Monday, April 13, 2015

Tazriah-Metzorah 75 - A positive attitude

Our sedras Tazriah – Metzorah deal in the main with the spiritual skin disease called Tza'ra'at. God's divine presence leaves a person's body and this causes changes in the body and skin of a person - a sign of his contamination and impurity. The disease is a response and a message from God to repent and mend his ways. It is his negative attitude to people that stems from his arrogance and self-righteousness that makes him speak badly – lashon ha'ra about others and be miserly with his money and wealth.  He has to dress like a mourner – torn clothes, covers his head and lips and his head is unshaven. He is to live in isolation outside the camp for 7 days until he becomes pure again and if anyone approaches he has to call out and warn them that he is contaminated. By speaking badly about others he has ignored the special connection that people have as being the children of God. He has caused rifts and separation between friends and spouses by his talk, so he needs time in isolation to be reflective and appreciate the importance of connectedness, relationship and belonging to a person. Without the need of belonging and connection being met, a person is considered as having no life, as being dead - 'chavruta o' mi'tutah ', if I don't have a learning partner, I would rather not live. He is thus in mourning for himself, but can change his destiny by changing his thinking by first appreciating that every person is special as a child of God.

 The verse says –Leviticus 13:45  Contaminated, contaminated he will call out. It can be read as he who is contaminated calls others  ' contaminated'.טמא –טמא יקרא, echoing the words of the Sages that a person who disqualifies and degrades people usually suffers from the same bad character traits.הפוסל -במומו פוסל  This is called projection. We try to deny any of our own problems and faults and 'project' it onto to others. When we blame and condemn others for it, it is easier to deny that we have any problems of our own. It blinds us to our own faults and we see only the faults of others.

Another way of explaining why the ' lashon ha'ra ' – evil speech is more a reflection of the speaker and not about the other person is that we are what we choose to see and what bothers us. It reflects on who we are on the deepest levels of our souls – שורש נשמתו.  People have an inner need to validate their beliefs and feelings. So a negative and critical person has a need to justify his position. He will not only look out for the bad and negative, interpret people's actions or words in a negative way; he will also talk to others about what he has seen in other people. The good, positive and optimistic person sees the good in each person and situation, and acts accordingly. When Rabbi Akiva saw a fox come out of the place of the Holy of Holies in the destroyed temple, he unlike his colleagues rejoiced. They saw the fulfillment of the prophecies that spoke of the destruction of the temple and were sad. Rabbi Akiva saw in the destruction the seeds of renewal and resurrection. That just like this prophecy has come true, so will all future prophecies about the rebuilding of Jerusalem come true. Likewise the courts of law, batei din have to look for the positive and try to find a redeeming factor that will save the accused from the death penalty.
As parents and educators finding the positive in kids, no matter what they have done, will not only save them, our relationship with them but also ourselves.  Dr. Ken Ginsburg works with ' at risk ' teenagers. He says that focusing on their negative behaviors - drug taking and selling, being involved in gangs and risky behavior that could lead to pregnancy and disease will just push kids further away.  Because telling them how destructive their behaviors are, is just blaming and shaming them. The only way we can reach them is with love and respect. So he listens to their stories looking for that positive thread. The teenager involved with drugs is stressed out and using drugs to deal with and numb his feelings. That means he has feelings, a soul and cares. The teenager involved in a gang has incredible loyalty, a trait needed in order to make a contribution in the world.  The teenage girl is looking for love and wants to give love back and nurture a child. We need to look beyond the destructive behaviors of these teenagers and see a different person, to see who they are on the deepest levels of their souls. Once we have connected to these kids at this level, we can help them connect to their real selves, deal with problems and live up to our and their expectations as contributing and caring individuals.

When we start to view our challenging child or student in a positive light, we ourselves become liberated from negative thoughts and feelings. We are able see our role in the dynamic and see the child or student's perspective. We come less focused on our need for honor, respect and control and focus more on what our child or student needs from us.  Problems are reframed as challenges and opportunities for growth, empowerment and connection now that we have a positive and' working with relationship' with the child.

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