Tuesday, January 7, 2014

B'shalach 74 - Subject or Object ?

This Shabbat we read   parashat B'shalach It  is called Shabbat Shirah because we read ' shirat ha'yam ' the song that the children of Israel sang in praise of their salvation by God at the red sea. We will also be celebrating Tu Be'shevat – 15th day of Sh'vat on the Thursday following this Shabbat.

The Parasha begins with Pharaoh escorting the children of Israel out of Egypt. We are told that Moses acted on a promise made to Joseph that his bones were to be taken out of Egypt when the time to leave came. The Medrash describes Moshe as a having a wise heart who takes the opportunity to do  Mitzvot – Moshe busied himself with the bones of Joseph, while the children of Israel were busy plundering Egypt, busy with gold and silver. The obvious question is that the children of Israel were also doing a mitvah , obeying God's commandment. They were told to go to their neighbors and ask for gold and silver etc in order that God's promise to Abraham – that they will leave with a great fortune should be fulfilled.

There are mitzvoth that we invest lots  of thought and energy- we are givers -  subjects – 'gavra'. There are mitzvoth where we are more like objects –' cheftza '  - receivers = like the mitzvoth to eat 3 meals on the Sabbath. When we are takers and receivers we tend to lose sight of element of mitzvah and be more self-centered and taking for ourselves. Moshe – Moses chose to focus on ' giving ' , being  a' gavra'- subject and not an object – cheftza-who receives.

The children of Israel are then saved by God's open miracles at the red sea. They are in a sense 'objects' – cheftza , receivers of God's goodness. They become ' subjects'- gavra  by ' giving ' of themselves – giving praise to God  , acknowledging the miracles and showing appreciation in song –' shirat Hayam'  - the song of the sea.

Tu b'shevat is the new year of trees , the cut of date in determining the age of trees, also each year has different tithes and tithes must be taken from crops of the same year. During the winter trees have been in hibernation absorbing water from deep beneath the ground. Most of the rain for the season has fallen and on Tu B'shevat they will begin to draw sustenance from their own sap in order to grow, bloom and prosper. The trees will regenerate utilizing their own resources. They will become the giving entity that they were meant to be. Before Tu be'shevat  the trees were ' cheftza , after Tu Be'shevat they become subjects- gavra .

As parents and teachers we should be helping kids become ' givers'  - gavra. But when we reward or praise them for doing   good ,  or punish/consequence them for infractions - doing to them - we are turning them into objects. Instead we can work with them and solve  problems. Instead of praise  use '  declarative  language '  just describing what we saw and then pausing. This gives the kid time to reflect on what you have noticed and  also experience some inner pride or other feelings for eg.  satisfaction. We show him that it is his  inner  feelings of pride that are important and not pleasing us.  We can then ask open ended questions – how did you feel about what you did ? what were you thinking about when you drew the dog? What made you give the little boy a cookie ?,did you see his face light up .

'These comments and questions help a kid focus his attention on his feelings and thoughts rather than on his accomplishments. He is talking about what he did and self- assessing. By emphasizing the process rather than the product, the kid will realize that it's the trying that counts.'  Myrna Shure 

Teaching expressing gratitude, thanks and appreciation is important , but not because it will help you get what you want or if you do not give thanks people will stop giving to you. It is an important expression of who you are as a person , as a subject as a gavra.

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