers   hear the kids concerns first before putting their concerns on the table, address the concerns of both parent and child and try to solve problems in a collaborative way. We reduce conflict and negative interactions by putting some of our expectations temporary on the shelf and try to create an environment free of ' triggers ' that could cause conflict.  In some cases parents may feel it is getting worse because the kid does not yet trust the process and the parent no longer has the tools of control. But parents need to remember it was these tools of control that were   fueling conflict and confrontation and when parents no longer fuel conflict a kid has a better chance of coming around to the CPS process. It will be also helpful to have a discussion with the child exploring together how CPS can improve the family dynamic, meet all the concerns and needs of family members and make the family home a caring and cooperative place for all.

When teachers want to move away from grades   and  'compliance with all the rewards, punishments and consequences ' etc and try to create a caring community   where kids are more intrinsically motivated to learn and develop an intrinsic commitment to good values, kids are likely to resist.  This is because students have become so dependent on grades, rewards and punishments. They ask themselves – what will I get if I am compliant and what will be done to me if I rebel and not what type of person do I want to be. It takes time and discussion, working with students so they see the value of learning for the love of learning and construct their own reasons why they should act responsibly and generously.  Change should be made gradually, respectfully and collaboratively. The Intrinsic motivation of students needs to be supported by a school that supports student autonomy and participation in decision making, a valuable curriculum , cooperative learning and the promotion of prosocial behavior within a caring community of learners.  If we do not follow this process, the alternative to control will be chaos.

When the focus is on trust and cooperation and not confrontation there is no reason why things need to get worse before they get better.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Shemot 75 - Setting a Personal Example

Setting a personal example is said to be crucial in the parenting or educating children.  Albert Einstein   said  - “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.”
 For sure the ' Do as I say and not Do as I do '   attitude and approach of care givers just undermines the credibility and authenticity of a parent and teacher. However, there are many kids and students who are being raised and educated in an environment where parents and teachers are setting great personal examples and yet it has no impact on these kids or on students.  So what is the problem?

The problem is the behaviorist nature of ' setting a personal example'. Education is not about a passive student or child absorbing information but a child and student actively noticing what is happening around them and then making meaning of this. In order to learn from the personal example of a parent, teacher or Rabbi, the child needs to notice and to be sensitive to the nuances and the motives behind the behavior or personal example set by his parent, teacher etc. One can only benefit from ' Shimush Talmeidi Chachamim ', being an apprentice to great sages or being exposed to them if one keenly observes and is sensitive to the example they set.  Education is not only noticing the inconsistencies and incongruent passages or words in a text, but to notice them in situations and on peoples' faces. Kids and students don't learn from 'personal example ' because they are simply not sensitive enough to be aware of what is happening and certainly they are not in a position to reflect and learn from personal example.

The portion-parasha of Shemot has examples where actively noticing something peculiar in the environment actually changed history. Pharaoh's daughter noticed a basket hidden among the reeds. This led her to being a mother to Moses – the future savior and redeemer of the Israelites in Egypt. Moses himself while looking after Yitro- Jethro's flocks in the desert noticed a fire, a burning bush. This excited his curiosity. He went to investigate and he saw that the bush was burning but not being consumed .If he would not have noticed the bush, he would not have experienced God's revelation and accepting the leadership role to take the Israelites out of Egypt.  As they journey towards Mount Moriah, the place where the 'Akeidat Yitzchak' – the binding of Isaac would take place, Abraham and Isaac notice a cloud hovering over the mountain. Abraham says – do you notice what I see and Isaac says yes. Abraham asks the same question to his 2 attendants and they did not see anything unique. This ability to notice reflected on Isaac's spiritual insight which made him fit to be an offering, while the attendants who did not notice could not continue the journey.

Kids and people have a problem about being grateful and expressing gratitude. As a sign of gratitude, Moses does not execute the plague of blood that turned the Nile and other water resources into blood, and the plague of lice that infected the dust and ground, because he was saved by the Nile and he hid the dead Egyptian in the sand. In order to be grateful and express gratitude - ha'carat ha'tov  in  Hebrew, one has to be aware and recognize the good that was done. People simply are not aware and don't see the good done to them. This is reinforced by the fact that people don't like to feel indebted to others so we tend to subconsciously minimize or ignore the good done to us.

We are told in the Ethics of our Fathers that a wise person learns from every person. The difficulty people have in learning from the example of others is that they tend to be very judgmental and only notice things that already fit in with their  world view and justify their  opinions about  people and events. This is very true if kids don't have a good relationship with parents and teachers and don't see them as their teachers and guides. Kids must have a good relationship with parents and teachers and seek relationship in order to   benefit from the example set by care givers and teachers.

Setting an example is not enough. We have to bring kids ' behind the scenes ' and share our thinking, our motives and values behind our decisions and actions. We can share our dilemmas, our concerns and perspectives and get a kid's input as well. Kids can also pick up our attitude, enthusiasm and why we feel joy and privilege in what we do. The best way to set an example is to get them involved with us, cooperating and collaborating when appropriate and solving problems in a collaborative way. In this way, we teach them the skills needed for their lives, adult life and marriage.