Values & Ethics - Through a Jewish Lens

Discussion Topics about Blessings

GLEANINGS FROM OUR OWN BLESSINGS…

TORAH PORTION: KEDOSHIM

Acharay1It’s easy to look up the street and see that the grass is a little greener at a neighbor’s. Maybe they have a new car or their kids are wearing the newest fashion. You wish you could have those niceties. It’s often much harder to look the other way, down the street or, perhaps, across town, to see how your
grass might look greener to so many others. Your car may not be the newest, but it’s a solid, safe car that runs; your kids are comfortable. Though it may be hard to see at times, we all have abundant blessings, and even a surplus, if only we could notice it.

As we think about finding small surpluses, let us turn to this week’s Torah portion, Kedoshim. This week we learn how to harvest our fields. We are told to leave the corners unharvested, and we are told that we cannot go back to collect any produce that we dropped along the way. We learn that we leave this produce in our fields so that those less fortunate – those without fields of their own – will have food to eat and a little livelihood. It is remarkable that there is no minimum size field for leaving this gleaning; the
assumption is that any landowner can always spare a little.

This lesson from the Torah helps us to look at what we have and see the corners we could leave unharvested. Can we give a little more money to tzedakah? Can we donate barely used outgrown clothes or sports equipment? Can we forgo a new purchase and give a little more to those who are less fortunate? Or how about putting a few extra cans in the cart at the grocery store each visit, saving up our own gleanings for a food bank?

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the value of giving to those who are less fortunate.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Where do you have a surplus in your life?
  • How might you use this surplus to help others?
  • Why is it sometimes hard to see the abundance of your blessings?

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.

CONSTANTLY FEEDING OUR INTERNAL SPARK…

TORAH PORTION: TZAV

tzav3Jewish learning is a continuous process of discovering the richness and relevance of our tradition.  Many people think learning can stop when school stops.  Stopping Jewish studies after 13 is all too common.

This week’s Torah portion, Tzav, instructs that a small fire must burn permanently on the Altar represent the desire within each of us to connect to something bigger and higher, just as a fire always reaches upwards.  This small flame also reminds each of us that we have a spark to learn and improve within us.  It is our responsibility to nurture our spark by feeding it through continued learning.

The smallest commitment today to Jewish learning and knowledge can feed a blaze for generations.  Our books, texts, and traditions bring new meaning to us at different stages of our life.  An easy way to re-start our Jewish journey is to visit www.myjewishlearning.com and explore its rich treasures of information.  Consider signing up for one or more of their special interest weekly emails.  Let’s show our children why exploring our traditions is important by displaying our own passion for constant learning.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about the value of being life-long learners.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Did you know that the brilliance and wisdom of the Torah’s values/ethics are available to everyone, disbeliever or believer?
  • Did you know that our Torah is a great collection of wisdom that has positively affected other religions and even the founding fathers of America?
  • Did you know that Jewish wisdom is relevant to EVERONE’S life today?  (A small example is “a day of rest each week”.  Before our Torah, nobody divided time into weeks.  All time was in months based on the moon.)

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.

“THNX GOD!!!”

TORAH PORTION: VA-YIKRA

vayikra3In a world of text messaging and twitter, writing a proper thank-you note has become a lost art. We express our appreciation by quickly texting THNX!!! while out-and-about and multitasking on smart phones. In contrast, in order to write a thank-you note you must sit at a desk and have a pen, stationery, and a stamp on hand. You need to write legibly, know your recipient’s street address, and have ample time and quiet to focus on expressing sincere gratitude. Unlike texting, however, sending a thankyou note shows that you are willing to sacrifice precious time to appreciate fully what you have been given.

In Torah portion Vayikra, God commands the Israelites to donate the first fruits of their harvest to the Temple. Though the Israelites worked hard all year to grow their crops and waited anxiously to see the fruits of their labor, they were required to give away their best produce instead of enjoying it themselves. Donating their first fruits to the Temple was an expression of gratitude for all the goodness in their lives.

A properly handwritten thank-you note would have been insufficient for the Israelites to thank God for the blessings in their lives. Like the Israelites, we too have much to be thankful for in our lives. But how do we express our gratitude? How do we sincerely thank the people in our lives who give us the gifts of time, support, and love? The next time you have the urge to quickly type THNX!!!, take a moment instead to express your appreciation more slowly and thoughtfully. The fruits of your labor will be greatly appreciated in return.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about what they are thankful for and how they express their gratitude.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • What are you thankful for?
  • How do you express your gratitude – to your friends, your family and your teachers?
  • Have you ever written a thank-you note? Have you ever received a thank-you note? What did it say? How did it make you feel?
  • If you could write a thank-you note to God, what would it say?

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.

CHERISHING WHAT IS BROKEN…

TORAH PORTION: KI TISSA

ki-tissa3We are each our own harshest critics. It is very easy to see our own flaws and what we could do better. We dwell on things in ourselves that others don’t even notice. But this does not prevent us also from seeing flaws in those around us. Often it is easy to focus on what is not as we would like. But these flaws, like veins in a beautiful gem, are what remind us that we are each unique creations. Imagine how boring the world would be if we were all perfect and no butterfly were brighter or duller than another.

Furious because the Children of Israel had built the Golden Calf in his absence, Moses threw the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments to the ground nearly immediately after receiving them. They shattered into a million pieces. What happened to the shattered tablets? The obvious thing to do would have been to throw them away. But they were swept up and collected. They were kept and cherished alongside the new tablets that God commanded Moses to make.

In the parashah, when the tablets were broken, we picked them up and valued the pieces. So too, with ourselves, we ought to cherish these broken pieces, these pieces that we maybe wish weren’t there. The broken pieces of tablets are a metaphor for the parts of ourselves that are less than perfect. These parts are sacred and we need to “pick them up”, with honor, in our life’s journey.

TALK TO YOUR KIDS about why they might have kept the broken tablets.

CONNECT TO THEIR LIVES:

  • Have you ever kept a toy even though it was broken? Why?
  • What is one thing about yourself that you could try to like more?
  • How can we learn to be more patient with ourselves and each other?

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.

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.