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'

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