Thursday, September 1, 2016

Re'eh 76 - Internalizing the reasons of the Mitzvoth - commandments

In our parasha, Moses reviews the dietary – Kashrut laws that deal with forbidden animals, birds and fish etc.  Two of the birds listed are the עורב = the raven and the Chasidah - חסידה which is translated as the stork, but there is uncertainty here. Amongst the forbidden animals we have the pig – and the Sifra commentary notes that 'one should not say that his soul loathes and is disgusted by pig's meat, but say – I would indeed like it, but what I can do, my Father in heaven has imposed these decrees on me.'  
" אי אפשי לאכול בשר חזיר אבל "אפשי ומה אעשה ואבי שבשמים גזר עלי כך
We can respond in this way concerning the חוקים  - statutes which are commandments that have no rationale comprehensible to the human mind, but when we are dealing with laws between man – משפטים  we don't say I have no problem with killing, stealing or hurting but what can I do my Father in Heaven has imposed these decrees on me. Human intelligence הערה השכל  will lead us to conclusions about the underlying values, what is right and wrong with regard human interactions etc. . . . After the receiving of the Torah we are inspired and guided by the Torah –  הערה התורה to discover new reasons and spiritual dimensions to the commandments.  The reason we observe the commandments and accept the authority of a commandment, irrespective of our understanding, is that it is the will of God. R' SRH explains that the Torah laws are like the laws of nature; they exist independent of our investigation or understanding. However, even though we cannot hope to figure out and understand the divine intelligence or God's motives, we have to reflect on the laws, contemplate them and offer reasons wherever possible and this includes the חוקים – laws where the apparent reason is hidden.  The reason for doing the mitzvoth - טעם לצמות is God's will, the reason in the mitzvoth, הטעם במצות is the underlying value and our intention. The sages give us some understanding as how the mitzvoth should impact on us - to refine mankind, לצרף הבריות and promote psychological, social and spiritual improvements etc. The study of the reasons of the mitzvoth – טעמי המצות,  their underlying values and goals, gives us a deeper understanding and helps us make our actions more meaningful and qualitatively better. Our hearts, mind, thoughts and intentions are the soul of the physical action and God primarily wants our hearts -   רחמנא לבא בעי. Our emotional and spiritual growth depends on the internalization of the values underlying the mitzvoth and incorporating the commandments into one's personality. A successful mitzvah depends on understanding the underlying value and goals and injecting the physical action with soul so we connect also emotionally and spiritually to the mitzvoth. In this way, we shape our instinct and inclinations so that we fulfill the words of Proverbs 21 the soul of the evil person desires evil, the soul of the righteous person rejoices in acting justly. 
   נפש רשע אותה רע .....שמחה לצדיק עשות משפט
The Torah teaches us that the pig is not kosher because it has only one of the 2 kosher signs – it has a split hoof, but does not chew the cud. The commentary remarks that the pig is the symbol of the hypocrite. When the pig lies down and crouches, it spreads it feet out to show us that he is a kosher animal. However, he does not chew the cud, so his inside is not like his outside. Although we are not disgusted by pig meat, we are now less inclined to eat pig meat as this would mean internalizing the negative value inherent in the pig, something that goes against our values and who we are.

It is important to ask children and ourselves - if God would not command us to do mitzvoth like acts of charity or not to hurt people, or keep the Sabbath, what would we do? Hamish children were asked – why they should not steal or kill or keep the Sabbath – they answered: because God said so. They were then asked – if God had not commanded you to act in a certain way, what would you do?  Children who had internalized the values underlying God's commandments had no difficulty in answering the questions. We are inspired by our intellects –  הערה השכל not to hit another person and by the Torah –הערה התורה, not even to raise a hand.  We honor and respect parents but the Torah go further and equate the honor of parents with the honor of God. With all our learning and intellectual abilities we acknowledge that our understanding of the Divine will is limited and ultimately do the mitzvoth because we submit to the Divine will and intelligence.

The Torah lists the Chasidah and the o'reiv – the raven as non-kosher birds. The Chasidah or questionably known as the stork is called the 'chasidah' = the righteous one is because it displays kindness – חסד towards others of its species by sharing food with them. If it is so compassionate why it is stigmatized as a non-kosher bird – the answer is that it directs its kindness exclusively to its own kind and will not help other species. Its generosity and compassionate is driven and motivated by self-interest and expediency rather than by true altruism.  We find that the raven –  עורב also did acts of kindness. Although the raven refused to carry out his mission while in Noah's ark and check if the flood had subsided  so mankind could resettle the land, the ravens were responsible for the Prophet Elijah's survival by bringing him food in the morning and evening. After Ahab had questioned God's credibility - the nation was not punished with famine or drought because of their idol worship, Elijah called on God to punish the nation with a drought. The Maharal explains that the ravens had an ulterior motive. Their actions were not motivated by the desire to do good to Elijah, but they wanted the nation of Israel to suffer. If Elijah lacked food and water, he would have asked for the famine to stop. Although their actions could be defined as acts of kindness, their evil intentions and motivations redefined the action. The way people cheat and deceive others is that they first build trust and confidence by doing acts of kindness and helping others. Once they have that person's trust and confidence, they can empty out their bank accounts.

Instead of promoting intrinsic motivation, doing the mitzvoth and learning because they have intrinsic and inherent value - the reward of a mitzvah is the mitzvah- good deed itself, a sin or bad deed is punishment in itself - we drive learning and pro-social behavior using rewards, grades, praise, consequences and punishment.  Not only is internalization and commitment impaired, but at best we promote the lowest form of morality – if you do this you will get that, and one also encourages cheating and dishonesty in order to get the reward. We also convert the value of a spiritual act with all its emotion and intention into money. There is a blind belief, that if we get kids to do an action for the wrong reason, they will, in terms of the Talmud, come to do it for the right reasons.  This is only true when the Lo lishma – doing things not for the sake of Heaven is Lishma – for the sake of Heaven. The child wants to do things because they have inherent value and for the sake of Heaven, but he feels he needs some extrinsic motivation to help him reach his goals. It is much easier to get children to comply and do things by ' doing to them ' and promising them rewards. It is far more difficult to engage kids so they can reflect about the reasons of the mitzvoth, how they impact on others, how they represent his values and who he is as a person.

No comments:

Post a Comment