Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Attitude

ISRAEL = TO STRUGGLE WITH GOD…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YISHLAH

va-yishlach3Many people hold back on religion in their lives because they are uncomfortable with the concept of God. Does God exist?How could bad things happen to good people? Why does evil exist? These are all questions that people have addressed throughout time. Many sophisticated discussions and answers are imbedded in Jewish texts for adults to encounter and wrestle with personally.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va-Yishlah, Jacob wrestles all night with a mysterious angel representing God. Because Jacob successfully survives this encounter, his name is changed to Israel. The translation of Israel is “to struggle with God”. The Torah is saying that to struggle with God is common. Most people require inquiry and study, as adults, to come to terms with their personal encounter. Jews are not asked to accept complete faith blindly. Jews are encouraged intellectually to encounter God within themselves after studying the wrestling our sages encountered in their journeys to God. It is possible to be a good Jew and have questions about God. In Judaism, actions are more important than faith.

In thinking about God, we can pick up clues all around us, perhaps left for us to find, like the design perfection of the human body and nature’s beauty. Just because we can’t see or touch something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. We can’t see oxygen, but we would die without it. Infinity is beyond comprehension yet an integral part of modern science. Love is a powerful feeling that cannot be proven, but it may be a gift of God. Conscience, that little voice inside us, may also be one of God’s gifts. Religion is not about who God is but about what God helps us do.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about God from your personal view and struggles.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Do you see clues in life to God’s existence?
  • Do you have unanswered questions about how God operates?
  • Do you hold back from religion because of your unanswered questions?
  • How might you begin your personal journey to wrestle with God?
  • How could a journey in life be more important than the destination?

By Fred Claar

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.

RECONCILIATION & FORGIVENESS…

TORAH PORTION: CHAYE SARAH

chaye2Obviously, people are not all the same. We feel differently about how neat to keep our rooms, what we eat, and the activities we like. It’s easy to dwell on the differences, but there are many core similarities that we share, and we need to focus on them.

Isaac and Ishmael were Abraham’s two sons. They were half-brothers from different mothers and very different in age,  temperament, experiences, mannerisms, and character. Yet this week’s Torah portion, Chaye Sarah, emphasizes that when the time came to bury and mourn for their father Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael did so together. Even Isaac and Ishmael were able to set aside their distance and differences to focus on what united them.

Can we set aside our differences for the common good? Not everyone can or should be the same, and we often feel that another person is very wrong. But we all have much in common. While we must be realistic about acknowledging our differences, we need to focus on what unites us, such as family, values, community, and interests, and seek ways in which we can work together in harmony.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about respecting differences in family members.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Give an example of an insignificant difference between you and another family member.
  • Give an example of a major difference between you and another family member.
  • What do you have in common with that person and how can you work together?
  • Why is this important?

By Rabbi Moshe Becker

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.

AVOIDING HURTING WORDS…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YERA

va-yera3We use words to express so many different things: from basic things like “I’m hungry” to deeper things like “I love you.” Words have power to do good, but it is easy to forget how much harm we can do with them. We often think that our words cannot be hurtful if the person we are speaking about is not around. But with the prevalence of e-mail, texting, and twitter, seldom do our words end when we first express them. It is safe to assume that any words we say will be heard again.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va-Yera, Sarah’s words would be hurtful to Abraham. Thinking he cannot hear, she laughs about her aged husband’s ability to father a child in his old age. Imagine how Abraham would feel if he had heard Sarah’s laughter. Later in speaking to Abraham, God rephrases Sarah’s words so as not to hurt Abraham’s feelings. The Torah is teaching us to avoid hurtful speech.

How often do we speak carelessly and hurt those we love? Sarah shows us how easy this is to do. This lesson shows us how to communicate when we are upset. We learn from them that being in a relationship means using our words to heal, not only after we have been hurt but also after we have hurt someone else. Pausing to take a deep breath and counting to ten helps us to rephrase or avoid hurtful words. Shalom bayit, peace in the house, is the responsibility of each family member.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being careful with their words.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What can you do to avoid speech that hurts others?
  • What are words that you can say after you have hurt someone?
  • What is a good way to express your feelings when you have been hurt by someone else’s words?
  • When is it hard to forgive? What makes it easier?

By Rabbi Judith Greenberg

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.

CHOOSE HARMONY…

TORAH PORTION: LECH LECHA

lechlecha3As parents, we are often handling disputes between our children. Isn’t it amazing how each child thinks he or she is justified, correct, and not at fault? Because fighting within a family is very common, our efforts have to focus everyone on the importance of living in peace. Disagreements will happen, and we may feel very justified in our positions, but that doesn’t mean that acrimony must prevail.

In this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, Abraham feels forced to asks his nephew Lot to part ways. Lot had accompanied Abraham through many of his travels, but staying together has become too difficult because their shepherds are constantly fighting. Abraham realizes that the disagreement is bound to continue, as each side was very sure of its position. Instead of allowing matters to deteriorate, Abraham chooses to put distance between himself and Lot. His goal is to preserve the harmony between them.

Separation is an extreme solution to a problem that could be handled by being willing to try to understand others. We can make that choice even when we think (or know) that the other person is wrong. Whether with a colleague, friend, or family member, there is almost always a way to maintain harmony in the face of different views, even if the solution is to agree to disagree. With creative thinking, humility, and acceptance, useless fighting can be avoided. Teach your kids to show humility, understanding, and acceptance of the views of others so they can avoid useless fighting.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being smart enough to choose peaceful solutions.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Give an example of a fight that you could have avoided.
  • What possible compromises can you think of that would have prevented ongoing fighting?
  • Should we always be so sure that we’re right?

By Rabbi Moshe Becker

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.

“IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT…”

TORAH PORTION: NOAH

noah3Snoopy begins each of his stories with the words “It was a dark and stormy night…”  Even if you’re not a beagle living on top of a red doghouse, life can often feel dark and stormy. Where do you go when you’re having a tough day? Whom do you turn to when you’re having a bad night? We often turn to our families to help us through the rough patches in life.

Like Snoopy, Noah had many dark and stormy nights. While it rained and poured for forty days and nights, Noah’s ark protected his family. Though the water raged and flooded the entire world, Noah’s wife and children remained secure. As a family, they made it through the flood safely and were able to start their lives again in peace.

Just as Noah and his family were protected from the flood by their ark, we also have our own arks that guard us from the dark and stormy world. Our families are our arks. We turn to our family when we need protection. Like an ark, our families provide us with shelter and guide us through life. However, in order to make sure that our ark feels safe for each family member, we need to watch how we speak to one another and pay attention to how we handle our differences. Maintaining peace and security in our own families helps us keep the stormy world at bay.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways we can make sure that our family feels safe, like an ark, for each family member.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • How is our family like an ark? How can our family be more like an ark?
  • How can we make sure that our family is a safe space for each family member?
  • How do we maintain peace in our home and in our family?

By Yael Hammerman

Values & Ethics—Through a Jewish Lens is created by Fred and Joyce Claar to bring the wisdom of Judaism into family discussions.