Sunday, March 30, 2014

Metzorah 74- Miserliness and Speaking Badly about Others

James Ferrel from  The Arbinger institute ,in his highly recommended TedX Talk – Resolving the Heart of Conflict  –and  Article  explains why we value problems above solutions, conflict above peace, reconciliation and  cooperation, and how to remedy the situation.

His talk also gives us an insight into one of the questions on this week's parasha-portion – Metzorah. The disease Tza'raat became progressively worse if the person did not repent from speaking badly – la'shon Ha'ra about other people. First, his home was afflicted in a supernatural way with spots and marks, and  then if he continued to sin – his clothes and then his body was afflicted. The difficulty is that his home was afflicted, not because of  him speaking badly – la'shon ha'ra but because of his Tzarut A'yin = miserliness. This is implied from the verse Leviticus 14:35 . The owner of the house is referred to as the  one to whom the house belonged – that the house was only HIS , he did not open his home up to others or lend out utensils to neighbors who needed them. What is the connection between miserliness and speaking badly about others ?

In a nutshell – James Ferrel explains that when we objectify people, or we don't share our resources with them - for example by not opening up our homes or our hearts to them , we need to justify our actions and  view of these people as being undeserving.This triggers our looking for plenty of negativity about them and sharing it with others. This inner need for justification is so strong that it overrides the need for peace and better interpersonal relationships.

In the talk he claims that we actually value problems, mistreatment, trouble, and conflict. He explains that according to Martin Buber, we don't have problems with people whom we count or identify with. We see their humanity and that they  - 'are made in God's image'. The others who don't count in our eyes are viewed as objects. It is easier to view or treat people badly if you ' objectify ' them. But objectifying people comes with a consequence – a deep inner need to justify that view. So the heart sees advantage in trouble and conflict, it provides the proof and justification that we are looking for. People then begin to value problems above solutions, conflict above peace and cooperation.

The way out of this trap is to see the humanity of others -and that they are made in God's image. In an article – James Ferrel writes about company executives, employees and representatives of the unions who spent some time in a holiday resort trying to see how they could cooperate much more efficiently. At the end of the 3 days, they attempted to resolve disputes which had been around for more than a year and that were scheduled for arbitration. 'They resolved the disputes in forty minutes , because – during the first 2 days together they solved the heart of the conflict that had been dividing them, which was the mutual objectification and blame for each other. Until they saw their conflict partners as people, with hopes, dreams, cares and fears as real as their own, they needed justification more than they needed resolution and were both unwilling and unable to find creative, mutually beneficial possibilities. They found too much advantage in problems to be able to find lasting solutions.' – James Ferrel.

We can now more easily appreciate how the Collaborative problem solving approach's mantra –' children do well if they can , and not children do well if they want to'- can apply to adults as well - , enables us to see their humanity , act with more compassion and instead of making problems worse than they are , make things better for all.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tazria 74- Time-Out or Time-In

Time-outs are a popular discipline tool as they can be implemented immediately and can be over in a couple of minutes. Time-outs are described as 'Punishment Lite' .They are  less destructive than other punishments such as spanking. The term is derived from 'time-out from positive reinforcements' techniques used with animals and the idea is that we use love withdrawal or not give attention when the child is misbehaving. Kids are rewarded with attention ,love and connection when they behave and don't get the love , connection and attention when they misbehave. The down side is that kids  feel their parents' love is conditional on how they behave, they are shown less love,  feel abandoned, rejected and confused. For parents the word time-out is easier to swallow than forced solitary confinement, which is what actually happens   when a kid is banished to his room. The idea is that kids should also use this time and reflect on what they did and how it impacted on others.

There seems to be a basis for ' forced solitary confinement from this week's portion-parasha Tazria. The person = Metzorah sinned by speaking badly about other people and as a result of his 'lashon ha'ra = evil speech, he developed a skin disease erroneously called leprosy. He was removed from people and put into solitary confinement. He would be able then to appreciate the importance of other people family, friends and community in giving him  'life' and how destructive and divisive his actions were to interpersonal relations and people.  In fact the Metzrorah who has the disease and is in solitary confinement is considered as having no life and as if he were dead. This is not because of his suffering due to the disease says Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz, but due to him being in solitary confinement. Reb Isaac Sher explains that the disease = Tzara'at is only visited upon  righteous people who had sinned. Without sin, their skins shone as if the divine presence was reflected in them. But when they sinned the divine presence left them and their skins lost their brightness and developed spots and marks. Fools and wicked people were not on the highest levels so they could be subject to this type of   divine intervention. Also in solitary confinement these people would just feel sorry for themselves , and not reflect on how their actions impacted on others and then repent.

When kids are forced to do ' time-outs the last thing they do is reflect on what they did and feel sorry for others or a sibling. The now feel sorry for themselves, think their parents are mean and plan to get revenge against  his brother. In any case the focus is now on complying with the time-out and on the 'mean' parent and not on the problem that gave rise to the time-out. This leads to power struggles , kids running away when they hear the word time-out, or keep on asking if they can get up, and worst of all because parents find themselves using time-outs repeatedly and often for the same offence. When time-outs don't work parents find themselves doing moretime-outs  and more harsh versions of the same thing.

Instead parents trying to feel in control parents should aim for ' connection' and cooperation. They should be pro-active and 'not in the moment'  try to collaboratively solve problems that are predictably giving rise to challenging behavior. And even' in the moment', instead of threatening a kid with a time-out, they can do a 'time –in ' and ask what's going on and remind the kid that what he does has an impact on other people, explain that some ways of acting are just unacceptable and then try to solve the problem where kids are likely to feel that their needs are being considered. Parents can also use time -in to  empathize with a kid's feelings, helping them to process their feelings which all maybe needed to help the storm pass over. We could also suggest another activity and with toddlers try to distract or redirect them. 
Kids  can also with the help of his parents  set up a 'den' or a 'comfort corner' so that they have the option to retreat to a comfortable and comforting place when they  are  acting silly or going out of control. Taking your own time-out or chill-out in order to cool off and calm down is an important skill that we can model and also teach our kids. But when time-out is framed and construed as punishment   the important   lesson of how to 'change gears ' or 'resetting our computers ' is lost. So even when the kid refuses our invitation to take some time by himself  then in a last resort we try to gently remove him from the situation and the place where the problem is happening, but not from us. The kid may prefer to be alone so that he can feel safe to vent his feelings.  When we are forced to remove kids from the situation we should take care so that our kids don't feel that our love, attention and presence is being switched off or withdrawn.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Shemini -74 Internalizing negative traits through food

The end of the parasha portion of Shemini – Leviticus 11  deals with the dietary and kashrut laws. The eating of non-kosher animals impede any   spiritual growth and holiness. They   deaden and dull spiritual sensitivity to spirituality  , contaminate and defile the body and soul.

When dealing with the impure and non-kosher animals, birds and fish, the Torah uses the word –' sheketz'  implying that eating and internalizing these negative animal traits is morally repugnant and an abomination. The parasha-portion  ends with creatures =sheretz  that ' crawl' השורץ  and those that ' creep'  (on their bellies )on the ground ' הרומש על הארץ  .We are commanded not to eat from the crawlers – השורץ   ' do not make your souls repugnant –אל תשקצו את נפשותיהם .  A different language is used for the creepers , those that are  the most attached to the ground – do not contaminate or defile your souls – ולא תטמאו את נפשותיכם

The Kli Yakar explains that man and the animals are made from ' earthiness', a materialistic element and 'air' – the spiritual element. Man does not walk on all fours , but on 2 legs with his eyes focused ahead and above towards the spiritual world. The most base forms of life from the animal world – the creepers הרומש   are  attached  to the ground, so 'earthiness' dominates them and they contaminate and defile the soul. The crawlers – השורץ   have less ' earthiness ' than the creepers   and therefore they only make   the soul repugnant- sheketz שיקוץ . The body which houses the soul is much more exposed so it becomes contaminated and defiled .טומאה –

The ritual slaughter –שחיטה    serves to remove the earthiness. Birds have less  earthiness so they have a less stringent slaughter while fish that thrive in the spirituality of water just need to be gathered in.

The verses Leviticus 11:44-45    ויקרא 11:44-45                                                           
 (מד) כִּי אֲנִי יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְהִתְקַדִּשְׁתֶּם וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי וְלֹא תְטַמְּאוּ אֶת נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם בְּכָל הַשֶּׁרֶץ הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל הָאָרֶץ:(מה) כִּי אֲנִי יְדֹוָד הַמַּעֲלֶה אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לִהְיֹת לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי:                                                            
Says that we should sanctify ourselves and become holy because God is holy and therefore we should not defile our souls by eating creatures that creep on the ground. nd it is for this reason – not to defile themselves that God decided to elevate and 
uplift you from the land of Egypt ( to a higher spiritual place – the land of Israel.)

What is so special about not eating  ' bugs' that the Torah changes its language and uses I uplifted you from Egypt rather than taken you out of Egypt. It seems that the purpose of the Exodus was that we should check lettuce for bugs as part of our preparation for the Pesach seider night.

Rabbi David Lapin explains that 'bugs' which are attached to the ground with their faces – faced downwards to the ground are the antithesis of the spiritual man who despite suffering depravation and oppression always has a vision of who he is and a sense of mission , hope and faith.

The message for parents and teachers is to help kids have a vision of themselves , appreciate ' their possible selves'  so despite set-backs and failure they become more resilient . Kids that have a ' growth mindset ' and believe that success is dependent on effort rather than fixed an innate characteristics – a fixed mindset are more resilient. Kids also need to learn to have more self-compassion. Being hard on themselves   when they fail, leads to despair and giving up. Kids need to have cognitive skills such as problem solving skills and emotional regulation skills. But most important they should have a sense of autonomy , goals,  a passion for what they do , focused on process rather than achievement. But they need plenty of support from us and a sense of belonging.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tzav 74 - Internalizing Miracles

The portion-parasha of Tzav continues to deal with the sacrifices. It mentions that   3 stacks of wood used for the 3 fires  that  were placed on the Exterior  Alter. The Alter   stood  in the courtyard of the sanctuary-mishkan. 1.Fire used for the Burning of the sacrifices 2. Fire used to burn the incense on the Golden Alter 3. A fire used to fulfill the command – Leviticus 6:5 ' a constant fire shall burn upon  the   alter, it shall never go out' – והאש על המזבח תוקד בו לא תכבה -ויקרא ו: ה.

In truth, the addition of wood was unnecessary to maintain the fire, for a heavenly fire constantly rested on the Alter. The fire had   2 purposes. It was the vehicle through which God blessed man with fire -one of the elements with which man was created.  Blessed with fire and energy, man could pursue his goals of perfecting himself, his society and serving God.

The second purpose of the' man –made   fire'  says the Seifer Ha'chinuch Mitzvah 132 was to ' hide the miracle', so people would have to ' discover and reveal' the miracle = the heavenly fire which came down from heaven. Hiding the miracle so it looks very natural and part of nature is God's way of intervening in the world. The miracle at the Red Sea was preceded with God moving the sea with the east wind all the night – Exodus 14:21 in order to hide the miracle.

The Ramban on Exodus 13:16 explains   that   the  great and public miracles help us be aware of God's presence as the creator and the one who supervises and runs the world. From this we learn that all the 'hidden ' miracles are not just rules of nature, science, natural occurrences or events that affect us as people but God's intervention in the world.

Hiding the miracle provides man with the ' free choice ' to choose - do I see God's hand behind nature or do I mistakenly conclude that it is purely a natural event. Hiding the miracle also means that man needs to put effort in discovering and revealing God in nature. The man made fire gave the appearance that the fire was essentially man's doing and not a fire that came from heaven. In fact what people saw was only a ' virtual reality'.

If the  ' fire' was an open miracle, people would see the ' fact' of the miracle; it would be something they know with absolute certainty. The problem is that this knowledge is something we know from the outside. Meaning is being imposed on the observer.  Faith is something we work on and internalize – it comes from the inside. When we have the freedom of choice, the process of internalization can take place. We are the ones who discover and reveal.  With open miracles no internalization takes place and in time the miracle becomes just a phenomenon of nature.

Supporting kids' autonomy is important for 'Internalization' something    crucial  for  academic and socio-moral learning. Sometimes the value, rule, knowledge or belief is inside the kid but unprocessed. The kid has merely ' swallowed ' the rule or belief and acts in a way that they feel controlled or pressurized from the inside. Deci and Ryan have called this process – introjection. The alternative is ' Integration 'and  involves helping the child make the value her own, understand its rationale, and experience a sense of self –determination in acting in accordance with it. The objective here is a deeper experience of choice , one understood not just as a selection of option A over option B , but as something ' anchored in the sense of a fuller , more integrated functioning.'

As parents and teachers we have to help kids, so they are the ones who discover and reveal God behind nature .They should learn to see events and occurrences that affect them, not merely as natural incidents and occurrences, but as messages  from God expressing his divine providence and supervision. Hidden miracles give us the choice to internalize our faith in God and see HIS guidance in our everyday life.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Vayikra 74 - Internalization of Values

The portion- parasha of Vayikra deals with the offerings and sacrifices brought in the tabernacle and temple. The offerings were brought as a way to get close to God- Hashem and dedicating oneself totally to the divine will and essence. The person has to see the animal as representing himself. He should be on the alter as the sacrifice and offering.

Verse 1:2 says –אדם כי יקריב מכם קרבן לה' מן הבהמה ........'  that when a ' man' among you brings an offering to God- Hashem from animals. In contrast the verse 2:1 when speaking about a poor man's meal offering made from  flour , it uses the words – ונפש כי תקריב קרבן מנחה לה' סולת יהיה קרבנו .... when a ' soul'- ( a poor person)   offers a meal offering. The simple explanation is that when we take into account the 'net worth ' of the poor and wealthier person , the poor person has made a bigger sacrifice and contribution,  and it could be  that the flour is the only thing he had, so it is as if he has offered his soul.

The Telze Rabbi – Rav Elya Meier Bloch has a deeper explanation. He says there are 2 elements involved in bringing the sacrifice and offering – the monetary expense involved in bringing the offering and the emotional and spiritual effort involved in offering and dedicating one's soul to becoming one with God. The wealthy person feels emotionally   uplifted   because he has spent a lot of money on spirituality and that leaves little space for real work of dedicating one's soul. The poor man feels that his meal offering of flour does not count for much so all he has to give is his soul. It seems that the ' external ' elements of the offering  get in the way or make it more difficult for a person to focus on what God really wants – for man to dedicate his soul to Him , and in so doing reconnect with God and atone for his sins.  Rav Elya Meier Bloch is saying that the bigger the extrinsic / monetary sacrifice, the smaller the emotional commitment and investment.  Instead of reinforcing the spiritual and internal part of a person, the external and physical element undermines the internal and spiritual.

S.D.T – Self  Determination theory of human motivation shows how extrinsic motivation can often get in the way of intrinsic motivation, internalization and commitment to values. We know that one should not reprimand a kid using anger in order to show how serious the offence was, as the only message the kid comes away is you are angry - you have an anger problem – and that gets in the way of a kid reflecting on what he did. The focus is on the parent or teacher.  The same goes for punishment – instead of it reinforcing the severity of the offence and encouraging the kid to feel sorry for what he did and empathize with a kid he hurt, he now feels sorry for himself. The focus is no longer on what he did, but on the punishment, how unfair the adult is and his mistake of getting caught.
Bribes and threats can be very effective at getting ' behaviors ' but not at helping kids internalize and make a commitment to values. An experiment tested this with kindergarten kids. 2 groups were told by their teacher not to play with toys while she was out of the room. One group's compliance was   reinforced   with   a   threat of punishment.  Both groups did not play with the toys when the teacher was not in the room.  However, the kids who did not get the threat of punishment internalized much better the teacher's disapproval of them playing with the toys than the kids who received a threat of punishment. Interventions may be effective, but we need to ask – effective at what ?

HaRav  Osher Weiss tells a similar story about himself when he was a young kid. He and his fellow pupils were supposed to attend morning prayers in a synagogue and to cover a certain amount of learning material. Parents would sign that the kid had studied the required material and attended prayers in the synagogue. Rav Osher Weiss said that he so much wanted the prize that he started   forging his mother's signature. He was called to the principal's office. His mother and principal stood before him and the principal holding the sheet of paper - asked if this was his mother's signature. Before he could answer he was told to leave. That was the last he heard of that incident. He said that the way the incident was handled had an incredible impact on him and the internalization of the message his mother and principal wished to convey.

If we want kids to help kids internalize and make a commitment to values, focus on the message without the drama. Help them reflect on them and how they can become part of their values and who they are.