Sunday, July 28, 2013

Re'eh 73 – Charity and Wealth Creation

A kid can offer a candy to a class mate for several reasons -  a feeling of altruism, trying to make the kid be happy, to make an impression on a teacher watching him, or to barter for a piece of chocolate in return for the piece of candy. Traditional parenting and teaching focuses on ' behaviors' and the thoughts, intentions, motives, and feelings underlying behaviors are usually ignored. The main thing is to get ' behaviors', even if the kid is only motivated by the wrong reasons.

And this seems to be in keeping with the mitzvah /commandment of 'giving charity= ' Tezdaka'. A man was bothered by the fact that his intentions in giving charity were not 'pure' ,and more about impressing others. The rabbi told him that the poor man was more concerned about having money to buy a meal or a place to get a good night's sleep than his motives. What counts is the giving of charity, not the motives.

Giving charity is a very powerful mitzvah= good deed. It has the ability to save one from the ' judgment of 'hell' in the world to come, protect one's property from losses and create wealth as the Talmud says -'u'seir bish'vil li'hit'u'sheir - gives tithes in order to get rich ' = give away your money in order to make more money.

The Saba from Kelm explains that the power of charity is not from the act of giving alone, but needs to be accompanied by empathy, love and caring for his fellow man. He has to feel for the man's plight and suffering as if it was his own as the Torah says –love your neighbor as yourself. His motivation is not because it is a mitzvah = God's commandment to give, but because God wants him to ' be ' a person who intrinsically feels for others and wants to help. In the same way the Bible=Torah commands us to lend money to the poor using the 'optional language ' if you lend money ' – implying that the Torah wants people to be intrinsically motivated and 'be' people who care empathize with the poor and loan them money.

The mitzvah- good deed of Tezdaka has 2 elements – the hand and the heart .' Do not close your hand or harden your heart , open your hand ….  Etc.' The reward for giving  of our wealth to the poor is the mitzvah itself –se'char mitzvah, mitzvah  and God creates the conditions so new  wealth is created .This enables us to  give more charity and so the mitzvah brings along more mitzvoth = mitzvah go're'ret mitzvah.

We see that thoughts, intentions, motives and feelings are crucial when we give charity. It is the ' Being ' which is just as important as the ' Doing' in the mitzvah of charity =Tezdaka.

Neale Walsch the author of ' Conversations with God' gives an insight into the creation process and in particular how  the creation of wealth occurs.

''Most people believe if they "have" a thing (more time, money, love -- whatever), then they can finally "do" a thing (write a book, take up a hobby, go on vacation, buy a home, undertake a relationship), which will allow them to "be" a thing (happy, peaceful, content, or in love). In actuality, they are reversing the Be-Do-Have paradigm. In the universe as it really is, "havingness" does not produce "beingness," but the other way around.
First you "be" the thing called "happy" (or "knowing," or "wise," or "compassionate," or whatever), then act as if you are ''happy'' by "doing" things from this place of beingness -- and soon you discover that what you are doing winds up bringing and drawing you the things you've always wanted to "have."
The way to set this creative process (and that's what this is...the process of creation) into motion is to look at what it is you want to "have," ask yourself what you think you would "be" if you "had" that, then go right straight to being.''

A condition for creation is 'to love your neighbor as yourself. '

''Whatever you choose for yourself, give to another. If you choose to be happy, cause another to be happy. If you choose to be prosperous, cause another to prosper. If you choose more love in your life, cause another to have more love in theirs. Do this sincerely -- not because you seek personal gain, but because you really want the other person to have that -- and all the things you give away will come to you.

The very act of your giving something away causes you to experience that you have it to give away. Since you cannot give to another something you do not now have, your mind comes to a new conclusion, a New Thought, about you --namely, that you must have this, or you could not be giving it away.

This New Thought then becomes your experience. You start "being" that. And once you start "being" a thing, you've engaged the gears of the most powerful creation machine in the universe -- your Divine Self. ''– that partners with God to make your life and the poor around you more meaningful and caring.

The poor man now has to '  tithe' the money he has received from the rich man and give charity.. The rich man is grateful to the poor man for giving him the opportunity to protect his wealth, create new wealth and new opportunities for doing  good. The poor man is grateful to the rich man for putting him on his feet by providing either employment ,  a loan or charity.In this way , the poor man can begin to experience ' Being '= wealthy and happy , then act on his ' being ' by giving charity and then setting in motion the creative process of creating new wealth to do more good.

Behaviors are important , but God wants us to focus on Being the Ba'al Tezdaka , a person who gives charity from this place of Being.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Eikev 73 No Rewards = Happiness

No Rewards = Happiness

The Torah-Bible reading of Eikev , from  Devarim/Deuteronomy 11:13 says ' it will be if you will listen to my commandments that I command you this day to love your Lord, your God and serve him with all your heart and soul then  and I will provide  rain in your land at the proper  time ….  And you will eat and be satisfied.' From these verses it appears that God is rewarding those for  keeping of His  commandments in this world.

This understanding however, is inconsistent with the following teachings of the Talmudic sages - that ' there is no reward in this world '  ,  the reward of a mitzvah- good deed is the mitzvah itself = S'char mitzvah- mitzvah
 and mitzvoth- good deeds attract and bring along other good deeds- mitzvoth =Mitzvah go're'ret mitzvah

There is no reward in this world because (a)the reward is spiritual and this world cannot produce the spiritual enjoyment and reward of heaven that is deserving of those who keep the commandments-, and   (b)-  God wants us to do good deeds and mitzvoth because of their intrinsic value, their intrinsic reward  and expressions of connection to God and holiness. When we begin this journey of a life of good deeds and mitzvoth God lends a helping hand and creates the physical conditions that make it much easier for us to do more mitzvoth and in this way mitzvoth attract and bring along other mitzvoth. In the words of the behavioral economist Dan Ariely we convert 'economic norms ' into 'social norms'. We convert the physical into the spiritual.

This is the Rambam's   explanation of the above verses in the Bible. If we do God's commandments with love and joy, God will create the conditions where we can lead more creative and productive religious lives without the distractions that interfere with our goals.

When we take rewards out of the picture, we tend to be more self directed, autonomous, and mindful , focusing on 'in the moment ' and the intrinsic value and reward of what we are doing and learning. When there are no rewards, we become happier and more fulfilled people.

When it comes to kids, parents and teachers find it easy to promote behavior and learning by bribing kids with rewards. Rewards work in the short-term, but in the long term they undermine intrinsic motivation and the commitment to underlying values.

But more important parents and teachers are unaware of the immediate message of rewards .In the words of the behavioral economist Dan Ariely parents and teachers are guilty of converting ' social norms' into ' economic norms'. They are promoting materialism and immoral behavior at the expense of spirituality and connection.

 A school tried to encourage kids to return lost articles or money found in school or on the playground by rewarding kids for handing in lost property. All of a sudden, kids were finding so many coins on the playground.!!

A kid by mistake kicked a ball that hit a teacher. He ran away instead of offering help  - he did not want to get caught. Rewards and punishments not only convert social norms into economic ones, but they encourage and promote immoral behavior.

A kindergarten imposed fines on parents who came late to pick up their kids. The situation became much worse after the imposition of the fines. Previously parents were guided by ' social norms' – a guilty feeling about keeping the kindergarten teacher or kid waiting , now it was purely an ' economic ' decision – was it worth the money to come late.

We should be helping kids to think in the following way.

A man,  who was about to go overseas for while approached his neighbor's 10 year old son. He needed help with his dog. He asked the boy to look after his dog and take him for walks etc while he was away on holiday.

He asked the kid  -   How much? The kid replied – ' I am willing to pay $15.

Our purpose in this world is to convert ' economic norms' – materialism into 'social and spiritual norms'. We can do this by understanding that the reward of a good deed is the deed itself and the opportunity given to us by God to do further good. We can help kids by cutting out ' rewards ' and help them become more self directed and intrinsically motivated focusing on the process and experience When there are no rewards, we are more mindful of the present and its joys and so we become happier people.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Va'etchanan 73 Honoring Parents and the Sabbath

The weekly Bible-Torah reading from the book of Deuteronomy- Devarim  is Va'etchanan . Here Moses continues with his last sermon to the children of Israel and begins a discussion and review of many of  God's laws. He begins with a review of the 10 commandments. 

Most of the textual differences between the 10 commandments received on Mount Sinai in the book of Exodus and the account here in Deuteronomy are  due to Moses wanting to emphasize and teach certain lessons.  The Mesach Hachmah is his commentary notes that in the second set of the 10 commandments  - the words '  as God commanded ' are added to the 4th commandment  -  Keeping and honoring  the Sabbath  and the 5th commandment – honoring parents. These words ' as God commanded ' do not appear in the   first set of the 10 commandments.

The Mesach Hachmah explains that there are good reasons for keeping and thereby honoring the Sabbath. People work hard all week and the Sabbath is a welcome day of rest , an opportunity to desist from physical  creativity  and focus on connecting with God and spend time studying his Torah and its laws. In the desert – people did not have to work , they received ' manna' from heaven and their lives were very spiritual connecting with God and studying Torah all the time. There was no extrinsic need for a Sabbath in the desert.

The same was true for the commandment of ' Honoring Parents. The obligation to honor parents is from our feelings of gratitude to them for attending to our needs and raising us. In the desert , parents did not need to work for a living, in a miraculous way kids clothes grew on them as they aged, and the environment was very spiritual and providing. There was really very little reason to express gratitude to parents.

Moses is teaching , that the reason for keeping and honoring the Sabbath , and also honoring parents is not because of extrinsic reasons such as social benefits or gratitude to parents but should be done out of our obligation to fulfill God's commandments.

So what does God want from us here. We learned in the Ethics of our fathers – Pirkei Avot  - who is honored ? He , who honors others. ' Who is honored does not depend on something extrinsic – the number of people who honor a person , but a person having the intrinsic  trait or characteristic of being a person who honors others. So God does not want that we should keep and honor the Sabbath because of social and spiritual reasons , but we should  become  the type of  person who gives honor to the Sabbath by keeping the Sabbath. God does not want us to honor parents because of an extrinsic reason like gratitude but become  the type of person who has the ' midah' – characteristic of ' honoring parents.'

If we are saying that we are to honor parents and keep the Sabbath because of its inherent value – the right thing to do ,  so why does the Bible- Torah attach a reward for doing this commandment – Honor your father and your mother as ' Hashem ' your God has commanded you so that your days will be lengthened and it will be good for you Upon the land that 'Hashem ' your God gives to you.

The Torah is telling us that the good deed- mitvah of honoring parents has its reward in the world to come and a person will enjoy the ' fruits of his positive actions ' in this world. This means that  God will support  him in his efforts to do more positive things and impact on peoples' lives in this world and in the world to come he will be in a position to enjoy the spirituality of the next world.

Traditional ' rewards and punishments ' encourage a child to ask ' what's in it for me and gets in the way of the child asking – 'what kind of person do I want to be' . The reward that the Bible talks about is merely , for example  -honoring parents – as a   consequence of us making efforts to lengthen their lives and improve the quality of their parents  lives ,God offers us support to continue being the persons we want to be.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Devarim 73 – Resolving the Heart of the Conflict and baseless Hatred

This week's Torah-Bible reading Devarim starts the 5th book of Moses, Deuteronomy. Devarim is always read   on the Sabbath before the fast of 9th of Av , a day where Jews reflect on the causes of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem - baseless hatred and destructive human relationships.  The temple will only be rebuilt when people are worthy of a temple by being  loving and caring towards one another.

With so much conflict on a family, community, national and international level one cannot but ask – What's getting in the way?

James Ferrel from  The Arbinger institute , in his highly recommended TedX Talk – Resolving the Heart of Conflict  – takes us first through a family scenario, then corporate life, international politics and then ends off with an emotional story about a father and son. I share here only his ideas and one example from an article not discussed in his Tedx Talk. 

He claims that we actually value problems, mistreatment, trouble, and conflict. He explains that according to Martin Buber, we don't have problems with people whom we count or identify with. We see their humanity and 'are made in God's image'. The others who don't count in our eyes are viewed as objects. It is easier to view or treat people badly if you ' objectify ' them. But objectifying people comes with a consequence – a deep inner need to justify that view. So the heart sees advantage in trouble and conflict, it provides the proof and justification that we are looking for. People then begin to value problems above solutions, conflict above peace and cooperation.

The book of Deuteronomy is Moses last sermon to the Israelites. He recounts their history together, especially the failed mission of the spies. The spies went on their mission with a negative view of the Promised Land. This created a need inside of them to justify that view. So they went into the land 'digging' for problems and trouble. They reported that it is '  a land that eats its inhabitants'. After the report of the spies, this negativity was directed against God himself. To justify this negativity, they said that it was clear that God's purpose in taking them out of Egypt was to destroy them in the desert by the hands of the Amorites.

The way out of this trap is to see the humanity of others and that they are made in God's image. In an article – James Ferrel writes about company executives, employees and representatives of the unions who spent some time in a holiday resort trying to see how they could cooperate much more efficiently. At the end of the 3 days, they attempted to resolve disputes which had been around for more than a year and that were scheduled for arbitration.

'They resolved the dispute in forty minutes , because – during the first 2 days together they solved the heart of the conflict that had been dividing them, which was the mutual objectification and blame for each other. Until they saw their conflict partners as people, with hopes and dreams and cares and fears as real as their own, they needed justification more than they needed resolution and were both unwilling and unable to find creative, mutually beneficial possibilities. They found too much advantage in problems to be able to find lasting solutions.' – James Ferrel.

We can now more easily appreciate how the Collaborative and Pro-active solutions approach - which focuses on collaborative problem solving -   mantra –' children do well if they can , and not children do well if they want to'-which we can apply to adults as well - , enables us to see their humanity , act with more compassion and instead of making problems worse than they are , make things better for all.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Mattot - 73 Make a Plan instead of a promise !

This week's Torah –Bible reading deals with the laws of ne'darim= vows and she'vu'ot = oaths. People   expressed the seriousness of their   commitments and obligations by means of the oaths and vows. A neder=vow essentially changes the status of the object for example, BEER becomes forbidden to the person making the vow or he dedicates it to the temple. A she'vu'ah =oath impacts on the person – I take an oath not to drink beer. These commitments were binding to the extent that if a person wanted to go back on his word and annul the vow or oath , he could not  do it by himself ,but  needed the help of a third qualified person.

This section was taught first to the head of the tribes and then the rest of the nation   close to their entry to the Promised Land. On a simple level, it   comes after Moses taught laws concerning   sacrifices and offerings, including voluntary ones to which a person obligates himself by using a vow or oath. On a deeper level, it comes before the Israelites enter the Promised Land and create a society based on Godly, social, moral obligations and commitment. When words are holy and sacrosanct people's 'word is a word'. A person's words then create obligations and are binding. Society can enforce the rule of law by using ' power' or rely on people obeying the law because of self –interest. Power corrupts and a society were self interest prevails, we find exploitation and injustice. When people obey the law by honoring their moral obligations we have a trusting and caring society. Trust creates social cohesion and freedom to be self directed and autonomous. This section was taught to heads of the tribes to remind the politicians and leadership the importance of keeping their words and promises, not only as individuals but as powerful people in the community.- Rabbi Jonathon Sacks

People are challenged enough to fulfill  their commitments, so King Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes 5:4 says' it is better not to take a vow , than to take a vow and not pay'. Rabbi Meier in the Talmud says it is better just to bring one's offerings without making a vow beforehand.

The problem with making promises,  New Year's resolutions and  vows is that instead of strengthening our resolve they have the opposite effect. Promises give people the feeling that they have already done something and in this way, they are pretty effective at getting people off one's back and forever delaying the making good ,the promise. These are called nidrei re'sha'im – the vows of wicked people.

King David in Psalms 119:106 says 'I have sworn – and I will fulfill to keep your righteous judgments.' Since an oath was made at Mount Sinai to fulfill the covenant between the Israelites and God, King David's oath is more about being spiritual uplifted and expressing a dedication to do God's commandments than making an oath.

The lesson we should learn from this is that making good one's promises, commitments, resolutions, and keeping one's word is not easy and we should therefore take steps to make sure our words are holy and act on them. Instead of taking oaths and making promises we should simply ask ourselves how can I get the job done. There is research showing - that instead of using hype language – I can do it! Asking oneself -  can I do it ? will open up the brain to thinking and an action plan. People are more effective when they ask questions about a task than making a committing themselves to do a task.

In the home , parents often complain that kid's don't keep their promises or having  participated in the CPS – collaborative and pro-active solutions model which focuses on collaborative problem solving process, they  don't  follow through on their part of a  solution to a problem. Part of the CPS process is to review how the solution is playing out and if necessary going back to the drawing board. In real life the first solution is not always the last solution. While keeping one's part of an agreement is important and building and maintaining trust is vital for a family to function, it is more effective to try to come up with a better solution. This means checking to see  if there are any unidentified concerns , getting more clarity on your kid's concerns, making sure that the solution is really mutually satisfactory and most important realistic and doable. This means helping a kid with procedures or an action plan so he can follow throw with his side of the solution.

In order to help kids become trustworthy and act on their words, we need to support their autonomy and help them be self-directed. When they feel compelled and coerced making promises are the easiest way for them to get us off their backs. They should have a sense of belonging and purpose and most important be competence to engage in a plan of action to make good their obligations and commitments.