Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Devarim 76 - Conquest or Agreement and Cooperation

Parashat Devarim precedes the fast of the 9th of Av – Tish'ah be' Av, the day of national mourning for the destruction of the 2 Temples and exile from the land of Israel. The reason is because Moses in his final address  to the Israelites recalls the ' sins of the spies ', the root cause of the destruction of the 2 temples and exile.  The nation spoke badly about the land of Israel and expressed a lack of faith in God to conquer the land and support the life of the nation in the land.  The root of the sins that caused the destruction of the temples and the exile was this lack of faith and a proper spiritual connection to the land of Israel. As a result of the Babylonian exile the country lost its Kedushah, holiness and sanctity, which is expressed by the fact, that the land of Israel is no different to any other country. There are no agricultural mitzvoth so people are no longer obliged to separate tithes from the produce of the land or observe the Sabbatical year – Shmittah when in the 7th year the land lies fallow. This holiness – called the first sanctity = ' keushah rishonah 'was introduced into the land, when Joshua conquered the land of Israel and the land was under Jewish jurisdiction. When the land was conquered by foreign nations it lost its holiness. The city of Jerusalem and the temple mount and temple, despite being in ruins and governed by foreigners never loses its holiness, because the divine presence, the source of its holiness never leaves the city, and thus its ' kedushah rishonah, first holiness remains intact. The Persian king Cyrus defeated the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to return to Israel under the leadership of Ezra and build a temple. Ezra re-consecrated and sanctified the land for a second time and this is known as the 2nd sanctification or ' kedushah sheniyah'. The Rambam – Hilchot Beit Ha' Bechirah 6:16 explains that the 2nd Sanctification is permanent and everlasting even after the destruction of the 2nd temple and Roman exile. The reason is that Ezra's sanctification was not through the conquest of the land but came about through the formal acquisition of the land when Cyrus returned the land to the Jewish people and a legal ' Chazakah' was made on the land. Therefore, even if the land is taken away from the Jewish people by force, the land retains its holiness – kedushah, because the legal transaction of ownership through acquisition remains binding. ולמה אני אומר במקדש וירושלים קדושה ראשונה קדשה לעתיד לבוא ובקדושת שאר א"י לענין שביעית ומעשרות וכיוצא בהן לא קדשה לעתיד לבוא לפי שקדושת המקדש וירושלים מפני השכינה ושכינה אינה בטלה והרי הוא אומר והשמותי את מקדשיכם ואמרו חכמים אע"פ ששמומין בקדושתן הן עומדים אבל חיוב הארץ בשביעית ובמעשרות אינו אלא מפני שהוא כבוש רבים וכיון שנלקחה הארץ מידיהם בטל הכבוש ונפטרה מן התורה ממעשרות ומשביעית שהרי אינה מן ארץ ישראל וכיון שעלה עזרא וקדשה לא קדשה בכיבוש אלא בחזקה שהחזיקו בה ולפיכך כל מקום שהחזיקו בה עולי בבל ונתקדש בקדושת עזרא השנייה הוא מקודש היום ואף על פי שנלקח הארץ ממנו וחייב בשביעית ובמעשרות על הדרך שביארנו בהלכות תרומה
 It seems a little strange that the conquest of the land by Joshua and subsequent Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel should have less of an impact on the inherent holiness and sanctity of the land of Israel than the ' autonomy ' that Cyrus granted the returning Jews. In the verse Deut. 1:8 Moses says to the Israelites –' Behold I have set the land before you, go in and possess the Land which God swore to your forefathers ….' The Rashi commentary notes – there is no one who will contest the matter, you will need not wage a war. Indeed, had they not sent the spies, but trusted in God's promise, they would not have needed weapons of war.  ראה נתתי לפניכם את הארץ באו ורשו את הארץ אשר נשבע ה' לאבותיכם......רש"י אין מערער על בדבר ואינכם צריכים למלחמה אלו לא היו מרגלים לא היו צריכים לכלי זיין                                                                                                  
 Thus, the conquest of the land of Israel was symptomatic of an inherent flaw and spiritual defect in the children of Israel. On the other hand, the return of the exiles from Babylon was made possible by the agreement of the nations to the rebuilding of the temple and a new Jewish settlement in Israel and tremendous sacrifice and dedication by the new settlers. This indicated a more spiritual beginning and establishment of Jewish sovereignty in Israel. This explains why the ' kedushah shniyah ', the 2nd sanctification of the land of Israel was permanent and despite the destruction of the 2nd temple and exile, the inherent holiness of the land remains intact. The conquest and coercion of Joshua's entry into the land was preceded by a degree of coercion used at the initial receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. The Sages describe God's coercion as if He was holding the mountain over their heads forcing them to accept the Torah. The Torah was ultimately accepted willingly only after the miracle of Purim that preceded Ezra's entry into the land of Israel. It is this acceptance of the Torah, rather than the acceptance that occurred at Mount Sinai that binds the Jewish people.

Education is often seen as a ' conquest', and getting kids to do something or engage in learning. The underlying ' rationale' is that if you ask a kid to do something, he will refuse and offering explanations and reasons won't help either. Education begins after the kid has done or learned something. We should then offer encouragement and help the kid reflect on what he has done and learned. What usually happens is that the focus is on motivating kids to act and this usually by being assertive and insistent or using extrinsic motivators like rewards, grades or consequences. The discussion after an action or learning is usually about ' how well'  the kid acted or learned , rather than focusing on what the kid has done or learned and helping the kid connect with the action or learning and become more intrinsically motivated. Even if the discussion is about what the kid has done or learned, the coercion or seduction, no matter how small leaves a negative impact on the child. It is often asked why not use rewards or find something insignificant to lure kids into reading or doing something and then fade them out later?  The introduction of an extrinsic motivator immediately changes the whole Gestalt – the way a child looks at herself, the way she looks at the person offering the reward and the way she looks at the task.

We can make children our allies and partners in learning and pro-social behavior, not by first coercing them and then trying to explain and help them reflect on the value of what they did, but by focusing on learning and tasks that are interesting, engaging, relevant and worthwhile. We can support their autonomy by bringing them into the decision making process about their learning and how we can transform our school into a caring community. When we don't focus on control, judgment and evaluation and move the locus of control to the students themselves, we allow them to connect to their learning, be self-determined and intrinsically motivated to contribute to the well-being and learning of a caring community of learners. This is the difference between motivating or inspiring kids. Motivating kids – your focus is overcoming resistance, conquering the enemy. Inspiring kids – is supporting their autonomy and allowing them to connect to their inner cores,  be intrinsically motivated to learn and to do and focused on long-term goals of becoming better and more interesting people.

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