Monday, January 20, 2014

Mishpatim 74-Unloading the burden and Collaborative Problem solving

Verse 23:5 from the book of Exodus – Mishpatim says that if you see the donkey of someone you hate / an enemy crouching underneath its burden , would you refrain from giving help TO him ?- you should  help repeatedly  WITH him.

When we come across a person who needs help with his suffering animal, even if we have problems with the person, we have to subdue our evil inclinations that encourages one to let an enemy suffer and lend a hand. The donkey can also be seen as a metaphor for a person's materialistic side  – donkey in Hebrew is a chamor -  which has the same root as the word 'materialism '  and the person is  carrying the burden of his sins or a pile of unsolved problems. We can lend a hand and work with the person to unload  his problems.

We may be justified in 'hating' the person in an objective way as he is a ' sinner' that refuses to repent or we have personal issues with the person. The way we subdue   our evil inclinations that encourages one to let an enemy suffer is not with pure willpower or grit but by changing our mindset.

We can relate and connect to his divine spark rather than to his actions, which we cannot condone.
We can emulate God's ways – the Tomer Devorah describes God's attribute as one who is patient with us, bears insults and despite our sinning against him, he never withdraws any love or support from us.
We can look at ourselves in the mirror and see that we ourselves are not saints and in fact not much better than the sinner. The Mesach Hachmah notices that when a similar teaching of this law is repeated in book of Deuteronomy , the Torah says 22:4 –you shall not see the donkey of your BROTHER falling on the road…….., you shall surely with him stand him up – the one you hate became your brother . What happened in the time between the book of Exodus and Deuteronomy that your enemy, the owner of your donkey now became your brother?   There was the sin of the Golden Calf and other sins in the desert, which meant that people could no longer look down on others. They were now all brothers in sin. The Mesach Chachmah adds that he does not know anyone on the level who is permitted to ' hate a sinner'.

In family situations challenging kids can be rather mean and when their  limbic brain activates the emotional rush, we hear  words like – you are the worst mom or meanest mom in the world , I hate you , I wish you …… etc . So when  there is plenty of emotional baggage , it is easy to justify that giving love and of ourselves should be made contingent and conditional on good and respectful behavior on their part. The CPS – collaborative problem solving approach mantra is ' children do well if they can and not children do well if they want to '. I believe the same goes for adults. This mindset helps us avoid' doing to' kids and trying to motivate them to ' wanna behave appropriately '. Instead we ask what is getting in their way, what they need from us, so we can engage in 'working with' kids in a collaborative way.

The Kli Yakar in his commentary on the verse focuses on the differences in ' doing to ' someone or ' working with ' someone. He says we should not give help TO a person as this would be 'enabling' him and he would never solve his problems. One should help WITH the person. As he is part of the problem, he should be part of the solution.

 The CPS approach says that without the participation and input of the kid we cannot get a clear understanding of the underlying problems and his concerns which sets the stage for finding solutions for his problems. The verse says that one should offer help as many times as is needed.  In real life situations, the first solution is rarely the final and durable solution. Education is a process. The beauty of CPS is that there is learning taking place all the time and we are promoting relationship between parent and child which is one of the main goals of our interventions.

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