Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pekudei 74 Moral Development depends on Trust

The portion-parasha of Pekudei begins with the words –

 שמות לח:כא אֵלֶּה פְקוּדֵי הַמִּשְׁכָּן מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻת אֲשֶׁר פֻּקַּד עַל פִּי משֶׁה ........
Exodus 28:31 -these are  the accounts and reckonings of the tabernacle- mishkan - the detailed lists of materials contributed for the construction of the tabernacle and its equipment and how they were used, which were reckoned at Moses' bidding. Moses' actions seemed to go beyond the letter of the law. According to  the Jewish Code of Law, the Shulchan Aruch Y:D 257:2 based on the verse in Kings 2 12:16 –

מלכים ב יב:(טז) וְלֹא יְחַשְּׁבוּ אֶת הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר יִתְּנוּ אֶת הַכֶּסֶף עַל יָדָם לָתֵת לְעֹשֵׂי הַמְּלָאכָה כִּי בֶאֱמֻנָה הֵם עֹשִׂים:
Moreover, they –the administrators of the temple project did not keep accounts with the men, into whose hand they delivered the money to pay out to the workmen, - they did not demand that the treasurers keep accounts - for they dealt in good faith.

If we appoint treasurers or other people to do a job because of their integrity and moral stature, demanding that they keep records so that you can regulate and keep a check on them contradicts the nature of the appointment. If you appoint people because of trust, trust them to the end.

The modern state operates quite differently. There are laws. You have to have   audited financial reports and there are fines  and  penalties  attached to help people comply. If there are problems of financial scandals and dishonesty, we impose more and better laws. There is  more  regulation and more incentives. And this, says Barry Schwartz - our loss of wisdom   helps in the short run, but in time rules and incentives erode ethical behavior and morality. Rules and procedures mean you don't have to think. Rules replace moral thinking. People are supposed to be guided by moral and ethical principles and let their perceptions of the situation dictate moral behavior. Moral skill is chipped away by the over reliance on rules that deprives us of the opportunity to improvise and learn from our improvisations. And moral will is undermined by an incessant appeal to incentives that destroy our desire to do the right thing. Instead of asking ' what is my responsibility, what is the right thing to do ' , all we ask is 'what serves my interests .' Instead of being accountable to our system of values, the law  makes  us accountable -by   ' doing to us ' , by making us pay a price if we screw up.

When it comes to the education of kids we undermine their moral development by the over-reliance on rules and consequences. It is when we trust them to do the right thing, we support their moral development. Honor codes are an example of this. Kids commit themselves to values of honesty and integrity in the classroom. We 'trust  them'  and let them write exams without supervision. Supervising exams tells students that  you don't trust them not to cheat and  this  undermines   moral development. When we rely on rules and consequences, we  are  telling  kids  that  we cannot trust you  to behave and act in a responsible and caring way.The Pygmalion effect predicts that our negative expectations of kids, that they won't behave if we don't control them with rules and consequences is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Kids will behave badly when they are left alone without supervision. But if we ascribe to them positive attributes and have positive expectations of how they will behave and perform academically, kids will behave well and do better in school. Business leaders understand the power of having positive expectations and trusting other leads also to better performances in the work place.

 When we rely on rules and consequences the locus of control is firmly in the hands of the parents or teachers. Kids will behave depending on how adults will respond to their  behavior. Instead , the locus of control should be with the kids. They should be the ' authors of their behaviors', behaving in ways because this is the type of person I want to be,and  this way of acting is a reflection of my values. When we rely  on rules and consequences, kids become dependent on them to guide their behavior. Instead of rules, kids can try to use values and moral principles to guide their behavior. Their behavior can be an outcome of deep reflection on how these values and principles should play out in the family or classroom. But that means we need to ' trust' kids. 

The problem with rules is that when rules are broken, consequences need to be given for the infractions. And when we punish or give consequences we make it impossible for a kid to ask – if this is the type of person I want to be or is this behavior is a reflection of my values and then do 'Teshuvah ' and repent. It just teaches a kid tofeel sorry for themselves, think of what's in it for me and my mistake was being caught. It is better to talk about   expectations rather than rules. When expectations are not met , we then ask -what is getting in the child's way , how can we help him, collaboratively  solve the problem and come up with a better plan. When kids trust us and we trust them , we allow their best motives to surface thus giving them space and support for them to reflect and  engage in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution , making amends, and figuring out how to make things right after doing something wrong.

Moses kept records not only that he should be ' clean and straight ' both in the eyes of God and man, but this was a way of being accountable to himself and his values.
If we want kids and people to have the moral skill and moral will , we have to trust them as people who value virtue and moral wisdom. We have to educate kids and create an environment where rules don't replace moral thinking and values and incentives don't destroy morality.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Vayakhel 74 - Perfecting the self or the object - Achievement or Process

The actual physical donations were important but more important was the intention and motivation behind the giving. God was looking for intrinsic motivation, the inspired and motivated heart , and people  being moved by their   spirit. It was a national outpouring of emotion and fervor  in order to become closer to God and perfect themselves as individuals .

The princes were motivated in a different way. They looked at the building of the tabernacle- mishkan as a project. In a noble gesture, they said they were willing to 'underwrite and make good  any  materials that would be lacking. They asked – what does the building need, how can we build the ' perfect ' tabernacle. The focus of the princes was on ' perfecting the object , on ' achievement' and driven by the extrinsic motivation – the need to build a tabernacle-mishkan. The asked - what does the miskan need and not what do I need to do ?

The people were inspired and intrinsically motivated by a spirit of generosity , in order to make a contribution to the mishkan. This was  as an expression of  fervor and a deep connection with God , and a process of perfecting the self.  Moses  had to put a stop to the ' process' as the people had brought more than enough.

The word נשאם- = princes is written without the ' yuds ' . It should  be . נשיאים The defective spelling, leaving out 2 letters , the 2 yuds which symbolize spirituality, is an implied rebuke of the leaders  for not bringing their gifts until everything else had been contributed. The national response was so generous that there was almost nothing left for the leaders to give except the precious stones needed for the Ephod and Breastplate. Because they were ' lazy' in not coming immediately , the Torah spells their title defectively.

The problem with our approach to behavior and academics of our kids  is that we use rewards or consequences, grades , honor rolls and other measures of ' achievement to drive the motivation of kids. There is no reason to engage in learning because it is interesting and relevant to my life and has inherent value but they do so only for the grade or so I can get a good job or please my parents. The only reason that I behave in certain ways is what will be done to me if I don't and this is a good way to impress my teachers and parents. It has nothing to do with whom I am and that  the way I act is an expression of who I am and my values and beliefs. 

Instead we should help kids focus on the process – enjoying learning and being the people we want to be. In order to do this , we should according to Jerome Bruner help kids experience success and failure not as reward and punishment but as information. This will help kids focus on what they are doing and not how they are doing.

 There are many kids who are not ' lazy' , and they seem  to work hard and be internally motivated. But if we look deeper , it is as if they are being ' compelled' from the inside to work hard and perform because of the expectations of their parents and competition. We can help kids become more intrinsically motivated, focused on the process, perfecting the self rather than on achievement – perfecting the object by supporting their autonomy – let them generate choices and have a say in the curriculum,  support competence and relatedness -  building community of learners who collaborate and cooperate with each other.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Ki Tisa 74 - Avoid saying NO

The portion-parasha of Ki Tissa deals with the sin of the golden calf.  The people miscalculate the day Moses is supposed to return- a day earlier- because they included the day of his ascent of Mount Sinai in the   40 days and nights that Moses would spend with God.  When Moses did not yet return  on the day he was supposed to according to their calculation , the people perceived that  that they had lost their leader, and their  intermediary between God and themselves. They  asked Aaron to do something about it. The sin of the Golden Calf was that there were people, even a minority who mistakenly saw in the Golden Calf an expression of idolatry with independent powers and people stood by complacently watching this organized idolatry.

God tells Moses what is happening in the camp and that He wants to start a new nation from Moses. Moses'   prayers to God asking God  to use his attribute of mercy, are answered. Moses then begins his descent with the 2 tablets – the 10 commandments - in his hands. When Yehoshuah and Moses came closer to the camp, they saw  the  golden calf and the dances. Moses response was to throw  the  tablets and shatter them at the foot of the mountain.

The obvious question -  did not Moses believe what God had told him, he already knew that the nation was involved with idolatry. And despite this fact, his intention was to give them the Torah. What made Moses change his mind. Moses despaired of changing and helping the nation repentwhen  he saw the 'dances' – that they were enjoying their blasphemous and immoral behavior. It was not a sign of a desperate nation who felt they had no leader.

The Talmud – Shabbat 87a   shares with us Moses' thinking.  Moses reasoned- if a heretic is forbidden to do even one mitvah -  to eat from the' pesach offering'- korban pesach  ,surely a nation of heretics cannot be given the entire Torah. It is   suggested  that  Moses' reasoning is faulty because a heretic is only forbidden to eat from the pesach offering but is obligated to observe all the other commandments. And in any event , he should have given them the Torah so that they could repent.  Rabbi David Lapin answers that the kal va'chomer , the reasoning - was not intellectual and so open to questions  but an aesthetic kal va'chomer -  reasoning.  A heretic is forbidden to eat from the korban pesach =pesach sacrifice because it is incongruent that a person who denies God should participate in eating   from  the  pesach sacrifice a symbol of   God's providence and his commitment to serving Him. The 2 – the heretic and the pesach  sacrifice  just don't fit together , or as they say in Yiddish –' des pashst  nishtzs ' So how much more incongruent is giving the whole Torah to a nation of heretics. – 'Des pashts nishtzs ' the Torah and the children of Israel in their present situation just don't fit.

Parents often use the argument  -'  des pashts nishts ' with kids – it is not appropriate or our family does not do this type of thing. Generally, if parents show a passionate belief in what they say and offer explanations it might help, but sometimes the parents are forbidding something which is allowed according to the halacha – law ,but they hold by higher standards and the kid is not there with them.  And here Ha'rav Osher Weiss in an answer to a question from an  overseas  'anglo-saxon'  audience concerning certain  English literature for kids said -  sometimes saying NO has a worse impact than allowing a kid his request . It is not the message we teach - …..  , but the message kids learn is that their concerns are not taken seriously by us and ignored. This is the down side to the advice parents are given -  tell your kids NO a few times a day so they get used to hearing NO.

I prefer to avoid saying No . Saying No is essentially only one solution to a concern . Because the solution only addresses the parents concern we are using Plan A. – imposing Adult will.  I recommend 'Don’t stick your no’s in unnecessarily, try to say yes and don’t be rigid.'

I like the phrase - ' I am not saying No '

Of course this does not mean I am saying yes , it means ' I just want to hear your concerns , can you tell me more ?' Our purpose is to get a conversation going with the child mainly speaking and  we  listening. We need to gather information about the child's  concerns.

When our concerns are put on the table, we are in fact setting a limit, because our concerns will be addressed by the mutually satisfying solution.

Any solution must be mutually satisfactory addressing both concerns of the parent and child. Of course there will be times that a parent will insist on his way but the kid who has had his concerns taken seriously in the past is more likely to trust his parents when they insist on  their solution.

Try to talk things through and help your child connect with his true inner core so that the mutually satisfying solution is one that he feels is his own, meets his needs and an expression of who he is. The CPS - collaborative problem solving process Cp builds relationship , promotes life skills that will be needed when he goes out into the world and especially help with important relationships including marriage. The process also  supports his autonomy in a healthy way.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Te'tzaveh 74 - The Priestly garments and changing our behavior

The portion –parasha of Te'tza'veh  deals  with the Priestly    garments. These   were   worn by   the priests while doing the ' service' in the mishkan or beis ha'mikdash- temple.  Clothing has the effect of hiding a person's faults and frailties, honoring and elevating him. The priestly garments had to come from communal funds. They elevated the cohen-priest beyond his stature as an individual to a person fitting to serve God in the temple , bring the sacrifices ,representing and being  in ' service ' of the nation as a whole.  Just as the sacrifices atone for the sins of the children of Israel, so do the priestly garment atone for various sins.

The verse –Exodus/Shemot  28:31 says – You shall make the Robe of the Ephod entirely of turquoise  wool …….The robe – me'il was  worn by the kohain ga'dol – high priest and was  made of sky blue-turquoise  wool, the color representing the purity of Godliness. It was sleeveless, possessing 2 openings for 2 arms. Its top hem was secured with a heavy double border. Attached to the bottom hem were 72 hollow ornaments in the shape of pomegranates alternating with 72 golden bells.
The robe – me'il was an  atonement for the sin of lashon ha'ra – slander and evil speech. People who saw the me'il and its blue color, by association with the color - reflected on the sea that stays within its bounds, so we too should keep our speech within bounds, holy and pure.

The double hem reminds us to surround our tongues with a double barrier – teeth and mouth so we can refrain from talking lashon ha'ra – evil speech.

The 72 pomegranates allude to the 72 possible shades of white that could make someone a metzora- a person inflicted by the spiritual disease of tza'raas for gossiping and speaking badly about others.

The bells attached to the hem rang announced  the high priests – kohain ga'dol's arrival in the miskan- tabernacle and departure from it. From the fact that the Kohain ga'dol – high priest's entry was announced by the bells, we learn that a person should not enter even his own home unexpectedly and certainly knock on the door and wait for a response before entering.

 The verse in Kohelet- Ecclesiastes   10:8 says … whoever breaks or breaches a fence, a snake will bite him. Every person is surrounded by a protective wall or fence - his privacy- and when we speak badly – la'shon ha'ra about someone we are invading his privacy. The snake spoke la'shon ha'ra to Eve – Chava about God – that God did not want man to eat from the tree of knowledge and so become as clever as God. As a consequence, the snake has to exact retribution and bite the person who has broken the fence and invaded the person's privacy with his evil speech..  The bells teach us the importance of respecting the privacy of others by ' knocking ' before we enter, how much more so we should be careful of invading their privacy by speaking badly about them.

Respecting the privacy of our kids - giving them some space which is theirs,  not over-monitoring or not speaking badly about them to others is very, very challenging. If we build a trusting relationship, share with them something appropriate about ourselves, be good listeners - they will come forward and be more open to us about what is happening in their lives. If we have good communication, we can speak to them about our concerns or unmet expectations – instead of venting to others.

It is not easy not to speak la'shon  ha'ra about kids who are challenging, hard wired, have  difficult temperaments and really give one a hard time. The collaborative problem solving approach mantra – kids do well if they can and not kids do well if they want to – helps us to have a different mindset. He is not a difficult kid, but a kid with difficulties and challenges – he is doing the best he can. If we are accepting of the reality, we become emotionally free and liberated. This makes us calm and puts us in a position to work with the kid for a better reality. But we can go further and have a positive view about the kid and notice his good points.  Changing our mindsets about kids is not only good for them but good for the family and good for us.