Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Emor 74 - Pe-sach and the Redemption of speech on Shavuot.

Pesach – Passover, the festival celebrating the exodus from Egypt and Shavuot – the festival celebrating the giving of the Torah 50 days later are considered in a sense as one holiday. The intervening days when we count the o'mer -= sefirat ha'omer   marks   the process of spiritual growth and elevation towards the receiving of the Torah and thus connects Pesach and Shavuot, similar to chol ha'moed. The Zohar makes a similar connection. In Egypt speech = di'bur was in galut=exile. On Shavuot, the final redemption of speech = ge'ulat ha'dibur took place. When the Egyptian king died and it became clear that the new Pharaoh was no better than the old, the people moaned and cried out in pent- up despair. Their outcry was not one of repentance or prayer but of pain.  Because of the slavery and oppression they could not speak to God but only lift up their eyes to God as the verse in Psalms 123:2 הנה כעיני עבדים אל יד אדוניהם, כן עינינו אל ה' , תהילים קכג:ב  the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master so are our eyes unto Hashem our God They could not communicate with God as 'dibur' =speech was in exile. The process of  redemption of speech  began on Pesach = פה –סח , the' mouth relates and says' , continued when they reached ' Pee  ha'chirot' or called Pee Ha'cherut '  the mouth of freedom and reached a high after the miracle of  the Red Sea when  the children of Israel sang praises to God – the song of the Sea שירת הים.The final redemption   of speech took place on shavu'ot  when  God spoke directly to the children of Israel ( the first 2 commandments ) and Moses despite previously having a speech disability spoke  the rest of the commandments.

We give expression to the process of the redemption of speech – geulat ha'dibur on the seider night by telling and recalling the story of the exodus from Egypt. We encourage the participants and especially the children to ask questions because authentic questions drive true speech and communication.

Unfortunately, we soon forget the educational lessons of the seider night. A teacher complained that he could not get a kid in his class to listen. On the seider night we discuss the 4 sons and their questions and if a child has difficulty in asking questions we help him. Instead of theorizing about the reason the kid is not listening we should try and get that info from the kid. We might need to reassure him  that he is not in trouble and all we are trying to do is gather information from him about why it is difficult for him to listen during a lesson in Gemorrah. 

The famous educationalist Deborah Meier said that teaching is essentially listening and learning is essentially talking. Ross Greene, the originator of the CPS – collaborative problem solving approach asks challenging kids the following question - to build trust but also to understand the parent – child dynamic from the kid's point of view. What's the matter with them ( your parents )? Most often the answer is ' they don't listen to me, so I have stopped talking to them'.

If we want kids to talk to us, we must listen to them and in this way we can contribute to the redemption of their speech - ge'ulat ha'dibur.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Kedoshim 74 - Love yourself so you can Love your friend

The Torah tells us to ' Love your fellow as yourself '- Leviticus 19:18 .ואהבת לרעך כמוך  -ויקרא יט:יח
 From this verse it seems that loving oneself is a condition for being able to love other people. Now self-love is generally regarded as having a sense of entitlement, being self- indulgent and hedonistic, and only really being concerned only about oneself and certainly not about others. So how does self-love make one into a more caring person? True self-love is about people who regard themselves as self-directed and autonomous, competent, caring and responsible people. For them, self-love is nurturing the spiritual and emotional side of them, the part that defines them. As The sage Hillel – the elder said about him going to the bath-house or having a meal that he was doing a chesed – a kindness to his soul – -גומל חסד לנפשו which was resident in his body . Loving yourself is taught in another place in the context of helping others - וחי אחיך עמך ויקרא כה: לו –'and let your brother live with you '-Leviticus 25:36. Rabbi Akiva says – your life comes first, before the life of your friend (but your friend comes a close second.)

 These people experience themselves on a fundamental level as worthy of esteem and love. Loving and caring for others is not in competition of oneself, but just an extension of loving oneself if done in a healthy way.

Children who see themselves as worthy of esteem and love and see themselves as fundamentally good people will be able to be caring and act in altruistic ways. On the other hand children, who view their pro-social conduct as compliance with external authority, will act pro-socially only when they believe external pressures are present. Helping children to come to believe that their pro-social behavior reflects values or dispositions in themselves is best achieved by verbally attributing such values or dispositions to the child. In one experiment, in which children gave away some of their game winnings after watching a model do so, those who were told that they had made the donation "because you're the kind of person who likes to help other people" were subsequently more generous than those who were told that they had donated because they were expected to do so. In another study, the likelihood of children's donating increased both when they were praised and when they were led to think of themselves as helpful people. But in a follow-up experiment, it was the latter group who turned out to be more generous than those who had received verbal reinforcement. In other words, praise increased generosity in a given setting but ceased to be effective outside of that setting, whereas children with an intrinsic impulse to be generous continued to act on that motivation in other circumstances. These findings by Joan Grusec of the University of Toronto  provides a concrete alternative to the use of rewards or praise (the problem with praise is that it is controlling and judgmental) to elicit generosity and is important because it implies that being led to think of oneself as generous does not affect behavior merely because it is a kind of reinforcement or a mood-enhancer; this label apparently encourages pro-social action because it helps to build a view of the self as altruistic.- Alfie Kohn – Caring Kids, the Role of schools

Another very important predictor of whether children will accept themselves as fundamentally valuable and capable is to the extent to which they been accepted unconditionally by others.  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 and often end up not 'liking' themselves. They then create a' false' self that their parents will like. The research can be summarized as follows -    The more conditional the support [one experiences], the lower one’s perceptions of overall worth as a person. When children receive affection with strings attached, they do indeed tend to accept themselves only with strings attached. Their self-esteem becomes contingent – I only like myself when … instead of non-contingent and inherently stable self-esteem. – Alfie Kohn – Unconditional Parenting/Teaching
Children will  act in accordance with the Torah's teaching of Love your fellow as yourself if they feel unconditionally accepted, worthy of esteem and love, feel valuable and capable and see their pro-social behavior as intrinsic to who they are as people.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Acharei Mot 74 Say Sorry!! Empathy vs. Blame

  I am sure we have either witnessed or we ourselves have tried to force a sibling to ' say sorry' because they hit a brother or said a mean word – you are stupid - to a sister. There is usually a display of defiance and when the kid gives in, it is usually said in a mean tone or a whisper or even ' I am sorry that ' You are stupid'.
 Instead of repairing the relationship, forcing an apology makes it worse. I don't know how parents expect this type of apology to be sincere. Some parents don't really care if the apology is sincere or not, what matters is the act of uttering the appropriate words. They may justify this by saying that in time the child will come to say 'I am sorry' with sincerity. According to the principle -that we should do the right thing even if our feelings or motives are not so pure, for in time we will come to do things with the right feelings and for the right motives - mi'toch she'lo lishmah bah lishmah, these parents seem to be doing the right thing by forcing an apology.
The Torah portion –parasha of Acharei Mot talks about the Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement service when the High Priest and the nation confess their sins –the Vidui and say they are sorry to God and to each other  as part of the Teshuvah –repentance process. Rabbi E. Dessler says that the principle of doing things 'lo lishmah' for the wrong reasons so in time it will be lishmah – right reasons does not apply to the mitzvah of Teshuvah or saying sorry. The whole essence of Teshuvah and saying sorry is sincerity.
 If we force apologies and don't give the child time to calm down and reflect, then the only thing we are teaching kids is to LIE. The source of our problem is that we see enforcing an apology as part of our need to discipline kids. It means getting the kid to admit that he did wrong and take the blame. The focus is no longer on the pain of the sibling, but on the adult trying to enforce the apology. If we take blame out of repertoire and replace it with empathy we are now not being disciplinarians enforcing consequences but parents helping and guiding kids to be compassionate and moral.
We may also want to solve the underlying problem in a durable and realistic way using CPS – the collaborative problem solving approach model. The first thing we may need to do is reassure the child that he is not in trouble and that we are not in the 'blame game'. All we want to do is help people feel and do better. The first stage in the CPS process – the empathy and info gathering steps starts with a neutral statement. 'I have noticed that you and your sister were playing ball together, and now she is crying – what's up? We try to get his perspective and hear his concerns which are needed to solve the problem. He will be able to then hear his sister's perspective and concerns if he feels heard. The focus is now on the ' hurt child' – We ask the brother – how does he think his sister is feeling now? Why is she feeling that way? This helps him take his sister's perspective and become empathic .We can then ask him – can we brainstorm solutions that will help both of you be happy and you can play without any fighting. Once we have a solution we can ask how does he think he can make her feel better and also make amends. Some situations demand that we only help him take his sister's perspective and come up with a plan to make her feel better and not solve the underlying problem.
 Instead of using ' Blame ' and imposing consequences and solutions on kids, we can focus on empathy. We should support kids' 'autonomy' so that they can in an autonomous way engage in the moral act of reparation and making amends. We promote competence as the child will thus leave this encounter with a reminder of how others feel or might feel as the result of his actions, and with the knowledge that an adult trusted his competence sufficiently to allow for his input into how this matter should be handled. Also relationships are improved. Using empathy means we encourage kids to feel sorry for siblings or the 'hurt' friend, but when we use 'blame' we encourage kids to feel sorry for themselves.