Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Vayeshev 74 - Morality and the image of one's father

This week's Parasha deals with Joseph's avoiding temptation and resisting the advances of the wife of Potiphar. She was extremely persistent and used threats. She  even tried to convince Joseph that the that being together was their destiny as the astrologers predicted that they  would have children together. They were nearly right as  her daughter Osnat  would be the mother of Joseph's children. Joseph was also aware that G-d sometimes influences the course of events to uncover ' sparks of holiness lost in impurity ' by the union of unlikely partners like Lot and his daughters, Yehuda and Tamar, and  Boaz and Ruth. Maybe being with the wife of Potiphar was part of the divine plan. Temptation becomes harder to avoid when it can be justified in the name of a 'mitzvah – something positive.

A national holiday celebrating the flooding of the Nile presented a perfect opportunity for Potiphar's wife to pressurize Joseph to be with her. Nobody was around and nobody would know.
Joseph began to weaken and was about to give in, when with divine help he was able to access the objective morality of his father Jacob- Ya'akov. He saw the image of his father, who told him that what he was about to do was immoral , it would impact on how he would be remembered by future generations and his ability to be part of the leadership of the Jewish people. His name represented by a one of the 12 gemstones of each tribe would not appear on the high priests –kohen gadol's breast plate if he committed the sin. The image of his father strengthened Joseph's resolve to resist. He explained to Potiphar's wife that no matter how noble her intentions were , if it comes at the expense of somebody else  - her husband , it would be immoral , a breach of trust and a sin in the eyes of G-d.

What helps kids to make moral decisions and withstand temptation?

'The way to help kids become ethical and moral people as opposed to people who merely do what they are told, is to have them construct moral meaning. It is to help them figure out – for themselves and each other – how they ought to act ' AK
It means taking the perspectives of others, seeing how their behavior impacts on others and reflecting on how they can be caring and responsible people both in the eyes of man and G-d.

Most kids think of their parents only in terms of how they will react to them – what parents will do to them – criticize, scold and punish. Kids don't access and reflect on parent's views on a matter in the hope that it will give them 'moral clarity and strength ' and guide them through dilemmas and challenges. The only question asked is whether it is worth the risk of being caught or parents finding out. This leads to immoral behavior as Immanuel Kant explains.
If you punish a child for being naughty and reward him for being good, he will do right merely for the sake of the reward and when he goes out into the world and finds that goodness is not always rewarded, nor wickedness always punished, he will grow into a man who only thinks about how he may get on in the world, and does right and wrong according as he finds either of advantage to himself.
Kids become moral and good people to others when they also have a sense of themselves as moral and good people. They have a sense of 'worthiness and belonging'. And this depends on parents and teachers accepting them ' unconditional ly.

The best predictor of whether children will be able to accept themselves as fundamentally valuable and capable is the extent to which they have been accepted unconditionally by parents and teachers.  As Carl Rogers (1959) argued half a century ago, those on the receiving end of conditional love – that is, affection based not on who they are but on what they do -- come to disown the parts of themselves that aren’t valued.  Eventually they regard themselves as worthy only when they act (or think or feel) in specific ways' – Alfie Kohn

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