Thursday, September 29, 2016

Netzavim 76 - Rosh Hashana and the Power of Community

On the last day of his life, when Moses is about to hand over the leadership to Yehoshuah, the nation appears in its full presence, standing erect – 'nitzavim' committed and accountable to God and the mission of the Torah. Moses, on the one hand sees them all standing together and then emphasizes 10 subgroups and divisions in the nation.
You are all standing this day before the Lord, your God the leaders of your tribes, your elders and your officers, every man of Israel, your young children, your women, and your convert who is within your camp both your woodcutters and your water drawers – Dev 29:9
 (ט) אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם רָאשֵׁיכֶם שִׁבְטֵיכֶם זִקְנֵיכֶם וְשֹׁטְרֵיכֶם כֹּל אִישׁ יִשְׂרָאֵל: (י) טַפְּכֶם נְשֵׁיכֶם וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּקֶרֶב מַחֲנֶיךָ מֵחֹטֵב עֵצֶיךָ עַד שֹׁאֵב מֵימֶיךָ:
The question is - why mention the different social classes, strata, cultural levels, rank and status in the nation? Inequality and social divisions cause friction, poverty and crime and certainly do not promote a caring and unified society. The educational system perpetuates the inequality with the rich getting an engaging and rich education and the poor a ' test prep' education. John Dewey saw the possibility of ' vocational training ' doing the same. John Dewey said -' there is a danger that vocational education will be interpreted in theory and practice as trade education: as a means of securing technical efficiency in specialized future pursuits. Education would then become an instrument of perpetuating unchanged the existing industrial order of society, instead of operating as a means of its transformation. The desired transformation is not difficult to define in a formal way. It signifies a society in which every person shall be occupied in something which makes the lives of others better worth living, and which accordingly makes the ties which bind persons together more perceptible—which breaks down the barriers of distance between them. 'The barriers between people are broken down when people see others as contributing to the society they live in.
Moses gathered the people together to re-affirm and re-commit to the ' brit – covenant ' made at Sinai. But this covenant went further; it was based on mutual responsibility and accountability. People not only had a responsibility for their fellow men, but were now also accountable for the open and not hidden sins of others. –Dev 29:28 ' the hidden things belong to the Lord, our God, but the revealed things apply to us and to our children forever: that we must fulfill all the words of this Torah.
הַנִּסְתָּרֹת לַיהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ וְהַנִּגְלֹת לָנוּ וּלְבָנֵינוּ עַד עוֹלָם לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת
Members of society are bound together by the covenant which is based on mutual responsibility and caring and also being accountable for the failings of others. So Moses' list suggests that people are responsible and accountable according to their influence in society. Leaders whether political, spiritual, business and educational can affect many people, parents and teachers can impact on spouses, colleagues and children. Children and workers can impact on their peers.
In order to prevent a sense of arrogance Moses reminds the people, that they are all standing before God. They are all equal in the eyes of God. The Alshich says that this idea – that people need to be humble, and not be arrogant because of their status or achievements, is expressed in the following Halacha- legal point. If a great and wise sage is forced to kill a thief, the sage has to give up his own life as the Talmud says – The Sage cannot say that his blood is redder than the blood of the thief.
The Midrash commentary says that when the nation stands together erect – ' נצבים היום ככלכם ' they are unbreakable and can withstand and weather the greatest and most difficult challenges. A young child can break a reed, but when reeds are united in a bundle, they can withstand any force and are unbreakable. The Midrash adds that the nation is guaranteed redemption and survival if they are united.
We noted above that when people perceive the contribution of others, they are more able to bond with them. What about identifying and feeling empathic with people who don't make a contribution or even people who impact negatively on society. On Succoth we bind together and wave our Lulav - 4 species in all directions. The Kabbalists say that the four species of the Lulav represent four different types of Jews: The Etrog ( yellow citron) has a good taste and a good fragrance. It represents a person with both wisdom (Torah learning) and good deeds. The Hadas (myrtle) has a good fragrance, but is inedible. It represents a person who has good deeds, but lacks wisdom. The Lulav (date palm) is edible, but has no smell. This represents the person with wisdom, but without good deeds. The Aravah (willow) has neither taste nor smell. It represents a person with neither good deeds nor Torah learning. On Sukkot, we gather these four species, bind them, and wave them all together. The Lulav is only kosher if all four species are taken together. If one of the species is missing, the entire Lulav is invalid.
A similar principle is taught by the composition of the incense brought in the Holy Temple. There were 11 ingredients, of which one, the chelbanah spice, smelled terrible. Yet, the incense was only valid if all the ingredients were included together.
The ' community ' only has power to save and impact positively on people if everyone is included in the community. If the a'ravah- willow = the person with no good deeds or Torah learning, or the chelbonah – the person who makes a negative impact are excluded from the community, we don't have a community. When the a'ravah and chelbonah are included, they justify the existence and mystical powers of a community.
On Rosh Hashanah – New Year and Day of Judgment, our repentance – Teshuva begins when we stand erect, make a commitment and unite in a community to anoint God as the ruler over us. We pray to be inscribed in the Book of Life and that God should have pity on us as frail beings that are inclined to sin and grant us life. These additional prayers would not normally be permitted to be said in the first 3 blessings of the  'A'mida or 18 blessings prayer. They are reserved for the praise of God and not for requests. However, these additions of the repentance period are permitted because they plead for the entire nation.
The power of community depends on structures being in place that promote cooperation and pro-social behavior and certainly not competition. A school is also a community of learners. To create community, children need to be brought into the process; each level or grade in school should be involved in activities that benefit not only peers, but the whole school and beyond the school impacting on the wider community. Questions of discipline should not focus on the consequences for the individual child because of his inappropriate behavior, but help him reflect how his behavior impacts on others and the community. He should be asking and reflecting – what type of community do we want.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Ki Tavo 76 The Downside of an Attitude of Gratitude

Our parasha talks about 2 commandments that required people to go to Jerusalem.  A landowner was obligated to bring his first ripened fruits –' Bikkurim' to the temple and present them to God's representative, the Kohen-priest. This ritual included a moving declaration and expression of gratitude to God, for being a protector ……and having brought us to the land of Israel and having given us the land of Israel, a land flowing with milk and honey…….As the farmers made their way to Jerusalem, they were met by delegations from the various towns and cities who greeted them with praises and psalms to God. The procession was accompanied by music and plenty of happiness and joy.  There is the obligation to separate tithes from food and give to the Levite and poor and also separate food –'  ma'aser sheni ' for personal use – to be eaten in Jerusalem or be redeemed  and the money spent on food in Jerusalem. The purpose of the mitzvah was to encourage people to visit Jerusalem and the temple and benefit from the learning, prayer and the spirituality of the city.
The Midrash commentary notes that the Torah begins with the word Be'reishit - in the beginning which can be also read – for the sake of the first. The world was created for the sake of the' firsts' – for the sake of the nation of Israel or the Torah that are called Reishit – first. Likewise the word was created for the sake of the mitzvah of the first crops – bikkurim. Gratitude is a trait that is fundamental to the sustainability of the world, central and vital to interpersonal relationships, our relationship with God (not that God needs our thanks) and our relationship with the physical world.  Our lives and achievements are made possible by the contributions and help of so many people and primarily because of God's assistance and direction. In order to express gratitude we need to have humility. People showed gratitude and solidarity with the farmers by going out to greet them on their journey. In Jerusalem, people would include the Levite, the convert and poor in their celebration of gratitude.    They would rejoice and make others happy. The Torah is making a connection between gratitude and happiness. An attitude of gratitude brings happiness, but true gratitude to God is not just the thank you and expression of gratitude but using the God given gifts to benefit others and inviting the less privileged to join in your celebration. True joy and happiness is a result from giving to the needy and making others happy. True gratitude demands both expression of thanks and action.
                                                                             ושמחת בכל הטוב אשר נתן לך יהוה אלהיך ולביתך אתה והלוי והגר אשר בקרבך: עשיתי ככל אשר צויתני", שמחתי ושימחתי בו.
Gratitude is very much on the self-improvement, personal development scene because of the research done by Dr Emmons who studies the science of gratitude. Gratitude helps people counter negative thoughts and complaining. It puts an end to self-pity, jealousy, bitterness and regret. It leads to good health, a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure, as well as more joy and pleasure. People who kept a gratitude journal for just 3 weeks measured 25% higher on life satisfaction. They exercised more, they drank less alcohol and their families and friends noticed that they are nicer to be around and the effect lasts several months beyond the initial 3 week trial period. The act of writing things down that you are grateful for will instantly change your mood. While expressing gratitude by writing a letter or communicating and interacting with people is a good thing to do in a moral sense, the new gratitude gurus are stressing the benefits for us and that gratitude makes us feel good.  A lot of the advice and gratitude exercises suggested can be undertaken without human contact – thank someone mentally , keep gratitude journal, count your blessings, mediate and for those so  inclined, pray. Consider this advice from a yoga instructor. “Cultivate your sense of gratitude by incorporating giving thanks into a personal morning ritual such as writing in a gratitude journal, repeating an affirmation or practicing a meditation. It could even be as simple as writing what you give thanks for on a sticky note and posting it on your mirror or computer. To help you establish a daily routine, create a ‘thankfulness’ reminder on your phone or computer to pop up every morning and prompt you.”

The author Barbara Ehrenreich sees this as the downside or selfishness of gratitude. Who is interacting here? ' You' and 'you'.' So it’s possible to achieve the recommended levels of gratitude without spending a penny or uttering a word. All you have to do is to generate, within yourself, the good feelings associated with gratitude, and then bask in its warm, comforting glow. If there is any loving involved in this, it is self-love, and the current hoopla around gratitude is a celebration of onanism.' She notes that the conservative leaning John Templeton Foundation , a foundation that promotes free-market capitalism, has been funding gratitude research of more than 8 million dollars, yet the foundation does not fund projects directly to improve the lives of poor individuals, but it has spent a great deal , through efforts like these , to improve their attitudes. '  


Another problem with gratitude, particularly between people with different power and status – boss and employee, teacher, parent or child, is that gratitude - especially when 'praise' is also expressed -  can be experienced as judgmental and controlling. Judgment even if positive is judgment. The person with power is grateful that his subordinate has jumped through his hoops. A Boss once expressed gratitude and praise to an employee for her work. She replied – please remember your words when you write me my pay- cheque at the end of the month. Instead better to focus on the deed and action and not on the person. Offer neutral feedback and ask questions so the employee speaks and reflects on what she did.


Barbara Ehrenreich suggests that we have a more vigorous and inclusive sort of gratitude, that for e.g. includes all the people that make our meals possible and taking action and expressing ' solidarity' with their demands for better pay and working conditions.


We see clearly from the mitzvoth of Bikkurim- first fruits and eating the Ma'aser Sheni – 2nd tithes in Jerusalem, that gratitude needs to be accompanied by pro-social actions and interactions between people. When gratitude is just an ' attitude' the focus is on the self and an expression of selfishness. It is based on the most primitive form of morality, do good because it feels good, and offer thanks and express gratitude because if you don't reciprocate people won't give you anything or help you. If we are grateful to God and thank Him, but don't act in the world as a partner and be of service to others, our praises and thanks take the form of sacrifices and offerings that God despises. True gratitude is emulating God's ways – והלכת ברכיו מה הוא חנון אף אתה תנון מה הוא רחום אתה רחום ..... -  Just as God's is gracious, be gracious, just as God is compassionate, be compassionate, kind and generous etc., etc.  



Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ki Teitzei 76 - Leaving the Egypt within us behind

Our Parasha contains 2 of the 6 commands to Remember - שש זכירות   . Remember what God...  did to Miriam, on the way, when you were leaving Egypt - is a warning not to engage in ' lashon ha'ra – slander, gossip or any other evil speech. Miriam was punished for her unfair criticism of Moses. It was not the traditional form of la'shon ha'ra, speaking badly about someone, but just as bad, saying that Moses was not as great as he thought he was, and should act in the world like his brother Aaron and herself .It was an attempt to dampen the enthusiasm, awe and respect for Moses as a great leader, teacher and personality. זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְמִרְיָם בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם: 
The 2nd command – is to remember what Amalek did to the you, on the way, when you were leaving Egypt that he happened upon you on the way …. After the 10 plagues and the miracle of the Red Sea, the nations of the world were in awe of Israel and their God, and no one dared to attack Israel. The attack on Israel – an ambush from behind, showed contempt for God and dampened – קרך - the awe and fear that the nations had for Israel and God. It also dampened Israel's enthusiasm for their journey to the Promised Land. The attack also dampened their belief and trust in God. Amalek is symbolic of evil, that might is right, and it is power that counts rather than belief in God.  זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם: אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ 

The structures of the verses are very similar. We have the command to remember, what happened …, on the way, when you were leaving Egypt. The Israelites had already left Egypt, so 'when you were leaving Egypt and being on the way', must be referring to a spiritual journey. The word in Hebrew for Egypt is   מצרים.    The root of the word is מצר, a strait – indicating the limitations and confines of one's personal weaknesses that hold one back from attaining true spiritual freedom. Attacking people, whether physically – Amalek or verbally – Miriam is symptomatic of a being a slave in Egypt, a slave to passions and self-interest. Moses complained - because there were informers amongst the children of Israel who had told Pharaoh about Moses' crime of killing the Egyptian, the Israelites were not worthy of redemption.  The conflict and lack of unity among the sons of Jacob led to the years of slavery and bondage in Egypt. The lashon ha'ra and evil speech depicted the relationship between Joseph and the brothers. The brothers, not only dampened Joseph's   enthusiasm for his dreams - here comes the dreamer, but actually sent him into exile. We are always struggling with our limitations, our constraints, our personal Egypt. And it is for this reason, that we have a Pesach – Passover once a year, not as a time to celebrate the Exodus, but as an opportunity to overcome our limitations and constraints, our personal Egypt and find true spiritual freedom. In fact, this is a theme of the Seider night, the first night of Passover. We dip our vegetables twice. Once to signify the first ' dipping' in the Torah, when the brothers dipped Joseph's coat in blood, symbolizing hatred, conflict and a lack of unity and dipping a 2nd time, signifying the dipping of the bundle of hyssop in blood, the bundle- agudah  symbolic of unity and brotherly love, hyssop – symbolic of humility, a character trait that helps people connect with each other and not be judgmental. We may have left Egypt, but Egypt has not totally left us and we still struggle with issues of gratuitous hatred – sin'at chinam which is manifested by lashon hara – evil speech  and other attacks on people.

Parenting and teaching is an area where depending on our view of children we can either see them as allies or trouble makers. We can see them as allies in our attempts to  ' work with them' and create an engaging and vibrant learning environment and a caring –cooperative classroom. Or we can focus on classroom management to keep control and get kids to learn and follow instructions. If we have a negative view of children we tend to speak badly about them and dampen any enthusiasm for learning and pro-social behavior that is intrinsically motivated. We have a view of children that they are not interested in learning and would rather play and talk to their friends all day. The only ways we can get them to listen and learn to is trying and motivate them by having tests, quizzes, grading work, offering rewards and giving punishments for not doing homework or not staying on task. The important goal is to have complete control of the classroom and manage behavior so that kids sit quietly and listen. This further undermines and kills any interest kids might have in learning and at most kids will learn only if something is on the test and will try and get the best possible grade with the minimum amount of effort. And of course, they forget all they learned after they sit for the test. Instead of focusing on how well they are learning and remembering information, we can focus on helping kids become ' long life learners' whose learning is driven by questions, problems and projects. In this way, we help kids connect to learning and focus on what they are learning. Kids are born with a natural curiosity to understand and make meaning of and find relevance in the world around them. Once kids leave kindergarten where learning is more child-directed and the teacher is there to stimulate the child, there interest in learning is destroyed and enthusiasm for learning is dampened.

When it comes to socio-moral learning we can invite kids to reflect on what kind of classroom they want and what rules and expectations would be needed to achieve that goal. Or we can hand out a list of rules and consequences on the first day which of course will dampen any enthusiasm for learning. We can choose to solve problems and deal with issues and unmet expectations by cooperating and collaborating with children to solve problems or we can ignore their perspectives and concerns and give consequences and punishments to motivate kids to behave.  A curriculum where kids participate in deciding on content and how best to assess the work and cooperate, a curriculum which is engaging and relevant helps create a positive atmosphere with no behavior problems. We think that rewards motivate kids to behave and learn, but they just motivate them to get more rewards, be less compassionate and just think – what's in it for me.

A negative view of kids simply dampens any enthusiasm we may have for them or any belief that they can be our allies in helping them grow and learn. We need to justify this negative view so we look for the bad in them to justify our view point. We also then have the Pygmalion effect, a self-fulfilling prophecy where kids will live up to our expectations of them. - כמים הפנים לפנים, כן לב האדם לאדם Proverbs 27:19 "As in water, face to face, so, too, is the heart of one person to another'

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Shoftim 76 - Learning and action-good deeds , what drives what ?

'When you besiege a city for an extended period, to make war against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees…... for you may eat from them, and you shall not cut them down,   - for is the tree of the field a man? or, for man is like the tree of the field – (2 ways to read this), that you should besiege it? Only the trees which you know are not trees for food may you destroy and cut down, in order to build bulwarks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls. (Devarim 20:19-20)
כי תצור אל עיר ימים רבים להלחם עליה לתפשה לא תשחית את עצה לנדח עליו גרזן כי ממנו תאכל ואתו לא תכרת כי האדם עץ השדה לבא מפניך במצור: {כ} רק עץ אשר תדע כי לא עץ מאכל הוא אתו תשחית וכרת ובנית מצור על העיר 
Our verses deal with times of war and it is in this context that we are warned to preserve fruit trees. Man acts in a most destructive way against the planet -his home in times of war. Today, when chemical and atomic warfare is available and has been used, this message is very relevant. IS  the tree of the field a man that he can flee into the besieged city ?  or why make war on trees ? - they are non-combatants. We can read this as a statement, not a question -  for man is like the tree of the field – for man's life is dependent of the fruit of the tree and there is a promise that after the war you will eat from the tree. The exception to the rule  -  trees  that don't bear fruit or give food, may be cut down for a purpose ( building).  The prohibition of meaningless destruction of tress is extended to not unnecessarily destroying or wasting objects called the laws of ' bal tashchit ' - do not destroy. The cutting down of forests – non- fruit bearing trees can have a negative ecological impact on the environment and man's future, so forests need sustainable management that takes into account their  regenerative capacity. Fruit bearing trees can be cut down if there are good reasons justifying this.

The statement – for man is like the tree of the field is seen by Sages as a metaphor – man can be compared to a tree. Psychologists use  the ' tree drawing test ' that  reveals something about  personality. The trunk represents the sense of who you are and how intact your personality is - a small trunk – you feel weak, a large trunk, you have more strength. The branches are like your limbs symbolizing the efforts you make to connect to the world and support your needs to survive. Leaves and fruit are symbols of productivity. Roots show a sense of security and being in touch with reality.

The Mishna from Pirkei Avot – Ethics of Our fathers 3:17
כל שחכמתו מרבה ממעשיו, למה הוא דומה, לאילן שענפיו מרובין ושרשיו מעטין, והרוח באה ועוקרתו והופכתו על פניו. אבל כל שמעשיו מרובין מחכמתו, למה הוא דומה, לאילן שענפיו מעטין ושורשיו מרובין, שאפילו כל הרוחות שבעולם באות ונושבות בו אין מזיזין אותו ממקומו. 
Anyone whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds, what is he comparable to? To a tree with many branches and few roots; comes a storm and uproots it, and turns it on its face. But one who's good deeds are greater than his wisdom, to what is he compared? - To a tree with many roots and few branches, whom all the storms in the world cannot budge from its place. Here, the roots of the tree are compared to a man's good deeds and actions and the branches – the head of the tree are compared to a man's learning, wisdom and Torah. What feeds, secures and   the source of man's wisdom - are his good deeds and actions.

הגמרא בקידושין מ:. שאלה  תלמוד גדול או מעשה גדול? נענה רבי טרפון ואמר - מעשה גדול. נענה רבי עקיבא ואמר- תלמוד גדול. נענו כולם ואמרו- תלמוד גדול, שהתלמוד מביא לידי מעשה.
The Gemorrah in Kidushin 40b asks – what is greater - Learning or mitzvoth - actions. R' Tarpon answered – actions, R' Akivah answered – Learning is greater. Then all the Rabbis in the study hall answered – learning is greater because it leads to action. A person in essence is his Torah – תורתו, a live, dynamic and walking Torah scroll .He can be described as a tree of dynamic knowledge and when he does mitzvoth and good deeds, he is giving expression to his inner being, he is giving expression to his Torah, a Torah which he has internalized and integrated, a Torah which is part of his personality. The tree is his wisdom - his Torah, and his good deeds, mitzvoth and actions are the fruits of his learning. The tree is greater than the fruit.  From this Gemorah, the source of a man's good deeds is his Learning.

Our Mishnah from Pirkei Avot sees good deeds as ' roots' feeding, securing and driving learning whereas our gemorrah in Kidushin sees learning as the source of our actions and the driving force to good deeds, mitzvoth and actions. So how can we reconcile the two statements? We have learning and actions – what drives what?

There is an obvious question on our Mishnah's statement – 'how can good  deeds should exceed one's wisdom'. ? We usually act on our knowledge in our order to pursue any planned action, so wisdom always exceeds one's deed. The opportunities for learning are many, both formal and informal, but opportunities for action are more limited. R' Yonah explains that when the Israelites made a sincere commitment to bring the Pascal sacrifice, the Torah credited them as if they did it immediately. A general commitment to fulfill God's commandments and mitzvoth, even those that one has not yet learned, is credited by God as if one has already done the action. This makes one's actions greater than one's knowledge. So what drives  learning  is a desire to learn to be active in the world  and a commitment to action. It is a desire to answer questions related to actions and good deeds, solve life's problems, act in the world, and be of service to man and to serve God. The Gemorah in Kidushin sees man as the Torah within himself. His ultimate desire, like the pianist who wants to perform before an audience in a great concert hall, is to give expression to his learning and act on his learning.  The Gemorah in Menachot 98 says that ' sometimes the stopping and not learning Torah to do mitzvoth is the very foundation of the Torah ' -  שביטולה של תורה זהו יסודה-קיומה  פעמים.  Action and good deeds drive learning and give it direction while the learning itself builds Torah personalities who want to give expression to their Torah and do mitzvoth in the world.

What drives the educational system is getting good test scores rather than teaching kids relevant material so they can act in the world. Learning should be driven by questions, problems and projects. It is about being in the world and acting in the world. Once they are involved in answering questions, solving problems and doing projects we can really assess true  learning. There is  no need for a test and in the end we  have ' exhibitions of  their mastery' and children who have internalized and integrated their learning,  burning with desire to share their learning and give expression to their learning by doing.     

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Re'eh 76 - Internalizing the reasons of the Mitzvoth - commandments

In our parasha, Moses reviews the dietary – Kashrut laws that deal with forbidden animals, birds and fish etc.  Two of the birds listed are the עורב = the raven and the Chasidah - חסידה which is translated as the stork, but there is uncertainty here. Amongst the forbidden animals we have the pig – and the Sifra commentary notes that 'one should not say that his soul loathes and is disgusted by pig's meat, but say – I would indeed like it, but what I can do, my Father in heaven has imposed these decrees on me.'  
" אי אפשי לאכול בשר חזיר אבל "אפשי ומה אעשה ואבי שבשמים גזר עלי כך
We can respond in this way concerning the חוקים  - statutes which are commandments that have no rationale comprehensible to the human mind, but when we are dealing with laws between man – משפטים  we don't say I have no problem with killing, stealing or hurting but what can I do my Father in Heaven has imposed these decrees on me. Human intelligence הערה השכל  will lead us to conclusions about the underlying values, what is right and wrong with regard human interactions etc. . . . After the receiving of the Torah we are inspired and guided by the Torah –  הערה התורה to discover new reasons and spiritual dimensions to the commandments.  The reason we observe the commandments and accept the authority of a commandment, irrespective of our understanding, is that it is the will of God. R' SRH explains that the Torah laws are like the laws of nature; they exist independent of our investigation or understanding. However, even though we cannot hope to figure out and understand the divine intelligence or God's motives, we have to reflect on the laws, contemplate them and offer reasons wherever possible and this includes the חוקים – laws where the apparent reason is hidden.  The reason for doing the mitzvoth - טעם לצמות is God's will, the reason in the mitzvoth, הטעם במצות is the underlying value and our intention. The sages give us some understanding as how the mitzvoth should impact on us - to refine mankind, לצרף הבריות and promote psychological, social and spiritual improvements etc. The study of the reasons of the mitzvoth – טעמי המצות,  their underlying values and goals, gives us a deeper understanding and helps us make our actions more meaningful and qualitatively better. Our hearts, mind, thoughts and intentions are the soul of the physical action and God primarily wants our hearts -   רחמנא לבא בעי. Our emotional and spiritual growth depends on the internalization of the values underlying the mitzvoth and incorporating the commandments into one's personality. A successful mitzvah depends on understanding the underlying value and goals and injecting the physical action with soul so we connect also emotionally and spiritually to the mitzvoth. In this way, we shape our instinct and inclinations so that we fulfill the words of Proverbs 21 the soul of the evil person desires evil, the soul of the righteous person rejoices in acting justly. 
   נפש רשע אותה רע .....שמחה לצדיק עשות משפט
The Torah teaches us that the pig is not kosher because it has only one of the 2 kosher signs – it has a split hoof, but does not chew the cud. The commentary remarks that the pig is the symbol of the hypocrite. When the pig lies down and crouches, it spreads it feet out to show us that he is a kosher animal. However, he does not chew the cud, so his inside is not like his outside. Although we are not disgusted by pig meat, we are now less inclined to eat pig meat as this would mean internalizing the negative value inherent in the pig, something that goes against our values and who we are.

It is important to ask children and ourselves - if God would not command us to do mitzvoth like acts of charity or not to hurt people, or keep the Sabbath, what would we do? Hamish children were asked – why they should not steal or kill or keep the Sabbath – they answered: because God said so. They were then asked – if God had not commanded you to act in a certain way, what would you do?  Children who had internalized the values underlying God's commandments had no difficulty in answering the questions. We are inspired by our intellects –  הערה השכל not to hit another person and by the Torah –הערה התורה, not even to raise a hand.  We honor and respect parents but the Torah go further and equate the honor of parents with the honor of God. With all our learning and intellectual abilities we acknowledge that our understanding of the Divine will is limited and ultimately do the mitzvoth because we submit to the Divine will and intelligence.

The Torah lists the Chasidah and the o'reiv – the raven as non-kosher birds. The Chasidah or questionably known as the stork is called the 'chasidah' = the righteous one is because it displays kindness – חסד towards others of its species by sharing food with them. If it is so compassionate why it is stigmatized as a non-kosher bird – the answer is that it directs its kindness exclusively to its own kind and will not help other species. Its generosity and compassionate is driven and motivated by self-interest and expediency rather than by true altruism.  We find that the raven –  עורב also did acts of kindness. Although the raven refused to carry out his mission while in Noah's ark and check if the flood had subsided  so mankind could resettle the land, the ravens were responsible for the Prophet Elijah's survival by bringing him food in the morning and evening. After Ahab had questioned God's credibility - the nation was not punished with famine or drought because of their idol worship, Elijah called on God to punish the nation with a drought. The Maharal explains that the ravens had an ulterior motive. Their actions were not motivated by the desire to do good to Elijah, but they wanted the nation of Israel to suffer. If Elijah lacked food and water, he would have asked for the famine to stop. Although their actions could be defined as acts of kindness, their evil intentions and motivations redefined the action. The way people cheat and deceive others is that they first build trust and confidence by doing acts of kindness and helping others. Once they have that person's trust and confidence, they can empty out their bank accounts.

Instead of promoting intrinsic motivation, doing the mitzvoth and learning because they have intrinsic and inherent value - the reward of a mitzvah is the mitzvah- good deed itself, a sin or bad deed is punishment in itself - we drive learning and pro-social behavior using rewards, grades, praise, consequences and punishment.  Not only is internalization and commitment impaired, but at best we promote the lowest form of morality – if you do this you will get that, and one also encourages cheating and dishonesty in order to get the reward. We also convert the value of a spiritual act with all its emotion and intention into money. There is a blind belief, that if we get kids to do an action for the wrong reason, they will, in terms of the Talmud, come to do it for the right reasons.  This is only true when the Lo lishma – doing things not for the sake of Heaven is Lishma – for the sake of Heaven. The child wants to do things because they have inherent value and for the sake of Heaven, but he feels he needs some extrinsic motivation to help him reach his goals. It is much easier to get children to comply and do things by ' doing to them ' and promising them rewards. It is far more difficult to engage kids so they can reflect about the reasons of the mitzvoth, how they impact on others, how they represent his values and who he is as a person.