Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Blessings

TITHING…

TORAH PORTION: VA-YETZE

va-yetze3We all have something to give. By giving, we show that we are responsible for those less fortunate in our communities and, more broadly, in the world. We can give financially, starting as small as a child setting aside a small part of his or her allowance. Or we can give by volunteering our time. Especially when we feel things are missing in our own lives, helping others can help us realize how we are blessed in different ways.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va-Yetze, Jacob promises to give a tenth of everything he receives. At this point, he has nothing. He has just run away from home and left everything behind. Having no idea what is before him, he makes this promise. If he remains poor, a tenth would be a small gift, but a dear sacrifice. If he grows wealthy, a tenth would be a much larger gift, but perhaps easier to part with. Jacob makes this promise: whatever comes his way, he will give a tenth of it.

Giving to those less fortunate than ourselves can help us recognize the great blessings in our lives. It reminds us that we cannot take full credit for the richness we receive. Just as Jacob did not know what was before him, we do not know what the future will bring for us. But, like Jacob, we should not wait for a better day to help others; we should commit to help today – and every day.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about ways your family is able to help others.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • In what ways do you feel blessed?
  • Who in your community needs your help? Who in the broader global community?
  • How does it feel to give to those less fortunate than you when you don’t feel that you have a lot to give?
  • Does giving of our time bring a different kind of satisfaction from giving money or objects?

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.

OPPORTUNITIES FOR JOY…

HOLIDAY: SIMCHAT TORAH

simchat-torahUnbridled joy is the gift that children often experience as they go through their daily lives. They are capable of so much feeling, of happiness and sadness, and with such intensity. We celebrate with them when they are happy, and we are sad when they grieve. At times it’s important not to
get too caught up with our children’s emotions and to maintain a calm front in the face of their ups and downs. At other times, it’s important to get right in there and rejoice or grieve right along with them. As a parent it takes wisdom to know when to hold back and when to join in.

Simchat Torah, literally the happiness of the Torah, is the Jewish day for rejoicing—for children and adults alike. We dance with the Torah scroll, celebrating the completion of a year of reading the entire Torah in our community. It’s a time to express unrestrained joy. Children are often put at the center of this rejoicing and form circles with one another in the midst of adults or ride on their parents’ shoulders. It is a time of great excitement, a moment to share our joy.

Having a day set aside to celebrate is important for community and family life. Simchat Torah, along with the weekly opportunity for joy and rest, the Sabbath, give us communal opportunities to feel and express one of the most important emotions of childhood and adulthood—joy.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the joy they feel after successfully completing a big goal in their lives.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • How do you express your happiness? Your sadness? And with whom?
  • Why does feeling joy in the midst of others enhance the experience?
  • What makes us hesitate to show happiness or sadness in front of others?

By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

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

FRAGILITY, FEAR AND BLESSING…

HOLIDAY: SUKKOT

sukkotMuch of what we do tries to instill in our children a sense of security. What a challenge it is when life presents something unexpected to us that shows us how fragile we really are. Life in all its fragility can be difficult. We carry around fears of illness and worse for ourselves or our children or other loved ones. Everyone, at some point in life is faced with this feeling of fragility.

The Holiday of Sukkot is all about fragility. A sukkah is a temporary shelter with a roof that allows us to see the sky and the stars. The house is flimsy, but during Sukkot we try to live in it, eat in it, even sleep in it during the eight-day festival. It presents an opportunity to remember our fragility. Sukkot is said to recall the time the Jews spent wandering around in the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt, while journeying to the land of Israel.

While on Sukkot we recall our fragility, it is also a time of bounty, a time of harvest, a time of great blessing. Sukkot is meant to be a joyous and festive holiday. When remembering our own fragility, we are able to be in touch with the temporary nature of all blessings and thus enjoy them even more deeply. It is a wonderful opportunity to teach children that fragility also means good things: not only illness and death, but also blessing and joy.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the time the Israelites wandered in the desert on their way to the land of Israel and lived in booths through which they could see the stars.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What kinds of things frighten you?
  • What helps you feel safe?
  • How do you think experiencing a simpler, more fragile life in a sukkah would make you feel?

By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

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

OUR ANCESTORS BEFORE US…

TORAH PORTION: NITZAVIM

Appreciating What We Have Inherited & What We Control

Nitzavim1

Many of us approach parenthood as if we and our children were clean slates. As if, with some coaching from our friends and relatives, and a few good books, we can be exactly the kind of parents we wish to be and our children will turn out exactly how we want them to be. But it doesn’t often, or ever, turn out that way. We are heavily influenced by the way we were brought up, as well as by many factors not totally in our control. Our health, our socioeconomic situation, and the health and character of our children play a large role in our lives and our children’s lives.

In this week’s portion, Nitzavim, Moses declares that God has made a covenant, not only with the current generation, but with generations that came before as well as with future generations. Thus we are part of a long link, connecting us backwards and forwards. It’s not all about us and our own current generation. Rather, our lives depend on those who came before us and bear responsibility to those who come after us.

It’s important to teach our children to think about what they’ve inherited and is largely out of their control, and what is up to them to shape. For example, they may have been born Jewish, but what will they do with that Jewish identity? They may have no choice concerning what family they are born into, but what relationships will they forge to their extended family, their parents, and their siblings? It’s up to us, as usual, to model for our children, navigating with grace what we inherit and what we pass on, what is in our control and what is out of our control.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what they inherited and what they can control.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are some of the traits and talents you received from parents and grandparents?
  • How do you plan to take advantage of these gifts you have received?
  • Which of your personality traits and your abilities would you want your children to have?

By Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses

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

DOES GRATITUDE COME NATURALLY…

TORAH PORTION: KI TAVO

Showing Gratitude for Your Blessings

Showing Gratitude - Torah Portion KI TAVOWe have many magic moments in our families. There are times for us to appreciate our accomplishments and the people in our lives. Yet gratitude does not come naturally to most people, especially children. “Don’t forget to say thank you!”… Sound familiar? We try to teach our children gratitude.

Being reluctant to express thanks is common in children. It is important to help children overcome this resistance. This week’s portion, Ki Tavo, relates the story of a farmer who has successfully produced a new crop. The first fruits have to be selected for a special ceremony to give the farmers an opportunity to think about their blessings and to say thank you properly.

Saying ‘Thank You’ is not just good manners. It is an attitude. If I feel a sense of entitlement, I will not be able to express gratitude for something I’ve received. Children often feel entitled, and we must teach them to appreciate the wonderful things in their lives. Most importantly, we must make sure to be properly grateful for our own blessings!

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about being grateful for what they have.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What blessings are in your life?
  • What special gifts do you possess?
  • Why should we be thankful? How should we express it?
  • Can one person do everything alone?
  • For older children – discuss the concepts of dependence, independence, and interdependence.

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.