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Rabbi's Corner

Viva la Revolución!

 rev·o·lu·tion

/ˌrevəˈlo͞oSH(ə)n/

noun

1.     1.

a forcible overthrow of a government or social order, in favor of a new system.

synonyms:

rebellion, revolt, insurrection, mutiny, uprising, riot, rioting, rising, insurgence, insurgency, coup, overthrow, seizure of power, regime change; More

 

Western Europe of the late 18th century swooned with romantic ideas of identity, independence, and freedom. The philosophical spirit of the times empowered the crushed among the lower ranks of society to advocate for justice and the equality of all members of the society. Servility and slavery were considered the evils of antiquated social and economic systems.

Revolution followed shortly thereafter. The American Revolution, leading to the French Revolution, leading to further revolutions of 1848.

These are some of the ideas that I heard discussed as I walked the halls during the secular studies.

The common feature of all these transitions is that they were awfully violent events. As the struggle for freedom became dire, those in power became desperate. They turned their muzzles on the finest of their own citizenry, sowing death and mayhem. This is revolution indeed. Lasting change was made, but the cost of freedom was paid.

As we read Parshas Hachodesh this week we prepare to celebrate and relive the revolution of our people. The Jewish revolution is a change of a fundamentally different order.

Our ancestors, a landless people without effective leadership, were trapped into forced labor, serving at the mercy of the Egyptians masters. No thinker of the time could ever imagine it remotely possible that this slave nation would win immortality and transform their work into a dwelling place for Hashem.

Liberating people from oppression is, and was, a spiritual goal of great importance. But when the Jews escaped their masters, their liberation was not yet complete. Owning their own lives and the products of their labor was not yet freedom for our people. 

Our ancestors were told that their freedom independence would be different and they wished for more. The Torah explains that the generation of the Exodus did not experience a mere freedom “from” bondage as many other nations have experienced throughout history. Instead, those leaving Egypt would experience a different kind of freedom: a freedom “to.”

The real freedom Hashem grants us at Sinai is the ability for our actions to matter. Not just matter to someone, but to matter to The One! Our freedom was a release from the depths of futility and irrelevance. A freedom to fulfill the destiny of the chosen people to bring goodness and inspiration to the world.

True Story

Many years ago I found myself seated for a Shabbos meal at the home of a wonderful family.  The environment was as warm and wonderful as the sumptuous chicken soup that only a loving mother can make.  The singing was soulful, and delightfully intertwined with inspiring words of Torah.

I sat in close proximity to the eldest son, a very clever boy who was more than happy to display his knowledge. He was clearly in sync with his family’s passion for Shabbos, and had many interesting things to say about the weekly parsha.

As the entrée was served to all the guests, our gracious host shared some insights of his own on the weekly Torah reading.  Suddenly, to the astonishment of all present, our host’s eldest son interrupted his father mid-sentence. He announced, with the pride and satisfaction of youthful unawareness, “What you are saying is not true.” He continued to explain that his father’s statement was not true because… and … and …

If there was ever a “mic drop” moment that was certainly it! Jaw agape, attempting to save face and correct his son, our host tossed a casual glance at the boy and began explain where his son had gone wrong. 

But the child would not relent.  “It’s not true, that’s wrong,” he declared in bold defiance.  It was clear and obvious to all of us (except perhaps the host, who was shocked by his son’s behavior) that the boy’s behavior was only embarrassing to himself and in no way a repudiation of the host’s knowledge.  (The child was actually incorrect.) 

Why did the boy act so disrespectfully?  What was driving him to correct his father, and why couldn’t he relent?

While I cannot presume to know the inner relationship and dialogue norms within the family, it appeared to me that in truth the child was not trying to embarrass his father. Rather, he was eager to impress him.  He wanted to display his learning and knowledge to give his father nachas and enjoyment.

Yet without empathy and self-awareness, this passion misguided him to breach the boundaries of acceptable behavior, leading to an unfortunate display of disrespect.

We see the same dynamics at work in this week’s parsha in the story of Nadav and Avihu. Their deep and noble desire for the ultimate closeness with Hashem overshadowed all of their learning, Moshe’s instructions, and even Hashem’s vision for the incense offering as He outlined in the Torah.  Following their passion single-mindedly led them to disregard the will of the very One whom they wanted most! 

Relationships that are sustaining must be built on both parties’ will. Passion, even passion for the highest things, carries with it the danger of tunnel vision. Seeing only our own desires might, chas veshalom, lead to breaking the  boundaries that our relationships require to be life-giving.  

What guards us against tunnel vision? Two keys are self-awareness and empathy. When we are self-aware, we know our desires and acknowledge that we, ourselves, want them. When we have empathy, we are able to feel what others want. Empathy also implies compassion towards others, and an interest in their wellbeing. Instilling empathy and self-awareness protects us from passion’s tunnel vision.

As parents and teachers, we must pass down those keys to ensure that our children’s offerings elicit a sweet life of goodness and happiness. Do we assist children to name their feelings and desires? Are we modeling how to invent solutions that work with everyone’s desires? Do we practice finding out what others want? Even letting children ask guests what they would like in their chicken soup reinforces the awareness that different people want different things. My wish for all of us is that we have children whose passion for life and Torah is unlocked with the keys of empathy and self-awareness.

Shabbat shalom.

Inner Work, Outer Achievements

What a week we have had at TDS!  Our students have given us such nachas with all of their successes.  First, we were gratified to see the progress students have made on their report cards.  While they are more routine than other awards, report cards are the most consistent indicator of our students’ learning and growth.

The Brachos Bee was the culmination of weeks of study by our student body.  Students competed in the Brachos Bee in their classrooms on Wednesday.  On Thursday, the classroom winners competed against each other in a school-wide Brachos Bee.  The proud winners were awarded a (thingy and a thingy and another thingy), but looking beyond the external rewards, we are most proud that all of the students committed so many brachos to memory.  Can you imagine how much kedusha our student body internalized by wrapping their minds around these mitzvos?

TDS students in all grades also distinguished themselves in the Student of the Month awards.  There are no “obligatory” Student of the Month awards, so every student who received an award can be proud that his or her performance or middos were truly outstanding this month.

TDS participants in Chidon also received plaques in the Rosh Chodesh assembly today.  We eagerly await the Chidon competition in New York, and we are very proud of the hard work put in by the TDS representatives who will compete.

Just as the High Priest wore holy garments to conduct his spiritual work, so too our own external circumstances can help us grow in holiness and character.  May our students’ achievements always spur them on to greater accomplishments and more mitzvos.  We can’t wait to see what you will do next!

Kosis: The Blessing of a Wounded Knee

In a sense, schools are incubators of society. In their youngest years, our children remain in the cocoon of our homes, sheltered from the pressures of social hierarchies and the drive to conform.

Then the long-awaited first day of school comes, filled with possibilities and dreams for parents and children alike. It is the entry point to our academic careers and to the world of rules, regulations, and independence. Many children successfully navigate the chutes and ladders of social integration, while other have terrible difficulty developing their emotional skills, social connections, and sense of self.

Then the fateful day that every parent dreads presents itself. Your child comes to carpool with tears in her eyes. You gasp, and flutter through an array of emotions. Fear, anger, disbelief, and disappointment.

You lower yourself to your child’s eye level and ask, in the kind of emotive voice that only a parent can muster, “What happened?”

The answer: “Someone hurt my feelings.” (For whatever reason. The reason why doesn’t really matter.)

You think to yourself, “Should I speak to the teacher? Perhaps the parents of the offending child? The principal, the president? What should I do, I need to protect my child!”

All parents desperately want to protect their children. This natural desire may take the form of protecting children from any form of discomfort, whether it be social, intellectual, or psychological. Homework, a lost temper, an unshared toy, a personality difference, or you name it: if the child feels stress, healthy or not, the objective of the parent is to relieve the child. Look out below, the stereotypical helicopter parent is making a landing.

Other parents view stressful situations differently. They perceive the challenges in their child’s life as opportunities for growth and accountability. Rather than protecting their precious child from stress, they build up their child’s abilities though positive support, reframing stressful situations, and teaching how to learn from failures, mistakes, and tough times.

These parents believe in Kosis.

So what’s that?

In this week’s parsha we read:

אַתָּה תְּצַוֶּה אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְיִקְחוּ אֵלֶיךָ שֶׁמֶן זַיִת זָךְ כָּתִיתַ למָּאוֹר

“And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually.”

Here, the process of making olive oil is linked with its purpose. Olives are not merely crushed, but crushed for lighting. Even while the olives are growing, their grower knows that they must be crushed to bring out the purity of their essence. Avoiding the crushing removes the chance to create light.

Parent who believe in Kosis are parents who know that their children will face difficulties, and will need to overcome those challenges if their gifts are to shine in this world. These parents protect their children by strengthening them to deal with adversity. The insight of Kosis is that being crushed is not the end. It may even be the beginning. 

Naturally, children need to be strengthened and they need to be shielded. But how well have we protected our children if we have not helped them develop the capacity to deal with the difficult things that come their way? Incrementally, increasingly, we must build their strength and lessen their need for our direct intervention. When the time comes that our children have to find the way for themselves, it is specifically the character built that ultimately serve the day.

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