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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Joseph’

The Purim Narrative At The Pardo Palace

Monday, February 27th, 2012

Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs. The palace was decorated with works of art that represented a variety of mythological and historical scenes, from Bartolomeo Carducho’s Agamemnon and Achilles to Francisco López’s Surrender of Boabdil, Sultan of Granada, to Ferdinand of Aragón and Isabel of Castile, January 3, 1492 (circa 1607-12).

Gallery of the Queen, Pardo Palace. Hall of the Biblical Joseph by Patricio Caxés.

But two series are particularly unusual. If one turns left immediately after passing through the ground floor’s main entrance, one arrives at the queen’s hall, which is decorated with a series on the biblical Esther by Patricio Caxés. And elsewhere on the ground floor, a series on Joseph by Jerónimo Cabrera can be found in the queen’s gallery. What was it about the stories of Esther and Joseph that was deemed so appropriate for Spanish queens? And why were subjects from the Jewish, rather than Christian, scriptures selected for the summer hunting palace?

The queen’s hall also contained individual works that portrayed Judith (with Holofernes’ head), Ruth, Deborah, Rebecca (or Miriam), Sara (or Naomi), Yael, and Rachel, but it’s clear that the program on Esther was given particular prominence. With Purim looming on the horizon, this article focuses on the Esther works and leaves Joseph for a different occasion. The Esther program, which appeared on the ceiling of the queen’s hall, includes the following scenes: Esther’s coronation, Esther reporting the assassination ploy to Ahaseurus; Esther standing with outstretched arms in front of other figures; Esther collapsing before Ahaseurus, Esther and Haman at Ahaseurus’ dinner, the insomniac Ahaseurus with attendants, Mordechai on the king’s horse, Haman pleading at Esther’s feet, and Mordecai counseling Ahaseurus.

Jerónimo Cabrera, Esther faints before Ahasuerus, Queen’s Room, Pardo.

Although a frequent scene depicted in biblical art, the only episode from Cabrera’s program that doesn’t appear in the Book of Esther is the fourth work—Esther falling before Ahaseurus. It’s reasonable to assume that Esther may have bowed before the king, but the biblical tale has Esther standing rather than prostrating herself. It’s worth noting that Mordechai had refused to bow before Haman earlier in the story, but clearly the bowing wasn’t the entire extent of the problem, as Joseph’s brothers bowed before him in Egypt.

Queen’s Room, Pardo Palace. Ceiling Frescoes of Esther by Jerónimo Cabrera.

In the most comprehensive English study on the subject of the Esther and Joseph works, “Old Testament images defined by the Spanish catholic empire: the story of Esther and the story of Joseph in the Pardo palace” (submitted to the faculty of George Washington University in 1996), Abby Krain locates Esther and Joseph within a framework of Christian symbolism. To Krain, Joseph and Esther represent ideal models for kings and queens, particularly for the patrons of the projects: King Philip III and his wife, Margaret of Austria. Esther, who epitomizes humility and obedience, is a stand-in for Mary, while Joseph’s honesty makes him a proxy for the Christian savior, Krain suggests. Although Krain makes a sound argument, it’s worth pondering whether there might have been something more colorful and provocative in the Pardo biblical commissions.

That the king and queen would have believed that figures from the Jewish Bible foretold the characters of Christian scriptures is undoubtedly true. But even if one concedes that point, Joseph and Esther are odd choices as regal role models. Joseph was clearly righteous, but he is also perhaps guilty of vanity, which, according to rabbinic traditions, one of the reasons he deserved to spend time in an Egyptian prison. And although Esther also emerges as a heroine in the Purim narrative, Mordechai rebukes her for seemingly caring too much about her own regal station rather than her people. This is not to incriminate Esther and Joseph, but there might have been more apparent role models that would have made more sense in the Pardo Palace.

According to Krain, the Persian King Ahaseurus selected Esther “for her beauty and, more significantly, for her obedience and loyalty to both her people and her adopted kingdom.” And not only would Phillip III have seen Esther as a role model for Margaret, but Krain also observes that there were political reasons why the arranged marriage between Esther and Ahaseurus was a parallel to the king and queen’s marriage, which “reinforced the exclusive control of the Spanish Empire by the Hapsburg family.” With Protestants questioning whether the divine endorsement of monarchical lines was passed from father to son, Phillip III may have marshaled the story of Esther as a response to the Protestants; just as God had selected Esther for royalty, the argument would have gone, so was Margaret, Esther’s contemporary protégé, selected by God to be queen.

Closeness And Distance

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

What do porcupines do in winter? asked Schopenhauer. If they come too close to one another, they injure each other. If they stay too far apart, they freeze. Life, for porcupines, is a delicate balance between closeness and distance. It is hard to get it right and dangerous to get it wrong. And so it is for us.

That is the force of the word that gives our parshah its name: Vayigash (and he came close).

“Then Judah came close to him and said, ‘Pardon your servant, my lord, let me speak a word to my lord; do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself’ ” (Genesis 44:18).

For perhaps the first time in his life, Judah came close to his brother Joseph. The irony is, of course, that he did not know it was Joseph. But that one act of coming close melted all of Joseph’s reserve, all his defenses, and as if unable to stop himself, he finally disclosed his identity: “Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?’ ” (45:3)

How can we be sure that vayigash is the key word? Because it contrasts with another verse, many chapters and many years earlier. “But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him” (37:18).

Right at the beginning of the story, when Joseph was sent by his father to see how the brothers were doing tending the sheep, they saw him from far away, from a distance. Imagine the scene. They can’t see his face. All they can see is the richly ornamented cloak, the “coat of many colors,” that so upsets them because it constantly reminds them that it is he – and not they – whom their father loves.

From far away we don’t see people as human beings, and when we stop seeing people as human beings and they instead become symbols, objects of envy or hate, people can do bad things to one another. The whole tragedy of Joseph and his brothers was distance. They were too far apart in every way. Which is why it was only when Judah came close to Joseph – vayigash – that the coldness between them thawed, and they became brothers, not strangers to one another.

Too much distance and we freeze. But if we get too close we can injure one another. That was the story of Jacob and Esau. Think about it. Jacob bought Esau’s birthright. He stole his blessing. He wore Esau’s clothes. He borrowed his identity. Even when they were born, Jacob was clutching Esau’s heel.

It was only when there was a distance between them – the 22 years in which Jacob was away from home, with Lavan – that the relationship healed, so that when they met again, despite Jacob’s fears, Esau embraced and kissed him and treated him like a brother and a friend.

Too close and we hurt one another. Too distant and we freeze.

How then do we make and sustain relationships if the balance is so fine and it is so easy to get it wrong? The Torah’s answer – already there in the first chapter of the Torah – is: first separate, then join. The verb lehavdil, to separate, appears five times in the first chapter of Bereishit: God separates light from darkness, the upper and lower waters, sea and dry land. Separation is at the heart of Jewish law – between holy and profane, pure and impure, permitted and forbidden. In Judaism kadosh, holy, means separation. To sanctify is to separate. Why? Because when we separate, we create order. We defeat chaos. We give everything and everyone their space. I am I and not you. You are you and not I. Once we respect our difference and distance, then we can join without doing damage to one another.

The most beautiful symbol of the problem and its resolution is the ceremony of Havdalah at the end of Shabbat – and especially the Havdalah candle. The wicks are separate but the flame they make is joined. So it is between husband and wife. So it is between parent and child. And so it is, or should be, between brothers. Distance damaged the relationship between Judah and Joseph. Vayigash – Judah’s act of drawing close – restored it.

Adapted from “Covenant & Conversation,” a collection of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’s parshiyot hashavua essays, published by Maggid Books, an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem (www.korenpub.com), in conjunction with the Orthodox Union.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth since 1991, is the author of many books of Jewish thought, most recently “The Koren Sacks Rosh HaShana Mahzor” (Koren Publishers Jerusalem).

Mikeitz: The Greatness Of Joseph

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

“And Joseph went out over the land of Egypt” (41:45). This was one of the greatest tests he underwent in his career. Wearing the king’s ring (41:42), clothed in royal linen with a golden chain around his neck (ibid.), riding in the second royal chariot with runners before him (41:43), having full power over the land (41:44), having an Egyptian name and an Egyptian wife the daughter of a priest, he had every reason to disown his family which had so wronged him, and he could have without any effort become a full Egyptian in heart and soul.

Hashem here is planning a twofold achievement: Joseph was made the all-powerful ruler over Egypt for the benefit of the future nation of Israel that would develop under his exceptional guidance, and therefore Hashem granted Joseph very great authority. But parallel to this purpose was another very important purpose: to develop the greatness of Joseph himself.

Great individuals are also extremely important to Hashem, just as are multitudes of righteous people. Therefore Joseph was tested by opportunities to become arrogant; but he became even more perfect than ever, because he continued to fear Hashem always and to bear humility in his heart. Additional tests of perfection were afforded to him by means of his great power, because he utilized his authority to deal kindly with the people of the land, and all that he did was for justice and mercy to all men.

Elsewhere in the Chumash we also find examples of the principle that the lives of individual righteous men are especially important in the eyes of Hashem; and in order to produce such individuals and to encourage them, Hashem takes extraordinary action similar to that which is done for an entire nation or for all nations.

“And he said, G-d should favor you, my son” (43:29). Why should a blessing be said in the presence of the recipient? Would the blessing not be just as effective if it were said when he was not present? It seems the blessing is more sincere when said without the knowledge of the recipient. Yet we see that Yitzchak blessed his sons to their face (27:27, 27:39), Jacob blessed Menasheh and Efraim to their face (“Take them to me and I shall bless them” – 48:9), and he blessed his sons in their presence (“Gather together…” – 49:1-2).

One purpose of the face-to-face blessing is to encourage the recipient with the love of the one bestowing the blessing and with the knowledge that he was blessed by him. Another purpose is that the personal encounter enhances the love of the bestower for the recipient; and a more heartfelt blessing results, which G-d hears more readily. Further: “He who bestows a gift to someone should let him know – [Shabbos 10b] – to cause him to love the giver” (Rashi, ibid.). By hearing the blessing personally, the recipient comes to love the bestower.

And Yehudah said: what shall we say, and what shall we justify ourselves; G-d has found the sin of your servants (44:16).

Judah is speaking to the Master of the World with these words to Joseph. Hitherto the brothers had spoken much to themselves and to each other to justify their behavior to their younger brother. This process of self-justification had continued for 22 years, during which time the brothers had covered their original feelings and thoughts with heavy layers of sound logic and righteous motivation, so that any wrong that may have been committed should be buried too deeply for Hashem to see.

It is the nature of men to attempt to conceal their true motives from G-d: “And the man and his wife concealed themselves from before Hashem.” Now Judah is saying the Viddui confession: “G-d has found the sin” which had been so long and so deeply concealed. This means: Now G-d has caused us to find.

This was said by Judah. Judah now comes to the fore as the spokesman and the leader, as he had previously begun.

Compiled for The Jewish Press by the Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, which Rabbi Miller, zt”l, founded and authorized to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail
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The Real Issue

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

There has long been a massive debate in Anglo Jewry as to whether we should take a unified stance in our support for the State of Israel or openly air our differences. It’s mostly been a noisy and shrill debate, but it’s the wrong debate – as it is deflecting us from the real issue.

And if we seek it, we will find it in this week’s parshah. Listen to the words that are among the most fateful and reverberating in all of Jewish history: “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.”

The Torah is a deep book. We make a great mistake if we think it can be understood on one superficial level.

On the surface, the story is simple. Envious of him, Joseph’s brothers initially planned to kill him. Eventually they sell him into slavery. He is taken to Egypt. There, through a series of vicissitudes, he rises to become prime minister, second only, in rank and power, to Pharaoh.

It is now many years later. His brothers have come to Egypt to buy food. They come before Joseph, but he no longer looks like the man they knew many years before. Then, he was a 17-year-old called Joseph. Now he is 39, an Egyptian ruler called Tzafnat Paneach, dressed in official robes with a gold chain around his neck, who speaks Egyptian and uses an interpreter to communicate with these visitors from the land of Canaan. No wonder they did not recognize him, though he recognized them.

But that is only the surface meaning. Deep down, the book of Bereishit is exploring the most profound source of conflict in history. Freud thought the great symbol of conflict was Laius and Oedipus, the tension between fathers and sons. Bereishit thinks otherwise. The root of human conflict is sibling rivalry: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, and now Joseph and his brothers.

Joseph has the misfortune of being the youngest of those present. He symbolizes the Jewish condition. His brothers are older and stronger than him. They resent his presence. They see him as a troublemaker. The fact that their father loves him more only makes them angrier and more resentful. They want to kill him. In the end they get rid of him in a way that allows them to feel a little less guilty. They concoct a story that they tell their father, and they settle down to life again. They can relax. There is no Joseph to disturb their peace anymore.

And now they are facing a stranger in a strange land, and it simply does not occur to them that this man may be Joseph. As far as they are concerned, there is no Joseph. They don’t recognize him now. They never did. They never recognized him as one of them, as their father’s child, as their brother with an identity of his own and a right to be himself.

Joseph is the Jewish people throughout history. “Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him.” Judaism was the world’s first monotheism but not the last. Two others emerged claiming descent, literal or metaphorical, from Abraham: Christianity and Islam. It would be fair to call the relationship between the three Abrahamic monotheisms one of sibling rivalry. Far from being of mere antiquarian interest, the theme of Bereishit has been the leitmotiv of the better part of the last 2,000 years, with the Jewish people cast in the role of Joseph.

There were times – early medieval Spain was one – when Joseph and his brothers lived together in relative harmony, La Convivencia as they called it. But there were also times – the blood libels, the accusations of poisoning wells or spreading the plague – when they sought to kill him. And others – the expulsions that took place throughout Europe between the English in 1290 and the Spanish in 1492 – when they simply wanted to get rid of him. Let him go and be a slave somewhere else, far from here.

Then came the Holocaust. Then came the State of Israel, the destination of the Jewish journey since the days of Abraham, the homeland of the Jewish people since the days of Joshua. No nation on earth, with the possible exception of the Chinese, has had such a long association with a land.

The day the state was born, May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, its prime minister, sought peace with its neighbors, and Israel has not ceased seeking peace from then until now. But this is no ordinary conflict. Israel’s opponents – Hamas in Gaza, Hizbullah in Lebanon, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, are not engaged in a border dispute – these boundaries or those. They deny, as a matter of non-negotiable religious – not just political – principle, Israel’s right to exist within any boundaries whatsoever. There are today 56 Islamic states. But for Israel’s neighbors, a single Jewish state the size of Wales is one too many.

Conversation Is The Key To Understanding

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

From Parshat Vayeishev to the end of Sefer Bereishit, we read the story of Joseph and his brothers. From the very beginning we are plunged into a drama of sibling rivalry that seems destined to end in tragedy. All the elements are there. There is favoritism. Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons. The Torah says this was because “he had been born to him in his old age.” But we also know that it was because Joseph was the son, the first son, of his beloved Rachel who had been infertile for many years.

Jacob gave this favoritism a visible symbol, the richly ornamented robe or coat of many colors that he had made for him. The sight of this acted as a constant provocation to the brothers. In addition there were the bad reports Joseph brought to his father about his half-brothers, the children of the handmaids. And by the fourth verse of the parshah, we read the following: “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him, velo yachlu dabro l’shalom” (Genesis 37:4).

What is the meaning of this last phrase? Here are some of the standard translations: they could not speak a kind word to him; they could not speak peacefully to him; and they could not speak to him on friendly terms.

Rabbi Yonatan Eybeschutz, however, recognized that the Hebrew construction is strange. Literally it means, “they could not speak him to peace.” What might this mean? Rabbi Eybeschutz refers us to the command in Vayikra 19:17: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely reprimand your neighbor and not bear sin because of him.”

This is how Maimonides interprets this command as it relates to interpersonal relations:

When a person sins against another, the injured party should not hate the offender and keep silent … it is his duty to inform the offender and say to him, “why did you do this to me? Why did you sin against me in this matter?” … If the offender repents and pleads for forgiveness, he should be forgiven (Hilchot De’ot 6:6).

Rabbi Eybeschutz’s point is simple. Had the brothers been able to speak to Joseph they might have told him of their anger at his talebearing, and of their distress at seeing the many-colored coat. They might have spoken frankly about their sense of humiliation at the way their father favored Rachel over their mother Leah, a favoritism that was now being carried through into a second generation. Joseph might have come to understand their feelings. It might have made him more modest or at least more thoughtful. But lo yachlu dabro l’shalom. They simply couldn’t bring themselves to speak. As Nachmanides writes regarding the commandment of “You shall not hate your brother in your heart”: “Those who hate tend to hide their hate in their heart.”

We have here an instance of one of the Torah’s great insights: conversation is a form of conflict resolution, whereas the breakdown of speech is often a prelude to violent revenge.

The classic case is that of Absalom and Amnon, two half brothers who were sons of king David. In a shocking episode, Amnon rapes Absolom’s sister Tamar:

Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.

Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.

When King David heard all this, he was furious. And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar (II Samuel 13:19-22).

Absalom maintained his silence for two years. Then he invited all of David’s sons for a feast at the time of sheep shearing, and ordered his servants to wait until Amnon was drunk, and then kill him – which they did. Hate grows in silence. It did with Absalom. It did with Joseph’s brothers. Before the chapter ends, we see them plot to kill Joseph, throw him into a pit, and then sell him into slavery. It is a terrible story, and led directly to the Israelites’ exile and slavery in Egypt.

The Talmud (Berachot 26a) uses the phrase, “Ein sichah ela tefillah,” which literally means, “Conversation is a form of prayer,” because in opening ourselves up to the human other, we prepare ourselves for the act of opening ourselves up with the Divine Other, which is what prayer is: a conversation with G-d.

Conversation does not, in and of itself, resolve conflict. Two people who are open with one another may still have clashing desires or competing claims. They may simply not like one another. There is no law of predetermined harmony in the human domain. But conversation means that we recognize one another’s humanity. At its best it allows us to engage in role reversal, seeing the world from the other’s point of view. Think of how many real and intractable conflicts, whether in the personal or political domain, might be transformed if we could do that.

Shapiro’s Midrash

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

Paintings from Midrash by Brian Shapir0

Chassidic Art Institute

November 6 – December 8

375 Kingston Avenue, Brooklyn (718) 774-9149

Noon – 7pm; Sunday – Thursday

 

The midrashic world is a dangerous place to inhabit.  It delves into our sacred texts to fathom their deeper meanings, solve vexing textual and conceptual problems and, finally, make sense of the holy words in contemporary terms.  Midrash is passionate and deeply creative, like the current midrashic paintings of Brian Shapiro.

Sea of Reeds (2010), oil on canvas, 12x12 by Brian Shapiro.

Shapiro is no stranger to Jewish themes; his enormous canvas, Generations, a tour-de-force of Jewish history, was reviewed in this column in August 2010.  Since then, the artist has become increasingly mesmerized by biblical subjects seen through a midrashic lens.  The lure of midrashic interpretation satisfies the need to know the details and specifics of many biblical narratives, i.e. the precise textures of how and why events unfolded in the devastatingly spare Torah text.  For a figurative artist like Shapiro, the multitude of midrashic exposition is a reassuring link with a tangible reality to anchor the text in this world.

Jacob and the Angel purports to depict the epic struggle between Jacob and a mysterious being who is either an emissary of God or the protecting angel of Jacob’s dangerous brother, Esav.  Based on a midrash in Beraishes Rabbah the artist shows the angel holding Jacob’s hand over a roaring fire.  While the midrash expounds that the angel stuck his hand into the earth and a volcano of flames erupted threatening Jacob, the painting doesn’t simply illustrate that event.  Rather, if we observe closely, both figures are indeed struggling not only between themselves, but are significantly repulsed by some unseen force off the left edge of the painting.  In fact, both angel and Jacob are aghast at what they perceive.  Indeed it is the mutual recognition that this primeval sibling struggle will reverberate throughout the millennia.   It seals the fate of soon to be named Yisrael and the nation who will descend from him with a terrible and bloody future.

The theme of sibling rivalry and conflict is of course central to many Biblical narratives, most especially that of Joseph and his brothers.  Shapiro’s Joseph and Brothersis terrifyingly on target.  The brothers, all turbaned except one, appear to be engaged in what in contemporary Israel would be called a “lynch.”   Most of the eleven have staffs that are used to threaten, push and drive the helpless half-naked Joseph off the edge of a precipice.   What is extraordinary is the ferocious compact energy of brotherly hatred revealed in bright daytime clarity.   A lone bareheaded brother is at the extreme left, looking away in concern as he holds Joseph’s many-colored cloak.  In this one bald figure is all the cunning and unacknowledged guilt of fratricide.  This figure represents none other than Reuven who pleaded with the rest not to murder Joseph and yet finally fashioned the vicious lie to his father with Joseph’s bloodied coat.  Here the artist has, by thinking midrashically, actually summoned the literal biblical text most evocatively.

Moses and the Rock (2010), oil on canvas, 24x30 by Brian Shapiro.

While much ancient midrash traditionally has the textual authority of the oral tradition transmitted by the Sages, it also must be seen in the dual contexts of the original textual “problem” and actual date the collections were finally redacted.  Nonetheless, regardless of date, all Torah commentary remains a vibrant source of contemporary understanding of sacred text.  Even a contemporary artist, passionate about the complexities of Torah narrative, can offer unique insights into the stories our tradition celebrates.   Sea of Reeds is an example of Shapiro’s contribution to midrashic exposition.  Significantly, in this exhibition the artist has explicitly offered his midrashic sources and explanations for each of the paintings.

Moshe Drops Out of School

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

A few years ago, a couple, Sarah and Joseph, came to see me about their son Moshe, sixteen, who was experiencing extreme difficulty in school. Moshe did not have any serious learning problems.  In fact, he was exceptionally bright and capable of succeeding in school.  His problem was that he was frequently missing class.  Recently he had started leaving school and spending time in an unknown location. Moshe’s parents were naturally concerned for his future.

 

When I first met Sarah and Joseph I was immediately struck by how unhappy their marriage seemed to be.  Joseph was a quiet and reserved man compared to his wife. Sarah seemed extremely worried about whether everything was all right with her son.  When they tried to explain to me why they thought Moshe was in trouble, the discussion always seemed to turn into an argument. Joseph believed that his wife’s inability to nurture their son was the cause of Moshe’s behavior.  Sarah, on the other hand, believed that Joseph’s inability to communicate in a warm way with their son was the source of the problem.

 

Here is a dialogue from one of our sessions.

 

Daniel Schonbuch (DS): Tell me more about the general atmosphere in the house.

 

Sarah: Well, our family time is not very enjoyable.  I would say that Shabbos meals are the most difficult time of our week.  To start with, Joseph doesn’t run a very nice Shabbos meal. He is so tired from work that when Shabbos rolls around he goes to shul, makes kiddush and then totally withdraws into himself.

 

DS: Is Shabbos that hard for you?

 

Joseph: Look, it’s not that I don’t care about the family; it’s just that I feel so burnt out after work.  When I come home, the kids are always yelling and I just want some peace and quiet.  I guess on Shabbos I just need a break.

 

Sarah: It’s worse than that.  You never have time for the kids or for me.  When you’re home, you just surf the Internet and on Shabbos you read the newspaper. Don’t you realize that Moshe needs to talk to you?

 

DS: I guess things are hard during Shabbos. What about your own relationship outside of your children?  How well do you get along?

 

Sarah: To be perfectly honest, we don’t have much of a relationship.  Joseph isn’t very excited about talking to me and we never go on vacation anymore.

 

Joseph: That’s not true. Last Pesach we went away to Florida for the seder meals.

 

Sarah: We barely talked the entire week. I think you enjoyed your friends more than you enjoyed the family.

 

Joseph: What do you want from me?  I tried my best.  I can’t stand when everyone is nagging – your parents, the kids, you.

 

DS: Have you been having trouble relating for some time?

Sarah: Yes.  I would say for about the last three years.

 

 

DS: Why?  What was going on in your lives three years ago?

 

Sarah: Well, my husband is in computers, and after 9/11 his company started downscaling and he lost his job.

 

DS: What did you do?

 

Joseph: I was on unemployment for about four months when I found a job with another company.

 

DS: Are you happier now?

 

Joseph: Not really.  It’s an average job and I don’t really enjoy the work I am doing.  However, it does pay the bills.

 

DS: That’s a big burden, having to support your family doing something you don’t enjoy.

 

Joseph: I wish I could get out of it, but it’s not easy to switch at my age.

 

At this point I realized I had found a small opening that perhaps would help us to explore their relationship in connection to their son’s delinquency.  Sarah had mentioned that her husband lost his job about three years ago. I wondered if this also had a significant impact on Moshe.

 

DS: You mentioned before that the problems at work started about three years before.  When did Moshe start having trouble in school?

 

Sarah: About two years ago.

 

DS: Is it possible that some of the work stress started spilling over into Moshe’s life just after Joseph lost his job?

 

Sarah: Maybe, but I’m not sure.

 

DS: Is it possible that the strain on the family became greater after Joseph lost his job and this is the reason that you also are not getting along as well anymore?

 

Sarah: It’s possible.  Two years ago I started working again, and since then I have been unable to give the kids the kind of attention I used to give before things got hard.

 

During that session, I was able to refocus their energy from solving Moshe’s problem to solving their marital discord.  Over the next few sessions, we began exploring the way Relationship Theory could help their marriage.  We talked about spending quality time together, understanding each other’s needs and reducing critical and destructive language.

 

After six months of working with this family, I began to see changes in the way they related to their son.  Moshe began to feel more comfortable in their home and was more willing to give school a try and focus on his studies.

 

In general, Moshe’s family was typical of the families I see with teens at risk.  Often some type of emotional imbalance exists in the family and eventually one or more children begin to exhibit signs of distress.  When they do, the best approach is to seek out professional advice and find ways to improve the relationship with your teenager.

 

Resolving intra-parental conflict is a positive step that parents can take to help support the emotional growth of their children.  A good family or marital counselor will be able to break habitual patterns of triangling and relieve the emotional distress that may be contributing to a teenager’s at risk behavior.

 

Parenting Tips

 

Communicating Effectively (Part II)

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

You Cannot Not Communicate

A political figure refuses to comment on a current news story in which he is involved.. In the hope of avoiding a scuffle with her parents, a teenager, who has broken curfew, quietly opens up the front door. As she makes a mad dash to her room, she tries to avoid being noticed and questioned. In both situations, a lack of communication may be perceived as failure on the part of the individual to take responsibility for his/her actions, and/or an admission of guilt. In such cases when the person does not say yes, the message being conveyed to others can be perceived as noby default, and vice versa.

While we may not necessarily think about it or believe it to be true, we are “always” communicating. When we do not reply to a question, when we refuse to take part in a discussion, when we remove ourselves physically from an interaction or when we slam a door behind us, we are still communicating a message as our body language, sounds and behaviors do the “speaking.” This is what is meant by the NLP presupposition, you cannot not communicate.

Consider what happens when a communicator does not speak words to us, nor do we have any clarity of the experience or his/her behavior. Still, we do receive a message based on “our” observation of the experience or the behavior. What a powerful, yet inaccurate means of acquiring information. Now, as the observer, we are headed into a task. We will access a host of resources in order to help us develop a conclusion, including looking to our own thoughts, feelings, judgments, biases and life experiences, and utilizing them to provide us with a meaning to our observation. While these interpretations are, in fact, our reality, they can easily lead us to create beliefs which are not necessarily rooted in any truth. In the final analysis, such beliefs potentially can lead us to behaviors that fuel negativity and conflict while also hindering relationships in our lives.

In fact, for those who relate better to processing visually, the above idea can be viewed in terms of the following equation:

lack of verbal communication/clarity + observation + interpretation + belief =

negative outcome

As a way to bring more depth and understanding to this point, let us look to our ancestors in Bereishis (Genesis) and take note of their experiences in three different instances.

Picture the first scenario: Abraham has just expelled Yishmael and Hagar from his home at a point, according to the medrash, when Yishmael was weak with a high fever.  Rashi comments that Abraham provided them with minimal provisions (i.e., no gold or silver; only bread and water). And his reasoning was spiritual: he did not wish to enable Yishmael to continue living a life of tarbus ra-ah (evil behavior).

Moving forward…When, in the wilderness, their supplies ran out, Hagar threw her son under a tree and left him there to die of thirst. Her reckoning was rooted in a belief, a belief which was based on a recent experience to which she had ascribed meaning: “If Abraham expelled Yishmael from his home with limited provisions, ‘it must mean’ he hates his son. Why else would a father do such a despicable act? And if his father does not care about him, then why should I? Let Abraham take care of him!” At that point, Hagar’s intention was to abandon her son and look for another husband. (Note: For more detailed information, see the Meam Loez on Vayera 21:15-16.)

The outcome was negative, and Hagar was admonished by the Torah for displaying a poor character trait.

In a second illustration, a youthful Joseph noticed specific behaviors associated with his brothers. He saw them eating that which he considered aiver min hachai (flesh from a living animal). He also saw them fraternizing with the local girls. Giving his own interpretation to these observations, he brought back accusations about his brothers to his father.

Of course having the advantage of reading the medrash, we are provided with logical and solid reasons to help explain the behaviors of the brothers. On the other hand, Joseph was not privy to that information. He lacked clarity as to the status of his brothers. Were they considered Bnei Yisrael and therefore obligated to observe the Torah’s Laws? Or were they viewed as Bnei Noach (Noahide) and therefore bound exclusively to the Seven Noahide Laws? As to the second observation, of fraternizing with the local girls, yes, the brothers were speaking to the womenfolk. However, it was within the context of a business relationship; they were buying and selling goods. (Note: For more detailed information, see the Meam Loez on Vayeshev 37:2.)

Once again, the outcome in both these observations was negative. As we know from the medrash, the reports that Joseph presented to his father were a contributing factor to the ensuing jealousy and hatred the brothers felt toward him.

In the final scenario, we fast forward to the period when Joseph is Viceroy of Egypt, and his brothers are aware of his true identity.

When Joseph and his brothers were on the way to bury their father in Canaan, Joseph had stopped off at a location near Shechem. It was the site of the pit into which Joseph had been thrown years back. Being unaware of the reason for this stopover, and without any communication on Joseph’s part, the brothers’ observation led them to interpret the experience in their own way. When the brothers noticed Joseph staring into the pit, they instinctively perceived this behavior as part of a vendetta, “believing” that he was stirring up within him hatred toward them. Perhaps he was preparing to take revenge now that their father was gone.

Again, due to a lack of communication, the brothers were unaware of Joseph’s true intentions. The reason for his stopping at the pit was in order to recite a blessing for the miracle Hashem had performed for him at this location years before (“Blessed is He who performed a miracle for me in this place”).

Ironically, that same belief manifested itself a second time.

Upon their return to Egypt, after having buried their father, the brothers noticed that Joseph’s behavior toward them had changed. He had stopped dining with them on a regular basis; however, he had not communicated his intentions. With no concrete information available, and relying exclusively on their observation, the brothers assigned meaning to Joseph’s behavior. And that interpretation stemmed from the same belief they held earlier, that Joseph might be harboring hatred toward them because of their past action, of throwing him into the pit.

Once again, there was an intention behind the behavior. The medrash (Breishis Rabbah 108) explains that Jacob’s death marked the beginning of the slavery. And Joseph was concerned that if he showed favoritism to his brothers, the Egyptian hatred would increase, thereby endangering their lives. However, Joseph did not communicate to his brothers these political considerations. Since they were not privy to the information, the brothers interpreted his apparent rebuff (rejection) as a signal that he might want to take revenge on them. (Note: For more detailed information, see Meam Loez on Vayechi 50:15.)

As these examples demonstrate, in any interaction, when there is a lack of communication and/or clarification with regard to behavior, the observer will be left with nothing more than his own devices with which to interpret the communicator’s message.

So where does that leave us?

In order to be an effective communicator, it is vital for us to take note of such instances when communication is lacking or unclear, and the part “we” take in assigning meaning to our observations and interpretations. While some schools of communication say that both parties in a communication take 50% (each) of the onus for their communication, NLP suggests that we shoot a little higher and take 100% responsibility.

In the final analysis, if we wish to upgrade our communication, it is equally important to take responsibility for that which we convey when communication is lacking as we do when we verbally communicate. If that were the case, I wonder how our lives would be different!

In the next segment on Communicating Effectively, our focus will be Rapport: Establishing and Maintaining It.

Debbie Brown is a certified life coach specializing in parent coaching, and is an NLP Master Practitioner. She is available for private, confidential phone coaching sessions as well as lectures and group workshops. For further information or to express feelings regarding the Parental Perspective topic, Debbie may be contacted at lovetoughcoach@aol.com

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/parenting-our-children/communicating-effectively-part-ii/2010/06/23/

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