Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Problems and Change

I begin with a story, a true story. A rebbe in an out-of town Yeshiva was having great difficulty with one of the boys in his shiur. In class the boy was disruptive and unruly. He seemed entirely unable to focus. At wits end, the rebbe called the parents and let them know that either they put their son on some ADD meds or he will have to be thrown out of the school. As one would imagine, the parents were quite distraught with the developments. They expressed to the rebbe the fear that other boys in the class would learn that their son was needing to take the medications and would tease him, thereby making matters worse. The rebbe had an idea. Each morning at 10:00AM he sent one of the boys to the teacher's lounge to bring him a coffee.
He suggested that from now on he would send their son on this mission and at that time he could take the pill he needed and no one would be the wiser. And so it was.

A month later the parents called the rebbe to see how their son was doing. To their delight, the rebbe told them that their son had made great improvement. He was much more focused in his studies and attentive. For his part, the son also affirmed that things were much better. The only difference in the respective stories was that whereas the rebbe saw the change in the classroom as a reflection of the change in the son, the son experienced the change in classroom dynamics as an outgrowth of change in the rebbe. You see, the boy confided in his parents that each morning at 10:00 when he went to get the rebbe's coffee, rather than take his pill, the son put the pill in the rebbe's drink. It was the rebbe, unknowingly, who was taking the meds, not the son.

To the rebbe's credit, on learning this shocking development, rather than become defensive and angry, he was open to the the self revelation implicit in what had transpired. He owned the truth that the lesson here was his to learn.

This week, on the eve of Shavuot we read the parsha of Bamidbar, the first reading of the fourth book of the Torah. Once again, as we read in the book of Sh'mot, a census is taken, this time in anticipation of the conquest of the land of Israel.
All the males above twenty and able to fight are counted. Then the People are ordered to camp and march in accord with the tribal flags and in a very prescribed procession. Most of the commentaries understand the istructions G-d gave Moshe here as ways and means to prepare the nation for battle and conquest.

Yet they are toubled. Why the need for all this? Israel was going to conquer the land by dint of the spirit of the Divine. The land was promised them. That they rejected it and needed to wait another near 40 years to enter and then to engage in battle after battle was a later development. At this stage of the nation's story Canaan would be theirs in fulfillment of G-d's commitment, no matter their military prowess. Why then is there the need for all this readiness and anticpation? What matters it how many soldiers there are or how they march?

May I suggest that the story of our ancestors in the wilderness parallels the story of the rebbe with which we began. Let's understand that story a bit deeper. While it was true that when the rebbe took the medication the classroom changed, that does not mean the issues prior were caused by the rebbe. On the contrary, the issues of an unruly learning environment were the result of a misbehaving student. All the story shows is that to fix a problem we somtimes don't need to go and attend to the thing that is acting up. We can make adjustments to something else in the system and that will cause everything to work as it needs to. This model is called systems analysis. A change anywhere in the system can effect the whole and often bring about a remedy.

When G-d instructed Moshe how to prepare Israel for the impending invasion of the land He was, as it were, telling them "I will make miracles for you. I will bring your enemies to the point of surrender. But you need to make yourselves ready. You need to prepare yourselves. In adjusting your selves you make possible the miracle of the victories over your adversaries. You won't need to fight or to defeat them physically. A 'tikun' in you will be enough to bring about the end desired.
A change in you will change the system. Becoming ready to prevail will be enough to prevail.

So often we see things we feel need to be changed. Like the rebbe in our story, at times we find intolerable behaviors in people close to us, a spouse, a child, family,or friend. We feel a great urgency to rectify the situation. We want the other to change to make it right. Yet the story of the rebbe and of the parsha affirms that we don't always need to go to the source of the problem to fix it. On the contrary, sometimes confronting the 'cause' of our distress in the hopes that they will improve only makes them more resistant.

By taking a systemic approach to the problem we come to realize that every player in the drama can impact the outcome, not just the one acting out. We don't need to give the 'meds' to the identified patient. We can take it ourselves and thereby create the change we need to see occurr. We are no different than the rebbe. The problem may not be caused by us but we can still be the one's to fix it.

We all deal with problems and all the time. Being mature in life is getting to the stage where we are less interested in whose wrong or right and instead focused on who can best resolve the issue. In most cases, the answer is Us!
All we need to figure out is how!

Shabbat Shalom
Chag Samayach

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