Thursday, July 31, 2014

Va'etchanan 74 - Love People , Use Things

In the portion-parasha of the week Moses repeats the 10 commandments with some minor changes. The last 2 commandments deal with the prohibition to ' do not covet' –' lo tachmod ' , … and do not ' desire '- lo titaveh - your fellow's house, wife, …., etc. The Shulchan Aruch explains that the Torah's command – do not desire =lo titaveh  is prohibiting merely   thinking, wanting and scheming as  how to pressure one's fellow into selling the item, even if one does not follow through with his plan. Do not ' covet ' – lo tachmod prohibits active efforts - cajoling, pressurizing, or embarrassing someone into selling him something that the owner really does not want to sell. What about the 'poor man'  who has his eyes on  the money of some rich miser  who certainly is not so happy to part with his money.? Is the poor man transgressing – your shall not covet and desire your fellow's money ?
The root causes of these sins are  ' chemdat mammon –and z'nut – a desire and craving for money, fame, pleasure and women etc. In fact, the reason why these 2 commandments are brought at the end of the 10 commandments is to teach that a strong passion for money and women can be the trigger for a person transgressing all of the 10 commandments. So why did the Torah not state the prohibitions in general terms - Do not covet or desire money, pleasure and women. ? The desire for money, pleasure  and fame = the yetzer ha'ra – the evil inclination,  is crucial for motivating people to get married , develop the world and pass on their genes to the next generation. And the Torah acknowledges its importance when its creation on the last day of creation is called very good and not just good. However the Yetzer Ha'ra= the evil inclination needs to be channeled into the right areas. In this week's portion God promises his people that they are going to inherit a viable economic structure – great and good cities that you did not build, houses filled with good things that you did not fill, orchards and vineyards that you did not plant etc But  God warns them of dangers of the materialistic values and the  pagan religious culture associated with the economic system, something that will cause them to forget God. We too tend to be influenced by the power of capitalism, the society of  luxury and its message – Love things and Use people. We place great value on what we own. People will use others to gain a certain objective and will always see others in a "what can you do for me" way. And we believe that the  pursuit of money, material goods, fame and pleasure will not only bring us happiness , but  also bring relief from suffering and unhappiness. Money can indeed relieve suffering when there is poverty or a true material need , but when money, material goods, fame and pleasure become an end in themselves, they bring misery too. People who rate materialistic goals like wealth as top personal priorities are significantly likelier to be more anxious, more depressed and more frequent drug users, and even to have more physical ailments than those who set their sights on more intrinsic values. Researchers  looked into whether more sexual variety led to greater well-being. Across men and women alike, the data show that the optimal number of partners is one. A  study  tracked  the success of 147 recent graduates in reaching their stated goals after graduation. Some had “intrinsic” goals, such as deep, enduring relationships. Others had “extrinsic” goals, such as achieving reputation or fame. The scholars found that intrinsic goals were associated with happier lives. But the people who pursued extrinsic goals experienced more negative emotions, such as shame and fear. They even suffered more physical illnesses and complaints . The problem with extrinsic goals – money, pleasure and fame  is  that a person's intrinsic needs like deep relationships  are not being met. There is temporary pleasure and satisfaction that is addictive. He needs to taste more pleasure and fame to compensate an ' emptiness and unhappiness.' Mark Spitz says he suffered an incredible emptiness after the 'high' of winning 7 Olympic gold medals was gone. Fame is not only a problem for Celebs . With Facebook , Blogs, likes, friends and visits, a minor form of fame-seeking is within each person's reach. And that makes us unhappy – we share our fake lives and get upset when we do not have  not enough friends, likes or hits like the other guy. We love things and Use people.
What about the 'poor man'  who has his eyes on  the moneyof  some rich miser  who certainly is not so happy to part with his money.? Is the poor man transgressing – your shall not covet and desire your fellow's money ? R' Isaac Sher explains that the poor man wants to find favor in the eyes of the rich man. He wants relationship and love. He wants the rich man do help him because he loves people. His eyes are not on the money , but on the heart of the rich man.
The Dalai Lama gives good advice , it is better to want what you have than to have what you want. And this will help us to Love People and Use things and not Love things and Use People.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Devarim 74 - Criticism and Internalization

The book of Deuteronomy/Devarim  begins with the Rebuke – ' To'chacha ' by Moses of the children of Israel as part of his final address to his people before they enter the Promised Land  under the leadership of Yehoshu'ah. The To'chacha-rebuke  seems pretty mild with Moses hinting at the major sins  like the sin of the Golden calf-' cheit ha'eihel ', the Spies, Korach's rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron,  by just mentioning the names of various places and locations where these sins were committed. The Torah also tells us that Moses addressed his people after Moses himself had conducted the war against the feared Amorite kings, was victorious and conquered  land which would become part of the land of  Israel.

The questions that need to be addressed are (1) why did Moses not mention the sins explicitly and just alluded to them by using place names or other veiled references ? (2)  what is the significance of the timing of the speech  after Moses' victory over the Amorite kings ? (3) The rebuke- to'chacha seems to be out of place, because it is directed against people who were not alive or at most were under 20 years of age at the time of the major sins. Only the sin of Ba'al Pe'or  took place near the end of the 40 years in the desert. And  still Moses said to them – your eyes have seen how God destroyed Ba'al Pe'or and those who served that idolatry, but you  who cling to Hashem- God are alive today. So the people standing before Moses are those who did not sin with regard to Ba'al Pe'or or the other sins.
So to start with the 3rd question . The people standing before Moses may not have committed these sins but on a simple level Moses could be warning them , that if their parents sinned while in a holy environment surrounded by miracles, how much more aware of God's presence they need to be in their new environment. On a deeper level , R' Isaac Sher explains that  a sin has its roots in a person's inner being. A  person  can then give expression to his 'pnimiyut' – internal being in various ways including the actual sin.  In the book of Joshua -  Yehoshuah 22:17  , Pinchas rebukes the tribes of Reu'vein and Gad saying  - 'is the sin of Ba'al Peor too little for us, from which we have not been cleansed until this day  and in the same way  does the  prophet Jeremiah 2:23 – Rashi. The people standing before Moses might not have actually sinned , but   on a deeper level they had not yet been cleansed of  the sins of the golden calf, spies, Korach , Ba'al Peor etc .

To'chacha –rebuke  and criticism are given in the hope that people on the receiving end will ' internalize ' the message and underlying values . Teachers and parents forget that they were once kids and think that in order to emphasize the seriousness and severity of the offence they need to use strong language, a loud voice and even use threats of punishment.. The truth is and this is well researched , the greater the external motivation used , the less internalization of the actual message and underlying values  takes place. Kids in a kindergarten were told not to play with toys if the teacher was not in the room. One group were told that they would be punished if they disobeyed and played with the toys. Both groups did not play with the toys but the group that did not receive the threat of punishment internalized the teacher's message more than the other group. Likewise parents are told , don't discipline out of anger , because the only message that is internalized is the anger and not the message itself. When we criticize or rebuke we need to remember – it is not what we teach them that matters, but what they learn – and often it is  that as a teacher or parent you are unfair and don't understand them and have an anger problem.  So Moses was being sensitive to their dignity and their situation .People generally already feel bad about what they did, so one does not need to pour salt on their wounds. Criticism and rebuke generate a ' counter- will'  in people. If Moses would not have dirtied his hands and fought in a battle and won , people could have challenged him – what right do you have to rebuke us , have you brought us into the promised land as you promised?  Moses wanted that the children of Israel would internalize his message. It meant that they had to reflect on the deepest level to see how they still had not been cleansed from those sins and they still were present in the deeper personalities. This requires a person to feel privileged to be guided by Moses in doing some soul searching and becoming closer to God. This could take place only if Moses would respect their dignity, be sensitive to their sense of shame and guilt , appear to be sincere and at most hint to their sins.

As an alternative to criticism we should just in a neutral tone describe what we see without any judgment. Even better is to reassure the child that we are not angry or  going to punish him  , we just want  engage in collaborative problem solving . In this way the child will be able to internalize and  reflect , be part of the solution and in an autonomous way engage in the moral act of restitution. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Masei 74 - Journeys and Experiences

The parasha-portion of Masei begins with  -'  these are the journeys   '    -  a list of  journeys and the   42 stations that  made up  the route that Israel followed from Egypt to the Promised Land .  Numbers 33:2  reads'  Moshe wrote their 'Goings forth' according to their 'Journeys' at the bidding of Hashem- God' , and then the verse repeats this but  reverses  the order  -'these were their Journeys according to their Goings forth

 מוצאיהם למסעיהם על פי יהוה ,ואלה מסעיהם למוצאיהם
The verse highlights journeys, departures or going forth and this is done at the bidding of God. Rabbi Lev Gurvitz takes the Going forth – מוצאיהם on a deeper level. These are the experiences with which the people departed on the next stage of their journey. In the same way, we can take journeys as symbolizing our purpose, goals and objectives. The first part of the verse highlights our goals. Our experiences must be assessed in terms of our goals. The second part of the verse highlights our experiences and process. We set goals in order that we should have experiences. Both are important, but ultimately process, experiences and making meaning of what we do and what happens to us is what life is all about. Going on holiday to a certain place, is not about the place but more about our ability to experience the place and to go forth as changed people. Our purpose and experiences need a context. The context  is our values, faith and belief    -it  means that our purpose, goals and experience are at the bidding of God- Hashem - על פי ה'

Doing things according to God's bidding or command gives one more than just a context. Hashem-God's goal and purpose was that the ' journeys' would prepare Israel for life in the Promised Land and in the exile. How could the spiritual life in the desert and wilderness prepare Israel for the future? Life in the wilderness was unpredictable.  People were not sure that the Mann, the heavenly bread would fall from heaven the following day. They were also not sure if tomorrow they would be still be camped in the same place or they would have to ' go forth'.  There was nothing permanent and stable about their lives.

 In fact, this lack of permanence and predictability poses the following question.On the Sabbath , it is forbidden to destroy a permanent building - סותר in order to build בנין  a new building in its place. This Halacha –law, is learned from the dismantling of the tabernacle – mishkan in the desert, so the camp of Israel could move on to the next station. And there the tabernacle was re-assembled. The tabernacle- miskan was not a permanent dwelling and it was re-assembled in a different location. The Talmud answers that the' journeys and going forth-departures' were  done at the bidding of God- Hashem, so it is as if the Tabernacle was re-assembled in the same place and  it was  given a sense of permanence and eternity. Despite the  unpredictable nature of life in the wilderness  , a life directed by the word of God – על פי ה-gave  life stability and permanence needed for growth and change from the inside.  This inner faith and stability is essential for living in the land of Israel and vital for Jews to survive the long exile and migration from one country to the next. It makes it easier to move from one country to the next, if one is a man of faith because a man of faith does not change his boss. His life is by the bidding of God-Hashem – על פי ה'

As parents and teachers we need to teach kids that it is not the journeys or holiday resorts that  entertain us and create experiences, but we ourselves need to invest, find meaning and create the experiences and lessons. Our experiences will be guided by our goals, purpose and objectives- the road we decide to travel.  When we visit historical sites, we don't remember what happened there but we use history as a resource to create new experiences, meaning and lessons. Our belief in God and following His direction not only gives us a context of values and faith, but provides for stability and permanence needed for internal  growth.  It does not matter if we are forever travelling, because we are always standing before God- Hashem, experiencing the world and His presence. Even when we remain in one place , we can still be moving - upwards, becoming greater people. And through learning and reading with emotional intensity we can be in one place and yet travel in time and place and create so many new experiences. We don't need physical 'journeys' to create experiences. It is our experiences and not our travels and journeys that define our destiny and bring us to our life's true destination.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Matot 74 -The Secret of Effective Motivation

The Parasha of Mattot deals with the request of tribes Gad and Reu'vein not to cross the Jordan and inherit a portion in the land of Israel  – the land of milk and honey but on the east bank of the Jordan .   R' Issac Sher explains that they saw their vast herds of cattle as a gift from God and a sign that  cattle breeding was the  occupation that God intended for them. This how they would serve the nation and make a contribution to the economy. They now saw the East bank, suited to cattle breeding , as rightfully theirs. In fact, there is no argument on this point. Moses only criticizes them for their immoral choice not to cross over the Jordan and join their ' brothers ' in the mitzvah of conquering the Land of Israel. . The tribes of Gad and Re'uvein explained that they would build pens for their sheep and cattle, and cities for their children and then arm themselves in order to take the front positions in the battle before the children of Israel. Moses corrects them  – children are one's first priority- not money , build cities for the children and then pens for the sheep etc . .If the motives of Gad and Re'uvein to inherit the East bank were internal and part of their service of God, what went wrong that the tribes were unsuccessful and  the first to be exiled?
The answer can be found in a  Research Project  of American military cadets from the West Point military academy. Being in the military has both internal –intrinsic (lishma) and instrumental – extrinsic- (lo lishma) consequences. Examples of internal consequences – becoming a leader and making a contribution, or  enjoying the military way of life are inherently related to the job etc whereas status, making money and  good job  conditions are instrumental- extrinsic consequences. The question asked – how did the motives of the cadets impact on their careers in the army. Cadets who were internally motivated did much better than those cadets who joined the military because instrumental –extrinsic motives like status and job conditions. But what about mixes of motives, surely 2 motives - high internal and instrumental are better than one= high internal . 
Remarkably, cadets with strong internal and strong instrumental motives for attending West Point performed worse on every measure than did those with strong internal motives but weak instrumental ones. They were less likely to graduate, less outstanding as military officers and less committed to staying in the military.
Strong instrumental and materialistic motives undermine intrinsic Mastery orientated learning and shifts the learners' attention and goals from competence development to   competence demonstration or performance goals. Their focus is on ' achievement' rather than on the process. They 'have' knowledge so that they can pass an exam, get good grades or a degree …..But the content does not become part of their own individual system of thought, enriching it and widening it…This leads to superficial learning, lower Mastery goals and higher performance avoidance goals when the tasks are challenging so as not to appear unsuccessful.
There is a story of a student who asked his Zen Master, how long will it take for him to find Zen. The Master replied – at least 10 years. I f I really apply myself and work very hard, how long will it take me? The Master replied 15 years. And if I tripled my efforts, how long will it take me? The Master replied 20 years. The disappointed student then said to the Master, I don't understand – when I work even harder to achieve my goal it takes longer! The Master answered – when you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye left on the path.
The Talmud talks negatively about those who learn with their left hands –their motives are instrumental ,they focus on achievement , checking to see how many pages are left to finish the masechta=tractate , rather than   learning with the right hand and having internal motives. Here the focus is on the process, being on the page and understanding it deeply.
When businessmen are driven by internal motives – enjoying what they do and having a mission of serving the public, they are financially successful. However the tribes of Gad and Re'uvein, despite these internal motives failed to see how setting up business on the East bank would not be serving the nation but would    undermine the morale and confidence of Israel. They were also making a value statement of choosing to live far from the spiritual centers and in a less holy location. Financial gain made their decision hurried and impulsive and blinded them in not be able to see that sometimes financial opportunities may God's way of testing them, rather than a validation of their business policies and vision. The problem with their decision to ask to settle on the East Bank was the timing of their request.
As parents, teachers and employers we should help  people focus on internal motives rather than making financial or other instrumental  consequences their motives. This guarantees not only intrinsic reward but also better quality of work and learning and success in its widest meaning.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Pinchas 74 Leadership and Mentoring

In  the Parashat-Portion of Pinchas, Moshe – Moses asks God to appoint a new  leader in the hope that one of his sons who he considered worthy  would succeed him. According to the Medrash God said to Moses. ---   “He who keeps the fig tree shall eats its fruit” (Proverbs 27:28). Your sons ( in comparison to Yehoshuah's learning ) sat idly by and did not study the Torah. Joshua served you faithfully and showed you great honor. It was he who rose early in the morning and remained late at night at your House of Assembly. He used to arrange the benches and spread the mats. Seeing that he has served you with all his might, he is worthy to serve Israel, for he shall not lose his reward.
 Besides being a Man of the Spirit,  Medrash notes that Yehoshuah was chosen because he served Moshe and was dedicated to Moses's  mission  of teaching  Israel  the Torah. So why does this make  Yehoshuah  worthy as Moses successor  and qualify him for the leadership above all other contenders?
A.      ' shimush Talmidei Chachamim- serving sages  '  The informal learning and perception  that comes with serving a great Sage and having a special personal bond are lessons about life of the community and leadership that one cannot learn from formal lectures and shi'urim.
B.      Quality of Learning. The Gemarah – Baba Kama 20b as explained by R' Shimon Skop  in the introduction to his book Shaarei Yasher , relates how Rami Bar Chana asked Rav Chisda to perform a personal service for him. This would prove his desire to learn from him , properly reflect  and toil over his answer  as one would toil over the words of one's esteemed Rabbi, teacher and mentor. Only then would he answer Rav Chisda's question.  Rabbi David Lapin infers from this that  serving a great sage – shimush Talmidei Chachamim - impacts on the quality of one's learning ,allowing one to appreciate the subtleties of the teacher's words  and read between the lines . In this way Joshua became Moshe's talmid and disciple.
C.      Serving people and the nation – The Netziv explains that God commanded Moses that  he should place and stand Joshua before Elazar the Kohen-priest and the entire assembly in order to  show him – these are the people you have to empathize and be patient with as you engage in your mission of serving them,  serving your people. Leadership is about service.
Yehoshuah  was the most qualified in all these 3 areas. Serving Moshe  gave Yehoshuah  specialized knowledge and perception about life , leadership and the community. It also  gave Yehoshuah a new deeper understanding of Moshe's teachings and  made him a  person dedicated to serving the community. Being a Talmid –disciple is a precondition for Torah leadership.
For Aaron, passing the crown-keter  of Kehuna- priesthood was not a problem. The Kehuna was already a family business and Aaron had the personality to make sure his sons would carry on his life mission as priests. But one cannot  pass on the crown –keter of Torah. It  depends on the disciple- the Talmid taking the crown . The Rabbi cannot pass it on. It depends on the Disciple/talmid seeking out a mentor and serving him and thereby becoming  the most qualified person  in Israel for the job. It is the passion with which the disciple makes the sage his Rabbi and Mentor that puts him in the position as the bearer of the tradition for the next generation.
One of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child is to expose him to people who can become his mentors. Because of the more democratic relationship , trust and bonding occurs with much formal and informal learning and guidance taking place. Boys learning with young men from the local Kollel , or kids helping out young adults with their families are opportunities for mentoring relationships. But ultimately the success of a mentoring program depends on the child.
I will end off with a story about David Neils the founder of Tele-mentoring, an organization providing professional mentors for eager and talented pupils. One morning, when David was six years old, he walked over to Mr. Clawson's garage to see what he was building. Mr. Clawson was always inventing something. That day, he was working on a contraption to clean up oil spills in the ocean. David was impressed. Mr. Clawson showed David how his device worked, talking to him as an equal. He then asked David to critique his design and offer suggestions for improvement. This genius was asking a six year old for improvements on an invention that would clean up oil spills! That simple gift of encouragement from Mr. Clawson changed David's life forever. David realized that his own thoughts about the world had value. He was on cloud nine for days and felt he could pursue anything and be successful.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Balak 74 - Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation - Lishmah

Balak the king of Moav has a genuine fear of Israel now camped on the borders of his country. He enlists the sorcerer and seer   Bilaam to engage in some unconventional warfare and curse the children of Israel. Bilam suggests that they offer sacrifices to God. Balak is rewarded by God for this despite his not pure motives by having as his descendants   Ruth the Moabite, the great-great grandmother of King Solomon who would bring 'for the sake of heaven –lishmah'   a 1000 offerings. Bilam is punished for his purely negative and destructive intentions – le'kanter. 

The Talmud learns from Balak that if one feels bad that he is involved in learning and positive deeds for the wrong reasons, he should not stop,  for  one who develops the habit of doing a   positive act for extrinsic reasons will eventually come to do it with intrinsic motivation –' metoch shelo leshma ba leshma'. This principle is reinforced by the words of the Chinuch (Mitzvah 15) that 'achrei hapeulot nimshuchim halevavot' - a person’s heart follows his actions. A superficial understanding of the Talmud and the Chinuch, and a notion that kids aren't intrinsically motivated to know more about the Torah and their world  has been responsible for a blind faith in the power of rewards, incentives and competition to get positive behaviors with no effort made to help kids internalize the values underlying the behaviors. Alfie Kohn  in his book Punished by Rewards shares the research why gold stars, incentive plans, bonuses, grades- A's, praise and other bribes impact negatively not only on achievement but also on a commitment to values. – See my brief summary Why rewards Fail here. Dr Sorotzkin shares the attitudes of Torah sages with regard to competition and rewards. 

R' Isaac Sher questions the understanding of the powerful nature of extrinsic motivation – lo lishmah. In the real world the process from extrinsic – lo lishmah to intrinsic –lishmah motivation is far from automatic and full of dangers. There are plenty of examples of even great scholars whose learning was lo lishmah – for extrinsic reasons and not only did they not come to learn and do positive things but lost their place in the ' next world'. There are examples of many kids who were pushed or who pushed themselves to learn, pray, do good deeds and the like for many years as a means of avoiding criticism and/or gaining approval, and even did it well, yet at some point they lost steam with no evidence of internalized motivation. R' Isaac Sher says that Balak a spark of pure motivation for the sake of heaven which germinated into a flame of holiness when King Solomon  offered his sacrifices .From the words of the sages-Cha'zal and R' Isaac Sher it is clear that that a child  ,has to have some minimal degree of intrinsic motivation first – mitoch ha'lo lishma – from within the lo lishma there is a kernel of lishma =intrinsic motivation which the child can further develop if he has a strong desire for the development of intrinsic motivation = ba lishmah. The lo lishma = the extrinsic motivation has to be experienced not as a  tool of manipulation and control used by parents or teachers but be chosen and self- determined by the child to help him achieve his goal = lishmah. If he has difficulty in concentrating and focusing on his learning and prayers, he may reward himself if he succeeds in being focused and not wasting time for the whole week. . But better than the reward to deal with his Yeitzer Ha'ra = inclinations, is to come up with a plan that deals with the underlying problem. Motivators ignore the underlying problem. R' Isaac Sher talks about the importance of deepening our intellects using thinking, creativity, imagination, curiosity – wonder, and action =learning by doing. R' Isaac Sher further notes that if we want positive actions to have an effect on a person and his motives = his heart following his actions, his action needs to be done in a thoughtful way with careful attention to all the details and ' dikduk h'amitzvah' – finer points of the mitzvah. The motives doing the action maybe ' le'lo lishmah ' but has to be done a 'lishmah' way.  In this way he is no longer occupied with his' lo lishmah – extrinsic motives '. In any case learning or doing positive deeds so he will ensure a place in the next world or become a Rabbi with all the honor involved is more about purpose and long- term  goals rather than providing ' in the moment ' drive and motivation.

This understanding is rather different from what is happening in schools and in the homes. Learning and behavior is controlled and driven by the lo lishma – extrinsic motivation, so kids learn to ask , how well am I doing instead of what am I doing , what will I get or what will be done to me , instead of grappling with what type of person I want to be and internalizing their learning.
Instead of rewards, grades and competition, we can create an environment which focuses on making learning intrinsically valuable by adopting the 4 Cs of intrinsic motivation – Community- Cooperative learning, Choice- autonomy ,Content- engaging curriculum and Competence. Materialism can be used not as an incentive but as Rabbi Matitiyahu Salomon says to give learning an association with joy and fun.