Friday, March 06, 2015

Modeling behavior for a child

I saw this posted on a number of streams. I get it that it's a nice idea to make people - even random strangers - feel good by saying something nice to them. However,  that should not be  false flattery. The man who gives the compliment refers to the hat as ugly to the boy. That makes it clear that he doesn't really consider it awesome. He could have come up with another compliment that wouldn't be a blatant lie, perhaps complimenting the man on his bag or his tie. 

As it is, the example set for the boy is that you can make friends and influence people by lying about the most obvious thing rather than looking for something you can truthfully point to as positive. 

It's actually a very bad example to set for a child that lying is the way to achieve one's goals, for the end justifies the means. There's a famous Talmudic (Yevamos 63a) account of a clever child who figured out a solution to the problem of his mother always making the opposite of what his father, Rav, requested for dinner. He switched the dish when conveying the rewquest to his mother. His father noticed the change and rmarked on it to his son who then proudly revealed his strategy.

Rav ordered him to cease and desist.  "Do not do this," he said, "so you will not learn to lie." Not willing to compromise on the truth -- even for the sake enhanced harmony-- was a powerful lesson for a child. And that child grew up to be Rav Chisda.

Now to connect the point of the previous two paragraphs: let's look at what Aharon HaKohen was famous for. Chazal say that all the Jews mourned him -- even more than Moshe -- because he was an ohev shalom verodef shalom [a lover and pursuer and peace]. He excelled at reconciling people who had a falling out. How would he do it? He'd go over to each person and tell him/her that the other wanted to make up. But, here's the big difference between a great man and the one shown in the cartoon: he wasn't lying. He had the ability to recognize the part of the person that really did want to make up. That's what he brought out in people. And that's how he proved so successful in bringing about peace. 

PS A few weeks after I first posted this, I read R' Dr. Abraham Twersky's book, Life's Too Short! St Martin's Press, 1995). On p. 158, he addresses this exact point of building self-esteem without resorting to lies, particularly in a relationship with a child.  He recounts his thoughtful response to his 7-year-old grandson's violin playing:
Although the melody was grossly off tune, I was about to say, "That was beautiful. I'm really proud of you. I caught myself, because it was not beautiful, and to say so would have been a lie. Instead I said, "I know that tune. Let's have a concert. You play and I'll sing it." We did so, and that child beamed with pride. I had acknowledged his playing  a melody that I could recognize, and I had not lied to him.

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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Good will and good works on Purim

Long before the idea of government welfare programs, taking care of the poor was firmly entrenched in Jewish communities.  Giving money and food to those who could not afford the basic necessities, particularly around the holidays, is a standard practice that is rooted all the way back in the Biblical injunction for tithes. Continuing that tradition today, many local Tomchei Shabbos programs, funded and staffed by area volunteers,  deliver food packages to needy families every week.

When the holiday of Purim was added by Mordechai and Esther, the mitzvos [obligations] of the day were set to include recounting the story of the Book of Esther by hearing the Megillah (both at night and during the day), sending mishloach manos  to friends, having a celebratory meal, and the mitzvah ofmatanos l'evyonim, that is gifts to the poor. 

It is not only unseemly to indulge in making merry while the poor go hungry, it is absolutely contrary to the halacha [Jewish law].  The minimum prescribed by the halacha is to give one mishloach manos and two matanos l'evyonim, which indicates a direction for priorities. If people are compelled to curtail their holiday spending due to their own budget constraints can minimize their own feasting and give the minimal mishloach manos but should not hold back from giving to the poor.   

Ideally, money is to be distributed on the day of Purim itself.  In Jerusalem, where Purim is celebrated on the 15th of Adar, rather than the 14th, on the day of Shushan Purim, the holiday can fall out on the Sabbath.  (Because of how the calendar is set, the 14th of Adar never falls out on the Sabbath.)  In that case, the matanos l'evyonim  are distributed a day early rather than late. 

If you are unsure of where to give, area synagogues and schools often set up collections.  A number of charities, like Yad Eliezer (which has an excellent rating from Charity Navigator) accept online credit card donations and can guarantee distribution on Purim.

A freilachen Purim!

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Monday, March 02, 2015

Purim: when we were all heroes

One of the minor (he doesn't even get the extra mention in the song we sing afterwards)  characters in Megillas Esther is named Hatach. Who was he?  In Megillah 15a  Chazal  identify him as Daniel, the same one who has a whole book of TaNach named for him. The change in name is said to refer to his having been cut down [chatchuhu]from his greatness.

 The Meshech Chochma on Megillas Esther offers a novel reason for his loss in status. He says that his greatness among the Jews was due to his willingness to sacrifice  his life for a mitzvah. He incurred the penalty of being thrown into the lion's den for having prayed three times a day. He survived through a miracle.

At the time of the Purim story, all the Jews were involved in the 3 day fast Esther called for. At that time, they all devoted themselves to tearful prayer, the study of Torah, and a willingness to give up their lives for the sanctification of the Holy Name and religious observance. Consequently, they realized that all Jews have within themselves the power to lay down their lives. Daniel's feat of heroism appeared less impressive to them because he was no longer unique in that regard.

A freilachen Purim!

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