Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Chayei Sarah 76 - Mentoring the Soul

Rebecca – Rivka leaves her home with her ' nurse' Deborah to go and get married to Isaac.  Deborah was more than a nurse, as the Targum Yonatan explains she was a ' pedagog', a teacher and mentor, a disciple and follower of Abraham and Sara.   Rivka's father and brother were far from being moral and upright people, so it was Deborah who was responsible for Rivka's education and social, emotional, spiritual and moral development. Deborah nurtured Rivka's soul, the source of her good character and middot. Deborah's pedagogy was certainly not the ' Supper Nanny ' approach, but being Rivka's mentor and ' guide by the side'.

Eliezer was extremely impressed by Rivka's acts of chesed, generosity and kindness.  It was the same generosity and kindness that he saw in Abraham's home and it now highlighted   the kindness God- Hashem was showing to him. In gratitude to Hashem – God, Eliezer says Gen: 24:27 ' blessed be Hashem, the God of my master, who has not withheld his KINDNESS and TRUTH from my master.                                                     ברוך ה' ......אשר לא עזב חסדו ואמיתו מעם אדוני   . Eliezer is grateful to Hashem, that not only did Hashem help him find a suitable wife for Isaac, but also a girl from Abraham's family. The verse can also be explained that Eliezer was  also thankful that God's gifts  to mankind – the planting of the  Godly characteristics such as    truth and kindness  or ' true kindness ' in the soul  have  now been found embodied  in the character of Rivka, Isaac's future wife.  And so the divine characteristic of ' true kindness or kindness and truth as expressed and manifested in Abraham,  has not been withheld from his master-Abraham,  and will continue to be an important part of  Abraham's family and descendants.

What is truth together with kindness? Truth puts ' kindness ' in its correct and proper context.  It puts limits and boundaries on kindness. It regulates kindness to prevent it from going astray,   so that the kindness is done in an appropriate way, to the right person and is in the best interests of that person. It ensures   that the kindness is done with sensitivity, dignity, respect, emotional intelligence, thoughtfulness, derech eretz ,menschligkeit,decency , common courtesy and modesty= Tzni'ut.  Truth also encourages and enables a person to perform acts of kindness of the highest quality, perfection, excellence, integrity, virtue and righteousness.

Truth can also inform us about the motives, feelings and values underlying ' kindness'.  A person can be motivated to do an act of kindness because of extrinsic reasons -  he wants something in return, if he treats others well , they will treat him well= reciprocity, he wants to impress others or he wants to ' collect'  good deeds . The source of these acts of kindness is not his holy soul, but the materialistic side of man's nature. When a person feels self-directed and self-determined and connected to his inner being and holy soul , his acts of kindness are considered ' true acts of kindness '  whose underlying values and motives are for the sake of heaven – lishmah  and to be of service to man. ( R' Katz- Telse, R'Hirsch, R' Yeruchum )

Rivka's act of kindness was done with zeal, passion and sincerity. She first gave Eliezer to drink, her contact and exposure to him being short, enough time to attend to his needs and then she moved quickly onto giving the camels to drink, showing her sensitivity, thoughtfulness and modesty. She was interested in being of service and not trying to establish a relationship with a strange man for financial and immoral reasons.

If we want kids to be reflective and have a love for chesed- kindness, we have to examine our pedagogy and throw out the ' Super Nanny approach. If we focus on ' control' , on getting kids to do ' good deeds' irrespective of their motives and use rewards , both material and verbal to get and reinforce behavior , the source of their acts of kindness will never be their  holy souls or inner beings . They will just learn to ask – what will I get, what's in it for me.  A mentor, because of a more democratic relationship with the student becomes the confidant of the student and this helps the student open up his heart and mind to the mentor. The mentor can then  focus on helping a kid find meaning in what he is learning and doing , connecting to his inner being and holy soul so that his kindness and other good characteristics are driven by inner soul and not by something extrinsic. The Torah tells us – Dev.30:11,  that the mitzvah of learning Torah , fulfilling the mitzvoth and doing Teshuva – repenting is not out of the reach of people but close by – in your mouth and in your heart – to perform.  The goal of a mentor and educator is not to reveal the Torah and its wisdom to his students, but help them through conversation, reflection and thinking delve deep inside of themselves  so that they themselves discover and make meaning of the Torah and share their unique thoughts and perspectives and way of doing things with others. When the focus is not on how well a kid is doing , but rather helping him focus on what he is learning and doing, the source of his learning and actions will be his inner being and soul.

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