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Two Minutes of Torah

>Two Minutes of Torah: Ekev (Deuteronomy 9:1-19) – What would Supernanny do?

>With the limited number of channels available to us on freeview, I have started watching ‘Supernanny’ on an occasional basis (there really is nothing else on at that time in the morning). On the TV programme Jo Frost visits families who are struggling with their children. She spends a short time observing, and then she offers suggestions and strategies on how to be better parents and help the children to grow and develop. All too often the problems in the home revolve around discipline; whether it is a lack of, or poor methods of discipline. The majority of Jo’s time seems to be dedicated to helping the parents to develop better strategies for both rewarding and rebuking their children.

The right words, strategy and technique nearly always see the family transformed as relationships improve, with Supernanny proudly watching as the parents put into practice what they have learnt. I watch it and worry about the type of parent I will be, while also fascinated by the way that the use of ‘rewards and punishments’ serve to educate the children.

I wonder what Supernanny would say about the way that Moses speaks to the Israelites in this week’s Torah portion. As they are on the eve of entering the Land of Israel, Moses makes sure to let them know that they are not receiving this land as a reward for good behaviour; ‘it is rather because of the wickedness of those nations that the Eternal is dispossessing them before you’ (Deuteronomy 9:4). The other nations misbehaved, so they are being punished, and as a result we will be the beneficiaries. And if this was not clear enough: ‘It is not because of your virtues and your rectitude that you will be able to possess their country, but it is because of their wickedness’ (Deuteronomy 9:5).

There is no positive reinforcement for the Israelite’s behaviour, instead there appears to be a threat hanging over them – possession of the land is temporary, depending on appropriate behaviour. The wickedness and evil of the Israelites is then restated by Moses in the following verses, as the story of the golden calf, and other incidents, are retold.

It is true that the Israelites had been a difficult people for Moses to lead through the wilderness, and there is no denying that they sinned and transgressed along the way. But one wonders if this is the best method for handling their ill discipline, and problematic behaviour.

I have this image of Supernanny sitting across the table from Moses as she replays him clips from his dealings with the Israelites. I can almost hear her suggesting to him that there are other ways in which he could offer the same message, ways which would encourage, rather than discourage. I think that she would have suggested that Moses needs to also look for positives when talking to the Israelites, and not to focus exclusively on their faults. I am also certain that she would remind him to criticise the behaviour and not the Israelite people.

At this point one can imagine that Moses had reached his limits with the Israelites. They were going to enter the Promised Land, while he would die without crossing the Jordan. This awareness might go some way to explaining his behaviour, although it does not excuse it. Instead, as we read about the chastisement of the Israelites we can reflect on our own relationships, and the way that we give feedback, criticism and even rebuke.

Perhaps this interaction was further evidence of the fact that it was time for Moses to pass the mantle of leadership on to Joshua, who would be able to handle, and discipline, the people in a more appropriate way.

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