Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Emor 75 - Are you a parent or policeman ?

The portion-parasha of Emor begins with God's command to Moses – SAY to the Kohanim –the priests, the sons of Aaron and TELL them not to contaminate or defile themselves by coming into contact with dead people except their relatives.   -                                             

  אמר אל הכוהנים בני אהרון    ואמרת  אלהם לנפש לא יטמא בעמיו  

The double expression – Say and tell -אמר ואמרת   conveys the importance of this commandment to the Kohanim to maintain a purity, consistent with them being the spiritual leaders of the community. The sages add that the apparent   redundancy implies that the adult Kohanim as parents have to be cautioned and warned to be concerned about the purity of their children and not cause their children to contaminated by the dead. – להזהיר גדולים על הקטנים  .The Rambam -  Avel 3:12 states that adults are not allowed to physically defile or contaminate children, but if the children  themselves on their own accord contaminate themselves  , the Beit Din-Law courts  as the authority that sees that the people are keeping and observing God's commandments doesn't have to interfere and remove the child from sinning. The child's parents however have a duty to educate the child in holiness.

The Rambam changes his language when he talks about parents. He does not explicitly say that the parents in contrast to the Beit Din-Law courts  have to remove the child from sin, but that parents' obligation is to educate him in holiness. That goes way beyond removing him from sin. It is more about being pro-active educating their children in holiness so that they become God fearing and caring people, free of sin.

Being pro-active educators is crucial especially for the Kohanim. They have to set higher standards for their children. Other people are allowed to defile themselves. They have to teach their kids that other children may behave and act in a certain manner , it is OK for them , but not for you.

  The problem with traditional parenting is that it is 'reactive '. Parents are usually responding to misbehavior '  in the  moment  , by removing him from the situation and threatening him with a time-out or being  put in solitary isolation in his room. Rewarding a child is also reactive, is experienced as controlling and also as punishment if the kid does not get the reward and privileges are withdrawn. 

The best way to prevent problems is to deal with them before they happen. Education should be pro-active, being pro-active in providing structure, a safe and pure environment free from contamination and impurity and triggers that cause challenging behavior. Parents should be teaching lagging skills, solving problems in a collaborative way usually 'out of the moment ', and having expectations of the child appropriate to his personality and developmental age. The parent has to set  an example , impart to their children the beauty and spiritual light of the commandments  - from the word  Zohar, le'hazhir- להזהיר –זוהר  and give  his  children a sense of pride and responsibility that goes with  being the sons of Aaron. He has to give his kids a sense of their purpose , mission and role in the community that goes beyond the commandment of not defiling themselves.  Manoach, the father of Shimshon- Samson sensed the challenge of raising a child in holiness different from other children. The angel said to him – Do what I said to your wife  concerning  your son  -  Rabbi Schwab said that Manoach was given advice to  also take on the life style of his son, and in this way he will have more success in raising his son.

Providing structure supports the autonomy, true freedom and competence of the child, and limits the impact of external stimuli so he learns to make ' intentional choices ' that reflect his values and personality   and meets true needs.  Passive external stimuli hinder a child's freedom to be himself, because they become what shapes   his choices. The choice of simply ' wanting ' something is often because the experience of TV, media, candy or peers has created an illusion of a need. The addiction to sugar, TV, cell phones, videos etc   means that the 'sugar' and cell phone are choosing. Families that have plenty of sugar, sweets and soft drinks in the home in addition to healthy food are not providing choice and true freedom for kids. It is the sugar and the advertising that comes with it that chooses what the child eats. Instead of wooden or natural toys that require the kids to use their imaginations and generate games and activities as 'subjects', kids have so many toys and some of them so overwhelming entertaining   that they cannot make intentional choices. Too much choice is no choice. 

We can avoid being controlling and need to thwart the child's autonomy by not exposing kids to unsafe and inappropriate situations and activities. We can provide a child with a safe environment, set the boundaries and limits which are age appropriate and then join the child's exploration and follow his lead. A good example is a park and playground which is safe and age appropriate. The child is able to lead with the parent following providing minimum guidance.  Structure also provides an environment conducive to child led play that is crucial for the development of many cognitive, social, emotional and physical skills.

 One can provide structure without being controlling and thereby support the autonomy of the child. People conflate control and structure, and hold that 'structure ' in a family requires the use of extrinsic motivators and contingent reinforcement. This  is an approach of a policeman, reactive and controlling rather than being creative and pro-active. Parents should give kids a sense of purpose and mission ,  solve problems collaboratively, create  an environment that is safe, holy and promotes the autonomy  of the child. 

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