Friday, June 09, 2006

This One Goes To Eleven

1. First Family

"Lemishpechotam lebeit avotam-according to their families, to their father's households."

This phrase is repeated many times in Parshat Nassa. The Mikdash Mordechai says that it is by design that this portion contains the laws of Sotah, a woman whose actions destroy the family. The message is that the Jewish People are no stronger than their families. A situation like that of the Sotah can even bring down the national family.

The Sifri presents an argument between Rabi Chanina Sgan HaKohanim and Rabi Nossan regarding which kind of peace is the objective of Birchat Kohanim. One opinion is that shalom bayit - peace in the home is what is referred to in the words of this blessing. The other opinion is that the peace spoken of is the political peace of malchut beit Dovid.

The Mikdash Mordechai reconciles these views, suggesting that national peace can be achieved and maintained only if there is familial peace. It is this dual bracha the kohanim bestow upon us, and it is for this reason that these two topics appear in the same parsha.

Psychotherapist Allen Wheelis writes: "There is no such thing as individuals, there are only fragments of families." On a related note, there is no such thing as nations, there are only extensions of families.

(Based On Rabbi Frand On Parshat Nassa, except for the last source)

2. The Same But Different

He had been somewhere (Buffalo rings a bell) where they were testing a new potato chip. The plan, my sixth grade teacher Mr. C. said, was that this new invention would make old potato chips obsolete. These newfangled chips were an amazing thing, he told us (but still hadn't showed them to us) because they were made in such a way that there were no broken pieces. And they were stored in a way that retained the perfect shape. He then produced a tube of neatly stacked identical chips. And then he walked around the room and gave us each each three of these special treats. He told us to notice how they were shaped like a saddle, and pointed out that the top was salted and the bottom unsalted (enabling you to choose your eating experience). Then we enjoyed some of the first Pringles ever made.

Mr. C. was not the only or even the first teacher that I had who gave food to class. What made this day memorable was the ordered manner of his presentation. Built in to the way he presented each of us with something that he showed us to be special was the message that we were special. Sometimes I tell kids that they're special and they get insulted. The word special is often accompanied today with imaginary hand quotes and condescending tones. But if you show that you think highly of someone, the gesture becomes indisputable and lives on as more than a moment but as part of a life.

Today, I got the last day of school right by reaching back to sixth grade, to the approach of Phil Chernofsky.

I entered the room with two types of pretzels. I gave the kids a brief talk about what I feel is most important in life. I spoke about the difficulty of balancing love and fear, closeness and distance. My strength as a teacher is in the closeness department. I am proud that kids leave my class with a good feeling. I am a teacher that they know they can call upon if they want to later in life. I am certainly not the teacher that they cross the hall, pretending not to see. I get enthusiastic hellos for years. On the other hand, I could afford to tighten up in the fear department. But, if I had to choose one side to tilt to (and we need to work on this balance for our whole lives) I'd choose to tilt towards closeness over distance. I told them this.

I told my class which is labeled as the lowest class how much I hate labels, when others apply them and when people apply them to themselves. I feel like crying, I told them, when I hear people calling others or themselves "stupid." I told them that I will always remember them as charming, good, capable, and bright. And that in 120 years their tombstone will not report if they were in 9X or 9R, but it will say if they were a loving friend, parent, neighbor, human being And they are all up for that task.

None of these words were taken from Phil Chernofsky. But the way that I capped them was inspired by Mr. C. After my words I walked up to each kid and presented them with a sticker with a word of praise on it, as well as two pretzels. And I addressed them by name (something that my father HSLABW taught me the importance of) and told them it was a pleasure, and as often as I could, I added a word specifically about them. Then there was more food and pictures and hanging out together. The presentation, I believe, of a little something to each kid will help the sweetness of the memory to live on for all of us.

Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with Parshat Nassa. First I have to tell you about Lawrence (not his real name). Lawrence is extremely bright and even more restless. He needs to be challenged. And when he criticizes what you've said, I've come to realize, it's a good sign. Lawrence processes new information by disagreeing with it, poking holes in it to see how it holds up.

Lawrence took it all in; the pretzels, the speech, the stickers. And then he asked, "did you do the same thing with every class?" I knew not to get (too) defensive, this was Lawrence at his best. Boom! He shot a hole in the theory that this was something kind and real that I was doing here.

I told Lawrence that when the Mishkan was set up the heads of each tribe brought gifts. And what they each brought was exactly the same. And the Torah describes them each with the same words, over and over again. The Midrash Rabba on this section is unusually long, because the midrash goes into the depths of the meanings and intentions of each tribes offeringsngs. Even though the offering of each tribe was comprised of the same things, the experience was unique for each one. Each brought their own essence and the interfacing with G-d was a totally different phenomenon each time.

I told Lawrence that the foods and the words were the same for each class (for technical reasons I only actually did this with two out of five classes) but the experience was meaningful in a different way with each group. Lawrence nodded in a contrite way, indicating that he clearky got it. Then Stu (not his real name) pointed out (something that eluded me while I was thinking of and supplying my reply to Lawrencence) that what I had described was form this week's parsha.

May we be blessed to increase our uniqueness, even while we conform to a mold. May we be blessed to cultivate connections and also boundaries. May I be continue to learn and grow as a human being, teacher, and writer.

I thank G-d for ten (often) wonderful years in The Frisch School.


Anonymous bob said...

You seem like an amazing teacher! Your students are lucky and blessed to have you! Shabbat Shalom and thank you for the inspiring post. boB

June 9, 2006 at 5:00 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Thank you Bob, Shabbat Shalom to you too. Sometimes I think of writing more about my weakness and the weaknesses of the school and the weaknesses of the experience (in case you are wondering, I realize too that I'm not answering a question you asked, but I am simply sighing and writing on top of my simple thank you) of teaching in general. But, I think playing up the truth of the strengths all around is the best way to go.

June 9, 2006 at 5:08 PM  
Anonymous bob said...

I couldn't agree with you more! I feel badly that I made you sigh. I know how you feel about sighing. I guess that the beauty of a blog is that you only have to answer what is comfortable to you. And...even those of us who are "anonymous" need to know that once you go onto a blog you risk that. But perhaps there is an important Jewish message in that going into Shabbat. No one can hide from the kudsha brich hu and wherever we are we should try to be an "ish". Thank you for understanding my strengths and weaknesses as I believe that you do.

June 9, 2006 at 5:33 PM  
Anonymous bob said...

silence has a voice
no comment is a comment
stronger even yet

in the day or night
shtikah kehodayah
sigh, oy vei is mir

June 9, 2006 at 6:38 PM  
Anonymous bob said...

shavuah tov! second line should have read "shtikah is kehodayah."
hope that you had a meaningful shabbat!

June 10, 2006 at 9:23 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Thank you Bob for the thoughtful and "with it" response. I love the poems - you've arrived.

For those of you just tuning in, this is the Bob and Neil show. Bob, how about some of your wonderful sound effects?

June 11, 2006 at 12:31 AM  
Anonymous bob said...

Do I detect some sarcasm here?

would you like quiet?
have i been way too verbose?
want me out of site?

June 11, 2006 at 1:34 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

I was afraid I'd need to follow up here. I only meant that this post is only you and me back and forth. If there is sarcasm lurking in my comment it is the result of my somewhat insecure reaction to the lack of other voices in the discussion.

Your comments Bob are more than welcome. Always.

This reminds me (somehow) of something that happened in my honors class during my end of year talk. When I give serious talks I close my eyes. So I was in the zone, talking, and I hear a comment from a kid. I had just said something about me not usually teaching honors and then I thought I heard something about me being insecure. What the student actually said (out of their own insecurity) was (making funny hand quote marks) "so called honors."

June 11, 2006 at 2:20 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

I really meant it, that your comments were good, the non poetic and poetic as well. Spiritual, real. Keep em coming.

June 11, 2006 at 2:23 AM  
Anonymous bob said...

okay i'm back on
boB was feeling insecure
thought you had enough

slept a bit sadly
boB your night owl friend
is not very tough

p.s. but to my oversensitive credit you did say "Bob", how about some of your wonderful sound effects?, and not friends. Had you said friends I wouldn't have thought that you were calling me a loud mouth. Anyhow, thanks for your feedback. I think that i'll go back to sleep a bit and leave some room for other people to comment. I do get carried away sometimes.... and even behind a joke (as you know) there is usually some truth.

June 11, 2006 at 7:33 AM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

The joke was that it's the Bob and Neil Show, a reference to the Bob and Ray Show. It was a radio show and featured lots of home made sound effects. So I was handing the mike to you and asking for the radio effects (they would also make jokes as if it was TV, so I was making the joke -) as if it were radio and people could hear. The idea was that it's just you and me here, everyone else is the audience.

Don't retreat back to the lurkers, Bob.

June 11, 2006 at 9:12 AM  
Anonymous Pesach said...

Rabbi Neil,

I take it you went to YCQ? When did you graduate. Your school posts always make me think.


June 11, 2006 at 1:10 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Thanks Pesach,

Do they make you think in general (I assume that's what you meant) or di you m ean they make you wonder when I went to YCQ?

Se if this makes sense. If it doesn't then it means you're younger than me. I attended the Heller Hebrew Academy from Kindergarden to seventh grade. When I enetered eight grade, we merged with (got swallowed up by) YCQ. We and many of our teachers along with our principal (Mr. C, Rabbi Brander)together joined the YCQ family in the then small, humble neighborhood of Kew Gardens Hills.

June 11, 2006 at 3:30 PM  
Anonymous Pesach said...

They were two separate thoughts. The mention of Mr. C made me think of YCQ. My brother, Eric Sommer, had him as a Rebbe several years after you did. I appreciate your chinuch based comments the most as I am a rebbe at MTA. We've crossed paths on the internet before but not in person.

June 11, 2006 at 5:14 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

Got t. Thanks. I thnk we've spoken about speakng, maybe one day - PG.

June 11, 2006 at 5:21 PM  
Anonymous bob said...

A favor...I need to connect challah having three strands and "chut hameshulash lo bimheirah ynatek" to the strands of the tzizit and them encompassing all of the mitzvot. Could you think of a way to tie (no pun intended) the two together? Like maybe spiritual vs. physical or I'm not really're so good at this! Only if you have time...thanx! boB

June 11, 2006 at 11:26 PM  
Blogger rabbi neil fleischmann said...

when is this needed for? i have nothing at the moment. very specific...

June 12, 2006 at 7:48 AM  
Anonymous bob said...

By the end of the week, but don't worry, I'll come up with something...I just thought that maybe an idea would just flash into your very brilliant head...really don't spend time. It's not the type of thing that you'll find in the meforshim (I don't think) I am already toying with the idea that each four on the tzizit is double over to eight, times the four courners equals 36. gematria equals "lev" mitzvot need to be done with the lev. Does this make sense? Then I just need that'll come.

June 12, 2006 at 8:13 AM  
Anonymous bob said...

I meant 32 not 36. My mind works better at night. I need some caffeine a.s.a.p.

June 12, 2006 at 8:17 AM  
Anonymous bob said...

So, I came up with the link that I needed.When I make challah, I use a three strand model for my braid. Three strands make me think of the pasuk in Kohelet perek daled “chut hameshulash lo bimherah y’natek.” When you have three strings tied together, this is a bond, that won’t break.

Tzizzit also have strings. Each corner has four strings doubled over to make eight. There are four corners, hence 32. The gematriah of 32 is lev. As we all know the tzizzit encompass all 613 mitzvot.

Although these mitzvot are so different there is something extremely similar about them! Challah represents food and tzizzit represent clothing. Food and clothing are two of the most basic physical needs that we have!

I know first hand that concrete physical learning experiences are critical in order to move on to the next level. A child can’t understand numbers until they have touched them and experienced them in a multitude of ways. But once it becomes part of them, they can move onto a higher level, and that knowledge then becomes a part of them forever.

Tzizzit and challah are mitzvoth that are part of our lives on a day to day and week to week basis. But they are so much more than that once the component of “lev” is added in.

what do you think? Shabbat Shalom.

June 23, 2006 at 5:24 PM  

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