Wednesday, April 30, 2014

more bedtime torah

Elazar does not like to do bedtime snuggle when I'm wearing my zipper sweatshirt.  I don't like to take it off.  Some nights I accommodate him.  Tonight I didn't feel like it.  After trying futilely to take it off me, he put his hands around my neck.  "Do you want me to kill you with my hands?  Because I will kill you with my hands if you don't take it off."

"Fine, you can kill me with your hands," I said.  "Hey, do you know how many aveiras it would be if you killed me?"

He tries to throttle me.  "Really?  You really want to be killed?"

I block him when the pressure starts getting uncomfortable.  "You can try to kill me," I say.  "I'm stronger than you.  I am not taking off my sweatshirt and you won't be able to kill me."  He's still trying.  "So, can you think of how many aveiras it would be?"

"What's an aveira?"

"An aveira is when you don't do a mitzva.  When you do a 'Lo Ta'aseh.'"  We've spoken about the 2 categories of mitzvos, the "do"s and the "don't"s.  I just hadn't told him that doing a "don't" is called an "aveira."

"I can think of maybe four different aveiras," I say.  He's not listening to me.  He's still annoyed about the sweatshirt and still trying to choke me.

Finally we listed: "Don't murder," "Don't hit (attack) a person," "Don't hit (make a bruise) on your mother or father," and "Respect your father and mother."

I pointed out that one action could be a bunch of different aveiros.  Then I asked him if he could think of one bite that would be 2 aveiros.

He couldn't.  I said what if the 2 aveiros are milk&meat, and bacon.  He still couldn't figure it out.  I said taking one bite out of a bacon cheeseburger.  He liked that.  Then I asked if he made "hamotzi" on his burger.  He didn't, so that's three!

I was going to start discussing the different besdin (court) punishments, but I realized I'm not knowledgeable enough.  I have to do some learning.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

An unschooling tactic

We often worry our children are going to grow up and be ignoramuses (and surely that's incorrect grammar, which just further justifies my concerns).

Early in my marriage I fortunately changed a negative habit I had of some types of nagging.  How did I do this?  Whenever I have an urge to tell my husband or children to do improve in some way, I just (Byron Katie it!) flip it around and make it about myself instead.  For example, "I'm concerned about your spiritual development" becomes "I'm concerned about my spiritual development."  And "You should go to shul" becomes "I should improve my own tefila."  "You should be learning more Torah" is actually not about them, it would be about me.  And once it's about me, that's easy enough to remedy. 

Every time you are worried that your child will grow up not learning Torah, pull out a sefer and learn something yourself.  You'll realize that you can learn a lot as an adult.  Then you won't worry so much.  Plus, you'll have learned something, which will probably be on your mind, and you'll more likely discuss it with your kids, and poof! they learned Torah.  

On Omnipotence

Elazar (first grade) continuing the thought from last week.  (It isn't even bedtime.):  Hashem can't do everything.  He can't kill Himself.  He can't touch His body.  He can't eat.  He can't do thumb wrestle.

Then I asked him how Hashem might be able to do thumb wrestle.  He thought about that.  I suggested that Hashem can move my thumb.  He asked, "But how would you see His thumb?"  True, I wouldn't be able to.  I said that Hashem could create a hand to wrestle with me.  Then he asked if he could daven for Hashem to play with him.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

How to make it more interesting..

Tonight Jack wanted "leaf" Torah.  We talked about what bracha a leaf would be.  Elazar suggested "ha'eitz," which I wonder about, since leaves are not normally eaten.  I then asked about basil, mint, and lemon balm, all of which we grow, and Elazar said "adama."

Then Jack asked if we can eat bugs.  Elazar said we can (physically), but it's not kosher.  Jack asked if we are still Jewish if we eat bugs.  I said yes, but we are over (not keeping) the mitzva.  He said he wanted to not keep the mitzva.

Then Elazar told me to choose Torah.  I told him the story of Yona, since it has choosing (the lottery).  He recognized the story when I got to the fish.

Then I was thinking about how Chana thinks Kedoshim is so boring, when I think it is a fascinating Parsha.  I was thinking that if I think it is so interesting, then how can I show that to Chana?  She doesn't like analyzing or asking questions when we are doing Chumash.  I remembered a class a friend of mine gave, almost two decades ago, about "Vahavta L'reyacha Kamocha."  (Probably reminded by "re'ah.")  It was a simple enough concept, but he led us through asking questions to the point where it was a really interesting process.  Maybe I can think of something that we can ask questions about that Chana will find interesting.

While I was musing, Elazar mumbled, "More Torah!!"  He told me to pick.  I chose the se'ir l'Hashem and l'Azazel and the lottery.

I'd like to think of a good bunch of pesukim in Parshas Kedoshim for Chana to ask questions about.

One possibility is (19:3): A man should fear his mother and his father, and keep my Shabboses; I am Hashem your Gd.

Another (19:37): And you should guard all my statutes and all my mishpatim and do them; I am Hashem.

Another (20:3): And I will put my face in that person and I will cut him off from his nation, because he gave from his children to Molech, in order to tameh My mikdash and to desecrate My holy name.

I guess I'll see how it goes..

Kedoshim Tehiyu

It's 8pm.  I was out all day with the boys visiting their great grandmother.  When we got home, Chana went to trapeze.  Now it's late and we are just getting started.

Chana asked me for a few words.  She's quite grouchy.  When I reminded her that the word "rei'ei'hu" is "re'ah" not "ra" (bad) but "re'ah" (friend) she said she doesn't remember that at all.  I said we did it a few times.  She said we didn't.  I said back in Bereshis.  She said, "How am I supposed to remember that?!"  Grouchy.

She told me she was grouchy and I asked her why.  She said she doesn't know.

When she came over to do new pesukim, she requested that I sit next to her, not be distracted, and not look at Rashis (that's often how I "prepare": I sneak a look at Rashi as she does the pasuk and see if it will be suitable).  I felt this was a mature and straightforward request.

She couldn't remember which pasuk she is up to.  She complained that this is taking a long time, it is very boring, she can't understand it, she doesn't remember the words, and it is boring.  (Did I mention she's finding it boring?)  For the first time in... maybe ever, she asked me to just read the pesukim and explain them to her.  She said she knows so few of the words she's finding it incredibly frustrating.  I did 4 pesukim, reading Hebrew and translating phrase by phrase into English.  The first pasuk was so confusing to her I did it twice.  The second time with no Hebrew, just pointing to each Hebrew word as I translated it into English.

She grudgingly said she can do the last pasuk of the aliyah.  She zipped through it after a brief complaint about how the letters were very squashed.

I think this interaction demonstrated remarkable maturity and restraint on her part.  At one point, when I asked her to please speak to me nicely, she changed her tone immediately.  Considering that she's operating under extreme grouchiness, I am really impressed.

The derech eretz we practice in our interpersonal relationship while we learn Torah together is as important as the pesukim.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Seder Challenge 2014: What actually happened

I got the boys to nap in the afternoon.  I was of two minds about this.  On one hand, maybe just put them to bed at 8pm and they'll have seder when they are old enough.  On the other hand, they are old enough to remember it is special and exciting, and with a nap, they'll be able to manage.  It was a challenge to get them to sleep, but it did pay off.  They were alert, not cranky, and not wild.  We were guests for both sedarim this year.  When we are home, we do one seder with just the family and no guests so that we can tailor it completely to the children's needs.  This year, Sarah was old enough to participate with the general seder, but Ari did the boys the first night as soon as he captured their attention (I wore a hat that kids get from the matza factory and was asked why I was wearing it a few times, which segued into conversation about how telling the story of the night is best done via questions and answers), pretty soon after Karpas.  Chana sat next to me the first night, and as you know, I had been wracking my brain the previous week trying to figure out what would be the most interesting thing for her during the seder.

Sometimes you just get lucky.  As I sat next to her, I asked her questions as I thought of them.  I tried to think of questions that she might find interesting.  At one point, I asked her why she thought blood was the first plague.  Like what was Hashem trying to accomplish with the plagues, and how was blood a good first choice.  Chana gave a solid explanation about how the Nile was the source of all their sustenance, how it was a deity, and how blood would have a powerful emotional effect.  I asked her why she thought frogs would be next.  This question really captivated her and for the next hour, she hypothesized about each plague and why it was chosen and why that order.  She was more satisfied with some of her answers than others, and she made a few points that I had never thought of.  It was a fantastic discussion, completely driven by her and her interest, and she kept coming up with theories and was eager to discuss it.  It was everything I hoped and wished for in terms of her being excited, involved, and stimulated.

The second night I put the boys to bed before the seder.  Ari sat next to Chana and I sat next to Sarah.  It was a really profound experience for me to sit next to Sarah.  We sort of had our own little chevrusa during the seder.  It's remarkable to be at the end of the chinuch road, and to see Sarah so interested in learning, so capable of analytic thought, and so thoughtful in the answers she gives to questions.
At one point, she said that the essence of the hagada is to tell the story, but we always tell the story for the little kids, and we never do "sippur" (telling the story) on an advanced level for adults.  So I told her to tell it to me, and she did, and it was fascinating to hear her perspective and which details she chose to include.  At one point she admitted that it was probably advisable to take out a chumash and actually look more closely at the pesukim!  I hope that as the children grow, we will be able to take her up on that.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

the Seder Challenge 2014 III

I like the general approach of thinking of questions that might appeal to Chana and then asking her thoughts.

- Were the Makkos fair?  Is that how punishments should work?  What is the goal of a punishment?

- What is the point of doing Makkos if Hashem promised from the beginning that Pharoah would refuse?  Is Hashem playing games with Pharoah?

This reminds me of the list of questions I made in 2008, when Sarah was... 12, actually!  I wrote each question on a strip of paper, and put one on every plate, and we went around the room and everyone answered his or her question.  I tried to choose questions that could be answered on all levels.  I would LOVE some new questions.

Which mitzvah do you find the hardest?  How does it help you become a better person?

What do you think was the worst part of being slaves in Mitzrayim?

What part of yetziyas mitzrayim do you wish you could see?

What do you think was the hardest part for Moshe?

Which makka do you think you would have been able to wait out?

Which makka would you beg Moshe to ask Hashem to stop?

Which is more impressive, Yam Suf or the Makkos?

Do the mitzvos make us slaves or set us free?

Tell the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim  in your own words

How does having matza and no chometz for a week make you feel about food?

Monday, April 7, 2014

the Seder Challenge 2014 II

So I started off having a conversation.  With teens, it's always best to hear what they are thinking and get their input.

There were tears and screaming.  Not mine, this time, I'm happy to report.  Here are the highlights:

-It won't be fun, it can't be fun, it will never be fun.
-She already knows the story.  If I want it to be fun, go back in time 6 years when she didn't know the story and was excited to learn it.  Now she knows it.
-She does not want to read the story again.
-She doesn't want to learn it inside; it's Daddy's responsibility to tell it to her.
-(And she already knows it)

So I conclude that having her read it inside and seeing what new insights emerge is NOT going to work this year.

I'm going to need a different approach where somehow it is interesting.

the Seder Challenge

One of the interesting things I learned about the Seder is that the essence of Hagada is not written in the Hagada.  The mitzva of Sipur Yetzias Mitzrayim, to tell your child the story of the Exodus, is done in many forms (using question answer, using props ["pesach, matza, maror"], using "drasha").  But the mishna (Pesachim 10:4) says:
ולפי דעתו של בן אביו מלמדו
The father should teach his child according to the child's ability.  That means, by definition, it can't be a formulaic telling of the story.  It has to be tailored to the particular child.  (We homeschoolers are familiar with this approach.)

I once heard a shiur by R' Pinny Rosenthal (and it might even be somewhere on the internet) where he suggested taking time to prepare before the Seder.  To think about each child that will be at the Seder and where they are at, mentally and emotionally, and to think about what aspect of the story will appeal to them, and what methodology would be most effective to use to tell it to them.  Yes, this takes preparation.  In addition to preparing the house and preparing food, preparing for the Seder by thinking about how you are going to do the mitzva of "sippur" [telling the story] to your children is perhaps the most fundamental preparation.

I was thinking about this for Chana this year.  She is probably the most challenging.  The boys still don't know the story that well or what exactly will be happening during the Seder, and the activities of the night themselves will be fascinating (if they stay awake).  Sarah is older and will be able to participate on a sophisticated level.  The 12 year old, Chana, however, already knows the story and doesn't enjoy learning very much.

I remember when Sarah was that age, one year we chose a particular makka (plague) to study more intensely during the seder.  She chose which one she found most intriguing, and we read it carefully and talked about it.  Another year we made a huge chart with all sorts of factors and during the seder we looked at which makos had which factors (like who did the plague, was there a warning, did Pharoah negotiate, etc).

What I would really love to do with Chana this year is somehow help her find some joy in the process of limud Torah.  I feel like all our learning together has been so focused on skillwork, it has made her reluctant to play with Torah and to enjoy thinking about it.  She does ask questions because the human mind naturally comes up with questions, but she doesn't enjoy thinking about them or wondering or pondering.

Chana has done the story of Shmos and it will be interesting to see how much of the text she can easily translate, and how much she doesn't remember.  Perhaps for the next week (before Pesach), I should have her read it in Hebrew and ask me for translation of any word of phrase she doesn't remember, with the goal of thinking about the story as a whole and thinking deeply about it and pondering and asking questions.

Will reading it in Hebrew be too difficult for her to ALSO think about it?  Or are her skills up to the task?  Will she become too fatigued from translating to think about it in a deeper way?

Is there a better way to have her engage intellectually and emotionally with the story?  What is it?