Thursday, April 7, 2016

Tazria 76 - Don't treat your child like a 'pet'

The Midrash commentary notes that just as man was created after the animals, the Torah laws pertaining to man's body and physicality come after a discussion about the features that make animals kosher. These laws include the laws of purity due to emissions or childbirth and spiritual skin disease called Tza'ra'at. Tza'ra'at appears when   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. When man gives expression to his potential and spirituality , we say he preceded all of creation because he gives expression to the spirit of God , the soul and the ultimate soul being that of the Mashi'ach = the Messiah which was created on the first day of creation. If man succumbs to his natural physical drives, the animal side of him, we say that if he is proud and arrogant about his physical achievements, he should know that a mosquito was created before him. Animals are physically more efficient and complete than he is and fulfill their task and destiny in the natural cycle far better than he does. The Mishna –Pirkei Avot 3:1 says that a person should be constantly aware from where he comes – that his soul came from a place close to the Divine throne and will return there, but if he thinks of himself as a sophisticated animal, he comes from a putrid seminal drop and his ultimate destination is to dust and worms.     דַּע, מֵאַיִן בָּאתָ וּלְאָן אַתָּה הוֹלֵךְ וְלִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עָתִיד לִתֵּן דִּין וְחֶשְׁבּוֹן.The Midrash quotes the words from Psalms  139: 5  אחור וקדם צרתני   - Back and front you have created me -  that man has been created with a potential to influence those who come after him , behind him -  אחור  and אחרון and connect to the past –  קדם     those who came before him and most important the connect to the spiritual side , the soul which was created before -  קדם   the body. The front of man signifies the good inclination, the ability to direct and channel his natural drives for the good of others and resist temptation of the evil inclination – the back and be altruistic on a consistent basis.

As parents and educators we have the duty to pass on our spiritual heritage to the next generation and show how them their role in continuing the ' chain of tradition'. Unfortunately, raising kids is very challenging. We tend to speak badly about them – lashon ha'ra and then treat them like ' pet dogs', using punishments, consequences, time-outs , tokens, stickers, rewards, praise and other doggie biscuits to make them wanna behave , be compliant  or to reinforce good behavior. Teachers say that students with the hardest lives and the most difficult behavior are beaten down the most when their behavior is judged with tokens. An assistant in a preschool classroom in a school that uses PBIS – positive behavioral intervention systems was instructed to give a special needs student treats at intervals throughout carpet time to encourage him to sit still. She described how upsetting it was “that he was treated like a dog.” We talk about having difficult kids who are very troublesome and not compliant. We call them lazy, immoral, manipulative, wanting attention and avoiding tasks etc. and in response we try to modify their behavior using extrinsic motivation. We focus on behaviors getting them to be compliant and jump through our hoops.

The way to go to is to focus on the whole child, his concerns, perspectives, motives and feelings – his soul and inner being, his spiritual and emotional side. But we need to change our paradigm. According to CPS, the collaborative problem solving approach – children do well if they can and not children do well if they want to. We say he is a kid with challenges and difficulties, not a difficult child. He is lagging skills to be adaptive and flexible when the demands placed upon him outstrip his skills. People and especially kids do better when we do not try to control them, but rather support their autonomy, competence and relationships.

The verse 13:55 says if וראה הכהן את הנגע והנה לא הפך הנגע את עינו   and the Kohen- priest shall look at the affliction- nega and if the affliction has not changed its color. The Chidushei Harim explains that in Hebrew, the word affliction and pleasure have the same letters, only written in different order נגע and ענג. The word עינו  means its color but homiletically it can be read ' its letter ayin ', so focusing on the person's outlook on life , he has not changed  -affliction -nega – נגע  into  pleasure -oneg – ענג . He sees life's challenges as affliction and not pleasure. When a parent or teacher relates to the spiritual and emotional side of the child and sees educating him as a sacred mission, no matter how challenging, meeting the child's needs is pleasure and not affliction. He longer speaks negatively about the child being lots of trouble but expresses compassion for a child who is struggling. He focuses on the child's neshama- soul; the whole child rather than treating him like a pet dog which not only impacts badly on the child, but also on the parent and teacher. If we think man is a sophisticated animal we will continue to treat kids and even our adult employees like pet dogs, but if we see man as essentially a spiritual being we will focus on supporting their autonomy and our relationship with them and help them address their challenges.

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