Monday, November 30, 2015

Vayeishev 76 - Joseph, his brothers and Collaborative Problem solving

It is a well- known fact that when a group of people share common goals, and  a commitment and duty to lofty ideals, they are able to overcome things like personal interest, ambition, jealousy and suspicion which cause conflict and division. And this is especially true, if the ideals are Godly and people collaborate and work together to achieve these goals and ideals. So what went wrong with Jacob's family where  all the brothers had a role and joint commitment in the building of the nation of Israel?  

We need to look at the powerful influences of character traits and the importance of a caring community in the social dynamic.

One characteristic that comes to mind is  arrogance and  a lack of humility which leads people to be judgmental and not engage in collaborative problem solving. Not matter how great and righteous the people involved, like the sons of Jacob, a slight flaw or failing can distort thinking and cause a lot of damage.

Jacob's family situation was challenging from the beginning. There were 3 contenders for the leadership role – Reu'vein = the first born, Yehudah who was fit for royalty and Yoseif who had already been singled out by his father for a leadership role and was obviously his favorite son. Joseph was Jacob's confidant, and in a very self –righteous and superior way,  he reported the wrong doings of the brothers to his father. He further shared with all his family  his dreams of him being the leader and ruler of the family . This  added a jealousy to the hatred the brothers had for Yoseif.

 There was already a hierarchy and ranking in the family which was very apparent in the meeting of Jacob  with Eisav- Esau. Bilhah, Zilpah , the former maidservants and their sons were up front, followed by  Leah and her sons and finally Jacob's favorite wife Rachel was with  Joseph=Yoseif. The Midrash says that the sons of Leah used to humiliate and belittle the sons of the former maidservants – Bilhah and Zilpah. Yoseif – Joseph slandered and defamed Leah's sons  = spoke lashon ha'rah about the brothers to his father. One of the untruths he said was  that the sons of Leah,  called the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, slaves.  In truth, the sons of Leah did not call them slaves but referred to them as the sons of the maidservants, the previous status of their mothers. Because of his touch of arrogance, Yoseif misinterpreted the actions of the brothers and gave a faulty evaluation. Instead he should have reserved judgment and only presented what he saw to his father. He should have first  confronted  his brothers without being judgmental, just describing what he saw and then  engage them  in conversation to solve problems or his unmet expectations of the brothers. The Midrash however does still criticize the sons of Leah for referring to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah as the sons of the maidservants. It did not mean that sons of Bilhah and Zilpah did something wrong, but they were reminded that they were the inferior and second class sons of Jacob, while they- the sons of Leah, were from the ' elite'. They certainly did not show unity, brotherly love and acceptance, but rejection which created social  division and bad feelings. The Midrash then describes God's displeasure and that the exile and bondage in Egypt would remedy the situation. After the redemption, all the tribes would say in gratitude – we were slaves in Egypt , showing acceptance of all  and unity. Trouble from outsiders is often God's way to tell one - your brother is not the enemy. The brothers did achieve a certain unity when they all saw Yoseif as a threat to the family, attempting to expel them from the family and establish himself as Jacob's sole successor. A common enemy, promotes unity and conversation in the group which leads to solving problems in a collaborative way. But when you see your brother as the enemy, and don't include him in the peace process,  the solutions will lack compassion. Because of the antagonism they felt for Joseph , the verse says that they could not speak to him -  for the sake of peace = le'shalom. They could not resolve the conflict through conversation and discussion.

 Joseph was sold into slavery because his arrogance and lack of humility prevented him from seeing the situation from the perspective of his brothers and engaging in collaborative problem solving that would address both his and the brothers concerns. A slave learns to be humble and leave the judgment of others to God. Humility, empathy, compassion  and being non-judgmental are crucial for the collaborative problem solving process.

 The lessons for teachers and parents are obvious. Instead of criticism, just describe what you have seen in a non-judgmental way and then try to engage in collaborative problem solving with a sense of humility and compassion. A sense of humility means we forget our theories why the child is behaving as he does and rely more on the child to feel safe and trust adults to share his concerns and perspective about the underlying problem. A compassionate approach will help one wear the lenses – that  'children do well if they can ' and not ' children do well if they want to'. So instead of making a child to ' wanna behave ' , we will ask what is getting in his way , so we can help him be successful and happy. We , like Beit Hillel first  explore and examine the  child's (other's)  concerns so he feels understood. Once we have a good idea of his concerns, we can put our concerns and expectations on the table and then invite the child to engage in CPS , collaborative problem solving finding mutually satisfying solutions that are realistic and durable .

 Organizations, schools, communities and families may have lofty ideals and a commitment to a vision and mission. These ideals , missions and commitments must find their place in the context of a caring community. It is  most important  that there are pro-social activities in place that promote cooperation, cooperative learning and altruism and that conflict is resolved and cooperation achieved using collaborative problem solving. If not, personal interests, ambition, arrogance can lead to jealousy, hatred , social divisions and disparity and conflict.

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