Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Beshalach -75 Guidelines or Rules

After the miracle of the splitting of Red Sea, the Israelites sing the prophetic Song by the Sea – שירת הים.  In verse 2 the Israelites proclaim –'This is my God and I will glorify him.'  זה אלי ואנוהו- . The Sages learn from the word ' ואנוהו ' different teachings and interpretations. The verse teaches us a guiding principle of life – that we should try to emulate God's ways and resemble him in our interpersonal relationships – "אני והו  " I and him. Just as He is gracious and merciful, so should you be. The verse can be read - this is my God and I will build him a sanctuary = מקדש   from the word נוה, a home. The ultimate sanctuary is when a person makes himself a sanctuary for the Divine Presence by making himself holy and emulating God's ways. A third teaching is that we are encouraged to serve God in a beautiful manner – be beautiful in front of God with Mitzvoth, from  the word נוי  - beauty, by seeking and buying a beautiful etrog, lulav,tefilin , Torah scroll etc.  We should spend an extra third of one's money for hidur mitzvah – to beautify the mitzvah.

It seems that we have 2 expressions of glorifying God – by resembling and emulating God in our man to man mitzvoth and buying beautiful objects of Mitzvah that give value to the God- Man mitzvoth. Every Man - man mitzvah has an element of the Man- God relationship as God commands us to relate to people in His way. But what about Man- God mitzvoth, must we also see them in the context of man -man mitzvoth.

If a person spends more than an extra third for ' Hidur Mitzvah ' – adding beauty and gives value to the mitzvah, he enjoys the fruits of the Mitzvah – the reward in this world, and his reward in the spiritual world to come is not diminished. R' Isaac Sher says that we have a principle that there is no reward in this world for Mitzvoth that are between man and God. Only mitzvoth between Man and man are also rewarded in this world, because besides doing God's will, a person sees fruits to his actions in that his actions impact on and benefit others. God rewards him for this in a way that he will have the means and more opportunities to continue making an even bigger impact.  R' Isaac Sher asks - how come for a God-man mitzvah a person is rewarded in this world when it done with extra-ordinary hidur – beauty? The answer is just as we impact on others in a positive way in our man- man mitzvoth so too, we can impact and impress on others the value and importance of God-man mitzvoth by the way we do and relate to these mitzvoth.

We see that in both the Man-man and God-man mitzvoth we tried to make a contribution and impact on other peoples' lives in a physical, emotional and spiritual way.

The tragedy of modern education is that we focus mainly on behaviors of the child and not the whole child. We ignore feelings, values and motives that are behind the behaviors or mitzvoth. We have a blind faith in extrinsic motivation, the ' lo lishmah ' and will use all the bribes, prizes and rewards to get behaviors and mitzvoth and ignore why the kid is doing the mitzvah. The only thing we are teaching  the kid is to ask – what will I get if I do this , what will be done to me if  I don't or do this , in short – what's in it for me. The kid is made to think about consequences, but only consequences for himself. We use praise to help the kid think about himself, instead of helping the kid reflect on how his actions impact on others. We teach rules and the consequences and punishments for breaking these rules. We don't teach values and encourage commitment to these values. We don't give children ' guidelines for living' that will give them a vision and guide their behavior.

R' Isaac Sher brings to our attention the opening words of the Mesilat Yesharim – the Path of the Just explaining man's duty in his world. The Mesilat Yesharim does not say on what man must work and labor, but begins by saying that, man must clarify his purpose in life, attitude, direction and orientation that will guide and give value to his life. The Torah gives guidelines by which we can give purpose and direction to our lives. The verse we have been discussing – זה אלי ואנוהו teaches us guiding principles of life – that we should try to emulate God's ways and resemble him in our interpersonal relationships. Just as He is gracious and merciful, so should you be. We can try and make ourselves a sanctuary – מקדש for God and impact on others in a physical, emotional and spiritual way.

As parents and teachers we should be focusing on Torah values and guidelines for life and how our actions impact on others around us and not on rules and consequences. So kids will be able to reflect on what type of people they would like to be    and say –' this is my God and I will glorify Him' , emulate His ways  and become a sanctuary for His divine presence.

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