Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Ki Te'tze 73 Finding value in what you do and not what you get

The Bible – Deuteronomy/Devarim 22:6  talks about the mitzvah of Shi'luach ha'ken – if a person happens upon a bird's nest with a mother roosting on young birds or eggs , you can't take the mother with the young , but you must first send the mother away and then you can take the young for yourself , so that you will have a good and long life.
The mitzvah expresses man's right to benefit from the creation. He has a right to eat the kosher birds and the eggs, as this elevates them when they become part of man, but at the same time he must respect the needs of the world and its species. So when the mother is busy performing her duties to creation by attending to her young, one has no right to take her. You must first send her away and then you can express your rights to God's creation by taking the young birds. The mitzvah also recognizes that the mother- the principal - is more important than kids- the income - in that she can reproduce and protect the species.
Honoring the mother bird is similar to honoring parents and both are rewarded with a good and a long life in that one takes steps to lengthen the quality of the lives of parents.
This mitzvah is associated with spiritual demise of the Torah sage – Elisha ben Avuyah, the disciple of Rabbi Akiva and the spiritual mentor to Rabbi Mei'ir . Once a Torah sage , Elisha became an apostate and left the faith. He was now referred to as A'cheir – the ' other ' and no longer by his name.
The following incident was one of the triggers that challenged Elisha's belief in divine providence according to his understanding of the Torah and caused his loss of  faith in Judaism.
He once saw a man climb to the top of a palm-tree on the Sabbath, take the mother-bird with the young, and descend in safety. At the termination of the Sabbath he saw a man climb to the top of a palm-tree and take the young but let the mother bird go free, and as he descended a snake bit him and he died. Elisha exclaimed, 'It is written, "Send away the mother bird, but the young you may take for yourself; that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days (Devarim 22, 7)." Where is the well-being of this man, and where is  the  prolonging of his days!'
Elisha's motivation for doing God's commandments and mitzvoth was extrinsic, the promise of reward for fulfilling the mitzvoth - she'lo lishmah. The mitzvoth and the study of the Torah should be done – lishmah – for the sake of the mitzvoth themselves and  for the sake of heaven to fulfill God's wish , to experience being close to God and because of the intrinsic value and intrinsic reward of the mitzvoth. The reward of the mitzvah in this world is the mitzvah itself- se'char mitzvah – mitzvah.

We are encouraged by the Sages in the Ethics of Our fathers to serve God not as a servant who wants to get a reward , but to serve him in order not to get a reward. The commitment to the Torah and mitzvoth we make in the Sh'ma prayer – to  love God with all your hearts, souls = give our lives in certain circumstances -and with all your resources  negates the idea that we can do things for the reward. The promise of reward is only in the world to come so the verse reads - 'That it may be well with you in the World [to Come] which is wholly good,' And that you may prolong your days' in the world which is unending. 
Elisha actually shares his understanding of why he went ' off the path'. Elisha during a discussion with his student Rabbi Mei'ir  says that the verse from Ecclesiates 7 –' good is an end of a thing from its beginning 'is true  only when it is good from its beginning. He then elaborates –' So it happened with my father, Avuyah, who was one of the great men of Jerusalem. On the day of my circumcision, he invited all the eminent men of Jerusalem to sit in one room, and R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua sat separately, in one room. R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua began to study the Bible. A fire came down from heaven and surrounded them. My father asked them – have you come to burn down my house?.  They explained that when the Bible was  given from Sinai , a fire came down on  mount Sinai as it is said, 'The mountain burned with fire unto the heart of heaven (Devarim 4:11). Because their  words- the learning of the Bible was as  joyful as when the Bible was  given from Sinai , a fire came down as it did on mount Sinai. My father thereupon remarked, "Since the might of the Torah is so great, should this child survive I will dedicate him to the Torah." Because his intention was not for the Name of Heaven, my study of the Torah did not endure with me.
Elisha recounts the reason and circumstances in which his father, a wealthy and influential man, decided to dedicate his newborn son to a life of Torah scholarship: It was for the power. He saw a power in Torah which had previously eluded him. Attracted by this power, he sends his son to study. Elisha=Acher feels that because of these tainted origins, his study was destined to fail.
The obvious question is the following. We are told that a person should never excuse himself from doing mitzvoth if he is doing them for the wrong reasons or intentions  – lo lishmah . He is still doing something positive and in time the impact of the sanctity and intrinsic value of  mitzvah will cause him to do mitzvoth –lishmah –for the sake of heaven and the mitzvah itself. This question is due to misconceptions surrounding – 'she mi'toch lo lishmah , ba lishma ' - from  'within'  the the' lo lishmah' – extrinsic and wrong reasons and intentions  , a person will come to the mitzvoth for the right reasons – for the sake of heaven and for the intrinsic value of the mitzvah. The process is not automatic and depends on there being a ' spark of the right reason and intention ' to start with , and that students see the extrinsic motivators –such as rewards – there to help them with their main goals of engaging in learning and doing mitzvoth with joy and a love for what they are doing .

Parents and teachers encourage kids to engage in mitzvoth and learning torah for the wrong reasons , promoting values of ' lo lishma when they use grades,  rewards, awards and competition – being number one -  as the vehicle that  drives student learning and behavior. In the short term – they work but at a cost. They undermine intrinsic motivation and a love for learning and doing mitzvoth. This is far worse than when a person out of choice does things for the extrinsic rewards. In time he may come to find pleasure in the learning itself. There is little chance that kids will come to enjoy learning for its own sake –lishmah  when the goal is to please parents and teachers and not find pleasure in what they themselves are doing and the system is  uses grades and rewards as the motivators to drive  learning and behavior .

 Instead of rewards we can give learning and doing mitzvoth an association of fun and excitement – gesmack – encourage questions and nurture their curiosity. We can assess learning , while kids are actually learning especially by their questions and how engaged they are in learning. Testing is not the only way to assess kids. Excellence can be expressed not as achievement – high grades but how the stronger kids share their learning and mentor other kids. Joe Bower says that assessment is a conversation , kids can learn to engage in self assessment and focus on how they perceive their competence , engagement and love for learning and the mitzvoth.

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