Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Ekev 76 - What you resist, persists - the case for positive education

In our parasha, Moses continues to encourage the nation to trust in God to ensure the successful conquest and settlement of the land. In order to help the nation build trust in God and see God as the source of their success and power, Moses describes God's care and providence. God protected them from the hardships of the desert,' HE fed you the manna, your garment did not wear out upon you and your feet did not swell' – ויאכילך את המן, שמלתך לא בלתה ורגלך לא בצקה  . Moses reminds them that the goodness comes with challenges and hardships in order to prepare them for life in the land of Israel. In order to survive in Israel, one needs a high level of faith and trust in God and life in the desert למען ענתך לנסותך, ויענך וירעבך ויאכילך את המן, כאשר ייסר איש את בנו - living a life dependent on miracles, not being able to store food for the next day and or do anything that will give life some certainty and predictability, prepared them for life in Israel. They should know that this path was for their benefit. Moses then warns about the dangers that prosperity brings – arrogance, self- aggrandizement and self- glorification. This leads to forgetting God and saying ' it is my strength and the might of my hand that made me all this wealth'. Ultimately this leads to idolatry, going after the gods of others.
כֹּחִי וְעֹצֶם יָדִי, עָשָׂה לִי אֶת-הַחַיִל הַזֶּה. וְהָיָה, אִם-שָׁכֹחַ תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, וְהָלַכְתָּ אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים 

The first question is that on entry into the land of Israel, the children of Israel are commanded to destroy all manifestations and vestiges of idolatry as it would be unbefitting that idolatry should exist in God's palace, the land of Israel. So why is Moses so concerned about idolatry, if the land has been cleaned out of any temptations and enticement? The 2nd question – prosperity allows people to be independent rather than dependent on God and so people attribute their success to their own efforts and beings, rather than God's support, so why would people then subjugate themselves and submit to idols. ? R' Isaac Sher gives 2 answers. At a time when there existed a passion for idolatry, people had the power to use these negative forces of idolatry to improve their materialistic situations. The second answer - when a man attributes all his success to his own doing, he is denying God's role and he begins to worship himself. A person who is rude and coarse, gets angry – thinks he is a god and people have to listen to him. A person who is arrogant and self-glorifies himself is involved in idolatry = uvoda zara. An atheist or non-believer, even though he does not believe  in anything but himself is also an idolater. When one puts his trust in others and flatters people with power - החונף he is considered worse than an idolater. A person who is an idolater's slave is considered as if he serves idolatry. The verse in Judges 10: 6 gives a list of gods of the surrounding nations that the children of Israel worshipped and served. ויעבדו את הבעלים ואת העשתרות ואת אלהי ארם ואת אלהי  צידון ואת אלהי מואב ואת אלהי בני עמון ואת אלהי פלשתיםThe Midrash connects this idolatry to the children of Israel's laziness and lack of effort in prayer. R' Isaac Sher explains that when people  do not tire from activities that serve their interests but are tired when it comes to prayer, it means that the nation   places more value and trust in political agreements and alliances with the surrounding nations than prayer, and that people have more faith in their efforts than in prayer. When this happens – it is as if the nation serves the gods of these nations and people who cheapen prayer do the same.
Although there is a commandment to clear out and destroy idols and manifestations of idolatry, the thrust of Moses' speech is positive, focusing on building trust and relationship with God. If you have a problem with idolatry, the underlying problem is your relationship with God. The problem is mainly within man and not outside of him, so we focus on building personalities rather than engineering the environment so there is not temptation or enticement.

A similar problem - a man is overcome with lustful thoughts when he is certain environments. The Talmid= student of R' Chaim Volozhin, the Keter Rosh wrote down the teachings of his mentor. He writes about a man, (most likely unmarried) who had a problem with impure thoughts when he sees women. In order to deal with his problem and fight his lustful thoughts he decides to make a vow not to look at women. If he breaks his vow and looks at a woman, his desire will burn inside him like a fire. The situation is much worse, since he fought reality and energized the negative action he was fighting. Instead, he should accept the reality and pray for God's  assistance  and mercy in dealing with the challenges as he ventures into the market place.  He is not told to avoid the market place. R' Moshe Feinstein said– if a person is challenged by public transport he should know he has a problem and work on himself.
כתר ראש ארחות חיים קצה ] הסתכלות עריות ושיחתן אמר  זה הכלל כל מה שינדור א״ע ויפרוש מראיה אח״כ  אם יראה ויביט יבער בו היצר כאש, אלא כשדעתו לילך בשוק יתפלל ויבקש רחמים לבל יכשל ח׳יו בשום נדנוד חטא והרהור עבירה ר׳ל;
כתר ראש - הנהגותיו שנכתבו בידי תלמידו  של ר, חיים מולוזהין רבי אשר הכהן משערשוב.

When we are dealing with children we need to give them structure and make the environment safe and protect them from e.g.  bad diet – sugar and the media. The solution for adults – engineering the environment beyond the demands of Halacha – Jewish Law so that the environment will be free of any temptation or challenges has many downsides. The focus is no longer on positive education and   building righteous people who can overcome challenges, but on creating a sterile environment and fighting the external threats to a person's spirituality. There is another problem – when you fight ' evil', you actually support and strengthen ' evil' as Carl Jung said - 'what you resist persists'. The answer is to accept reality and not to fight reality and then focus on positive steps and education which will help you change reality. ' 'What you resist , persists' -   means that if a person has a character flaw – lustful thoughts , or he has an anger problem or he has food or drink problems, the more the person fights the reality, the bigger the problem becomes. He has ' energized the problem and given it center stage in his life. Instead of going away, it fights back and persists.  If a man has bad thoughts, he can use the principles of Mindfulness – acknowledge his thoughts, put them aside and then focus on his breathing and then something else. If he tries to resist these thoughts, they fight back and persist. He should be building his personality so his mind is occupied with ideas or being mindful of what he is doing so he is not distracted. He should try to see the image of God – צלם אלוקים in each person and relate to their contribution to society instead of focusing on their gender. If  he breaks his diet ,  resists and fights back by being  over-critical of himself, full of shame , he will ultimately  give up , and say ' what the hell and then he will go on the binge – eating and drinking without any restraints. So a person with a drink or diet problem , needs a plan that will focus on what he can eat , replacement foods , a new life style instead of focusing of what he should not eat. When he does fail and breaks his diet, he should have some self- compassion instead of being over- critical and giving energy to breaking his diet and focus on getting back on track. Campaigns against 'talking in shul ' will be more successful if they focus on positive education and not ' energizing' talking in shul. Campaigns about the dangers of internet and cell phones tend to cause people to shift blame from people and their relationships or exploring underlying problems and just blame it all on the internet. People forget that the most potent and dangerous communication tool is our tongues and not the cell phone or the internet. Here too, we need to focus on the positive, what we can talk about and connect with people in a positive way. Even if a person makes a conservative and restricted choice concerning the media, he has to remember the downside of resisting and energizing the dangers - the negative side and focus on positive education. In politics, candidates in election who focus on the negative of their opponents rather than saying something positive about themselves, strengthen their opponents. The campaign to remain in the European Community failed because it focused on negative consequences of leaving rather than the positive reasons for staying in the community. Instead of giving a list of what pupils  cannot do in the holidays, a teacher should focus on what they could do.

There is tendency in education to try and control the environment and people's choices rather focus on positive education and build people. When the focus is on fighting the negative, we need to understand the downside – 'what we resist persists.'

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