Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Vayikrah- Tzav 76 - Give the Sinner a Gift , not Punishment

The Midrash asks –' what should be the consequences or punishment for a person who sins. Wisdom answered that bad things should pursue him, Prophecy answered, that the sinner should die, the Torah answered that he should bring an offering. Bringing an offering would help if there is a temple- Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem .God- Hashem responds , that the sinner should repent and in so doing be atoned for the sin. Parashat  Vayikrah and Tzav deal with the 'Korban Cha'tat , the sin offering brought by a person wishing to repent and atone for mistakes or sins done inadvertently , not willfully and not on purpose. The offering is an attempt to get closer to God and elevate oneself after ' a fall', caused by sinning. If the offering to Hashem-God is from yourself, your humanity, and inner –being, sincere and intrinsically motivated, you will be elevated and the offering will have the exalted status of an offering to Hashem.  In connection with offerings only the name of God- Hashem representing the divine attribute of Mercy is used and not the name Elohim, which represents the divine attribute of Judgment. When people sin or when children break rules should we not be talking about judgment and making people and kids accountable for their sins as Wisdom and Prophecy argued  in the Midrash ,so why does Hashem-God approach man's failures with the' midat of ra'chamim, the attribute of mercy?'

The reason is that Hashem-God acts out of love towards people who fall and sin. It is the same with kids – they need our love and support even more when they screw up and do things which are inappropriate. The korban cha'tat, the sin offering and the accompanying   act of Teshuvah – repentance, is a ' gift ' from God, not a punishment or a consequence. In the same way, after the sin of the Golden Calf Hashem gave the children of Israel the gift of the 13 attributes of Hashem, יג מידות to help with the  process of Teshuvah, forgiveness and atonement.  Instead of punishments we should be giving gifts in order   to help a child or a person get back on track, and reach even newer heights and greater connection with God, his parents or teachers.

The accountability of the Torah is not about paying the price or suffering, but coming up with a better plan, making a change from the inside, engaging in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution and making amends. It means strengthening the relationship and trust between child and his caregivers and of course enhancing ones' relationship with God.

There are several reasons why the relationship between man and God, between people and between children and caregivers needs to be supportive and not punitive. We want to teach the lesson that ' mistakes are our friends ' and that the path to emotional and spiritual growth means trying, falling and failing and then getting up with a new plan. Mistakes, failure and even sin are part of our engaging in and learning of Torah and essential to understanding and growing in Torah.  – אין אדם עומד על דברי תורה אלא אם כן נכשלים בהם תחילה   - A person does not gain an understanding or appreciation of the words of the Torah until he falters or stumbles in them. When talking about the meal offering, the mincha, the Torah notes that the meal offering is the holiest of the holy, like the sin offering and guilt offering ' קדש קדשים הוא כחטאת וכאשם '. The gold standards for the holy of holies are the sin offerings of the Cha'tat  and Asham. The Kli Yakar explains that a righteous person who has never sinned is considered holy , but a person who has sinned, but then works on himself, changes from the inside  and overcomes resistance  to change from that he has become accustomed to , and travels a great distance to connect to Hashem is considered the Holy of the Holies. The Talmud says - In a place where a 'Ba'al Teshuvah '- a repentant stands, a completely righteous person does not stand. Also when he repents out of love, his intentional sins are transformed into merits. The Ba'al Teshuvah uses his past negative experiences as a vehicle of learning so that his understanding of a sin and the negative experience gives a deeper appreciation and understanding of the mitzvoth and a connection to Hashem. In this way, he becomes a light and teacher to others who have sinned.

A belief that ' mistakes are our friends ' is important also for human relationships and connection between people and our connection with God.  A person who is willing to expose his vulnerability is not threatening and attracts connection, relationship and support because of his authenticity, humility and humanness. A connection with God depends on our humility and expressing our need for God's forgiveness and support. People who are competitive are not willing to cooperate with others, also out of fear of exposing incompetence or vulnerability. The road to spiritual and emotional empowerment is full of bumps in the road. It is only when we are willing to take risks and make mistakes knowing that failure is not in the falling, but in not getting up and there are plenty of good people who are supportive and offer encouragement, we grow in Torah and the love and fear of Hashem.

In the same way that Teshuvah-repentance  is an autonomous experience done out of love, we have to aim to help kids to be intrinsically motivated to do positive actions and mitzvoth. We cannot educate using the 'lo lishmah' – extrinsic motivation and hope everything will automatically turn out all right. The end of the parasha talks also about the consecration and purification of the altar by bringing a sin offering. The question is asked – why was there a need to being a sin offering. The Ramban explains that when people were asked to voluntary donate to the building of the mishkan, some people  felt in the depth of their hearts  pressurized into donating or donating more and the result was the using  ' of stolen goods' for the building of the mishkan. The sin offering was brought to atone for using such stolen goods. We cannot ignore motives, intentions and feelings, no matter how deep they are in the hearts of people and children.

It is so much easier to focus on behaviors and actions and get compliance using rewards, stickers, praise, consequences and punishments. But actions without the heart and the soul corrupt these actions. Actions are defined by the intentions, motives, love and joy with which they are done. Kids become authors of their actions when kids feel self-determined and  intrinsically motivated. So when they do Teshuvah or any positive action, it is authentic to themselves and brings them closer to God, His Torah and people

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