Sunday, November 2, 2014

Vayerah 75 - Yishmael - Vision and Self Compassion

Abraham's oldest son, Yishmael became both a physical and spiritual threat to Yitzchak= Isaac's existence. Sarah insisted that Abraham should divorce Hagar and expel them from his home. This challenged Abraham as he was one who brought people into his home and not one who drove people away from him. God tells Abraham to listen to Sarah. But Abraham would still be support and be concerned about Yismael's welfare.  As long as Hagar continued to serve God as she did in Abraham's home, they had plenty of water but when they wandered into the desert of Be'er Sheva her mind longed for her father's home and idolatry. They soon had no water and Yishmael became extremely thirsty, sick and close to death. At a time of great danger a man is judged by God. Yishmael was guilty of serving idolatry and deserved to die. The angels argued that God should not perform a miracle and save Yishmael because after the destruction of the first temple, the children of Israel would suffer at the hands of the Yishmaelim, his descendants as exiles being marched to Babylon. God replied that he judges man and so  Yishmael, not on his past = idolatry and not  on the future= he would become a highway man and rob travelers instead of becoming a law enforcement officer and avenging God's enemies. But  God is interested and judges where man is holding in the present-אשר הוא שם. In his prayers to be saved, Yishmael did Teshuvah, repented and created a new vision of himself as a Tzadik, someone who serves God and is associated with holiness and doing good.

As parents and teachers we don't need to be judgmental and punish - and that's the problem with praise, its judgmental nature, but we need  to help kids be in a different place. Some kid's self-esteem is so low that they don't see themselves as kids who can enjoy and be creative or even just having any connection with learning. They don't see themselves as essentially good people that can make a contribution in a pro-social way. We can show these kids that they are indeed valued like the greatest sages of the generation, for if the sage was ordered by the Governor to kill a kid or lose his life, he cannot save his life by killing the kid because who says that his blood is redder than the kid's blood – you have no right to murder the kid to save yourself, his life is no less valuable than his own- Sanhedrin 74A. We can help them reflect on ' their possible selves' and show that they like every human being have unique qualities and potential to make a contribution and enjoy learning. A new vision creates a new future and can help deal with the past.

We need to accept kids unconditionally. The more kids are accepted conditionally, by the way they behave or perform at school, they experience affection with strings attached, and so they tend to accept themselves only with strings attached and this lowers their perception of over-all worth as a person. But if we have positive expectations of kids and see them as good and positive people, according to the Pygmalion affect they will meet our expectations.

We need to help kids acquire a ' growth mindset and more self-compassion'. The problem with sin or failing is not the sin itself or failure but not getting up and getting back on track. Rav Hutner quotes Proverbs 24:15 – 7 times a saint =Tzadik will fall and then he will get up in order to encourage students not to despair because of failure or sin. Kids with a fixed mindset think that their qualities like  intelligence, talent , midot = character traits are fixed, whereas kids with a growth mindset see that abilities and character traits can be developed by effort, dedication, hard work and most important a love and passion for what one is doing.

Self-compassion helps kids  get over making mistakes, not despairing but seeing mistakes as our friends, opportunities for new learning and growth. When the focus is on the process, rather than achievement, the journey rather than the destination you are more likely to be more accurate in assessing your abilities and coming up with a better plan which will help you reach your destination. Kids that are hard on themselves tend to despair and throw in the towel and give-up. They focus on the ' self ' as an object and tend to judge and evaluate themselves. Kids who view the self as an object react by saying ' How could "I"  ( capital I )  do that ?  Have feelings of guilt and shame which get in the way, while kids who said ' How could I do THAT, did not focus on the self but on their actions and were successful in changing.

But most important is simply to help kids connect to learning and Torah values without being judgmental. Kids don't connect to learning or Torah values because we have taught them to focus on how well they are doing and not on what they are doing. If we help kids become intrinsically motivated and solve problems in a collaborative way without rewards or punishment we can connect kids to Torah values and learning. Competition, ranking kids one against each other , conditional acceptance , being judgmental – praise and criticism, get in the way of kids acquiring a growth mindset, stable self-esteem and having self- compassion to deal with sin, mistakes and failure and have a vision of themselves of good, successful people connected to learning and Torah values.- 

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