Monday, June 24, 2013

Pinchas 73 - The power and Pitfalls of consistency

After Moses asks God to appoint a leader to succeed him and lead the people, God tells Moses to give the Israelites a spiritual inheritance in the form of the Temple service.  The first in a long list of sacrifices and offerings is the ' Korban Tamid ' the continual daily offering that was brought twice a day , morning and afternoon , on every day of the year without exception.
The biblical text, in a strange way  interrupts the description of the laws  pertaining to the Daily offering , and tells us that this offering was identical to the one that offered in the wilderness of Sinai during the inauguration of the tabernacle.
This Tuesday ,is the fast of  the 17th of the month of Tamuz .
On this day 5 tragedies took place. Moses broke the 2 tablets on which the 10 commandments were written, The Continual daily offering – the Korban Tamid -was stopped and annulled, the walls of Jerusalem were breached ,  Opastamus burned the Torah scroll and placed an idol in the temple.
It would appear that stopping the bringing of the daily sacrifice seems the most minor of the tragedies especially that today we seem   get along without a temple and its sacrifices. Also the daily sacrifices are not considered the high lights of the year, like those of the Festivals or special occasions like   Yom Kippur when the people used to come to visit the temple , so why is the stopping of the Daily sacrifice so significant.?
The continual daily sacrifice  takes priority  over all other sacrifices – it is the first sacrifice to be brought and if one has to choose between a more holier sacrifice like the additional sacrifice brought on the Sabbath and the daily sacrifice , the daily sacrifice is brought.
The answer is that the daily continual offering is symbolic of consistency and routine. What defines a person is his 'daily routine ' and  how he lives his life on a day to day basis. It is his continual daily connection with his creator , with learning, and with his physical body = a healthy life style – exercise, healthy eating , spiritual food etc . It is about consistency and process, loving what you do,  rather than focusing on loving what you achieve .
Consistency, good habits, routine, and structure are very important for people to flourish and succeed.  But routine and consistency have a major  pitfall. It so easy that our actions become stale, automatic, robotic with no thought . They become rote –' mitzvat anashim me'lumada '
The Bible interrupts the description of the laws   pertaining to the Daily sacrifice , and tells us that this sacrifice was identical to the one that offered in the wilderness of Sinai during the inauguration of the tabernacle. This is also to remind ourselves  that the daily sacrifice should be brought with the same feelings of  excitement, newness  and enthusiasm that accompanied the first daily offering .
 In fact our actions should be like musicians whose performance has the richness of a thousand performances and the excitement of a first performance.
 King David in Psalms 27:4 says  - "I asked one thing from G-d, that is my request; to dwell in the House of G-d all the days of my life, and to visit His Palace."
 King David wants to dwell in God's house all the days of his life , yet wants still to experience the newness and the excitement that a visitor experiences in the house of G-d.
As parents , educators and people who are interested in self growth and empowerment how do we help ourselves and our children to be consistent with our daily routines and yet maintain the newness and the excitement of a first time performance and avoid the pit fall of consistency  - automated action.?
With kids we confuse the need to give 'structure and routine'  with control and compliance. 'Reasonable structures should be  imposed only when necessary , in a flexible manner , without undue restrictiveness, and when possible , with the participation of the child.' –AK  Healthy structures can be defined  as the provision of  healthy guidelines and information that children need to be ' self –determining . ' -Grolick
The ' imposed ' routine or structure is usually enforced by using rewards and punishment and not by ' teaching and refection.' This further impairs any internalization and commitment to the values underlying the actions , and makes for 'rote ' behavior.
The motivation driving a routine or structure is usually extrinsic so for example, learning is driven by grades and tests or making the honor's roll instead of the love of learning expressed by a continuous learning on a daily basis.
Dieting and exercise is driven by the goals of losing weight and good results on blood tests rather than trying to adopt a healthy life style which you enjoy and believe in .
 We forget the lesson of the daily offering that it is the everyday activities and not the highlights of life that are important and define us. We focus primarily on 'achievement and not on the 'process'.
We make the mistake by overrating and calling for more ' self discipline , grit and resilience ' in order to achieve the goals of consistency and hard work. Proverbs 5:19 in the context of learning says – be'ahavata tisgeh tamid – by the love for her ( torah learning ) you will be captivated for- ever , always and continuously. It is the love for what we do that makes for self discipline, grit and resilience possible in healthy ways.
The way we can promote the love of what we do is try to support the autonomy of kids, that they feel self directed as we should as well when we pursue our goals  , we all should feel a sense of purpose , relevance and connection, be competent, feel a sense of belonging, support and relatedness to the people around us.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Balak 73 Part 2 - Respect and then Love

The Chazon  Ish is quoted as saying –' what children need more than love is respect.'

Being respectful to children is one of the principles of Unconditional Parenting ( Alfie Kohn)and the Collaborative problem solving approach ( Ross Greene ). In part 2 of this article I discuss the Chazon Ish's statement  and share the role respect plays  in UP - unconditional parenting quoting from the UP book and CPS – collaborative problem solving approach .

Parents often forget that the laws and expectations governing interpersonal relationships with others include children, and think that kids don't deserve respect in the way that adults do.

 A kid that forgets a book at home is usually gets a mouthful of ' what is the matter with you ?, how many times have I to remind you to look around for your things before you leave ! With an adult , we would simply say here is your book. -  AK

When kids are not held in great esteem it becomes easier for parents to treat kids disrespectfully. They tend to attribute unflattering attributes to kids such as manipulative, attention seeking, defiant, irresponsible and become more controlling and authoritarian. They fail to see that kids have legitimate concerns, write off their kids' requests, dismiss their feelings of anger or trivialize their fears and are often talk about their kids in a belittling way – 'oh, she 's just being a prima donna ' or just ignore her when she gets like that'. This happens also because parents think that because they are the parents and are more mature, experienced and clever. They fail to realize that kids are more knowledgeable about some matters than they are. Thomas Gordon said it well " children sometimes know better than their parents when they are sleepy or hungry, know better the qualities of their friends, their aspirations and goals , how various teachers treat them , know better the urges and needs within their bodies, whom they love and whom they don't , what they value and what they don't"

When we show respect to kids we believe in them and trust them to being caring and responsible and we won't rely on the carrot or stick to solve problems. It is more respectable to solve problems together in a collaborative way trying to find mutually satisfying solutions than impose solutions in a unilateral way. The kids  is given a voice. His concerns, his perspective, the way he sees his friends and the world is important information in helping us to relate to him and crucial for solving problems. We cannot solve problems in a collaborative way if we don't acknowledge that he has legitimate concerns and we have a clear understanding of them.

The CPS – collaborative problem solving process starts with ' empathy step ' gathering information about the kids concerns . We don't start with our concerns and expectations. The Sages from Beit Hillel = Hillel's school used to start out, trying to understand the others' thinking and perspectives and only then share their views and understanding. Being respectable shows concern and caring and helps the kid feel understood. He is more likely to respect you and others if he feels respected and after feeling heard , he will actually ' hear ' what you are saying.

When talking to your child , it is useful to imagine that you are talking to your 25 year old , neighbor's son or your best friend. Your language will be more respectful and also the level of the conversation will be much higher.

When we show respect to a kid , it is an uplifting experience for him. He becomes a' gavrah' – a subject  ( as opposed to an 'object' of our love, commands, rewards etc ) . He can express his opinion, share his perspective , articulate his concerns, share his experiences and participate in solving problems and participating in the decision making process in the home whenever this is appropriate.

If God could consult the angels on his decision to create man we can certainly invite children to participate in decision making especially in matters that concern them most. They learn to be empathic, take into account family members' concerns and perspectives and find solutions that meet every ones needs and concerns.

Loving a kid is important,  but more important is how we love our kids. When the kid feels he is not respected, he will feel conditionally loved and accepted. We need to love kids for who they are,  and not for what they do . When we shower warmth and love on our kids without   respect , they become ' cheftza' =  Objects of our love .

A kid once described the relationship between him and his father. My father loves a boy, he will do anything for him , he shows lots of love and warmth , but that boy is not me . It is some ' virtual son'. He does not know me.  He never asks me what I think, he never allows me to participate in making decisions with him when it concerns me.

The kid was the object of his father's love , but he  needed to feel like a 'subject' in his father's eyes.

I will end by sharing 6 words we should try to say.

A special mom- Hands Free Mama went to her daughter's swimming lesson. After the lesson she said to her daughter.

I love to watch you swim.   

This is showing love. There is no judgment, no praise,  it is just about the mom's feelings. The conversation I am sure continued with her daughter describing how she felt and what she liked or did not like about the lesson.

Balak 73 -Part 1 Honor, Dignity and respect

As the Israelites approach the promised land after 40 years of wandering in the desert , they  defeat Sichon the king of the   Amorites, and Og the king of Bashan. They now arrive at the plains of Mo'av. 

The king of Mo'av is very concerned .He understands that he needs to engage in an ' unconventional war ' in order to defeat the Israelites. He engages Bilaam –who is described as a  seer, diviner , prophet or sorcerer who practiced the occult arts. Bilaam was famous for his curses. He believed in the One God, but used his connection with God and spirituality in a negative, immoral and lewd way.  Balak , send messengers and dignitaries to invite Bilaam to come and curse the Israelites. Bilaam tells the delegation to spend the night in his home as he first has to consult with God before he can offer a reply.

God comes to Bilaam and asks him ' who are these people with you'? Rabbi Haim Shmulevitz based on the Ohr Ha'haim commentary notes that God was being concerned for Bilaam's honor, dignity and respect. God was saying – it would be degrading for your honor for you to invite this level of delegation into your and certainly to go with them. In any case God continues, you cannot curse this nation because they are blessed. Bilaam tells Balak's messengers that he cannot go with them , but a more honorable and higher level delegation would be more appropriate for him. Balak sends a more honorable delegation. Bilaam informs them that he can't disobey God but he will again consult with God. God says he can go with this delegation but be with them only in person, in a physical sense in person, but not share the purpose of their mission. He also  has to fulfill God's instructions to him.

God senses that Bilaam still wants to go and curse the Israelites so he sends the Angel of mercy to try and convince Bilaam otherwise. The she-ass sees the angel with a sword blocking her path and starts to move off the path and in the process Bilaam's leg gets hurt.  Bilaam does not see the angel and beats his ass three times. A miracle happens. The she-ass begins to speak – asking Bilaam why did he beat her, was she not a faithful animal. The implication being that if she was behaving in a strange manner, there was a good reason for this. After the dialogue ends, the she ass is killed by the angel. God then opens Bilaam's eyes and he sees the angel with a sword in his hand. The lesson was obvious – the ' prophet failed to see the angel , but his she-ass did !

 In his heart Bilaam wanted to go in the hope that he could still attempt to curse the Israelites but God said to him – you can go, but now , you have to say what I put in your mouth.

If the she-ass was allowed to live , Bilaam's dignity and respect would have been further compromised. The she-ass would be living evidence of Bilaam's shame and disgrace.  Despite Bilaam being an evil , immoral and base person who influenced others to go and enjoy sin, God was prepared to forgo the honor the presence of the ' speaking she –ass '  would bring to him and try and lessen a little the disgrace that Bilaam would suffer above what he was deserving because of his actions. We see from this how high God holds the honor and dignity of man.

What follows from God's concern for Bilaam's honor is that honor and respect have less to do with the person who is the object of our respect but more to do with the person who shows the honor and respect.

The mishnah from the Ethics of the Fathers (4:2) asks ?  -  who is respected and honored ? Our first answer would be someone like a president, head of the armed forces, a chief justice or chief Rabbi who are respected by many people. The mishnah says otherwise.

 The mishnah answers – He , that honors and respects others.

 Respect and honor is something that comes from our insides, it is not dependent on something external, it is about our character and personality. It is about being a ' subject ' , not an object of other people's admiration and respect.

So when we weigh up whether to be  respectful to other people , the question is  not about what we will get by being respectful or what will be done to us if we are not , but more about the type of person we want to be – a person who honors and respects others or not .

Honor becomes about the other when we try to be sensitive to who they are, their position and status in life.

The way we respect and honor others including children defines who we are. When people feel respected, honored, valued and held in esteem they flourish as caring human beings.

The Chazon  Ish is quoted as saying –' what children need more than love is respect.'

Being respectful to children is one of the principles of Unconditional Parenting ( Alfie Kohn)and the Collaborative problem solving approach ( Ross Greene ). In part 2 of this article I will discuss the Chazon Ish's statement  and share the role respect plays  in UP - unconditional parenting and CPS – collaborative problem solving .

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Chukat 73 Using power or leading by greatness

On a national level, Moses -by virtue of being the leader of the children of Israel lost the right to enter the Promised Land   together with the generation of the spies. On a personal level, he lost this right when he failed to sanctify and glorify God's name by speaking to the rock so it would provide water for the thirsty people and instead he hit the rock twice.

God's plan was that Moses would gather the elders and great people = eidah in front of the rock. They would engage in the study of God's teachings and in this way cause the ' shechina – God's presence to be among them. Then Moses would command the rock to give forth water. The miracle would also teach the people a lesson – that if nature – a hard rock obediently becomes a well at God's request, we – the children of Israel who appreciate the divine intelligence and good should obey God's will out of a sense of mission , with joy and happiness and certainly not feel compelled to serve him.

On the previous occasion when Moses hit the rock , the action was attributed to MOSES -  MOSES brought forth water from the rock. Here it would be different. By speaking to the rock ,the action would be attributed to the ROCK. The ROCK brought forth water.

So what went wrong? Moses extended the invitation to everybody and a miracle was performed so everybody could see the rock. The ' airev rav' – Egyptians who for expedience and not religious reasons left Egypt with the children of Israel began to provoke Moses. They said –The miracle would be a true one only if they would choose the rock ( and not the rock chosen by God ). They reasoned - Moses being a shepherd knew which rock was a source for water.

These provocations rang true with the rest of the nation and this put to an end the plan that studying God's teaching would help Moses change the laws of nature. Moses felt he had to reprimand the people and said ' Hear now, you rebels and fools! Why do think your understanding is greater than your teacher's '. When Moses took on the leadership of the children of Israel he was told that he should always speak respectfully to his people despite any provocations and defiance. This display of frustration and slight anger at having ' his buttons pushed ' was not only a regrettable moment for Moses but also interfered with his ability to perform the miracle. He then spoke to the rock – nothing happened, he then hit the rock with the rod -  only a trickle of water came out . He hit the rock again and water gushed out forming a stream.

The above event is called the ' Mei me'rivah '  - the waters of strife – despite the end result that Moses provided plenty of water for his thirsty people.

We as parents can learn the following lessons.


1 The atmosphere in a home can set the stage for positive or negative interactions. Is the atmosphere relaxed, happy, full of music, song, dance, conversation, laughter  people connecting , bonding, cooperating ?
2 When the home becomes an informal learning environment kids hear parent communication not as commands but the 'guide by the side ' offering valuable information and eternal values. This helps kids acquire a thinking and collaborative problem solving   (CPS) mindset .

B. Power or Greatness/influence

Moses used his rod=power to get water from the rock instead of speaking to the rock applying his greatness and influence. When we use power in the home, we may get the ' behavior ' we want, but not any commitment to the values underlying the behavior. In fact, using power in the form of punishment, criticism , threats , bribes, nagging, judgmental praise , is merely using ' be'shevet piv  ' the rod of his mouth( Isaiah 11:4)  ,'doing to ' kids.
We can lead by greatness and influence our kids when we use words to ' work with and collaborate with them so they become the authors of their actions. When we use power to get a kid to clean his room, it is we who have cleaned the room. And when we add rewards and punishments we take responsibility for the kid's behavior , placing the 'locus of control' outside the child.

C My Buttons were pushed

Because anger or acting out of anger is frowned upon and we don't want people to perceive that we have an anger problem we never say ' I got angry '  but use more legitimate language -  my kid pushed my buttons or my buttons were pushed. In this way we absolve ourselves from taking responsibility for displays of frustration and anger. It helps if we become aware of our situation of weakness and use mindful breathing to calm ourselves.

If we believe in the CPS mantra ' children do well if they can'  and not if they want to we will ask ourselves how can we work with them and not try to use power to coerce them.

The ' Mei Me'rivah' = waters of strife episode where Moses hit the rock instead of speaking to the rock teaches us the importance of creating a happy, trusting ,  relaxed atmosphere conducive to  informal learning where parents lead by their greatness and influence rather than using power. In this way parents are unlikely to have their buttons pushed and if that happens they will be aware of themselves , step back and calm down.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Korach 73 - Put your relationship first !

The mission of the spies to the land of Israel ended in disaster. The generation of the spies lost their right to enter the 'promised land' and they were now destined to spend the next 40 years in the desert. There was a lot of dissatisfaction with Moses' Leadership. Korach and his followers challenged Moses right to lead and started a rebellion against Moses. God intervenes -  Moses remains the leader and Korach and his followers are destroyed. The commentators talk about how destructive strife, conflict and friction are to a community and encourage ' Shalom '  peace without sacrificing God's truth. ' Peace –harmony 'is the vessel through which God's blessings is able to reach us as a community and a family.
There is an interesting Medrash Rabah  insight taught by the Rabbis on Psalm 34 verse 15.
בקש שלום ורדפהו בקש שלום ולא מצוות 
'Seek out shalom=peace and pursue it ' The verse says – seek out peace but not Mitzvot = good deeds.
 This medrash is very strange. Are we not taught to seek out and do good deeds , is this not our purpose here in this world?  (our ) Rabbi   Yeruchum from Mir explains that our purpose is really to seek relationships with people based on shalom. If our purpose is to ' collect ' as many good deeds as possible, the focus becomes 'oneself 'and there is the danger of a ' self righteousness'  distorting one's judgment. But when we give our good deeds the context of shalom and relationship, our focus is on the relationship and other people.
What does this Medrash say to us as parents ?
We should ask ourselves – what type of relationship do I have with my kids ? Do they see me as a help, caring and loving , somebody who they can trust and learn from or  do they see me as being judgmental, critical , demanding and show less love when they screw up. ? Instead of being right, and self righteous insisting on ' our principles and standards ' we should focus on relationship. It suggests that we  should put our relationship with our kids first.
Alfie Kohn in his book Unconditional parenting suggests that  we should be careful not to jeopardize our relationship with our kids when we try to get them to do certain things or say the unnecessary Nos. We should consider whether some of our demands are worth pursuing in the first place, are they developmentally appropriate for  a young kid or a kid that is not flexible and has a low frustration tolerance. We can try and make the environment more user-friendly so we need to exercise less control – for example –parents , whose kids play in a safe environment and serve healthy food including for deserts don't need to be controlling in the park or home , limiting what kids can do and  forcing them  to eat healthy foods. We can drop ' our principles ' and lower the rope when it comes to kids rooms so the only place that is truly a child's own does not have to be maintained at high parental standards. We need to ask if what we are doing or demanding is worth the possible strain on the relationship.While ' relationship ' is important as an end , Alfie Kohn suggests the following benefits.Misbehavior is easier to address and problems are easier to solve – when children feel safe enough with us to explain the reasons why they did something wrong. CPS – collaborative problem solving rests on the info we gather from the child about his concerns and perspectives. Kids are more likely to come to us when they are in trouble or to look to us for advice.    Why are parents and teachers the last to know when their kids or students screw up.? Kids are more likely to want to spend time with us when they can choose whether to do so. When kids know they can trust us and their concerns are generally taken into account , they are more likely to do what we ask if we tell them it's really important.
The medrash is telling us parents- remember  to put the relationship first.