Saturday, 29 June 2013

Pinchas- bringing about change

Parashat Pinchas covers a variety of information. Last year our project focused on the end of the parasha, the Mussaf offerings. This time we compared three events in the parasha; Pinchas killing Zimri and Kozbi, Bnot Tzlofchad, and Moshe requesting new leadership.
It was challenging to tell the girls how Hashem rewarded Pinchas for his brutal behavior (especially after Chukat when we discussed in depth not using our hands to bring about results).
Cohava said, "Boys fight with their hands and hurt people. But girls don't, so we are ok." I thought about pointing out the tussling that transpires between her and her sisters, but before I had the chance she continued. "That is why we have all girls in our family- except Abba. And we need an Abba, because he does the hoovering." Yes, that is why we allow my husband to be part of the family, because he does the vacuum cleaning.
"Yes, we have mostly girls in our family," I agreed. "Shall I tell you about another family with lots of girls in the parasha?"
"I remember. There were sisters who wanted land in eretz Yisrael but it was only for boys," Gabi piped up. How Gabi can remember the parasha from year to year, but not to use a fork boggles my mind. I began to tell the story of the five sisters and their plea for their father's land, as he left no male heir.
"What would you do if it were you?" I asked.
"Cry," Gabi replied honestly.
"Yell,"Cohava added with equal candidness.
Then we discussed the bravery and maturity the bnot Tzlofchad exhibited when they spoke before Moshe and Elazar.
"Now, we have seen how when we want something to change we can either hurt people or ask the people in charge nicely. Can you think of any other ways to get what you want?" I asked.
"You can wait and it will get better by itself," Gabi suggested. She is not a social activist in the making.
"That won't help! You have to make people do it!" Cohava argued.
"Or you can ask Hashem for help."
"Oh yeah!" replied the girls.
I then told them how Moshe asks Hashem for new leadership to take over after his upcoming death, to lead the Jewish people into Israel.

I am always awed by the relevance of the text of the Torah to today. Logic would dictate that the Torah would become obsolete and irrelevant. Of course Hashem overrules logic.
This week's newspapers showed me how the text of parashat Pinchas is as relevant today, around the world, as it was more than 3000 years ago.

Early in the week, the New York Times ran an article about how primogeniture is still the law for the aristocracy in the United Kingdom.  The battle begun by Bnot Tzlofchad has not ended in the UK, in spite of seeming equal rights among genders.

The method employed by the daughter's of Tzlofchad, petitioning and lobbying the major decision making bodies, is certainly being used today. This week's US Supreme Court ruling which voted DOMA unconstitutional, was the result of years of extensive lobbying. 

Passing the mantle of leadership occurred this week, as the position of Prime Minister moved from Julia Gillard to Kevin Rudd, although I doubt she requested God's help in being overthrown.

In South Africa, Nelson Mandela, the greatest leader their country has known, is looking at the end of his life, much like Moshe in this parasha. 

All major English speaking countries have headlines this week which echo the messages of Parashat Pinchas, and how change is brought about. If I read other languages, I am sure I would have found an honor killing, similar to Pinchas' actions. The Torah could not be more alive and relevant today.

To highlight the means which we should most use to render change, requesting from the leadership and engaging with the Divine, the girls made paper dolls.  First they made the five female lobbyist. They they made Moshe.

With pre-cut paper chains, markers, glue, and scrap fabric, they got to work. 

The five sisters

And Moshe.

 Instead of Challah this week, I got bagels to pay homage to Pinchas' actions. 
 And Ruti had her own idea of what constitutes five sisters and was working to create a collection of ' five babies'.

Tova was not impressed.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Balak: O-hell, what is this?

From last year's adventures my girls have a good handle on Parashat Balak. They remembered everything except the word  'אָתוֹן' [ah-tone] the Hebrew word for Bilam's female donkey. I marvel that some children's texts use the term 'she-ass' instead.

This year I decided to focus on Bilam's third bracha of the Jewish people, specifically "מה טבו אהליך יעקב, משכנותיך ישראל"[Mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishcanotecha Yisrael]. Bilam, who has already failed Balak twice in cursing Bnei Yisrael, opens his mouth and proclaims, "How beautiful are your tents Yaakov, your dwelling places Yisrael. 

What made their homes so praiseworthy to Bilam? Surely from his position high on a hilltop he is able to see very little detail. Rashi says that Bilam is remarking on the arrangement of their tents. The dwellings were close together, showing the achdut [unity] of the Jewish people, but the openings were arranged in a way to maximize modesty.

Nice, but what about the repeated language in the phraseology? Aren't 'tent' and 'dwelling place' synonymous in this context? Aren't Yaakov and Yisrael the same person? Ramban explains that Bilam's words are not an observation, rather a prophecy. The tents are for sojourning in the wilderness, but the dwelling places will be the Jewish people's home in Eretz Yisrael.

Beautiful. But it doesn't answer the double name question. When I think of tents, I think of Sukkot, the temporary homes, used for the festival of Sukkot. The first mention of Sukkot in the Torah is in Bereshit 36:17. Yaakov has wrestled with the angel. The angel informs him that his new name will be Yisrael, but Hashem has not given it to him yet so he is still 'Yaakov'. After this episode, Yaakov names his next sojourn 'Sukkot' for the temporary shelters he made there. The name Yaakov is tied to physicality and struggle. He names 'Sukkot' when he is still Yaakov but has been informed of his potential as 'Yisrael'. 'Yisrael' means "to prevail over God." The potential to prevail is there, but 'Yaakov' does not actualize it.

Sukkot, 'אהליך יעקב - the tents of Yaakov', represent the Jewish people in their physical and superficial state. We are good, even in our basic form, because of our never-ending potential for greatness at God's hands. Bilam recognizes that in the first part of his praise. The second half of the phrase, 'משכנותיך ישראל - your dwellings Yisrael' is the Jewish people attaining proximity to our potential. Temporarily we are in tents of physicality, but when we work to achieve to the higher spiritual levels, it becomes a real dwelling place, where we stay and prevail. May we be able to achieve this as we start the period of the three weeks.  

Needless to say, I did not share my insights on this with the girls. Maybe in a few years when they can reason more abstractly. 

In the meantime they made a tent city. 

Using the template here I printed a few pages of tents. (I don't understand the cause this page is connected to so ignore the bottom instructions about decorating). 
I also printed the words of 'mah tovu' in Hebrew and English so the girls could work on reading. 
With colors, scissors, and glue sticks, the girls got to work. 

 Before I got pictures Gabi's went missing. Here are some of Cohava's masterpieces:

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Jealousy- Korach

As soon as Shabbat ended, I started teaching parashat Korach. It went something like this:
"This week's parasha is called 'Korach'."
"We should make yummy sugar almonds like Aaron's staff," Gabi piped up. Right. From the title, she remembers the entire parasha and the project we did a year ago. That is why things must be different this year.
"Oh, yah. I remember those. They were yummy," Cohava agreed.
I should make some for dessert.

We talked at length about what fueled Korach's behavior. Jealousy! If you know a child, or any human, who never struggles with jealousy, I am impressed. Jealously is an emotion everyone experiences from time to time.
"Is it ok for a person to think, 'Wow, Moshe is amazing!'" I asked the girls.
"Yes, because Moshe is amazing," Cohava agreed.
"What about, 'I want to be just like Moshe!'?" Cohava nodded. Gabi looked uncertain. "I think it is ok to feel that way," I clarified. "But what about, 'I want to hurt Moshe so I can be where he is?'"
"Definitely not!" Gabi exclaimed.
"Right. You should try not to think it, but you definitely shouldn't do it." Then I re-ran the whole scenario but replacing 'Moshe' with 'Gabi or Cohava'.
They got it in theory. But actualizing it, overcoming jealousy, is not so easy.

"Jealousy is when you count someone else's blessings instead of your own" is a quote I like. In order to help the girls count their own blessings, our project of the week revolved around self-appreciation and affirmations.

At dinner one night, I asked the girls to reflect on their 'blessings' what they are very good at. To get the ball rolling I explained how Gabi's memory is a special gift she has from Hashem.
"I remember things too," Cohava remarked. And as we went on, this jealousy became a struggle. I tried very hard to make them name different things.
"I am a good artist," Cohava remarked.
"Me too," Gabi chimed in.
"True, you do both make beautiful pictures. Gabi, please use your fork to eat."
"I am a good listener," Cohava added.
"Me too!"
"Gabi, if you are a good listener, why aren't you using a fork?"

A few days later, I gave the children photo frames with very large frames. On cardstock I had written some of their 'special talents'. With a bottle of glue, their talent words, and some sequences, they got to work decorating.
Really the frames could not hold all of the wonderful things about my girls. Their brachot from Hashem are really unending.
 But it is a start. One day I might do something like this 101 Affirmations for Children. Building the self-esteem and self-worth of our children is crucial.  And for everyone around us.

The midrashim in this parasha depict two contrasting women. Korach's wife's tells him that he is worthless compared to the leadership, that unless he puts them down, he amounts to nothing. With those messages coming from home, he is drive to his heinous behavior and it is no surprise that the punishment involves his entire household being consumed by the earth.

When Korach begins rallying followers, Onn Ben Pelet is mentioned as one of his supporters. But Onn is not one of the punished. The midrash is that his wife said, "Moshe is your teacher and you are his pupil. If Korach is in charge, you would still be a pupil." 'Value who you are. You aren't going to change, you need to value yourself for who you are.' She deters Korach and the other mutinous men from speaking to her husband.
We need to do everything we can to build up ourselves and everyone around us to value our own wonderful worth and count all of our brachot from HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

 Shabbat Shalom!