Sunday, August 25, 2013

Netzavim- Rosh hashanah 73 - Te'shuvah =Repentance Autonomy and Relationship

As Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment approaches, we read in this week's portion Devarim /Nitzavim 30:2 about repentance – Te'shuvah, ' and you will return unto Hashem, your God and listen to his voice'.

The Jerusalem Talmud asks 'what is the punishment to be done to the sinner '? Wisdom replies that sin pursues bad experiences. Prophecy replies that the soul that sins should die. God replies that the sinner should repent and return to him. In this way he atones for his sins.

There is discussion amongst the commentators whether Repentance- Teshuvah is a voluntary / optional commandment or are we obliged to repent and do Teshuvah. The Ma'haral from Prague   quotes the Talmud that God considers the person who does Teshuvah as having offered a ' voluntary ' sacrifice. He explains that since  the sinner no longer sees himself as subject to God's authority and decrees, his decision to repent and to return unto Hashem,  is considered by God as  if he has in an autonomous and voluntary way 'returned'  to God. And for this God is extremely grateful.

Rabbi David Lapin reconciles the two views - the commandment –mitzvah of Teshuvah is an obligation or a voluntary/optional commandment. Objectively speaking we have an obligation to repent and do Te'shuvah; subjectively speaking God considers our actions as autonomous and intrinsically motivated.

The Teshuvah associated with Rosh Hashanah focuses on our intrinsic motivation and relationship with God. We come before God as people who have changed from the inside, with a new vision and motivation. We are not the same people. Our purpose is to willingly redefine our relationship with God. We anoint and make God our king and subject ourselves to his divine commandments and guidance.

When our kids and students don't meet our expectations, we must remember that it is our duty to help and guide them to do 'Te'shuvah. This means participating together with kids in CPS – collaborative problem solving process and allowing kids in an autonomous way to engage in the moral act of restitution and making amends. The litmus test - has my relationship and trust with my kid or student been enhanced. The key words – autonomy and relationship.

Here are 2 examples of how a teacher helps a kid to do Te'shuvah.

A 2nd grader had been running through the halls of the school like wild and recently caused a major accident when shee ran into a staff member wheeling a projector down the hall. While his teacher could’ve used a consequence to teach him a lesson (“it's not OK to run in the halls!”), she attempted   proactive problem solving with her
Teacher: I know you know we’ve been concerned about your running in the halls here at school, right?
Student: Yup. I’m sorry.      
Teacher: Don’t worry. You’re not in trouble. I just want to understand why you think you are running in the halls because I know we’ve told you tons of times not to! Why do you think you do it?
Student: I don’t want to be late.
Teacher: You don’t want to be late. Hmmm.  Late for what?
Student: Breakfast.
Teacher: Why not?
Student: They always run out of the hot breakfast, and I like the egg sandwiches.
Teacher: Wow. And I thought you were just running because you thought it was fun! But you don’t want to miss out on the hot breakfast. I guess now that you say it, I have noticed that most of the complaints about you running in the hall are first thing in the morning. I guess the thing I’m worried about is someone getting hurt, like you or another student or a teacher. Does that make sense?
Student nods.
Teacher: So I wonder if there is anything we can do to make sure you don’t miss out on the hot food but still are safe – so you aren’t running through the halls? Do you have any ideas?
Student: They could save me one so I don’t have to run. 
Teacher: That’s an idea. We could ask the breakfast folks if they could save you one. Do you think that would work?
Student: Yup.
Teacher: Well, let’s try it.
Teacher: We still have the problem of the broken projector.
Student: Maybe I could do some odd jobs for the school.
Teacher: Can you think of anything else you could do?
Student: I could write a letter apologizing for damaging the projector and being unsafe in the hallway. I could also do some babysitting or use some of my allowance to pay for the damage.
  Adapted from

The other situation was a onetime incident where a high school boy was fooling around in the dining hall. He threw a tomato which hit a teacher. The teachers immediately demanded that he be punished and taught a lesson – he should be banned for a week from the dining hall and eat alone. His class teacher insisted that he would handle things differently. He approached the kid – described in a neutral factual way what had happened and asked the kid – what can we do about the problem? With a bit of guidance the kid came up with idea of writing an apology and explaining that his actions were not directed against the teacher, but unintentional. He said he would deal with the mess.  The kid took a friend to help him. They not only cleaned up the mess , but they cleaned the whole dining hall , floors , dust etc and arranged the tables and chairs.
If the kid would have been punished – banned from the dining hall and ordered to clean the mess , the relationship with the teacher would have been worsened and the only message the kid would have internalized was that the teacher was unfair and his mistake was to have been caught. Here the kid internalized that his behavior was inappropriate, his self esteem and respect was honored and he responded in an autonomous way and made things right beyond what was expected from him. His relationship with the teacher was enhanced as well.

From Unconditional Teaching article – Alfie Kohn

'In an illuminating passage from her recent book Learning to Trust (2003), Marilyn Watson explained that a teacher can make it clear to students that certain actions are unacceptable while still providing “a very deep kind of reassurance – the reassurance that she still care[s] about them and [is] not going to punish or desert them, even [if they do] something very bad.” This posture allows “their best motives to surface,” thus giving “space and support for them to reflect and to autonomously engage in the moral act of restitution” – that is, to figure out how to make things right after doing something wrong. “If we want our students to trust that we care for them,” she concludes, “then we need to display our affection without demanding that they behave or perform in certain ways in return. It’s not that we don’t want and expect certain behaviors; we do. But our concern or affection does not depend on it.”' 

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