Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Terumah 75 – Setting Limits – Restrictions or Guidelines

Parashat Terumah deals with God's instructions to build a Tabernacle- mishkan –to be  a resting place for God's presence. The most important component of the mishkan was the Ark of the Covenant – ארון הברית which housed the tablets – לוחות העדות a testimony to God's revelation. After the revelation at Mount Sinai, God would continue to communicate with Moshe and teach him the Torah in the mishkan =the tabernacle or also called  'tent of meeting' – אוהל מועד.                                             Moshe stood before the Ark, its covering and the keruvim, from between which God spoke to him.
The Ark-aron itself was made from 'acacia wood '- עצי שיטים. The inner box was made from wood and 2 other boxes in a sense covered or plated the inner box with gold, one from the inside and the other from the outside. The wood symbolizes the dynamic, flexible and living nature of the Torah which is made possible through the Sages- חכמים   and their application of the ' Oral Law' – תורה שבעל פה. The gold plating symbolizes the Torah and God's immutable and unchanging spiritual laws and methodology. At Mount Sinai, God gave the Sages the power to create Halacha- a legal system using God's immutable spiritual laws, principles and methodology. The Halacha governs every aspect of life and has the dynamism to adapt to changing times and situations without losing any of its authenticity and deviating from Torah's principles. It is because the Torah is not in heaven- לא בשמים היא   ,  the Sages have the power to create Halacha and we must follow them "ועשית ככל אשר יורך- לא תסור מכל אשר יורך " that the Torah has been able to adapt to changes and new situations and  yet remain authentic.

The way the Sages derive the Halacha- law from the situation and Torah principles gives us an insight how we should set limits or more important how we help kids set their own limits.

Setting limits and boundaries is an important part of parenting. However the way we set limits can impact negatively on the moral development of children, restrict them and thwart their autonomy and set off challenging behavior and the resistance of kids with difficulties. Limit setting should be used to create structure. It should not be used to restrict kids and make them feel controlled. One does not have to be controlling to create structure, and it is structure with its limits that offers kids more freedom. 'The question - Thomas Gordon, the author of P.E.T – Parent Effectiveness Training says is not whether limits and boundaries are necessary but the question is who sets them? Is it parents unilaterally imposing limits on their children or are parents and kids working together to figure out what makes sense. When we 'work together' with children and collaboratively solve problems by addressing both our concerns and the kids concerns,  and then brainstorming a mutual satisfying solution we have actually set a limit. When parents concerns are being addressed by the solution, we have set a limit in a collaborative way.

When we talk about limits and boundaries in general , the question then becomes what kinds of limits and boundaries are we talking about - how specific or behavioral should they be – are we talking about  boundaries and limits  as opposed to broadly conceived guidelines that can inform a lot of our activities for eg  - a limit on not hurting other people, addressing the needs of others, being empathic, kind and respectful etc .Don't we want kids to derive limits and guidelines on how to act from the situation itself and what other people need ? If so, then our coming up with limits, and especially specific behavioral limits and imposing them on kids makes it less likely that kids will become moral people who say that the situation decrees a kind of a boundary for appropriate ways to act and I will be guided by that my whole life, An example would be the different thinking a kid would have when faced with a bowl of cookies and would love to eat all of them because ' I am hungry and I love cookies '. When the parent imposes a limit – ' You can take only one cookie ' = I cannot take more because mom said I can have only one or else, or where the kid thinks,' I would love to eat all the cookies but there are others kids around too and they are also hungry so I will make sure that everyone has cookies too.' In some situations the kid will offer friends and go without a cookie. When parents say ' you must share because I said so' and follow up with a patronizing pat on the head ' good sharing ', the wrong message gets internalized. I am sharing because mom says so and because I will get a verbal reward for sharing. And when kids refrain from doing something, we want them to ask if doing X is wrong and   how  will doing X impact on the other kids and not ask - am I allowed to do X and what will happen to me if I do X.?  The limits on kid's behavior, in other words, should be experienced as intrinsic to the situation.

The Torah gives us guidelines by which we can give purpose and direction to our lives. They will guide and inform our behavior helping us and our children to derive the limit from the situation itself, so that limits are experienced intrinsic to the situation. We want to reframe the concepts of limits, not as restrictions, limits or boundaries that adults impose on kids, but  our children acting in a moral way by  deriving  the limit from the situation itself, so that limits are experienced intrinsic to the situation.  

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