שופטים ושוטרים תתן לך בכל שעך' ' The parasha of Shoftim opens with the commandment to appoint for yourselves judges and police officers in all your cities. In our daily prayers we ask God to 'restore our judges as in the earliest times and counselors at first ' - השיבה שופטינו כבראשונה ויועצינו כבתחלה. The obvious question is what happened to the policemen, why don't we pray for the restoration of a police force. There is a need for police especially in the light that religious courts are said to have ' no teeth ' and lack authority, something that has been a feature of the religious legal system for centuries. (Something to wonder about).In education, likewise there are many religious educators who long for the days where punishments were ' effective ' tools in educating kids in Torah. Nevertheless, we pray for judges and counselors who can guide and inspire us to follow and keep God's Torah and not for policemen who will enforce God's law.
A legal system in a country and the state of law, order and morality are not only dependent on judges and policemen but on the moral standing of the population. In our verse above, God also calls on all individuals, on an individual level to be their own personal judges and policemen who reflect, make personal judgments on how to act and monitor their own behavior. In fact, the breakdown of law and order in many countries has more to do with the lack of moral standing of its population than government instruments for maintaining law and order. The Mishnah Pirkei Avos 3:2 ' Rabbi Chanina the deputy [High] Priest said: Pray for the welfare of the government (lit., monarchy), for if not for its fear, a person would swallow his fellow live." seems to be not quite relevant for a time when there is no longer any fear for governments. We pray that we should be intrinsically motivated to be people who follow the Torah because it is the right thing to do and we appreciate God's Torah values and the Divine intelligence. In the same way, we want our kids not to hit or speak badly to other kids because of what will happen to them, but because they are people who love others and don't hit or hurt the feelings of others.
We pray that not only should the religious courts replace secular courts but more important we should relate to religious courts from a true religious perspective. R' Isaac Sher explains that if we go to a religious court – beit din with intention to defend our rights and property we have transformed a beit din into a secular court. We go to beit din to seek guidance, to know how God wants us to act in this situation and resolve the conflict. The status of religious courts depends on our attitude and appreciation of their religious roles in our lives.
The Ohr Hachaim on our verse ' shoftim ve'shotrim ' brings a Pesikta in the name of R' Elazar ben Shamuah – if there are no Officers to enforce the law there is no commandment to appoint judges, but if the people voluntary listen and comply with the courts' decisions then there is a commandment to appoint judges. And this judge is called a judge and an officer. So in our daily prayers we pray for judges who will lead by greatness and in this way people will listen and comply with their decisions. So we need great judges and also people who appreciate their greatness and willingness to follow their advice and decisions.
Collaborating and finding mutual satisfying solutions or making compromises with or without the help of the religious courts is fundamental in dealing with disputes and resolving conflict. Again 'mishpat= justice ' is something very much personal and intrinsic to the individual and less dependent on the external legal system.
To sum up: It seems that the Torah wants the locus of control to be intrinsic to people and that we educate people to be their own judges, self – assess and monitor their behavior , have an appreciation of the religious value of the courts of law and be able to settle disputes in a collaborative problem solving way.
When it comes to our children we do the opposite. The locus of control is outside the child. The educational system – both academic and socio-moral is driven by parents and teachers using extrinsic motivators such as grades, moving to the next level, consequences, punishments, rewards and encouragement in the form of positive reinforcement and praise. When it comes to behavior, kids ask what will I get, or what will be done to me if I behave in a certain way and not what type of person do I want to be, is this an expression of my Torah values,reflect on the consequences of my behavior, not for me, but for others in the community, classroom and family? One of the things I look for in 'frum' – religious education and parenting is what happens when kids screw up. Is the talk about compliance and the tools of control that can get compliance or is it helping the child to see the consequences of his actions on others, come up with a better plan that addresses his concerns in an appropriate way and engaging in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution , reparation and making amends ? In other words - do Teshuvah-repent.
When it comes to learning, the questions kids ask is if this will be on the test, what grade did I get, am I in the top ten in the class, how can I get the best grade with the minimal effort etc, instead of connecting and developing a love for learning, making meaning of what is being learned, seeing the actual value and relevance of the learning and asking questions. John Dewey said education is not a preparation for life, but life itself, or closer to home Torah is our life.
In order to place the locus of control with the child and move away from extrinsic controls and motivators we should take note of the words of the educator Jerome Bruner. Kids should be helped to focus on what they are doing and not on how they are doing. So it is important that kids do not experience success or failure as rewards or punishment but as information. Our feedback is important but it should be neutral and non-evaluative so kids can reflect on what they are doing and internalize the underlying values which will help them become self-determined Torah personalities.