Posts Tagged 'Shemini'

Solemn Silence: In the Wake of the Splitting of the Sea, COVID-19, and the Holocaust

Just yesterday we celebrated our salvation at the splitting of the Red Sea with the concluding days of Passover. There we were witness to God’s miracles and the death of other people’s children. Our response was to sing a song. The Gemara says:

The Egyptians were drowning in the sea. At the same time, the angels wanted to sing before God, and the Lord, God, said to them: ‘My creations are drowning and you are singing before me?’ (Sanhedrin 37)

Here we see God silencing the angels for their callous behavior. By implication this Gemara is teaching us a lesson in compassion. There seems to be moments for silence, or at the least not singing. If this is true for our enemy, we can only imagine the response for a friend of a loved one.

As a parent it is hard to imagine how I would respond upon hearing the death of one of my children, let alone two of them. In Shemini, this week’s Torah portion, we read of Aaron’s response to hearing the death of two of his sons. There we read:

Then Moses said to Aaron: ‘This is it that the Lord spoke, saying: Through them that are close to Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron was silent. (Leviticus 10:3)

I could imagine many responses, but not one of them is silence. What can we learn from Aaron’s deafening silence?

Silence LP by Hunter/Game @ Kompakt Shop

This year I think about the callous nature in which we looked at the suffering in Wuhan. It was too easy to see the suffering in China as far away on another shore. With every day I learn that someone else has been impacted directly and indirectly by COVID-19. And like Aaron, I have no words. But there is a world between ignoring and solemn silence.

With Yom HaShoa being commemorated this week, I am shocked as to the tremendous amount of literature still being written about the Holocaust. All of these years later, we cannot even imagine slowing down or stop talking about this topic. And when I really think about the nature and scope of the Holocaust I feel speechless like Aaron.

When I pause to reflect I realize that the world is very crazy right now. We are all in the middle of many things. And from all of them we learn that we need to have compassion for all those who experienced and are experiencing pain and suffering. We need to treat everyone with respect and dignity. In the wake of the splitting of the Sear we need to remember that we can try to drown our sorrows, but never our memories.

-For similar post see Listening for Silence


When Falling Becomes Failing: On Mindset and Shemini

I am always in middle of about a half a dozen writing project. One of the persisting projects has been looking at  Dr. Carol Dweck‘s Mindset through a Torah lens. While her research has come under attack, I still think it is a wonderful book in which she uses her research in psychology to outlines two typological mindsets. Mindsets are beliefs  about yourself and your most basic qualities. Are these qualities simply fixed traits, carved in stone and that’s that or are they things you can cultivate throughout your life? People with a Fixed Mindset believe that their traits are just given. People with a Growth Mindset, on the other hand, see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort. Below you can see a great graphic explanation of these two mindsets:

It is increasingly unclear whether attempts to change students’ mindsets about their abilities have any positive effect on their learning at all. In a recent blog, Dweck defended her work and noted that growth mindset theory ‘is on a firm foundation, but we’re still building the house’. In fact, Dweck argues that her work has been misunderstood and misapplied in a range of ways. She has also expressed concerns that her theories are being misappropriated in schools by being conflated with the self-esteem movement: ‘The thing that keeps me up at night is that some educators are turning mindset into the new self-esteem, which is to make kids feel good about any effort they put in, whether they learn or not. But for me the growth mindset is a tool for learning and improvement. It’s not just a vehicle for making children feel good.’

In her defense, just because parents and educators might adopt her language of mindsets, it does not mean that they are doing the work needed to actually create environments the support Growth Mindsets. Dweck said in an interview in 2015, “We’re finding that many parents endorse a growth mindset, but they still respond to their children’s errors, setbacks or failures as though they’re damaging and harmful… If they show anxiety or over-concern, those kids are going toward a more fixed mindset.” Like many other things, a compelling description lost its efficacy when it was turned into a prescription. And even as a description, I do find her typologies helpful.

As anyone who has been around a child learning to walk knows, we all start off knowing that falling is not failing. We are all born with a Growth Mindset and then we learn to have a Fixed Mindset. I was thinking about this when reading Shemini, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

Now Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu each took his fire-pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before the Lord strange fire, which God had not enjoined upon them. And fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the Lord. ( Leviticus 10:1-2)

Whether their offering of “strange fire” was idolatrous or just their being creative or playful, their immediate death made it clear that in this situation falling was failing. For all of us success and failure need to be clearly defined if we hope to achieve it.  The new research it saying that it is not clear that we can transform someone from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset. It is also not clear if that effort will itself lead to success. That said, I do think that such a harsh response to falling would not encourage anyone to seek challenge in order to grow.  While a critical reading would claim that God was acting as a horrible parent, a more charitable reading would claim that God is setting out the exception which is demonstrating the rule. Falling is not allowed in the Tabernacle or Temple, but it has to tolerated if not celebrated everywhere else in that we are still learning to walk.

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