Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Korach 76 - Safety in Schools

The evil report of the spies caused a crisis of faith in God, the leadership of Moses and Aaron and in land of Israel as a national home.  In response, God decreed that people over the age of 20 would die in the wilderness. The people became disillusioned. They no longer had a goal and destination - Moses and Aaron in a sense had failed in their mission. This was an opportune moment for Korach to unite people who felt wronged by the fact that they had been passed over in the allocation of leadership positions. Korach felt wronged and aggrieved that Aaron , Moses' brother was appointed instead of him to the position of high priest -  an act of unacceptable favoritism and nepotism,  or when his cousin Elizaphan , the son  of Uziel was placed in charge of the Kohite family, thus making him Korach's superior and giving him that  position which  Korach felt was rightfully his. The tribe of Reu'vein, as descendants of Jacob's firstborn felt they were entitled to leadership positions. The group of 250 leaders were firstborn who still felt wronged that after the sin of the golden calf, the role of special service in the sanctuary passed from the firstborn to the tribe of Levi. The rebels challenged Moses and Aaron in the name of democracy and egalitarian values. 'All of the community is holy, all of them...   Why do you raise yourself above the Lord's congregation?
וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל משֶׁה וְעַל אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב לָכֶם כִּי כָל הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדשִׁים וּבְתוֹכָם יְדֹוָד וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ עַל קְהַל יְדֹוָד
 Everyone should have an equal opportunity to be a leader. Everyone should have the opportunity to be close to Holy of Holies and close to God.

Moses initially proposed a simple test that should have discouraged the rebels and put an end to the rebellion. The rebels and Aaron would bring incense- ketoret in their pans.  A non-priest=Kohen who offered incense is liable to death at the hands of heaven.  Those people, who would survive the test and are spared from death, are God's choice to occupy positions in the Mishkan- Sanctuary. Moses tried to make peace and resolve the conflict by going to the tents of Da'tan and A'viram. They received Moses with contempt, ridicule and insults. Moses felt that the situation could get out of control. The honor and validity of the Torah and the authenticity of his prophecy was at stake. He sought an immediate and dramatic solution from God. He asked, that in order to prove that it is God that has sent him - the ground should split open and swallow up Korach and his followers.  As soon as he had finished speaking the ground opened up and swallowed Korach and his followers. A flame came down from Heaven and consumed the 250 men who were offering the incense. After Moses' prayer had been answered in this dramatic way and he had been proved right, we would have expected that this would have put an end to the rebellion and vindicated Moses, but not so. 'Things became worse.  The next day, the whole community of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. You have killed the Lord's people, they said. (ו) וַיִּלֹּנוּ כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמָּחֳרָת עַל משֶׁה וְעַל אַהֲרֹן לֵאמֹר אַתֶּם הֲמִתֶּם אֶת עַם יְדֹוָד: A plague breaks out and Moses tells Aaron to go out between the people with the incense – the ketoret, which had previously being the cause of death - and stop the plague by atoning for the people. Then God instructs Moses to take 12 staffs, one for each tribe and leave them overnight in the Tent of the Meeting – sanctuary. The next morning, the staff bearing the name of Aaron had sprouted, budded, blossomed and borne almonds. It was only then that the rebellion ended, not because of the ground opening up and swallowing the rebels or a fire consuming the 250 leaders, but seeing a dead piece of wood, come to life, sprout, blossom and bear fruit. Aaron and his tribe were now seen as symbols of renewal and hope, dedicated to the growth and the flowering of the people. The new mission of the people was to raise a new generation of almonds that will enter the land of Israel and build a national home dedicated to the service of God. The conflict was over, but people still did not feel safe, fearing that they might by mistake step out of the courtyard and enter sections of the sanctuary only permitted to the priests and Levites and incur the death penalty. Guards are appointed to protect people from entering forbidden areas.

The obvious lesson is that conflict is not resolved by using force and that people's concern for safety need to be addressed. As teachers and principals we cannot make our schools safer by adopting a tougher ' zero- tolerance ' approach to school violence and aggressive behavior.  While some educators do admit that these policies don't help the offending student, but they are needed to motivate others students to take note and behave -  למען יראו וישמעו  - that they should see what will happen to them  if they step out of line. Not only do students in schools that adopted zero- tolerance policies report feeling less safe, but schools were actually less safe after adopting these policies. Kids feel threatened and unsafe in an environment when problems are solved by adults in a unilaterally way using threats and punishments. The alternative is show love and unconditional acceptance and help the student solve problems in a collaborative way, addressing the underlying issues and lagging skills, the concerns of both parties by finding mutually satisfying solutions and helping the student engage in an autonomous way in the moral act of restitution and do Teshuva – repent.  If we focus on teaching replacement behaviors or skills we can lose sight of the human being behind the actions and the reasons, values and motives that give rise to those behaviors. We cannot talk about good character and midot and still foster a competitive climate where kids are ranked according to test –scores and come to see others as obstacles to their success.  .  We need to create a school which is a caring community – where students know and trust adults and kids are known and trusted by adults. If a school is a place that meets students' needs, there is less chance that someone will be moved to lash out in fury. In a caring community students will feel a sense of connection and belonging to others, feel also intellectually and emotionally safe without fear of being laughed at, picked on or excluded by other students. A caring community helps kids ask – what type of person do I want to be and what type of classroom or school I would like and be inclined to act in a caring and responsible way? Of course, teaching and learning which is cooperative ,relevant and  valuable in its own right to students, will contribute to the atmosphere and safety of a school.

Safety is about trust and human relations and building an environment that promotes pro-social behavior and solves problems in a collaborative way. And that is why God chose Aaron and his tribe of Levi. Aaron is the symbol of someone dedicated to peace and conflict resolution, giving life and hope to all.


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