Monday, April 20, 2015

Teaching respect for authority by Allan Katz

Guest post by Allan Katz

The parasha – portion of Kedoshim teaches how we can become Holy like God, involved but separate from the physical world and people who are giving and make a contribution. The Parasha begins with 2 Mitzvoth -commandments. In the same sentence we are told to show (1) a special respect and reverence for parents and comply with their wishes, and (2) keep and observe the Sabbath. The juxtaposition of these 2 mitzvoth means that they inform each other. A special respect for parents will contribute to keeping the Sabbath and other mitzvoth as the purpose of the mitzvoth of honoring and respecting parents is to acknowledge their role and support their efforts in transmitting the ' tradition- masoret ' to their children. The Sabbath promotes respect and honor for parents as it provides the time and opportunity for parents to endear themselves to their children by providing for physical, emotional and spiritual needs as parents, teachers and guides. In fact, the verse can be read not only as –you shall keep the Sabbath, but also the Sabbath shall keep you. The juxtaposition of the 2 commandments also teaches the limitation and condition placed on the mitzvah to revere parents. Children do not have to obey the wishes of parents –in a respectful way -when it negates the Torah. But it is more than that – it means that with the power that comes with the authority given by the Torah, comes great responsibility – to attend to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of their children and pass on to them the heritage of the Torah.

Parents and teachers should also be respectful towards their children and students. We are supposed to love others as ourselves and thus show respect. And more important being respectful says more about us than the other person as being people who have the characteristic trait of respect - who is a man of honor and respect, he who honors and respects the dignity of others. Likewise if parents and teachers fail and neglect their responsibilities, their children and students should act respectfully as they would to any other person and in this way, protect and honor their own dignity as well.

Our success as parents and teachers and our relationship with our children and students depends on how we and our children and students perceive our authority. Our stance can be ' authoritarian', meaning that the source of our authority is from our ' status' or position as parents or teachers and the power we have over others. It can be expressed simply as being assertive and insistent in imposing our will, because we are the authority figure or using extrinsic motivation such a punishment, consequences and rewards to get compliance.
Our stance can be ' authoritative ', meaning that our authority is derived not from our status, title or power, but the respect we command because of our wisdom, stature, personalities, quality of leadership and deep concern for our children's and students' well-being. Instead of relying on our position of authority and compel others, we try to convince them of our cause and inspire them with our intellectual power and authenticity of our values. We also have a sense of humility which allows us to focus on our great responsibility, the dignity of our children and students and what they need from us, rather than focus on our need for control and authority. A lack of humility leads to the 'might is right' attitude and abuse of power. It is our humility which allows us to expose our humanity and vulnerability, see the children or students' world through their own eyes , give them a voice , ask for their input and perspectives and ' work with ' them. It allows us to relinquish control and support their autonomy, competence and relationship. In this way kids become intrinsically motivated and self – determined endorsing their actions and commitments on the highest level of reflection. Humility means we can see the difference between of the obligation of children to respect revere and honor parents and as the Steipler put it, my duty not to impose myself on others. Instead of giving orders, we would rather ask for help, which respects the dignity of others and makes them feel valuable and worthwhile. Because we address our children's needs especially the need for respect, acceptance and love and focus on our mentoring relationship with them rather than compliance, children will more readily respect our wishes. They have learned to trust and rely on us, acknowledge our wisdom and caring attitude. This is what the word סמכות = sam'chut which is authority in Hebrew, conveys. The authority is derived from the fact that kids rely = סומך on the parent and teacher and that they are ba'al sam'cha – the authority on whose knowledge, wisdom, caring and experience kids can rely. Kids should address their parents - my father /mother, my teacher and try to find qualities in their personalities that they can admire. This is because the source of respect for parents and teachers is their teaching, and their personal qualities. The question is not whether parents and teachers have authority – it is which type of authority we want ourselves and children to respect.

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